Monday, 24 February 2014

Ladies and gentleman, I give you, the Queen!

Hello dear reader and welcome to another gripping episode of my blog. Weather has been quite spring like of late with bees and butterflies being visible in the sunny skies. I've also been busy working with Suffolk Wildlife Trust's National Lottery Heritage funded, Networking Nature events at Rendlesham and Felixstowe this week. The rendlesham event was at the Community Hall and involved mainly helping youngsters, on their Half-term break, build bird boxes to take home and hang in their gardens. The event was well attended and the kids loved putting the boxes together and hammering the nails home to the amazed looks from their parents.

One of the finished bird boxes.
Felixstowe saw us on the beachfront next door to 'The Hut' making several types of bird feeders from peanut butter coated toilet roll inners rolled in seed to empty plastic bottles with a wooden spoon stuck through and filled with seed. There was also a nature trail quiz and a detective 'whodunnit' clue hunt for the kids to play as well as a large board game to enjoy. The event ended with a beach scavenger hunt that got the children looking for specific items along the beach. Over 100 kids turned up for the 2 hour session and everyone went home very happy.

Down by the beach.

That's odd?

Whilst having a cup of coffee and watching the birds in my garden fill their little bellies, I noticed a little blue tit and immediately thought, there's something not quite right here. I whipped out the binoculars which are tidily (not according to the wifey though) stashed away down the side of the arm chair. It took me a few seconds but then I soon realised it only had one leg. The whole time I watched it, I never saw it stand in an upright position, but instead in hung from the feeders upside down pecking at the fat blocks. I also noted that on it's only leg (the right one), the knee joint seemed quite swollen. I don't know if this is because the leg is doing all the work, or could it be an injury inflicted when it lost its other leg? Assuming that is, the leg was lost through some sort of mishap. Either way, the little thing, despite the missing appendage, looked relatively healthy and it wasn't long before he flew off again. I've been watching hoping for it to return, but as yet, nothing. I have however, spotted a ringed blue tit visiting the feeders, but unable to see what the digits are on the ring. 

On the subject of blue tits, the ones in the nest box still return every morning between 8-10am to check out the box, but they are yet to bring back any nesting material, which leads me nicely on to my next little project.

A use for unwanted fluff.

If you're lucky enough like me to own a tumble dryer, you would know that every now and then, the lint filter needs to be cleaned to remove all the fluff (lint) from your clothes/towels that collects up. Well I used to throw this lint away before one day a thought occurred to me, surely I can do something with this unwanted fluff, who would benefit from this fluffy fluff? 

This would make great nesting material I considered as I rolled the stuff through my fingers considering its uses. So I done no more and started to collect the said fluff in a plastic takeaway container (I knew they'd come in useful one day) and instructed the good old wifey to place any fluff in said tub. That was last autumn and needless to say, I have gathered a tub-full now and what with the birdies seeking out new nest sites like my nest box, I thought I would deploy the fluff using a whisk from the kitchen.

A tub-full of fluff.

Push the fluff into the whisk like so.
It should end up looking like this.
So as you can see from the above photos, I've placed some of the fluff into the whisk. Not too tightly though, as we want the birds to be able to pull it out easily. I then took the whisk up the back of the garden and have hung it up not far from the feeder. That way, the birds can see it and take it when they want.

Come and get it here!
It's been up a week and no takers yet, but then it is still quite early in the year. As soon as something happens though, I'll be sure to let you know. In the meantime though, you can check out my regular video postings of the blue tits visiting the nest box here.

Here's this weeks video:

The virgin voyage of the MK2

Last week saw some spring like temperatures during the day and I thought I'd put the new MK2 moth trap out to see how it performs.

The MK2 in action.
However, with clear skies, I knew the temperature would soon plummet as soon as the sun went down and the chances of catching anything would also plummet.

So, in the morning, I went down to the trap to have a look. Nothing was visible at first glance, but as I began to remove the egg trays, there tucked away in an egg cup of one of the trays was my first trapped moth of the year, a Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica).

Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)
This brings my total moths for the year to a whopping 3. Lets hope there are many more to come.

I give you the Queen, long live the Queen...

Now, as many of you may know, among some of my projects this year is my main project Plan Bee. This involves me having a bumblebee nest in my office with a tube through the wall so that they can come and go as they please. There will also be a camera in the nest so I will be able to watch the goings on inside the hive and share it with you dear readers. I have all the equipment I need, camera, wood for the box, tube, permission from the wifey to drill hole through wall, etc. All that was left was a Queen bumblebee to initiate the hive. 

Now I could've gone down the easy route of buying a commercial hive, which many farmers use to help pollinate their fruit trees/shrubs etc. But the problem with this is that the species of bumblebee  and its origins used in this industry is a bit of a grey area to say the least. The problem is due to the fact that as per usual, there are no restrictions to the movement of bees through Europe, so we could be introducing a sub-species that isn't normally found here. There's also the issue of ecosystems and their delicate balance. By purchasing a bumblebee nest/hive, you are adding something to your local ecosystem that wasn't there in the first place. This in turn has an effect on the species of bee that WERE already in the ecosystem and the amount of food that is readily available to them. After all, all them flowering plants and trees will now be fed on by the 'new' bees. 

So for me, there was no question that my Queen bee would have to be a local wild bee caught fresh from hibernation. This way, the delicate ecosystem balance is not upset in any way, no foreign species are being introduced nor are any of the diseases they may carry being introduced either. My bee would know no different, would get a lovely, well located nest box with lots of lovely fresh pollen rich plants outside. 

Now all I had to do was catch said Queen bee and what with the lovely spring like weather (have I mentioned that already?) this week, I knew that some bumbles would pop out of their little hibernation chambers to top up on some food. Thursday was our first spell of warm weather and after seeing a queen bounce of my front room window before flying off, I decided to pop over to Purdis Heath to see if I could find any more. Whilst looking, I bumped into fellow Purdis Heath volunteer and blog reader (Hi Helen) looking for Purple-hairstreak butterfly eggs on the branches of a recently felled oak. Helen rears the caterpillars on to their adult stage before releasing them back onto the heath, great work Helen. Whilst chatting, Helen thought she saw a bumble dive down behind a bush, but search as we might, nothing could be found.

Fast forward to Saturday and another glorious day, when I suddenly get a text from Helen saying that she had just caught a large bumble at Purdis Heath and was I nearby? I was still trying to put on my shoes as I fell out of the front door in my rush to get there. 5 minutes later on I was on the heath meeting up with Helen and Julian Dowding (Head of volunteers at Purdis Heath) at exactly the same place as Thursday. They said the bee just came straight down and flew into one of their bags. They then just scooped it into a container and sent me a message. I looked at the bee at it was a beautiful Queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris). A very common bumble that likes to nest in the ground, usually in mouse burrows and was the same species that nested in my garden last year, under my ponds waterfall, where I usually get mice nesting. So I popped her in a container with some sphagnum moss from the heath and whisked her home. Gave her a little sugar solution to replenish her energy levels, then after a quick picture (hence the blur), I popped her back into the container (an old coffee tin) and popped that in the fridge.

I give you the Queen!
Now some of you are already saying (believe me, I can hear you) "the fridge! That's cruel". Let me tell you now, it's not cruel, in fact it's simulating the winter temperatures outside. This cool temperature sends her into her hibernation sleep. When the weather warms up, she will awake and begin the task of building a nest for her workers. If I was to keep her awake and get her building her nest now, she would die and that is because of one simple reason, it's winter and there are no flowers out yet. What would she and her workers feed on? So by putting her in the fridge (NOT FREEZER) where the temperature is about 2-3ÂșC, I'm putting her back into a sleep ready for spring. 

In honour of Helen and as a thank you too, I'm naming said Queen after her. She will now be known as Queen Helen (the bee that is, not Helen). Thank you Helen.

Bumblebee kits, a warning!

Last year you may remember, I bought a Bumblebee nest box for about £20 to place in my garden in the hope of getting some bumbles to nest in it. Alas, they went under the waterfall as mentioned previously. However, I checked on the box the other week to see if anything had decide to nest in there and was shocked to find that the thing was wringing wet and in the process of rotting away even though it had been kept in a sheltered place, it seems as though the wood acted as a sponge and drew up the moisture from the soil.

The label from the kit I bought last year.
So, if you ever feel tempted to buy one of these kits, beware. You may be wasting your money!

5 minutes of your time please.

Thanks to reader Mick (Hi Mick), I saw this wonderful video narrated by George Monbiot on 'How wolves change rivers'. 

It is an amazing piece and I thoroughly recommend watching it as it shows just how delicate a balance the ecosystem is.

I think that's all for now my friends, but till next time, keep safe, keep smiling.


  1. Great post! Can't wait to find out what happens to Queen Helen! Very exciting . . .

  2. Another nice blog mate.
    Be interesting to know why the Bluetit stands in the bottom of the box and flaps it's wing?

    1. Cheers Mick. She does the wing shuffles to make sure there is enough room for her potential brood. :)