Garden BioBlitz: Reading Style

IMG_6616I made a half-hearted effort at the ‘Garden BioBlitz’ last year – an event which encourages all to go out and see what’s living in their gardens, whether bird, beast, bug, bat or bee. I pootled in our shared Sevenoaks garden for about an hour, photographing a few things, and ultimately forgot to ever identify it all and submit a sightings list. This year, I vowed, I’d do it properly. And what better way to start such an event than with a moth BBQ?

We weren’t, I hasten to add, actually cooking moths on our sustainably-sourced-British-coppice charcoal fire – bean burgers and veggie sausages were on the menu – but had arranged a pleasant-sounding evening of al fresco dining followed by the viewing of what we hoped would be a multitude of moths, with a side order of bat detecting. Alas, this has been a terrible year for mothing, so it shouldn’t have been surprising that our somewhat comical jerry-rigged moth ‘trap’ caught nothing at all. Not even one of those veggie sausages. And of bats we got not the faintest ultrasonic squeak.

IMG_6626Luckily there was a crate of Black Isle ale on hand to cheer things up, and for listing purposes we were able to make do with a spot of slug hunting in the back garden, and a mouse spider on the kitchen worktop. By the end of Bioblitz Day 1 our list – for the unruly but lovely garden of our friends Helen and Fish, hosts for the evening – was a spectacular five species long. We were underway.

Showing just how seriously I was taking the whole enterprise, I managed to sleep away most of Sunday morning, but after a fortifying stack of pancakes we were back in the urban jungle and ready for anything. Anything being the word, for the joy of taking a good, long detailed look at the wildlife of one small patch is that I invariably see something new: the unassuming, unshowy little species whose existence I hadn’t previously noticed, or, in some cases, even heard of.

IMG_6635Species such as the forget-me-not shieldbug, an as-yet-unidentified grey-haired Andrena mining bee, sage leafhoppers, coupling 22-spot ladybirds, the equally frisky bug Rhopalus subrufus, signal flies, various aphids and the thistle-munching leaf beetle Sphaeroderma testaceum. Or the attractive Anthocomus fasciatus, a common member of the soft-winged flower beetle family which I had in fact seen once before, a year and a day previously and in almost exactly the same spot. Nice to know they had persisted. On the slightly larger end, common frogs and smooth newts were hanging out in the pond, and a magpie briefly entertained us by noisily escorting a low-flying red kite away from the vicinity of its nest at the far end of the garden.

On some low-growing daisies in front of the house, I spotted two varied carpet beetles (Anthrenus verbasci), and took one inside to show off under the microscope. The intricate, delicately-coloured patterns of an adult Anthrenus verbasci drew many appreciative ‘ooh, wows!’ from all who were gathered: they really are very beautiful. I think the fact that my new boss organises the national recording scheme for carpet beetles has led me to develop a soft spot for them. It goes to show that it isn’t just charismatic megafauna that have the capacity to act as ambassador species.

IMG_6660Not wanting our modest little garden to be left out, by late afternoon the action moved to the scruffy ‘lawn’ (I prefer meadow), vegetable garden and daisy patch outside La Maison du Chapeau. Here such delights as an ant damsel bug were added to our list, and Helen’s audit of the wild growing plants turned up black medic, common mouse-ear, dove’s foot cranesbill and small cat’s ear, amongst others.

IMG_6682A few things were beyond any of our powers to identify, which is one of the reasons why doing a garden wildlife audit at the same time as many other people is a good idea: there were (and are) plenty of experts in various fields ready and willing to help online. Still, I don’t have names for several things yet, and it turns out that even what looks like a very distinctive wasp will be tricky to put a name to with much certainty.

I’ll keep trying, though, by which effort I will hopefully be able to nudge these distinctly modest totals upwards: 38 species for the Whitalls’ garden (no plants on that list, yet; this was largely invertebrates), and 26 for our own.

IMG_6665Compare these to the current nationwide results, and it’s clear that we’ve a long way to go even to be amongst the most biodiverse gardens in Reading, let alone in the country. But whilst we may not have topped the Bioblitz table, by taking part we allowed nature to be our host for what proved to be a most enjoyable weekend. Bioblitzing is educational and satisfying but above all tremendous fun, and that’s what the event is really all about. Still, I have my eye on passing 100 species next time, so in 2014 I’ll have to do it really properly. A full 24 hours’ recording, perhaps: we might even get some moths!

Photos from top: ‘Ethical BBQ’, the thrill of seeing no moths is too much for Fish, Rhopalus subrufus, Helen and Fish blitzing our very small garden, a mystery ichneumon (?!) wasp, getting to grips with slugs. Below: Rotund Disc, 22-spot ladybird, large-red damselfly.


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