Looking back over the last year of watching wildlife in the garden, 2010 was a fascinating year with much to be seen, learned from and puzzled over.
Last January at this time, the ground was covered in snow and ice and we were experiencing the coldest winter for about 30 years. Despite this cold, pigeons were already cooing and bobbing their heads at one another in an invitation to mate. They seem to be the first and the last birds to nest, which might explain why there are so many of them. As winter slowly turned to spring, the activities of mice, birds, frogs and worms became more noticeable. We found stashes of cherry stones in the garage, the woodshed and even in the car engine, whilst the worms in the soil woke from their lethargy and started to move about more. In March, I watched long-tailed tits flying at windows and pecking at them. As they stopped doing this once mating had finished, it was thought to be connected with territory, with the birds maybe seeing their reflections as invaders.
As the weather warmed, wild honey bees emerged and started to forage on cherry and apple blossom; bumblebees were searching for wall cavities to make nests in; toads and frogs returned to water to mate and I saw many of the strange little bee-mimics called bee flies, which parasitise the nests of solitary bees of the ground-nesting bees by laying eggs in their nests.
By May, I started seeing birds nesting in hedgerows and in the undergrowth, followed by the discarded shells, carefully dropped by the parent bird a distance from the nesting site. Pigeons, as ever, were the first to hatch and their white shells were spotted in many places. We had a pheasant nesting at the edge of the garden but, although I kept a watch, her eggs hatched when I wasn’t looking and we never saw the young birds. That disappointment was eased by discovering that we had newts at the vegetable garden. They would have been prey to the grass snakes also living there, but the presence of both species shows a healthy environment.
Summer saw me watching and recording the building of a wasps’ nest in a shed close to the vegetable garden. It was fascinating to observe the new layers being added to the delicate nest and see the changing behaviour of the wasps. I got chased away by the guard wasps, but didn’t get stung. Ladybird larvae finally arrived in big numbers by mid-July, just in time to get stuck into the multiplying aphid population. Crickets and grasshoppers also showed up in July, around the same time as a great many young birds, who sat cheeping petulantly under shrubs. At the end of July, the wasps’ nest was discovered by what may have been a woodpecker and a big hole appeared in it. The nest was no more and the remaining wasps dispersed.
In early autumn, I found the strangest thing of the year: a dried out crayfish, high up in a rambling rose, far from water. It must have been dropped by a bird because I simply cannot figure out how else it could have arrived there. By late autumn, the hedgehogs were looking for places to hibernate and the spiders’ webs were drenched with dew in the mornings. Then the dew became frost, the spiders disappeared, the hedgerows became quieter and winter began in earnest at the beginning of December, bringing snow and freezing temperatures. And now a new wildlife year begins – what surprises will there be this year, I wonder?