Male Conehead Mantis

In your own garden

Due to the current situation many people are choosing to stay at home for much longer periods than usual which prompted me to write about many common species of wildlife you can find in gardens of any size and, if you look, you may even spot them amongst plants on small terraces and balconies.

European Goldfinch
One of my favourite small birds in the UK, where I went from having none in the garden to huge flocks after I installed some Niger seed feeders. In Portugal, goldfinches can be seen in huge flocks in areas that have plants with seed heads, particularly thistles. Something I recently learned is that they seem to like nesting in jasmine and have noticed a pair taking interest in a large climber we have growing in the garden. These very colourful small birds have red, black and white heads (female has less red) with contrasting black and yellow wings, so are easy to identify. Their song is a very pleasant; a loud fast twitter usually performed from a prominent high perch and even in flight.

Sardinian warbler
Another very common bird in the Algarve is the Sardinian warbler which can be found easily as they aren’t shy, usually in thick bushes. The male is easily identified by its black head and bright red ring around the eye, the female has the red ring, but lacks the black head. They seem to spend a large portion of their lives blasting out loud and aggressive chattering not too dissimilar to the call of a stonechat of tapping two pebbles together, but much quicker. They are great to have in the garden because, as with most warblers, they pick off and eat insects from your plants.

Praying mantis
Now that the weather is warming, the two species of mantis found in Portugal will be more visible. Keep a look out for tiny ones as they leave the long thin egg sacks left last year. Both the European mantis and conehead mantis are similar in size and can be found in various colours, to adapt into their surroundings. They are usually found standing motionless except for rocking movements to mimic wind motion in plants waiting to ambush an insect that may pass within reach of its raptorial legs. They can also fly with some very colourful wings which can usually be seen when they open them as form of defence.

Visually, the main difference between the species is the alien-looking head of the conehead mantis which, as the name suggests, is cone-shaped and the male having feathery antennae.

Egyptian grasshopper
One of Europe’s largest grasshopper, the female Egyptian grasshopper, can grow to lengths of 70mm with the males being considerably smaller at around 55mm. This time of year, the nymphs are emerging from the eggs. These tiny versions have the same appearance to adults where they grow and moult skins to become full-sized adults. Their antennae are very short in ratio to their body size and can be seen in various grey, brown and olive-green colours. Apart from the size, a real giveaway is the characteristic vertical black and white-striped eyes. Although they do eat leaves, they are no real threat to crops and plants as they are usually solitary and do not group to cause swarms.

Hummingbird hawk-moth
I am always fascinated by these fast-moving moths in the same way I am fascinated by hummingbirds, which unfortunately we don’t have in Europe. As the name suggests, they move from flower to flower in a very similar way that the tiny bird species does with incredible wing-speed. At larvae stage, they are green with two grey and cream stripes and have a horn at the rear end. At time of writing, I’m yet to see my first one this year, but it is just a matter of time before the garden is densely populated, with them moving around feeding on nectar from their long straw-like proboscis.

By the time you read this, it will be time for the European bee-eaters to return and next month I’ll be giving some information on where to spot these fantastic colourful birds.

By Craig Rogers
|| features@algarveresident.com

Craig Rogers is a wildlife and nature photographer from Wales now living in the Algarve, offering photography workshops. For more information, photographs and his blog visit
www.craigrogers.photography

Male Conehead Mantis

Male Sardinian Warbler having a shake
Female Egyptian Grasshopper