insectsandflight.com

all pictures © robin williams

click on the links below to bring up further periods:

HOME

DIARY - link to all periods

January 2020

February 2020

March 2020

April 2020

May 2020: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

May 31st 2020. I woke early this morning, went into the bathroom and looked out of the window. A couple of Roe deer were snacking on roses quite close below. They looked at each other, then took off at high speed, zig-zagging through the ancient trees in the orchard above, quite clearly chasing each other. They looked as if they were having great fun, before vanishing over the top. The camera was not with me, so I missed a possible opportunity, but they were extremely elegant, slender, delicate and well into the translation into their red summer coating. I suspect they were those previous year's youngsters who have spent so much time with us this spring. The flats were a little more active today and I found two interesting species I had not seen for some while. The first looked similar in shape to the preious day's picture of Trypoxylon, but is in fact only a distant relation. Sapyga is a most elegant wasp, long and slender but with plenty of colour tio make it memorable. They are parasitic on mason wasps, Osmia species. Once again, I was delighted to catch one of them in flight, as well as one exploring drilled logs for potential victims.

club-horned wasp Sapyga quinquepunctata f

club-horned wasp Sapyga quinquepunctata f

Another interesting find was Mimumesa dahlbomi, a sphecid wasp preying on Homoptera found in holes in wood. I have found it in the flats previously, but rarely. The distinctive antennae is a clue.

digger wasp Mimumesa dahlbomi f

My day was not finished, Walking in the garden, I spotted a strange, squat black fly. My first thought was where on earth do I start? Then I realised it might be a hoverfly, though looking unlikely. It was an Eumerus species, about whose existence I had not been aware previously. How fascinating.

hoverfly Eumerus funeralis m

My final finds were various mining bees, well camouflaged by pollen and light. They are devils to identify in that state but I trust I have these correctly, a process of elimination by locality, glimpses of toning, shape, areas of colouring. The problem always lies with hairs fading as the bees age and become more battered by their activities.

mining bee Andrena labialis m

mining bee Andrena labialis m

mining bee Andrena cineraria

May 29th 2020. Once again the flats are remarkably inactive. I do not know why, conditions are perfect? The sun shines, there is virtually no wind. However, I did spot one little wasp of unusual shape, elongate to the extreme, tiny and threadlike. I was delighted to catch it on camera. A piece of luck. It has occurred regularly over the years, but always on its own, infrequently.


digger wasp Trypoxylon clavicerum

May 27th 2020. Romey and I went offf to Loxley Woods on the Poldens for a lunchtime walk. The main ride running through the centre was sheltered, but caught the sun on one side or another for most of its length - but it really was hot. We saw a real mixed bag of insects. To my mind, the most interesting was a Nomada. I have always been fascinated by these bees, that look so like wasps. They display tremendous vigour at this time of year, when so many appear, timed to co-ordinate with the their potential hosts; in this case, a variety of commoner Andrena mining bees. They fly at high speed, never straight for a moment, rarely settling, often an inch or so above the ground, presenting a real challenge to the photographer.

cuckoo bee Nomada fabriciana

cuckoo bee Nomada fabriciana

hoverfly Eristalis horticola m

hoverfly Volucella pellucens m

Back at the ranch, I spotted an Andrena I hadn't seen in the garden for many years; the list grows every day.

mining bee Andrena similis f

May 26th 2020. Another perfect day, with the 'flats' continuing to deliver the goods in their now sheltered position, as the wind has moved over, now from the south-west. Two species of Megachile were present; the males diligently searching each potential hole for newly-emerged females with whom to mate. Round and round they went, resting only for the briefest fraction of a second, before rushing on. The two males of the two species are difficult to separate, whereas their females are readily identified through the different-coloured pollen-brushes beneath the abdomen. As with any species where the differences are minuscule, there are always individuals who fall between the two. I hope that I have devised a set of characteristics that appear to make the judgement easier. I will be adding these to the identification section shortly. In essence, M. centuncularis has the last two polished segments showing narrow, clear white bands and the second segment similar, but the band broken in the middle. M. versicolor is without these clear bands, but the front part of the abdomen has less-pronounced bands of long, scattered hairs, giving a matt appearance. In due course I hope to illustrate this with pictures of more extreme examples of each.

leafcutter bee Megachile versicolor m

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis m

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis m

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis m

This little patch of flowers has always brought interesting insects. It seems to appeal to all types rather than just being confined to bumblebees or other specialists. I spotted movement through the flower-heads and a metallic mining bee appeared. It was a Halictus species I had not seen before, handsome and robust. This spring has not produced large numbers of bees but a variety of species, several of which are new to me. There are relatively few metallic bee species, which helps with identification. Lasioglossum and Halictus are closely linked but differ in that the former have any hair bands on the abdomen at the base of a segment, whereas Halictus have theirs at the end of the segment.

mining bee Halictus subauratus f

mining bee Halictus subauratus f

Then there came a bit of an invasion of most beautifully-coloured mason bees, all male Osmia leaiana. I have only once before seen such bright examples. It is of course most unusual to see these without having come across any of the earlier O. bicornis.

mason bee Osmia leaiana m

mason bee Osmia leaiana m

mason bee Osmia leaiana m

Sitting watching all this going on, I was diverted occasionally to watch the bumblebees feeding on the carpets of flowers close-by.

bumblebee Bombus terrestris m

bumblebee Bombus pratorum m

May 25th 2020. The 'flats' continue to be active, bathed in heat, which clearly suits the insects at last. Only a single mason bee appeared, but the invasion of the early leafcutters continues, as well as smaller creatures amongst which was another Hylaeus yellow-face bee. In fact seeing what was there was difficult. The heat was supercharging many of the insects, so they rarely settled but coninued one mad circle around most of the holes, zig-zagging from one to another.

leafcutter bee Megachile centuncularis m

hoverfly Eristalis tenax f

hoverfly Scaeva pyrastri f

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum w

May 24th 2020. A gloriously hot, sunny day and the drilled-log 'flats' have started to become active at last. The secret is not the date, but the wind direction. Northern and easterly winds have been blowing for much of the recent long days of sunshine. The constricted area bewtween the logs on the study wall and the ancient, overgrown arch of climbers had become an icy wind-tunnel for which I can vouch as I sat there watching. Now, the wind is the more usual south-westerly and the flats have benefitted and, with it the insects. I feel we have lost a generation of Osmia mason bees, only one has appeared and there is only a single closure on the bamboos - they should have been full by now.

mason bee Osmia leaiana m

Instead, I found leaf-cutter bees appearing, probably half a month before normal. I had a wonderful couple of periods watching the males buzzing from hole to hole,as they searched for newly-emerged females.

leafcutter bee Megachile versicolor m

My two sessions were dictated by the need to cool down in between times. The flats are in a real hot-spot. One of the plus points, close-to the flats, are a couple of plant species of great attraction to bees, bumbebees and hoverflies so you can sit in front taking pictures of garden plants and their insects, while keeping an eye out for hole-seeking Hymenoptera. (The earliest, Lungwort Pulmonaria officianalis, is especially good, the saviour of spring. Perennial cornflower Centaurea montana is a particularly fine attractant. Wild basil Clinopodium vulgare occurs a bit later in the year and is exceptional for bumblebees. Purple toadflax Linaria purpuria appears all over the garden and is a reliable nectar source for a wide number of species - it is interesting to find that these are all wild flowers, though I thought they had been cultivated).

May 21st 2020. The day started welI when I had a quick look at the drilled logs, Although there was no sign of the hoped-for bees, a single, tiny ichneumon was busy probing several of the holes, first with its antennae, then the lengthy, thin ovipositor, which is longer than the body in this species. Overall size is very variable. I would guess this one was well under 10mm without the ovipositor sheaths, some may be twice this length.

ichneumon Ephialtes manifestator f

ichneumon Ephialtes manifestator f

Over lunch time, I had my first real outing since lockdown started so many weeks ago. A friend told us that Loxley Wood was looking particularly good at present and there were few people around. This Polden wood is owned by the Woodland Trust, who have made a marvellous job of cutting out commercial fir trees, leaving natural regeneration to take place and opening out the paths and rides. Many years ago, I was present when the Somerset Invertebrate group carried out a survey of the insects, a day or so after it had been opened to the public. A major plus is that parking is easy beside the road. Unfortunately Romey was unable to come, but I spent an hour or more walking up the central path, making it nearly as far as the top before the heat got to me. It was sheltered from the wind and the sun was at its peak at this time. I noticed a difference compared with recent years. The verges of this central spine have always been cut back quite sharply, allowing a marvellous low-down carpet of flowers, including many Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scriptus, for which the wood is notable. This year, they have missed that cut and the growth on each side is both thick and high, a good start for a hedge. I am sure, and trust, that next year the cut will be resumed. For all that, I had a marvellous walk, spotting a number of different species.

bumblebee Bombus hypnorum m

 bumblebee Bombus lucorum m

 hoverfly Chrysotoxum elegans m

 Four-spot chaser Libellula quadrimaculata

yellow-face bee Hylaeus confusus f

sawfly Rhogogaster viridis

beetle Oedemera nobilis f

I only saw three people during the visit, and we avoided each quite successfully (coronavirus). Although I have been walking a great deal in the garden, it was good to stride out and see the world again.

May 19th 2020. I had a busy walk today, a variety of insects showing themselves around the garden.

mining bee Andrena ovatula f

 bumblebee Bombus terrestris m

cuckoo bumblebee Bombus vestalis m 

cuckoo bumblebee Bombus vestalis m 

mason bee Osmia bicornis m 

mason bee Osmia bicornis m

May 17th 2020. The fine weather continues, amazing highs for the time of year, a month which will turn out to be be the dryest for many years. For a change, the wind has died down, so insect hunting has been rather easier. The results have been good. The garden is yielding some fascinating and unexpected results. For me, the most interesting has been the identification of a leafcutter bee new to me. I had not thought of it as being here at all. Indeed I had not thought of it as a possible; the reason being that it is a ground nester, unlike my other, previous species, which have all been inhabitants of the drilled logs. This Megachile baffled me for a considerable while. It looked so anonymous, without any obvious characteristics, I could not determine what grouping might claim it. I spent ages gazing at pictures, checking different species, before the magic moment came and I spotted the combination of characteristics that gave away her identification, fairly obvious in the end. 

leafcutter bee Megachile circumcincta f

leafcutter bee Megachile circumcincta f 

The firethorn was still producing some of its attractants and a number of Andrena mining bees were found searching the flowers for pollen. Indeed, this has been the problem recently. Bees have been so smothered in pollen that identification has become much more difficult, as well as time-consuming. Vital points have been covered up that are usually much more visible. It is good to see a number oif different species in one place.

mining bee Andrena haemorrhoa f

 mining bee Andrena nitida f

One of these bees had a striking palest yellow face which caught the eye immediately. It took me a while to remember that this was a characterisitic for a number of Andrena males. After that the identification became clearer. It takes a while each season to get back into the swim and cut down the time wasted in wrong searches.

mining bee Andrena labialis m

One of the delights of this time of year is the appearance of Nomada cuckoo bees, usually spotted low down, flying rapidly around the bottom of the undergrowth, barely settling fpr a second, restless and super-energetic. None of them look anything like a bee, but resemble wasps in many of their aspects but, like all bees, they have the characteristic feathered hairs that define them as such. Like all cuckoos, they leave the hard work of provisioning nest cells to the hosts, while cuckoo larvae consume this store instead of providing their own. They are not easy to distinguish in the field, but make up for this by their vivid colouring.


cuckoo bee Nomada flava

cuckoo bee Nomada marshamella 

cuckoo bee Nomada marshamella

May 15th 2020. The firethorn Pyracantha coccinea is still performing its magic, though there are not the number of insects seen in the first hectic blossom opening. The most numerous was the small, neat Andrena dorsata, tucking in as if the world was about to end.

 

 mining bee Andrena dorsata f

During my walk I came across this very striking hoverfly sunning itself on a leaf. Once again I found myself searching for the identification, until I read that the colour of the abdomen was very variable. Most Pipizas have a couple of yellow spots on these, but the all-black version is also found.

hoverfly Pipiza spp. m

The final pictures are of Bombus pratorum on some of our more exotic garden flowers. These little bees used to be the commonest here, swarming among certain flowers in large numbers. For the last couple of years they have been virtually non-existent. Let's hope that this year will bring back one of our most delightful and colourful bumblebees.

 

bumblebee Bombus pratorum f

bumblebee Bombus pratorum f

May 12th 2020. The wind has much reduced though it is still unseasonably cold, even when the sun continues. Romey called me to see an extraordinary sight this afternoon. She has been training an old Firethorn Pyracantha coccinea to climb the south-facing wall and it now fills a wide space, right up to the roof. It has been gradually coming out in flower but suddenly this took off, with obvious results. I could not smell the tight-packed blossoms, but clearly the insects could. There was a shimmer of movement all the way up, many solitay bees, various smallish bumblebee workers and males as well as some hoverflies.

bumblebee Bombus hypnorum m

mining bee Andrena haemorrhoa w

mining bee Andrena haemorrhoa m

mining bee Andrena nitida w

mining bee Andrena nitida w

mining bee Andrena dorsata w

hoverfly Metasyrphus corollae m

The next picture was taken on my walk. Very like an Eristalis, it is instantly distinguished byt the cross-bars on the thorax. This specimen was unusually dull-coloured. Normally, they are very bright, catching the eye in the field.

hoverfly Myathropa florea m

May 9th 2020. Very little in the garden at present. We have been suffering from vicious winds from the north and this seems to have sent every insect down into the undergrowth. In a short period of weak sunshine, I wandered round for my constitutional and snatched a couple of pictures. Bumblebees are more fortunate than most insects, in that they have a system of internal muscle shivering which heats them up for flying in cooler weather. This B. pascuorum seems to be making a success of it in spite of the chill.

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum w

For the first time, damselflies are being seen in some numbers as the sun warms them up. The one shown below is amongst the most common. The majority are virtually unidentifiable, as they are only just emerged, pale, transparent, like ghosts.

Azure damselfly Coenagrion puella imm. m

May 8th 2020. An delightful walk round the garden followed by a period sitting in front of the 'flats', yielded some interesting results. The weather continues really warm and sunny. The colours in the garden are amazing. The lawn is being cut, but at much longer intervals than usual, the resulting patchwork of flowers is beautiful; Daisies Bellis perennis, buttercups Ranunculus spp., violets Viola spp., Speedwel Veronica spp., vetch Vicia spp., Herb robert Geranium robertianum, Bugle Ajuga reptans spp., Forgetmenot Mysotis spp., and others, but the remains of the primroses Primula vulgaris have now vanished, leaving a quite different outdoor carpet. The flats are still far from active but at last one or two Osmia bicornis females were exploring and sorting the bamboos; but the strange thing is that there is still no sign of the males - normally out a week or two before the ladies.The name 'bicornis' arises from the presence of two horny structures, on each side of the mouth, used for smoothing out the muud from which she makes her nest-cells - see the first and second pictures where one may be seen beneath the outer antenna.


mason bee Osmia bicornis f

mason bee Osmia bicornis f

The only male was O. leaiana, a later species, with obvious greenish eyes when alive.

mason bee Osmia leaiana m

The walk brought three unexpected visitors, a briiliantly-coloured hoverfly, Arctophila, not expected in these surrounds, A rare soldier-fly that lives down below on the moors but never seen here before and a beetle largely confined to eastern parts of the country, identified by Peter B. He tells me that it may well be the first record for Somerset. Why visit us here? So we are digging out more than had been expected. I agonised about identifying the hoverfly. I only had it in the viewfinder for a second, a real snatched shot. There are few alternatives for identification, one being a rare variation of Volucella bombylans, and Meredon equestris, but I kept on coming back to Arctophila, my original thought however eventually I settled on the bulb fly, dependent as it may be on the many daffodils I have planted over the years. If anyone feels differently, I would be delighted to hear from you.

Narcissus bulb fly Meredon equestris m

soldier-fly Odontomyia ornata m

longhorn beetle Stictoleptura scutellata

My final picture is of a hoverfly in flight, something I can never resist.

hoverfly Syritta pipiens f

May 5th 2020. As were getting up, a Roebuck appeared above us on the hill, standing there like a statue for somewhile before wandering off into the orchard above. It was particularly interesting to see the changes to the colour of his coat. The white patch on the rump is vanishing and he is starting to look quite red-tinted - the  summer coat. The camouflage is still extremely effective.

Roebuck Capreolus capreolus

May 2nd 2020. The daiily saunter only yielded one photograph of a hoverfly, common at this time of year, though a few others were present.

 hoverfly Epistrophe eligans f

The drilled logs gave one surprise, a golden male Osmia leaiana searching a few holes for females to emerge. Note the diagnostic green eyes. Why surprise? This species is usually a later one, with masses of Osmia bicornis appearing well beforehand.

mason bee Osmia leaiana m

The whole mass of the flats, drilled logs and bamboos, has all but died this year. Virtually the only creatures moving are litlle black Crossocerus digger wasps. Other friends have reported really busy bee-activity, from not that far away. Maybe it is time that I unpacked them all, re-arranged their positioning in relation to the light, threw away the oldest and most rotten? I think it is a question of waiting and seeing for the time being.

digger wasp Crossocerus megacephalus f

digger wasp Crossocerus megacephalus f, sometimes

you find somebody already in posession (woodlouse)

Recently, I have added a number more bundles of bamboos and did see one being visited by a bee briefly. It is not as if the the weather has been a problem, Around midday, for most days the flats are bathed in sunshine and are good and hot. There have been some really chilly winds in combination with this, but not every fine day.



Visitors Counter

337854