On 23rd March 2020 the UK government put the country into virtual lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic which had started to badly affect the country.  So with nowhere to go I decided it was time to investigate the wildlife in the gardens of my flats, an area of grass behind the main building with a few trees, a tree line, a big dip and a wall at the far end.  There were a few planted Roses and some Spurges but not many other flowering plants.  At the front it was a similar story with a few trees and a few flowering plants; tulips, hyacinths, a scattering of Spanish Bluebells, a patch of Red Valerian and more Roses.  The trees included Yew, Horse-Chestnut, Holly, Sycamore and Beech and Silver Birch.  It did not look too promising but armed with my camera and backed up with the relevant books on insects, bees, spiders, hoverflies and plants as well as access to the internet (and the wonderful resource Naturespot in particular) I found a lot more than I had excepted.

And to add to my local patch Richmond Park is fairly close and so is Coombe Golf Course (if only I had realised it was open to the public earlier it would have proven very good for wildlife I am sure).  The best and safest places to find insects and other invertebrates in Richmond Park are the plantations where there deer cannot graze and where there are flowers for insects to visit but those tick free havens were closed up to the third week of July.  The rest of the Park is not quite so good as these spots and the risk of getting a tick or three is pretty high if you start getting close to bushes and walking through Bracken which of course I did on a regular basis.  Up to 14th May I was a bit unsure if carrying and using a camera counted as exercise so was discreet when photographing things but after this date it was an outdoor activity and acceptable (well if angling was deemed acceptable then surely photography must be too!).

With the coming of summer my interest turned away from birds, as most were hidden away in the tree foliage and I concentrated more on the insects mainly in Richmond Park and Ham Common because the wildlife in the garden seemed to disappear during summer mainly due to there being not real source of water or nectar with the only flowering plants being Roses.  Still I got to practice my identification skills on wasps, bees and flies, with what I initially saw in the garden and some of which turned out to be easier to identify than expected but several were not!

Overall I think I did okay over the months of lockdown as documented in the following pages and there were several surprises and national rarities which certainly added to my interest during the duration of the project.

It is also good to record the fact that many people were friendly and spoke to me normally to ask what I was doing when lying on the ground taking shots of wasps around their nest holes or whilst looking intently at a Bramble flower.  Many seemed genuinely interested and to some I became “the insect man”.   It was also good to be able to tell people about the things I was looking at and to take on an educational role once in a while!

With the more general opening up on 1st August I have arbitrarily decided to end this diary on 31st July because I think the social isolation to a large extent ends on that day (even although the rules and face coverings still apply).

Only a few technical terms are used in the text, most describe insect groups, and a short glossary is:

  • Tergites which means “abdominal segment” – hoverflies have four and other diptera may have more
  • Diptera – basically flies
  • Odontata – Damsel and Dragonflies
  • Orthoptera – Grasshoppers and crickets

Note – only where I am sure are the species named.  In the cases where the specific identification is uncertain then I name to genus or even just family in some cases or say that the ID is uncertain.

Nigel Sawyer
August 2020