September 2017 - autumn, from the Somerset Levels

September 27th 2017. The section on photography has been brought up to date, with many parts completely re-written to reflect changes in my equipment and practices. Please click on Wildlife photography for further information.

September 23rd 2017. I was called into the kitchen by Romey this afternoon. A male Sparrowhawk was splashing away in the pond, having a wonderful clean lasting many minutes. This could explain why our Collared doves have suffered in recent days, usually being attacked round the neck, one killed and another looking very uncomfortable, though I still suspect local farm cats who tend to lurk round the feeding station.

Sparrowhawk, Accipiter nisus m

Collared dove Streptopelia decaocto

September 16th 2017. This morning I decided to have a look at The Hawk & Owl Trust's reserve, Shapwick Moor. It consists of 138 acres of flat moorland grass further south than the main Avalon marshes; one part had just been cut and baled that day. There is a fine gravel car-park and a long drove runs westward alongside the reserve and it was this that I followed. There are two hides on the reserve, looking out on open grassland farmed for hay. The weather was not promising for insect life but it turned out more productive than could be expected, the worst problem being a gusty wind. There were two species of bee on the various umbels, one of which I had never seen before. Andrena trimmerana is striking in appearance, with distinctive coloured tergite edges and some banding. It seems we are within its area of activity, but it is far from common locally.

mining bee Andrena trimmerana f

mining bee Andrena trimmerana f

The Lasioglossum below is generally more frequently seen at this time of year.It is always good to see Lasioglossum numbers appearing and increasing during late summer and early autumn. They are incredibly active, as if they are trying to make up for lost time.

mining bee Lasioglossum zonulum f

Perhaps the most noticeable insect was the orange and black Turnip sawfly, present on almost every umbel. I have been surprised at how none of the larger common sawflies, such as Tenthredo spp., have been seen this early autumn and late summer. Normally they are everywhere.

sawfly Athalia rosae

There were numbers of the smaller, slender hoverflies on some of the flowers, a couple of which are illustrated below. Various very small ichneumons were nervously exploring umbels, presumably searching for tiny caterpillars beneath the flower heads, but identification is unlikely. My end conclusion is that this is an interesting site well worth more visits - perhaps one for the group next year.

hoverfly Platycheirus scutatus m

mining bee Melanostoma scalare m

September 15th 2017. Very little is going on at the logs; at least, nothing was flying during the period I sat watching the logs. except a fine ichneumon exploring the holes. During the time it was there it did not seem to find anything for which it was worth baring the ovipositor. This particular female seemed smaller than usual - poor nutrition when in the larval stage?

ichneumon Perithous scurra f

ichneumon Perithous scurra f

September 13th 2017. John and I met up at the car-park by the YHA hostel on Ivythorne Hill, above Street. Our aim was to walk along the edge from there to Marshall's Elm at the crossroads. This was the final summer meeting of the invertebrate group, but many were unable to attend. Driving over, it was a rather dank, damp morning but as we arrived the sun started to appear. This reasonably fine weather persisted until the moment we sat down in the car for lunch, then cleared again as we started our quest afterwards. The area turned out to be good for insects, though we did not see the Great green bush-cricket Tettigonia viridissima we had been hoping to find. However, there were Dark bush-crickets Pholidoptera griseoaptera, as well as Meadow grasshoppers Chorthippus parallelus.

Dark bush-cricket Pholidoptera griseoaptera m

As in the previous week, the tiny Lasioglossum mining bees were everywhere, so much time was devoted  to identifying them later that evening. It was good to find L. albipes and L. calceatum males to make comparisons. From the front, the head  shapes  differ, while the tomentose markings on the gaster are more obvious on L. albipes. Fortunately, L. pauxillum is the only male Lasioglossum found in our part of Britain with predominently yellow legs. These stand out so obviously in the field. A few years ago this bee was quite rare, but has steadily increased its range since - a pleasant change.

mining bee Lasioglossum albipes m

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum m

mining bee Lasioglossum pauxillum m

Hoverflies were busy on flowering plants. particularly the very small and slender Platycheirus and Melanostoma, missing for much of the summer months.

hoverfly Helophilus pendulus 

hoverfly Cheilosia pagana

hoverfly Melanostoma mellinum m

hoverfly Melanostoma scalare f

It was good to see numbers of bumblebees, nearly all Bombus pascuorum, though there were one or two B.terrestris visiting the surprising number of flowers to be seen. On recent walks, flowers have been noticeable for their absence. The only variations being a very few umbels and numbers of Hedge bindweed Calystegia sepium - each with its specialist hoverfly, the ever-present Rhingia campestris.

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum m

ichneumon, unknown spp.

At the end of our walk, as we were about to turn round and go back to the car, we had a quite extraordinary experience, unlikely to be repeated again. A Hobby Falco subbuteo shot across our front, only a few yards away, tore round low-down, clearly searching for and catching darters and damselflies. Every so often it perched quite low down on a tree close to us, paying us little attention. I did manage a couple of pictures but a 150mm lens does not do it justice, so have put in a picture taken a few year ago. At times this elegant bird came within less than six feet and we could see the detail of the black moustache and barrings quite clearly. What struck us was the sheer energy involved in twisting and turning though, unlike other birds of prey, the tortured feathers of the long, narrow wings uttered no obvious sounds. We watched it move from tree to tree, hunting so close to our heads, before giving in finally as the rain started in earnest. What an amazing experience!

Hobby Falco subbuteo

It is good to finish this entry with a flourish of butterfly tapestries found in the same area, on brambles in the hedgerow. The Commas were particularly bright and fresh while the underneath of the Red admiral is amazing.

Comma Polygonia c-album

Red admiral Vanessa atalanta

September 4th 2017. 'Somerset Invertebrates' met at Thurlbear Woods near West Hatch this morning, quickly moving next door to the wonderful Thurlbear Quarrylands site. John, Chris and I were met later by Nigel after a dentist's appointment. As we arrived, the weather cheered up as predicted and the rest of the day was largely bright, humid and warm - pretty ideal for insects and similar to the previous week's conditions. We had a splendid time with plenty to see, the photographers among us clicking away. Hoverflies were plentiful, which is fine change from other times of the year.

hoverfly Sphaerophoria spp. f

hoverfly Cheilosia spp. m

 hoverfly Baccha elongata f, what a strange-looking creature?

 hoverfly Ferdiandia cuprea f

hoverfly Rhingia rostrata f

hoverfly Syritta pipiens

hoverfly Melanostoma scalare m

It is always fascinating to watch the courtship antics of Eristalis nemorum. You can be pretty certain it is this particular hoverfly that behaves in this way. The other Eristalis species must behave similarly but whenever I have seen this behaviour it has always turned out to be this species. Sometimes four or five males stacked up above the female, like planes waiting to land at an airport.

hoverfly Eristalis nemorum m

hoverfly Eristalis nemorum

It was good to see the numbers of solitary bees on the flowers; the little thread-like Lasioglossum appearing in large numbers at last. Most particularly, I enjoy coming across the bronze and green metallic species, so unexpected on such tiny creatures. In the evening, looking through my pictures, using Steven Falk and Richard Lewingtons' wonderful newly-published book on 'The Bees of Great Britain and Ireland', I realised there are various obvious features which enable you to identify some of these insects more readily. Dodging back and forth between the computer, on-line pictures and books is not the most restful activity. Once the list has been reduced by removing bees not found in this area, extreme rarities or those not found on local soils, it comes down to a reasonable number - 41 species. Among these are some obvious factors, such as all yellow legs, metallic  skin, presence or lack of bands on the abdomen. From this, I constructed a table which allows the user to narrow the field down immediately from purely visual points  - a real help. 

 mining bee Lasioglossum morio f

 mining bee Lasioglossum morio f

mining bee Lasioglossum leucopus m

 mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum m

 mining bee Lasioglossum xanthopus m

mining bee Lasioglossum fulvicorne m

 mining bee Lasioglossum zonulum m

As usual at this time of year, there were numbers of ichneumons searching flowers, and umbels in particular. You can't miss them, they are so full of nervous energy, antennae probing continuously. I just wish I knew more about the species, but that is not the real point with these insects, they are so interesting visually, in behaviour and in their colouring. We had a marvellous time watching one such unknown sitting on a flower-head of Ploughman's spikenard Inula conyzae, drilling into the mass for ages, withdrawing the ovipositor and re-starting a millimetre or so to one side. The ovipositor sheaths are drawn away to one side, then the slender ovipositor which they protect works its way in, always dead straight. Such an amazing feat.

ichneumon Amblyteles armatorius

ichneumon Apechthis compunctor f

ichneumon spp. f

We had another excitement when someone spotted a Brown hairstreak butterfly fluttering along in front of us, just below eye-level. It looked fresh and colourful, presumable just emerged. They spend much of their adult life in the tree-tops, only coming down to lay their eggs, so we were lucky to come across it.

Brown hairstreak Thecla betulae

September 2nd 2017. I took Martin, an artist friend of mine, to Westhay Moor NNR this morning. The weather was superb, virtually without wind, and a cloudless sky, showing the waters, reeds and landscape to perfection. The first stop was at the rebuilt tower hide down London drove. The sketchpad came out almost immdiately and Martin was a figure of concentration, perfectly happy. The final stop was at the Lake hide, further back towards the car. Again, it looked at its best and Martin used an I-pad to produce superb panoramic shots of the whole sweep in front of the hide. Then, all at once, 'what's that standing on a stump over there?' Opposite us, though some way off, was a Bittern, standing just like the illustrations in text books, bolt upright - unmoving. We had good views for a minute or so before it turned and moved back into the reeds behind. Marvellous!

Bittern Botaurus stellaris

Bittern Botaurus stellaris

Bittern Botaurus stellaris

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