insectsandflight.com
all pictures © robin williams

August 2022: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

August 27th 2022. I could not resist an unusual spell of sunshine and the revival of the flowering pot described before. The same comfortable chair made it seem almost cheating but, of course, the art of successful photography is taking advantage of special circumstances that present themselves. My eyes were drawn to even more mining bees. 

August 25th 2022. A rich source of insect life really came into its own today. Although we had a goodly amount of rain a week ago, the garden, and the surrounding countryside is parched, brown, dead. Although, it is always strange to look down on the moors below that remain green regardless of rain - their water table remaining close to the surface. The garden is virtually empty of insect life, the log-flats without any activity whatsoever. The only real exception is a few Bombus pascuorum bumblebees feedng on a tired-looking Catmint. However, a bowl of miniature flowers sitting on a table on the terrace is humming with activity. I sat down for an hour in front of it, comfortable in a garden chair, the camera supported by a monopod. Many tiny mining bees were hard at work feeding on the flowers. The mauve mini-Asters were the favourite. A number of different species made it all the more fascinating, mostly male, with long antennae, but some females. 

mining bee, Halictus tumulorum f

mining bee, Halictus tumulorum f

mining bee, Halictus tumulorum f

mining bee, Lasioglossum smeathmanellum m

mining bee, Lasioglossum puncticolle f

mining bee, Lasioglossum puncticolle f

mining bee, Lasioglossum puncticolle f

mining bee, Lasioglossum puncticolle f

mining bee, Lasioglossum minutissimum m

mining bee, Lasioglossum leucopus m

mining bee, Lasioglossum leucopus m

mining bee, Lasioglossum leucopus m

hoverfly, Melanostoma mellinum m

hoverfly, Syritta pipiens f

Hoverfly, Syritta pipiens f

muscid fly, Muscidae

August 22nd 2022. A wander round the garden, looking into flower heads, produced some interesting results, as well as sorting out some bee-identification problems. As noted before, the log nests are inoperable still, not a sign of an insect, while most usual plants are free from hoverflies or bumblebees. During the last few days, the drought had ended at last, though the volumes of rain were low. Plants have been badly affected by the waterless month and more that had just passed, but we can only hope that they will rise up as the water touches them. I have seen this occur. By inspecting deep inside the flowers on various prolific shrubs, I was rewarded. Bombus hypnorum has been missing for the past couple of years but a few were active now, all larger, bulkier males. I could not think what they were at first, the white part of the tail is small and unobtrusive, while the well-worn thorax did not make it obvious either. The only other bumbles were male Bombus pascuorum, also starting to look worn.

bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum m

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum

A particular surprise was to come across a Speckled bush-cricket on a Japanese windflower. They used to be so common at one time here but none have been seen for some years.

Speckled bush-cricket, Leptophyes punctatissima m

At last, the tiny mining bee males were found, thread-like, dark but identifiable. Of special note were one or two specimens of the unusual Halictus confusus. I spent a long time going through the identification of these, as preliminary mapped data did not show any on our side of England; finally, another source turned up, showing their presence in this area. This is one of the bronzy-bodied bees.

mining bee, Halictus confusus f

mining bee, Halictus confusus f

mining bee, Halictus confusus f

 A number of Lasioglossum females were also present - and no doubt more would have been found if the investigation had continued further, but not a bad haul for all that.

mining bee, Lasioglossum leucozonium f

mining bee, Lasioglossum leucozonium f

mining bee, Lasioglossum leucozonium f

mining bee, Lasioglossum leucozonium f

August 14th 2022. I spent too much time this morning sitting in front of an iron table that lives on the terrace. It was another hot day but thee were few insects to bee seen. The logs were silent, no sign of any insects - as it has been now for weeks on end. But one point was quite different. For several years a friend has given my wife a present of a pot of long-lasting miniature plants, the equivalent to a hanging basket, but confined to a pot. What a wonderful show it produces. This morning, it was alive with insects, all tiny, in perfect scale to the flowers. Here are some examples from that perfect time.

hoverfly, Eristalinus sepulchralis f

hoverfly, Eristalinus sepulchralis f

hoverfly, Eristalinus sepulchralis f

hoverfly, Syritta pipiens

hoverfly, Syritta pipiens

mining bee, Lasioglossum calceatum m

mining bee, Lasioglossum fratellum m

mining bee, Lasioglossum fratellum m

mining bee, Lasioglossum leucozonium m

mining bee, Lasioglossum leucozonium m

mining bee, Lasioglossum spp.

August 11th 2022. I drove around the moors this morning, giving plenty of time for the car thermometer to settle down, it finally registered between 32 and 34° during most of the journey, as hot as I have ever felt it round here. This hot, dry weather has been going on for weeks now and has had some extraordinary effects. Garden plants, even hardy ones like roses, are visibly dying. Flowers come out far smaller than usual and are gone within days. The log flats have been completely out of action for a long period, not a sign of life or movement. Now, we are told that water restrictions will be put in place. This in an island with large amounts off water, but in the wrong places. Little planning for such a summer appears to have been done, even though the whole world has been talking about climate change. Indeed, it is only a year or so since the water regulator turned down a request by our local water company to build a new reservoir to more than double the present size of Cheddar reservoir - somebody must be querying that decision by now!. All this hot weather has shown the toughness of one species of bumblebee. Bombus pascuorum is the only one to be seen in the garden recently. They are found principally on Catmint (Nepeta cataria) and Viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare). Most appear to be males.

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum m

 

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum m

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum m

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum m

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum m

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum m

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum m

August 8th 2022.  After the success of our visit to Marshall's Elm, I decided to try again. It was even hotter than previously, at around 32°, and everything  except the Hardheads (Centaurea nigra) looked parched. They appeared much as as normal, though there were few insects taking advantage of them. I ended by stationing myself alongside the burdock plants, as previously. Even they were showing signs of the heat, flowers wilting and falling ahead of time, shrivelled, with few visitors. The most interesting insect was a tiny wasp, estimated at less than 4mm without its prominent ovipositor. She was bobbing back and forth between plants and I was fortunate to catch a fe pictures in flight. What she is, is a guess, probably a parasitic wasp, possibly a gall-wasp (Parasitica). 

parasitic wasp f, Parasitica

parasitic wasp f, Parasitica

parasitic wasp f, Parasitica

The most visible insects were honeybees. This weather seems to suit them perfectly. Workers were over all the burdocks, both in their usual orange-brown uniform and the much darker form (said to be the original from which they have descended). Bombus pascuorum, generally the last bumblebees of the year, lasting well into autumn, were represented only by a couple spotted during the morning. My final picture, a ladybird, represents a much-diminishing family so rarely spotted nowadays. 

honeybee, Apis mellifera w

honeybee, Apis mellifera w

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum m

22-spot ladybird, Thea 22-punctata

August 5th 2022. The heat carries on, and threatens to do so for a week and more. I go out and look for insects on the logs, no sign of life whatsoever. It is not long before I turn the chair right round and concentrate on the brilliant blue flowers of Viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare). It is a large, straggly plant in a stone pot which we have kept watered to great effect. The flowers keep on coming. As a result, there is a certain amount of life among its leaves and flowers.

muscid fly, Muscidae m

muscid fly, Muscidae m

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum m

hoverfly, Syritta pipiens f

hoverfly, Syritta pipiens f

hoverfly, Syritta pipiens f

August 1st 2022. There are no insects in the garden, at least that is what it looks like. Nothing moves in the heat and humidity. We are now in the real grip of a drought, whether official or not. Next to no rain during the last month and more, has left plants literally drooping. We do not believe in watering plants in soil here; each has to survive without extra water or chemicals. The only exceptions are a few plants in pots on the terrace. Outside my study, a late pink-flowered plant has its leaves hanging down, near flat. A few minutes of damp drizzle had them perk up for a brief period, while the flowers, that usually hang on for the whole of this month, are crinkling and falling. We, who usually feel 21° is a good summer day, now feel chilly at that temperature and normal at 24° or so. Life is changing everywhere. Of course, this is just a report on how it affects our tiny part of the country, but it appears to be general for all except the very top of England. The war in Ukraine continues.