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A local diaryi


Summer 2014

August 31st 2014. A most interesting session by the 'flats' brought a newcomer to the garden. I spent much of the late morning photographing a great deal of activity at the drilled logs. As usual, I clicked away and then looked at the results in much greater detail later. Doing this, I was surprised to find a species new to the garden and logs. Crossocerus capitosus usually makes its nest in the pith of living bushes and trees - Perhaps it was attracted by the other wasps abounding round the area of our logs. A fine female was revealed by the distinctive colouring on the legs, particularly the pale rings round the tibiae of the back legs. I had never expected to add this wasp to the species found here, but there it was.

I was also delighted to see a fine female Ancistrocerus nigricornis exploring the holes. Usually, this species is common over a long span of time through much of the summer and autumn but this year has been largeley missing. She is so colourful and hardy that it is a pleasure to see her again.

Fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica is out in the garden and one or two small hoverflies had appeared at last. Platycheirus spp. are among my favourites, such acrobatic flyers and so neatly marked.

August 28th 2014. Myathropa florea is comparatively unusual round here. It is a particularly spectacular hoverfly, well worth photographing.

August 23rd 2014. A great day for the bottom end of Chilton Moor. The drove was deserted and tractors were far distant. Most of the thistles are nearly finished but some Great hairy willowherb Epilobium hirsutum provided plenty for nectat-seekers.

The 'flats' were busy this afternoon with many of the usual little black digger wasps searching the holes. Noticeable were some quite differently-shaped wasps, long-bodied with wings well short of the end of the abdomen, appearing very skinny in flight. These are the first Trypoxylon to be seen this year. All at once, a number have appeared simultaneously, incredibly industrious and active - but tiny, only a few millimetres long.

August 22nd 2014. Our SIG informal field group met at the western end of Shapwick Heath NNR, by the bridge over the South Drain. In spite of a less than perfect weather forecast, we had a beautiful sunny day and were largely protected from the strongish winds. It turned out to be a most succesful day. Ten of us turned up; Bill, Una, Margaret, Margarete, Martin, Robert, John, Toddy and Malcolm, and proved to be great company as well as knowledgable about many subjects, so we learned from each other. Walking along the drain, it turned out that the uncut verges were conehead heaven. Long-winged coneheads were everywhere, readily recognised by Robert with his bat-detector. On the way to the Sweet Track, we were disappointed at the dearth of insects along the thick herbage. This always used to be a particularly rich habitat for many species, such as Shield-bugs Heteroptera, hoverflies Syrphidae and hymenoptera in general. The former strong colony of the rare Macropis europaea mining bees was still not in evidence. Let us hope it is a temporary blip, as they have a particularly interesting life-history.

We found a horsefly with some of the most brilliant eyes I have ever seen. Two other species have been seen in the area previously, but this was a new one for me, Chrysops viduatus.

At this point the party split up, taking different paths to the same destination, the Decoy Hide. I went through the oak wood to the path along the edge of the reedbeds. These woods yelded little in the way of insects, but some really sweet blackberries - delicious. An exception was a cuckoo bumblebee Bombus sylvestris, which I had not seen this year.

In the open, I came across some interesting creatures. The first were some tiny beetles infesting a patch of sedges, vigorous in the heat of the day. Magnified up, they are most attractive.

All along the path, Southern hawker males were hunting up and down, in and out of the reeds. There did not appear to be any females around though. Apart from the inevitable Common darters Sympetrum striolatum, there were a few brilliantly-coloured Ruddy darters Sympetrum sanguineum and number of Migrant hawkers Aeshna mixta; so it lived up to its reputation for high dragonfly populations. Almost hidden among the dense foliage I found a beautiful little fly Dryope flaveolus, well worthy of its latest scientific name - changed recently.

 I met up with the others round the corner, finding them huddled round a tree where numbers of Red admirals Vanessa atalanta were feeding at a sap run on an old oak. Bill broke off long enough to show me a tiny male Brown argus butterfly, something we rarely see nowadays. I then sat in front of a large patch of Purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria which was heaving with insects, including Bombus muscorum, Bombus pratorum and the hoverfly Helophilus pendulus. They made fine subjects for the camera. Purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria appears to be the big attraction at present, although earlier in the month nothing visited these beautiful flowers. It is fascinating the way a succession of flowers become the new focal point for nectaring insects. The blue flowers of Tufted vetch Viccia cracca were the previous popular source.

Time was getting on, so we walked on to the Decoy Hide, our destination and lunch place. It sits on the edge of a large sheet of water where Otters Lutra lutra have been seen regularly in the past. But this time the excitement came from the appearance of at least two and possibly three Marsh harriers Circus aeruginosus. The first was a handsome female with pale yellow head and chocolate plumage, followed byy a very tatty bird of undetermined sex. We only had short-focus insect lenses so were frustrated as they soared over the water and in plain sight, but it was a great experience, even more so knowing the birds must be breeding nearby.

The walk back took us past more hunting dragonflies and we found two unusual hoverflies; Xylota segnis and Chrysotoxum bicinctum, always so immaculate.

The final great find of the day came when were again walking along the drain back to the cars. Someone spotted a male Great-green bush-cricket crawling over some brambles. He was in no hurry but never stopped moving. There were others nearby, as Robert's electronic bat-detector proved. This machine also recognised Dark bush-crickets Pholidoptera griseoaptera, and a great many long-winged coneheads Conocephalus discolor.

The pea-flowers which have long ben a feature of this part of the reserve yielded Bombus pascuorum, no signs of the previously-common hereabouts (though generally rare) Bombus sylvarum. We all agreed it had been a marvellous day out, even if insect species and numbers were far less than expected. We now know more about grasshoppers, from Robert's fund of knowledge on the subject. Martin and Robert took sets of fine pictures, proving that the finest close-ups can be taken using standard, lower-cost bridge cameras where the fieldcraft is of the proper standard. The lenses certainly seem to be up to it.

August 20th 2014. We walked deep into Chilton Moor this morning. It was not a good insect day and the wind was particularly strong but there was one useful find. A male ichneumon Coelichneumon deliratorius was searching the undergrowth and paused for that vital moment to clean itself. I have seen this insect previously, but only the  more heavily-marked female.

 August 18th 2014. Hoverflies have been conspicuous by their absence, both total numbers and species, where we live. So it was a joy to come across these two on a walk across the southern part of Chilton Moor, a quiet area where a long grass drove cuts through the pastures. Eristalinus sepulchralis appears solitary, present as single flies always. It is one of two species singled out immediately by their spotted eyes and separated by the extent and location of hairs on the eyes.

I do not make a habit of extolling an ordinary piece of kit, but must make an exception in this case. I saw this stool-cum-rucksac being offered as a prize in an old photographic competition. It looked ideal for its purpose and it was still available from Drapers, the original seller. For those of us who are not as agile as we once were, it offers the perfect solution, particularly for insect photography which is often low down. The sack carries what I need and is comfortable to sit on for resonably long periods. It is also light and easy to carry.

August 16th 2014. The last few flowers were still present on the Teasels Dipsacus fullonum along the drove at the south of Chilton Moor and the occasional bumblebee was seen on them, though there was little else to be seen.

 August 15th 2014. After the experience at Catcott the other day, I decided to go and look at the Macropis europaea colony at Shapwick Heath, on the Sweet Track. According to past records this should be the right time to see them collecting oil and pollen at the Yellow loosestrife. Sadly, when I got there, no luck. The other side of the rhyne, where the colony was believed to have its nest holes, had been devastated. All the shrubs and young trees had been chopped down and the herbage cut right down, leaving a mowed finish. This appears to have been done recently by Natural England, just at the time the bees are nesting. The colony is well known to be there and it is a great rarity, so why? Of course, it may be that, like some other species, the bees nested earlier than usual, but it still seems an odd approach to conservation. The essential yellow loosestrife Lysimachia vulgaris appears to have vanished from its previous stronghold on the eastern bank of the ditch but still inhabits the other side of the path, though in not such large clumps.

On the way back I stopped by the many Lathyrus pea bushes, planted earler when it was run by English Nature. They have spread all along the verge of the cycle track and are a great attraction to bumblebees, as they always have been, but there was no sign of the Bombus sylvarum that used to be such a feature. Instead, all the ones I saw were the ubiquitous B. pascuorum. Most of the various umbels by he paths were full of Eristalis hoverflies and no other species except for a few Helophilus pendulus. What has happened to all the other species of hoverfly, usually abundant at this time of year?

August 11th 2014. Today's SIG meeting was at the Somerset Wildlife Trust's Catcott complex. We enjoyed a warm day, with a few isolated showers. Others nearby were not as lucky, suffering heavy rain at times. John, Una, Margaret and Nigel turned up, and we had a most enjoyable and succesful day, in spite of starting off with somewhat lesser hopes. The overcast soon turned to plenty of sunshine, although the wind remained strong in the less-sheltered areas. Right at the start, we came across a peculiarly strange-looking bee which none of us felt we had seen before. The odd feature was that its back leg was partly white, partly dark, as will be seen from the photo. No-one could remember seeing a picture of such a strange configuration in a British bee. Research at home was not helpful, until I looked in an excellent German book, Bienen, by Muller, Krebs and Amiet. There was an exact picture of our bee, Macropis europaea, alongside another showing its pollen baskets full. The explanation for the puzzlement was just this; none of us had seen one without full pollen baskets. It was sheer luck that this book had both pictures; people normally photograph them showing baskets full of colour. All modern records show Shapwick Heath as being the only colony in Somerset, but J.Cowley found them in Catcott during the 1950s. In the course of the day, we noticed that Yellow loosestrife, Lysimachia vulgaris, its essential plant companion, was spreading across the area. This same spread has been noticed on Tadham Moor during the last couple of years. Yellow loosestrife is the source of oil used in construction of this bee's nest tunnels, yielding a concrete-like material. It seems they are totally dependent on this plant. Is this a sign that the species may be following the plant with new colonies?

Following this, an old picture shows the aspect most likely to be seen, with the baskets full of oil and pollen.

A few Eristalis hoverflies were found in the same area. E. arbustorum is one of the more striking members of this clan.

Walking down the side of Catcott Fen, we came across the first instance of one of the area's specialities, Bombus muscorum, a rarity in most places, through present on parts of the levels and moors. It is a very beautiful bee, vividly coloured, but said to be rather bad-tempered with humans. We found numbers of these bees when we we went to Catcott Heath later in the afternoon. Our identification was backed up by finding a picture of one on an information board in the reserve, as well as words about its activities. Although the heath is a wetland, we saw few dragonlies. The biggest was the spectacular Brown hawker Aeshna grandis, while the one I was most pleased to see was a solitary Red-eyed damselfly Erythromma najas, more often found on moving water. 

During this first part of the walk, we were keeping an eye out for bumblebees, which have become more active irecently. We found two of the less usual cuckoo bumblebees almost alongside each other, a useful means of comparing them. Bombus barbutellus has been found in increasing numbers this summer but B. bohemicus always seems to be alone, and can be counted a rarity on the moors. The picture shows one of its characteristics, a tiny trace of yellow on the front at the side of the white tail - far less than the obvious patches of the far commoner B. vestalis.

Lunch was taken underneath the new tower hide on the Fen. Underneath, because the hide was locked. It has excellent views in several directions but, judging by the present damp situation, it may prove difficult to reach by way of boggy patches in winter. It is a great hide, but I cannot understand why it was placed some tens of feet away fom the water? It is set on piles, so why was it not placed right on the edge, or even in the water itself, as has been done on other reserves? It seems a golden opportunity has been missed.

Nigel saw a Bittern Botaurus stellaris fly towards him, then drop down into the reeds close-by, a little Egret Egretta garzetta made its way slowly down towards the hide, while Buzzards Buteo buteo flew overhead - good omens surely. We were delighted to find numbers of grasshoppers in the herbage round the hide, amongst which were Long-winged Conocephalus discolor and Short-winged coneheads C. dorsalis, and Meadow grasshoppers Chorthippus paralellus.The coneheads were beautifully coloured, some with delicate pastel shades, others glowing the brightest emerald. Common groundhoppers Tetrix undulata were spotted in one clump rushes, while munching our sandwiches.

The biggest surprise lay in the insect life of Catcott Heath. I had always thought of it as having barren spaces round Bog-myrtle bushes Myrica gale, which has been taking over the whole area. They were indeed still there, but many flowering plants abounded where the myrtle had been cleared, and many insects were flying - though of comparatively few species. This included numbers of worker Bombus muscorum.

It is beautiful and worth visiting throughout the year. The Trust is to be congratulated for the efforts they have put into the large Catcott complex, with its widely-varied habitats. We certainly enjoyed our day out there. In the evening a quick look at the daisy-like flowers at the bottom of our orchard showed leafcutter bees feeding on the huge blooms. This a regualr sight at this time of year but the flowers have lasted such a short time that there has been little opportunity for the many insects that like their nectar. Various bumblebees joined in this evening, including this dark B.campestris.

August 10th 2014. Further pictures of Lepidoptera have been added. Click on Insects in flight.

August 9th 2014A relatively less common digger wasp turned up at the flats today. Crossocerus distinguendus is a mid-sized member of the clan, which turns up regularly but infrequently.

August 8th 2014. Around 50 further pictures of hoverflies have been uploaded onto the photography sections. To look at these, please click on Insects in Flight Gallery.

August 7th 2014. Tadham Moor was again rather blustery and many insects seem to have decided to hide themselves under cover, deep among the taller plants edging the droves, but Bombus pscuorum appears to be  tougher than other bumblebees - a few still feeding in the open. The first picture illustrates comparatively normal colouring but the second, taken on a Bindweed flower, shows just how difficult bumblebb identification can be. The lines on the abdomen resemble no B. pascuorum I have ever seen, but a couple more pictures show that it was a perfecty normal insect. The bisecting line runing up and down the abdoment is particularly misleading. 

We were sitting out on the terrace having a cup of tea when this buzzard dived down and flew across in front of us, twisting and jinking in the air. The sun lit it from behind giving an exotic appearance. From its rather tattered appearance, I guess it was one of this year's youngsters.

August 6th 2014. Walking up one of the droves on Tadham Moor, leading to the deserted village, there were few insects around but I was interested to see yet another colour variation of the bumblebee mimic Eristalis intricarius.

Further on, I came across a number of the rarer bumblebees, Bombus muscorum. This colourful and beautiful bee must be seen as one of the successes of this strange summer. They are appearing all over the moors.

August 1st 2014. Three of us, Nigel, Tony and I, decided to go over to Stoborough and Hartland Moor once again, to see if conditions for insect flight had improved since our last visit. It turned out the opposite to last time. Then it was super-hot, and little was flying; this time it was overcast but warm for much of the time, though a colder wind came up during the afternoon.  There was more sign of activity, but still limited. We really needed an in-between stage. As always, we started at the Stoborough Heath lay-by, then went up the hill to the open sandy spots. The surprising first find was a Hornet robber-fly in the grass by the lay-by. This large insect is rare nowadays, having been badly affected by ivermectin, which is given to cattle against parasites. Cattle dung then becomes poisonous to Aphodius beetles which are the favoured prey of this robber-fly.

This time we did find plenty of nests-holes of our favourite mining bee, Dasypoda hirtipes. At first, all we were able to find were piles of sandy spoil cascading down the steeper banks then, as it warmed up, we spotted holes; on the lay-by bank and many up the main paths, but no sign of the insects. We concluded they were away foraging and, eventually, they did start flying, pollen baskets heavy with bright yellow loads. The diference in appearance between a female bringing in a load and leaving after emptying it, is amazing. They must be amongst the most efficient collectors there are.

It was fascinating to watch one particular nest, where a Dasypoda disappeared underground with its laden pollen-baskets, while a digger wasp, Astata boops, appeared to approach the hole and queue up, as if the Dasypoda had taken over it's nest - waiting its chance to nip in and lay its egg on already-stashed prey, or to bring in fresh prey. It hung around as long as the hole was occupied and then vanished, probabaly straight into the depths. I had been fooled into thinking this was a Sphecodes bee waiting to wreak its cuckoo act, then realised the whole aspect of the creature shouted wasp.

Further up the hill, I saw Dasypoda dive straight into a hole in the middle of the path and decided to sit down and watch what happened. It was a lengthy process and I was getting quite stiff before she emerged; just the antennae and eyes at first, then head and shoulders, slowly, before pulling out fully, with a rapid shiver to rid itself of the sand.

Oxybelus uniglumis caught the eye and ear, hovering with an almost mechanical sound, always just beyond the range of the lens - very frustrating. Eventually I saw one emerging from the sand, having deposited its dead prey well below the surface. I hardly recognised the short, rather dumpy wasp, having previously seen it super-elongated, with prey speared behind on the ovipositor.

Heather Calluna vulgaris dominates this landscape, with few other flowers around. Bramble Rubus spp.were extremely sparse and the only other bee seen was a solitary Lasioglossum on one of the two or three flowers still out.

I've put in two pictures of a male Bombus lapidarius, because they illustrate so well the problems faced in bumblebee identification. If the descriptions of this bee are read carefully, it is noted that the male has a bright tuft of yellow hairs on the top of the head. It also has a second pale band at the back of the thorax. This insect has neither, but otherwise fits this species more than the alternatives. B. ruderarius has greenish-yellow bands on the thorax - this bee has rich yellow. B. pratorum males are very bright creatures. The darker variations of B. rupestris, a cuckoo bee, are much larger and have dark brown wings. All these bees have orangey-red tails. It is possible I am wrong, but think my detective work has taken me in the right direction, after examining several more pictures taken at the same time. Wear-and-tear can really upset the norms of identification.

After lunchtime sandwiches, we moved round to the Tramway on Hartland Moor. Although the air was warm in the shade, the wind was whistling down the length of the track, usually sheltered by its banks. There was no sign of the rare Purbeck mason wasp Pseudepippona herichii, for which this track is the British headquarters. We searched hard, but only saw one possible nest hole, characterised by a little pile of granular spoil dumped an inch away, as is their habit. The hope is that this hot weather may have brought their nesting season forward. In theory, this particular time should in the middle of their nomal flight time. Nor did we see any trace of the Potter wasp Eumenes coarctatus, the original reason for this particular visit.

It was comparatively cold for much of the time and nothing flew. Then, almost imperciptibly, a trace of warmth crept in, blue sky traced above through the clouds, and we started to notice holes where the sand had been complete. Clearly Bee-wolves were about, and in some numbers. Tony reckoned they were out of the nests foraging and we would have to wait until they flew back, and this is what happened. What looked like bumblebees appeared, circled and eventually landed near one of the holes. Then we saw that each was a slender wasp with a large honey bee Apus apus slung underneath, bulking the appearance out. The fun came when they started to stuff these bees into rather constricted holes. Oddly, we found numbers of abandoned Honeybees close to some of the holes.

In the end these splendid, colourful wasps appeared in some numbers; so we were delighted to see that the colony continued to exist. We had a great day after all, and drove home feeling pleased, though sad we had not seen all the species we had expected.   

July 31st 2014. Tadham Moor, on the drove to the 'deserted village' and bridge over the North Drain, yielded the two pictures below, in spite of a great deal of gusts disturbing the vegetation. Much of the drove has high walls of Great hairy willowherb Epilobium hirsutum which help protect the remaining ancient thistles Circium spp. and Burdock Arctium spp.among them. Both are in their final stages so not every plant had a population of feeding bumblebees, but these two proved aesthetically pleasing.

In the afternoon, I spent some time at a patch of Fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica, one of the most succesful insect-attractants at this time of year. Although the very warm weather has had the effect of shortening its flowering period, there were many insects on it, though not representing all the usual species.

July 30th 2014. Further changes have been made to the landscape sections, with added pictures as well as changes to layout. Go to Landscape - Levels, where there is a further link to Mendip pictures at the bottom of that page.

July 25th 2014. Once again, SIG found itself down at Stoborough Heath, part of Hartland Moor NNR on the Purbeck peninsula in Dorset. While there, I felt disappointed at the small numbers of insects but was surprised, on our return, to find how many species had been photographed or actually seen. It was another boiling hot day, very humid, nearly windless, but how worth while! Only four of us made it to the site. One had had to pull out at the last mement, because a cat needed taking to the vet and another mixeded days up and missed the journey. John, Martin, Robert and I had a splendid and most productive day in spite of the fact that very few insects were flying or, if they were, were so hyperactive it was impossible to photograph or recognise them. We went there with the specific interest of finding a particular wasp and we did so, but more of that later. We were particularly surprised to see little sign of activity fron one of the area's specialities, the large, colourful mining bee Dasypoda hirtipes, she with the enormous pollen baskets on her legs. I caught a brief glimpse of one, though there were several nests close to where we parked the cars. I have put in a picture from a previous visit. They are such spectacular creatures and usually flying everywhere, loaded with pollen, or digging nests in the sand, hurling out the spoil as if life was about to end.

There were numbers of very small digger wasps working the open sand and it was not till we found them landing that they were able to be identified. In flight, they clearly had pale bands across the abdomen and flew fast, with a really high-pitched hum, hovering, then darting sideways and back. When one landed, it was clear that it was carrying prey. This was the remarkable Oxybelus uniglumis, which impales flies on its ovipositor before bringing them back to stock its nest. They bring in their prey and land in a precise spot, though there is no indication of it among the shifting sands.

There were several rather larger black beeswith red on the front of the abdomen, moving like typical Sphecodes cuckoo bees, nervously testing the ground with their antennae. All, except for one species which is all black, are of this colouring and they may only be distinguished by microscopic examination. Robert went up the hill to a small sand quarry and found one of the very small bee-flies Bombylius minor and watched it hurling its eggs into a nearby bee nest, mixing the egg with sand to add weight for the throw.

Before lunch,  we spotted a long, thin wasp examining the edges of a bank. We thought she was digging a nest hole but a longer period of watching revealed she was actually filling in the nest tunnel, presumably sealing a caterpillar inside, stung to preserve its freshness until the larva needs it for food.

In the afternoon we moved to our old haunt on Hartland Moor, the Tramway. This the famous area where the Purbeck mason wasp Pseudepippona herichii has been found breeding on this track for a number of years. Sadly we saw none, though one or two nest holes appeared to have the distant spoil heap which is characteristic of them. It is a most remarkabl habitat, with sandy/chalky soil, a sheltered trackway and soft banks. Burnett roses Rosa spinosissima flourish and heather Calluna spp. is everywhere, sheets of it. Below the track, an old railway serving local excavations, the heather vanishes into the distance. During the winter it is haunted by harriers Circus spp.and other birds of prey. Butterflies were present in some numbers, including this fine Large skipper. For us, though, the real point of this expedition was to find the remarkable Potter wasp and, ideally, an example of its amphora-shaped nest on a heather stalk. We were also on the lookout for the handsome large spider Argiope bruennichi, but only managed to see one male, though they are said to be around at the moment.

There had been publicity in the winter about this wasp being found on the Trackway. While we were walking back down the path, we finally found one, though not the nest. It was shuffling around on the ground and, come to think of it, probably gathering the materiel to make its famous pot-nest. It is quite distinct and easily distinguished from other mason wasps  by the two yellow marks on the abdomen sides and the line of yellow across the back of the thorax. Perhaps another visit will see us fining a nest also?

Then there was the other famous resident of the Trackway itself. There was little sign that the Bee-wolf was still present in the heat of the day but on our return we noticed lots of mathematically-perfect circular holes in the harder sand and soil deposits. Soon we watched a black and yellow wasp fly in to one of these and later another such insect bringing in a honeybee Apus apus slung under its body and forcing it into the hole - a fresh-meat store for its larva when it eventually hatches from the egg.  

Finally, I must show the beautiful little Roe deer we watched wander across in front of the hide, among the heather and other wild flowers. Although some way off, others remarked on the fact that when the camera clicked, her ears twitched, though she did not appear to hurry afterwards.

July 22nd 2014. An absolutely glorious day, with unbroken sunshine from start to finish. SIG had another, but more formal, field meeting at Barford Park in the Quantocks, invited in by the owner as part of a general look at the state of wildlife on the estate. Our role, an ongoing one, was to see what invertebrates were living there. Donald met us, and we had a few specialists in attendance, Nichola whose main speciaity is lichens and fungi, but has a much wider area of expertise; Francis whose passion is spiders and related forms; Bill who has catholic interests in many groups; Dave, widely experienced but known as an expert on beetles, relevant in ancient parkland, with its many venerable trees; while my particular interest is hymenoptera of all kinds. Some of our people had been there for much of the night running moth-traps, and were examining the huge and unexpected catch when I arrived. 

I spent much of the morning walking the extensive and beautiful woodland, with streams wandering through, but had little luck, taking only one set of pictures, of a queen bumblebee Bombus lapidarius,  searching out nest holes in a bank - late in the year for that activity.

Just before lunch, I was shown a most unusual nest site for bumblebees and spent a while photographing the comings and goings. It was in a Yew Taxus baccata hedge, which had numbers of 'holes' all over one quite large section. I had expected these to be Bombus hypnorum, from its habit of building in trees or well above ground, but they were Bombus terrestris. Quite unexpected.

Walking down one of the magnificent flower borders, I spotted this cuckoo bumblebee feeding on an incredibly strongly-coloured Dahlia. Although others of this species were seen elsewhere, none exceeded these pictures for sheer panache. Cuckoo bumblebees and other cuckoo bees appear to be in the ascendancy this year in many places, being present in far greater numbers than those they are preying upon. the cuckoo bumblebee queen enters a host species bumblebee nest and either kills or displaces the other queen, then settles down to a life of being looked after, her offspring reared by the other species.

In the afternoon, I concentrated on patches of lavender, which attracted the majority of bee life. The only hoverfly was a solitary Metasyrphus luniger on the same bunch of Dahlias. The Old English lavender was a tremendous attraction to bumblebees, though the number of species was severly restricted. Bombus barbutellus were scattered around these plants during the afternoon, clearly doing well, but the dominant species was Bombus terrestris. Interestingly, the tails on this set were very dark compared to those in the yew hedge. Another obvious species was the cuckoo bumbelebee, Bombus campestris, easier to recognise from a distance, with its spidery form and distinctive 'plumage'. There was the odd glimpse of a Bombus pratorum but they seem to have had a hard time of it this year, after a healthy spring emergence. I was surprised to see no Bombus pascuorum, as they seem to have defied the effects of weather in recent times.

All-in-all, a disappointing visit from the point of numbers of species, but far from a wasted day. The combination of the grounds, and the colours in the flower beds, made for a splendid day out.

July 17th 2014. I have introduced further major changes to the site today, on top of those already showing. The Home page has been split into two, with the first part very short and to the point, as an outline introduction. The new, second section is now shown as Detailed content, a summary of everything on the website. Another change is an entirely new section, under the Insect 'Flats' heading. Following on the theme of suggesting people set up their own schemes, I have tried to make the business of understanding which insects would visit the logs and bamboos easier to follow. Detailed entomological keys are difficult to process, and usually entail killing the insects. This section gives more general ways of looking at the problem, to enable people to at least identify the family concerned, while the insects remain free and alive. It is designed to make the experiencel more enjoyable. This section will have further content added in the future. To find out more, go to Shortcuts to identification. Further pictures have been added to Mendip Landscapes. 

I came across a solitary Spear thistle Cirsium vulgare on Jack's Drove and spotted an ichneumon searching the head, antennae probing and pushing. During the next few minutes she found her target and inserted her ovipositor - fascinating to see.

July 16th 2014. The walk down Jack's drove brought a few interesting moments in spite of it being really windy, though warm in the sunshine. Perhaps the most exciting was the sight of no less than nine Common buzzards circling high overhead. It almost seemed as if there was a leader in charge, making the wild mewing calls for which the species is famous.

Everyone says what a good year this is for butterflies. This is true here but in numbers rather than species. The Green-veined white and Small white Pieris rapae are present everyhwere, particularly so on the great banks of Great hairy willowherb Epilobium hirsutum that are found everywhere along the droves and road edges at present.

Recently, I spotted an unusual straw-coloured Oplodontha viridula on one of the droves, but today I came across the more conventional green version, with which I am much more familiar. Lovely to see, but still only the odd one to be found. Nearby,  fine Bittersweet impressed with the colour and structure of its flowers.

That very common hoverfly, Episyrphus balteatus, is slowly building its numbers, though still relatively few. I was so pleased to get this shot, as it shows the fly in a most unusual form, with the landing gear down. Most photographs show the legs tucked up under the abdomen. I must have caught the very moment that it decided to land after a hover.

After lunch I spent some time at the logs again, watching a great deal of activity in the sunshine, with little breeze to cool them down. Apart from the usual little black wasps, we were visited by two unusual ones. Crossocerus styrius is one of the smaller females and, I suspect that this year the small ones are even smaller because food in the larval state was not up to much. I have the impression that most of the 'flats' creatures are not as large as usual.

The thick, tapered antennae caught my eye with the other insect, at first thinking it was another Crossocerus, but these are typical Psenulus females. It is good to identifyeventually  something you know is different, but cannot think why.

July 14th 2014. I have uploaded numbers of pictures of wildlife reserves or other places to visit, with new sections on Catcott Heath and Catcott Fen reserves, as well as making changes to the the existing Levels and Mendip folios. These reserves have had changes, and are becoming important destinations for wildlife enthusiasts, as well as walkers. Both are fascinating places to visit at any season of the year. The pictures in these landscape sections give an idea of the highlights for each, a taste of what to expect, as well as showing a typical speciality, such as a bird or insect found in the area. See Landscapes - Levels or Landscapes - Mendip.

July 13th 2014. A quick look at the logs showed that male leafcutter bees were busy searching for females, testing the air round each suitable nest hole. Our local Jewel wasp (cuckoo) was also busy on the same job, but searching for occupied nests in which to lay its eggs. We have been lucky enough to have the unusual Chrysura radians visiting the logs for many years - such astonishing colours.

July 8th 2014. Another fascinating day concentrating on the logs outside my study. I have been concerned at how restricted the number of species has been this year, but this turned out to be the time when further insects have at last appeared. The first of these was a cuckoo bee, so-called because it is a cuckoo in the nest of Megachile or Anthophora bees. It seems the larva of Coelioxys crushes and destroys the egg of its host and then goes on to use its food store to feed itself. These insects are quite distinctive, with their tapered, pointed abdomens, though less easy to distinguish the one from another.

Another newcomer was spotted among some much smaller black digger wasps that have suddely appeared, making the common Crossocerus megacephalus look a comparative giant. One of the clues to identification of this wasp is the depth and shape of the foveal depressions above each eye.

At last, a few of the very smart Ectemnius digger wasps have started to appear. At first glance they appear difficult to distinguish from each other, until the male antennae are examined more closely - often quite visible in a good photograph. These have various bumps and valleys beneath the head end of the antenna which are easy to spot and can be seen in my picture. Ectemnius lapidarius is relatively common around the flats and logs around the middle of summer.

July 6th 2014. The flats were particularly active this morning and again in late afternoon. I spent long times in both periods sitting in a garden chair close to this exciting scene, clicking away with the camera. In the morning, there was an influx of cuckoo wasps, sometimes known as jewel wasps because of their astonishing colouring. I was particularly pleased to catch one in flight - difficult because of their rapid and unpredictable movements.

Closer examination of that and other pictures revealed it was Chrysura radians, the rarest of those seen here. My pictures show the differences between this and Chrysis mediata, another red and green/blue wasp. The distinguishing points lie at the tip of the abdomen; C. mediata has a bare top with three little pointed teeth, whereas C. radians is distinctly hairy, with no points at the tip.

After lunch, I was caught up in the drama of a leafcutter bee constructing its nest in one of the logs, using an existing hole. It was quite fascinating. I must have watched for over an hour, photographing every move. These bees construct their nests from circular pieces of leaf, glued inside these holes. The leaves used are often taken from nearby roses. This particular bee was actually finishing off the last of several cells, twisting and turning its body to fit every last detail into an exact position. The male starts the process off, waiting near a hole, hoping a newly-emerged female will pop out so he can mate with her. In appearance, he is quite different from the female, greyish with long antennae - and no pollen-brush beneath the abdomen.

She is much more colourful, with shorter antennae. The cells are constructed from the leaves and are then filled with pollen, before an egg is laid. This pollen is brought in on the bees' pollen brush which, unlike most bees is not on the back legs, but filling the length beneath the abdomen. In the case of M. versicolor, this brush is a brilliant reddish-orange.

July 2nd 2014. Today's SIG meeting was held at and around Waldegrave Pool on Mendip. Throughout, the weather could not have been better, warm sunshine with sufficient breeze to cool us down. There was a good attendance, with ten of us meeting at the lay-by beside the pool. Those who came were Robert, Martin, Nigel, Una, Margaret, Margarete, Toddy, Bill and John. It was good to have people with expertise in a number of different groups. We found plenty to see and discuss. The area all round the pool, extending into Stockhill woods beyond, is superb, full of flowers and umbels. The insects were out in force at last and we had a thoroughly interesting day. July is not always the best of months for insect life, but we must have hit the perfect period for the month. Indeed, the very first insect we saw was the spectacular gold-banded black hoverfly, Chrysotoxum bicinctum, a good start.

We spent the morning around the pool, people taking up various stations where they felt they were most likely to see dragonflies close-by. The larger species included Common hawker Aeshna juncea, Broad-bodied chaser, Libellula depressa, Four-spot chaser, Libellula quadrimaculata, Emperor, Anax imperator and Downy emerald, while one Common darter, Sympetrum striolatum, was also spotted. Many damselflies were also present, but all of the commonest species. I spent much time in the little inlet between bushes, opposite the lay-by, which has always been favoured by Downy emeralds - our local speciality. It was so warm that they were all extrmely active but I photographed a pair mating in the water, a rather uncomfortable process. Eventually one flew off, leaving the other to struggle across the water to a plant up which it crawled to recover. Normally, mated dragonflies stay together to stop someone else muscling in on the act. 

After lunch by the cars, we split up; one lot going to look at various unusual Alpine plants on the open moor by the pool and the other pushing into Stockhill Woods which, in common with much of the countryside, was much overgrown along the path. The umbels and bramble flowers had considerable numbers of insects on them of which the following pictures are just a selection. The hot, humid, windless conditions were ideal for these and we had a thoroughly interesting time, benefitting from many eyes to spot the unusual ones. Perhaps the most noticable were the large numbers of Cheilosia illustrata on almost every umbel. It was at this location where I first discovered this pretty little hoverfly, so many years ago.

Two versions of Xylota hoverflies were seen on many leaves, feeding on hidden bits of pollen and other nutrients, always busy. Xylota sylvarum has a conspicuous bunch of brilliant golden hairs on the side of its tail, while X. segnis has a wide orange band over much of the abdomen.

Perhaps the most spectacular of the various hymenopterans seen in the afternoon was present in some numbers. The sawfly Tenthredo scrophulariae specialises on Figwort Scrophularia nodosa. There was one large plant of this with numbers of the hoverflies moving over it, while most of the leaves were all but skeletons. This could have been caused by the hoverfly or, equally possible, by beetles - the sort of damage caused elsewhere by dock beetles . This Tenthredo was also spread widely along some huge bramble bushes Rubus spp. beside the path, feeding on the newly-opened flowers. We also came across a single Tenthredo arcuata, a colourful insect we see usually later in the year.

Hanging onto a stem nearby, we saw a couple of mirid bugs, one of which was particularly colourful. The other may well have been a less bright version of the other but I was unable to glimpse the top of the insect. Both were small. Grypocoris stysi is said to be be widespread, though I have not come across it before. Close-by was another interesting find, Symmorphus bifasciatus, a small mason wasp, followed by Ectemnius continuus on the next umbel. This latter wasp appears to be one of the very few solitary wasps found nowadays. What has happened to the many varieties found in earlier years?

The final batch of finds was just before we turned back to the cars and home. Someone spotted a Common (or Viviparous) lizard resting partly shaded under some leaves. We were all astonished at how green it was, making a splendid picture. There was a buzz of interest when a large, noisy bumblebee mimic hoverfly was seen flying from flowere to flower. Volucella pellucens was well worth the spotting.

The final excitement came when Nigel showed us a dark moth with bright colouring round the head. This was a Red-necked footman Atolmis rubricollis, a most elegant insect I had not noticed before. What a great day.

July 1st 2014. It is always pleasing to see the large hoverfly, , with tis strong colouring and distinctive shape and patterning. A quiet walk along the drove at Catcott Heath brought excellent views of one of these.

June 25th 2014. A pair of damselflies are caught here by the lens as they relax after mating, the male holding firmly to the female to prevent others muscling in on the act. While damselflies are out in numbers, there is still little sign of the big dragonflies. However, I did spot a newly-emerged Common darter Sympetrum striolatum during the afternoon.

Another member of the Parasitica, a rather smart ichneumon, appeared at the logs this morning, laying its eggs down its slender ovipositor, with the outer sheaths tucked well out of the way, as seen in the picture. Two or three of these wasps spent much of the morning checking ou the many holes in the logs - how does anything avoid these and other parasites? 

June 24th 2014. Each day I spend rather a deal of time sitting on a garden chair beside the flats and logs outside my study. It is the time of year where a great deal of activity should be taking place - and it is at last, though not as much as had been been expected. Of particular interest has been the arrival of parasitic wasps searching nest holes in the logs for new victims. The picture shows a female testing the air inside a hole. If succesful, she then inserts her ovipositor and lays an egg on the larva of the insect inside a nest cell. They are odd-looking creatures, flying in such a way that the abdomen appears to stick up above the general line of the insect. I am almost certain that two species are present at times. One is the common Gasteruption jaculator with its long, slender ovipositor, while the other has a much shorter one, with or without the pale tip - almost certainly Gasteruption assectator

Out on Catcott Heath, insects were busy everywhere, but there still was not the variety of hoverflies I would have expected. Helophilus pendulus was certainly the commonest, specially on the newly-opened bramble flowers Rubus spp. They are such colourful, attractive insects and always in such a hurry. The soldier-fly Odontomyia ornata is much more widespread than in previous years and I came across a solitary Oplodontha viridula nearby but, instead of the usual green abdomen, this one had this replaced by straw colour. At first I thought I was looking at a different species entirely.

June 23rd 2014. Martini drove, so named by our family because of a horse by that name falling into the rhyne many years ago, was in brilliant form today, with masses of flowers appearing at last. Among the most showey were the brilliant blue Tufted vetches. They have been out for some while but it has taken the present sunshine to bring out the nectar to start attracting bees. The picture shows a couple of flower bugs Lygocoris pabulinus feeding on the florets. It made me realise that one of the missing groups in recent years has been that of the bugs proper, Hemiptera. They used to be so abundant. Whenever you went out, you would find many of their members, shield-bugs, flower-bugs, assassins. I can see no obvious reason fo this situation.

One small but very obvious creature was everywhere today. The little fungus-gnat, Sciara analis, was on nearly every flower or umbel, brilliant in its bright yellow abdomen and contrasting dark wings. Each year, I am puzzled as to its identity, but have finally got this into my brain. Why the bright colouring? Are they poisonous?Almost as numerous were some brightly-coloured soldier-flies. Chloromyia formosa has two forms, a metallic green or blue abdomen shows the female, while the male is bronze. Looked at with the naked eye, these appear glossy, metallic colours but photographs reveal that the colours are come from the hairs on the surface of the skin and can disappear completely at certain angles. Sometimes pictures reveal what appears to be smooth glossy colours. At others, they become dull grey - truly strange.

June 22nd 2014. It has been fascinating watching the bees at the Hedge woundwort flowers Stachys sylvatica, but I know it will not last much longer. The constant passage of bumblebees burying their probosci deep inside the flowers must deplete the nectar eventually and they will die, having done their job for another year. But it provides the perfect show to watch on a hot, still afternoon.

June 21st 2014. I spotted this lovely litle hoverfly while walking round Catcott Fen. Even the grass matched its colouring.

June 19th 2014. The various flowers in one particular part of the garden always attract those bumblebees around at this time of year. I was delighted to see that this was true this year and even more so when a few cuckoo bumblebees were among their number - the first of this year. Bombus vestalis is such a decorative bee, with its cheerful patches of yellow between the white and black of its gaster. These bees invade nests of true bumblebees and usurp the position of the queen, by one means or another, and end up with the local workers rearing her young - a brilliant strategy for the lazy. 

The Hedge woundwort Stachys syvatica beside the flats was still producing lots of nectar and servicing an almost continuous stream of worker Bombus pascuorum, all of which were particularly brightly coloured, unlike the same bumbles out on the moors which are nearly all grey-brown, as well as being much smaller.

June 18th 2014. We went to the old reserve of Catcott Heath this morning, sheltering from the sun under the trees where the drove runs alongside. It was a glorious walk and numbers of insects were to bee seen, while the reverse side of the coin was that various horseflies were biting viciously, most being Clegs Haemotopa pluvialis. Round here, a common bumblebee mimic is Eristalis intricarius, but it is among the most variable and difficult to recognise. The colours are so varied that you cannot believe it. Some have red tails, others white, some have an apparently dark scutellum, others yellow as in this one. I became aware that their numbers were increasing some years back and now it is by far the most numerous of the various bumblebee mimics. Another hoverfly I am always glad to see is Epistrophe nitidicollis, with tis bright colouring and orange antennae.

It was good to see numbers of Honeybees out among the bramble flowers and on the umbels along the edges of the drove. We hear such horrifying tales of their demise. This year seems to have seen a reverse of this situation; we have certainly seen more in the garden. As we emerged from the trees into the open, I was surprised to come across a bee I have not seen in the area, although it is not generally uncommon. Andrena cinerarea is usually very smart but this one was less obvious in its colouring - it must have had a hard life.

June 15th 2014. Another amazing sunny, hot day, with numerous insects flocking to the flowers and umbels; amazing also for the photographic opportunities they represented, of which a small selection is shown below. For all that it is very common, Bombus pascuorum remains one of my favourite bumbles. It is another very variable bee but some of its colours are so rich that they are truly exotic. This one is flying to Hedge woundwort, Stachys sylvatica. The other bumblebee below, Bombus pratorum, is always the commonest in the garden during much of the summer. It is small and extremely industrious and most entertaining to watch.

Hoverflies are very limited in the numbers and the number of species to be seen, though other fly species have increased considerably recently. Helophilus pendulus is the one most seen at present, and is characterised by a loud buzz in flight, out of proportion to its size. I am so pleased to have caught one in flight. It is among the most difficult to predict a likely take-off moment. Flight pictures are often most helpful in identification as they reveal parts normally covered by the wings. I am always delighted to see Platycheirus species hovering by flowers. If you are lucky, males may be identified by the shape of the front tibiae and tarsi. The second of the two shows this feature quite clearly.

June 13th 2014. The flats are really coming to life at last - though not with as many species emerging as usual. At the very peak heat of the day, round midday onwards, they often quieten down. I had not thought insects would overheat in Britain, but this certainly seems to be the case. My picture is of the second wave of Osmia to emerge, the first being O. bicornis. This is one of a male O. leaiana, searching potential nest holes for emerging females, but no luck to date.

June 12th 2014. I had a splendid and rather unusual view of the hoverfly, Leucozona lucorum, this afternoon, walking along a drove on Chilton Moor.

June 9th 2014. This hot spell has really brought the insects out at last and it pays to keep your eyes open wherever you are. Walking the dog at the bottom of Jack's drove in the morning brought its moments. I was watching Syritta pipiens feeding on an umbel, having just taken its portrait, when there was a whirr of activity and a male flew in and mated with her. Instinct took over and, when I reached home, I found I had a shot of the moment he landed on her.

June 8th 2014. Further tine was spent in front of the logs today, with much activity among the small black digger wasps. This time a series of flight shots seemed particularly appropriate for the occasion, sitting in hot sunshine while it all went on in front of me.

June 7th 2014. Spent some time at the logs and flats outside my study, watching the frantic efforts of digger wasps to clear their new nest holes and stock them when ready.

My next picture shows another digger wasp bringing in prey to its finished nest, possibly a fly Diptera, or a soldier-fly Stratiomidae, with a shining metallic abdomen. Any help with identification would be welcome. Wasps bring in their prey with such speed that it is sheer luck to catch the moment they land, before vanishing down the hole with great speed. It must be when they are at their most vulnerable.

June 6th 2014. At last, the insects are appearing in numbers, particularly on the Hemlock water-dropwort Oenanthe crocata which fringes many of the moorland ditches. This plant has opened up fully and the flowers obviously have a considerable attraction for many species. For Man it is a deadly poison! Hot, humid weather has hastened the flower production and, miraculously, nature has brought the insects to peak at the same time. While the quantities of flies are considerable, the number of species is still rather limited. Nevertheless, the walk down Jack's drove, provided some interesting finds. Perhaps the most notable has been the large numbers of the comparatively unusual soldier fly, Odontomyia ornata. When we first came here, so many years ago, it was found every summer, but in limited numbers, while this year has seen an explosion in the numbers, finding several insects on virtually every umbel. The name indicates the striking colouring.

Its smaller relative, the black Odontomyia tigrina, was also starting to appear.

Soldier flies are notable for their wide abdomens, as well shown in this photograph.

Bees were also appearing at last, but only two species were to be found, Andrena haemorrhoa and A. nitida (pubescens). The former species is remarkably varied in appearence. Some are much darker than others, while many are very much smaller than the norm - had they been poorly fed during the larval stage?

Most of the insects clustering on the umbels were flies, but of species with which I am not familiar, such as the blow-flies Calliphoridae (I leave those to the experts). However, I am intererested in hoverflies, but these were present in lesser numbers of limited species. The most colourful were numbers of Parhelophilus striking with their bright orange colouring. These are usually only found as single insects, so the numbers were of interest.

The most numerous of the more striking hoverflies were the bumblebee mimics, Eristalis intricarious, extremely variable in colouring and causing much confusion unless the legs are seen. 

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