insectsandflight.com
all pictures © robin williams

 

April 2021: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

 April 26th 2021. The Roebuck was back in his usual place on the bank for an hour in the morning. No sign of the old doe who I think of as his wife. Could she be preparing for a birth on her own?

Roe Capreolus capreolus m

April 25th 2021. An interesting morning spent photographing insects at the front of the house turned out to be quite memorable. Still sunny, still very windy, but there were sufficient sheltered spots to bring out the little creatures. One of the bees was completely new to me, though not unexpected. Earlier I had compiled a list of possible Nomada species that might be found in our area, 16 in all, out of a British total of 32 species. The addition of N. fucata brought the number I have spotted to 12, not bad over the years. This particular cuckoo bee is easy to determine, with its strange three colour antennae and clear-cut gaster. 'Painted bee' has been selected for its English name and this very much sums up its clean, clear appearance.

cuckoo bee Nomada fucata m

cuckoo bee Nomada fucatca m

cuckoo bee Nomada fucata m

A second cuckoo bee also put in an appearance, a Sphecodes, fortunately virtually the only one it is possible to identify out of a series of black and red cousins. Dark wings help determine this. 

cuckoo bee Sphecodes gibbus f

Our garden bluebells are of the Spanish variety (Endymion hispanicus), foreigners to the this country, therefore unlikely to have specialist bees in attendance. But numbers of Honeybees (Apis mellifera) were busy enjoying their bounty and I managed a good few shots of them at work. All these particular workers were very dark, possibly the so-called 'black' bees?.

Honeybee Apis mellifera w

Honeybee Apis mellifera w

Finally, my attention was drawn to a number of hoverflies. The largest of these was a Cheilosia distinguished by its orange antennae and bare eyes, common but elegant.

hoverfly Cheilosia pagana f

hoverfly Cheilosia pagana f

 hoverfly Cheilosia pagana f

As so often, Platycheirus was mainly represented by the very common P. albimanus, slender and tiny. Last of all were one or two Sphaerophoria, also threadlike.

hoverfly Platycheirus albimanus f

hoverfly Sphaerophoria scripta f

April 24th 2021. A quick visit to the front garden brought one result, in spite of a bitingly cold wind. I suspect this hoverfly was venturing out from behind the leaves with the same thoughts of getting some air.


hoverfly Rhingia campestris f

April 23rd 2021. I met Ron W. at the entrance to Loxley Wood just after lunch on yet another extraordinary, sunny day. In common with many others, we were taking advantage of recent coronavirus relaxations to see people who we had not met for more than a year. Ron shares my interests in both photography and natural history and is a member of our invertebrate group, which has not met during all periods of lock-down. Apart from catching up, we were hoping to look at the insects inhabiting the end of the main drove through the wood; the area that has been of such interest in the past. The previous mass of Wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa) so prominent a few days ago, has almost completely disappeared, but Bluebells (Endymion non-scriptus) and violets (Viola riviniana) have almost taken their place. Memories of past springs indicate that many flowers form the continuing successions during this period. We both brought stools and sat down in front of the most floriferous area to see what was going on. Almost immediately, I came across a hoverfly I had not seen before, though not uncommon. I had no idea when taking the picture; the identity only being revealed on the computer.


hoverfly Dasysyrphus venustus f

As is becoming obvious this Spring, there were few bumblebees to be seen. Those there are, are mostly B. pascuorum or, less frequently, B. terrestris - all queens. I do hope this is not another spring where fewer and fewer bumblebees are spotted. There are signs that even commoner varieties are suffering.

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum q

Soon we spotted numbers of Nomada cuckoo bees flying around in the background, close to the earth. Then it was a matter of waiting for them to become used to our looming over the area. None managed very close, but the resolution of the lenses and the extraordinary powers of the latest cameras enabled me to blow the images up a great deal, aided by use of flash to bring out the detail. The first picture below shows the hard yellow shield over much of the face which distinguishes the males of a number of bee species. Specific points of identification are the red-brown colouring on the first segment of the abdomen and the dark upper part of the antennae. Identification often depends on putting together specific points such as these, times of flight and other clues, each reducing the possible number of species. These particular males are from 8-13mm long

cuckoo bee Nomada leucopthalma m

cuckoo bee Nomada leucopthalma m

cuckoo bee Nomada leucopthalma m

cuckoo bee Nomada leucopthalma m

The next picture is of a second species.  N. fulvicornis has yellowy-orange antennae and the first abdominal segment is pale yellow, alternating with very clear black bands, in a show of great clarity. Males are from 10-12mm in length, although the ones we were watching appeared to be slightly smaller than the examples of the previous species.

cuckoo bee Nomada fulvicornis m

cuckoo bee Nomada fulvicornis m

April 19th 2021. Another perfect spring day, though still with a sharp east wind blowing across the terrace. There were some interesting insects flying round among the Lungwort (Pulmonaria) flowers, including a fine queen Bombus pascuorum. Although the weather seems to suit some other species, bumblebees have been notable for their absence recently, both in reduction of numbers and species.

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum q

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum q

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum q

The next picture is of a mining bee I had not come across before, though it is said to be common in our type of limestone habitat. There are only a limited number of Lasioglossum with yellowy pollen brushes, which helps with building the identification. These females are small, from 6-8mm, but appear quite bulky.

mining bee Lasioglossum fratellum f

mining bee Lasioglossum fratellum f

mining bee Lasioglossum fratellum f

mining bee Lasioglossum fratellum f

The picture below is of a male flower bee, very different from his black wife. Both are instantly recognisable, there is noting quite like them. They are also distinguished by the high-pitched whine of their extremely rapid flight. Although they are said to be the same size as a worker bumblebee, as well as having a similar style of appearance, they appear smaller to my eye. It may be something to do with that wild speed of their flight between flowers.

flower bee Anthophora plumipes m

flower bee Anthophora plumipes m

I had a surprise when passing by the insect flats. It is too early for anything to be happening there, but there was a large wasp on one of the logs. D. media is a farily recent, but widespread addition to our social wasps, rather bad-tempered, but extremely smart-looking. I suspect it was just using the log as a resting place. They nest above ground in bushes.

social wasp Dolichovespula media q - an unusual perspective

April 18th 2021. While Romey was in Wedmore, I took another look at Loxley Wood. The day was superb, really warm, with day-long sunshine and the benison of little or no wind. The roads were packed with traffic, the weather and the current easing of lockdown is leading to a general feeling of release, yet this splend site was all but empty. Yesterday's visit was so interesting, I felt there was a case for a closer, longer look. I needed time sitting by specific areas without any time pressure. In the event, there were not so many insects around as yesterday, but some were different; and time did indeed fly. One or two spots were selected for these searches, sitting on a stool I brought with me. The casual results from walking along woodland edges may sometimes produce surprises, but is not as effective as spotting an area of flowers and simply settling down to see what happens. One notable change since yesterday, was a considerable increase in the numbers of violets, wonderfully coloured, lighting up large swathes of undergrowth.

flowers, Loxley Wood

 Common dog violet Viola riviniana

A few minutes are required always for a fresh group of insects to settle or explore, no longer being aware of my presence in the scenery - or so I argue. Once again, the main interest lay in Nomada cuckoo bees for which the upper part of the drove is well-known. This time they were present, but in lesser numbers, instead there were a few other bee species. I searched these, hoping that the host species for the cuckoos might be present, Andrena clarkella and A. apicata for N. leucopthalma, and A. bimaculata, A. pilipes & A. tibialis for N. fulvicornis, but no such luck.

cuckoo bee Nomada leucopthalma m

cuckoo bee Nomada fulvicornis m

mining bee Lasioglossum xanthopus f

mining bee Lasioglossum xanthopus f

Butterflies were busy on the main drove, a Comma, several Brimstones (Gonepteryx rhamni), Holly blue (Cerastrina ariolus), Peacock (Inarchis io), Speckled wood (Pararge aegeria), Orange tip (Anthocharis cardamines) and Small tortoiseshell  (Aglais urticae).

Comma Polygonia c-album

Many birds were singing, high up at the top of the many slender trees. This is very much a feature of this wood. I was intrigued to watch a bumblebee searching the open ground, deep among fragments of old bark and leaves. She was a queen looking for just the right old rodent nest to set up her own new family, taking a great deal of trouble exploring every likely crack or hole, eventually disappearing down out of sight.

bumblebee Bombus terrestris q

There were many members of the fly family (Diptera) whizzing around the undergrowth or onto the flowers, amongst them were bee-flies which seem to be having a particularly good Spring season. Syrphus ribesii was eventually photographed in flight, before the day finished off with a ground beetle. I am sure we used to see far more beetles a few years back, now they appear to be much more unusual.

bee-fly Bombylius major

hoverfly Syrphus ribesii f

hoverfly Syrphus ribesii f

ground beetle Pterostichus nigrita

April 17th 2021. We took adantage of a superb, virtually windless, day to visit Loxley Wood on the Poldens, famous for its display of spring flowers. We were not disappointed; on both sides of the main drove there were thick clumps of Wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa) while their white stars vanished deep into the woods on either side - a truly amazing sight. I was particularly interested to see whether the first Nomada cuckoo bees were yet out. They flourish in some numbers at this time of year in the extensive patches of flowers at the very end of the main drove.

Common dog violet Viola riviniana

This same area contained the main attractions for so many insects, numerous Primroses (Primula vulgaris), Lesser celandines (Ranunculus vicaria), Dandelions (Taraxacum vulgare) and those Wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa), together with early specimens of Bluebells (Endymion non-scriptus) and violets (Viola riviniana). The earliest of the cuckoo bees, Nomada leucopthalma, were much in evidence;  tiny, threaad-like insects darting rapidly from one flower to another.

cuckoo bee Nomada leucopthalma m

cuckoo bee Nomada leucopthalma m

cuckoo bee Nomada leucopthalma m

cuckoo bee Nomada leucopthalma m

Nomada look far more like wasps than bees, but this species acts as cuckoos in the nests of Andrena apicata and A. clarkella, taking over their food resources to rear their own youngsters. My problem, a difficult one, was to catch them in the viewfinder in that brief moment when it visited a near-by flower. A complication, with Dandelions in particular, was the thickness of the pollen into which a bee would bury itself, softening the apparent definition of the body.

mining  bee Andrena apicata m

mining  bee Andrena apicata m

Bumblebees were not much in evidence, whereas hoverflies were busy in the warm air. Bee-flies came out a bit later when it was warmer, though they seemed to need plenty of rest periods on the ground.

hoverfly Platycheirus albimanus f

hoverfly Metasyrphus latifasciatus f

bee-fly Bombylius major

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum q

Later in the afternoon I had a session on the terrace, part of which time trying to stop myself nodding off in the balmy warmth. It was really good to see and hear the flower bees in action (they have a very high-pitched and characteristic hum in flight). This species is notable for the totally different appearance of the males and females, the former in dark sand, the latter largely carbon black. 

flower bee Anthophora plumipes f

flower bee Anthophora plumipes m

flower bee Anthophora plumipes f

flower bee Anthophora plumipes f

There were a number of tiny hoverflies around, but I was only quick enough to photograph one - the lovely heat jazzing them up!

 hoverfly Platycheirus albimanus f

April 14th 2021. Romey saw the first deer as she got up this morning, brilliantly lit by the early sun. The deer vanished. Then Later, washing up at the kitchen sink, I looked up and, to my astonishment, there was a doe feeding on plants only feet away. And so she stayed for ages, taking a really good meal. A close look indicated she may well be pregnant. She was also exceedingly scruffy, the start of the change to her summer coat. A fine young buck, possibly her husband, was spotted only a few yards away lying down quite comfortably out in the open.

 Roe Capreolus capreolus f

Roe Capreolus capreolus f

Roe Capreolus capreolus f

Roe Capreolus capreolus f

Roe Capreolus capreolus f

Roe Capreolus capreolus m

April 6th 2021. Woke to the sight of the buck and doe delicately chewing the tips of the roses on the back bed. The light was amazing. Sometimes they stood out as if lit by a searchlight, at others formed wonderful shadow-shapes. We thought they had left, but eventually they were found to have spent the whole day with us, right up to late afternoon.


Roe Capreolus capreolus f


Roe Capreolus capreolus f


Roe Capreolus capreolus m


Roe Capreolus capreolus m

April 5th 2021. Two deer spent the whole morning in the back garden, for a surprising amount of the time chewing the cud, lying down. It is some while since we last saw them. The inevitable conclusion is that they may be fair-weather visitors! The morning was glorious once the early haze had cleared. We had some wonderful views of the deer when they were completely relaxed.

Roe Capreolus capreolus m

Roe Capreolus capreolus m

Roe Capreolus capreolus m

Roe Capreolus capreolus f - a taste of roses!

Roe Capreolus capreolus m

Roe Capreolus capreolus m

April 4th 2021. Another fine day, part-spent hunched over the top flower bed with its chaotic mix of wild and garden flowers, well on their way at last. Perhaps the most memorable was watching a few bee-flies dashing from one Celandine (Ficaria verna) to another - they appear to favour these flowers this morning.

bee-fly Bombylius major m

bee-fly Bombylius major m

hover fly Platycheirus spp., m

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum f

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum f - nest-hole

mining bee Lasioglossum zonulus f

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum w

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum w

April 3rd 2021. On our daily stroll round the garden it was brilliant and sunny but the wind remained bitter. Eventually, I sat by the terrace on a garden chair in a lightweight windproof jacket, enabling me to concentrate on the mix of flowers, mainly Pulmonaria. There was not a lot going on but, eventually, both male and female Anthophora plumipes appeared; the black female quietly visiting flowers for her sustenance, but the beige-coloured male darting from flower to flower in search of her, without apparently touching down. His route is always a series of super-fast zig-zags. After yesterday's find of a pair of bee-flies (Bombylius major), I was delighted to see a couple of them appear right in front. Their hover is so fast that it is sometimes impossible to see whether it is stationary or still vibrating just off the surface; their use of energy must be phenomenal.

 April 2nd 2021. Romey and I drove down to Loxley Wood on the Poldens this afternoon, anxious to see if the spring flowers were yet out. It was a glorious day, only marred by the bitterly cold wind but, fortunately, that was hardly felt in the shelter of the woods. This ancient woodland was bought by the Woodland Trust many years ago. Since then, they have removed many of the out-of-place conifers, opened up the main ride and other improvements. While it is well-used, particularly by dog walkers, it has a wonderful air of peace. During our visit, we saw only one other family. The flowers were out, for which the place is rightly famous; as we came round the first corner, sheets of white Wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa) appeared in all their glory, in great numbers on the sides of the ride and scattered as far as could be seen into the woods. The brilliant colour of Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scriptus) was just starting to emerge, another week or so should see them in huge numbers.

Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scriptus

Primroses (Primula vulgaris) were in large patches in their own right, as well as mixed among the anemones.

Wood anemone Anemone nemorosa

Wood anemone Anemone nemorosa

And there were vast numbers of Celandines (Ficaria verna), the earliest of them all and still in perfect condition. At the top of the ride, always good for insects, I photographed various Eristalis hoverflies then, a first for the year, a bee-fly (Bombylius major) on a leaf. It was not on its own, for a few minutes later Romey spotted a pair of these beautiful little flies firmly locked together.

bee-flies Bombylius major mating

The day was rounded off by my first Peacock butterfly of the year, glowing against a stump.


Peacock butterfly Inachis io