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August 2019  wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

August 31st 2019. It is difficult to resist the appeal of Catcott Lows on a warm late afternoon. With the ever-present Cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis, it has become an all-season place to visit and who knows what might be seen with the pond settling into the landscape so well. On this occasion, the Cattle egrets were rather far off but their numbers showed splendidly when a female Marsh harrier sailed over them.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

They took off en masse, vanishing back over the roof, and that was that. But an obliging Great white egret took advantage of the hiatus and made its way steadily towards us, taking off and landing even closer, before eventually flying off, providing some splendid views in flight.

 Great white egret Egretta alba

Great white egret Egretta alba

August 25th 2019. I hoped to better my luck with the Small red-eyed damselfly but chose mid-afternoon as a more likely bet. I sat on the platform for ages before a pair of mating damselflies appeared at a reasonable range. They were quite definitely my chosen quarry, extra part blue in front of the normal two segments at the back of the abdomen, as well as being smaller.

Small red-eyed damselflies mating Erythromma viridula

I stayed for ages, but was not again privileged with this species. I did have some other events to keep me happy though. Fleets of whiligig beetles clustered together in one part of the pond and a rather battered Four-spot chaser posed obligingly. I also tried my hand at photographing some Minnows near the surface, tiny little fish.

Four-spot chaser Libellula quadrimaculata

Four-spot chaser Libellula quadrimaculata

 whirligig beetles Gyrinus spp.

 Minnow Phoxinus phoxinus

August 24th 2019. John e-mailed me to say that Small red-eyed damselflies Erythromma viridulum had been seen by the car-park at Ham Wall. Not having seen one of these comparative newcomers, I went down at mid-morning, just hoping! It was a lovely sunny day as I installed myself on a stool on the wooden platform on the pool and I was lucky, I saw one only, but it was too far away for a decent picture. At least I had an idea of its distinguishing marks. However, I had much better luck when a pair of conjoined Ruddy darters started laying eggs within reasonable range. It proved an excellent opportunity.

Ruddy darters egg-laying Sympetrum sanguineum

Ruddy darters egg-laying Sympetrum sanguineum

Ruddy darters egg-laying Sympetrum sanguineum

Ruddy darters egg-laying Sympetrum sanguineum

Ruddy darters egg-laying Sympetrum sanguineum

Finally, a Migrant hawker settled on a stick in front to round off the day.

Migrant hawker Aeshna cyanea m

August 22nd 2019. John, Chris and I met at Thurlbear Wood, near Taunton, this morning, quickly making our way over to the adjoining Quarrylands, the real point of our interest. This splendid area of scrub, open grazed grass and heathland has maintained its character over many years. It was good to see that unwanted next-generation scrub was being removed systematically; someone was taking the proper interest to maintain the unique habitatat. It used to be well-known for a population of Nightingales Luscinia megarhynchos; I have no idea whether they are still here, but the habitat looks similar to that of the past. Let's hope they are here, or will return. We selected this period for a visit deliberately, so as to see what happens at 'other' times of year - a policy we try to work with favourite spots. The insect life was quiter than we had hoped, but we managed to see and photograph a some interesting species. Butterflies were reasonably plentiful, including Silver-washed fritillaries Argynnis paphia, the inevitable Painted ladies Cynthia cardui, Small heaths Coenonympha pamphilus, Brimstones Gonepteryx rhamni and a good many Common blues Polyommatus icarus, as well as the usual suspects.

Common blue Polyommatus icarus m

Hoverflies included Volucella pellucens, Sericomyia silentis, as well as tiny Platycheirus tarsalis, rather outside its earlier time-frame.

hoverfly Sericomyia silentis m

hoverfly Platycheirus tarsalis m

I do not as a matter of fact try and identify the many and confusing flies other than is some specific groups such as hover and soldier flies, but the following tachinid caught my eye and proved the exception to the rule; everything in the picture looked right.

tachinid fly Eriothrix rufomacula f

At first. it seemed there were few Hymenoptera to be seen then, deep in Quarrylands, we started to see many of the tiny Halictus and Lasioglossum bees, appearing as dark semi-circles in the yellow flowers of various hawkweeds Hieracium, only revewaled as bees through the magnification in the viewfinder.

mining bee Lasioglossum pauxillum m

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum m

mining bee Lasioglossum punctatissimum m

mining bee Halictus tumulorum m

The only wasp I came across was one I am familiar with in my drilled logs at home.

digger wasp Ectemnius lapidarius f

It was really good to a good many Rose bedeguar galls on roses large and small dotted around the area. These galls were the subject of two books published by the British Gall Society many years ago, when the area was famous for the number found each year. For a long period after that, the galls virtually vanished. So good to see them coming back. The galls are produced by a gall wasp, Diplolepis rosae, injecting chemicals into a rose bush which then grows this weirdly-shaped growth that acts as a vegetarian food store for the larva inside. The sory then becomes much more complicated for other insects take advantage oif the safety inside and the ready food in the form of the larva. 18 different insect species have been identified living in the gall.

Rose bedeguar gall Diplolepis rosae

It is a long time since I have really looked at ants - they are not easy creatures to observe closely for those with stiff knees. However, we disturbed a couple of nests by walking over them and I set up a stool and looked closer. Myrmica scabrinodis were starting to swarm, many winged males mixing in with the workers, though not yet actually flying. No sign of queens. It was good to familiarise myself with the elaborate microsculpture once more. I must see what I can do to work with ants again, fascinating creatures.

ant Myrmica scabrinodis w & m

ant Myrmica scabrinodis w

As on previous visits this year, the crab-spider Misumena vatia was much in evidence, super-camouflaged - yellow spider on yellow flower. Is the spider originally yellow and chooses a yellow flower, or is it a  different  colour and alters it to match?

Crab-spider Misumena vatia

Bush-crickets and the commoner grasshoppers were much in evidence, usually betrayed by sharp movement in the undergrowth as you walk. Keeping company with John has me more interested in the plants around us; he is so knowledgeable. As a result I find am increasing the numbers I recognise. Among these spotted today were Wild basil Clinopodium vulgare, Stemless thistle Cirsium acaule, Pepper-saxifrage Silaum silaus and beautiful Willow gentian Gentiana asclepiadia.

Autumn felwort Gentianella amarella

Before setting off from John's house this morning, I photographed this attractive and unusual Hornet-mimic in his garden - a real bonus.

hoverfly Volucella zonaria f

August 20th 2019. Romey and I went for a walk at Shapwick Heath this morning, realising that it had been a very long time since we last made out way out to the Decoy Hide, a previously favourite spot. The problem living here is that there are so many wonderful places to visit that others remain neglected until you are reminded with a jolt about this fact. It was another superb sunny day. For much of the way you are sheltered from any wind, making it particularly enjoyable. What I had not realised was how much the surrounding land has grown over, rapidly turning into a mass of bindweed Convolvulus spp and other matting greenery, as well as succession woodland, with few obvious flowers to be seen. That famous area of the Sweet Track, where Macropis europaea used to be found on the masses of Yellow loosestrife Lysimachia vulgaris, had vanished under scrub, as indeed nearly all the old surrounding heath has disappeared under vigorous growth. Is this single Somerset site still in existence? (The bees are totally dependent on these flowers, collecting oil from them to construct their nests).Below, a much earlier picture showing the specialist oil collectionstructure on the back leg.

mining bee Macropis europaea f

Virtually the only insects visible were butterflies, which always make attractive images. But, I was pleased to se a Ruddy darter male, glowingly red in the sunshine. This is one of the special species for the Levels, but not usual in so many parts of the country. They have not been seen here very much in recent years.

Red admiral Vanessa atalanta

Painted lady Cynthia cardui

Ruddy darter Sympetrum sanguineum m

I was really shocked when we reached the distant Decoy Hide; it was unrecognisable. Inside, three-quarters of the view out was obstructed, not just by reeds, but well-grown bushes. It appears it had been completely neglected. Worse though, was finding that the precious old peat diggings, previously alive with flowers and insects, had been allowed to be taken over by succession growth. There was no sign of their origin, just a mass of well-grown trees in their place. What a disgrace. 

August 19th 2019. The insects visiting the two yellow plants edging the pond, Giant oxeye Heliopsis helianthoides and Fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica, were in full-blast form in attracting insects this afternoon. Perhaps the most interesting was the unusual bumblebee Bombus soroeensis, notable for a split band on the abdomen and a white tail edged with peach where it joins the black.

Broken-belted bumblebee Bombus soroeensis m

Broken-belted bumblebee Bombus soroeensis m 

A bug, more unusual as a find than you might imagine, and other bumblebees, together with leafcutter bees were on the larger plant.

mirid bug Deraeocoris ruber

Common carder bee Bombus pascuroum m 

leafcutter bee Megachile willughbiella f

 leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis f

Tiny Lasioglossum and Halictus mining bees were numerous on the Fleabane. A shoot notable for the brilliant colouring.

mining bee Halictus tumulorum m

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum m

mining bee Lasioglossum quadrinotatum m

August 15th 2019. I popped down to Catcott Lows for a short while, before an early supper. Lots of Cattle egrets sat in front of the hide, every so often erupting into flight and flying towards the back, one at a time.The oddest thing that emerges from the photos is what strange feet they have, stubby, small and blocky, unlike other similar birds.

Cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis

 

Cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis

This gave some interesting views but the real event was the arrival of a dark sandpiper flying down into a patch of water just visible to the right. It called as it flew, a lovely clear piping sound in several syllables. I had been told that a Green sandpiper Tringa ochropus had been present one evening but, after taking many pictures, I am now convinced it is a Wood sandpiper. The bird-watchers' bible, mentioned that it bobs its body like the familiar Common sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos and this it did. The supercillium while not distinct extends behind the eye and the plumage markings are quite definite. My guess is that it is an immature bird. A real privilege to see this unusual species.

Wood sandpiper Tringa glareola imm.

Wood sandpiper Tringa glareola imm.

Wood sandpiper Tringa glareola imm.

Wood sandpiper Tringa glareola imm.

Wood sandpiper Tringa glareola imm.

August 13th 2019. Romey and I drove up to Ivythorne Hill on the Poldens for a walk. I had told her about the mass of flowers we had encountered on our recent visit and was determined to show her before they all vanished once more. Although it was partly overcast during the walk, we were not disappointed. The list of insects was once more impressive, though not the same as previously noted. Instead of cuckoo bumblebees, the flowers held true bumblebees, though these were all males. There were no signs of workers collecting pollen and nectar, as might have been expected.

bumblebee Bombus jonellus m

bumblebee Bombus lucorum m

bumblebee Bombus terrestris m

bumblebee Bombus terrestris m

bumblebee Bombus terrestris m

Romey was much taken with the walk and the profusion of colour.

Painted lady Cynthia cardui

hoverfly Helophilus pendulus f

hoverfly Volucella pellucens f

Scabius Scabiosa canescens with hoverfly Eristalis spp. m

Rufous grasshopper Gomphocerippus rufus

Meadow grasshopper Chorthippus paralellus

When we reached home, I took the camera up for a quick look at our giant Oxeye Heliopsis helianthoides growing and flowering to seven or more feet on the pond bank. These large yellow flowers are an absolute mecca for all bumblebees and bees. Although the flowers were starting to close for the night, I was not disappointed.

bumblebee Bombus lapidarius m

 

leafcutter bee Megachile willoughbiella m

A nearby carefully preserved patch of Fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica still held various hoverflies and tiny mining bees, though most were leaving for their evening roost. This patch has been an insect magnet as long as I can remember.

mining bee Lasioglossum leucopus m

hoverfly Sphaerophoria  rueppellii m

August 12th 2019. I slipped out for half an hour's visit to Catcatt Lows over lunch today, just to see what was happening to the Cattle egrets. I was not disappointed although only three were present during my time there. I was told there had been 17 iup to a few minutes previously, as there have been for some while. Of the three there, two were adults and the third an immature. The former had orange bills, pale yellowy legs and buff tops to their heads. The latter pure white plumage, black legs and dark bills when very young. For much of the time, they sat facing the strong breeze, but huddling even in the sunshine.

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis imm.

A passing jet plane got one of them very excited, peering up into the sky, the others ignored the noise completely. Then something caught their attention; whether a hawk or other distant plane, it was impossible to tell and they were up, circling the pond several times before flying off over the roof. An exciting few moments as they crossed closer.

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis imm.

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis imm.

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis imm., & adult

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis imm., & adult

August 8th 2019. John M. and I met up at Ivythorne Hill, in the National Trust car-park this morning. We had expected Ron, but he had a sprained ankle while Chris was at the chiropractor - dangerous business this photography! It was a shame we were on our own, because it was a superb day's insect watching and photographing. As soon as we left the car-park we walked into an insect paradise, with sheets of mauve Hardheads Centaurea nigra, deep yellow Ragwort Senecio jacobaea and many others in full, glowing flower, attracting a great many insects. At the end of the day I realised I had never seen so many bumblebees in one area. There were places where three were on a single thistle flower.

 

bumblebee Bombus jonellus

bumblebee Bombus lucorum m

bumblebee Bombus lapidarius m

 

cuckoo bumblebee Bombus sylvestris

cuckoo bumblebee Bombus vestalis

In other words, the day was a great success by any standards. One of the problems with a day out like this, insects abounding, is selecting which pictures to put in this diary. It started off with some 250 on the card, was whittled down to 67 worth keeping, set against several variations for each, and ended with a final 21 on-line. Selection is by various means, appearance, special interest, in flight or other unusual behaviour and always difficult. The final part of the Ivythorne Hill walk, after snaking through some woodland, opened out into an area of grassland we knew previously as Marshall's Elm. Here the Hardheads and other flowers increased again, together with a few Woolly thistles Cirsium eriophorum well out and starting to act as larder to the bees. An unexpected find was a male Roesel's bush-cricket Merioptera roeseli hiding deep in the herbage. Dark bush-crickets Pholidoptera griseoaptera were also present in several areas. The tiny pictured-wing flies below, tephritids, make galls on Burdocks. The vegetable growths on the plant act as feed stores for the young, protecting them also before emergance.

tephritid flies Cerajocera ceratocera on Burdock Arctium spp.

It was good to see the huge Great green bush-crickets still here. They do not appear to be at all common but have been here for many years. For all their size, they are expert at hiding below in the herbage and are surprisingly well camouflaged.

Great green bush-cricket Tettigonia viridissima m

It was good to see solitary bees after rather a long absence. This little Lasioglossum male was notable for two features that ensured its identiy; its bronze integument and the so-obvious pale legs that first caught our eye. The long antennae are typical of males.

mining bee Lasioglossum leucopus m

I had not expected to find leafcutter bees but was dlighted to do so. This species is notable for the tail ending in a shape that is triangular, viewed from the side or above. I found this out only recently and have been revising some of the capions on previous pictures as a result. Bird-watchers call it 'jizz', recognisable in the field.

leafcutter bee Megachile willughbiella f

This species of crab-spider is remakable for its ability to change its colouring to suita number of backgrounds, though usually it seems to selct white flowers - not here. They specialise in just sitting in flower-heads and waiting for prey to land nearby. As may be seen, they cope with quite large prey, sucking them dry and leaving an empty husk.

crab-spider Misumena vatia with hoverfly Eristalis spp.

This perky little beaked hoverfly is the much rarer cousin of the very common Rhingia campestris. The differences are quite obvious. The latter has a longer beak, with dark marking which extend along the side of the abdomen. The 'beak' has a pair of extendable mouthparts housed within it. One is a slender proboscis, the other a sort of 'hoover' bag for sucking out liquids

hoverfly Rhingia rostrata f

hoverfly syritta pipiens f

We crossed the two roads at great peril from the traffic - it is impossible to see both ways - and went into Collard Hill, through the gate. More and more flowers! Great stands of Woolly and Spear thistles Cirsium vulgare, together with Stemless Cirsium acaule and Carline thistles Carlina vulgaris near the ground. On one of these, we saw a very large black bumblebee with a red tail, very like a queen Bombus lapidarius but, crucial difference, without a pollen basket on the back leg. B. rupestris is not a species I see very often.

cuckoo bumblebee Bombus rupestris

Honey bees Apis mellifera were everywhere, many very small indeed. Solitary bees were few, one or two leafcutter bees, a few tiny Lasioglossum burying themselves deep into the thistle flowers. Bumblebees on thistles defined the place, several on one flowerhead, landing on each other, constantly on the move.

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum m

cuckoo bumblebee Bombus sylvestris

cuckoo bumblebee Bombus sylvestris

ichneumonid spp. 

hoverfly Eristalis spp.

hoverfly Eristalis intricarius m

Collard Hill is a definite hill, cattle have developed a number of paths or terraces which follow the contours, not easy to follow but worth so doing. On one of these we sat and had lunch and a long chat about what we had seen and what might possibly be found in the area. Grasshoppers were a feature in this area. The first to be seen was a Rufous grasshopper with its distinctive white-tipped antennae, Field grasshoppers were also common.

Rufous grasshopper Gomphocerippus rufus

Among the last creatures found was a startlingly obvious larva among the dry, scrappy undergrowth. I had not seen anything like this previously but John identified it. It is curious because it ha s few obvious features, being apparently unsegmented and with little obvious pattern. A good find to round off my visit.

Hummingbird hawkmoth Macroglossum Stelatarum larva

On my way back the thistles appeared to have developed even more attractants for the bumblebees, most flowerheads boasted two or three on each.

August 4th 2019. My sister was visiting the family for the weekend. On the morning before she left, we visited Catcott Lows for a very brief period, not expecting much to occur. In fact it turned out to be a remarkable occasion, with all three egrets present. The Cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis stayed put during this time, half-hiding behind one of the islands. Little egrets were busy the whole while, fishing the far edge of the water with great vigour. I managed a few shots of it flying as it moved from one place to another.

Little egret Egretta garzetta

Little egret Egretta garzetta

Then a Great white egret flew in from the distance and pitched in the rushes for a time, eventually flying io the pond-edge, then working its way round in front and to the right of us. It appeared to be a non-breeding adult, white, without the elaborate plumes of summer, and a yellow beak. We had the most marvellous views, though it did not appear to be very succesful in its fishing. Anything it caught was so small as to not register above water. It was wonderful to have such views which ended with the bird flying away at the same time we had to leave, leaving us without any regrets.The first picture is of both Great white and Little egrets together, though the perspective gives a rather misleading view of their respective sizes; the Little egret being nearly half the size of the other.

Great white egret Egretta alba & Little egret Egretta garzetta

Great white egret Egretta alba

Great white egret Egretta alba 

 Great white egret Egretta alba

Great white egret Egretta alba

Great white egret Egretta alba

Sadly, Fiona and Paul's dog Spring died today, aged fifteen and a half. A great loss for the family after all her time with them.

August 2nd 2019. Jilly and I went off to Steart for the morning, hoping to see some birds, though I was doubtful about the time of year. In the end, virtually the only birds we saw were gulls. We watched one hunting the edge of the freshwater lake. Much of what it stabbed at was unrecognisable but it did catch a large crab which it cleaned by tossing up and down. In the picture, the water drops can be seen forming an arc.

Herring gull Larus argentatus

I am always delighted to see dragonflies during a visit. I wasparticularly pleased to see a couple of male darters for comparison. The rather scarcer Ruddy darter is a much more definite and striking red, has a distinct waist on the abdomen and has black legs. The Common darter is a more washed-out colour, has a straighter abdomen and a white stripe down its dark legs.

Ruddy darter Sympetrum sanguineum m

Common darter Sympetrum striolatum m

There were a few butterflies around, but I was pleased to see a fine Painted lady. Every so often they have a strong annual migration into this country and this has been just such a time.

Painted lady Vanessa cardui

Finally, I loved the white 'clocks' of the dying flowers on the Saw-worts, so delicate.


Bristly oxe-tongue Picris echioides

 

 

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