I have lived on an urban housing estate in Buckinghamshire for over a decade now and it has shaped my view on the world around me. Despite living reasonably close to the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, I didn’t have the access to green spaces that others may have had. My connection with the natural world was through the window and investigating the garden.
As a child I used to photograph butterflies in the garden on a cheap digital camera. I still have these photos and they are precious to me because this is when I discovered the natural world. My connection with nature started at home for me, not through David Attenborough documentaries, but by getting muddy and exploring the garden. I aim to encourage you all that you don’t have to travel far to see amazing wildlife!
Personally, my main interest and specialism is plants and invertebrates and, as garden invertebrates first got me interested in wildlife, I wish to show you just how much you can find in your local area, even at this time of year as the summer comes to an end.
Even in the most homogenous of urban gardens there is life just waiting to be discovered. One image that sticks in my mind is the one below. Bees (especially solitary bees) are my favourite insects in Britain and I could talk about them forever given the chance. I took the photo below of a tiny male Lasioglossum bee sitting in a fox-and-cubs flower a few years ago. I was just getting into bees seriously and this one was hardly visible to the naked eye. It was probably walked past by hundreds of people, yet through my lens its intricate beauty is revealed.
Despite summer drawing to a close and the evenings starting to get darker, there are still lots of garden invertebrates to be found, and getting as many people as possible involved in finding them is especially rewarding. Invertebrates are everywhere and easy to find. They are, however, far from boring, often leading more complex lives than our more widely recognised animals and birds.
One of the things I most love about invertebrates is how assessable they are. Although I now use a macro lens and a Nikon SLR for my invertebrate photos, I still treasure some of the photos I took all those years ago on a cheap compact camera.
On sunny days there are still lots of bees buzzing around. There are a number of queen bumblebees around now, stocking up on nectar before they settle down to overwinter. I have also noticed that there are still a number of Leafcutter Bees (Megachile species) in my garden at the moment, especially on flowers in the daisy family. These bees nest alone and build their nests out of sections of leaves which they cut themselves. The image below shows one in action cutting a neat section of leaf which it will roll and crimp to form a nest cell into which an egg can be laid.
Along with bees, another group of important pollinators are still around in high numbers; the hoverflies. This year has been especially good for the Marmalade Hoverfly, Episyrphus balteatus. This is a species that although resident in Britain, is often joined by a number of migrants of the same species from the continent. Alice noted the influx this year too and chose a photo she took of one as her Image of the Month for July. As this year has been a good year for the Painted Lady butterfly and the Marmalade Hoverfly, I wonder what other migrant insects we will see turn up!?
Ivy will soon be in flower providing an essential resource for a number of insect species including hoverflies. Do keep a look out on a patch near you and see how many different insects you can find nectaring on it. The Batman Hoverfly (Myathropa florea), so called due to the batman symbol-shaped markings on the thorax, was a frequent visitor to the Ivy patch in my garden last year.
The end of Summer and the start of Autumn to me signify an increase in the number of spiders and harvestman that I see in the garden, with the early morning dew making the webs of the common garden spider (Araneus diadematus) stand out. There is no better way to start the day on a foggy morning than to wander around clutching a cup of tea, examining the works of art that spiders created overnight. They are all the more stunning when covered in strings of dew drops like this one I photographed last year.
A number of our butterfly species in Britain overwinter as adults. On warm sunny days they can still be seen, often trying to get a sugary fix on windfall fruit or later blooming flowers, so these are good places to look for them. The Brimstone and Red Admiral butterflies, pictured below, have to be two of my favourites to see at this time of year.
The nights are still relatively warm so there are a large number of moths to be found at night, as many of you will know if you leave your window open and light on in the evenings. Possibly the most common moth at the moment is the Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba). As the name suggests, this moth is rather large and crashes around showing off its bright yellow underwings which are used as a warning for predators. This erratic behaviour gives it the nickname of Blunderwing as it blunders around the place, crashing into lampshades in its attempts to get closer to the light!
There really is nothing better than exploring the natural world around you through your garden or local green space. Why not give it a go this weekend and let us know what garden invertebrates and other wildlife you find? You can tweet me at @RyanClarkNature or Alice at @AHunterPhotos with your discoveries. In the meantime, if you’ve enjoyed my images you can see more on my Flickr site.
Ryan Clark is a 22 year old ecologist, conservationist and wildlife photographer with a keen interest in urban wildlife, especially pollinating insects. He tweets at @RyanClarkNature and has a great nature themed blog.