insectsandflight.com
all pictures © robin williams

September 2021: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

September 30th 2021. To end the month, whatever better than to show a picture of a Roebuck taken from the latest batch on the trail camera? It seems that these creatures slip in and out of the garden throughout the year, at times when we think they have given up on us and moved away. Even as I write this, during late afternoon, I caught a glimpse of a Roe making its way up the garden-trail, returning a few minutes later. Enough to bring cheer to anyone.

Roebuck Capreolus capreolus

September 29th 2021Although not the finest of days, I was anxious to get down to Catcott Lows for two reasons; one to see the Glossy ibis once more, before it dashes off to kinder climes, the second, to test out some adjustments made to the camera. The last set of pictures were not all they should have been, focussing being just in front of the target, not spot-on. This was not a problem with closer pictures but definitely visible in more distant shots. The D7500 had been in use with a macro lens for much of the summer; this was the first use since re-fitting the 100-400 lens. Why it should have altered is a mystery; the pairing was working perfectly last winter. Once discovered, it is simple to put right with a simple paper target angled away. Focus on a scale and the result is obvious. The camera has a simple adjustment system in the menu which required '-2 clicks' to sort out. I thought the pictures would be dreadful, with prevailing wind and variable overcast, but I ended up with a number that pleased me, as well as proving that the adjustment was correct. A Great white egret provided the most spectacular, as it flew round the pond.

Great white egret Egretta alba

Great white egret Egretta alba

A number of Gadwall pitched it after a while, closely followed by a pair of Canada geese.

Gadwall Anas strepera

Gadwall Anas strepera

Gadwall Anas strepera

Canada geese Branta canadensis

A most enjoyable visit both for myself and a number of friends in the hide.

September 27th 2021. I spent some of the best hours I can remember at Catcott Lows over lunchtime. The weather was not that perfect, intermittent sunshine and overcast, but there were a few others already there. They  were joined by Alan and Andrew later to add to the enjoyment of the occasion. The time was well filled, something happening for much of the time. At first, it was quiet, then egrets started to appear in penny numbers. A Great white pitched on the edge of the water, giving some splendid poses as it fished its way on round. A couple of Little egrets took the same route. It was good to see their dead-white plumage again; they have become far less numerous than they used to be. The full collection was finalised when a few Cattle egrets dropped in, their plumage altogether off-white even in their winter finery.

Great white egret Egretta alba

Great white egret Egretta alba

Little egret Egretta garzetta

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

At this point a smaller dark bird flew low over the herbage and dropped down a few yards back from the water's edge. We had been hoping for a sight of this Glossy ibis which had been consorting with the Cattle egrets for some days. We watched this bird as it appeared, then disappeared behind tussocks, always at the same distance. I had been about to leave for home, when all the birds took off and vanished over the hide, including the ibis. No idea why, but we were  really lucky, the ibis flew back over and across, in just the right place for the cameras to click. It may look a dull, featureless creature but in the air it was a creature of elegance, with curved bill like a Curlew, long legs and slender body. Colour was not of importance - this bird was a rather unspectacular juvenile, lacking all the glossy features of an adult, although the fist picture shows traces on the wings.

Glossy ibis Plegadis falcinellus

Glossy ibis Plegadis falcinellus

Glossy ibis Plegadis falcinellus & Little egret Egretta garzetta

Glossy ibis Plegadis falcinellus

Glossy ibis Plegadis falcinellus

Glossy ibis Plegadis falcinellus

 At two separate periods, a juvenile male Marsh harrier appeared and gave some fine views as he quartered the surrounds, soaring up above every so often for a wider look.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

September 21st 2021. A brief visit to Catcott Lows produced a surprising result. I arrived late in the afternoon to find a full hide, which promptly emptied, leaving three or four others remaining. One of these, a visitor from the other side of the country, noticed a large raptor and speculated whether it was a buzzard, but concluded it was not. It was perched in a tree with a branch hiding its head. Eventually it flew, still far-off along the hedge and trees. I managed a a few distant shots and, thanks to the sheer excellence of the Sigma lens, the results are shown below, recognisable as a male Hen harrier, possibly a late juvenile.

Hen harrier Circus cyanea m

Hen harrier Circus cyanea m

September 20th 2021. Ongoing searches of the logs brought a couple of interesting species. They are still operating in spite of the disturbances in re-building the flats and the altogether weaker sunshine that reaches the logs over a shorter period each day. Crossocerus annulipes is well-known on the site but never this late. The small ichneumon is continuing its frantic search of the various nest holes.

digger wasp Crossocerus annulipes m

digger wasp Crossocerus annulipes m

ichneumon Clistopyga incitator f

 

ichneumon Clistopyga incitator f

September 19th 2021. I cannot waste the good weather by not watching the logs, as they still continue to be active. In fact, to my surprise, I had a most interesting set of visitors. Two Crossocerus digger wasps were present, of which one has not been here for many years. C. podagricus is easily recognisable with its extensively pale legs. The other, C. cetratus, 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 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 searching. To my surprise, insects other than flies were present. 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 make these 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 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 present 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 settle 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. Nevertheless, I decided to make a visit to Catcott Lows, a dose of fresh air was needed. I was the only person in the hide on that rather miserable, overcast afternoon. I was rewarded by a Great white egret flying in and working its way across the pond close to the opposite bank. I had marvellous views of the bird in its near-winter plumage, having what looked like a leisurely stroll. It dipped its beak in a number of times but did not look too serious about it, with no sign of any catches. A more normal fishing expedition would yield many tiny fish and invertebrates.

Great white egret Egretta alba

Great white egret Egretta alba