Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Rise of the Flies...

RSPB Rainham Marshes - 3rd & 4th April 2017
There has been plenty to do in the Wildlife Garden at work and I have spent the last two days working to make it better for wildlife and the visitors. I have been surrounded by a myriad of insects - especially yesterday when the garden was a proper little sun trap.
When we arrived on Monday morning we found that there had been a mass emergence of one of our commonest flies – Musca autumnalis and as usual on a nice warm spring day they were covering the wooden facia of the visitor centre in enormous numbers.

Favouring darker boards over light....

As the day wore on the lads (they were nearly all males) headed down into the garden and spent the rest of the day loafing around on the benches, posts and hand rails, generally having good chat about the footy on the telly last night and whether to go down the pub later. I have no idea why we get these immense aggregations but they are great to watch and really helpful for me to educate families who visit the garden about the joy of insects and fun facts about eyes touching for males and eyes apart for the ladies...

Musca autumnalis
Jerry Hoare joined me in the afternoon and added a couple of new Andrena bees to the list but even without the magnifying glass we were able to identify a nice ginger furry Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva) again and got buzzed by several Hairy Footed Flower Bees (Anthophora plumipes) who took a liking to the Flowering Current. 

Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva)

Epistrophe elegans – a shiny thoraxed hoverfly – was also seen on the current and Bee-flies (Bombylius major) tantalised me and the camera but I eventually got one when the sun dipped behind a lone cloud.

Epistrophe elegans

Epistrophe elegans

Bee-fly (Bombylius major)

Other flies were basking on the shiny silver Ash trunks and included quite a few Gymnocheta viridis which varied quite a lot in size and at least two were almost coppery bronze in colour. They are a handsome fly close up!

Gymnocheta viridis

Commas, Small Torts, Peacock, Red Admiral, two smaller Whites and Speckled Woods all visited where I was working but it was the male Orange Tip that stole the show and even did the decent thing and landed on a little piece of Red Dead Nettle.


Orange Tip

A Willow Warbler added non insectoidal interest and spent the first couple of hours of the day serenading me from the Willows with that sweet, mellifluous cascade while Med Gull and yet another Red Kite added to the skywatch list. 

Another Red Kite
And so to today with its cool wind and grey skies. What a huge difference with the garden being very quiet which was probably just as well given the amount of banging, crashing, chopping, sawing and creating that Jerry and I were doing!  

I started by clearing up a spent lolly wrapper that had oozed a puddle of sugary wonderfulness out onto the edge of the herb bed sleeper. I picked it up to find a line of very happy Black Ants supping at the edge of the sticky pink slick. Several were positively bloated as they staggered off!

Happy Ants

On the other side of the patch three plush Velvet Mites did likewise although they did not look as sure as the ants opposite.

Velvet Man

One of the main jobs was to clear out and renovate the old wooden compost bins and empty the green garden one used by the cafe for green waste and coffee grounds.  The job went very well but we were both surprised at just how vigorous the composting procedure had been in the green tub with some top quality mulch to put around the ever hungry Rhubarb.  With this greatness came the warm, pungent stench of decaying matter and I apologise to anyone who got a noseful today but it really was good stuff!

Within no less than five minutes of us spreading out the compost it had attracted the first Yellow Dung Flies (Scathophaga stercoraria) of the season which must have smelt it way out on the marsh as they are almost never around the centre. These hairy legged predatory flies hang around cowpats and such like in the hope of leaping on another unsuspecting fly to digest for dinner but also use it as an opportunity to chat up the ladies and see if a short term relationship is in the offing. 

Yellow Dung Flies (Scathophaga stercoraria)
By the afternoon there were dozens of them in a yellow frenzy of hairy happiness and the best of it was the fascination that they imbued in those who came to look at them from right across the age spectrum including with a wee young lady who was having fun making Mud Pies, Cakes, Soup, Muffins and a whole banquet's worth of culinary delights!

I hope to spend tomorrow out there too so who knows what tiny wonders I may find...

4th April 2017

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