insectsandflight.com
all pictures © robin williams

 

July 2021: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

July 26th 2021. I suspect this may be the last of the dry, hot weather. Loxley Woods seemed a good spot to visit, with a shaded central drove, with the northern side fully illuminated. Also, I had heard that someone had cut the overhanging sides, as they were threatening to close down completely in parts. All proved to be so. A slow walk yielded more than I had expected at the time, as the computer revealed. Indeed, it produced a fascinating and varied collection of pictures before the heat eventually defeated me. The first pictures are of a common mining bee but a version I have not seen before in spite of years of looking at them. This male is usually found with red markings on its abdomen. This one is the much less-usual dark form, with abdomen similar in colouring to a female. The long antennae show it is a male.

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum m

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum m

This picture is one of my favourite bumblebees, Bombus jonellus, very like the long-tongued B. hortorum but with a short tongue and rounded head. It is a species usually found on heathland, not gardens. When I started looking at bumblebees I thought of this as a rarity, but is a matter of looking at wilder sites.

bumblebee Bombus jonellus m

It was interesting to find this more unusual Helophilus hoverfly. In the case of females, the identification is by the amount of dark and pale on the hind tibiae. The majority found are H. pendulus.

hoverfly Helophilus hybridus f

hoverfly Helophilus hybridus f

The bumblebee mimic below is very variable as well as common. It can have extraordinarily rich colours, while other specimens may look quite scruffy. The photo after that shows two hoverflies courting. While others may indulge in the same way, I have only ever seen this species engage in this behaviour. Sometimes there may be as many as five or six males stacked up above the female, who appears hardly aware of their activity, but it must work as they remain a common species.

hoverfly Eristalis intricarius m

hoverfly Eristalis nemorum courting

A specialist in woodland living, Xylota hoverflies are both distinctive and handsome, though varied. X. sylvarum is distinguished by tufts of golden hairs on the last abdominal segment - often described as a gold tail. They way be seen beneath the wing in the picture. The other picture is a of a species I have never seen before, X. florum and as such particularly interesting, adding to the number of species photographed in various woods over the years. Shady conditions obviously suit them - I have never seen any of them away from shaded woodland conditions.

hoverfly Xylota sylvarum f

hoverfly Xylota florum m

July 25th 2021. A quick in and out brought a new inhabitant for this year, a digger wasp, and a brightly coloured hoverfly. Finally, one of my favourites, a female beetle not seen as often as the extremely common male. The colours sparkle like a jewel.

digger wasp Ectemnius continuus f

hoverfly Myathropa florea m

Thick-kneed beetle Oedemera nobilis f

July 22nd 2021. Another intense session by the logs brought some fascinating pictures - again in the continuing heat of this period. This point is separated into two different areas, although they are contiguous. The flower bee (what a perfect, collective name for them) was back in circulation, enjoying the Hedge woundwort flowers Stachys sylvatica, though the latter are starting to look rather dismal as the heat continues. I am so glad I found this insect-addition to the garden last year. It extends the season when this family of bees is with us - with the high-pitched sound of the wings, so characteristic. It is most enjoyable to sit there, almost nodding off; the deep hum of a bumblebee contrasting with the bursts of much higher pitch as the flower bee stops briefly at each tiny bloom she visits. There was a velvety warmth in the air that enveloped the surroundings; more than comfortable, filled with content.

flower bee Anthophora furcata f

Small hoverflies were busy at the surrounding flowers. I thought they should be varied, but they all turned out to be from the same species, the one I have been finding all along this spring on. What has happened to the others? They are almost invisible unless you are concentrated solely on their particular surround. They are tiny, thread-like creatures with almost no thickness. Turning the lens on them reveals a deal of detail. This species has blue-grey markings on the abdomen, most of the others gold. Tiny, but perfect if you catch sight of them in flight.

hoverfly Platycheirus albimanus f

hoverfly Platycheirus albimanus f

The logs were extremely busy all the time, mainly with leafcutter bees constructing and filling their nest-holes. They concentrate all their energy into this vital activity, appearing to prefer bamboos to similar-sized holes drilled into logs. But I was particularly interested to see several Coelioxys cuckoo bees hard at work, though not all the time. They have a definite pattern of work, a period exploring the various nest-holes, then short times of rest, where they remain absolutely still. Perhaps testing chemicals with their antennae takes considerable energy and requires a recuperation period? The sharp, pointed end of the abdomen is used to slit the host's cell wall and lay an egg inside. They are remarkably tidy, well set-up insects, handsome in their own way. Usually the first glimpse is of a female hovering in front of a hole. Males appear to bre extremely infrequent.

cuckoo bee Coelioxys elongata f

Leafcutter bees were hard at it again, bustling around one particular bundle of bamboos. These had been cut at the nodes so that the entrance was open, ending in a naturally blocked partition some way down. This natural, empty length appears to suit leafcutters and mason bees alike, allowing them to make a series of cells inside. This batch of bees was of a different species to those I watched yesterday. Megachile willughbiella is notable for its males which have a most unusual, bulky, expanded front tarsus. While some of the females are somewhat worn by their efforts, they have fairly dense hair bands on the abdomen and masses oi long, pale hair bunches round the thorax - a bit like a powder puff. The site was really active. A bunch of three leafcutters banged into each other at the entrance to the bamboos. There were bees working their cut leaves into position, a far from easy activity, as everything has to be just so. It was an exciting place to be, palpably so. At the end of the afternoon I found out why there was this air of 'must finish'.  As the heat went out of the air, the activity slowed and stopped. The fever left the place and calm descended.

leafcutter bee Megachile willughbiella f

leafcutter bee Megachile willughbiella f

leafcutter bee Megachile willughbiella f

leafcutter bee Megachile willughbiella f

July 21st 2021. Today was the second to Westhay Moor for our invertebrate group. John M, our motivator, was waiting at the car park, where he met Ron W, Chris H and myself. It was another blazing hot day, over 31° in the shade, with little wind, all this on top of the very high humidity on these wetlands. I'm not grumbling, it is great to get out without cold drizzle, but the question arose as to whether our cold-blooded British bodies would cope. As it was, we had a fine walk and everyone adapted perfectly. But, I must admit, it was a question of finding the insects. We really had to search and it did not yield a very exciting total. Instead, we ended with a typical collection of what may be found in the area, interesting in its own right, but a varied collection of portraits rather than fresh finds. The first picture is especially typical, as of an insect burrowing deep into the deep bell of a Hedge bindweed Calystegia sepium, present in countless numbers all along the main drove from the car park. The moth is a migrant found in huge numbers most years.

Silver-Y moth Autographa gamma

This same are was home to large numbers of damselflies, many in that new, almost transparent state. The Blue-tailed was my first of the season. I saw few large dragonflies, typical of recent weeks.

Common blue damselflies mating Enallagma cyathigerum

Blue-tailed damselfly Ischnura elegans immature m

Meadow grasshopper Chorthippus parallelus m

Meadow grasshopper Chorthippus paralellus f

Gatekeeper Pyronia tythonus

Comma Polygonia c-album

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum w

sawfly Athalia glabricollis

longhorn beetle Phymatodes testaceus

July 18th 2021. It was another very hot, humid day, even more than the previous day. Loxley Wood seemed the ideal place for this, full of shading trees, with high banks of flowers, but the sun right overhead. The flowers are now dominated by great swathes of Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria, sweet smelling and full of hay-fever!. There were plenty of insects but all moving extremely rapidly in the warmth. It was a fine walk but not a great deal to boast about in the way of wildlife. 

longhorn beetle Grammophora ruficrnis

hoverfly Xylota segnis f

hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus m

July 17th 2021. My day was divided into two; this morning at nest sites in the lawn; this afternoon glued to the bamboos of the 'flats', watching a leafcutter bee building her nest. If I did not spend even longer than I did, put it down to the heat, said to be working its way up near 30°, feeling a bit like a warm Turkish bath, enjoyable but be careful! I never did manage to find the identity of the mining bee. I saw them in flight, photographed them on the ground but not sufficient detail was available. The reason for this is that the grounded bees are almost completely covered in almost white pollen with a yellowish tinge. I am determined to find out what they are, as I suspect they are not what I thought. I show a rather inconclusive picture below, but will be putting more time on this quest later. 

mining bee f

It was very different with the leafcutter bees in the afternoon. I stay for ages glued to the activities of these extremely active creatures. In our time, we have had most of the likely species, and I have been expecting more than one type of female but, as far I can see, all on this particular section of bamboo nest sites were Megachile centuncularis. It was extremely hot, even more than the 30° we have been recording. The bees were supercharged, in and out of the bamboos without pause, sometimes a number arriving at the face together, banging wings and bodies together. Some were busy building the cells, flying in with sections of leaf slung beneath, then twisting and turning to get the right shape in position. Although they are in and out in a stream, it is a slow and accurate process, they spend ages getting it exactly so. One worked on a particular bamboo for well over an hour. Others were at a different stage, flying in with pale pollen beneath their abdomens. This was a part of the food store in each cell, ready to receive the egg finally, before sealing the cell. It all provides a marvellous entertainment.

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis f

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis f

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis f

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis f

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis f

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis f

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis f

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis f

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis f 

While this was going on, various digger wasps were at work. The hotter the weather, the faster their movements. I show one such wasp searching for an empty hole.

digger wasp Crossocerus megacephalus f

digger wasp Crossocerus megacephalus f

July 14th 2021. A short visit to the logs yielded a few pictures, including one of the infrequent visits of a cuckoo bee. They parasitize other bees, Megachile or Anthophora, laying their eggs inside the host's nest-cell. The females are notable for a long and characteristic pointed abdomen.

cuckoo bee Coelioxys elongata f

leafcutter bee Megachile ligniseca m

I only wish that I knew more about ichneumons. They are such fascinating, varied creatures. I have talked to experts about them and it is clear that, aside from a few commoner and distinctive species, most of us have not a prayer in attempting to recognize them. Gavin Broad at the Natural History Museum is helping determine our range of species with success, appearing to concentrate the majority of his time on them. The result has been further publications by the RES which help whittle down possibilities further. We can oly hope he is allowed to continue his progress and gradually make more species obvious to us more general naturalists. 

ichneumonid m

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum w

July 15th 2021. Quite a day, sitting in the heat with barely a whisper of breeze, but highly successful as long as I sat there before rushing in for a burst of coolth inside our thick old walls. The first visitor was unexpected, a rove beetle stealing across the ground, appearing to search a bees nest in the grass.

rove beetle Paederus spp.

The most interesting find of the day was a comparative rarity, though found numbers of times over the years. Chrysura radians is a cuckoo wasp, one of a group that is remarkable for the beauty of its colouring. They lay their eggs in the cocoons or larvae of solitary bees and wasps, as well as sawflies. C. radians is said to prey on Osmia spp. It was wonderful to see this little spark of colour flashing round the logs, testing the holes. I say little, but this is comparative, as this species is only slightly larger than the commoner, very small Chrysis spp. She differs from Chrysis in having a hairy end to the abdomen compared with the series of teeth across the rear end of the other species.

cuckoo wasp Chrysura radians

cuckoo wasp Chrysura radians

cuckoo wasp Chrysura radians

cuckoo wasp Chrysura radians

cuckoo wasp Chrysura radians

Another surprise was found on the flowers beside the logs. She was the first cuckoo bumblebee I have come across this year, not one of the commoner ones either. The pictures well illustrates the problems of identifying bumblebees, with faded colours, indistinct bands. 

 

cuckoo bumblebee Bombus barbutellus

cuckoo bumblebee Bombus barbutellus

cuckoo bumblebee Bombus barbutellus

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum w

 

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum w

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum  - landing

July 8th 2021. Our invertebrate group re-visited Apex Park in Burnham-on-Sea this morning. This popular and readily accessible place, with free parking and various useful facilities, is run by Sedgemoor Council who do a magnificent job. In addition to their normal administrative functions they employ an entomologist, Pete Grainger, and pursue excellent long-term policies to promote the best practices. Unfortunately holidays cut our numbers, but we had a fascinating and encouraging day. John M, Margaretha and I came from our group, while the Bumblebee conservation Group sent Daisy to help us understand bumblebees better. It was a sunny, hot day with little wind, perfect for us. Our main point of concentration was a most extensive area of wild flower meadow they have been developing over the years. We could only say, 'magnificent'. Huge stands of different flower-species were nearly all fully out, great blazes of colours wherever you looked. Sadly, though, the insect world was not taking as much advantage of these as we would have expected. There were numbers of worker bumblebees, but of sadly limited species, very few hoverflies; nothing like the large numbers we had seen on a previous visit when many were present. As you would expect, Pete's netting activities brought many small flies, which he was identifying as we went, but my idea of plentiful or not is based on the more visible larger species. It is these that were lacking, as we have found elsewhere. Long-term trends are very different to immediate findings, but there appears general concern world-wide about what is happening to insect numbers., let alone here in England. Bombus terrestris was the most numerous of the bumblebees. It was good to see a large queen at the very edge of the wildflower area. After that there were numbers among the Knapweed, though only rarely on Creeping thistle, which was present in huge patches. I am always surprised how few daytime insects seem to be supported by the latter. It seems such a fine source of nectar.

bumblebee Bombus terrestris q

bumblebee Bombus terrestris q

bumblebee Bombus terrestris w

bumblebee Bombus terrestris w

bumblebee Bombus terrestris w

bumblebee Bombus terrestris w

The next most populous was B. lapidarius. I spent some while looking at the males, wondering. I still find it difficult to be quite certain that I am looking at this bee or B. pratorum, particularly in pictures where scale is not obvious, or where you cannot see the colour of the hairs on the head. But that is part of the fun in looking at bumblebees. Never be certain without looking hard at the features. I only saw a couple of rather battered B. pascuorum and no other species.

bumblebee Bombus lapidarius w

bumblebee Bombus lapidarius m

bumblebee Bombus lapidarius w

bumblebee Bombus lapidarius m

The pictures below were the only hoverflies I spotted, which really surprised me. I know I was concentrating hard on bumblebees, but surely there should have been many. One large patch of mixed flowers held many Honeybees, which was good news. I could not help noticing how pale and beige-coloured they were. How they differ from those at home, which are really dark.

Honeybee Apis mellifera w

hoverfly Eristalis tenax

hoverfly Eristalis tenax f

hoverfly Sphaerophoria scripta f

July 7th 2021. The website has been completely updated during the last few weeks. It uses Joomla, hosted by Siteground. In mid-June we were notified that our early version of Joomla would no longer be supported. It would be necessary to upgrade to the latest, very different version. At first, it appeared to be an impossible task, then Tim Vowles decided to give it a go, developing the website on a dev/version as a separate site on our computers. Today, Siteground announced that the new site was up and running - here it is. It has taken dogged determination on Tim's part and a great deal of hard work generally. The newer version of Joomla is superb, easier to build, altogether simpler in its approach, so it has been worthwhile. The opportunity has been taken to check and overhaul every word of the content, simplifying it where possible, improving the English and updating many pictures - which will continue as time moves on. I cannot thank Tim enough for his determination and skill. It has been well worth the wait. We trust you agree. 

July 5th 2021. This evening, overcast and wet, it was just losing much of the light when we spotted a Roe doe below the old barn. The light was on in the kitchen so we were just about to turn it off when we noticed she was peering intently at us. She paused, then trotted to the left for about twenty feet and stopped again to stare intently at us. She then vanished uphill, but a few minutes later was back. This time she came right down, a matter of feet from the window but seemed quite unconcerned, even though the light was once more on. Eventually she grazed her way up and over the hill, out of sight. Her coat is now fully changed to summer uniform, a lovely red.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

July 2nd 2021. The most notable event today was the appearance of a Bank vole in front of the kitchen window. This little creature, not often spotted in the open, dashed out from a fringe of wild plants to a spot where the bird-feeder inevitably dropped grains when the bird-users were over-vigorous. It grabbed a sunflower heart and dashed back into cover. While it became more confident, it remained nervous, vanishing when birds came near. 

Bank vole Myodes glareolus

Bank vole Myodes glareolus

Bank vole Myodes glareolus