insectsandflight.com
all pictures © robin williams

September 2021: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

September 21st 2021.

September 20th 2021. 

September 19th 2021. I cannot waste the good weather by not watching the logs as they still continue to be active. In fact, I had a most interesting set of visitors - to my surprise. Two Crossocerus digger wasps, one of which was one I have not seen for man years. C. podagricus is most recognisable with its extensively pale legs. The other has been visiting regularly over the last few days.

digger wasp Crossocerus podagricus

digger wasp Crossocerus cetratus

These were followed by a small ichneumon of a rather similar size. I looked back through past photographs and came to the conclusion it was a Clistopyga f, probably incitator.

ichneumon Clistopyga incitator f

ichneumon Clistopyga incitator f

 bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

My eye was then caught by some nearby hoverflies and I managed to photograph them. The little Platycheirus turned out to be a species new to the garden, and to me. A subtle colouration on the antennae saw it differ from the common P. albimanus.

hoverfly Platycheirus discimanus f

 

hoverfly Platycheirus discimanus f

hoverfly Platycheirus discimanus f

hoverflies Rhingia campestris f and Platycheirus discimanus f 

September 16th 2021. The 'insect' day was in two parts. In the morning, a long session at the logs yielded good results in the warm autumn sunshine (already losing its strength). The new logs are already making an impact. Some of them have had the sawdust cleared away from the new drill-holes. Three or four little black digger wasps were busy exploring these, dashing inside for a few seconds then flying off again, repeated every few minutes. I could not see any signs of prey being brought in, so perhaps they were still clearing some of these holes. Perhaps the sawdust was difficult, forcing them out after each visit? There were two different species represented. One was a large female,- in Crossocerus terms, perhaps 7 0r 8mm in length. The other C. cetratus was considerably smaller, not obvious from the much magnified pictures, perhaps 5 or 6mm and slender, a male.

digger wasp Crossocerus megacephalus f

digger wasp Crossocerus megacephalus f

digger wasp Crossocerus cetratus m

digger wasp Crossocerus cetratus m

digger wasp Crossocerus cetratus m

digger wasp Crossocerus cetratus m

The afternoon was taken up by a walk in Shapwick Heath, a large nature reserve on the way to the village of the same name. There were a few insects around as I found out following the Sweet track. The actual track is buried in the peat to preserve it, water being pumped in for much of the time. It is over 3,000 years old and was discovered by a local, after whom it is named, digging the peat many years ago - one of the marvels of our area. 

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum m

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum m

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum m

hoverfly Melanostoma scalare m

tachinid fly Sturmia bella m

tachinid fly Sturmia bella f

ant Myrmica ruginodis w

September 12th 2021. While the first signs of Autumn are starting to creep in, today was fine, warm and virtually still. I completed the 'flats' set-up this morning, throwing out rotten logs (not actually throwing them away, but standing them elsewhere in a sunny patch so any inhabitants can emerge next year) and inserting a number of well-seasoned logs ready drilled in two or three different sizes. I was amazed to see a little black Crossocerus digger wasp busy removing sawdust from two separate drill holes, clearly searching for a very late nest-site. It was not a desultory effort but continued for nearly quarter of a n hour. It shows how important it is to provide the right-sized holes, in the right wood, if the various hymenoptera are to take advantage of new nest sites. After that, I stationed myself beside the Catmint Nepeta spp., normally a huge attractant for insects - if they are around! Fortunately they still were, mostly hoverflies, but also occasional bumblebees, all Bombus pascuorum. My objective was to record the end of the insect season but also to continue my studies into maximising lens performance with these so often tiny little insects. Time passed pleasantly enough until the sun vanished over the top of the trees.

September 7th 2021. The invertebrate meeting was planned for Ham Hill Country Park this morning. The day was billed as the hottest day of the year, which turned out to be only too true - 31°, as shown on the car thermometer but, curiously, it was quite comfortable up there on the top of the hill. For various reasons, John M. and I were the only ones present, but we had an interesting and enjoyable time, walking the familiar paths to the large open area on the very top. But first, I had to pull over the narrow road up the hill to let a huge lorry pass loaded with three enormous blocks of honey-coloured Ham stone. When we reached the top, we saw why. A large excavator was busy tearing into a part of this space. This was the source of the blocks, together with a deal of smaller building material. It was good to see an industry starting up again, however small it may be. Ham stone remains one of the glories of the area. insect life was much reduced on what it had been previously, but still worth the effort of looking. To my surprise, there were insects other than flies. Several different mining bees  were found, but only as individuals. I cannot be absolutely confident that the identifications of these are correct; but the usual system of researching flight times, leg-colouring, normal habitat appeared to be logical.

mining bee Halictus tumulorum m

mining bee Lasioglossum fulvicorne m

mining bee Lasioglossum cupromicans 

This little Spider-hunter was spotted incredibly busy right by my feet, dashing in and out of holes, or around the vegetation. She barely paused a second for her portrait to be taken. This is a major method for instant recognition of this little group of wasps, whatever their colouring. They are filled with nervous energy, their antennae on the move the whole time, as are they.

spider-hunter wasp Pompilus cinerea f

I had gone with the expectation of finding flies but even they were not conspicuous this day. In general, flies are most prolific during August, with many hanging on in goodly numbers until September.

hoverfly Sphaerophoria scripta m

hoverfly Cheilosia pagana f

hoverfly Eristalis arbustorum 

hoverfly Eristalis arbustorum f

A Sphecodes cuckoo bee was definitely not identifiable from a couple of pictures, but was interesting for all that, the abdomen dull red with faded black end as occurs in so many species. I was surprised at finding it operating so late in the year. They attack mining bees as prey for their young.

cuckoo bee Sphecodes sp.

John's knowledge of botany and the flowers we spot add to our knowledge each time we meet. I try and record those I am likely to come across again and add to my own file of pictures, sometime when they are are not at their best but always interesting. Ploughman's spikenard as much for its name as anything else. Eyebright for its beauty when magnified up.

Ploughman's spikenard Inula conyzae

Great mullein Verbascum thapsus

Eyebright Euphrasia nemorosa

September 5th 2021. Another morning spent on the terrace, photographing anything that presented itself, basking in unexpected warmth and sunshine - still looking for the ultimate sharpness.

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

hoverfly Eupeodes luniger f

hoverfly Syritta pipiens 

hoverfly Syritta pipiens f

hoverfly Syritta pipiens f

September 4th 2021An hour spent out on the terrace in really hot sunshine was not wasted. I was determined to test my new camera settings more thoroughly, there was little wind and a few insects were starting to show themselves. Using the monopod from a garden chair, provided a really steady platform. I also decided to test two ways of using the Rogue Safari flash enhancer. One was with manual settings of 1/250th second, f11, 100 ISO, the other with the flash on automatic, with setting of 1/60th second, 100 ISO. It was a surprise to find that results appeared identical, so I decided to leave it on manual, the length of the shutter opening determined by the automation. The alternative system might be a little more random. I also tested out variations on metering; full matrix, determined by the whole area with help from built-in algorithms; a graded system based on the target and part of the surround; full spot-metering with target size 8mm and 10mm.  For macro work, my conclusion was to use 8mm spot-metering. The ultimate results are seen below. The hoverflies are from 7-12mm in length.

hoverfly Helophilus pendulus

hoverfly Helophilus pendulus

hoverfly Helophilus pendulus

hoverfly Helophilus pendulus

hoverfly Helophilus pendulus

hoverfly Sphaerophoria scripta m

hoverfly Sphaerophoria scripta m

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

We have just completed painting the study, which involved removing all the logs and bamboos of the 'flats'. I imagined this would stop all activity for the year, as the logs and others were moved six feet or so and just left on the grass on their side. A few insects buzzed around for a couple of days but then all activity appeared to stop. Since then the bulk of the flats have been replaced against the wall. Much of it had been there for a great many years and was rotten. These were replaced with freshly-drilled logs that had been prepared for this moment. It is still a work in progress, nothing was expected of it at the preset but, amazingly, a few little black digger wasps were seen going in and out of the older logs. How tenacious is the urge to continue life!

September 3rd 2012. Time for what is almost certainly the last insect visit to Loxley Wood this year. A fine sunny afternoon followed an overcast morning. Even so, there were few insects around, as the flowers were equally absent. The secret is to search for the few bramble blossoms (Rubus spp). There are so many species that they fulfil the needs of the later insects, as do the blackberries as they ripen. Almost the first of these blossoms yielded just what I hoped for; a very late mining bee. It seems that Lasioglossum calceatum can linger on until October which I had not understood before. I had a long session with the bee. She was completely wrapped up in getting her fill of pollen and nectar, paying no attention to the rather obtrusive lens in front. The yellow lower legs and metallic bronze on the abdominal bands are distinctive points in this handsome little bee.

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum f

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum f

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum f

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum f

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum f

A few hoverflies were still present, mostly Sphaerophoria and Helophilus. The surprise of the visit was a fine specimen of a Comma butterfly, glowing in the semi-gloom it had chosen to show itself. 

hoverfly Helophilus pendulus f

Comma Polygonia c-album

September 1st 2021. One of a run of miserable, overcast, cold days - far from the expectations of Autumn. As the heating goes on in one room, we can only hope for traditional weather to follow.