This page is about some of the wildlife in a Slough garden – my garden. It is included as a metaphor for the rest of the website as it is also a close up view of the familiar.
My garden covers an area of about 90 square metres but in a little over twenty years of living here, I have observed 48 species of birds either within or from my garden, recorded 9 species of butterflies, 30 species of other invertebrates, 5 species of wild mammal and at least two species of bat fly within the confines of my garden. This wasn’t an intense scientific study, it was just casual observation by an amateur. Here are just a few examples of the wildlife in a Slough garden.
Please note that all of the species shown and described here visit my garden. They are common species but seen through telephoto and macro photography. All of the photos were taken in my garden except the common blue damselfly, the common field grasshopper and the gatekeeper butterfly which were taken in somebody else’s garden. The contents of this page may vary from time to time.
This finch is a real treat to observe in the garden. Not only is it beautiful, it also has a gentle lilting song. Young goldfinches have the golden wing patches but their heads are a kind of tawny grey, lacking the stunning black, white and red of the adults.
Using their long fine beaks they feed on seeds from thistles and teasels. They will also eat insects. The finch in the photo is feeding on nyjer seed in a feeder specifically designed for goldfinches.
Goldfinches belong to the family Fringillidae. They are quite common and can be seen all year round. Investing in a feeder may attract them but it depends on the surrounding environment. They like parks, heathland and commons that have plenty of bushes and trees.
The wood mouse, also known as the field mouse, is from the family Muridae. Their natural habitats are cultivated farmland, forests, open grasslands… actually anywhere in the great outdoors really. Unlike the house mouse (mus musculus), they tend not to like being indoors but they will come in in very cold conditions.
Wood mice feed mainly on seeds and will take food back to their nests for storage. They are mostly nocturnal and the wood mouse in the photograph was taken at night illuminated by a halogen light.
Length including tail: 90mm.
Blue passion flower
Blue passion flowers, from the family Passiforaceae, are hardy climbing plants with dark green leaves. They grow spiral tendrils to facilitate their climbing habit and their rather complicated flowers are up to 8cm diameter are white with blue, purple and green filaments. They bear orange ovoid fruit in autumn and winter.
Passion flowers grow best in full sun or partial shade on a sheltered trellis or pagoda and in moist but not saturated soil. They can climb to a height of 8-12m which can be attained in 5-10years, and can spread of 2-4m.
Other elements of a passion flower left to right, top to bottom: a tendril for clinging as the plant climbs; fruit emerging from the flower; the fruit and the fruit halved
Garden cross or orb-web spider
Named for the cross mark on its abdomen, the garden cross spider uses its third pair of legs to assist the spinning orb webs. The larger female spins the web and is quite passive as it waits for small flying insects to become entangled in the silky threads. When this happens the spider quickly catches its prey and wraps it in silk before devouring it.
These spiders eat the web each day along with the entangled insects, and spin a new one the following morning. During mating the male approaches the female with caution as she might instinctively attack and eat him as prey.
Adult females are 7-20mm long and males are 6-13mm.
Grey squirrels were released by UK landowners in the 19th century and are now common and widespread. They have replaced native red squirrels almost everywhere except some islands such as Anglesey, Brownsea and the Isle of Wight. Squirrels nest in a drey which consists of twigs, leaves and bark and breed in early spring but may have another litter in the summer if conditions are favourable.
Squirrels eat acorns, bulbs, fungi, windfall fruit and food left for birds such as peanuts and seeds. A grey squirrel visiting my garden recently, hung down on its back legs from the arch and lifted a seed feeder off its hook to let it fall to the ground so that some of its contents would spill out. The feeder was full and weighed nearly a kilogram, one and a half its own body weight.
Length: 30cm, tail about 25cm; weight: up to 600g
Common blue damselfly
Probably the most common damselfly in Britain, the common blue will typically fly low through reeds and often well out over water. They are fairly easy to approach unlike the similar azure damselflies which have slightly different markings; in particular they have two black stripes on each side of the abdomen as opposed to one on the common blue. Incidentally, damselflies differ from dragonflies as they hold their wings folded at rest, whereas dragonflies hold their wings open.
If you have a pond, stick some lengths of bamboo into the bank at angles of about 45° to provide resting posts for dragonflies and damselflies.
Lonicera periclymenum Belgica
This photo was taken in mid-August and the flower head has very little fragrance
Lonicera periclymenum or Honeysuckle is a species of flowering climbing plant. It climbs by twining around objects and can become rather scruffy. In the summer it produces sweetly fragrant flowers. It likes full sun or partial shade.
To care for it prune dead wood when necessary. The plant is usually pollinated by moths or long-tongued bees and develops bright red berries. It can grow to a height 180cm in 5 years.
This photo of the same flower head was taken the very next day and it stinks of possibly the sweetest perfume in nature!
Also known as the hedge brown; the gatekeeper is a golden butterfly that starts to emerge in mid-summer. This species is found where shrubs grow close to rough grassland. After mating a female may lay between 100 and 200 eggs. Gatekeepers feed on honeydew and other nectar sources such as bramble and ragwort.
Wingspan: Male: 37-43mm, Female: 42-48mm
Butterflies are particularly attracted to plants such as buddleia, honeysuckle and wisteria. Another way to attract butterflies is to place pieces of overripe fruit like banana, orange or pear on the ground or attach to a bush or tree limb.
Blue tits are familiar garden birds in Britain and as such are easy to observe. In April 2014 a pair of blue tits started taking an interest in one of my nest boxes. Soon it became apparent that they had a family as their visits were increasing to a rate of up to one every 1 minute 20 seconds by mid-May. By the end of May the chicks had fledged so I removed the nest. It was made of moss, grass and hair cuttings and was very clean with no droppings.
Adults feed on seeds, nuts and insects but seeds and nuts are indigestible to chicks and fledglings. Occasionally an adult would visit the nearby nut feeder to feed itself but it would never go to the nest box with peanuts, it would always fly to the nearby trees and shrubs before returning to the chicks with small insects or larvae for them.
Belonging to the family Paridae, blue tits are common in woodland, parks and gardens and are widespread in the UK throughout the year, their numbers are estimated to peak at around 15 million in winter.
Sexes appear similar. Length: 11cm
RSPB Birds of Britain and Europe
Whether you are interested in birds or are becoming interested, I thoroughly recommend this illustrated guide. The illustrations are superb and importantly, consistent in style. The information is presented in a concise manner and is accompanied with brief but warm descriptive text on each species. Normally it would be a cliché to say that this book is a must for anyone with just a passing interest in birds to the most eminent ornithologist except that in this case it is true.
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