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A local diaryi


Summer 2015

August 27th 2015. The diary has been empty recently. This isn't because I have become idle, but may be blamed on the dreadful, unseasonal weather we have been suffering recently. Day after day, it has been heavily overcast, with either heavy rain or incessant drizzle. We woke this morning to some cloud; then it opened up to give full sunshine. Our thoughts immediately went to a long walk to clear the mind and lungs. The southern end of Chilton Moor seemed ideal. The picture shows the start of the the walk, with an incredibly vivid mallow at the corner where it widens, and Maddie in the background.

Chilton Moor has a long, wide, grassy drove along the southern edge; usually deserted except for a few cattle. Its wildlife varies considerably; sometimes completely empty but for the calls of a Raven Corvus corax high overhead (they are long-time residents on the local electricity pylons); another time bringing something unexpected. My pictures show a Sedge warbler behaving in an unusual way, popping in and out of the edging scrub and herbage in a most confiding manner. Normally they are secretive, heard rather than seen. It was good to see one close in relative terms. It was taken with the equivalent of a 600mm lens, on a Panasonic bridge camera, then blown up somewhat, yet shows good detail. I tend to take this camera when walking Maddie, rather than the much heavier DSLR with flash attached. Some of the results have surprised me.

For several years there have been great stands of thistle, mostly the more interesting varieties such as Meadow Cirsium dissectum or Spear C. vulgare, rather than Creeping C. arvense. These were a great attraction to bumblebees and others but, sadly, this year they have almost vanished – no doubt because of natural conditions rather than Mans’ activities. On the way back I saw the first real signs of Autumn; a bunch of Starlings preening on a gateway, always a clear indicator. In the early morning, the Poldens were cut off by a line of mist obscuring the moors, another sign. This year seems to be over before it has properly started, or so it sometimes seems. The winter has its own real attractions, but somehow much of summer and its invertebrate life seems to have passed us by this year.

August 15th 2015. In the garden I have two huge plants of a large yellow daisy Telekia speciosa, the Heart-leaf oxeye, which attract many insects to their pollen at this time of the year. The principal benefactors are leafcutter bees of all shapes and sizes. It seems they cannot get enough of this rich pollen, so brilliantly coloured in a deep red-gold. Each year, I spot species that I did not know were present in the garden and today was one such. The bees come and go continually, deeply laden, as they depart with their pollen-brush loaded to the gunnels. It is fascinating to stand beside the plant (it is over 6 feet in height) and record what can be seen. I do not bother to identify them at the time, it is too fast-moving for that. A series of pictures from different angles generally enables this to take place in the computer, later. The most obvious of the bees is the smallish Megachile centuncularis with its obvious coloured line of pollen-brush running right back to the end of the gaster. This can be confused with M. versicolor, of obviously similar shape but the final part of the brush always show at least some black; see Guide to live identification for further information. In our garden at least, M. versicolor occurs earlier and they do not appear to overlap much. The method of cellecting pollen is interesting; the female raises her gaster in the air and quickly scoops up the pollen with her legs, loading it into the heavy brush beneath - a very efficient and rapid method.

The other two leafcutters are much larger. M. ligniseca is chunkier with a squaere look, while M. willughbiella has a distinctly pointed back to the gaster. Otherwise they look not dissimilar, often greyish in appearance.

The smallest of all were Hoplitis bees, closely related to the megachiles, looking like miniatures of the others. Earler, I saw one exploring our logs, but it was good to see both sexes at the daisy flowers. At ftrst sight I could not think what they were. I was able to watch them closely for some while.

Bumblebees have been in distinctly short supply this summer, and cuckoo bumblebees even more so. Of the latter, it is good to see Bombus campestris appearing regularly on these yellow flowers, showing off the yellow-brown colouring on the gaster.

Finally, a picture that shows other species also visit this ideal source of pollen.

August 12th 2015. It was sunny but very windy as I took Maddie for a walk around Catcott Fen. We enjoyed ourselves, but the insect count was poor. In conditions like this, there is rarely much to see. The creatures seem to skulk down below out of sight. However, the bumblebee mimic Eristalis intricarius was in evidence, after an absence of some while. It is always so neat and tidy, regardless of the colour combination of any individual - for they do vary considerably.

It is always interesting to see something out of context. The digger wasp, Ectemnius continuus, is common at our drilled logs but I spot it only occasionally out in the open. Several specimens were busy feeding on umbels alongside the drove.

A similar situation existed with my next picture, a shot of a leafcutter bee more often spotted going in and out of nest-holes at our logs at home. This one was much more worn than the smart insects I see normally.

August 11th 2015. SIG was due to meet at Bovey Heath, in Devon, on Thursday 13th, but the weather forecast was so bad we decided to move it to today, seemingly the only fine period during the week. As you would expect, this affected the numbers, but Tony, David, John and I turned up at the right time in spite of horrendous parking problems. Indeed, Martin wrote later that he had tried to get in earlier in the year and not found out how to do so. However, in the end we had a remarkably successful visit and must have found up to thirty different species in spite of a heavily overcast morning. This small local, but well-known, reserve used to be famous for the variety of its ant species, including the great rarity Formica exsecta, then present in large numbers. Sadly, these seem to have disappeared completely in this locality, though by good fortune they are still numerous on a nearby reserve. The only ant identified was the tiny heathland species, Tapinoma erraticum, on one of the paths. When I first came here, many years ago, ant nests fringed all the sandy paths – none were visible now. The reserve hason a coarse sandy base and is mainly open, with many clear mineral paths which ought to be the ideal site for hymenopteran nest holes. The principal plants are Bell heather Erica cinerea, Cross-leaved heath Erica tetralix and Heather Calluna vulgaris, giving a fine display of colour. In the middle, there is a pond with sloping sandy edges and Emperor dragonflies Anax imperator patrolling the shores.

The first exciting species was a tiny wingless wasp, an ant mimic, Methoca articulata. I had seen a female previously, but this was the first time I also saw the larger, darker male.

A number of bumblebees were seen, of which the most notable was Bombus jonellus, a real heathland specialist. B. pascuorum, B. Lapidarius and B. lucorum were also present.

Various hoverflies were present, though not in great numbers; the attractive Scaeva pyrastri being spotted but only once. So often this species appears solitary in its habits.

Of the striped species, Syrphus vitripennis was the more numerous. Grayling butterflies Hipparchia semele were everywhere, landing on open paths and tilting themselves to make the most of the sun’s radiation. We were pleased to see a couple of Wall butterflies Lasiommata megera, a species which has declined considerably in recent years. I had forgotten how attractive they are.

As we crossed and re-crossed the heath, we came across various sheets of galvanised iron, under one of which a couple of Slow-worms lay sleeping. I took a quick picture and lowered the iron without any disturbance. They appear as if cast from polished steel.

Grasshoppers were found, but not as many as expected from the warmth and time of year. The only place we came across open hymenopteran nest holes was where the path crossed the highest point in the middle of the reserve. We had been expecting to find them all over, but it was not to be. On the path, some of the nest holes looked like volcanoes, with a sizeable hole in the top of large pyramids of earth, possibly made by the mining bee Dasypoda hirtipes, though we did not see any insects leaving or entering. Other holes were made by much smaller insects, some very small indeed, but in total there were few visible holes. This could be explained by the torrential rainstorms over the past weekend. Those there were clearly active during this day. However, as it warmed up, more activity was discovered. Really small digger wasps, 5 or 6mm long, turned out to be male Cerceris arenaria, with a few of the larger females appearing later.

Larger sand-wasps were Ammophila sabulosa, often settling on the path in front of us; quite numerous. Mellinus arvensis, a digger wasp, and Colletes fodiens, a mining bee, were both examined and identified by Tony, but appeared to be one-offs.

The really important find for us was Eumenes coarctatus, the Potter-wasp, our target species for visiting the reserve. During the course of the morning while it was still quite chilly, we caught only frustratingly distant views of them. We even found one of the old pots on a stem of heather, but we hoped for much more.

Eventually it happened. Earlier, John had found a smear of clay close by a small pool of water, and this proved to be the critical point. What people did not appreciate was just how small these wasps are, and how dark, so they are only too easy to miss. The first indication was a feeling of movement above the clay, which resolved itself into a small dark shape hovering over the ground. Then she landed and immediately started scrabbling moves as she picked up a load of damp clay. Assembling this took some while, even though the insect worked frantically. We were able to move closer while she concentrated on the job in hand and it felt very exciting to feel so part of the process. Closer, it was possible to see the insect had bright yellow markings on the black and note the uniquely-shaped first visible abdominal segment. As with all digger wasps in close-up, it is impossible to understand how the joint between the abdomen and thorax can stand the stresses of life, for it is so fine; slender to near vanishing-point.

At this point we were joined by John Walters, professional entomologist, photographer and artist, the recognised expert on the Potter-wasp, who has been studying them for years. To contact, click John Walters, wildlife illustrator. We put our questions to him, both about the wasp and the reserve, and had them answered fully. Almost immediately he was off, to show us a couple of recently constructed pots on a heather stem, clearly showing the entrance holes through which the caterpillar prey had been inserted.

Our Potter-wasp is the only British species using this technique. We were intrigued to watch Jon Walters conducting his search for nest sites. Clearly he has exceptional eyesight, as well as great experience. He watches the wasp like a hawk as she scrapes up her mud then, when she takes off (which she does at high speed, without warning) follows her in flight and dashes off to mark the spot where he thinks she has landed. None of us could even pick up the wasp in flight! By repeating this each time she comes in to replenish her building materials, eventually he would pinpoint the location and find the nest. It was a lesson to us all about the sheer effort needed to carry out accurate research.

August 7th 2015. Romey and I went off to Wareham for lunch and a general look-round. Thoroughly enjoyed it but decided to go to Hartland Moor and its tramway walk during the afternoon. It was rather overcast to start, but cleared to a hot sunny period which suited ourpurpose perfectly. We walked down the track and saw the first wasps by the bend, where they have been most numerous every year. At first they were lone Bee-wolves, but after a while they started to drop into the nest holes with Honeybee prey - so it appears we had been a little early on our first visit.

The first thing we noted was that the nests no longer had a resident and a visitor. The various females were all digging furiously, great showers of sand and heavier under-soil shooting out behind, as can be seen in the picture below. They appeared to have several such diggings on the go at one time, excavating for a while, then moving to another spot. It may be that some were searching for existing nests that had been trodden on by walkers?

Then the first wasps appeared, looking darker and heavier. It dawned on us that these were bringing in the prey, paralysed Homeybees, but these were gripped so tightly they were only visible from some angles. Honeybees are certainly heavier and often longer than the wasps, yet they flew with apparent ease.

What was really interesting, was watching the wasps inserting their prey into the holes. It must take great strength and intelligence to make the bees fit, together with their own bodies. The pictures show how the bee is disengaged from the in-flight position and dragged down behind the wasp.

Nearby, we spotted a single Bombylius minor, the tiny bee-fly that parasitises solitary bees. Its mechanism involves scooping up balls of sand into which it lays an egg. This ball is then hurled into the nest in flight. There was no sign of the area's most famous inhabitant, the Purbeck mason wasp, Pseudepippona herichii.

August 6th 2015. A glorious day, part-spent in front of the 'flats'. Apart from the constant in and out of small black Crossocerus wasps, the were a number of more visible and fascinating species to be seen. For the first time this year, two specias of leafcutter bees were seen at the nest-holes. This was the first time Megachile centuncularis has been seen at the flats this season, though they have been seen feeding at some large yellow daisy-flowers in the garden.

Ectemnius cavifrons is a regular, if uncommon digger wasp, visiting the logs, the femals looking very colourful and relatively large.

The other regular, Ectemnius continuus, continues to visit. This specimen is particularly dark and well-marked.

Finally, the long, slender shape of a Trypoxylon was watched exploring various smaller holes, eventually disappearing inside one.

August 4th 2015. This morning, SIG met at Worley Hill for another field meeting. Once again, we are decimated by holidays. We were delighted to be met by the knowledgeable Shane, who runs the reserve and spent the day with us. Tony, Robert, Martin, John and I had a wonderful day out, though the rather blowy overcast did not promise much in the beginning. The site, a private reserve run by Millfield School, is well known to us. We try and get there once a year, varying the date so as to see it in all its seasons. Situated on the Polden Hills, an area of considerable potential for wildlife of all sorts, the path wanders along the edge of a steep slope with the eastern side looking down over the eroded ground so typical of this area, as may be seen from the Street-Somerton road. Enormous changes have been made over the years with the clearance of conifers, pollarding of other areas and attention paid to the needs of wildlife and native plants. Regular reports are produced and a long and growing list of species is proof of how effective it has been.

Grasshoppers have long been particularly successful here. Rufous Gomphocerippus rufus, Mottled Myrmeleotettix maculatus, Woodland Omocestus rufipes, Long-winged conehead Conocephalus discolor, as well as the commoner ones, are found in numbers. This is of particular interest to Robert, who is so expert at spotting them visually, by ear, or through his bat detector. Of the butterflies, Common blue Polyommatus icarus could not be missed, while Gatekeepers Pyronia tithonus were present in large numbers.

Marjoram Origanum vulgare grows along the start of the track and one patch had attracted numbers of a cuckoo bumblebee Bombus bohemicus, as well as various hoverflies such as Sphaerophoria spp., including one species I had not seen before, Myolepta luteola, quite striking and distinctive. One of its notable features is a flash of yellow from the top of the antennae.

I was especially pleased to see numbers of tiny and not so small wasps on Wild carrot Daucus carota flower heads. The great majority were Ectemnius lapidarius, the females much larger than their diminutive mates, together with lesser numbers of E. continuus. The mason wasp Symmorphus bifasciatus was also spotted in one small patch. The numbers of solitary wasps have been greatly reduced in recent years, so this is encouraging. On the same very productive flowers I came across a couple of sawflies, Tenthredo and Selandria spp. and a ladybird I had not seen but turned out to be a most unusual variety of the common 2-spot.

There were numbers of tiny bees nestling down into flowers, looking for pollen or nectar. The largest of these were like smaller versions of the Osmia bees found in our garden, Hoplitis claviventris, with the brushes under their abdomens packed with yellow pollen. It is not a bee with which I am familiar, so it took a bit of detective work to identify it. Examination of more of the pictures showed that there were smaller females of Hoplitis spinulosa there also.

While having lunch in the clearing, we were treated to some fine birds. A Common buzzard Buteo buteo circled overhead, mewing continually, a Hobby Falco subbuteo, shot down the hill and erupted in front of us to tear up again and circle overhead while, finally, a couple of Ravens Corvus corax were heard and then crossed over above us. Last time we were here, we also had a Hobby appear – not a bird I associate with such upland hills.

The afternoon warmed up, with some sunshine, and more insects were found. Clearly, this place would have been alive with invertebrates had the sun persisted throughout.There were a number of different hoverflies visiting the various flowers, of which there were plenty. Chrysotoxum bicinctum is always a delight to watch, such a striking insect and rarely seen other than in ones or twos.

The next fly was a revalation, brilliantly coloured, quite sizeable and totally new to me, a tachinid. A friend to whom I sent the picture identified it and suggested I might have seen the make before, with distinctive, heavily-marked wings. Indeed I had a picture of this rather different-looking fly on my computer. Differences between males and females can be considerable in the insect world.

The last rather unexpected find came at the very end of the afternoon. A movement on the path caught the eye, Something fast-moving, black and slender was jinking its way over onto the grass besides the path, antennae moving continuously, making no move to fly. This behaviour is typical of a spider-hunter wasp, a highly-specialised creature often found in such situations. They are incredibly fast-moving but the knotted herbage had slowed it down and I was lucky enough to catch it in the lens at just the right moment. Normally, the only way to photograph them is when they are lugging paralysed spiders to their nest holes.

July 28th 2015. A day for another SIG meeting, this time at Stoborough Heath, off the Wareham/Corfe Castle road in Dorset. It was a lousy morning, raining at times and with very strong winds. Had we made a mistake setting out with against a dodgy weather forecast? Fortunately not. We ended by having a really excellent outing, with some warm sunshine for much of the afternoon and, more importantly, seeing a deal of exciting insects. A newcomer to our little gathering met us there, Peter Barnard, a retired professional entomologist and as such a welcome addition to our number. Apart from him we were John, Martin, Robert and I. Numbers are still diminished by holidays.

The start, where we met, was at the usual lay-by after the cattle grid, parking beside a low bank which has seen many exciting finds over the years. Gradually the ditch has filled in, flattening the bank, losing much of its attraction as a nesting site, but we did see that spectacular mining bee Dasypoda hirtipes flying in with loads of pollen in its oversized pollen baskets. One of the first insects spotted was the Lesser cockroach, Ectobius panzeri. Looking around, it seemed the ground was infested with the females, running round in the sandy open parts. They are not the great cockroaches everyone dread in their kitchens, but tiny little creatures inhabiting coastal sands.

John had heard there might be an opportunity to see some unusual grasshoppers on a hill known as Little Knoll so we walked off to search this area. There were plenty of flowers around but most were bare of insects. We were lucky enough to find a brilliantly-coloured bumblebee, Bombus humilis, feeding on brambles. It is always a delight to see this bee in its typical habitat.

Mottled grasshopper is known to be a local inhabitant and we started to find a number, among them one highly colourful specimen with orange-pink legs, contrasting with the green of the fore-body.

Eventually John found an example of the grasshopper in which he had special interest, the strongly-marked Heath grasshopper. He went on to find others in the sheets of heather covering the top of the knoll. But he had no luck with his other hope, the Wartbiter, Decticus verrucivorus, a very large bush-cricket which used to exist here. There are a couple of spots it may still exist which may be worth exploring in the future.

One patch of bright yellow Ragwort Senecio jacobaea filled a section on the way south to the knoll. As this flower so often has, there were large numbers of bees feeding on its attractive pollen. The great majority were Colletes fodiens, typical of this type of habitat.

In amongst the Ragwort stems we found numbers of webs of Argiope bruennichi, the Orb-web spider, handsome in gold and black, formerly a great rarity but spreading more as well as increasing in numbers. We were delighted to find them so numerous. Returning for lunch at the lay-by, we had a long conversation with a ranger from Natural England, the body responsible for so much of the area. This was so helpful, both hearing about the place and what was being done to keep it as it is; all very encouraging.

In the afternoon, already warming up in spite of a cutting wind, we moved to another favourite spot, the Tramway on Hartland Moor. This has been made into a track winding between banks for much of its way, famous for many wasps making their nesting holes in the surface of the track, apparently the perfect strata for such activities. We reached the first part of the bend still having seen virtually nothing then, there they were. A few Bee-wolves, large black and yellow wasps, were spotted hovering over a patch of open track. These wasps load their nest holes with paralysed Honeybees Apus apus, which act as fresh food for their larvae when they emerge. A few years ago they were unknown in Britain, then arrived in large numbers and have spread since, though their numbers go up and down with differing seasons. As the afternoon went on, their numbers increased and they became a real spectacle. Watching a particular set of nests, it became apparent that there were two wasps engaged at each. One sat inside, every so often putting its head out for a look around, while the second periodically approached the nest hole, tentatively at first, approaching then backing away, before diving part in to the hole and apparently scuffling with the resident. After this, he backed away and appeared to tread the soil nearby. None appeared to carry in any spoil, or take it out, though I did spot one resident shoulder out some spoil once. I think we were a few days early, as there was no sign of prey being brought in – slung beneath the wasp. Occasionally, two wasps approached the same hole, but one backed down almost immediately. It was really great entertainment. As the afternoon ran on, the numbers of Bee-wolves increased considerably and it became clear we are at the start of nest-building.

We had hoped to see signs of nesting Purbeck mason wasps Pseudepipona herichii, the great rarity which has long bred on the same track, but only found one nest hole with a pile of excavated pellets of soil to one side, a sure identification. This wasp must be even later this year. We must try and come again in a week or so.

Our walk along the trackway was quite short, as we wanted to get back to the nesting area we had found but stopped by the hide to look over the heath, quiet and beautiful. Close-by, there is a tank of water, for use in a heath fire, no dragonflies this time but Martin rescued a spider-hunter wasp struggling on the surface which we were to identify later. It sat on a piece of wood recovering, then resumed its frenetic hunt, so characteristic of the group.

On the way back, we saw a number of very small black and yellow wasps chasing up and down the path and then settling. We also found one that had died. This confirmed it was a Potter wasp Eumenus coarctatus, the second insect we had hoped to find here. But there were no signs of their characteristic urn-shaped pots on stalks of heather, though John brought a picture of a group of nests he had photographed elsewhere. At least we knew what we were seeking. Closer examination of the dead wasp showed considerable variation from the colour patterns shown in many pictures, so it seems useful to show a photograph of this unusual colouring - beware variations.

When the photographs of the wasps flying and landing on the path were examined at home, they turned out to be digger wasps, not the potters we had thought.

The final find at the very end of the track was a sand-wasp, Ammophila spp., rather smaller than usual.

As we got into the car for the return journey, the sun blazing, a brief shower of rain coated the windscreen.

July 24th 2015. A new section has been added on 'Visual Identification of British Leafcutter Bees at Log nests'. The old idea of only trusting microscopic keys of dead specimens will always be sound, but there are many people who are not after scientific records, but would like a reasonable chance of recognising insects visiting their garden. Digital photography offers multiple chances to examine all aspects of insect identification. This information has been used to build a guide to leafcutter bees (Megachile) which I hope will enable people to enjoy watching these fascinating bees and be able to identify most of them. Knowing a name makes such moments memorable, as well as enjoyable. To find this, please click on live identification of leafcutter bees.

July 22nd 2015. The weather clearing in the afternooon, I decided to visit Ham Wall. It was windy, but warm and pleasant. I made my way out to the island hide in the middle of the water and reeds, but there was absolutely nothing to see, just a bunch of bird-watchers chatting away, with unattended telescopes. Made my way back to the shelter-hide at the start of the walk to that hide and sat down in what always has been my favourite spot - and I was not disappointed. There were a great many young ducks and grebes in front, all very active, diving and surfacing in jets of spray or great circles of bubbles. The young Great-crested grebe was at a showy stage, beautifully marked. Its parent would come over every so often and just touch beaks, to reassure that all was well I suppose.

A bit later, a young Little grebe appeared and treated me to a great show of high speed chases, then a series of short dives. These appeared to be for cooling or enjoyment, rather than serious fishing, as there was no sign of anything being caught.

The reminder of the youngsters were bunches of near fully-developed pochard, sticking together in their parties, all diving and emerging as one. So, nothing rare or unusual, just a lot of fun watching the lively young birds enjoying themselves in the sunshine. It proved a delightful hour.

July 18th 2015. I had a marvellous walk down the drove on Tadham Moor leading down to a bridge over the North Drain.The picture shows some of the pastel colours surrounding a ditch off to one side of the drove.

For once the wind was light, stirring the drove-side plants and making focussing slightly dodgy. It was really warm. Even on the more exposed parts of the drove, it felt as if you were wrapped in a warm, damp blanket, comfortable in a T-shirt, though the dog found it a bit too sticky. I found numbers of insects, as the pictures show, but it still feels as if there is a great many missing, for conditions could not have been better. I only spotted one bumblebee Bombus spp., there were no mining bees and only a single digger wasp Sphecidae, where there would have been many in previous years.

For all that, it was a most enjoyable saunter, searchingt every flowering plant particularly the large umbels. Willowherbs were making a brilliant show, in places an almost head-high, solid hedge but, as usual, there were no insects on these. Umbels were much preferred, particularly the large ones. Perhaps the willowherbs are mainly nectar sources for moths and other night-flying creatures?

There were a number of ichneumons searching these umbels for caterpillars. One or two I could not recognise, but the very handsome Ichneumon sarcitorius was present on a number of plants, so colourful and busy.

There were a good few hoverflies, mostly Syrphus vitripennis, which seems to be having a better than average time this year. But most of the flies were muscids and related species, many crowding on ripe patches of umbel.

Soldier-flies are typical of the region. The Levels are well suited to numbers of them, particularly the uncommon Odontomyia ornata and the really numerous Chloromyia formosa, which is just starting to come on stream fully. The other normally found here is O. tigrina, a black species, but there has been no sign of it so far this year. I keep an eye out for other species but have seen none over the years. It would be good to add a fresh one to the list after all this time.

July 16th 2015. An astonishing date for our website. This morning we celebrated 100,000 visitors since 2012, when it started. It seems we have been host to 92 countries, of which Great Britain, the USA and Ukraine opened the most pages, followed by Germany, France and China. When Tim and I started, we never imagined so many people would log on and continue to do so. All I can say is thank you to everyone who has contributed to this, and hope we will continue to interest people in our wildlife in this beautiful part of England.

July 15th 2015. Yesterday's scheduled SIG visit to Steart Marshes was postponed until today because of a poor weather forecast. As a result, few were able to attend. Una, Margaret, David and I met in the impressive public car park, complete with public lavatories - always an extra bonus on a day out. The day was warm, later quite hot, but remained mainly overcast. Eventually, the sun came out in the afternoon, providing near-perfect conditions. It was a good day to be outside and apparently ideal for insects. The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust have done an amazing job in planting and spreading great swathes of wild flowers. One really puzzled us. It looked familiar but was different; it turned out to be Chicory, of the most amazing hue.

Almost the most impressive area was a large plot in the car park, with an astonishing display of colour, including thistles, teazles, and some marvellous yellow daisies that I did not recognise (they turned out to be Corn marigolds, Chrysanthemum segetum - all super-attractants for insects, particularly hoverflies, bees and bumblebees. So, it is surprising to say that this abundance of the right nectar had comparatively few insect visitors. There are two possible explanations for this; first, that this is yet another example of how our native insects have declined or, second, that although the flower population is superb, the insect life has not had a chance to build up to use them fully. Against this latter, it is fact that the area has not been recovered from industrial farming, but has a record of previously sound insect populations along the coastal fringes.

There were few small bees to be seen, in spite of the wonderful display of flowers, but one interesting species was Andrena coitana, which I had only ever seen by a Welsh valley stream. I could not believe it at first, but reading on-line confirmed that it was considered uncommon, local, but widespread, whereas previously I understood it to be extremely rare.

I managed to take a few pictures of hoverflies, brilliant against the vivid yellows of the flowers, but there were not so many species or numbers, as had been expected from the flora, but from what I have seen in general, hoverflies have not been as prolific this year - or is it all part of generally diminishing numbers of invertebrates in the countryside?

I put this picture in because we had been discussing white clover and how we never seemed to spot any bees on it. At that moment a number of the white clover plants were seen to be hosts to several bumblebees! I have always wondered if this plant was of use to the insects; the answer was in front of my eyes.

Finally, a picture of a rather early Common darter, the only one we saw but unexpected, as usually they are insects at the end of the year. The only other dragonflies were a couple of Emperor males, Anax imperator, cruising on a rather wetter part of the reserve.

July 9th 2015. Driving home across the moors, I came across an extrordinary sight. A contractor was busy cutting the hay in one of the low-lying fields and an army of birds filled the sky around the tractor. The majority of these were buzzards. There must have been twenty or thirty stacked up in the sky above, hovering, circling and dropping down. The reminder were crows Corvus spp. and seagulls Laridae. This picture shows the first sighting, a solitary buzzard high above. Then I saw there were many, many more, most in the sky but some down, feeding behind the tractor. What a gathering, a sight I will not easily forget! The pictures are not of the highest quality but show some of their attitudes, taken with a small bridge camera with a 600mm lens equivalent. It has worked remarkable well, considering it was not really set up for that type of photography at the time.

July 8th 2015. Nigel very kindly invited Una and Margaret to spend the day familiarising them with Blagdon Lake, for which he is the bird warden, a voluntary post he has held for years. I added myself to the visit, as it is one of my favourite places andtry not to miss a chance for a visit. At times it was sunny but  for much of the time overcast, while the wind was extremely blustery; a shame, as the wildflower meadows set round the edges of the lake are full of colour. It seems these have been preserved as hay meadows for at least the last hundred years and more, receiving only a hay cut in late summer. It is a sight that is extremely rare in most parts of the country. Nigel has a remarkable website, Blagdon birds (covering all wildlife), which gives the history of the lake, as well as an almost daily blog telling us what is going on, the weather and wildlife - a fantastic resource. Before we set off round the lake, I sat down on the edge and watched Swifts, Apus apus, House martins Delichon urbica, and the occasional Swallow, breasting into the wind and whistling past my head, really close, a wonderful experience. The lake is private, run by Bristol Water, and entry is by permit only, either for fishing or bird-watching.

We drove slowly round the edge, stopping to have a closer look and, eventually, settling on a point on the western edge of the north shore to examine the flora and fauna more closely. The colours were wonderful, mostly mauve in large patches. Some of the most noticable and interesting were Hardheads Centaurea nigra, Saw-wort Seratula tinctoria, Betony Betonica officionalis, Devil's-bit scabious Succisa pratensis, Prickly sow-thistle Sonchus asper, Dyer's greenweed Genista tinctoria, Greater birds-foot Lotus uliginosus and Bird's-foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus, Musk mallow Malva moschata, Tormentil Potentilla erecta and Creeping cinquefoil Potentilla reptans.

So, there was no shortage of nectar to attract the insects but, unfortunately the wind took a lot of life out of the meadow. Many insects must have been sheltering deep down below, waiting for a brief lull combined with sunshine. For all that, we had a most enjoyable and interesting time.The most numerous of all the insects were damselflies, mostly Azure. Great clouds of them errupted wherever you walked and they were really active eveywhere, with many mating. It is interesting to observe that it appears almost impossible to see the wings of the blue males in flight, whereas the darker females show glittering wing patterns when they are flying.

I must say it felt strange walking through those pristine meadows, crushing down flowers as we went, but afterwards it all looked as before. The whole edge of the lake is bordered with these or similar meadows, so there is a great deal to see. Living nearby, and visiting most days for many years, gives Nigel a unique knowledge of the wildlife and botany of the area. There were a number of bumblebees present, though not as many individuals as the bright herbage promised. The species observed were Bombus hypnorum, B. pascuorum, B. lapidarius, B. lucorum, B. terrestris and B. pratorum.

Of solitary bees, there were few; I photographed one tiny mining bee and am trying to get some help in determining it. An expert friend, Mike, identified it later as either Lasioglossum albipes or calceatum. Further examination showed it to be L. albipes. Why I had been so confused by a common bee, I am not sure, but it was much smaller than the same species in my garden?

Marbled white butterflies were everywhere, some busy mating. These butterflies bring any meadow to life, as they flutter from one flower head to another. En masse, the field can look like a moving carpet. Hoverflies were not as numerous as expected, but some of the more colourful Syrphus showed up beautifully against the mauve colouring of Hardheads and other plants. They are so spectacular against the vivid colours of the flowers, as are the beautiful Small skippers, Thymelicus flavus, that were everywhere.

Bumblebee mimic hoverflies were busy on many plant heads, the majority proving to be Eristalis intricarius. They are such smart insects, always immaculate, whatever the weather.

Nigel was specially pleased to identify Meadow grasshoppers in this area, a species he had not found there previously. I spotted some coneheads Conocephalus spp., but they were too quick for proper identification. We had been expecting greater numbers of grasshoppers, but they must have been sheltering down below from this wind.

After lunch, we tackled  a wet meadow further to the east. Among the most interesting finds were numbers of tortoise beetles, with both red and green colourings of Cassida muraea, on Fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica. They were present on most of this patch of plants.

It had been a magical day in perfect surrounds. Our friends from Devon were well impressed and I am sure we will all meet here again. The biggest surprise was to find how quickly the day had gone by.

July 4th 2015. Another morning when I could not resist the lure of sitting beside the logs watching the insects at work. Of particular note was a cuckoo bee hovering over nest holes, determining whether there was a suitable cell for it to parasitise. The picture shows it passing over a rather unusual weevil we see periodically round the flats. Platystomos albinus is designated a Nationally Notable B insect, and looks vaguely like an old bird dropping. Our log nests appear to be suitable for its life-style.

Our regular ichneumons were present, of which the most spectacular is shown here, with its extra long ovipositor sheaths. She is exploring the chamical odours of a nest, to see whether it is at the right stage for her to insert the ovipositor and lay an egg.

Numbers of digger wasps Sphecidae were busy in the morning warmth, searching out potential nestds and seeing if the had already been appropriated, though that may not always be a problem. I watched one mason bee Osmia spp. vanish into a hole carrying a load of pollen, then remain out of sight inside. Shortly after, a little black Crossocerus wasp sidled up to the same hole, poked in around the entrance, then decided to go right in. Neither of these insects came out fo the ten minutes or more I was watching. Neither are known to prey on the other.

Now is the time of the leafcutter bee Megachile spp., so it was surprise to see a male mason bee still searching for its soul-mate at the logs.

Just beside the 'flats', there is a narrow bed with a mass of different flowers. This proved a fruitful field for photographing insects at their feeding places. As with last year, the Hedge woundwort Stachys sylvatica flowers proved a great attractant for Bombus pascuorum bumblebees. It must have a particularly effective fragrence, as the bumblebees concentrate on this to the exclusion of everything else when they are in flower. It was good to see numbers of the tiny Platycheirus hoverflies appearing at last. They have been notable by their absence to date. They are particularly challenging to photograph. Finally, one of the commonest hoverflies, Episyrphus balteatus, took up perticularly attractive poses in flight - always so graceful.

July 1st 2015. SIG met at Apex Leisure and Wildlife Park in Burnham this morning for another informal field meeting. John, David Allan, Una, Nigel and I were met by Pete Grainger, the Park ecologist who had arranged this outing, and told about the place and its aims, before leading us out into the field. The park is run by Sedgemoor District Council who open it to the public, free of charge. There is a first-class carpark, with snack bar and public toilets. 42 acres of greatly varied habitat gives a perfect place to walk, while a large lake provides for fishing, model boating and wildlife interests. A couple of woods, one sizeable, appear dense and impenetrable fom the outside, but have open sections inside, with seats for a rest, as there are throughout. It is very well kept, a mix of wild areas and lawns for walking and play, and is popular with the public; yet it is easy to enjoy in peace, away from disturbance.

We had a varied and interesting day after a slow start in the morning. It was heavily overcast at the beginning and there was scarcely an insect to be seen but, by the end of the afternoon, there were patches of sunshine and it became really hot. The country as a whole experienced its hottest ever day, over 36 degrees f. Towards lunchtime, the insect and invertebrates started to appear and became more and more lively as the day went on. Inside the larger copse, I found patches of umbels proving highly attractive to small mining bees, Halictus rubicundus. Clearly they had been around for some while, as the reddish hairs on the thorax and elsewhere had faded to near-white. They were very lively, searching for short periods at each plant but continually revisiting them.

Outside the wood, on the edges above a boundary ditch, brambles Rubus fruiticosus spp., were in flower, mostly the early pure white ones, but with a sprinkling of the later pink-tinged varieties. Several different solitary bees were feeding on these, as were a number of Honeybees. Bumblebees were found on the open edges, testing a variety of brambles and other flowers.

On both the umbels and the bramble flowers, we found many brilliantly-coloured soldier-flies, the expected invasion of Chloromyia formosa at this time of year. These insects always seem smaller than you expect, perhaps because the colours are so bright. The picture shows that these colours are not the usual metallic ones built into the integument but effects given by the structure of the hairs, so photographs may not always show the colours that are visible in life. The males have bronze abdomens in place of the blue of the female.

Our next destination was in many ways the most interesting. The managers have planted a large wildflower meadow and have the splendid plan of ploughing and re-seeding a fifth of the area each year, to provide continuity and, at the same time, variety. It has really succeeded in its aims. The earler parts had still to come into flower, but the latest ploughed up area was a blaze of colour, including May weed Tripleurospermum inoderum,  Cornflower Centaurea cyanus, and others, with the now-rare Corn-cockle appearing among them, providing the sort of effect that used to be seen in the country but has not been for many decades. It is a real stroke of genius. Many people remarked on it and were visibly taken aback by the sight, while the invertebrate life just gorged itself on the offerings.

Among many other insects, two were of particular interest to us. The first was a very small fly with a most unusual white abdomen, with a few black bands towards the back. We were all sure we had never seen anything like it, though it turned out that this small soldier-fly was said  to be common in its particular habitat. In Nemotelus notatus, only the male has this unusual colouring. When first seen, it looked like a small bee burrowing into the flower.

The second, of which several individuals were present, turned out to be a first for Somerset, according to NBN Gateway statistics. It is a most unusual horse-fly, with greeny-yellow eyes and a coat of short down or fur in a pale colour. Atylotus fulvus is a 'National Notable' and as such of great interest to Apex Park. So we had earned our corn for the day.

Horsefly Aylotus fulvus m

Among many bees were some bumblebee mimics which were not determined at the time. Photographs later showed these to be Meredon equestris, a hoverfly whose larva damages daffodils before emergence.

The brilliant blue of the Cornflower Centaurus cyanus gave a marvellous contrast with the metallic green of thick-kneed beetles which were present on so many of the flowers.

June 29th 2015. Another interesting visitor arrived at the logs this morning. Coelioxys inermis is one of a number of cuckoo bee species which haunt the nest holes before they are sealed and lay their eggs in a cell. On hatching, the parasite larva kills the host larva, then consumes its provisions. Apparently it is an endangered species.

Many of the insects found at our logs live fascinating lives and are amazing to look at in detail. It is only too easy to be intrigued, but the time soon comes when you start to recognise some regulars and want to know more about them; this requires at least a degree of identification. The digital camera has allowed freedom to capture many views of the insects, from varying angles, while drilled logs set out on a south-facing wall have been proven to draw in numbers of species of hymenoptera, in particular. Another wonderful tool has been the availability of low-priced binoculars developed for studying butterflies in close-up. All this adds up to a simple need to build up knowledge so as to enjoy the experience more. With this in mind, I have added a piece under the 'Insects Flats' section. To reach this, click on Insect recognition at nest logs.

June 26th 2015. I spent an interesting hour or so at the logs outside my study. Leafcutter bees are starting to appear more frequently, at first the males and now the females. The latter launch into a search for suitable nest holes and almost immediately start bringing in the raw materials - circular pieces of green leaves taken from nearby plants. These initial bees are all Megachile versicolor, easily spotted because of their bright pollen brushes beneath the gaster. The process of nest building is skilled and hard work, taking a considerable time to build a number of cells and fill them with pollen. It was quite fascinating watching the sheer expenditure of effort to make sure each cell was just so. The cell material appears to be sections from a nearby Magnolia leaf.

June 24th 2015. The fourth informal summer outing of the Somerset Invertebrates Group (SIG) was both succesful and enjoyable during this day. The weather was amazing for Mendip, especially as we spent most of our time out on the open slopes leading to the lower Priddy pool. An overcast sky led on to sunshine and it became warmer and warmer. I ended up in a T-shirt, almost the first time I have ever managed without further covering in this part of Somerset recently. John, whose original suggestion it was to come here, Robert, Martin, Toddy, Una, Margaret and eventually Nigel, parked in Stockhill Woods and spent a time studying insects in a piece of scrubby hedgerow inside the parking area. What was noticable, as elsewhere recently, was the numbers of Empids Empididae, hard at work predating flies. This made for some fascinating photos, even if uncomfortable moments for the victims.

I was particularly pleased to see many specimens of the bumblebee mimic, Eristalis intricarius. Stockhill was the first place I ever came across these hoverflies many years ago.

I should mention a new member, Sue from Wells, who came out to introduce herself, although she was unable to join us for the rest of this day. A welcome addition for the future. Buttercups Ranunculus spp. remain one of the most succesful flowers for attracting beetles, of which we found a number of varieties, nearly all beatiful with metallic colouring.

Out in the open ground, Forester moths were on numbers of the flowers, while Chimney sweeper moths were numerous, plus numbers of different and more anonymous moth species.

Burnet moths Zygaenidae spp. were spotted in several place emerging from their coccoons and mating as they did so - no headaches allowed in these species. John took us over to see a patch of fused remnants of old lead-mining spoil on a small mound. The chemical effects of this, together with the height above sea-level, encourage various sub-Arctic plants such as Spring sandwort Minuartia verna, Sea campion (looking strangely out of place), while we all photographed the mysterious and unusual Moonwort (a type of fern) which grows in modest profusion here. Mendip has anomalies such as this, or where the old sandstone cap remains in part, providing acid conditions over the limestone beneath.

Robert has always been specially interested in grasshoppers and soon started finding both nymphs and adults. Of particular interest was a little colony of Mottled grasshoppers close to where we had lunch. (never before have I sat in the open on Mendip slopes feeling the heat cushioning round us like this - marvellous).

Close-by, we found an area where Peacock butterfly caterpillars abounded, with some really large communal webs. Nearby was a spot where we came across two remarkable-looking small longhorn beetles. The most beautiful had striped antennae of considerable length to match the name of the group.

Eventually we reached the lower Priddy pool where Emperor dragonflies Anax imperator were quartering the surface, though there was not much sign of other big dragonflies. However a number of Hogweed plants Heraclium sphonylium were much more productive.There were numbers of very small unidentified digger wasps, as well as the much larger Crabro cribrarius, the male having the most extraordinary and unmistakable swollen front legs. These are said to help the males clasp the femailes when maing, though why they should need these when other digger wasps manage perfectly well without, I cannot imagine. Are the females particularly flighty creatures? Nigel and I were specially pleased to see these, after a gap of a number of years since we last came across them near Ubley Warren.

Also present were Symmorphus mason wasps, and Tenthredo sawflies - shutters clicked vigorously for some while. The final, and most numerous group, were some ichneumons. I am looking forward to seeing if we can identify both these from the photographs on the computer. The walk back brought little else, as the sun vanished for a while, but we all had a great day out and I, for one, reached home full of fresh air and new sightings.

June 20th 2015. The logs were very busy this morning, the warmth making for a great deal of activity. A large, striped black and yellow digger wasp was particularly visible, with the male turning up later. Digger wasps must have enormous energy to keep up their the frantic searches for mates or suitable nesting cavities.

Another digger wasp, Pemphredon, is readily spotted because of its hairy 'moustache' and more hairs over the head and thorax. They are so distinctive, it is like seeing an old friend when they first arrive.

It took some while to identify the next insect, nothing seemed to fit, though it appeared familiar. Then it came to me, it was a male Lissonota, an ichneumon I was well used to seeing in female form, with a long ovipositor. Many ichneumons visit the logs but they are almost always females, ready to carry out their deadly work on bee and wasp nests. I can only assume that the process of meeting and mating takes place among vegetation.

Having recently worked on my Osmia recognition section (click on Guide to Live Identification), I was pleased to see the insect shown below. She is a fine example of the difficulties found when the fur wears and fades with age. However, the horns at the side of the clypeus can be seen in this specimen completing the identification of a female O. bicornis.

Leafcutter bees are great favourites of mine, large, colourful, hard-working and always seemingly cheerful. Here Megachile versicolor is caught in flight, showing all its markings, next in an impossible contortion, as it wrestles its leaf into position to construct the egg cell.

Finally, a picture taken as the light faded. I caught a glimpse of something quite large shooting from flower head to flower head. So far, this has been my only sighting of a Hummingbird hawk-moth this year. When they do visit, it always feeds at Valerian flowers Centranthus ruber.

June 19th 2015. An update to the turbulent history of the Great crested grebes at the Lake Hide on Westhay Moor NNR. Much has happened to them since I last reported on their nest. It seems that the heavy gales we had subsequently, destroyed the nest and its eggs. Fortunately, they are determined, and made another nest twently yards or so from the first, at much the same distance from the hide. I guess it is the same pair, as they differ widely in size from each other. Progress is further ahead than it was, with what looks like three tiny chicks nestling under and on the back of the sitting bird. The male, I assume, spent all its time close-by, catching tiny little fish suited to the size of the nestlings.

June 15th 2015. A not particularly favourable weather forecast had us worried as we drove over to South Wales for the third SIG meeting of the year at Merthyr Mawr NNR, but we need not have worried. As we reached the car park, the sun came out in a virtually cloudless sky and we enjoyed warm, still conditions for the remainder of the day. John, Nigel, Una and I made up a comfortable car-load and enjoyed a marvellous visit to the site. The car park is right alongside the sand dunes that make up this National Nature reserve and all we had to do was walk out through a fringe of trees and we were there. This is a remarkable place, with the second highest sand-dunes in Europe. There is plenty of room to roam together with varying habitat. Walking is hard on the soft shifting sand but the paths take the easier ways through the dunes and there is no shortage of different areas to visit, including the edge of the tide. It is a large area and we can hardly claim to have visited even a proportion of it. I tried to find out just how large online but could not find information on it anywhere.

I suspect we might have found even more flowers and insects if we had gone a week or so later, but it was really interesting. We were greeted with large areas covered with the creamy-white flowers of Burnett rose Rosa pimpinellifolia, a low-growing shrub attractive to a variety of insects, as was the large population of bright blue speedwells Veronica spp. Crawling over the speedwell plants was an unexpected beetle, the Garden chafer, as well as a brilliant green leaf-beetle.

Another plant that was particularly insect-friendly was Wild mignonette Reseda lutea, growing in clumps along the edges of the sandy paths and particularly attractive to bees and bumblebees. Nigel found a small green-eyed bee patrolling the edges of a bank and spotted that it kept on landing in the same spot. We both managed to get pictures of this Anthophora bimaculata by concentrating on this point. As far as I can see, this is the only green-eyed bee to be found in Britain.

There were some bumblebees present, mainly Bombus lapidarius workers, which favoured speedwells Veronica spp. in particular. We came across one spot where a brilliantly-coloured queen Bombus muscorum was feeding on mignonette Reseda lutea. The colours are so striking they take your breath away, though some B. pascuorum males can come close.

Grasshoppers and crickets were seen all over the place, though most were still nymphs, clearly a place worth visiting later in the year when adult.

I thought there might have been a host of hoverflies, but this this was not the case. However, I managed to photograph a species I had not seen before, Platycheirus immarginatus. I was also pleased to see a single Sphaerophoria menthastri, so bright and delicately coloured.

Some of the insects were not identified to species, including Sphecodes cuckoo bees; and sand wasps Ammophila spp., spotted flying past. Our experience is that it is virtually impossible to photograph the latter unless they are slowed down by carrying prey. 

A common species seen on the paths and soft banks was Andrena barbilabris, the male and female with totally different colouring. They nest in soft sand and have the habit of flying into their invisible nest holes in one dive disappearing to leave the sand surface unmarked. Their navigation system appears infallible.

Finally, we came across another member of the Osmia clan. O. aurulenta is notable not only for its bright colouring but its choice of nest site. This bee builds its nest inside an empty snail shell, of which there are alweays great numbers in sites like this. We did not find a nest on this occasion but that is not surprising - it takes concentration and luck to do so.

June 11th 2015. I Had another fascinating session at the logs this morning, especially when watching ichneumons going about their business, methodically searching the nest holes for suitable cells in which to lay their eggs. The actual ovipositor is so ultra thin, when it emerges from the sheaths that support it in normal flight, that it looks as though it would bend at the slightest obstruction, yet it works its way in rapidly and steadily. It must be incredibly flexible but strong - an insect equivalent to carbon-fibre.

The changing face of the Osmia population is interesting, as O. bicornis gradually gives way to the later O. leaiana. The males come first, emerging well before the ladies, then waiting for them to emerge so as not to miss any opportunity for mating. This involves almost continual flight, checking any suitable entrance holes, until their wings become dulled and battered and their body hairs wear away. When the females appaear, the activity increases as they bring in loads of pollen to stock their nest-cells, a process of much wriggling. 

June 9th 2015. It was the second informal outing of the Somerset Invertebrates Group (SIG) today. The first, at Westhay Moor NNR, was comprehensively rained-off. John and I spent it drinking coffee and tea at Sweet's tearoom. Today's visit was to Fevin Nature Reserve Burial Ground at Westcombe outside Somerton. We were met by Sue, one of the Trustees who run the place, and shown round. Some twelve acres of hilltop land form the site, which is devoted to 'green' burials. The graves can hardly be spotted within the grassland, vanishing quickly as they grow over. The long-term aim is for the whole to settle down as a nature reserve. We were invited down to provide an indication of what was present in the invertebrate sector. John, Nigel, Francis, Robert and Martin joined me there. Sadly, it suffered from a vicous wind which screamed away at times - cold and sufficient to drive the insects down into the base of the grasses.

The rest of the reserve consisted of two large meadows where we spent much of our time. Towards the end of the afternoon, we found a more sheltered spot and came across a number of insects flying around and I managed a few photograps which may indicate the diversity that is present. Many creatures shelter in the bowls of buttercups in this weather.

For some of us, the most interesting insect was a tiny weevil found on a oak tree in a hedge. This little creature has a proboscis as long as the head and body, looking fragile in the extreme. Apparently the female has the longer snout, while the male's is thicker and shorter. We also found what may have been the male, or perhaps a similar species. Opinion seems divided on whther ther are two similar species or just variations in size.

One of the joys of this reserve is the placing of garden seats at various spots. We gathered around one of these for lunch and had a really good chat before launching into the afternoon. The views from that point are superb, looking down on the Polden hills across to Gastonbury Tor. If only the weather had been better, it could have produced remarkable results, but we all enjoyed the spells of sunshine when it showed signs of coming to life.

June 4th 2015. A wild and windy day wih plenty of sunshine, the warmth cut by the sharpness of the wind. My walk on Tealham Moor was made more interesting by testing out a new combination of close-up lens with a Panasonic bridge camera. The FZ200 has an extraordinary constant f2.8 with a zoom ranging from an equivalent 25mm to 600mm, though still with a small sensor. The lens is made by Leica and very sharp. I wanted to try out the macro capabilities when fitted with a Nikon 4T close-up lens screwed into the front. The results were better than I thought possible, in spite of the difficulty of the autofocus with swaying plants. Further tests on tiny wasps at my log set-up showed the results to be excellent, even if not as versitile as the D300. The built-in flash works perfectly, but minimum aparture is only f8, which reduces the depth of field, so important with very small creatures.

It was good to see the first sawfly of my year hiding among the hogweed Heraclium spp. flowers.

The larger dragonflies have been notable for their absence this yeqr, so I was pleased to come across numbers of skimmers flying over one of the rhynes. I call these larger, as a general separation but, in fact, they were very small specimens, scarcely larger than some of the damselflies.

Andrena cineraria is a very distinctive mining bee which is likely to be seen at this time of year, though it has always been scarce in the areas round here, which makes this solitary sighting memorable. Some people I know have hundreds of them nesting in their lawns, but I am not so fortunate.

I spotted this little Hylaeus solitary bee sheltering in a buttercup Ranunculus spp. on Tadham Moor but had the greates difficulty deciding the species. I sent the picture to an expert friend who said it was almost certainly H. confusus and I have labelled it as such, a species new to me.

Finally, there is a picture taken at the logs with the same set-up, showing good detail on a very small subject perhaps 6mm long.

June 3rd 2015. Most of the following pictures were taken at the logs in the garden, or on flowers nearby. The distinctive, dark, worn appearance of Osmia caerulescens caught my eye immediatly, while a faint glimpse of the blue reflection from the underlying skin may be felt. They are more numnerous than in previous years.

The next picture is the first appearance of this digger wasp for the year. Instantly recognised by the hairy fringes to the characteristically-shaped head. Pemphredon lugubris is a common visitor to the flats.

Bumblebees have been scarce or virtually non-existent since the sunny spell in March, so it was good to see this fine male feeding on the flowers below the logs.

The whole colour of the fields on the moors has changed dramatically recently. My picture shows the tapestry of colours with buttercups Ranunculus spp. setting off the difference between their yellow and the dark grasses below.

While there is little variety in the fly species showing on the drove-side herbage, one newcomer has become common all over the moors though nationally it is a scarce species. Odontomyia ornata is one of the very handsome soldier flies which thrive in ourwetland conditions

June 1st 2015. The official start of summer, though you never would have guessed it. There was heavy overcast and a biting wind. So much so that, on our walk, I wore full normal winter gear. There was not a sign of an insect on the drove-side plants - Queen Anne's lace Daucus carota, Water hemlock dropwort Oenanthe crocata and Wild turnip Brassica rapa, blowing hysterically in the wind. What a change from the previous day, when the same plants were bathed in sunshine and laden down with a variety of insects, particularly flies of several species.



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