Sunday, 31 May 2015

Garden Bio Blitz 2015

It's the end of May and it's time to record as many wild species I can find for the Garden BioBlitz.

Marmalade hoverfly on a garden poppy.
I did my first BioBlitz last year and was surprised by the number of different wild species I found in our garden and how little I knew about them.  I have often seen hoverflies, like the one shown on the poppy, around the garden but had never particularly looked at them or realised that there were many different species.  I set myself three objectives for this year's BioBlitz:

1. To spot more species last year's score of 105.
2. To do a better job of identifying them - I was OK on flowering plants but otherwise my 105 species included too many that I was very unsure about. This included taking more photos for reference.
3. To identify more minibeasts - insects, crustaceans etc.

Early bumblebee with 'bed hair'.
The day started cold (it went down to 3 degrees C overnight) but bright. Having worked late on the Friday evening, I could relate to the early bumblebee in the photo, which slowly and unwillingly clambered out of the allium flower it had slept in overnight.

I started by checking off the wild flowers I had listed last year. I was indignant when I realised that many of them had been browsed off by two fallow deer who had visited a couple of days previously. Fortunately the deer had done the decent thing and left enough for me to identify the plants and, judging from fresh droppings, popping back on the night before/early morning of BioBlitz day.

Caught in the act.
Throughout the day, I was able to see how others were doing by following the #gbb15 hashtag on Twitter. Although I was working on my own, I felt like I was part of a team working on a joint project because we kept tweeting photos and commenting on each other's progress.

I was particularly pleased to see @DaveyManMcG tweet "Loads of honey bees & a few tree bees on my cotoneaster". This unregarded little shrub with its tiny flowers seems to be great for bees. Ours was covered in honeybees, tree and early bumble bees.

Tree bumblebee on cotoneaster
He has posted about his Garden BioBlitz on his Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Wildlife Safaris blog. I was amazed that he still had bluebells looking good at the end of May. In Sussex, ours peaked at the start of the month. It sounds like they had pretty challenging weather. Ours was OK but colder and windier than you would expect at this time of year so I didn't see many of the hoverflies that have been buzzing round our garden lately.
I am finding that social media is transforming my ability to observe and understand wildlife. I am learning so much from others. When I found out how many species of bees and hoverflies there are, I was fairly daunted by how difficult it would be to identify the creature that was in front of me. However there are loads of helpful resources online. Recently, I have found following Facebook groups very friendly and helpful:
So instead of being stranded by myself with books full of similar looking creatures, I can put a photo in the group and people, including experts, will help me identify them.
Back in the garden, I decided to try something I saw on Springwatch a few days previously. One of the presenters explained how many creatures could be found in an oak tree and shook a branch over a tray. He got several caterpillars and I got ... a disappointing rain of tiny bugs that I couldn't hope to identify and a fallen bit of leaf. Then I looked closer ...
Light emerald moth.
The leaf was a beautiful moth. It's light green colour and white 'veins' looked just like the back of an oak leaf. Then I looked some more and found a jaunty little yellow and black bug.
Dryophilocoris flavoquadrimaculatus bug from our oak tree.
I carried on poking around in the garden until the clouds rolled over and all sensible creatures including myself headed for shelter. I spent the evening processing photos and figuring out what I had found.  I entered my results on Sunday and was pleased that I had met my objectives, having:
  • identified 127 species
  • improved the accuracy of my identifications and added photos to enable verification
  • increased the number of 'minibeasts' identified - I have actually doubled the number of insect species in my count.
Breakdown of my BioBlitz Results.
When I finished at about 2:30pm, I was delighted to find that I was 3rd on the league table for the results overview. Of course, others will soon overtake me but it'll be nice while it lasts!
Overview of BioBlitz results at 2:30pm on Sunday.
I was intrigued to see that other results were building up for East Sussex. My 127 had contributed to a total of 141 species at that point.  I went into iRecord proper to find out what was going on. 
BioBlitz records in iRecord.
It seems that people have been doing a National Trust BioBlitz at Birling Gap.  Obviously their results are going to be very different - Birling Gap is right on the coast, is chalky and is a much more natural environment.  However, as their list has built up, it has been intriguing to see some similarities with mine.

Red tailed bumble bee was found in both Birling Gap and my BioBlitz.
Back to my own garden, I was pleased that some our garden minibeasts have become familiar enough to name on sight and I can identify some of the more distinctive creatures without too much trouble. However, I'm still struggling with many of them and have a lot to learn.  Also, after one little shake of an oak branch revealed two such pretty creatures, I really want to know what is going on in the canopies of our trees and who lives there.


  1. Thanks for the mention Wendy
    Glad you had a good bioblitz
    Wifey has a very good friend who lived in Uckfield for many years so it's good to know what she never would have thought to look for down there.



    1. Thank you for the comment - and what a coincidence. We're on an ordinary housing estate, which backs onto woods so we get a lot of visitors.