insectsandflight.com
all pictures © robin williams

June 2022: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

June 25th 2022. A morning visit to the logs proved completely fascinating. It was one of the few sunny days recently, as a result insect activity was much increased once the warmth started to penetrate everything. Almost immediately, a movement caught my eye. I spent the next half hour and more glued to the viewfinder, hunched over, leaning heavily on the monopod (the secret to successful photos) in a far from comfortable position. The first female leafcutter bee to be seen thus year was hard at work already, something perhaps better suited to a video than still photos. She was working just under the surface, so must have already built and filled most of the cells already. Her identification was soon achieved, with glimpses of the orange-red pollen brush end showing as she twisted and turned. On the whole, female leafcutters are easier to tell than males. I hung on doggedly in spite of cramps and twists brought on by the hunched attitude and, suddenly, she had finished, emerging briefly before flying off - no doubt with an equal sense of relief. The end result was a complete set of  pictures of this little drama. After this, the interests continued. A tiny black insect on the surface of a log turned out to be a parasitic wasp. These chalcids have been seen here in previous years, but I had not thought how small they are; research revealed they are just under 3mm long. Another less usual insect followed, the elongated digger wasp, Trypoxylon figulus. Finally, a bee caught my eye on a nearby Hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica), somewhat like a bumblebee but that much different, another flower bee favouring these particular plants. I had problems separating the different flower bees and spent rather a long time constructing a table of photographic features to assist in identification of 'our' species. This proved both helpful, successful and worth the effort. I have carried out this same exercise for Nomada, leacutter bees, Andrena and Lasioglossum/Halictus, but solely comparing those species likely to be found locally. This saves a lot of wading through full-length keys, articles and reference books: do it once only.

June 21st 2022. A perfect summer day for the solstice. The year's longest day, light until past 10 pm. After this, we follow the inevitable progress towards greatly reduced daylight, then winter. A moment of reflection at a time when all is at its peak. Glastonbury music festival starts today and a great many are filled with delight, while all the roads round it are packed.

The unprovoked Russian war in Ukraine continues unabated, with appalling slaughter on both sides; no signs of an ending or a solution. As so often, civilians are the worst affected by indiscriminate and continuous shellling.

It was a very hot, still day and I found myself watching the flowers around the logs - not on them, for absolutely nothing moved on the flats during much of the day. Insects round here must be accustomed to our chilly, damp island climate and, like many of us, find extreme heat something to avoid. I have noticed before how the hotter days bring ninsects exploring the logs. Beyond those, the main sources of attraction were Hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) and the large and exuberant blue and pink flowered Viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare). Both Flower bees and bumblebees could not get enough of them, accompanied by many small hoverflies. 

Flower bee, Anthophora bimaculata f

Flower bee, Anthophora bimaculata f

Flower bee, Anthophora bimaculata m

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum m

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum m

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum m

leafcutter bee, Megachile centuncularis m

 

hoverfly, Platycheirus albimanus

June 14th 2022. A busy and productive insect day. The morning was spent in blazing heat on the terrace watching and photographing the inhabitants of the 'flats' and surrounds. Some of these were new to the garden, others where their identification was newly-acquired. It was interesting to see a Spider-hunter wasp searching with the other predators.

spider-hunter wasp, Anoplius nigerrimus

This beautiful little blue-green jewel or cuckoo wasp was unexpected. They used to visit regularly in the early 2000 period but have not been seen since. They are so beautiful and delicate looking. The other species that are seen  on the logs are Chrysis angustula, C. mediata and Chrysura radians, the latter rather a rarity. All these are also brilliantly coloured with metallic reds, blues and greens, a wonder to spot.

jewel wasp, Trichrysis cyanea

jewel wasp, Chrysis mediata

jewel wasp, Chrysis mediata

The tiny Crossocerus below is readily identified once the features are noted - larger head and white 'moustache', the female is only 5-7mm long.

digger wasp, Crossocerus annulipes

digger wasp, Crossocerus annulipes

digger wasp, Crossocerus megacephalus f

It has been disappointing in the last year or so, particularly this one, not to see the any of he larger black and yellow Ectemnius digger wasps; so it was good to spot this one fleetingly.

digger wasp, Ectemnius continuus f

How interesting to come across this species on the logs. It is the second Gasteruption parasitic wasp species to be spotted. Gasteruption jaculator has been a regular visitor for many years; the species below is a brand new visitor. The females of the two species look very alike, with one major exception, the length of the ovipositor sheaths, G. jaculator has a really long ovipositor, G. assectator a short one. One can speculate that they co-exist by searching for victims at different depths.

 

Parasitic wasp, Gasteruption assectator f 

Parasitic wasp, Gasteruption assectator f 

I like to photograph the early appearances of leafcutter males as they appear, to remind me of their differences - not easy - as well as timings. The first sightings are always the same, a larger bee settling by a potential nest hole in this particular attitude. I so enjoy their comings and goings as the season advances, especially when the females fly in with leaf cuttings tucked under their abdomens.

leafcutter bee, Megachile versicolor 

In the afternoon I visited Loxley Wood on the Poldens. This was a more interesting visit than recently, with the appearance of many cuckoo bumblebees. I only spotted one Nomada cuckoo bee though, too far away for photography or identification. As a matter of observation, no cuckoo bumblebees were recorded or photographed for the past couple of years, even when bumblebees were reasonably present. The two are interdependent.

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum m

cuckoo bumblebee, Bombus sylvestris m

cuckoo bumblebee, Bombus sylvestris m

cuckoo bumblebee, Bombus vestalis f

cuckoo bumblebee, Bombus vestalis m

cuckoo bumblebee, Bombus vestalis m

cuckoo bumblebee, Bombus vestalis m

cuckoo bumblebee, Bombus vestalis

The only orchid spotted during the walk, which was surprising. 

Common spotted orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii

It was good to see the hoverfly below, not the commoner H.pendulus but its less-usual cousin. I aught a glimpse of her bright colouring and was lucky to get a useful picture. The female is much similar to the other, whereas the male is quite distinctive, with abdominal bars that do not reach the full side. 

hoverfly, Helophilus hybridus f

ichneumonid spp. f 

This longhorn beetle is prolific in the woods. Anyone seeking to make a study of it could well choose this area.

longhorn beetle, Strangalia maculata

June 13th 2022. The date proved to be no deterrent. Continuing strong sunshine, little breeze. The highlight for me came at the end of the afternoon, when I drove down to Catcott Lows to clear my head after an afternoon on the computer identifying insects. I had little hope of anything except perhaps some egrets but what a surprise when I walked in to the hide to find just a couple of other people. Photographs showed 45 Black-tailed godwits just opposite. I took a great many pictures as may be imagined. They are among my favourite waders having seen them both here and in Flevoland, Holland, where they used to be prolific alongside the roads. I was surprised though. There was a real bunch of different colours but many still in their previous winter plumage. Very few were in what I knew as full breeding plumage. It was almost as if time had slipped a month or so. Still, it was a great experience, the mixed colours, reflections in the water and continual movement, quite beautiful. I was told that the flock arrived at about 2pm and had stayed ever since. 

Black-tailed godwits, Limosa limosa

Black-tailed godwits, Limosa limosa

Black-tailed godwits, Limosa limosa

Black-tailed godwits, Limosa limosa

Black-tailed godwits, Limosa limosa

Black-tailed godwits, Limosa limosa

Black-tailed godwits, Limosa limosa

Black-tailed godwits, Limosa limosa

Black-tailed godwits, Limosa limosa

Black-tailed godwits, Limosa limosa

June 12th 2022. Another useful session by the drilled logs brought a trio of Crossocerus species starting to search the potential holes with lots of hard exploration. These were followed by one of our regular ichneumons, searching for victims already established.

digger wasp, Crossocerus annulipes f

digger wasp, Crossocerus megacephalus

digger wasp, Crossocerus elongatulus f

ichneumon, Ephialtes manifestator f

It was interesting to see numbers of tiny ants darting from here to there, full of endless energy. Ants have not been much visible in the past, just the odd individual arriving for a brief visit. Now they are present in some numbers. They are all extremely small by normal standards. 

ant, Lasius niger

leafcutter bee, Megachile centuncularis m

 

June 11th 2022. While sitting beside the logs, it pays to keep an eye on an area literally beside and under my seat. At this time of year, it is covered with blankets of a pale mauve flowering globe. I cannot find out what flower it is. Perhaps someone would recognize it. It is attractive to both bumblebees and hoverflies and appears both hardy and capable of spreading. This morning, a brightly-coloured hoverfly with unusual yellow markings caught my eye and I was able to take some pictures. On looking up the story behind this, I find that Metasyrphus luniger has become Eupeodes luniger, something it pays to think about when reading articles.

hoverfly, Eupeodes luniger f

The picture below illustrates one of the many problems with bumblebee identification. It shows an almost black individual, with the faintest trace of colour at the extreme end of what can be seen of the tail.

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum

 

June 10th 2022. The logs are really coming to life in this hot weather. It was so good to see the brilliantly-coloured jewel wasps exploring the logs, though not so good for their victims.

jewel wasp, Chrysis mediata

jewel wasp, Chrysis mediata

digger wasp, Trypoxylon attenuatum

June 7th 2022. 

 

 

June 1st 2022. The first day of summer, and it stood up to it with plenty of hot sunshine. Spent much of the time leaning over the drilled logs, hoping they would yield more interesting insects. It proved a very good time for the little black Crossocerus digger wasps. They were busy popping in and out of the smallest holes as well as some larger ones. I was lucky enough to photograph one with an insect slung beneath its abdomen. 

digger wasp, Crossocerus megacephalus f

digger wasp, Crossocerus annulipes f

digger wasp, Crossocerus annulipes m

digger wasp, Crossocerus elongatulus f

digger wasp, Crossocerus nigritus f

digger wasp, Crossocerus nigritus f

mason wasp, Symmorphus bifasciatus

weevil, Platystomus albini

 

Red admiral, Vanessa atalanta