Back yard safari

A couple of posts ago I described my Fenland safari and since then I just happened to have had my own ‘back garden safari’! Lots of colourful creatures have been stopping by to refuel.

I’ve previously expressed concern for the depleted populations of insects, in particular butterflies and dragonflies, due to the mad weather we’ve experienced in the UK this year, but in the last couple of weeks there have been some great sightings outside my back door.


Common darter (Sympetrium striolatum) female perched on the clothes line

The dragons have been late to appear but since the last week in August there have been common darters regularly alighting and migrant hawkers hunting overhead.

And of course it’s that time of year when the arachnids are most in evidence, and my garden is festooned with garden spiders, there are webs attached to every surface: walls, plants, windows… everywhere.

Garden spider female, Araneus diadematus, despatching her prey, a small fly

The female garden spider has a bulbous abdomen which is adorned with the fabulous diadem that gives the species its name. The male is smaller than the female and has a flatter, kite shaped, abdomen, but he also carries the diagnostic markings. A couple of years ago I posted about the perilous love life of the garden spider, suffice to say the sex life of the male can be dramatically and terminally curtailed if he fails to show the lady sufficient respect!


This garden spider male set up home inside the bedroom window – until  the resident arachnophobre found him and relocated him

As well as the spiders, the occasional cricket strolls by, and this little chap was taking shelter under a sunshade from the unseasonally hot weather last weekend:


Oak bush cricket – Meconema thalassinum – the male of the species. The female has a long, upturned ovipositor protruding from her rear

The oak bush cricket is quite a small example of the genre, they are 13-17mm long and are carnivorous, feeding on small insects. They live on the edge of woods and in gardens and appear from July into the Autumn.

Also putting in a welcome appearance was a common buzzard, Buteo buteo:

The buzzard has been one of the birds which has really bounced back since the more stringent controls on of agricultural pesticide use were introduced in the 1980’s. I’d never seen a buzzard until I was in my 20’s and even then it was the occasional sighting in the wilds of west Wales or down in Cornwall. But they can now be seen over all of England – even from my garden.

Hoverfly – Volucella inanis

Hoverfies rarely have common names, they’re simply known under the generic name ‘hoverfly’. And V. inanis is no exception, at least as far as my research reveals. There was great excitement when it first buzzed into the garden because at first glance we thought it was a hornet due to it’s size and its yellow and red colouration. And it was a whopper! They can grow up to 15mm long and this one was one of the bigger ones. It eventually settled and posed rather obligingly on the edge of the rabbit run while I snapped a portrait, and it is a very handsome fly. It has an interesting breeding tactic too laying its eggs in the nests of other social wasps, including hornets – which probably explains its size and colour scheme – where they hatch and feed on the larvae of the host.

Comma – Polygonia c-album

I waited expectantly for this comma to open its wings and show the gorgeously ragged orange symmetry, but it didn’t. So I had to content myself with this silhouette of it perched on a cooking apple.

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20 responses to “Back yard safari

  1. Pingback: Correction – Volucella zonaria | The Naturephile

  2. I am a huge fan of all insects, and especially spiders, so especially enjoyed your photographs of the garden spiders. I also really like the shot of the oak bush cricket, which I don’t think I’ve seen before. Lovely collection! And what a fun safari!

  3. I really enjoyed the photo of the male garden spider…wonderful detail, Finn.

    • He was minding his own business in my bedroom window and I just managed to fire off a few frames before the good lady removed him to the garden, where I guess he belongs. Ain’t he a beauty though 🙂

  4. The kingdom of the small is a fascinating place; away from the prying eyes of humans, some of the most beautiful creatures exist. I greatly admire the little beauties (ants and spiders are my favourites).

    I really appreciate your narrative, with specific references to the scientific name. It is something that I’m not yet educated in (I wish I was). You are an inspiration. I truly believe that a thing of beauty is accentuated by the extent to which we understand them, as passive but inquisitive observers.

    Thank you for bringing these to the fore.

    • Hello HaLin, I’m very pleased that such an accomplished wordsmith as yourself enjoys my writing!

      The little creatures are fantastically challenging, they can be very tricky to photograph and next to impossible to identify, but their world is indeed a fascinating one.

  5. These are some very photogenic insects! I admit I usually try to avoid them, but I can see they have really interesting colors. Thanks for sharing this outdoor adventure… 🙂

  6. Beautiful photos! Amazing creatures coming to visit… and pose!

    • Thanks Terry. A poke around the garden is highly rewarding at this time of year. In some ways the situation here with insects is a bit like the wild flowers where you are. Whereas the prolonged heat stunted the flowers in Montana, we have lots of flowers due to protracted rainfall, but the insects have been badly hit. It’s only in the last month or so that I’ve started to see butterflies and dragonflies in any numbers. But fortunately the ones that are around seem to be finding their way into my garden 🙂

  7. Sounds like my favourite kind of safari, everyday nature just doing what it does and all you have to do is notice it. I love the Comma silhouette and the lighting – what great camouflage. Beautiful spiders and hoverfly too.

    • It was the cheapest and easiest safari I’ve ever done! I simply opened the door to the garden and there the beasties were 🙂

      The camouflage of the comma really is ideally adapted, they’re striking with the wings open, but nigh on undetectable when the wings are closed.

  8. What a wonderful collection of beasts! I love the comma, which could easily pass for a crumpled leaf, and I’m very fond of hover flies. I’ve noticed an increase in butterflies here recently, which seems quite surprising after all the rain and some cold weather, but we’ve had some strangely warm days interspersed with the cold, when the butterflies appear and make it feel summery again. Is there any chance we might get a peek at the rabbit(s) some time? The edge of the rabbit run was tantalisingly close and I was hoping a rabbit would pop out in the next picture.

    • Hello Lorna, funny you should mention the leafy shape of the comma. Me and my daughter watched a flash of orange fly into the tree and then I lost it. She spotted it and was saying ‘It’s there, no there!’ as I searched for it, but it was invisible until I looked directly at it and saw its antennae. They’re perfectly camouflaged when the wings are folded closed.

      More butterflies are appearing here now after the warmer weather, even though the numbers of different species seem well down, but I’m hoping there are enough to repopulate if we have a mild, butterfly friendly, year in 2013.

  9. Wonderful pics Finn!! My favourites are photo number 1 and 3. Even though I don’t want them too close to me (I think I would be screaming!!) I love to see them on your blog 😉 !! Especialy in the first photo I love to see how he’s almost hiding himself behind his wings….

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