Summer 2016

August 30th 2016. Numbers of insects have increased dramatically in the last few days, as noticed on daily walks with Maddie. The weather is really warm, 25º with extreme humidity out on the moors, which must suit insects perfectly. We took ourselves off to Catcott Heath, close-to Catcott Fen, but outside that reserve's boundary. Where we park the car, there are great banks of Comfrey Symphytum officinale and Great willowherb Epilobium hirsutum struggling with its final efforts at flowering, plus a few remaining umbels still present. There were a great many bumblebees, particularly on the Comfrey, a statement I could not have made a week or so ago  - or previously. Bombus pascuorum males are often found at this time of year. They are extremely variable in colouring, some brilliant chestnut, with coloured tails, others pale buff. If there are black hairs among the buff, then it is this species. My next picture shows a male B. muscorum, much less usual (B. pascuorum is probably the most numerous bumblebee species in the south), very much a species associated with the type of wetlands found locally. Although described as a rarity, B. muscorum is found here regularly, indeed I have even had them visit my garden, even so it is good to think of the species still present where it has always been. Other species described as abundant everywhere a hundred years ago, Bombus sylvarum for instance, are now extreme rarities.

Bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum m                   © robin williams

Bumblebee, Bombus muscorum m                    © robin williams

Hoverflies remain few in number however it was good to spot a good few Eristalis intricarius. These are variably-coloured bumblebee mimics found in small numbers on wetlands in particular. The bicoloured legs seperated thsi from similar species.

Hoverfly, Eristalis intricarius f                           © robin williams

August 29th 2016. Although the number of insects on the logs is small, it is always worth sitting in front when the sun shines and the logs heat up - not too hot, or they remain absent, but a pleasant sunny day. At midday, movement began to appear and I photographed the insects shown below.

Digger wasp, Ectemnius lapidarius f                  © robin williams

Digger wasp, Pemphredon lugubris f                 © robin williams

Ichneumons have not been seen very often this summer. Several species visit the logs normally but so far only Perithous scurra has been seen, always females and singly. This small insect, around 6mm, hovers over the nest holes of Pemphredon lugubris in particular and lays its eggs in the nest cells, hence its long ovipositor. 

Ichneumon, Perithous scurra f                           © robin williams

August 21st 2016. Another windy walk down on Catcott Heath made for difficult photograpy but, in fact, turned out better than expected. The day was warm and muggy, which appeared to suit a number of insects on the few remaining flowers. Bumblebees, in particular, were much more obvious, especially on Purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, and the great banks of Comfrey, Symphytum officianale, that lined the first part of the drove. Because of the wind, not a very high percent of the pictures were usable but the were some interesting insects outside the common bumblebee species, as well as the usual empidid flies which do appear to have had a good year during 2016.

Empid fly, Empis stercoria                                  © robin williams

Bombus ruderarius has become a very unusual bumblebee over a number of years, though it was never abundant in my memory. The long face and coloured tail confirm this identification, a complet shock as I had not thought I was photographing this species.

Bumblebee, Bombus ruderarius                         © robin williams

Even more of a shock arose when I looked at the next picture. Bombus sylvarum has long been a countrywide rarity but, for a few years, it became commonplace here on the Somerset Levels, then gradually reduced to a few individuals. It needs a large area of flowering plants, available throughout the season. The Brue valley fitted these requirements perfectly and searches at the time revealed a flourishing population, enough to attract visiting experts to take an interest. Last year and the previous year, a few individuals were repoted from the Ilchester area but I have not heard of any elsewhere. Yet here is this iinsect quitetly getting on with its life on the rather garish flowers of a Great willowherb plant, Epilobium hirsutum. Are the ups and downs of the population a natural cycle, or arising from some other reason? Because little seems to have happened to our moors to suggest major changes, other than weather - and that is far from a constant pattern. It may be jst an individual, but worth keeping an eye out from now on over the seasons. I have long thought that we read far too much into too short a period. Populations of most species of animals have natural cycles caused by factors such as parasites - huge numbers appearing one year and then diminishing over a long period as the disease or parasite takes effect. Eventually, with less hosts, the killers reduce in numbers once more, and so on.

Bumblebee, Bombus sylvarum                           © robin williams

Finally, a larger Tenthredo sawfly put in an appearance. The surprise was that there was only one. This month is the time when, usually, many of these handsome insects are found, of several common species. Others have been spotted, but of only two species and in penny numbers. These particular ones look like wasps at firrst glance, even after further examination. The difference is that sawflies do not have a 'wasp' waist, not always obvious among the foliage.

Sawfy, Tenthredo arcuata f                                  © robin williams

Earlier, over breakfast, we were watching young tits really having a go at the feeders. They were fully grown, often larger than their more colourful parents, but still in the slightly untidy stage. A solitary Collered dove spent its time resting on the edge of the water bowl, seemingly watching the others, perhaps having had its fill earlier. The doves and pigeons do not fly up to the feeders, but feast on the seeds dropped on the ground by the smaller birds.

young Great tit, Parus major                              © robin williams

Collared dove, Streptopelia decaocto                  © robin williams

August 18th 2016. Nigel and I had been invited by Donald Rice, the owner of Barford Park, to visit the gardens and surrounds to see what invertebrate life we might find and identify. The fifteenth century house, built from brick and the local pinkish stone, is striking, set in a large park which the public are able to drive through on a tarmac road. The weather forecast, although not perfect, was sufficiently good to enable us to visit this morning. After a series of delays, we reached Barford at lunchtime and went straight down to the water gardens for a walk round. This is a really old-established area with water running through huge old trees, hundreds of years old. Oak, beech and others shutting out much light but sufficient to allow informal plantings of candelabra primulas and many other plants. The stream winds through this, widening into small pools then back and on to the next. Although the weather was overcast, it was very warm and humid, well-suited to this type of planting and, in theory, to thriving insect life. This proved far from the truth. There were almost no insects to be seen at this point, with the exception of water bugs. I have never seen a Water-cricket before, so it was fascinating to find them skating across the water and margins of the many shallow pools. Nigel spotted one or two sitting on or around some debris that looked darker than the others, almost black. Were these a different species? They turned out to be larvae, but as large as the adults. The latter looked anonymous in the water but turned out really colourful when the images were blown up on the computer.

 

Water-cricket, Velia caprai larva                        © robin williams

Water-cricket, Velia caprai larva                        © robin williams

We were surprised to find next to no hoverflies, but it was dull under the canopy of the trees. A previous visit earlier in the year had shown many bumblebees and hoverflies. However, There were a number of specimens of one specialist woodland species, Xylota segnis. At first glance this appears a black and white insect, but closer inspection reveals more variation. The folded, slightly dusky wings cover up a colourful yellow and black abdomen.

Hoverfly, Xylota segnis m                                   © robin williams

A very few other flies, suited to this wet, muddy, steamy habitatat turned up after a deal of searching. Flies are not my most understood or studied creatures. After a number of pictures were sent to a friend, with tentative identifications, the answers came back - completely different. This one I believed I was able to identify, but it too was incorrect. So, I am now totally convinced that flies other than hovers, soldiers, and horse-flies, are not my field and will seek help. Previously, I have tried to identify as well as photograph, but now realise that the most important aspect of my enjoyment is to catch the moment, then get as close to identifying the insect as possible, without catching and killing it. The beauty, strangeness, sense of life and movement, intricacy of its structure, are more important than naming it down to species. While many will continue to be identified, in those groups where I know the answers, or can find them out; taking the picture and making the best of it is the reason for going out into the field. Incidentally, no longer do I send in records to national and other societies, after many years of doing so; I just want to enjoy being outside with the camera.

I continue to try to improve the quality of the images on the site, but there remains a gap between the original quality and the final portrayal on the website. Where the original RAW/tiff shows extraordinary detail, I continue to be disappointed in the way the final jpeg web-image appears. Modern digital images are astonishing, and continue to improve further. But, there is no doubt that producing this on the web requires different processing to pictures that are printed - higher contrast, more sharpening etc - but much further experimentation is needed to narrow the gap between the original and the final result on the web.

Opomyzid fly, Opomyza germinationis             © robin williams

These other pictures were examined by an expert friend, but the photographs are not definite enough for the degree of detail needed for naming to species. I have shown them because the pictures appeal, rather than supplying definite identifications. Some flies are ovious in shape and size, like bluebottles or greenbottles, but these others appeal by their 'different' shapes and colouring.

Sciomyzid fly, Cluisoides spp.                             © robin williams

Muscid fly, Helina spp.,                                       © robin williams

Muscid fly, Helina or Phaonia spp.                    © robin williams

After exploring this area, we walked up to the large walled garden with its superb formal beds edging lawns. What a change from the closed-in water gardens, the sun shone, with shade being provided only by he various plants within the beds. These plants provided a great deal of pollen and nectar for a much more numerous insect population as was shown by numbers visiting them. Although there were hoverflies, these were few in species and total, as has been found generally this year. Eristalis arbustorum, one of the brighter hoverflies, was among the most noticeable. It was good to have a chance to photograph a hoverfly in flight at last.

Hoverfly, Eristalis arbustorum f                           © robin williams

Bumblebees were present in numbers, workers, males and even some obvious queens. Their colours looked marvellous against the many superb and brilliant flowers on which they were feeding. I thought we would come across a number of different species, but most of the true bumblebees turned out to be Bombus terrestis, though there were also one of two B. pascuorum, spotted but not photographed. The garden designer has done a wonderful job in maintaining a full display at this difficult time of year, but equally good in providing nectar and pollen from those same plants. Some of the bumblebees seemed intoxicated with the abundance. Dahlias were especially popular, as were huge garden thistles, white Buddleia and Hibiscus bushes. A surprising moment came by the Buddleia, where a number of huge B. terrestris queens were making the most of the largesse. Presumably, these ladies were preparing to search for underground shelters in which to overwinter?

Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris m                       © robin williams

Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris q                        © robin williams

A number of unusual-looking bumblebees proved puzzling to identify before the thought of cuckoo bumblebees came to mind. For a start, they were very hairy, without much sign of the normal underlying view of crescents of skin showing through the hair. Then, the hairs on their hind legs made them look like females, but the 13 segments of their antennae  proved they were indeed males. Finally, the very pale band on the abdomen is not at all typical - then what is with any bumblebee? The one lesson from studying bumblebees is that nearly all visible characters are variable, from number of bands to colour or lack of it. The faint touches of yellow at the junction between the pale abdominal band and the black gave a final clue - Bombus bohemicus - one of the less usual cuckoo bumblebees, but one I have seen at Barford previously.

Cuckoo bumblebee, Bombus bohemicus m      © robin williams

Cuckoo bumblebee, Bombus bohemicus m       © robin williams

As usual, the gardens looked marvellous, the sun had come out, but perhaps it was because we were between seasons that the variety of species was disappointing. But, as usual, we greatly enjoyed ourselves and were grateful to be able to look round such splendid surrounds, tended by people with a real interest in preserving wild nature.

August 18th 2016. A rather hurried walk across Tealham Moor brought almost no insects in spite of bright, warm sunshine, though with a strong wind. But the final burst of flowers was in full swing, giving a brilliant background to the rhynes. Worth a picture, I feel.

Summer flowers, Tealham Moor                        © robin williams

August 15th 2016. The fox (is it the same as on earlier visits, though looking tidier?) is coming into the garden fairly regularly, just at that stage of the evening when it is agreat deal darker than you think. It is difficult to believe, but the following pictures were taken at the maximum ISO of 3,200, wide open at f5.6 and 1/25th of a second, on a 300mm lens on an old Nikon D300 camera. I was leaning on the kitchen work surface, bracing my elbows as a support. No extra sharpening was given in RAW, as this brought up more grain. What a tribute to modern technology!

 

Red fox, Vulpes vulpes                                          © robin williams

Red fox, Vulpes vulpes                                          © robin williams

Always it is a fleeting visit, the fox trotting over through the hedge next door and across the other side. But tonight, there was a delay. The fox stopped, hunkered down and started vomiting. This took around a dozen upheavels, though nothing obvious appeared on the grass before it. Then, it got up and looked perfectly alright, before trotting on its way.

 

Red fox, Vulpes vulpes                                         © robin williams

August 14th 2016. Another session of log-watching outside the study produced a couple of species and whiled away an hour most enjoyably.

Digger wasp, Crossocerus annulipes f                © robin williams

For much of the time, you see little tiny black insects, as above, but the flash of colour when black and yellow Ectemnius wasps appear makes it look as if the sun has come out. The brilliant yellow really catches the eye.

Digger wasp, Ectemnius continuus f                  © robin williams

A fox again visited us at the cusp between dark and light - 'dimpsy-dark' in Somerset. This time the camera responded magnificently.

Red fox, Vulpes vulpes                                          © robin williams

August 13th 2016. This morning, I sat down in front of the logs and had a most interesting and unexpected session. There were not all that number of insects, but a surprising variety of species within that. The first, was one I have not seen for a year or so, Mimumesa dahlbomi, one of the dark digger wasps, but with a distinctive long, narrow first abdominal segment (the apparent joint between abdomen and thorax). One of the pictures was taken when it was struggling in a spider's web, from which it escaped almost immediately, showed this segment quite clearly.

Digger wasp, Mimumesa dahlbomi f                  © robin williams

Digger wasp, Mimumesa dahlbomi f                 © robin williams

Crossocerus annulipes, the digger wasp with large head and pale-marked leg joints, was busy round some of the smaller holes, though I did not see any prey being brought in. It is good to be able to recognise one of these dark, anonymous wasps with some certainty in the field, or at least by its photograph.

Digger wasp, Crossocerus annulipes f               © robin williams

Ectemnius continuus, one of the commoner black and yellow digger wasps, was active at one particular hole, coming in and out at regular intervals. It took me some time to twig that it was bringing in a fly on each visit. The photograph shows how it is slung beneath the wasp, well-hidden. Examining it closely, you realise that what looks like a wing is in fact an entrely separate wing, that of the fly.


Digger wasp, Ectemnius continuus f+prey       © robin williams

Later, I wandered up to the edge of the pond where we had planted two enormous Heart-leaf oxeye plants, Telekia speciosa, which now shoot to around five or six feet around this time every year. The flowers are intensely attractive to leafcutter bees, though bumblebees and hoverflies also enjoy the flowers. I was pleased to find Megachile versicolor collecting pollen, even though we have seen few in the logs this year. They must have nests in other locations in the garden, though these are the only flowers on which I have seen them collecting.


Leafcutter bee, Megachile versicolor f               © robin williams

It was surprising to find Megachile centuncularis also present, in larger numbers than the other. During many years, this has been the commonest leafcutter, yet apparently it has been absent over the past couple of years, both of which have shown a drop in general numbers of all insects.

Leafcutter bee, Megachile centuncularis f         © robin williams

The Hibiscus bush was flowering right next to the yellow Doronicum, but there were no leafcutters on these lovely flowers. However bumblebees were attracted to them, in spite of difficult access to the flowers. The picture shows a bumblebee errupting from its intricacies, already partly in flight.

Bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum                        © robin williams

August 5th 2016. Maddie and I have modified our walk at Catcott recently. Instead of going south along Catcott Fen, we have driven on to Catcott Heath, outside the reserve, in effect approaching the same area but from the south. So  far, we have come across no-one other than a tractor driver, and Maddie revels in the smells along the edges of the drove. As it is open country with few trees, the wind has been whistling across, making photography difficult. Nevertheless, I was able to take a few pictures of a surprising insect. Surprising, because I never seen one of these sawflies on anything but its named plant, Scrophularia, Common figwort.It stands out from other Tenthredo by way of its colourful legs and is a handsome creature, not common round here.

Sawfly, Tenthredo scrophulariae                        © robin williams

Sawfly, Tenthredo scrophulariae                        © robin williams

August 8th 2016. More activity in the garden photographed, in spite of rather strange lighting at the end of the day. The Green woodpeckers were back again. Clearly, feeding has been going well, the youngster is larger than the adult but still begging and getting fed, in spite of large quantities of ants all round them. It is notable that the male is doing the feeding in this particular instance.

Green woodpecker, Picus viridis m                    © robin williams

Green woodpecker, Picus viridis m & juvenile © robin williams

Green woodpecker, Picus viridis m & juvenile © robin williams

A few minutes later, a juvenile Great-spotted turned up on the nuts, so we are confidant the woodpeckers have had a good breeing season somewhere in the garden, or nearby.


Gt-spotted woodpecker, Dendrocopus major juv.© robin williams

August 4th 2016. Somerset & West Country invertebrates met at Millfield's Worley Hill private reserve, ST49 31 on the Poldens, on what turned out to be a largely sunny, warm morning, though it clouded over and eventually rained by mid-afternoon. We had a really good day and saw a great many species, some of particular interest. Six of us turned up in spite of some crises preventing others coming. We were met by Shane, the Millfield manager, while Toddy, John, Robert, Martin and I made up the rest. The reserve starts in the car-parking space, with the tall trees on one side, as usual, thrumming with dragonflies, darters and Migrant hawkers - the first of the season. A track leads up though the reserve where a great deal of work has gone on over the years, opening out the area, removing conifers and planting broad-leaved trees. From there, though a gate, the woodland retreats leaving steep slopes of the peculiar, eroded style found here on the Poldens, looking like bare sandstone banded with grass. This whole site has huge potential, but the crumbling nature of the erosion must spoil numbers of potential nest holes.

The first of the unusual species, was a White-letter hairstreak butterfly, which we were fortunate to see away from its usual treetop territory. I had never seen one of these small butterflies before. It is always exciting to come across something you had never seen, but had heard about.

White-letter hairstreak, Strymonidia w-album © robin williams

Hoverflies were not particulary abundant, but a fine Volucella inflata is not seen too frequently and well worth noting.

Hoverfly, Volucella inflata m                               © robin williams

Small grasshoppers were stirring in the grass and on the open patches, including Field and Mottled. It is good to see them but to some extent sad, as they arrive at the end of summer. We walked up the path into this delightful reserve, so well worked-upon and looked after over the years. In many ways this proved to be the most productive of all. Clumps of Marjoram, Origanum vulgare, turned out to hold more insects than during much of the rest of the year, bursting with activity, starting with our hairstreak. Of the various hoverflies, Syritta pipiens was much the most numerous, many of them much smaller than normally - underfed when a larva?

Hoverfly, Syritta pipiens                                      © robin williams

A particularly fine specimen of Eristalis arbustorum took my eye but other than a few more Eristalis there were comparatively few hoverflies, certainly not what we would have expected at this time of year and location.

Hoverfly, Eristalis arbustorum f                         © robin williams

Bumblebees were a pleasant surprise however, many being spotted, especially on the Marjoram. I identified many Bombus jonellus, one or two B. lucorum, B. terrestris, B. pascuorum, B. lapidarius, together with a number of the cuckoo bumblebee, B. sylvestris.

Bumblebee, Bombus jonellus                              © robin williams

Bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum m                    © robin williams

Bumblebee, Bombus lapidarius m                      © robin williams

Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris m                        © robin williams

Bumblebee, Bombus lucorum m                        © robin williams

Cuckoo bumblebee, Bombus sylvestris             © robin williams

Cuckoo bumblebee, Bombus sylvestris             © robin williams

Solitary bees were notable for their absence, though there were many apparent nest-holes on the paths and banks. One visible species was the little cuckoo bee, Sphecodes monilicornis, looking like a wasp, but hairier, with straight, less mobile antennae.

Cuckoo bee, Sphecodes monilicornis                 © robin williams

A series of quick movements on the sparse vegetation on the bank revealed one of a small number of spider-hunter wasps, Pompilus cinereus. With this, the antennae never stopped moving, testing, probing, as restless as the whole insect.

Spider-hunter wasp, Pompilus cinereus             © robin williams

On a nearby umbels I came across a sawfly, virtually asleep on top, though they are never very active. Tenthredo arcuata is a species often seen at this time of year.


Sawfly, Tenthredo arcuata                                  © robin williams

On the same banking, small black and red rove beetles, Staphylinidae, were busy in many spots, restless and feeding hemselves in and out of the cracks and lomps of earth and soft stone.

Rove-beetle, Paederus spp.                                  © robin williams

Grasshoppers have always held a particular interest at this reserve, with the right habitats for a wide number of species but it seemed we were a little early for some. Once again rather small, adult Field and Mottled grasshoppers were the most visible.

Field grasshopper, Chorthippus brunneus        © robin williams

Mottled grasshopper, Myrmeleotettix maculatus © robin williams

In the middle of all this, someone spotted a tiny, colourful micro-mothe sheltering on a leaf. This turned out to be a quite numerous species, Pyrausta aurata; very pretty seen in close-up detail.

Micro-moth, Pyrausta aurata                             © robin williams

Other lepidoptera included Common blue, Polyommatus icarus, Meadow brown, Maniola jurtina and Green-veined white, Artogeia napi. Finally, rain stopped play. At first I hoped it was temporary, as I was sitting comfortably in front of some wasp or bee holes waiting for the insects to appear, but soon it was obvious our visit was at an end, after a most productive and enjoyable day. Thanks for the presence and help of Shane.

August 3rd 2016. My first glance at the logs outside the study showed no movement at all, not even a fly to be seen. It was warm and comfortable and I found myself half-dozing in the sunshine, thinking about the year and how few insects were visiting the logs. At last there was a glimpse of movement, a black and yellow wasp. For a short while the digger wasp busied itself exploring some nest holes really thoroughly, before vanishing into one leaving no further signs of its existence. During the next half hour no further insects appeared, as has become the norm this year. Ectemnius are common species, several of which are found on the logs during a normal summer (whatever that means nowadays!) they are colourful, very active and well worth watching.

Digger wasp, Ectemnius cavifrons f                   © robin williams

July 31st 2016. This proved to be a really busy day both in the garden and at the flats. Indeed the latter is the reason for the long delay in inserting this day into the diary. Determination of photographs taken at the flats is a lengthy and difficult process which has to be fitted in around other jobs in garden and house. Outside, particular interest was provided by two lots of young woodpeckers. The young Green would not let its parent alone, constantly pushing at her and coming up to her. I did spot the parent handing something over in her bill but most of the time she just ignored the youngster. Part of the weaning process no doubt.

Green woodpecker, Picus viridis & juv.             © robin williams

Not long after that, a juvenile Great-spotted woodpecker appeared on the Quince tree, Cydonia oblonga, by the feeders and spent some while exploring the bark before, eventually, settling on the fat-ball container for a really good feed. We are so lucky to have both these species breeding in or near the garden.

 Great-spotted woodpecker, Dendrocopos major © robin williams

Great-spotted woodpecker, Dendrocopos major © robin williams

July 29th 2016. This afternoon's walk took us to the bottom of Jack's Drove and round the track along Tadham Moor. As has been typical recently, the wind was gusting strongly, but there were various insects clinging onto the more sheltered leaves and umbels. A few pictures were managed. The first was of a larger hoverfly, looking out of place in this location. Usually we find this species edging woodland, active and colourful when the wings are lifted. The thickened back leg is characteristic.

Hoverfly, Xylota segnis m                                    © robin williams

A couple of brilliantly-coloured butterflies were found in sheltered but well-lit positions. This group is well-covered by so many others, I tend to leave them alone, but the brilliance of these two could not be ignored. The Peacock is on Lesser burdock, Arctium minus, a plant which does not look much when in flower, but is extremely attractive to a variety of insects, including bumblebees. Later, it's burrs become the bane of dog-owners.

Peacock, Inachis io                                                © robin williams

Red admiral, Vanessa atalanta                            © robin williams

Finally, I could not believe what I saw when I opened up the pictures on the computer; I had a photograph of Bombus muscorum in flight. This is a rare insect by any standard, but flight also! Although, it was not completely out of court for this species had been found in that particular locality over several years. It's just that no bumblebees have been seen there for several weeks; then this species is spotted. There is no doubt that, over the years, a number of nests occurred close to the corner, a source of particular interest once discovered. This particular specimen is old and faded, younger ones are brilliantly colourful.

Bumblebee, Bombus muscorum w                     © robin williams

July 27th 2016. A couple of days ago, I watched a leafcutter bee bringing in pollen for her nest. Today the process seems to have gone into reverse. The same nest hole was the focus of another, or perhaps the same Megachile versicolor female bringing in material for construction, fragments of leaf. She flew in with the leaf firmly grasped under her body, wrestled it into place, dropped any pollen and emerged looking quite different - empty. The process of nest-building is rapid. Every minute or so she would arrive, disappear inside and quickly emerge once more - like a job on a factory conveyor belt. The only hold-up occurs when a leaf jams in the entrance and has to be wrestled into place. So far, this is only our second location for a leafcutter nest this year; the other is already finished and the entrance sealed with a bright green leaf.

Leafcutter bee, Megachile versicolor f                © robin williams

Leafcutter bee, Megachile versicolor f                   © robin williams

Leafcutter bee, Megachile versicolor f                   © robin williams

Leafcutter bee, Megachile versicolor f               © robin williams

July 26th 2016. Recently, we hung a small solar-powered LED sensor light on the wall above the kitchen window. Nothing happened until tonight, when it flicked on and revealed a well-grown Badger, Meles meles, snuffling around seeds fallen from the bird-feeders. It did not appear worried by the light, as we found last summer using a torch, but then caught sight of one of us moving inside and trotted off quietly. It is good to know the system works. No picture unfortunately, but hopefully another time.

July 25th 2016. I have been concerned about the general lack of activity at the nesting logs and bamboos; some days nothing is to be seen. This morng, I decided to spend some time in the warm sunshine watching the 'flats'. Activity was very sparse throughout, but I did manage to spot and five interesting species, together with at least one other unidentified little black digger wasp. My eye was caught at first by the bright yellow and black markings of Ectemnius continuus, one of my favourite digger wasps. This individual spent a great deal of time exploring the holes, vanishing inside and finally emerging to watch the world from the entrance before fling off.

Digger wasp, Ectemnius continuus f                  © robin williams

Digger wasp, Ectemnius continuus f                  © robin williams

Digger wasp, Ectemnius continuus f                  © robin williams

Taking off is a rapid process, without hesitation, straight off and away. In this picture, the wings look small for such an apparently bulky body, but this may be the angle. The distinctive broken pattern of the yellow on the abdomen shows well.

Digger wasp, Ectemnius continuus f                  © robin williams

It is surprising that this is the first female leafcutter bee to have been seen at the logs this year. She did not bring any leaf-circles with her, instead having a really full load on the pollen-brush beneath the abdomen, so stocking an already-constructed nest cell. In a normal year we might have seen four different species by now, but the several males have all been Megachile versicolor. The large yellow daisy on the side of the pond is bereft of leafcutters and hoverflies at the moment, in spite of being in full flower. Usually both are there in numbers.

Leafcutter bee, Megachile versicolor f               © robin williams

Leafcutter bee, Megachile versicolor f               © robin williams

A different-looking bee started to appear recently. This is the Hylaeus shown below. The males are small, insignificant-looking insects, mainly black, often missed, assuming them to be small digger wasps. The females do not have the extravagent white or yellow-white markings of the males which make them much more obvious. I must look more carefully for them among the other black hymenopterans.

Solitary bee, Hylaeus confusus f                         © robin williams

At first. I was puzzled by this small digger wasp. Tnen the diagnosis clicked, and it became obvious. This Crossocerus has an unusually large head in proportion to the rest of the body, while it has distinctive pale-ringed leg joints and a pale streak along the front of the fore-leg. It is always good to start getting the 'jizz' of an insect and realise that you know what it is, instinctively.

Digger wasp, Crossocerus annulipes                  © robin williams

The last picture is of one of the always-hoped-for jewel wasps. They appear and rush from hole to hole, with hardly a rest, searching for their prey deep down below. The antennae never stop probing and searching. Chrysis angustula is the smallest of the species that visit us, brilliantly-coloured, always active and moving on. The colours are so extravagant, I never quite believe that they belong to a living insect here in Britain. I must examine this species more carefully in future as another very similar has been separated out by the experts, just to confuse us.

Jewel wasp, Chrysis angustula                           © robin williams

July 22nd 2018. Another really hot day - 32º, or even more away from the moors. We decided on a short walk to spare the dog, who hates it when it is hot and airless, but is willing to put up with a saunter down the bottom of Jack's drove, provided we do not go too far. It ended up as a true saunter, which suited us both. for at last there were numbers of insects on the umbels, particularly Hogweed, Heraclium sphondylium, and Giant hogweed, Heraclium mantegazzianum. These two plants are vital to many species of insect at an otherwise poor time of year. The very first plant produced a creature I had not seen before, its black and orange-red colouring showing well against the near-white blooms. I was certain I had never seen one of these before, I would not have forgotten the brilliant contrasts and shapes. My picture is not the greatest, because of wind in the flower heads, but does show the chalcid's peculiarities, particularly the curiously-shaped back legs which must be designed to hold the female during mating. Why does she need such powerful sections with their brutal-looking teeth? It is always exciting to see a completely new, exotic being such as this, with the colouring adding to the attraction.

Chalcid, Brachymeria podagricus m                  © robin williams

At this time of year, ichneumons start to be found in some numbers on the Hogweed, their antennae stretched out ahead, either searching for females, or for caterpillars and other larvae in which to lay their eggs. Unfortunately, this is an extremely difficult group of insects to identify individual species. There seem to be many with orange-red and black abdomens, but few identified pictures. An extremely good source, though it takes a great deal of hard work to exploit is a Czechoslovakian one, www.biolib.cz, to which I was introduced recently. They appear to take a great deal of trouble to ensure that identification is confirmed before naming them, something that cannot be said about many pictures available on line. The only problem is the vast number of pictures to be examined, but that is because it is so comprehensive.

Ichneumon, Ichneumon cessator                       © robin williams

There are few solitary wasps to be found nowadays, compared with numbers a dozen years agao, but Ectemnius continuus seems to continue its hold on existence and may be found quite frequently at this time of year. It is readily recognised from the intrerrupted and irregularly-spaced nature of the yellow markings on the abdomen.

Digger wasp, Ectemnius continuus                     © robin williams

One group that seems to have suffered more than any in recent years is Coleoptera. In recent years, fewer and fewer sightings of beetles have occurered. They used to be numerous, found on umbels, crossing paths and among scrub and grasses. Now, a beetle is an unusual sight when out walking. However, I am glad to say that I have seen this species on a number of plants recently. Strangalia are spectacular beetles, large and strongly coloured. Usually the species found round on the moors is S. maculata but this year they are all S. quadrifasciatus - presumably feeding on the same plants as the other?

Longhorn beetle, Strangalia quadrifasciatus    © robin williams

Large dragonflies are far fewer in numbers than usual. It is difficult to comment on damselflies, as they may be difficult to spot, though sometimes found in swarms on wet edges. This year, few Large reds, Pyrrhosoma nymphula, have been seen, a common early species. Whereas the larger species have not appeared where they have been expected, at what should be the peak time of year for their appearance. Darters, shown below, appear in their greatest numbers in autumn, yet to come, but a few have appeared during this hot spell. Such delicate golden creatures on emergence, easily watched, as they tend to return to the same perch before launching off on their predatory flights. Male Southern hawkers are likely to be the most abundant, but Brown hawkers, Aeshna grandis, appear to becoming commoner each year, particularly patrolling the wider rhynes and ditches. Many years ago, they were extreme rarities in this area.

Common darter, Sympetrum striolatum m       © robin williams

Southern hawker, Aeshna cyanea m                  © robin williams

My final picture surprised me, not because it was there but because it has been absent for so long. Odontomyia ornata is a rare soldier-fly, yet often extremely common on Tealham and Tadham moors. For the many years we have lived here, it has always been present, varying in appearance with the light altering the apparent colour of its hairs. For me, it is a marker of high summer; may it continue to be so. I keep on hoping that this steady reduction in insect life is part of a long-term swing and that they will return in numbers one magical year, but fear that is a fantasy. Too much has changed.

Soldier-fly, Odontomyia ornata f                        © robin williams

July 20th 2016. Over 30º again. It seemed the right time to visit Ham Wall reserve in the late afternoon to find out what might be present. I walked out to the tower hide, set among the reeds in the middle of the reserve, but there was nothing to be seen apart from some ducks in the far distance, although a Cormorant did land, then literally steamed towards the safety of the reed beds, passing close-by.

Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo                       © robin williams

At the start of the walk-way to the hide, I sat in one of the original blinds and watched young Great-crested grebes diving, and even flying, closely watched by one of the parents - a fascinating scene, enjoyed by other visitors as well. These grebes are always colourful and interesting; when young, the stripes catch the eye, while the adult is always superb, whether in quieter winter plumage or the full splendour of courtship.

Great crested grebe, Podiceps cristatus juv.      © robin williams

At one point, one of the youngsters clearly believed it was missing something, or perhaps it needed some comfort. It tore across the water as hard asd it could, shouting, straight at its mother, only stopping when it was tucked into her flank, just like a child sometimes needs its mother's assurance and comfort.

Great crested grebe, Podiceps cristatus juv.      © robin williams

Someone remarked on seeing one of the young suddenly take off, pattering just above the surface. They did not look old enough to fly.

Great crested grebe, Podiceps cristatus juv.      © robin williams

Walking the path back to the car-park, it was surprising to see no insects at all on the banks of flowering brambles, Rubus spp. During the visit I did not see a single bumblebee, Bombus spp., and few large dragonflies, Anisoptera. What is happening? Each year it appears to get worse. I mentioned this to some RSPB people in the car-park. At first, told me they saw plenty of insects, but it turned out that most were Soldier beetles, Cantharidae, and damselflies, Zygoptera; little else. This they ascribed to the weather, but the phenomenon has been observed over a number of recent summers. It would be interesting to talk to one of their entomologists about observations on the subject.

July 18th 2016. At last. It is incredibly hot today, 30º and possibly warmer later. Summer may have arrived at last, even if briefly, as the forecast reads, but we must savour it as long as possible. I sat by the 'flats' for some while this morning, thinking that this would be ideal for the insects to appear after very sparse periods earlier, but in fact I only saw about five or so while out there. Is it too hot for them? One was a favourite, Coelioxys, a most distinctive cuckoo bee with, in the case of the female, an unmissable pointed abdomen.

Cuckoo bee, Coelioxys inermis f                            © robin williams

However, my morning was far from wasted. I saw an event I am unlikely to witness again, and obtained some clear pictures. A flurry of movement at the base of one ancient, hollow log caught my eye. The flowers growing round the base shook and pulsed momentarily, then a grey-brown shape, very small, carrying something pink over its shoulder, shot up a dark gulley and vanished into the interior. Soon it was back down again, apparently without the object. More rustling, quicksilver movements, and the process was repeated once again - and so on for a considerable number of times.

Pygmy shrew, Sorex minutus & baby                 © robin williams

It was a Pygmy shrew carrying is young up into a fresh location, whether out of the heat or after disturbance by some predator I cannot suggest. At first I thought it was several attempts to move the same pink, naked baby, but came to the conclusion that she was moving her whole family. As can be seen from the pictures, the baby is hairless, blind and largely immobile, but extraordinarlily large and well-formed for this stage of its life, or so it struck me.  What an incredible piece of fortune to watch this normally hidden event. I never thought that the 'flats' would attract mammals as well!

Pygmy shrew, Sorex minutus & baby                 © robin williams

Pygmy shrew, Sorex minutus & baby                 © robin williams

July 17th 2016. Sometimes I come across a bit of photographic kit that I feel I must comment upon. I have no connection with the manufacturers, just remarking on how it affects me as a user. Flash is very important to me, all my insect photography depends totally on it. Recently, I bought a flash-gun designed on a completely different principal to conventional ones. The secret is to put a hinge at the bottom of the gun. It then become infinitely flexible, bending from from ultra macro to bounce-flash, and anyhere in between. I have found various spendid flash guns that seemed ideal before, but few allow sufficient downward flexibility to cope with real close-up photography. This new desighn is infinitely flexible for all users. The transparent plastic on the front is a lens prividing a boost to the power of the flash at the 105mm setting.


The Metz 26 AF-1 digital is very light and, with a telephoto attachment on the front, offers a guide number of 26. As the years advance, everything become heavier, cameras included. When I go walking with the dog, I need a really light outfit. A Nikon 5200, Nikon 85mm f3.5 macro lens and this flash unit are quite perfect in this regard - as well as providing quality results. I wish more macro lenses were confined to small f numbers, I use them almost entirely set at f14 or 16, so why pay more and carry more weight? This outfit may be carried all day on a hand strap. This new design should be perfect for more powerful flashes in the future. Incidentally, the flash projects further forward than normal, which softens and improves the output for macro work. I have had some excellent results from the combination, although it is not powerful enough for insect flight picture, for which I use my faithful old D300 with Sigma 180 f.5.6 lens and a more powerful Metz flash.

July 14th 2016. As there was an excellent weather forecast for Gloucestershire, and I wanted to test out a camera/lens combination with which I had been having problems, I drove over to Slimbridge Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust. Regardless of the month, there is always something to photograph there, though this time of year is not the most promising, as so many birds are in moult. However, it turned out better than I had expected - and the camera proved to be working perfectly.

Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos f                            © robin williams

Moorhen baby, Gallinula chloropus                   © robin williams

I started by walking to the South hide, often the location for wild waders, but there was little to see, other than gulls. Coming out, I walked past the wader enclosure, an aviary enclosed in fine netting and home to Redshanks Tringa totanus, Avocets and Ruffs. To be honest, I do not think this zoo approach fits with the ideas promulgated by Sir Peter Scott when he started the Trust, but I looked in and took a number of pictures showing some interesting plumage variations. Nevertheless, I do not like to see such free spirits confined in this way - how hypocritical of me!

Avocet, Recurvirostra avosetta                           © robin williams

Ruff, Philomachus pugnax                                  © robin williams

From there, I walked to the far end of the grounds, to the Zeiss hide, where Kingfishers breed in holes in a clay bank. I had not been before and had not realised how far these nest-holes were from the hide, the holes tiny even in my 600mm of photographic lens. However, the birds were not to be seen. So far, a frustrating visit, but this was to change. I walked back to the Robbie Garnett hide, then the hide giving access to the Swan lake. Few waterfowl to be seen at the first, but a number of Lapwings and their well-grown youngsters were feeding on the unfamiliar mud-banks exposed by lower water levels.

Lapwing, Vanellus vanellus                                 © robin williams

Lapwing chick, Vanellus vanellus                       © robin williams

A couple of Little egrets provided some splendid views while moving in and out between reeds and water. As so often, their prey were the tiniest of fish or invertebrates. No wonder they have to spend so much time fishing. The dead white of their plumage was vivid against the rich green of the reeds, while the varying shapes they generate while fishing are so elegant.

Little egret, Egretta garzetta                               © robin williams

Passing one pen, a slight movement brought a view of a bunch of superbly camouflaged baby Shelducks on the pebbles. Most of the time they sat quite still, vanishing into the background.A real lesson in camouflage.

Shelduck babies, Tadorna tadorna                    © robin williams

Looking onto Swan lake, the home wetland for the trust headquarters, overlooked by Sir Peter Scot's old studio, I was amazed to see Oystercatchers. For me, these waders are not familiar away from the coastal waters. Large and active, probing the mud constantly, they make a splendi sight with their black and white colouring, offset by brilliant red bills.

Oystercatchers, Haematopus ostralegus           © robin williams

But the most interesting of all was to come last. In the far distance, a small wader fed its way down the edge of the mud, its feet just hidden in the water - clearly the most comfortable feeding depth. At first, it looked like a Common sandpiper, but did not feed in that bird's familiar dipping motion, but more like other small waders. As it came closer, following the shore-line, it revealed itself as a Green sandpiper, a bird I have not seen for some years. They used to be common on the rhynes and ditches of our moors - as many as a dozen found in one peat pool. Now, they seem to have vanished from their familiar places. So it was most pleasing to have a chance to watch this bird as it came closer. Further movements caught the eye and eventually three were spotted; an unexpected bonus in a most enjoyable day.

Green sandpiper, Tringa ochropus                     © robin williams

Green sandpiper, Tringa ochropus                     © robin williams

July 7th 2016.  Outside the kitchen, the garden provided the interest today. Bright sunshine alternated with light cloud but this did not put the birds off from feeding on the sunflower seeds and nuts. The 'gang' of adult and young rooks was with us, at times over twenty strong, dominating the proceedings. . Although the youngsters, identified by their feathered beaks, were as big as their parents, they appeared very much attached and dependent on them. We watched them begging continually. Smaller birds did not appear too put off by the antics of the large birds.

Rook adult, Corvus frugilegus                             © robin williams


young Rook begging, Corvus frugilegus            © robin williams

The picture shows the brilliant colours of Chaffinch and Greenfinch cock birds feeding side by side. We are  pleased to have the latter still, as friends a few miles away have been finding their Greenfinches dead in the garden and few are still seen at the feeders. It seems that a protozoan parasite, Trichomonosis, keeps on affecting this species.

Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs: Greenfinch, F. chloropus © robin williams

Movement above the pond caught the eye but soon the woodpecker came closer. Every year we have them feeding on the plentiful numbers of ants in our meadow-like 'lawn'. During the war, it was all ploughed up and put to potato cropping, and does not seem to have recovered. We do not fertilise it or give it a great deal of attention other than periodic mowing. It appears the perfect location for black ants in particular. Some years, the birds are obviously young, but the majority are adults.

Green woodpecker, Picus viridis m                     © robin williams

Finally, I must comment on the dominant mammal at this time. Rabbits are in that phase of existence where their numbers increase rapidly, before disease strikes them down once again. They are very attractive, but cause chaos in the garden, especially with newly-planted flowers.

Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus                            © robin williams

July 6th 2016. Somerset & West Country invertebrates met at Draycott Sleights ST48 51 this morning, on a warm and sunny day, though it was still windy away from shelter. Traffic and other problems reduced us to John, Margarete, Margaret and I, but this did not stop the conversations or spoil the experience. Draycott Sleights is an amazing reserve, popular with ramblers, dog-walkers and naturalists. It lies on a steep slope high up in Mendip. The reserve is edged to the south with a splendid avenue of large Beech trees, while the views are magnificent. It looks over the Cheddar moors and much more below. Hinkley Point, Cheddar reservoir, Crook Peak and Exmoor may be seen in the distance - one of the finest views I know. We settled on a long walk westwards along the line of the trees and then up the hill and back along a path leading above the fenceway. Lunch was taken at the highest point, a pile of broken stones, with the best of the views below - perfect. At first it did not seem we were to see many insects and this impression lasted throughout, but in the end I found I had photographed more than sixteen species, as well as seeing several more. Nevertheless, they took some finding. The lack of insects appears universal in this part of the country, everyone spoke about it. It could not be more apparent than here on the reserve. Two of us have been familiar with it for several decades and spoke of the grassy slopes rippling with the numbers of butterflies flying over the surface. Today there were few to be seen. In those earlier days, most of the main species were present. Today, we saw three or four species only and in penny numbers. The most obvious difference is that the grass is much longer now, a matter of bringing on the right livestock at the proper times, or is it a question of poor management, or circumstances preventing a cure? It really needs answering, since a previously-famous butterfly site has lost most of its inhabitants under the present regime.

The first insect spotted was particularly interesting, as none of us had seen the species before. Through the viewfinder, it looked like a wasp, but John rightly identified it as a fly. Chrysotoxum cautum is one of the larger, more obvious hoverflies, not uncommon in the south, so it is surprising we had not come across it previously.

Hoverfly, Chrysotoxum cautum m                     © robin williams

The main source of nectar and pollen for bumblebees were the few clumps of Nodding (Musk) thistles, Carduus nutans. Here we found small numbers of Bombus pascuorum and rather less Bombus lapidarius. In part, this must be because comparatively few flowers were open. But it is a situation noted in other apparently suitable locations with appropriate thistle species.

Bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum m                    © robin williams

The many bushes of brambles were full of flowers but had less on them than we might have expected, but included one or two cuckoo bumblebees, Bombus vestalis, fresh with pristine colours. The first giveaway for the cuckoo was the characteristic abdomen, with the dark skin showing through the hairs to form white crescents, while the species was defined by the yellow patches on the side, between the black and the white on the abdomen.

Cuckoo bumblebee, Bombus vestalis                 © robin williams

Other bee sightings came at the end of the walk, spent standing by great banks of bramble close to the entrance gate. At first, the many flowers appeared empty, then I got my eye in and saw a variety of small creatures. Among these were Lasiogglossum laevigatum, L. calceatum, Halictus tumulorum - a handsome metallic species - and a rather larger Andrena. It was good to see that the place had at least some active life.

Mining bee, Lasioglossum laevigatum f            © robin williams

Mining bee, Lasioglossum calceatum f              © robin williams

Mining bee, Halictus tumulorum f                     © robin williams

Close to the entrance, John spotted a chafer deep in the heart of some greenery. How he managed to spot it was remarkable. It is strange to report that all my sightings of these particular chafers have been out in the countryside, rather than the garden suggested by the name. A harvestman was  skulking in the greenery nearby, no doubt waiting for some unwary creature to wander close. 


Garden chafer, Phyllopertha horticola              © robin williams

Harvestman, Phalangium opilio f                       © robin williams

When we reached the rocky outcrops of the old quarry near the staating point, a robber-fly was sitting on a stone, waiting for potential prey to come past, while absorbing the heat from the sun. When you see the hooked legs and general strength of the insect, it is clear that it is an extremely efficient killing machine.

Robber-fly, Machimus atricapillus                     © robin williams

The final sighting was right next to the entrance gate. An Eristalis intricarius hoverfly (a bumblebee mimic) was searching an umbel with great vigour. I had been surprised not to see one earlier, as they have been numerous during other visits - indeed it was here that I spotted my first ever.

Hoverfly, Eristalis intricarius m                        © robin williams

July 5th 2016. Time rushes on!. After a week of cloud and rain, Maddie and I went down to the southern end of Chilton Moor for our walk. It was warm and sunny, with a very strong wind, but we were well sheltered by a wall of seven foot high Hemlock, Conium maculatum, on each side. I have never seen such a display of this uncomfortable, poisonous plant before. It appeared to hold no interest for any insects, at least at this time of day.

Hemlock 'hedge', Conium maculatum               © robin williams

Round the first corner, we started to come across more attractive plants and the first of the insects. Bramble flowers, Rubus spp., are generally popular with bees and hoverflies, as well as the ubiquitous empid flies, Empis spp., but the main attraction turned out to be the first clumps of thistles, of which the Spear thistle, Cirsium vulgare, is the winner at this time of year, especially with bumblebees, although only the first few flowers were actually out. The widely common Creeping thistle, Cirsium arvense, does not seem to attract many insects during the day - perhaps it is more succesful at night? I was specially pleased to see that heathland specialist, Bombus jonellus, the first I have come across this year. They have a jaunty but hard-working air about them, never frivolous, always appearing to enjoy their work.

Bumblebee, Bombus jonellus                              © robin williams

On the way back, we crossed over part of the old Somerset and Dorset railway line, long deserted, and a large dragonfly settled for a moment then moved to a sunnier spot, where I managed some photographs. This is only the second time I have seen large dragonflies this year. This Southern hawker gave the appearance of having been faded by the sun, but it was a freshly-emerged youngster, yet to gain real solid colouring.

Southern hawker, Aeshna cyanea                       © robin williams

Southern hawker, Aeshna cyanea                       © robin williams

July 3rd 2016. The first morning when the logs in my 'flats' have been really busy, with a variety of insects hard at work exploring the holes for nest sites or perhaps more urgently emerging females. Among them were one or two unexpected visitors, including one I have not seen this year. The little mainly-black  Crossocerus digger wasps are difficult to identify, but a period of concentration often reveals their 'jizz', perhaps a flash of colour on a leg, or the presence of tiny orange-red spines at leg joints. They are an entertaining lot and it is all too easy to find that hours have gone by when you should be doing something else.

Digger wasp, Crossocerus megacephalus          © robin williams

Passaloecus digger wasps are superficilly difficult to separate from the numerous Crossocerus species in the field, at least until you get your eye in. Having looked at drawings and photographs, it becomes easier to see the differences. Passaloecus has a narrower constriction between abdomen and thorax, often with a further slight constriction between the first and second abdominal segments, as well as more space between the antennae. Crossocerus antennae emerge from virtually the same spot. Passaloecus have a narrow point jutting up between the antennae which may catch the light in photographs. A number of their species nest in holes in old wood.

Digger wasp, Passaloecus spp.                            © robin williams

The picture below is of a solitary wasp which preys on megachilid species, including leafcutter bees, so should be expected in the perfect setting of our logs. But, in fact, they are infrequent visitors. There are two British species. of which this is the most frequent at our nests. Both lay their eggs in the nest-cells of their prey, eat the egg and then live off the pollen food store left by the bee. Identification seems obvious but, when the wings are folded, it is difficult to see the colours beneath. This picture is less usual in having the wings tucked away so the full colouring is visible.

Solitary wasp, Sapyga quinquepunctata            © robin williams

The one constant among the various wasps is the continual movement of the antennae when they are by a hole, or even flying just above one. These organs are the means of telling whether there anything interesting and exactly where it is. They are in and out of the holes constantly, sometimes chased out by a sitting tennant. It is not unusual to see two heads pop out, side by side, before one gives the position up. Gasteruption jaculator, a parasitic wasp, is a strange and fascinating creature, common on the logs. It has a strange appearance, because the abdomen apparently attaches half-way along its body - an illusion caused by the shape and size of the back legs. This insect spends a great deal of its time hovering by a hole, with its antennae stretched out just inside, tasting the chemical signals to find out if there is a nesting prey-insect inside. The extremely long ovipositor enables them to lay their eggs deep in the hole.

Parasitic wasp, Gasteruption jaculator              © robin williams

I was glad to see the first of our leafcutter bees appear at last. Bees in general, have been notable for their absence this year. This particular male spent a deal of time sitting close to a hole, no doubt identified as one holding an emerging female, though I had no further sightings of any of more of these splendid bees.

Leafcutteer bee, Megachile versicolor m           © robin williams

Finally, there was the mystery species. At first, I thought it was another small digger wasp, but something seemed odd, somehow different. Eventually, a friend suggested it was a solitary bee, a Hylaeus. While I still have not determined the species, I believe I may soon and will then change the caption to the photograph. (now carried out and corrected). I have had problems with identifying these bees before, somehow I never expect them to be bees, they are so like wasps from many angles. I must learn to include them as possibles in the future, looking for the characteristic patches yellow on the legs.

Solitary bee, Hylaeus confusus f                         © robin williams

June 25th 2016. It was a lovely evening, so decided to have a look at Ham Wall, but operators were doing something to the path and had diverted it back to the road. On an impusle, I walked instead westwards into Shapwick Heath to see what was around. There was little to see at first, though I had been hoping to see Hobbys, Falco subbuteo, but was not lucky on this occasion. Instead, I enjoyed wonderful flying displays from numbers of Swifts. They were finding a great many insects low down on a spot where a ditch joined a rhyne. They dived down so close I could hear the wind tearing through their feathers. The pictures demonstate the size of their crop when stuffed with insects, a somewhat ungainly gape fronting it.

Swift, Apus apus                                                    © robin williams

Swift, Apus apus                                                     © robin williams

Swift, Apus apus                                                    © robin williams

While watching those, several cormorants flew over, such impressive birds, closer to dinosaurs than modern birds, yet clearly highly efficient at their job of surviving in what has always been a hostile world. On the way back I stopped at the new tower hide opposite the wader-scrape; now open to the public. It is a really good-looking little building, capable of holding six or eight people at a time. The only gripe is that it is even further away fom the water than those who watch on the side of the path. It is on the grass verge away from the water, probabaly because of the soft ground so close to the rhyne. You get a good clear view from above, but need  strong glasses or a telescope. My 450mm lens had a real struggle to record anything useful.

Tower hide, the Scrape, Meare Heath                © robin williams

view from Tower hide, the Scrape, Meare Heath © robin williams

June 24th 2016. This morning, it was announced  that the British people had voted for 'Brexit', independence from the EU, 40 years after joining the original Common Market.

In the afternoon, Maddie and had our walk down at the end of Jack's Drove on Tadham Moor, one of her favourites. It was very windy, so even the stiffest umbels were whipping around. By holding the stem close to the top I managed a series of close-up pictures with the Lumix bridge camera fitted with a two-element close-up lens. Results were better than I had a right to expect. The combined lens is amazingly sharp. The worst part is the tiny dark electronic viewfinder, but a deal of high concentration overcame this. Ichneumons were the most interesting of the insects on the umbels. Almost every one had one or two black and yellow Ambyleteles searching the flowers for likely small caterpillars onto which they could lay their eggs. There were other black and red ichneumons but I was unable to pin down other than Ichneumon spp.

Ichneumon, Ambyleteles armatorius                 © robin williams

Ichneumon, Ambyleteles armatorius                © robin williams

Ichneumon, Ambyleteles armatorius                  © robin williams

Ichneumon, Ambyleteles armatorius                 © robin williams

Ichneumon, Ichneumon spp.                              © robin williams

June 21st 2016. The fox was back again as it was getting dimpsy-dark. This time looking in rather better condition than the last time it appeared.

 

Fox, Vulpes vulpes                                                  © robin williams

June 20th 2016. The pictures below shows what can happen when we have a hot, sunny day. Insects appear from nowhere and start searching for the richest nectar sources. These are of various species searching and feeding on a single rose bush bathed in sunshine. This bee was particularly interesting, as I have not seen this species in the garden previously. In fact, this was only the second solitary bee species seen in the garden so far this year.

Mining bee, Andrena ovatula f                           © robin williams

Mining bee, Andrena ovatula f                           © robin williams

Hoverfly, Myathropa florea m                             © robin williams

The next picture shows a hoverfly previously called Metasyrphus, now known as Eupeodes. The first name has a ring to it, perhaps because of familiarity, but also because it seems right for such a beautiful creature. The new name is grey, dull, not at all characteristic. I know that we have to change with the science, but recently a number of changes have taken place only to revert to the original. Is there no mechanism for keeping ultra-familiar names, rather than altering them willy-nilly?

Hoverfly, Eupeodes luniger f                               © robin williams

Rhingia campestris is one of our commonest hoverflies, yet it is one of the most interesting through the construction and operation of its mouthparts. The long proboscis unfolds its hinges from the shelter of its 'beak', but goes on to unfold a bag beneath, not unlike that of a 'hoover'. The function is similar, receiving the nectar sucked up by the proboscis. The bag can be seen swelling up as it tackles the latest flower. Once you have seen it, it appears obvious, but I have not come across anyone remarking on it in life, or in books and papers.

Hoverfly, Rhingia campestris f                            © robin williams

Taken on a different occasion, this shows the bag mechanism in action.

Hoverfly, Rhingia campestris f                            © robin williams

June 17th 2016. I mentioned earlier the rather scruffy Fox that visits us briefly just before it becomes dark. This evening, Romey called me to say it was once again outside the kitchen window. I watched it walk across, below the rose bed, not stopping. Poor creature, it is rather battered and I cannot but help wondering if it is having a difficult time feeding itself, or are there demanding young ones nearby?

Fox, Vulpes vulpes                                                 © robin williams

Fox, Vulpes vulpes                                                 © robin williams

I went out into the garden in late afternoon and came across this beautifully-coloured dolichopid fly sun-bathing on a leaf. This species is a wetland lover, reflecting our position on the edge of the moors, and is remarkable for the male's display. Many of them sit on a muddy patch close together and flash their wings, showing off the white tips. It sounds fairly innocuous but dozens of them displaying makes a remarkable pattern.

Dolichopid fly, Poecilobothrus nobilitatus m   © robin williams

June 15th 2016. More on the garden and its bird population. We do not have a huge variety of species but those there are remain loyal to us. The pigeon family is favourite. The pairs seem devoted to each other, lack any sign of belligerence towrds others and are smart-looking.

Collared dove, Streptopelia decaocto                 © robin williams

Wood pigeon, Columba palumbus                     © robin williams

Of the many smaller birds, the cock Chaffinch and male Greenfinch are the most striking. At certain times, the strength of colouring is amazing. The hen Blackbird, strangely absent in the garden for much of this year, is the opposite, low-key, but often striking dramatic poses.

Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs m                            © robin williams

Greenfinch, Corduelis chloris m                         © robin williams

Blackbird, Turdus merula f                                  © robin williams

June 10th 2016. The feeding station in the garden has gradually become an exciting place to watch. Our nesting Rooks turn up in strength and attract numbers of Jackdaws to add to their numbers.They are vastly entertaining - sometimes there are as many as twenty of the huge birds striding up and down in front of the kitchen window. The attraction is the fat-balls in one container and the fallen seeds from the sunflower feeder, at least that was what I thought it was, until they begain fling up and hanging onto several of the containers. The photograph shows one of them hooked on by a single toe while they raid the small opening. They do not take much seed other than that on the ground but get through fat-balls at a rate of several a day. The whole crow family sees to me to be so obviously intelligent, particularly when looking into the light in the dark eye of a Rook. They may eat a lot but are really good companions in the garden.


Rooks & Jackdaw                                                   © robin williams

Rook, Corvus frugilegus                                       © robin williams

Rook, Corvus frugilegus                                       © robin williams

Rook, Corvus frugilegus                                      © robin williams

Jackdaw, Corvus monedula                                © robin williams

Jackdaw, Corvus monedula                                © robin williams

A Green woodpecker was another interesting bird but this one appeared to be in the last stages of starvation. It settled in a tree, something we rarely see except at a nest. Then it flew down and settled on the grass but gave no indication of feeding, though there are masses of ants nearby. It just sat, the crop empty, all but hollow. We see them during the breeding season regularly but they never stop feeding, their bills going up and down like mechanical drills. I spotted the nest one year but normally we see the young also. No sign of them this summer, just this solitary, apparently starving bird.

Green woodpecker, Picus viridis m                    © robin williams

Green woodpecker, Picus viridis m                   © robin williams

June 9th 2016. Today was the second meeting of the season for what is now known as 'Somerset & West Country invertebrates' - if only as a heading for e-mails. John, who had suggested this particular meeting point, Robert, Nigel, Una, Margaret and I met at The Grand Western Canal, near Tiverton in Devon,  parking in a lay-by opposite an entrance to the tow-path at Map ref: ST058 161. For over a week, the weather had been forecast as being wall-to-wall sunshine, but most of this day was spent under an overcast sky, muggy with occasional bursts of sunshine later, but always warm. At first glance, we noticed the uniform vegetation of the banks of the canal which ran straight where we walked between two bridges. It did not bode well for seeing a great many insects yet, when I look through my pictures, a surprising variety has been found. Yellow flag, Iris pseudacorus, was the most prolific for insects, followed by various umbels including Hemlock water dropwort, Oenanthe crocata. A thick band of this separated the towpath from the water, slow-moving but largely clear of vegetation. The most important find of the day was the  Scarce chasedragonfly, Libellula fulva, the original reason for selecting this destination. A few years ago, it was confined to very few places in the west, only one in our area, near Bristol. In recent years it has been found in more and more spots.

Scarce chaser, Libellula fulva m                         © robin williams

Scarce chaser, Libellula fulva m                         © robin williams

Apart from this species, the only two other large dragonfly species seen were some Emperors and a single, newly emerged Black-tailed skimmer. The latter took some recognising, it was so fresh that it literally changed colour as we watched, starting with tinges of metallic green, then altering to give its familiar colouring.

Black-tailed skimmer, Orthetrum cancellatum © robin williams

It was interesting to compare the exuviae, empty larval casings, of the Scarce chaser and much larger Emperor dragonflies.

Scarce chaser, Libellula fulva exuvia                  © robin williams

Emperor dragonfly, Anax imperator exuvia      © robin williams

There were a good few damselflies but not as many as we might have expected in this perfect habitat. John saw one Large red but the rest were mainly Blue-tailed or Azure. The most interesting hoverfly, for me at least, was Anisimyia contracta which although said to be common was new to me. It started with a mating pair and then numerous singles, smaller than I had imagined. Other flies included the unusual horse-fly, Atytylotus fulvus, and the dolychopid, Dolychopus popularis.

Hoverfly, Anasimiyia contracta mating pair    © robin williams

Horse-fly, Atylotus fulvus                                  © robin williams

 - the diagnostic feature is tufts of pale hairs on the side of a black abdomen.

Fly, Dolichopus popularis                                  © robin williams

Mining bees were present, but in minute numbers, all of which were Andrena nitida which I still think of under the far more descriptive term of A. pubescens

Mining bee, Andrena nitida f                              © robin williams

Clearly, it was the time when reed beetles emerge and start enjoying their favourite plant, the Yellow flag. Many of the flowers had these beautiful metallic creatures sunning themselves on one of the petals.

Reed beetle, Donacia spp.                                    © robin williams

Reed beetle, Plateumaris serica                          © robin williams

Nearby, I found the only ichneumon of the day; I had been expecting to find many more in this ideal habitat. After a great deal of research, I put it down to a Pimpla species but was unable to come closer than that.

Ichneumon, Pimpla spp. m                                  © robin williams 

There were a good few bumblebees in the bankside vegetation including Bombus lucorum, B. hortorum and B. pratorum workers. Once again, there main food plant was the Yellow flag iris, making for some splendid contrasts.


Bumblebee, Bombus lucorum w                         © robin williams

Bumblebee, Bombus hortorum w                       © robin williams

The only sawfly I spotted was Athalia glabricollis. This lack was surprising in such suitable surrounds.

Sawfly, Athalia glabricollis                                 © robin williams

Finally, I must mention this splendid moth found on a leaf and admired by all, rounding off an excellent day out.


Gold spot, Plusia festucae                                    © robin williams

June 5th 2016. We drove to Wells in the morning, for a delayed eye-test, before walking in the afternoon. We took the back route via Westhay and Godney moors in glorious sunshine but also great clarity. The banks of white unbellifers were detergent-white against the darker greens of the fields. Some of these were brilliant with the yellow of buttercups, Ranunculus spp., while others were set off by the dark, almost black clumps of rushes. Sorrel, Rumex spp., added strong tones of brick-red in some fields, appearing as a tapestry of colour, as fine as ever we had seen.

Godney Moor                                                         © robin williams

Godney Moor                                                          © robin williams

Godney Moor                                                          © robin williams

In the afternoon, Maddie and decided to take another walk into to the heart of Tadham moor, covering much the same as the day before. The camera clicked away and the dog became more impatient as I pottered along, but it was worth it. I had taken with me the FX200, ultra-light and particularly suited to macro photography when using flash, fitted with a close-up lens. Apart from much that was seen yesterday, there were a number of sawflies on the umbels. What a fascinating group this is, with such variations in colour and shape but all certified by their lack of a true waist, with abdomen and thorax joining without a pinched-in separation.

Sawfly, Tenthredopsis litterata                           © robin williams

Sawfly, Dolerus spp.                                              © robin williams

Last, but amongst the most numerous, I must put in a portrait of an empid fly. The genus is instantly recognisable, the proboscis prominent and the insect always with such a neat shape. I know one person who is an expert on them all, but I feel most people dismiss them as not worth looking at or portraying. I hope my picture will have the opposite effect.

Empid fly, Empis tessellata                                  © robin williams

June 4th 2016. It was sunny and warm so we spent much of the day outside. In the morning Maddie and I went for a walk across Tadham Moor, ending when the heat became too much for her. The drove sides were a froth of white, mainly Cow parsley, with a fair proportion of Hemlock water dropwort - a more insect-friendly nectar source. Wild turnip, with its strong yellow colouring, has largely taken over along Jack's drove but there was no sign of that here.

Tadham Moor                                                         © robin williams

Some of the grasses were in flower and well repay closer examination, often showing strong colouration.

Cocksfoot, Dactylis glomerata                            © robin williams

It was good to see the population of our rarer soldier-fly, Odontomyia ornata, is really strong, more so than in recent years. If I am not mistaken, the sexes appear to show more sexual dimorphism. Readily distinguished by the pattern of flashes on the abdomen, the males are narrower as well as smaller.

Soldier-fly, Odontomyia ornata f                        © robin williams

Its close relatve, Odontomyia tigrina, easily missed with its dark colouration and smaller size, was also present but in really small numbers. They do not appear to have had the boost to population of its rarer cousin.

Soldier-fly, Odontomyia tigrina                         © robin williams

While hoverflies are starting to appear, they are limited in species while few in number. The most numerous appears to be Helophilus pendulus, together with Episyrphus balteatus and Rhingia campestris.

Hoverfly, Helophilus pendulus m                       © robin williams

I also spotted a few bumblebee mimics, but they were too quick to photograph or identify. At last, a few mining bees were spotted deep in the florets, all Andrena haemorrhoa, such a colourful and attractive bee.

Mining bee, Andrena haemorrhoa f                   © robin williams

Mining bee, Andrena haemorrhoa f                   © robin williams

As usual, for much of the summer, the most prolific insect was the dung-fly, usually basking in the sunlight and not anxious to move unless forced to do so.

Dung-fly, Scathophaga stercorea                       © robin williams

Later that evening, as dusk was well on its way, Romey called me out to the kitchen, a small Badger, Meles meles, was feeding on the spilt grains from the bird feeders. What a delightful sight to round off the day


Spring 2016


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