insectsandflight.com
all pictures © robin williams

May 2022: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

May 31st 2022. Bright sunshine all day, perfect for the flats. The little black Crossocerus wasps were busy most of the time and were joined with a new and distinct species, notable for its silver hairiness. Pemphredon, one of my long-term favourites. 

digger wasp, Crossocerus spp.

 

digger wasp, Crossocerus cetratus

digger wasp, Pemphredon lugubris m

digger wasp, Pemphredon lugubris m

digger wasp, Pemphredon lugubris m

hoverfly, Syritta pipiens m

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum m

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum m

May 28th 2022. Fiona and I visited Canada Lake today, not perhaps the perfect time of year for that location but most enjoyable. For a start, a replacement hide has been built and opened. What was it like? The long walk down the drove was delightful, the sun in exactly the right place with the surrounding fields at their best. They were at that stage when the grass and herbs were well grown but even in height, the first flowers starting to appear, the surrounding belts of trees still varied in colour. The drove has extensive woods backing each side where the fields stop, they have been left to their own devices and must contain many interesting creatures and plants but they have become tangled and all but impenetrable. The edges of these brought a few insects but at this stage were largely without blossom or flowers, just a splendid walk.

hoverfly, Helophilus pendulus

shield-bug, Eurydoma oloracea

Wasp-beetle, Clytis arietis

The hide is little larger than the one it replaced but easier to climb into for the less mobile among us as well as presumable being more durable. Canada Lake is extensive. the far boundary being a blur for those with normal vision. On one side are dead trees much used by Cormorants for gathering and breeding. Leaning out of the hide, it was possible to see a great many fish beneath the surface (normally invisible without polarizing lenses). I even managed a few pictures with a short lens. A Great crested grebe appeared really close to the hide, enough to photograph with a 180mm macro lens as she fished. 

Rudd, Scardinius erythrophthalmus

Great crested grebe, Podiceps cristatus

Earlier, we had a quick look at the logs. Bumblebees were busy on the plants beside them and wasps enteriong the old nest holes.

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum m

Common blue damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum m

digger wasp, Crossocerus elongatulus

digger wasp, Crossocerus elongatulus

May 24th 2022. As usual, I enjoyed a walk in Loxley Wood on the Poldens, even though the insect population was surprisingly low on what appeared a perfect day. From observation, maybe we were between flushes of flowers with the Spring species vanished back into the undergrowth. Nevertheless, It its good to record graphically those that were present. In particular, I was disappointed to see no trace of the nomada cuckoo bees that such a feature at this time of the year in this place, though I have seen some this year. It may be that the recent cutting of the verges, and widening parts, hit just the wrong time. Who knows?

4-spot chaser, Libellula quadrimaculata

Fat-legged beetle, Oedemera nobilis m

ant, Lasius niger w

ant, Lasius niger w

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum

hoverfly, Helophilus pendulus

May 22nd 2022. It must have been the hottest day of the year, certainly here on the front of the house, which faces south. As I walked past the logs and flats I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye. Was it time to look again at progress with the flats? I sat down on a stool and saw that there were definite signs of activity, not the expected mason bees (Osmia spp.), of which there is no sign whatever, but small and tiny solitary wasps. Of several her tiny Crossocerus wasps only one was identified. The others were mason wasps (Eumenidae). I had a cheerful time watching this display, delighted that at least something was happening, until the sun on my neck defeated me and drove me inside. 

digger wasp, Crossocerus annulipes m

A poor picture below, but best to illustrate the three clear bands on the abdomen. They combine with other yellow markings to help identify this smart little wasp.

mason wasp, Symmorphus bifasciatus f

mason wasp, Symmorphus bifasciatus f

mason wasp, Symmorphus bifasciatus f

May 21st 2022. Insects on Firethorn, a short-lived few days which are so easy to miss. The potency of the scent dies down too quickly, before the flowers appear to be dying. This year a variety of insects appeared, some of which only seem to emerge from the background for this special event.

hoverly, Syritta pipiens f

hoverly, Syritta pipiens f

mining bee, Andrena angustior f

mining bee, Andrena angustior f

mining bee, Andrena haemorrhoa f

mining bee, Andrena haemorrhoa f

soldier-fly, Odontomyia tigrina

May 19th 2022. We chose to visit Westhay Moor on this humid, warm afternoon. First glimpses were not favourable, next to no ducks anywhere as we walked up the drove. There was no-one to be seen when we arrived at the tower hide, and it was incredibly peaceful looking out over the water and the acres of reeds stretching away into the distance. A Great white egret appeared first, passing and re-passing - promising.

Great white egret, Egretta alba 

Great white egret, Egretta alba 

Then a harrier popped up almost in front; one moment nothing, then floating across quite close. I was particularly moved by the shot of the bird high up in a windy sky, completely alone, showing the detail on its flight feathers.

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus

Finally, the birds I had hoped to see - Hobbies. This is the perfect time of year to spot them as they pour through on migration. For much of the time they remained very high, little bunches three or four birds remining on circuit together. I never had them fly close, though you would guess that from the detail in the pictures, an astonishing tribute to modern technology in the DSLR and its accompanying lens.

Hobby, Falco subbuteo

Hobby, Falco subbuteo

Hobby, Falco subbuteo

Hobby, Falco subbuteo

Hobby, Falco subbuteo

Hobby, Falco subbuteo

Hobby, Falco subbuteo

May 18th 2022. Very much a one-off, this night-time picture was taken in the near dark. I caught a glimpse of movement and left it to the magic of the camera system - I would not have believed it could work so well.

Silver Y, Autographa gamma

May 11th 2022. The previous sessions on the bush continue to draw the insects, though perhaps not so many or so varied. Still not sign of insect life on the drilled logs, though the weather appears perfect, hot - even the breeze has all but vanished. Identification from photographs used to be completely unacceptable. Now, with the development of reasonably-priced and technically first-class cameras and lenses, the world is busy accepting that a considerable amount of identification can be aided by or even relied upon by this means. Many excellent and simple keys have been produced using photographed key points. I try to build my own ID charts, concentrating only on known local wild life - for instance, information defining Lasioglossum bees expected locally. This immediately removes all sorts of confusions - the wrong surrounds, types of plants or soil acidity. Bees needing these conditions are not included and the list becomes much reduced and less confusing. Within these lists there is a host of information available to help identification. How many have yellow pollen baskets on their legs, how many black, or brown? Is the abdomen noticeably banded? Is the tip of the tail reddish, or black? Is the face white, or otherwise? All this can be shown as a table, designed to make it easy to pick out particular conditions. This table is by no means definitive, but acts to guide you to a conclusion without too much pressure. An aide, rather than a scientific definition. We amateurs, unwilling to kill the insects in which we are interested, face the dilemma of presenting names they have worked to establish for their pictures, may not always be right, but they will be near-right, close to the correct species or family. Two examples are shown below. Andrena nitida, for instance, has dark legs, with white pollen brushes and femora - very distinctive once it has spotted. There are other features such as grey patches on the sides of the abdomen, not easy to spot except in certain lights. The abdomen has a black tip. Andrena scotica has all black legs and pollen basket but still a black tip to the abdomen. It is a very dark bee, but still fades with age. Andrena haemorrhoa has a strongly red-coloured tip to its abdomen, though many photographs may miss this as it twists and turns during feeding. But, it has a strongly, distinctive, fresh red-brown pile over its thorax. The other problem, of course, is that fresh pollen granules change all the colouring.

mining bee, Andrena nitida f

mining bee, Andrena nitida f

mining bee, Andrena nitida f

mining bee, Andrena scotica f

mining bee, Andrena scotica f

bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum f

bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum f

bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum f

bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum f

bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum f

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum f

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum f

bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum w

bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum w

bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum w

May 14th 2022. More pictures are shown from the Berberis bush, a most wonderful source when the flowers are giving out their attractant scents. This time, in addition to the familiar mining bees, Bombus hypnorum which had not been seen in the surrounding garden so far this year.

mining bee, Andrena fulva f

mining bee, Andrena fulva f

May 13th 2022. It was good to find a Nomada cuckoo bee in the garden. I had all but given up hope after looking at the usual scrubby places, then one turned up at the wonderful Berberis bush. How different to their usual circling and flickering between and around low mixes of wild flowers. 

cuckoo bee, Nomada leucopthalma

cuckoo bee, Nomada leucopthalma

May 9th 2022Weather fine, I must not miss the Berberis and its activity. How much longer will it hold its insect-magic? I must get out when I can to record this amazing resource. 

mining bee, Andrena fulva f

mining bee, Andrena fulva f

 

mining bee, Andrena haemorrhoa f

 

mining bee, Andrena haemorrhoa f

mining bee, Andrena haemorrhoa f

mining bee, Andrena nitida f

mining bee, Andrena nitida f

mining bee, Andrena nitida f

mining bee, Andrena scotica f

mining bee, Andrena scotica f

mining bee, Andrena scotica f

May 8th 2022. I had a lengthy morning session searching the Berberis bush with the macro lens; plenty of results, most enjoyable. Of course, the more the pictures, the more time it all takes to enter into the system. The main reason lies with the identification rather than the now well-understood computer programs. Most of the insects here are Andrena mining bees, notoriously difficult to recognise at any time, even more so with sun-bleached 'plumage'. Andrena flava females emerge a strong, dark red, yet in these pictures they are near straw-coloured. The obvious route to naming lies with collecting and killing the individuals, then identify them through a microscope - good keys exist to allow most species to be enabled. But, I am well beyond those days. I do not want to kill anything just to identify it. No, I struggle with searching for the detail needed from quality photos; then search for information from pictures, keys and descriptions to see how these fit with my particular photos. Some bees are virtually impossible to identify as to species in this manner; accept this and caption accordingly, if the pictures are beautiful in their own right, that is fine; if more of a record shot, then names need to be included, at least to family, ideally and normally to species.

There are a great many new English names for species appearing in papers and magazines even, to their disgrace, purely as a recently-minted English name on its own. This is fine for an insect like a Hornet, known for generations but, for a newly-invented and fanciful name for some insect known only by its scientific name, this poses problems. I have no idea what many English names mean, or even what family they may be in. If a new name, the scientific version ought to be included, then there should be no problems in deciding what it is, either here or overseas. Where have these names come from? There ought at least to be definitive list, rather than individuals dreaming up yet another version, as they feel like.

mining bee Andrena fulva f

mining bee Andrena fulva f

mining bee Andrena fulva f

mining bee, Andrena scotica f

mining bee, Andrena scotica f

mining bee, Andrena scotica f

In the afternoon, Romey and I re-visited Loxley Wood, another important regular Spring search, but although the sun was on our side, we were disappointed in the insect life, possibly caused by over-rapid growth and cold spells. Bluebells were at their last gasps and there were virtually no Wood anemones left, though other later wild flowerings were starting to appear. It was really only by the eastern end of the central drove that I found what I had hoped to see - Nomada cuckoo bees. The recent sessions of scrub clearance had obviously had they effect but eventually I saw a number of these tiny bees circling rapidly between a ring of small plants and managed to get a few pictures.

cuckoo bee, Nomada leucopthalma

cuckoo bee, Nomada leucopthalma

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum

hoverfly, Bombus pascuorum f

May 7th 2022Wandering round the garden produced some surprises today. It was a beautiful day, near still, crystal-clear atmosphere and strong sun. Though I went searching for insects in a part where sun came and went. I was looking to see progress on my patch of Wild garlic in amongst the trees, to see if there were any insects on the plants. The patch has grown to an area of about 6' X 4' and wafts of garlic grew stronger whenever the sun pierced the trees above. There were some insects, fever-flies, black, slow-moving midges, but nothing else was showing up.

fever-fly, Dilophus febrilis

fever-fly, Dilophus febrilis m

On the way down, I stopped by a large and unkempt  dark purply-brown Berberis bush, covered in small clumps of gold and pink flowers. These were in full sun and covered in insect-movements, mainly bees. This proved a real gold-mine though the ultimate job of recognising the various species was far from easy. In particular, there were numbers of mid-sized bees with masses of golden hair all over. I spent ages looking through all the information I could find. In the end I approached Ray Barnett and Rhian Rowson of Bristol Museum, old friends. The final decision was that they were extremely faded specimens of Andrena fulva. I had considered this species but could not believe that such violent fading could take place, from such a deep, rich red. Also, there are no evident nest sites nearby. They are said to congregate wherever the soil suits them.

mining bee, Andrena fulva f

mining bee, Andrena fulva f

mining bee, Andrena fulva f

mining bee, Andrena fulva f

Other bees included Andrena humilis, one of those species distinguished by the end of the abdomen being red-brown in colour. A. cineraria is another mining bee, but with extremely clear grey-white patches like a mediaeval ruff, distinctive,

mining bee, Andrena humilis f

mining bee, Andrena humilis f

mining bee, Andrena cineraria f

There were plenty of bumblebees but confined to two species. Not that long ago, you would have expected five or six species and more; what is happening to even the commoners species now? 

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum f

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum f

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum f

bumblebee, Bombus terrestris f

bumblebee, Bombus terrestris f

 

Common wasp, Vespula vulgaris f

Common wasp, Vespula vulgaris f

click beetle, Athous haemorrhalis

hoverfly, Melanostoma scalare f, on Tufted vetch, Vicia cracca

May 4th 2022. It is partially sunny today and the wind seems warmer than recently, yet there is no sign of any activity at the log-flats. Andrew R., living a few miles away among similar moorlands had the first Osmia bicornis mason bee males appearing over a dozen days ago. I am convinced this reflects, at least partially, the wind direction across the terrace where the logs are set up. For so much of the time this wind has been from an easterly direction, wickedly cold and strong. Another part-reason may be that the stack has been rebuilt this year, though I retained many obviously occupied old logs, as well as adding freshly-drilled new ones. As I rather hoped, I spoke too soon. The west wind is warm, the sun is hot, and the first inhabitants of the 'flats' have appeared at last, at the very end of the morning. A very obvious mason bee Osmia spp., was spotted hovering in front of a stack of bamboos- their traditional home. Then a couple of small black Crossocerus wasps appeared and were seen entering and leaving pre-existing nest holes in the logs.

digger wasp, Crossocerus megacepahalus

I have drilled many of these, but there are also numbers of holes drilled by other insects that are also popular with solitary wasps. On a pink Horse-chestnut flower, a familiar small hoverfly completed the day's insects.

hoverfly, Platycheirus clypeatus m

For the third day running I have seen a buzzard in front of the house, sitting on the Tulip tree before slipping quietly away. I suspect there may be a nest in one of the tall lime trees lining the western boundary of the garden.