insectsandflight.com
all pictures © robin williams

 

May 2021: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

May 31st 2021. A rather depressing visit to Loxley Wood on what looked to be an almost perfect day, hot with little wind. It was a good walk but little else. It was good to see another large dragonfly once more, while the queen bumblebee was fascinating to watch.

bumblebee Bombus lucorum q - searching for nest site

Four-spot chaser Libellula quadrimaculata 

May 30th 2021. I spent a very hot hour at midday studying the log-flats, hunched over the camera, the sun beating down, around 25 degrees in the shade. There was absolutely no sign of the little black digger wasps normally so common. However there were signs of the larger mason bees at last. Osmia bicornis females were flying in and out of some bamboos, while O. leaiana males became more active as the hour went on. What has happened to the O. bicornis males; there has been no sign of them to date?

leafcutter bee Osmia bicornis f

mason bee Osmia leaiana m

mason bee Osmia leaiana m

mason bee Osmia leaiana m

Fascinating and the source of some interesting pictures. But, where are all the lttle black digger wasps? The heat is here; there is no wind - perfect conditions. 

May 29th 2021. I went down to Westhay Moor armed quite deliberately with my 70-300 lens to see how well it would do with insects as well as birds, for it focusses quite close. I walked to the tower platform in the centre of the reeds in company with a lady from the Wildlife Trust. When we reached the platform it was open for visitors. Indeed, she told me that it had been open for some weeks (against the rules in force at the time: relaxed, apparently, in favour of Hobbies). It seems the platform was packed with people then. So much for sticking to the markings of a closed hide. I did see what I had hoped for, a few distant Hobbies. They appear to have been present rather earlier than other years. There was also a male harrier against a rather spectacular sky.

Hobby Falco subbuteo m

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

Gadwall Anas strepera m

On the way back, insects were the target; one was particularly interesting. Anasimyia interpuncta was settled in a buttercup, the picture taken and only really examined when on the computer. 'Britain's Hoverflies' lists this as on the Thames valley and in East Anglia but goes on to say, 'recently discovered in the Somerset Levels', making the identification much more certain.

hoverfly Anasimyia interpuncta f

I only spotted one large dragonfly but the little blue males of various damselfly species were frequent. The lens proved itself well capable of dealing with such close-up subjects, as well as birds and mammals. A final picture of a Flag iris caught my eye with its intensity of colour.

Flag iris Irus pseudacorus

May 27th 2021. Off on my own to Loxley Wood on a fine, warm day. I took my time wandering up to the far end of the drove, then retuned the same way, stopping a number of time at promising patches. It was extremely peaceful. The usual family of young Ravens (Corvus corvus) hid themselves in a large old conifer, shouting their heads off, eventually flying overhead still shouting. Right at the start, the visit proved interesting. A brilliantly-coloured beetle shone as it lit by a searchlight; though in this instance, the flash took somewhat away from the drama of this colouring.

ground beetle Poecilis cupreum 

Then a large cuckoo bumblebee arrived; Bombus sylvestris is quite distinctive but not often seen in these parts.

cuckoo bumblebee Bombus sylvestris m

Two different ichneumons turned up at the same time, fortunately among the easier species to identify. I must confess to particular fascination with these amazing creatures, though I wish I was able to identify more of them. The females spend all their time probing their surrounds with their antennae trying to catch the right chemical signal for their prey. If you watch them by a nest hole it is even more fascinating; the outer parts of the ovipositor sheaths curl away from the unbelievably slender ovipositor as she drills down to lay her egg on or in the host prey.

ichneumon Pimpla rufipes f

ichneumon Ichneumon albiga f

ichneumon Ichneumon albiga f

ichneumon Pimpla turionellae f

Then came the Nomada cuckoo bees, often found in numbers right at the end of the path. But, it was so hot they rarely settled - very frustrating. Those that did pause for a few seconds were both new to Loxley this year, N. lathburiana and N. fucata, so especially interesting. I only really noticed one hoverfly.


cuckoo bee Nomada lathburiana m

cuckoo bee Nomada fucata f - too quick really!

A most enjoyable visit. But later, in the garden, we had a few more interesting visitors to photograph.

Wood pigeon Columba palumba 

Great spotted woodpecker Dendrocopus major m

Jackdaw Corvus monedula

To end it all, there were a few insects on the logs and nearby flowers.

mason bee Osmia bicornis f

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum w

May 26th 2021. I spent a marvellous morning watching a Crossocerus digger wasp finishing off its nest, though I did not spot it bringing in any prey. Dozens of pictures were taken, many looking similar but that is the advantage of digital technology, you are always looking for a better composition, or more detail, without worrying about the cost of film. The wasp worked so hard at it all. She is tiny, around 7mm, her various elements so slender.

digger wasp Crossocerus cetratus f

digger wasp Crossocerus cetratus f

digger wasp Crossocerus cetratus f

digger wasp Crossocerus cetratus f

Then, I tracked a new species of Osmia this year and watched him around a nest hole. Such lovely colours. He is waiting for a female to emerge, which usually occurs a week or so after his arrival. It must be a deeply worrying time of life for him - will he catch her first? 

mason bee Osmia leaina m

mason bee Osmia leaina m

mason bee Osmia leaina m

mason bee Osmia bicornis f - from an earlier arrival

May 25th 2021. A spot of luck this morning as I stopped to look at the flats. A small, thin black digger wasp was flying into a nest hole and I managed a quick shot of her in flight - always carry the camera!. The computer revealed she was carrying little balls of mud to construct her nest, something I have not seen before.

digger wasp Crossocerus cetratus f, with mud in her mouth

May 24th 2021. A bit of warmth and much-reduced wind brought some action at the log-flats. Wind direction is usually ideal for sheltering the flats but over the past month it has been predominantly easterly. At last, the much-missed south-westerly has arrived. A few little black wasps were hard at work, buzzing in and out of nest holes, often only for a few seconds at a time. At first, I thought they were Crossocerus, the usual earlier species, then caught a glimpse of a fringe of white hairs, as well as the characteristic head shape. They were all Pemphredon lugubris, generally found after the first flush of other black wasps. It is good to see this activity, though future weather does not look too hopeful.

digger wasp Pemphredon lugubris f

digger wasp Pemphredon lugubris f

digger wasp Pemphredon lugubris f

May 20th 2021. A busy day in the back garden. A fine female Great spotted woodpecker fed briefly on the fat-balls, then went about its business on various tree trunks. 

Great spotted woodpecker  Dendrocpus major f

Great spotted woodpecker  Dendrocpus major f

Two baby Grey squirrels leapt into furious action, chasing each other up and down, in and around, then scrapping on the ground. They have such amazing energy. These youngsters are blessed with the most remarkable speed, a real spectator-sport. Eventually, an older squirrel appeared and posed for its portrait.

Grey squirrel Sciurus carolinensis

Grey squirrel Sciurus carolinensis - a portrait

The final portrait was of an adult Rook looking at me through the window.

Rook Corvus frugilegus

May 19th 2021. Our insect group met at Loxley Wood on a perfect sunny day, which was maintained for the rest of the visit, and later into the evening. John M, Ron W, Fiona D and I. It was good to have daughter Fiona, a comparative newcomer to insects, making up for this with enthusiasm. She showed us also how to photograph insects with an Apple smart phone - far better close-up results than I had expected. It was a lovely tranquil visit, no-one else appearing while we were there. On each side of the drove, the undergrowth was alive with insects, even the usually dead area at the start of the walk. The first few yards yielded another species of Nomada which I identified later on the computer as N. flava; a female from its striped thorax.

 cuckoo bee Nomada flava f

cuckoo bee Nomada flava f 

cuckoo bee Nomada flava f 

The walk up to the end of the drove took forever, indeed one of us had to leave before he even reached this point. There was so much to see that it was possible to stop anywhere and become totally wrapped up. It is a marvellous, tranquil place, once the initial noise from the main road has dissipated - this runs along the southern boundary but fortunately rapidly moves further away. An interesting selection of flies produced some pictures, the most memorable being a horse-fly showing just a hint of colour in the eye. Why memorable? Simply that these pests of summer days have become little seen in these parts in recent years. 

horse-fly Tabanus bromius f

The remainder were mainly hoverflies. But, perhaps the most important find was a fine male Hairy dragonfly. I don't think I would have expected him here but he was extremely active on the path, dashing back and forth but, eventually, settling and allowing us to come really close. These lovely dragonflies have become much less common in recent years, so it is good to see one, a true harbinger of spring. For photographers, it is a truism that if you can get within a certain distance you will be able to continue until the head fills the viewfinder. Why this should be, I have no idea but it works.

 Hairy dragonfly Brachytron pratense m

hoverfly Lucozona lucorum f

hoverfly Rhingia campestris f 

hoverfly Meliscaeva auricollis f

Another nice find was a bright red and bronze leaf beetle. I have named it, but there are a number with similar shape and colouring. Beetles are clearly in very short supply nowadays. You used to see them crossing paths with regularity, or on the leaves and in among the rougher ground. No more. A shame, they are delightful creatures.

leaf beetle Chrysolina polita 

A squash bug and some tiny Dark bush-cricket nymphs caught the eye on the greenery, while a crab spider was spotted on a leaf, an unusual situation, normally they live in flower heads waiting for prey to land. Never mind, she had done well in catching a couple of prey. 

Squash bug Verlusia rhombia

Dark bush cricket Pholidoptera griseoaptera nymph

crab spider Misumena vatia f with prey

In the late afternoon I sat down on a stool on the terrace and photographed my favourite bumblebees. They all turned out to be the same species, as has become customary lately, but welcome for all that. A perfect way to wind down. 

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum w

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum w

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum w

May 17th 2021. A warm and fairly still day. Passing the log flats, I was delighted to see a male mason bee. Later, I brought in one of the cameras from the main trail. It had been out for more than a week and had nearly 800 pictures on the card, rapidly reduced to under 100, then selected out further. I must be getting it right at last, the night-time pictures of deer were particularly good. One reason was that the deer had just been pottering around, not rushing; the other that the angle had been better.

 Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

 Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

 Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

 Badger Meles meles

Fox Vulpes vulpes

Fox Vulpes vulpes - in the twilight

May 16th 2021. A busy day at the logs in hot sunshine. Indeed I wondered if it was too much for some of them. 

leafcutter bee Megachile versicolor m - just waiting!

May 9th 2021. Romey and I settled for another walk in Loxley Wood this lunch with time. This time there were several cars, but it turned out to be its usual tranquil self, with sights of only a couple of other families. People seem to simply vanish inside. We walked to the end of the main drove and settled down to see what might be on our favourite patch. A new species was spotted almost immediately on a Dandelion (Taraxacum vulgare). The mining bee (Andrena angustior) has a number of points to identify it, but overall it is the general dark, untidy appearance, fringed white hairs.

 mining bee Andrena angustior m

mining bee Andrena angustior m

mining bee Andrena angustior m

However, these were not the only insects, more cuckoo bees and bumblebees were plentiful.

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum q

cuckoo bee Nomada leucopthalma m

cuckoo bee Nomada leucopthalma m 

cuckoo bee Nomada leucopthalma m

May 6th 2021. After another freezing night, touching 0°, it turned into a really warm day with the wind moving around to south-west at last. Perhaps we may move on from the one of the coldest, driest Springs for many decades to sufficient warmth to bring our insects to life. There was one good sign at midday, when a tiny black wasp settled briefly on one of the 'flats' logs., probably a Crossocerus.

May 4th 2021. After more than a year, our invertebrate group met again at Westhay Moor car park; a truly significant moment for all of us. John has arranged this year's programme, starting this first day as Coronavirus restrictions were lifted for meeting outside. Ron, Margarete, Una and I were delighted to be there. It turned out to be a lovely sunny day, but the wind was wicked, really strong as well as icy, making insect photography really chancy. Nevertheless, a few useful shots were managed. We walked up the main drove and turned west by the first hide (still 'no entry' under current rules). We walked along the ditch, hoping to find dragonflies, but it was almost bone-dry, yielding nothing. By the time we entered the field designated for future peat development, it was lunch. We sat down in a sheltered patch, under the lea of the wood edge. We had a marvellous time - a major part of our days' out is chatting over sandwiches, keeping in touch, hearing about what is going on with local wildlife. Earlier, a Marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus) was spotted dipping and wheeling over the reeds. While eating, a couple of Hobbies (Falco subbuteo) flew past, so close that the red colouring was vivid beneath. Afterwards, John and Una went on, following the trail round the field, while we other three had to return for various reasons, having enjoyed a fine outing in good company. It was as if a curtain had lifted, cutting the memories of our recent problems; badly needed after so long shut away. John later reported hearing a Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), a Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) booming, and seeing a possible flight of Whimbrel (Numenius phaopus) - later confirmed. The pictures taken were not spectacular but at least a start to our season, taken in difficult circumstances.

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum q

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum q

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum q

hoverfly Helophilus pendulus m

squashbug Coreus marginatus

Large red damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula m

Azure damselfly Coenagrion puella f

Azure damselfly Coenagrion puella m

May 3rd 2021. I have just added a new section on TRAIL CAMERAS, under the heading PHOTOGRAPHY. This sums up my findings using these fantastic instruments over the past year or so. They have searched out most effectively which larger mammals inhabit the garden. Night and day they record movements along an ancient trail that has run north and south through the garden for more years than we have been here (I suspect hundreds of years). Those animals include Badgers (Meles meles), Foxes (Vulpes vulpes), Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) - a busy, hidden world. I believe these instruments are one of the most significant developments for conservation in recent years, opening up this hidden world to our eyes.

May 2nd 2021. A PERFECT MISTAKE: Yesterday I told the world that I was setting the trail camera for video. This morning I found that I had not pushed all the correct buttons and it was set to take the usual still pictures. But, they were a fantastic set. The resolution, sharpness and colour are beyond any I could have expected, rivalling images taken with DSLRs. During the morning, Romey called me to look at a fine pink, adult Sparrowhawk bathing in our terribly overgrown small pond. Other Sparrowhawks have visited previously, obviously it is just right for a periodic overhaul. I was lucky enough to catch him in flight as he took off - so handsome, yet deadly.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus

A Roe doe appeared later and wandered around before settling down for a while. She is in the middle of the changeover from winter to summer coat but looked delightful, if vulnerable. 

 

 Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

 

Later, the terrace came to life as the strong sun overcame the chilly wind. A fair selection of pictures resulted.

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum q

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum q

flower bee Anthophora plumipes f

flower bee Anthophora plumipes f

hoverfly Rhingia campestris m

hoverfly Platycheirus albimanus f

hoverfly Platycheirus albimanus f

hoverfly Platycheirus albimanus f

May 1st 2021. Last night I thought it was time to find out what the trail camera video capabilities were. The camera was set up on ts tripod facing a set of steps often used by the deer. Coming into the bathroom, I noticed a large brown shape at the top of these steps, then realised it was a deer lying down, gazing at the camera, moving her head to various angles as if she was trying to work out her best angle. It was quite extraordinary, though she was only there for a few minutes more. I managed a few pictures with a small camera used for family occasions, not perfect, but recording an amazing event. Shortly after, in the shower, I looked out to see the doe so close, she was filling more than half the window looking out onto the garden. No picture this time! She just stood there for a few minutes quite obviously trying to see what was going on in the kitchen below, peering in, moving from one angle to another - then she was gone. The camera is just over to the left, outside the picture.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f