insectsandflight.com
all pictures © robin williams

 

June 2021: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

June 29th 2021. I woke early and went into the bathroom at around 6.30. A lovely, slender Roe was standing by a rose-bed and delicately picking off the deep red blooms, one by one. I watched for ages, entranced before she lay down and started chewing the cud, peaceful and unworried by her surrounds. The I realised the camera was downstairs. Dash down, by then she was shaded by the roses but it makes a pretty picture. The roses are a wonderful floribunda variety that produces endless blooms right up to the following January, so the will not be missed. Later this afternoon, I was in my study making this entry when I saw her slip down the trail and out of the garden. 

June 26th 2021. Another period spent in front of the logs was not wasted. Good and hot after some cold weather, it was a pleasure sitting on a chair in front, with the nearby wildflowers giving a second area to watch. After the recent lawn cutting, a series of littl volcanoes of raw earth appeared, complete with a circular hole at the top. These are the nests of the second generation of Lasioglossum calceatum mining bees. The first generation, much earlier in spring, are not so obvious, making you wonder if they are missing in that particular year.  These common bees are in fact eusocial, with a queen and a few workers, so the two generations blur somewhat. The pictures show the fairly obvious features of the female bee, the colour of the legs, the bronze edges to the banding.

 

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum f

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum f

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum f

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum f

The other pictures show a female leafcutter bee in various poses; one of my favourite families in summer, always so active.

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis f

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis f

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis f

June 24th 2021. Much later I opened this card from my macro camera. It seems I had a particularly fine morning by the logs. There were dozens of interesting pictures of this day and later ones. I have now gone through most - it takes time to both identify and process a long set. It is now the season of the leafcutter bee. There were many shots, including a whole series that really puzzled me, for I thought they were of a comparatively small insect whereas the ID showed they were normally quite large. Eventually, after a long period of elimination, they emerged as male Megachile lignesecas. It took over two hours to be certain, dodging backwards and forwards through different images. In the end I had to accept that the extreme hairiness was that of newly-emerged insects, normally quickly abraded.

leafcutter bee Megachile ligniseca m

leafcutter bee Megachile ligniseca m

leafcutter bee Megachile ligniseca m

leafcutter bee Megachile ligniseca m

It is interesting to compare these pictures with those of a male M.versicolor. 

leafcutter bee Megachile versicolor m

The more I see of Megachile, the more I realise how tricky they are. I had already decided some while back that M. versicolor & centuncularis were impossible to separate unless the light was just right in the picture. There were a number of small black digger wasps exploring the logs for suitable nests or mates. Also present were a couple of jewel wasps, rightly named for their exquisite colouring. These move like lightning between holes, their antennae twitching and probing continually. I had been wondering about their absence this year.

digger wasp Crossocerus megacephalus 

cuckoo (jewel) wasp Chrysis mediata 

A rather handsome small ichneumon appeared several times while I watched, not one I had seen before. I have tried to find out which; it is so distinctive, but no luck. They are such fascinating, active creatures. The area round the logs has a mix of garden and wild flowers. The Marsh woundworts were just coming out, bound to attract many Hymenoptera, already becoming active with flower bees and bumblebees, as well as hoverflies. A fine mix. 

ichneumon spp. f

hoverfly Meliscaeva auricollis m

hoverfly Meliscaeva auricollis m

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

flower bee Anthophora fucata

flower bee Anhophora fucata f

June 20th 2021. We were astonished to look out of the kitchen window and see a Roe doe standing in the middle of the roses on the near side of the banking. She was a lovely reddish colour, in full summer finery. This was the first sight of a deer after a gap of several weeks; we thought we had lost them to the local woodlands. It was so good to see her back; assuming she was one of last year's crop of youngsters. Later, sitting in the study looking out, an altogether more worn doe strolled past, made for the upper part of the garden. No doubt she will show up on the trail camera when I take a look. She looks remarkably like our old doe.

Roe doe Capreolus capreolus

Roe doe Capreolus capreolus

Roe doe Capreolus capreolus

June 17th 2021. Our invertebrate group met at the top of Ham Hill, the country park that occupies so much of the area. It turned out to be a most interesting, as well as productive day. Present were John M, Ron W, Una G, Fiona D, and myself. Although rather overcast, there were many insects in the plants edging the paths and any progress was slow. Ham Hill is a most glorious area with wonderful views and, more important, well-kept paths leading to the top where it opens out into large open space with periodic large rocky outcrops. We only saw a small part of what is available, but must recommend it to visitors. Almost immediately, we came across a quite large, colourful fly which turned out to be a hoverfly I had not seen before, Criorhina floccosa, a bumblebee mimic. It was extremely obliging and let everyone look closely.

hoverfly Chryorhina flocossa f

hoverfly Chryorhina flocossa f

We spent some while watching a bumblebee feeding on a Nodding thistle, then apparently falling asleep - or drunk! At first glance it was Bombus jonellus but closer examination on the computer confirmed it was a cuckoo, B. barbutellus.

cuckoo bumblebee Bombus barbutellus m

cuckoo bumblebee Bombus barbutellus m

The next bumblebee was B. hypnorum but looking quite different to the usual specimens. Its wings were really dark, almost black, while the thoracic hair was a really strong dark red, most handsome.

bumblebee Bombus hypnorum m

bumblebee Bombus hypnorum m

bumblebee Bombus hypnorum m

At this point we were diverted to a handsome crane-fly with yellow and black body, which filled the frame most adequately. Not normally my favourite group, this was worth the time and effort.

Spotted crane-fly Nephratoma appendiculata

There were large numbers of bumblebees everywhere, one of which had all the hallmarks of the unusual B. soroeensis, but which I concluded was a B. lucorum after looking at all the features. Aside from this, there were a few less difficult B. lucorum. I then came across a familiar bee which turned out not to be so familiar. Hoplitis claviventris is one of the megachild bees which collect pollen beneath their abdomen. But In this case with a quite distinctive creamy-white pollen basket.

lesser mason bee Hoplitis claviventris f

lesser mason bee Hoplitis claviventris f

lesser mason bee Hoplitis claviventris f

I did not see many butterflies but was pleased with a fine specimen of the Large skipper (not very big!).

Large skipper Ochlodes venatus

John's special interest is always the flower population and we hope to learn more as he points out various species. Perhaps one of the most interesting was finding a large population of Bee orchid Ophrys apifera on a bank edging the open upper area. I have seen the occasional plant before, but this was an amazing collection, so beautiful and so like a bumblebee feeding as seen from the rear.

Bee orchid Ophrys apifera

Bee orchid Ophrys apifera

Two further plant species were notable for their visitors on this same open plain at the top of the hill.  Birdsfoot trefoil Lotus corniculatus is very striking with its mixture of bight yellow and orange flowers with darker buds. Many bee enthusiasts make their way to this plant but this lot was not in that category, perhaps too early?

Birdsfoot trefoil Lotus corniculatus - a bee favourite

The other, most spectacular, was the sight of sheets of mauve Wild thyme Thymus politrichus on the side of some steep banking. I have never seen such large numbers, and all were being appreciated by numbers of bumblebees. What a splendid outing and fascinating inhabitants. I end by slipping in a couple of strange pictures, the bumblebee on Weld Reseda luteola, a most unusual-looking plant; the weevil well-hidden beneath a leaf.

bumblebee Bombus lucorum w 

weevil Phyllobius pomaceus

June 16th 2021. Out in the garden, numbers of bumblebees were searching the flowers by the study, though the majority were of only one species, Bombus pascuorum, a feature of spring and early summer this year. I spent a happy period of high concentration as they landed, fed and took off. At last the flowers round the edges of the logs are starting to actually come into flower. Bumblebees are appearing and taking advantage of this. I was particularly pleased to see the little Bombus pratorum in action. They seem to suffer more than many in terms of wildly fluctuating numbers from year to year. I have not been able to pick out what is causing this.

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum w

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum w

bumblebee Bombus pratorum q

bumblebee bombus pratorum q

bumblebee bombus pratorum q

The logs next to these bumblebees were also active, with the really early leafcutter bees appearing, together with mason bees.

leafcutter bee Megachile versicolor m

mason bee Osmia bicornis f

mason bee Osmia bicornis f

June 15th 2021. Last summer and the one before saw large numbers of Cattle egrets out on the moors, with up to 400 on Tealham Moor one amazing day. This year there have been few, many times none at all. So I was delighted to catch sight of them on Tealham this morning. I managed to stop the car with no other vehicles or cyclists anywhere in sight, where I was able to have a better view. This was difficult, because of the considerable growth on the verges in the last few really hot days. But, I managed a few shots. The birds were all adults in breeding plumage, plentifully decked with orangy-pink colouring on the head, breast and back - very handsome. They were feeding round a bunch of young bullocks, snatching flies off the animals. They must be welcome visitors to the herd on a hot day attracting crowds of irritating creatures!  But the prey in the beak of a couple of the birds was a long, fat black creature held in the beak for a while. I am not at all sure what that might have been. They are said to be specialists in grasshoppers (Acrididae), but this creature did not look like one of those. 

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Back home, I spotted what has turned out to be really unusual this year, a female mason bee that is normally numerous in the logs and bamboos.

 

 mason bee Osmia bicornis f