The new year is on our door step so it is good to look back at 2018. It sure was a very unusual year: we experienced a very dry period, just when trees, shrubs and flowers needed the rain. In May we had 23 mm of rain (May 1st) followed by 2mm in June and no rain in July. Several plants were lost and some were eaten by slugs which seemed to appear from nowhere after I had watered the garden. Most Campanula were lost which was bad news for the solitary bees that needed Campanula pollen to raise their young such as Chelostoma rapunculi.
Leafcutter bees were seen less often as well as not only Campanula but also most Centaurea sp did not survive this summer. Leafcutter bees, especially Megachile willughbiella, are often seen collecting pollen from Campanula species. Some leafcutter bees were seen but not many which was a bit disappointing. Restharrow was a popular source of pollen.
Spring butterflies such as the Brimstone did show up and were doing ok, albeit less abundant than in 2017. Hardly any summer butterflies were present which is not unusual since I only get a handful of butterflies each year. It seems some butterfly species are struggling in urban areas whereas some bee species seem to be able to adjust (some, not all!).
So which species did well? For some strange reason, red mason bees were not common in 2018 but its close relative, Osmia cornuta, had a terrific year with over 75 nests counted. Bee hotel management is key. It is important to clean the nests in autumn so that you do not end up with loads of parasites as bee hotels offer a great habitat for the natural predators of mason bees such as Cacoxenus Indagator.
A look inside the nest. You can see that the mother bee has made several nest chambers which are separated by a thin wall made of mud.
Female Osmia cornuta visiting the flowers of wild cherry, Prunus avium in the garden.
Other solitary bees that were doing well were the wool carder bees (Anthidium manicatum) and the fork-tailed flower bees (Anthophora furcata). Their presence proves that by providing the right plants, one can attract several bees to the garden.
A new species was Andrena dorsata, also visiting Bryonia dioica. This plant has proven to be very useful for all sorts of pollinators; the open flowers means bees can access the nectar and pollen without a lot of difficulty
Bumblebees were also present but their numbers are declining, except for the early bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) and the common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum). There were no garden bumblebees seen (Bombus hortorum) and very few red-tailed bumblebee, (Bombus lapidarius). Dead nettles were not doing particularly well this year and the garden bumblebee has a preference for this plant. Hopefully next year we will see more garden bumblebees, the only bumblebee species with a long tongue that is not threatened.
When it comes to birds, the garden has proven to be ok but there were no birds breeding. The constant presence of neigbhouring cats does not help. I have planted several spiny bushes such as hawthorn, blackthorn, buckthorn, barberry and native roses to offer the birds some protection. These will take time to grow but hopefully provide some place to hide and nest in the near future.
Ampibians did well and I was happy to see the gorgeous alpine newts Ichthyosaura alpestris in the pond this spring
A male alpine newt:
2018 was a fascinating year but also challenging for wildlife in general. I do hope we will not see many droughts like this again but with climate change, this type of drought may become more frequent. Question is how nature will cope with that.