Wildlife Wonders of 2014

So, as we head towards the end of January 2015, it’s high time I looked back over the wildlife wonders of 2014 here in my little garden in Heslington, on the outskirts of York. As ever, there were plenty of wildlife surprises over the course of the year. Here, in chronological order, are some of the highlights.

In May, Tree bumblebees took to nesting in our bird nest box, for the first time ever. As if it wasn’t amazing enough to see bumblebees trooping in and out of our bird box, instead of the usual Blue tits, we then witnessed an extraordinary sight: Tree bumblebee airconditioning. Which I wrote about here:

Moving away from the buzzing of bees, do you happen to know what this sound is:

The astute amongst you may have guessed that what you were listening to was courting hedgehogs. On several nights in July we had a pair of hedgehogs wandering – warily – round and round and round each other in circles, making a noise that explains where they get the name ‘hogs’ from! This courting goes on for quite some time.

Courting Hedgehogs, 11 July 2014

Courting hedgehogs, 11 July 2014

We’ve been lucky enough to have hedgehog couples come to our garden for their amorous ‘getting to know you’ routine before, and it was great to see them back here in 2014.

I’m pleased to report that come June, for the ninth year running we had my world-first insect discovery, Berberis sawfly larvae, in our Berberis.

Newly hatched Berberis sawfly larvae, 24 June 2014

Newly hatched Berberis sawfly larvae, 24 June 2014

On the moth front, the highlight was undoubtedly the appearance of a Hummingbird Hawkmoth on our honeysuckle in late September. With the added bonus that I managed to get my camera out and the settings sorted in time to take this photo.

Hummingbird hawkmoth on our honeysuckle, 24 September 2014

Hummingbird Hawkmoth on our honeysuckle, 24 September 2014

It’s not brilliant, but it’s my best Hummingbird Hawkmoth  photo yet – and a distinct improvement on the ‘blur at a fleur’ pix of said moth that I’ve managed on the two previous occasions I’ve seen this beauty in our garden. (Yes, a grand total of 3 sightings in 18 years!)

You can find out more about the Hummingbird Hawkmoth in my Buzzing! book.

Our Memorable Amphibian Incident of 2014 happened late in the year when I found a frog in the dining room. (Tricky things to catch, leaping frogs. But I did eventually manage to escort it off the premises.)

And finally … staying indoors, I noticed a speck of dirt on our living room carpet in early November. I was making a mental note to sweep it up at some point, when it jumped. Now, I’m no physicist, but I’m pretty certain specks of dirt don’t jump.

So, out came the camera, and when I zoomed in on the photo, I saw that far from being a speck of dirt, it was in fact an insect. The same insect I had mistaken for a speck of soil outside on our patio the week before.

Yorkshire Orthoptera Recorder Dr Dave Chesmore confirmed it as a Slender groundhopper (Tetrix subulata):

“It is a species that has been really under recorded,” he said.

I’m not surprised – it’s tiny!

Slender groundhopper - just 1cm long.

Slender groundhopper – just 1cm long.

This is the first indoor record Dave has of a Slender groundhopper. Moral of the tale: don’t be too assiduous in your hoovering. It may be you are in the presence of an important biological specimen that needs recording! (And then releasing into the outdoors before you continue with your housework.)

So, that’s a brief rundown of the best of 2014. What wildlife wonders will 2015 bring to Heslington? Who knows. However, the year has started well, with a visit from a Lesser Redpoll – a bird I’ve only ever seen once or twice here before. An excellent start to my BTO Garden Birdwatch year.

Lesser Redpoll on our sunflower seeds, 16 January 2015

Lesser Redpoll on our sunflower seeds, 16 January 2015

I wish you a 2015 filled with wildlife wonders, wherever you may be. And don’t forget to let the relevant recording organisations know what you’ve seen. There’s a list of  who to tell about what at my website.

Anneliese Emmans DeantheBigBuzz – Bringing poetry to life






Berberis sawfly larvae 2014

They’re back! For the ninth year in a row I’ve found Berberis sawfly larvae nibbling our Berberis bush:

Recently hatched Berberis sawfly larvae in my garden, 24 June 2014

Recently hatched Berberis sawfly larvae in my garden in York, 24 June 2014

To read the full Berberis sawfly larva story, click here and scroll back through the posts. Tip: It’s a long (but thrilling!) story, and includes the Natural History Museum in London and a World First for me here in Heslington. You might want to brew a cuppa before you embark on the saga …

Alternatively, if you want to hear all about it in person, then I’ll be telling the tale (the abbreviated version!) as part of my Buzzing! show the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in London this coming Saturday (5 July) from 1pm. Entrance is free. No need to book. See you there!

Anneliese Emmans Dean – theBigBuzz.biz – Bringing poetry to life

Berberis sawfly larvae 2013

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve not seen any 2-spot ladybirds where I live (in York) this year, or any Painted lady butterflies. And I was beginning to think I wouldn’t be seeing any Berberis sawfly larvae this year either. However, on 14 July I finally noticed a little tell-tale nibbling on my Berberis bush. And on closer examination, turning over a leaf or two, I found your friend and mine, a very young Berberis sawfly larva.

Berberis sawfly larvae, York,  July 2013. Photo by Anneliese Emmans Dean

Berberis sawfly larva, York, July 2013. Photo by Anneliese Emmans Dean

Now, I say your friend and mine, but it may well be that you don’t consider him your friend at all. Not if he’s munching vast swathes of your Berberis bush. We’re lucky here as we only have small quantities of the larvae, so they don’t cause very much damage. Which means I can enjoy their company and admire their beauty!

True, they’re not fabulously beautiful early on, but a week later they’d grown considerably and were a lot more colourful, as you can just about glimpse below (but which you can see much better here).

Berberis sawfly larva, York, 21 July 2013

Berberis sawfly larva, York, 21 July 2013

This is the 8th year in a row that I’ve spotted Berberis sawfly larvae in my garden. If you want my whole Berberis sawfly larvae saga (including the sending of a sample to the Natural History Museum in London for their collection), then make yourself a cup of cocoa, sit back, click here and scroll through the archive of posts!

If you want to skip straight to my video of them laying their eggs,click here.

And if you’d like a Berberis sawfly larvae poem, then why not try my Buzzing! book, which is shortlisted for this year’s Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize!

Anneliese Emmans Deanwww.theBigBuzz.biz – Bringing poetry to life

Berberis sawfly larvae 2012

They’re back! For the seventh year in a row, I have Berberis sawfly larvae nibbling at my Berberis bush – as you can see here.

Berberis sawfly larva on my Berberis bush, York, 14 July 2012

Berberis sawfly larva on my Berberis bush, York, 14 July 2012

For the full Berberis sawfly larvae saga, click here and scroll through the posts.

Or, to begin at the beginning,  click here.

Anneliese Emmans Deanwww.theBigBuzz.biz

Michael Chinery’s latest book

I’m very honoured that one of my insect photos has been included in Michael Chinery’s latest book, which has just been published by A&C Black.

Michael Chinery is one of Britain’s best-known natural history authors. Amongst many other books, he wrote Collins’ Complete British Insects, which has been my insect ID bible ever since I got bitten by the insect bug some years ago.

Most of the photos in Michael’s latest book are taken by the author himself, but there are some extra photos provided by the likes of Roger Key (with whom I worked in Colwall earlier this year), and sawfly expert Guy Knight, who has helped me identify many sawflies I have photographed over the years.

The photo of mine that is included in Michael’s book is of an adult Berberis (also known as Barberry) sawfly. Keen readers of this blog will know that back in 2006, Berberis sawfly larvae raised quite a stir in our back garden (find out more).

The title of Michael Chinery’s book is Garden Pests of Britain and Europe. And if you want a pristine berberis bush in your garden, then I agree that you would view Berberis sawfly larvae as pests. In large numbers they can completely defoliate a bush. If, like many of the people who contact me at my blog, this is the situation you face, then this book will provide you with answers to deal with it.

Order ‘Garden Pests of Britain and Europe’

However, we are lucky: we have only ever had a moderate number of Berberis sawfly larvae on our berberis bush, and so we are able to view them as colourful, entertaining additions to our garden.

Anneliese Emmans Deaninfo@theBigBuzz.bizwww.theBigBuzz.biz

Edinburgh Fringe 2010

I’m back now from performing my award-winning eco-show Buzzing! at the Edinburgh Fringe 2010. What an experience – with 6 consecutive shows and a live interview (and poetry performance) on BBC radio!

Outside our venue at the Edinburgh Fringe

Outside our venue at the Edinburgh Fringe

I was performing, with my musician John Rayson, at venue no. 28, the Patrick Geddes Room at the gorgeous Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

With John Rayson at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, for our Fringe run

With John Rayson at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, for our Fringe run

How did our run go? Well, I’ll let our audiences tell you:

‘As soon as the show finished, I turned to mummy and said “I wish it could have gone on all day!”‘ Alex, age 11

‘My daughter (age 6) loves minibeast hunts and she loved this show. Great sounds, great visuals – what’s not to like?’ Deborah Curd, edfringe.com

‘I thought she was amazing, mad, creative and John’s music was mind-blasting!’ Nina, age 10

‘Fascinating – gripping from start to finish.’ Bill (retired)

‘Really interesting and exciting. The poems and songs were amazing and the pictures were absolutely stunning. The whole show was wonderful.’ Gemma, age 11

‘Learnt so much in such a short space of time about my garden friends and enemies.’ Pamela (retired)

‘The best show we’ve seen at the Fringe!’ Klara (9) and Julian (12)

And we had this review from  Primary Times:

‘For all eco enthusiasts, minibeast fans and nature lovers, this is an absolute must.  But even if you are not one of the above, this is a terrific show with poetry, songs, music and incredible projected photography. Anneliese Emmans Dean is not only passionate about her subject, she is also a gifted performer and can’t fail to enthuse her audience. My children, ages 10, 8 and 5 years, were gripped throughout the show.  They particularly enjoyed the ‘guess the photo’ as images changed to the accompaniment of the viola player.  They were fascinated by the poetry, and how different styles of delivery created the identity of each insect. One girl in the audience amazed us all with her incredible knowledge of entomology, but there was chance for everyone to be involved.  Whilst the show itself was very educational, the style was great fun, and stimulated many questions for after the show.  All the children (and most adults!) were awash with questions for Anneliese, and whilst she brilliantly answered them all, she also encouraged us to seek out more for ourselves.  She has definitely re-ignited our interest, and given us some more great ideas to fill the remainder of the summer holidays.’

So, all in all, job well done!

Many thanks to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh for hosting us – especially to Amy for her impeccable and extremely friendly organisation, and to Sheena and all her staff, and Giles and Anna. To Yvonne and her family (especially Lewis) for all their marketing work on our behalf. To Nina for her warm welcome. And to my husband Mike for being front of house staff, flyer-giver-outer, chauffeur, roadie and general factotum.

And a huge thank you to all our audiences – a very international bunch, from Scotland, England, Singapore, Venezuela, Ireland, Spain, USA … and no doubt other countries I didn’t find out about. Thank you for coming along, and for being so enthusiastic about our show. I wish you all happy bug hunting, wherever you are!

Fancy putting on a Buzzing! show where you are? Then contact me, Anneliese, on info@theBigBuzz.biz

Find out more at my website, www.theBigBuzz.biz

Guess who’s coming to dinner …

Walking round my garden here in York yesterday, what did I come across but my old friends (and world-first insect discovery), Berberis sawfly larvae (Arge berberidis)! Munching away at my berberis. For the fourth consecutive year.

Recently hatched Berberis sawfly larvae, York, 23 June 09

Recently hatched Berberis sawfly larvae, York, 23 June 09

They looked like they’d hatched only recently – as you can see here. Which is just about the same time as they hatched last year. (Read all about it)

I looked around carefully, and found some leaves with Berberis sawfly eggs laid in ‘pockets’ inside them. (Click here to watch my video of how they do this.) As in previous years, the adult sawflies seem to favour laying more than one set of eggs on the same leaf.

Berberis leaf with Berberis sawfly eggs, York, 23 June 2009

Berberis leaf with Berberis sawfly eggs, York, 23 June 2009

And talking of adult sawflies, I looked around some more, and saw two skittish adults. Who seemed to be casing the berberis bush, trying out different leaves to find one that took their fancy for egg laying.

Adult berberis sawfly (Arge berberidis), York, 23 June 2009

Adult berberis sawfly (Arge berberidis), York, 23 June 2009

Interestingly though, when I checked up on the larvae this lunch-time, they were gone!

Nibbled berberis leaf with no Berberis sawfly larvae left, York, 24 June 2009

Nibbled berberis leaf with no Berberis sawfly larvae left, York, 24 June 2009

So, looks like they have a predator.

I asked Andrew Halstead of the Royal Horticultural Society what he thought had happened to the larvae, and he replied:

‘I don’t know what happened to the missing larvae.  Sawfly larvae that feed in exposed positions on the foliage, such as those of berberis sawfly, ought to be easy targets for birds. However, they evidently survive in large numbers, which indicates that there are no effective predators.  Some other caterpillars, such as those of the mullein moth and large cabbage white butterfly also feed in exposed positions on their host plants with apparent impunity. All of these larvae have prominent yellow blotches on their bodies, which may be a warning sign that they don’t taste good.’

So, I’ll have to keep a very beady eye out and see if I can spot any birds eating the next larvae that hatch.

Meanwhile, if you see Berberis sawflies – adults or larvae – in your garden, the Royal Horticultural Society would like to know about it. You can record your sighting with them here.

Find out more about Berberis sawflies (including photos of eggs, larvae and adults) here.

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Check out compost! The (mini-)Musical – ‘A superb learning experience’ – Teaching Pack with Resource CD now available

Compost! The (mini-)Musical Teaching Pack

Compost! The (mini-)Musical Teaching Pack