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June 2020: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

June 26th 2020. I settled down in front of the logs for a quiet period of insect-watching this morning, once the sun had warmed us all up. There was a great deal of activity once more. The leafcutter bees were hard at work flying in an out at high speed. After a period of watching it became clearer where there were better chances of success in my quest to catch the shots in flight. Apart from the excitement of catching the vital moment, it is possble to see more detail on the insect when the wings no longer hide the structures. I show here a variety of positions and movements.

leafcutter bee Megachile versicolor f, showing nesthole closure

leafcutter bee Megachile versicolor f

leafcutter bee Megachile versicolor f

leafcutter bee Megachile versicolor f

leafcutter bee Megachile versicolor m

Just as I was leaving I hears a loud, high-pitched humming note. A female Anthophora furcata was searching the woundwort for pollen, providing a lovely image as it moved from one flower to another. 

flower bee Anthophora furcata f

June 25th 2020. Although the astonishing spell of sunshine has given way to some cloud and odd spells of light rain, there was a splendid flush of heat later and the logs were in full flow once more. This time, there were female leafcutter bees hard at work bringing in cut leaves to construct their nest-cells. It is a rapid process, in and out in a remarkably rapid turnround. It is difficult to catch the arrival. One moment there is nothing but a shadow above, the next they are vanishing into the holes, dragging the cut leaf beneath their bellies. The only occasion there is time to watch is when they reach the final moments of closure. Then they twist and turn, manoevering the awkward circlet into place, with the insects in full view. In between, the females arrive with a full load of pollen beneath their abdomens, most loads being white in colour. All the bees were Megachile versicolor. The females, unlike the males, are easy to identify, the pollen brush yellow beneath, with the final quarter black-haired whereas M. centuncularis has this brush yellow for the entire length.

leafcutter bee Megachile versicolor f

leafcutter bee Megachile versicolor f

leafcutter bee Megachile versicolor f

Of special interest were small numbers of a very tiny but familiar insect. I have done a deal of work in the past on gall insects, among which was a chalcid Pteromalus bedeguarus, a parasitoid wasp. This insect is exactly the same shape. Then I remembered, Pteromalus apum had been on the logs previously, but this was a female, whereas the others had been all male, not so obvious. I went online to research the insect and found nothing that adds up until I came across an article by Mark Shaw showing that this chalcid parasitises leafcutter bees. This was the answerr. Here they were, tiny little creatures like whisps seen as they enter the same nest holes used by the leafcutters. NBN references were only for two or three records, apparently a rarity, but I am sure this is a good identification, backed up by a video showing them in action - the same creatures. Clearly, this is all conjecture, but it makes sense, in which case the insect is quite regular here at least and not such a super rarity as records indicate.

chalcid Pteromalus apum f

Finally, I show a couple more bumblebee workers enjoying our woundworts - an endless source of inspiration.

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum w

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum w

June 23rd 2020. The heat is growing - early 30°s. I have a feeling it is too much for the smaller members of those visiting the logs. I spent half an hour at its peak before calling it time. One little creature, a parasitic wasp, spent much of that time visiting hole after hole in a quite methodical manner. It is a most curious creature with a strange structure. The ovipositor, long and slender, looks as if it emerges from the middle of its back - quite characteristic. In fact, the long rest of the 'body' is its leg, giving this strange appearance.

parasitic wasp Gasteruption jaculator f

Nearby woundwort plants provided a better part for photography, with bumblebee and flower bees busy.

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum w

flower bee Anthophora furcata f

flower bee Anthophora furcata f

June 21st 2020. Another active, warm day at the logs. The most significant moment has been the arrival of the first leafcutter females, an event for which the males have been frantic during the last week or so.

leafcutter bee Megachile versicolor f

 leafcutter bee Megachile ligniseca f

leafcutter bee Megachile spp. f

leafcutter bee Megachile versicolor f

There was also visit from a mason wasp. This species used to be really common but has been all but missing over the past couple of years - a pity, such a handsome insect.

mason wasp Ancistrocerus nigricornis f

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

dolychopid fly Poecilibothrus nobilitatus, on a nearby leaf

June 17th 2020. There was plenty of activity round the logs today but this time entirely confined to leafcutter bees. 'ID sorted': I am much happier about identifying the males now and will continue to lump Megachile centuncularis and M. versicolor together. There may be visual differences, but keys, photographs and comments do not appear to differentiate these consistently. The tarsi and feet of these two are either dark or with a reddish tinge of the feet, M. ligniseca has quite definite testaceous tarsi and feet, as well as a long rectangular abdomen with heavy, wide, pale bands. M. willughbiella has much a clearer differentiation with its feathery, expanded front legs. Clearly, age, weather and fighting affect the so-called 'normal' colours and bands, but the differences remain quite clear. With the present males on our logs, they have much paler, whiter hairs  everywhere than conventional descriptions, as shown below. Let's face it, they look as if they are an easy group, but in fact are not so unless you are prepared to catch and kill them to check details under the microscope.

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis/versicolor m

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis/versicolor m

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis/versicolor m

leafcutter bee Megachile ligniseca m (an old picture)

The finale was a snap shot of a hoverfly on his way to a nearby flower. The colouring is quite spectacular.

hoverfly Euopodes corollae m

June 14th 2020. Digger wasps: I had an amazing session this morning,taking in the logs and nearby flowers, without moving my seat. For me, the most interesting was the set of digger wasps wandering the drilled logs. These are very small insects and some of the pictures are by no means perfect but they do represent clearly-identified members of these little thread-like black insects that have always attracted my interest. Crossocerus podagricus is an infrequent visitor, set apart by its yellow front legs.

digger wasp Crossocerus podagricus

C. annulipes is short with a markedly large head and banded white leg joints, while C. elongatulus is all black but for pale marks on the leg joints, just visible here.

digger wasp Crossocerus annulipes

digger wasp Crossocerus elongatulus

They are all so anonymous at first glance, but careful examination of the pictures may reveal details to lead to identification. There have been few specimens this year. I hope these increase as the months move on. Osmia are still struggling, the odd O. leaiana, as well as some O.caerulescens. It's interesting that the latter show little sign of the blue tinges I have noticed in the past, instead a dead black integument.

mason bee Osmia caerulescens f

On the horehound, bumblebees were feeding regularly, among them a few Anthophora to my great delight; a chance for a few more flight shots.

flower bee Anthophora furcata f

flower bee Anthophora furcata f

Eventually, I caught sight of a bee with a yellow-spotted abdomen, quite unmistakable. The camera caught this handsome Anthidium manicatum, though not perfectly - a real snatched shot. The species used to be quite common in our gardenat at this time of summer, then vanished for many years; so I was delghted to see one again. Let's hope the first of a number.

wool carder bee Anthidium manicatum

The morning was capped by the aerobatics of an attractive hoverfly showing me just what could be achieved with two wings.

 

hoverfly Platycheirus clypeatus m

hoverfly Platycheirus clypeatus m

For some while we have been suffering the attentions of a lovesick woodpecker. He circles the house, lands by any window and starts tapping on the glass. We have woken to the sound early in the morning and been faced with the intruder inches away the other side of the windoww. We look at each other for moments before his insticts kick in. This business has also taken place in previous years.

Green woodpecker Picus viridis m

'Deer at twilight': 'Deer at twilight': Some time after 10 in the evening, Romey walked into the kitchen without switching on the light. There were two Roe deer Capreolus capreolus just up above. I joined her and watched them, just showing some colour in the last of the light. One nibbled on a rose bush - badly needing some trimming - while the other explored over by the hedge. Then one of them triggered the automatic light and they wandered slowly round to the front, before disappearing. The back door has some glass in it. As I peered through it, one of them was perfectly lit by the light as it walked past.

June 12th 2020. Romey was chatting to a friend on the telephone in the evening, when she noticed a Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, followed later by a fox Vulpes vulpes walking right across in front of her, from one side of the garden to the other.

June 11th 2020. 'Loxley wood': Romey and went for a walk, with photography very much a side order. It was warm and still, slightly muggy. Someone had mowed the sides of the main ride and already it proved ideal for numbers of insects that prefer short-cut herbage. I was most interested to see numbers of Black-tailed skimmers settling just ahead as we walked, lifting before you really came in range. Years ago, I remember a walk across Tealham moor when the drove was alive with skimmers behaving as I describe but so prolific it looked like a ripplling crpet ahead, shimmering in the light. I was lucky, one settled on a bush and allowed me really close. Sometimes it happens, if you can get past a certain point, the dragonfly relaxes as if it can no longer see you - then you can get super-close-ups.

Black-tailed skimmer Orthetrum cancellatum

There were a great many bumblebees in the herbage on both sides of the ride. They were really benefitting from the mass of nectar in the flowers. It was good to see Bombus hypnorum again. They have not been common round here during the past two or three years. But, a particular pleasure came for the many cuckoo bumblebees spilling out of the flowers. They too have been less seen in recent years. These were lovely specimens, with a strong patch of yellow on the side of the abdomen between the black and white areas.

bumblebee Bombus hypnorum

cuckoo bumblebee Bombus vestalis

hoverfly Volucella pellucens m

June 9th 2020. 'Wildlife plus': the day was perfect, both as to weather and for wildlife in the garden. The flats are buzzing with life at last, mostly large insects, though a few tiny digger wasps were to be seen in limited numbers. The majority were leafcutter bees, all males searching frantically for emerging females, though without luck so far. Having examined a great many images in my files, as well as as many keys as I could find, I have come to conclude that it is impossible, in practical terms to distinguish between Megachile centuncularis and M. versicolor males, so have decided to enter them in a combined heading - M. centuncularis/versicolor. I still have concerns about M. ligniseca males but feel I have enough understanding of their 'jizz' to be pretty confidant of my ID. The other species we get here, M. willughbiella is  distinguished by its expanded and hairy front legs.

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis/versicolor m

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis/versicolor m

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis/versicolor m

I was delighted to see one of my favourite little digger wasps hunting the flats. Pemphredon is a particularly neat-looking wasp, distinguished by the shape of its head but also the white hairs catching the light. They are regulars but never in the numbers I would wish.

digger wasp Pemphredon lugubris f

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis/versicolor m

It was good to see a jewel wasp, even if in the distance, where its colours still managed to glow in the gloom between the logs. Normally, at this time of the year two or three species of these cuckoo wasps may be seen running round the logs in a search for potential victims. These wasps search for cell with an egg, lay their own within the cell, then either eat all the food-store or the larva itself. All members of the family are brilliantly-coloured. Not a good picture but a record of what has proved so far to be an unusual wasp.

cuckoo wasp Chrysis spp.

Perhaps it is worth mentioning that the usual numbers of digger wasps in general are not present and have not been this season. I hope this will change soon, they do add particular interest to sessions watching the logs. I try and record insects and their relations other than Hymenoptera on the logs and found a new one today, albeit minute.I am not very good at identifying spiders but this one proved to be recognizable, as well as colourful.

spider Phrurolithus minimus m

Finally, there were a couple of less-usual hoverflies up in the orchard.

hoverfly Parhelophilus fruitetorum f

hoverfly Sericomyia silentis f

June 8th 2020. 'A varied hour': I did not need to change the format; a chair among the flowers and drilled logs. Perfect, warm and relatively wind-free. The very first picture was a study on colour, a little mining bee in among the roses.

mining bee Andrena nitida f

At first, my concentration was on the nearby flowers; scents must have been at a high. Bumblebees skipped from one flower to another pausing for the very briefest visit. How do they take anything on board in that tiny sliver of time? Keeping up with the lens demands full-time concentration and many opportunities are missed from the edge of the frame. I was glad to see that the Anthophora bees were still present, even though many of the flowers they liked were over their best. It is so interesting to come across a population of bees that I have not been familiar with, to have the chance to pick up their 'jizz', become familiar with their shape and movements, colouring, appearance.

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum f

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum f

flower bee Anthophora furcata m

flower bee Anthophora furcata m

Another special moment came with finding a male Megachile willughbiella on the logs. Why so? This bee is one of only three species of megachiles with heavily modified front legs, as indicated on the picture with a red line. The legs are swollen, shaped with stiff hairs and said to enable these bees to grasp the females. Why they need this, where the remaining common species have perfectly conventional front legs, I cannot imagine? I have only spotted this feature on a few occasions, athough the famles are often found in our mix of leafcutter females. 

leafcutter bee Megachile willughbiella m

leafcutter bee Megachile willughbiella m

Other interesting insects followed, including this tiny little digger was, and one of the less-usual mason bees, which often displays a blue tinge on its thorax and abdomen, hence the name.

digger wasp Passaloecus gracilis f (4.5-55mm long)

mason bee Osmia caerulescens f

June 7th 2020. 'No need to move': I sat in front of the drilled logs and bamboos, so really close that I was looming over them. Even a 150mm lens needs to be really close with minute creatures. In front, were the flats, but around the chair were other plants, mainly the Caucasian crosswort Phuopsis stylosa, a mat of pink which has always been of extra interest to bumblebees. Indeed it acts as a measure of the likely success of an insect season. The other important bee plant was a tall labiate rising through the matt of the other, with downy leaves and lipped pink-spotted flowers. I believe they were Black horehounds Ballota nigra but this family appears to be tricky to pin down to individual species. (Later confirmed as Hedge woundwort Stachys sylvatica) Sitting there, I was rewarded with busy moments in both such different habitats, bathed in sunshine and really warm air. I think the most interesting part was spotting bees coming into the horehound, similar in shape and colouring to bumblebees. Fortunately for me, the first one was a male, distinguished by a whitey-yellow hairless shield on its face, extremely prominent as he moved around. I had seen one once before, many years ago, but had forgotten its features. Now I was faced with several tasting the flowers. A most handsome addition to the garden.

flower bee Anthophora furcata m

flower bee Anthophora furcata f

flower bee Anthophora furcata m

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum m

mining bee Lasioglossum leucopus f

mining bee Lasioglossum leucopus f

leafcutter bee Meachile centuncularis m

Finally, some splendid views of an ichneumon with its ovipositor deep within one of the log nests, searching for a cell with an egg present from its host -prey

ichneumon Ephialtes manifestator f

June 5th 2020. 'An afternoon odyssey': half an hour spent in front of a particularly brilliantly-coloured Catmint Nepeta cataria - bumblebee heaven. A fine, late afternoon, tempered by an icy cold wind which died down somewhat around tea-time, the right time to sit down and watch the bumblebees come to me. I sat on a garden chair, right up against the edge of this particular plant set in a hole in the terrace, hot and dry, just as it enjoys best. I could not smell any perfume, but clearly the bumblebees did, searching for nectar frantically. The majority were all males, unexpected but well-coloured. I have been meaning to see what would happen if I sat perfectly relaxed and concentrated on recording movements in a shortish period. For a short while, the bees stopped coming, presumably settling into my large and looming presence, then they started up once more, several feeding on neighbouring spikes at the same time, darting in, sipping and dashing to the next flower. Most tended to start from the bottom of a stem and work their way up. It was jerky progress, unpredictable at first, but I worked out how to anticipate, which is the secret of success in this field. My lens was a twenty year old 180mm Sigma macro f5.6, with clunky but reliable autofocus, superb sharpness, while being very light. The camera was a D7200 Nikon DSLR, reliable but heavy. Flash, used on all shots, was provided by the built-in system, through a Rogue Safari intensifier. As may be seen, it is highly effective.

bumblebee Bombus hortorum m

 

bumblebee Bombus hortorum m

bumblebee Bombus hortorum m

bumblebee Bombus hortorum m

bumblebee Bombus hortorum m

bumblebee Bombus hortorum m

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum w

June 1st 2020. RELAXATION DAY: The day that 'coronavirus' lockdown has been somewhat relaxed in England; controversial, but inevitable with the passage of time and state of the economy.

This afternoon, the garden yielded an interesting small mining bee, so distinctive with its metallic green-bronze skin colour. Her activity was what attracted my eye, for she was tiny in relation to her surrounds. The first sighting was prompted by the movements of flower heads, rather than the insect itself, then she worked her way into sight. The species is not uncommon, but always delights by its colouring and style of activity, a real bonus find.

mining bee Lasioglossum morio f

mining bee Lasioglossum morio f

Another mining bee was much more visible, flipping from flower to flower, upside down, constantly moving. I have seen A. fulvago before, but not often. There were numbers of small bumblebees on the garden flowers, some very small indeed - no doubt the result of poor feeding in their youth. It was so hot that they were extremley difficult to catch on camera, moving from flower to flower with only the shortest of intervals on each. Good practice though!

mining bee Andrena fulvago f

mining bee Andrena fulvago f

The garden flowers were busy with numbers of bumblebees, many really tiny, some around 5mm or so long - no doubt a sign of poor feeding in their larval stage. It was so hot by then that they appeared supercharged, moving from flower to flower with little pause. For the poor photographer, you find yourself a mini-second or so just behind the action. Never mind, it is so good to see them in the garden again. Late afternoon is really the best time for bumblebee pictures, they have slowed down a bit by then.

 

bumblebee Bombus lucorum f




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