While visiting my parents in the Midlands last weekend (where I'll have you know I put in five rows of potatoes - oh yes, there was no slacking there!), I called in at my beloved Hidcote, the National Trust garden in the Cotswolds.
I spent many hours wandering around, taking photos, and indulging in my usual observation of what wildlife was where in the garden.
And, yes, there were Chiffchaffs and Bee-flies and various other birds and insects.
But it was the lily pond that had me down on my belly on the water's edge, nose to the surface, engrossed in the action below, for the waters were crawling with monsters of the deep.
The first were this guy and his mates. The photo is taken looking straight down through the water with him clinging to the side of the pond.
It's a dragonfly nymph, maybe 2 inches (5cm) long. And while I don't claim to be a nymph expert (they can be pretty tricky to identify), I'm pretty certain it is an Emperor, with its rather long, stripy body and rounded face.
This one and a dozen or so others were boldly stalking the pond sides, looking like something out of Doctor Who with their bulging vacant eyes.
Emperor nymphs take two years to reach maturity, and this one is large enough to be in its second year and will hatch come June or July.
But among them were even bigger monsters - these lovely brutes:
They were rather deeper in the water, so the photo is not great, I apologise, but hopefully you can make out these Great Crested Newts.
There are two here in the shot, seen from above, and hopefully you can make out on the lower one the large jaggedy crest all along the back. You can also see the warty skins and the almost luminous yellow splashes on his toes that are also characteristic. And the lower newt is just clambering over a dragonfly nymph, just to give you some sense of scale.
If I ever needed a reminder of how exciting - and beneficial - ponds can be for wildlife, here it was. And as Iay there on the Hidcote pond edge, I was delighted to have several people stop by, ask me what I was doing (understandably, to see a grown man on his belly like that) and then get excited with me. Wildlife - it's pretty special, eh?
I'm delighted today to welcome a guest blogger, Jane Adams, one of a group of four friends who last year came up with the idea of a national Garden Bioblitz, and who are running it again this year. It's so easy to take part, and I'd love you all to have a go.Catching The Garden Bioblitz Bug – Don’t Worry, It isn’t Contagious!I love my garden and I get a special buzz from seeing the wildlife that calls it home, but it wasn’t until a friend suggested I take part in a Garden Bioblitz (a low-key biological survey of your garden) that I started to see my garden, and its wildlife, from a completely different angle.On a warm(ish) weekend in 2012, neighbours watched as I popped in and out to the garden with camera in hand, crawled over the grass, rummaged under logs, dipped a net into our tiny pond and tried to photograph every species of wild plant (some may call them weeds) and animal I could find in 24 hours.Over the next couple of days, with tons of help from other wildlife enthusiasts and experts on www.ispot.org.uk (a great website where you can share wildlife photos and people help to identify what you’ve found), I managed to identify over 60 species (yes, 60!) in my garden. Next I recorded them online on a national database of biological records run by the National Biodiversity Network. How cool is that. My very own garden species list.This year I can’t wait to do it again, along with hundreds of other Blitzers (including my 86 year old Mum – who managed a great 12 species last year) during the national Garden Bioblitz weekend on 1-2 June. Anyone can take part, so please join in. It’s free, and it doesn’t matter if you are a wildlife expert or a beginner (like me) it’s great fun and adds to the national information on wildlife in our gardens.One word of warning though, if you do take part, I guarantee you will catch the Bioblitzing-bug!Event Details:Garden BioblitzDate: 1-2 June 2013Time: 24 hours (on and off!)Location: Your Garden (or local patch/park/allotment)Find out more: www.gardenbioblitz.orgTwitter: @GardenBioblitzEmail: firstname.lastname@example.orgBy Jane Adams – Garden Bioblitzer & part of the Garden Bioblitz TeamI hope Jane has inspired you. I think it's a great excuse to just get out there and have a good hard look. Who knows what you'll find?And given that I always like to bring you a very recent photo I've taken, I'm thinking there's a good chance some of you will find a Blackcap, as they seem to be everywhere this year - here was yet ANOTHER one that popped out of the bushes this week for me:
Just opposite the South East RSPB office where I'm based is a lovely garden surrounding the Brighton Pavilion. On sunny days it throngs with local workers grabbing quality time (I love how even in the city people are still drawn to green space) and tourists taking photos of the oriental buildings.
But over the last few days, there have been a number of rather different tourists, shyly tolerating the crowds.
Here was one of them: grey head, white eye-ring, thin bill for catching insects, hint of warm rufous in the wing, and most noticeable of all, a white throat.
Yes, it's one of those birds whose name makes perfect sense - it's the Grey-headed Rufous-wing. (Ok, so I jest - it's a Whitethroat.)
Only a month ago it was probably hopping about around Lake Chad or somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.
It will then have launched itself across the Sahara, no mean feat at this time of year, because northerly winds tend to blow.
It will have grabbed a bite to eat in North Africa before navigating the next hazard, the Mediterranean.
Then after another short break in SW France, it will have braved the next leg, including the crossing of the Channel, and plumped for the first bit of greenery it could find in amongst all these alien houses and roads.
And this wasn't the only Whitethroat - here was another, in one of the other flower borders (you can see his warm-toned wing more easily):
And there have been Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs and even a Reed Warbler, all doing the same.
Anyone with a coastal garden stands a chance of birds like this dropping in at this time of year, but of course your chances are even greater if, like the Pavilion Gardens, you have lovely insect-rich shrubberies and flower beds.
But the principle holds true for any garden - so many creatures are out there travelling, who on their journeys need somewhere to rest up, feed and in some cases set up home.
A garden managed with wildlife in mind offers them the welcome they are looking for.
I am a wicked person! I purchased two hanging baskets of trailing geraniums pink and white – lovely. They made their debut last weekend in glorious sunshine and soon attracted the attentions of bees. Except ............. they are not real! Bought for purely practical reasons you understand - less dead-heading and watering to do - but boy did I feel guilty. So, this weekend, I am going to make amends and create a bee garden. I have compiled a list of plants to attract bees and will get started. In my defence I already have many plants flowering at different times of year which are bee beneficial but I can do much more. Many will help all sorts of other insects too. Bees need us and we certainly need them.
Let’s all be an A Team for the Bee Team!
Plants that I’ve chosen as being attractive to bees and to me:
Aquilegia, Allium, Borage, Cornflower, Cosmos, Fuschia, Geranium – hardy (and real!), Hydrangea, Ice Plant, Lavender, Rosemary, Thyme, Verbena.
Gardening for wildlife in pots is a fascinating challenge, and hugely rewarding. And I can say that from first-hand experience - at the RSPB South East office where I'm based, we have a roof terrace (well, it's more of a roof pit) where the only way to grow plants is in pots.
Some of you will be in the same position, having no open ground in which to plant things. For the rest of you, I bet you have patios and decking where container planting is the only option to inject a bit of life.
I think great things can be achieved for wildlife using pots, so here are my top tips - and some photos of some inspiring pot-planting I've seen over the years.
The results can be simply wonderful - visually and for wildlife.
I'm not claiming this first photo is the best, but this was my 'cornfield annuals in a pot', with gorgeous Red Flax leading the way. However, it was the Fairy Toadflax beneath them that were the real winners with solitary bees.
The wonderfully healthy young tree at the back here is a friend's Elm tree she is growing ready for White-letter Hairstreak butterflies.
This immaculate selection at Christopher Lloyd's garden at Great Dixter was not planted specifically for wildlife, but includes plants such as Cornflowers, great for bees - and it shows just how good pot planting can look.
But I've saved this until last because this was just a private garden in the back street of a little mountain village in boiling Lesvos. Everything you can see was growing in a pot, and for me was just so inspiring to see someone bring life where there was nothing but whitewash, brick and cobble beneath.
Have you got any experiences of planting in pots you'd like to share? We'd love to hear.