Friday, 16 January 2015

Happy new year one and all

Happy New Year everybody, I hope you all had a enjoyable time and I wish you all good things for the coming year ahead. Things have been slowly improving here in the sticks despite the cold and windy weather of late. The pond is now up and running and a couple of the Koi from my original pond in Ipswich, which have been holidaying in my Father-in-laws pond during the move, have now been moved into the new pond. At the moment, they're looking a bit lost in the pond as there isn't much vegetation for them to hide under. But plants have been added, including some fast growers, so hopefully, it won't be too long before they get settled. As you can see, I still need to trim the liner in places, but I just need to make a few more minor alterations before any final cuts are made.

Thankfully, the website I bought the liner from have a few issues with their measurement charts and despite giving them the correct pond dimensions, they still managed to sell me more liner than I actually needed. But it's not all bad, as the excess liner will come in handy for lining the wildlife pond in my front garden, which despite me lining with clay from the bottom of the big pond I excavated, still won't hold water for very long. My neighbour, who works as a landscape gardener, reckons the clay needs to be much thicker. I guess he's right, but most of the clay I have is now inaccessible (beneath the liner of the big pond) and it killed my back just moving the small amount of clay I've already placed in there. So when the water drains out of the little pond, I'll place a liner in it instead, much easier.

Early arrivals

Got an email from my boss last week asking me what's this? The email contained a picture of an insect, possibly a bee in a jar.

What's this?
Apparently, during the end of 2014, one of the managers was splitting some wood when he came across some cocoons inside the wood.

Concealed cocoons. note the visible entrance tunnel through the wood.
These he thought, and quite rightly so, would make good education tools. However, what he didn't realise was, the cocoons were still occupied. Bringing them into the warm indoors, fooled the developing insects inside to think it was late spring and begin to emerge. Needless to say, I popped into the office to collect said bee for a proper identification. On closer inspection, I could see that the cocoons were that of the leaf cutter bee, something I videoed in action last year.

However, thanks to the experts on Twitter (Martin Harvey and Ian Beavis) I got a family ID of Coelioxys sp. When I got home, I was able to look at the specimen in greater detail and thanks to the key on the BWARS website, I was able to ascertain that it was in fact Coelioxys inermis, a cuckoo bee of leaf-cutter bees.

The female Coelioxys inermis cuckoo bee.

This bee will sit nearby to where a leaf-cutter is making her cocoons and whilst the leaf-cutter goes off to find more leaves, the Coelioxys will pop inside and lay an egg without the host bee knowing. The leaf-cutter comes back, lays her egg with a store of pollen and seals the chamber before creating the next chamber. However, the cuckoo bee's egg hatches and eats the store of pollen and even the host bee larvae, so that come spring, a new parasitic bee will emerge instead of a leaf-cutter bee.

Nesting time

It's around this time of year, that the birdies start to look for new nest sites for the coming year ahead, so now's the time to clean out your old nest boxes of last years nesting material and get any new nest boxes up ready. It really is important to remove old nesting material from a nest box as these harbour a host of parasitic mites that have spent all winter tucked up asleep waiting for some fresh warm blood from a little Blue tit and her young to feed on. Studies have also proven that most small birds will choose a clean empty box over an old box with last years nest still in it. The birds know what's best and a flea bitten chick won't have a good chance of survival if it's anaemic through being a parasites dinner.

The last week or so, I've watched Blue tit's, Sparrows and Robin's in groups chasing females, so I got busy with the nest boxes. The first box I put up is the Blue tit box which was used successfully last year in Ipswich. I also noticed that I have a lovely flock of House Sparrows outside my office window  sitting on top of the hedge. So using some bits of scrap wood from various DIY jobs around the house, I made a Sparrow nest box. So what's difference between a Sparrow nest box and one for Blue tits? Sparrows are communal birds and like to nest as a community, whereas Blue tit's are the complete opposite and are very territorial, to the point I've even seen one trying to fight itself in the wing mirror of a parked tractor near the nest.

So a Blue tit nest box is a singular affair and the Sparrow nest box comprises of three nest boxes in a row like this one I built.

Homemade shabby chic Sparrow nest box from upcycled wood.
The middle chamber does have a camera inside, so hopefully, if the Sparrow's like it, we'll get to see what they're up to.

The following day, with the nest boxes up, I got round to setting up the cameras inside them and my new Xmas pressies from santa, a 4 channel Digital Video Recorder. This is a simple device which monitors and records any activity from any of the cameras connected. Whilst I was dong this, a Blue tit actually came and inspected the box. Unfortunately, as I had only just connected the DVR up and was still trying to work it all out, I didn't record it, I did however grab this quick pic from my phone.

Blue tit checking out the nest box.
I'm also sorting out some wildlife cameras for work and have just built a critter cam that will attract and record the antics of some of our smaller mammals. I also connected this up to my DVR to try it out and it seems quite successful so far.

Indoor wildlife

Things have been busy indoors too, we've removed some panelling to reveal the original wattle and daub wall of the original dwelling which goes back over 300 years.

The thick part at the bottom was originally an outside wall.

Look closely and you'll see the twisted horse hair which helps to bind it all together.

As you will see from the photos, the wooden branches packed out with muck and hay and bound together with twisted horse hair. they really don't build houses like this anymore, certainly not in the UK anyway. 

We also noticed that there were a few exit holes from wood boring beetles and it was decided to get these checked out, along with the rest of the house. Turns out we actually have Death Watch beetle present in a couple of the old beams. This was confirmed by the man actually finding a tiny and minute beetle known as a Steely Blue. This beetle is a parasite of the Death Watch beetle and therefore is only present where its food can be found. Unfortunately, the tiny Steely Blue was lost by yours truly whilst trying to collect it into a specimen pot, D'oh!

Death Watch beetle exit holes.

Anyway, it isn't as bad as it sounds and there's no huge infestation. The house isn't about to collapse into a pile of rubble yet.

So it's been quite busy here of late and there are still more projects on the agenda, so don't be a stranger, keep popping in from time to time, you never know what might be happening next!

Till next time, Keep safe, Keep smiling