Thursday, 25 June 2009

Nature or nurture in the garden

So, if according to the press there are fewer butterflies, bees and garden birds than ever, how come my little slice of green heaven is bursting with them? The former may be due to the profusion of blossom I identified last blog, and the birds may be that I have finally managed to refill the feeders with peanuts on a regular basis. But, even so, how come? Is it natural or have I encouraged them?

I managed – in spite of being up to my ears in projects – to waste hours last week glued to the kitchen window watching my bird table. On a roll, I also spent my entire ‘coffee break’ chasing butterflies and ages (when I should have been filing) taking photos of bees.

My recent bird watching obsession is because there are woodpeckers in the garden. The Greater Spotted Woodpecker could be heard tapping away from January: sending morse signals out for a mate. Now they’ve reared their young. And pretty hungry and demanding young they are too.

Because of this the female woodpecker had been hogging all the nuts for some time. Then last week there she was, pecking away, and next to her on the leg of the bird table was her young: a fully fledged, fluffed up, beautiful young woodpecker. She pecked at the nuts then hopped to the fledgling and fed it!

I was mesmerised. I set up the camera and tripod by the window and spent the rest of the morning hiding behind the curtains, taking snaps whenever I happened to spot her. Woodpeckers are very nervous and easily scared off. This is my excuse for having so very few decent photos in spite of wasting so very many hours. Of course the infant woodpecker did not come back for an encore.

Not only did I get mum and dad woodpecker – each on a separate feeder – but I got nuthatches in pairs. These birds are the most elegantly attired. As tree creepers they feed upside down, usually searching out grubs in tree bark. It makes a fun show to watch on the feeder.

When the woodpecker family visited the weather was perfect – not too hot, not too cold. Neither windy or wet. So in between photo shoots I took a turn around the homestead. The garden looked great in the sunshine (the trick is to let your eye skim over the weeds in a grand sweep), positively glowing. There is blossom everywhere: trees are laden with it, and perennials and wild flowers are in every bed and border, each corner and crevice.

On the flowers in the herb garden – sounds very grand, is in fact very basic – there were dozens of bees. Pairs again! The great clumps of comfrey are a favourite, the chive pompoms a hit and the few rosemary flowers left still popular.

Most were bumble bees, but here and there Best Beloved’s honey bees were massed on a plant. They will travel up to three miles for their pollen but I think his find most of their goodies within the garden. If they are not on garden flowers, they are gathering pollen from trees or wild flowers in the grass.

And in those wilder bits of the garden butterflies were everywhere: little brown frittillaries fluttering around each other in a courtly dance, others settling on knautia, nettles or clover. Small blues and larger browns and middling oranges were flitting around the meadow grass.

But also nature at its most gross. Big fat caterpillars destroying verbascum at the rate of knots. What will they turn into: vampire butterflies? Some confused butterflies were caught in the conservatory – trying to get out through the glass. They will die if they don't get out. There went another half an hour trying to guide them out of windows and through doorways only to have their siblings take their place. Frustrated, I had to stop.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that the high incidence of all this wildlife in the garden is a combination of nature and nurture. The stuff I’ve planted – and the weeds I let stay - encourages wild life into the garden. Then nature does the rest.


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