WHAT DOES THE DOCTOR THINK THIS MONTH? July 2020
Have magpies, the squirrel or, perhaps, the rabbits become the new Bluebells? Those of you who have been reading these articles for the past thirty years or so will be well aware of my long-standing war against Spanish (thug) Bluebells in the Feltwell garden. I was enjoying a long-fought victory when we moved to Worcestershire a couple of years ago and there are no Spanish Bluebells in this garden. I still have nightmares about the massive framed picture of Bluebells hanging on Dr Giselle Sagar's consulting room wall. Just for clarity, I have no problem with the dainty English Bluebells, of which there are many around here. Here, we have rabbits, Magpies and a grey squirrel (flying rat)! The mummy rabbit and the baby rabbit visit us. Mummy eats the lawn (no problem) but baby eats the newly planted bedding plants (big problem). I had been having a massive tidy up at the far end of the garden because Deannie wanted to create a wild flower garden of 8 square metres. On the ground, there was an old bird box which had fallen down a year ago. It was battered and I picked it up to throw it away; I looked inside and a blue tit flew out, leaving a nest with 4 eggs. Carefully, I replaced the house where it had been and consulted with Management, the resident bird expert. We decided that it would be unsafe to leave the box on the ground. However, if I hung it up at 6ft or so, the tit might be too confused. So, we decided to put the box on a garden chair in the same position. Because last year's occupant had died from overheating in the sun, we put an umbrella over the bird house and retired to our patio coffee lounge to await developments. Within moments, the bird was back in residence and, feeling very proud, we congratulated ourselves on a job well done. We watched the box for several days and all was going well when DISASTER! We found the box on the ground with the roof broken off and empty of bird and eggs. The previous day, I had chased a squirrel from our bird feeding area and we have a pair of magpies who live in the garden (with a pair of pigeons, a pair of collared doves and a pair of robins – all we need is an ark). So, another high level meeting with Head Office and we think the blame must lie with either the squirrel or the magpies who are now persona non grata in our domain. The rabbits, we decided, were not involved. I bought a new bag of bird seed, big and tough plastic it was, and left it outside my garden shed overnight. Next morning, Deannie was having her morning inspection of the estate when she noticed that the Magpie had clocked the bag of seed, bearing a very realistic picture of bird seed, had drilled a hole in the bag and was chomping merrily away. Too clever by half! Enough of the Victor Meldrew! Deannie's wild flower garden is growing well and should provide a profusion of colour later in the year. At the moment, it looks like a lot of weeds and it makes me very disquieted and I start thinking of weedkiller and a garden fork when I look at it. It will be interesting to see how it develops. In March, we bought a bug hotel, otherwise known as a bug house, a bee house/hotel and so on. It looks like a bird box with an open front and numerous different sizes tubes with open ends.Within a month, the garden was alive with little bees, zooming around and going in and out of the bug/bee/insect hotel, filling the ends of the tubes with mud. The local What's App went ballistic, asking “What are all these wasps doing in our house walls? It transpired that they are Masonry Bees who are solitary bees. The male bees exist to mate with a female, then die. Life span 2 weeks! Unlike honey bees, the females are all fertile , laying both male and female eggs, and, after mating, she builds her own nest ideally in a tube 6” long or in a crack in masonry. Before laying her eggs, she needs to gather pollen and nectar. She does not have pollen baskets on her hind legs; she just dives straight into the middle of the flower, covering her body with pollen before diving into the next flower. She is not much good at collecting pollen but she spreads the pollen around between plants, each masonry bee pollinating as many flowers in a day as 100 honey bees can manage. She will visit 75 flowers to gather one load of pollen and 25 loads are required for one pollen wad which is destined to feed one larva.. So, she will visit 1875 flowers to lay one egg in one cell. She goes into her chosen nesting site and regurgitates the nectar; then, she shakes the pollen wad on top of the nectar, repeats this process 25 times for one egg and then lays an egg on top of the nectar-pollen ball. She then caps the end of the tube or fissure with mud and moves on to the next tube or crack. During her 4-6 week life, she will lay 35 eggs. So, after about a month, all went quiet and we have a bug box with all the tubes blocked with mud. We shall be interested to see when the new life bursts forth. The good news is that they are harmless and do not sting. Theoretically, they do not damage buildings, but Judith Griffen remembers a lot of annual damage to the barns at Holly Farm in Methwold. Next up, during May, a load of bees took over one of the bird nesting boxes at the far end of the garden. There was a constant buzzing of about 20 bees protecting the entrance and I gave it a wide berth while working down there. Apparently, we had been visited by the Tree Bumblebee. Female workers can be very protective of the nests, buzzing around if they hear vibrations. The bees flying around the entrance are usually a group of males engaged in drone surveillance. They do not enter the nest but they are waiting to pounce on and mate with new queens as they emerge from the nest. If they find a female, the pair appears to fight, falls through the air and mates on the ground. Ten what? All seems to have gone quiet in thee bird box at present and the temptation is to open the lid and have a look. Perhaps not! Last year, I wrote about our leaf cutting bees who cut a really neat semicircle out of leaves. I have not seen any sign of them yet this year. How are you getting on with the lock-down? We are fine but fed up not being able to visit our family. Saving money by not going out! I even have to admit to missing being able to pop to the shops. A lady was working in her kitchen during Corona lock-in when her friend arrived and chatted to her through the window. “Where's your husband?” “Oh, he's in the garden” Long pause while the visitor scours the garden “I can't see him” “You are not looking deep enough”.
Best wishes to you all Ian Nisbet