30 Days Wild – Day 2

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In my garden, we have a couple of large ‘wild areas’ where we don’t do any management and just see what grows there. One is in clear light and unshaded all day, and has therefore developed into a nice mini-meadow with Common Spotted Orchids, Field Horsetail, Meadow Buttercups,Common Ragwort, Common Fleabane, Bristly Ox-tongue, thistle, Red Campion, Common Knapweed and other meadow plants and wildflowers.

On the other hand, the other is under a canopy of Oak and Birch trees and therefore does not get much light. Not many species grow here, just a bed of nearly foot-high grass. However, this grass has become home to a number of froghopper species. And at this time of year I start to see what is colloquially known as ‘cuckoo-spit’ appear on the grass stems.

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Cuckoo-spit on a grass stem

Cuckoo-spit is a white frothy liquid that is secreted by the nymphs of the froghoppers that I see in my wild area. As these nymphs secrete this spit-like liquid they have earned the name ‘spittle-bugs’. And the ‘spit’ provides a number of benefits to the developing froghopper as well:

  • It keeps it out of sight from predators/parasites
  • It has a vile taste to deter predators
  • It keeps the insect moist, without it the insect could dry up
  • It keeps the insect warm in cold conditions and cool in warm conditions.

I noticed that in some of the spit I could see small brown things inside, which I couldn’t see in other cuckoo-spit:

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In order to see what this was inside the cuckoo-spit, I very gently eased it out without damaging it too much. What I found was a froghopper nymph (spittle-bug), which is exactly what I had expected to find:

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Froghopper nymph from the cuckoo-spit

However, there was also something else within the spit. It looked to me to be the old and out-grown skin of the froghopper nymph. The nymph was clearly too large for this skin so it had pushed its way out of it, causing it to be visible from the outside. A new skin will now harden and provide some extra protection within the cuckoo-spit. Having photographed the nymph and old skin from which it emerged, I delicately returned the nymph to its spit home and I watched it burrow back inside and become hidden from the world around it.

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Froghopper nymph with its skin

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Part of the Package?

On Sunday the 15th March, I sent off an application to participate in a British Trust for Ornithology survey: Garden BirdWatch. The Garden BirdWatch is an easy to do survey, where participants count the birds in their garden every week and then send the records off at the end of every quarter.

I received the welcome letter and the introduction package on Thursday and I eagerly read through what it contained: information leaflets; a  ‘Garden Birds & Wildlife’ book; welcome letter; example of a paper recording form; ‘Bird Table’ magazine and a quick start guide. Although I didn’t know that I was going to get another gift though…

On Saturday (today) I did a one hour bird watch for the Garden BirdWatch, which was scheduled to begin at 9am and finish 10am. However I chose to start 20 minutes earlier than planned as my gift arrived in the garden; two Goldfinches at the nyger feeder! I haven’t seen a Goldfinch in our garden for around a year even though I recently saw a flock of 50 about 200 metres up the road, and later a group of 20 Chaffinches, 30 Greenfinches and 50 more Goldfinches!

The Goldfinches stayed around for 15 minutes while I counted the other birds and then were spooked by defensive Blue Tits, but they came back for a short visit of 2 minutes in the bushes around the garden and then weren’t seen again for the rest of the count. They are now though, as I write this post, once again being tormented by the local Tits.

I am pretty confident that they are a pair, one has more red on the face than the other and they seem socially close too. One particularly aggressive move from a Great Tit made the two Goldfinches spilt up and scatter, with one closer to the feeder than the other. The closer one returned to the feeder in about 30 seconds, while the other stayed out of sight behind a bush on the other side of the feeding station. They must prefer the company of one another as the one already on the feeder wouldn’t start eating until the other one joined it a few minutes later!

I really hope they stay around, an unusual splash of colour in our garden!

Goldfinches at the nyger feeder!

Goldfinches at the nyger feeder!