Summer is drawing to an end and the signs of change are all around us. If you have a pond in your garden, now is the time to take action and do a bit of pond maintenance, if needed! So, you’ve been marvelling at all the wildlife making the most of your pond, some are more easy to see than others, but there’s a whole ecosystem going on in there. We often get asked how to encourage more birds into people’s gardens. Supplying water is just as important as providing food, whether it’s a shallow dish on the ground, a birdbath or a pond. Water will also encourage a whole host of other wildlife into your garden, so don’t think it’s only the birds and the fish that will benefit from all your labours.
The best time to do some pond maintenance is in late September and October. Tadpoles should have left the pond by now and other adult amphibians have not yet gone into hibernation. Avoid doing any pond maintenance in the winter as this will disturb hibernating amphibians and expose them to the cold.
Planting Yellow Flag Iris - David Levenson (rspb-images.com)
If you want to create a wildlife pond or improve the one you have, there is more information on our website (see link below). You could also add a purpose built home to the edge of your pond to help the frogs and toads in your garden too (see links below).
Apart from the odd storm, this summer has been brilliant for our wildlife and has enabled us to get outside and enjoy watching everything that’s going on around us. I’ve been watching some butterflies, moths, bats, hedgehogs and a variety of birds in my garden, including recently some families of Goldfinch. Earlier on this year, Blue Tits successfully raised a brood of chicks in my new nest box.
It’s always a good idea to give your nest boxes a clear out once a year, and it’s also interesting to take a look inside at the nest. Cleaning the box ensures that nothing untoward is lurking in there over the winter months to infest the new nest in the spring the following year. You can sometimes get parasites and insects that will lie in wait for an unsuspecting brood of chicks, reducing their chances of survival.
Take the box down and open it up. If there is a nest in there you can dispose of it as you see fit, but it’s a good idea to put it in your compost bin. Any dead chicks can also be put in the compost bin and so can any unfertilised eggs, but legally, the eggs should be destroyed. Brush out any loose material, and pour boiling water throughout the box, but take care not to splash yourself with the hot water. Allow it to dry completely before putting the box back together and back in place for another year. We sometimes hear of people that only put their nest boxes up in the spring and summer, but if you leave the box up all year round it can give the birds a safe place to roost in over the winter months. You also stand a better chance of the box being used in the spring.
Blue Tit nest from this year - Deb Depledge
You don’t need to put any nesting material into the box, but if you want to you can put some hay or sawdust in the bottom of the box, but not straw as it can harbour mold. You may find in the spring that you see birds taking this material out of the box, but that’s okay as it means they may be nesting soon and are just having a clear out, or they may just be using the material as the base for their new nest. If birds do show an interest in the box, resist the urge to take a peek as it may put them off. Birds can check out a few potential nest sites before they choose the one they like, so they may start taking nesting material into the box and then give up. Hopefully, that won’t happen and they will make full use of your nest box and raise their young successfully.
You can put nest boxes up at any time of the year, so you don’t need to wait for the spring. If you put boxes up that have different size access holes, you may have more than one species of bird nesting in your garden. Don’t forget your open fronted boxes too, which are excellent for Robins and Wrens and can be cleaned out in the same way.
Give the birds in your garden a winter roosting site and check out the nest boxes on our website. There is also a link to a page which explains the best place to put up your box and give it the best chance of being used.
Amazingly, there are about 250 species of Hoverfly in the UK, but most of us will only have seen a few species in our gardens, if you can keep up with them! They are not all brightly coloured, bee and wasp impersonators, but can be dark in colour and harder to spot. Mimicking bees and wasps will warn off predators as this type of marking and colours normally depicts a stinging insects or one that’s bad to taste. This type of mimicry is called Batesian mimicry and is named after the naturalist Henry W Bates, who first published his idea in 1862 after discussing his idea with a certain Mr C Darwin. Hoverflies are true flies and are two winged insects of the Diptera order.
Hoverflies feed on nectar and pollen, and as their name suggests, have this amazing ability to appear motionless in the air, then dart off quickly before hovering again. The young larvae vary in behaviour and appearance. They can be either vegetarian, feeding on vegetation, or carnivores feeding on aphids. So there are good reasons for attracting them to your garden! You can see these amazing insects from March to November, depending on the species.
One of the most common species you’ll see is the Marmalade Hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus, and I was lucky to spot a Hoverfly mimicking a white-tailed bumble bee Volucella bombylans, here in The Lodge gardens; the compound eyes were a tell-tale give away. A compound eye consists of hundreds or thousands of photoreceptors on a convex surface, creating a large viewing angle that can identify fast movement (the eyes appear to almost touch in the middle). Unlike wasps, Hoverflies don’t have a sting and are completely harmless. They are important pollinators, but are unable to carry as much pollen as bees do, but more frequent visits help to make up for this.
Marmalade Hoverfly - Chris Sheilds (rspb-images.com)
You can help these agile flyers by having lots of flowering plants in your garden all through the summer. Don’t think that gardens on a grand scale are the only ones to attract these fascinating creatures. You can garden in pots and containers having bulbs flowering early in the spring, with shrubs and bedding plants through the summer months and into autumn. Your local garden centre will advise you on what’s in season and what will grow well in containers, but for more ideas take a look at our gardening for wildlife pages on our web site (see link).