2012. The year in focus.
I honestly can’t remember such a long and relentlessly wet spring and summer as I have experienced this year. Unfortunately, the relentless rain meant that I spent considerably less time out on my balcony which resulted in me having far fewer opportunities to observe and photograph the wildlife there. At least that’s my excuse for not updating my blog on a regular, monthly basis (as I know I really ought to have done). Although the incessant rain certainly had a significant impact on my “wildlife garden” balcony that is not to say that it didn’t support any wildlife at all – as it most certainly did, though with “interesting” results.
Vine Weevils certainly loved the incessantly wet weather this year and had a population explosion on my balcony. The adult beetles prefer damp soil into which to lay their eggs with the emerging grubs eating through the roots of many of my plants.
Whilst herbaceous plants can survive the adult beetles’ savage nibbling of their leaves , a number of my plants weren’t able to survive the voracious appetite of their grubs who eagerly munched their way through the plants entire root systems . Whilst weevils are often the bane of many gardeners(especially those who garden in containers) the damage they have caused to a number of my plants raises some interesting philosophical issues for me.
The balcony’s main purpose, after all, is to provide a wildlife habitat for a diverse range of plants and creatures.
The weevils were certainly able to make good use of the habitat I’d provided for them but their population boom also resulted in the severe stunting and/or death of a number of plants which could have provided much-needed nectar to hoverflies, bees and butterflies.
However, the vine weevil’s population explosion also provided a potential source of food for any visiting birds and predatory ground beetles. Equally, the weevils premature destruction of herbaceous flowering plants helped to deprive seed eating birds of a source of winter food on my balcony. Whilst I want to ensure that I achieve as much biodiversity as possible on the balcony , if the weevils were to succeed in wiping out most of my plants then that would almost certainly undermine what I wanted to achieve. Though I would never resort to using insecticides on the wildlife garden balcony, I am giving some thought to using an organic option which would involve introducing the weevils natural predators in the form of microscopic nematode worms. Their introduction would at least help provide a more “natural” solution to reducing the weevils population and help to promote a bio-diverse habitat for a wider range of creatures on the balcony .
This year’s relentless rain not only encouraged an explosion in the weevil population but also brought about a dramatic decline in the number of bees, butterflies and hoverflies visiting my garden, with the balcony effectively becoming a microcosm of what appeared to be happening in the wider natural world.
Of course, 2012 wasn’t entirely just one long heavy shower (even if it seemed like it!). In March, spring appeared to have well and truly arrived with unseasonably high temperatures (sometimes reaching into the mid 20s) being recorded towards the end of the month. The unusually warm weather at this time encouraged a population boom in aphids which in turn encouraged the arrival of their predators, ladybirds. After the end of the brief warm spell in March, however, I can’t recall seeing another ladybird on the balcony until September.
As expected, the warm weather didn’t last and as we entered April the temperatures plummeted and the bees and hoverfiies ,which had only just started to visit the balcony, became conspicuous by their absence.
Around the same time in April, I’d installed a motion activated “bird cam” on my balcony to try and capture images of birds visiting the bird feeder. I was very pleased with the results, particularity with so many great shots of the numerous blue tits visiting the balcony.
Interestingly, throughout April and May the birdcam recorded blue tits visiting the balcony feeder on an almost daily basis but didn’t record any visits from them whatsoever from June onwards. I guess this would tie in with the adult tits having established nests by then and so requiring live food in the form of grubs and insects for their chicks rather than peanuts or seeds from my feeder.
Other birds seen on my balcony have included Robins and Blackbirds (both seen feeding on the honeysuckle berries) Dunnocks , Collared Doves and Magpies. I’m sure there are other types of birds which visit too, and which I’ve yet to see or capture on my birdcam. Hopefully, now that the winter is virtually upon us, visits to the balcony’s feeder will begin again and allow the “bird cam” to reveal even more about our feathered visitors . I’ve also put out a nest box and a few rattan nesting pouches on the more secluded, outside areas of the balcony which hopefully will provide nesting sites (if not winter shelter) to some of our feathered friends.
The soggy weather this year certainly doesn’t t seem to have curtailed the presence of spiders on my balcony, who seem to have had something of a population explosion here. Last year I was lucky if I saw one or two spiders, usually lurking around the shadowy, more inaccessible areas of the balcony floor. This year I’ve seen at least 8 different Garden Spiders (araneus diadematus) with their individual webs strung out between my plants .
I also noticed, for the first time, the presence of the jumping spider (pseudeuophrys lanigera) which is renowned for hunting down and pouncing on its prey instead of weaving a web to ensnare its victims.
The increase in the number of spiders here is a good indicator, I hope, that the balcony is becoming increasingly bio-diverse, attracting sufficient numbers of other insect prey to sustain and increase their presence.
I really hope that our next summer will be a warmer(and drier) one which would certainly help our essential pollinators start to make a recovery of sorts. Nationally (and globally) our bees are in massive decline and there is emerging evidence that this is related to insecticide use, which will be compounded by loss of suitable habitat.
As can be seen in the above photo, there is (or was) a very large area of wild urban greenery known locally as birley fields which is situated just across the road from my balcony garden. This “brownfield site” undoubtedly provided a refuge and breeding area for bumble bees, butterflies, hoverflies , birds and countless other creatures. Now that it’s just been dug up and large trees felled to make way for a massive university campus, it will be interesting to see what effect this has, in the future, on the sort of wildlife which currently visits my balcony.
In the meantime, I will press on with trying to support our local urban nature with the “Wildlife Garden Balcony” as a tiny, aerial refuge. Finally, my (very early) new year’s resolution is that I will update this blog on at least a monthly basis from now on. Promise!