Tuesday 8 August 2017

Insect Escapism

Over my nearly fifteen years with the RSPB I would say that the word 'stress' has seldom reared its irritating head but the last few weeks have been trying for a combination of reasons and thus, I have taken any given opportunity to immerse myself in the invert life that surrounds us on the reserve – it’s not that I have forsaken the delights of feathers – it is just that insects often hold me in their thrall this time of year when the seasons are on the cusp of changing once again.

Hen Harrier Day (more of that in another post) was on Saturday and took a huge amount of effort to prepare and host but even the mowing of the Wildlife Garden lawns reaped benefits when a beautiful Eyed Hawkmoth caterpillar dropped out of the Osier and onto the lawnmower that Andrew G was pushing around.

Eyed Hawkmoth caterpillar

It may not have been as huge as the Privet Hawkmoths we sometimes find (infact I thought it was a small one of these until Annie J correctly identified it) but it was a wonderful shade of lime green with yellow and white pointillism dots, rhubarb and custard spiracles and a pointy electric blue tail.

Eyed Hawkmoth caterpillar

What a beast! After a quick whizz around the centre for a show and tell session I placed him back on the Willow to continue on his journey but not before he had squeezed out the most ridiculously large hexagonal piece of frass! Now that had to smart...

The Echinops is now in flower and is attracting both Honey and a variety of Bumblebees but it is the two large Volucella hoverflies that lure me in with their striking colours and enormous yellow noses.

Volucella zonaria

Volucella inanis

Volucella inanis

After the exertions of HHD I took some time out on Sunday at the end of the ramp to chill and chat with the visitors which included Andrew Jewel who had popped in to drop off some book and then confessed to his love of Ladybirds. I merely mentioned that I had not ever recorded on the reserve the otherwise quite common 16-spot species and he said that he would see what he could do et voila – one was safely delivered to me in a little pot a short time later before being returned to its favoured Sea Beet clump.  Another tiny species, like the 22 and 24 spot species that he also found and looking very much like a number six dice.

16-Spot Ladybird - Tytthaspis 16-punctata

While waxing on about Ladybirds both Shrill and Brown banded Carders and the large black Andrena pilipes bees were feeding on the nearest crucifer.

And so to today where a short breathing space this afternoon allowed an escape for an amble in the surprising sunshine with a view to finding myself some insects and hopefully a passage Flycatcher, Redstart or the much fantasized Wood Warbler. 

Birdwise I may have drawn a blank but there was plenty to become absorbed into and with Jerry H and his trusty hand lens and net we had a pleasant hour in the Cordite area where Dasypoda hirtipes – the Pantaloon Bee were seen stuffing outsized pollen baskets on the Bristly Ox Tongue with slow flying Neomyia Greenbottles sluggishly moving amongst them. 

Dasypoda hirtipes
I know that I should not be even suggesting that I can id a different Greenbottle genus in flight but I suspect that that is the birder in me and I was actually correct each time I checked – sorry Phil, but at least it is thanks to you that I actually pay attention to them nowadays!

Hairs were counted and the pair of presutural acrostichial bristles and three pairs of postsutural dorsocentral bristles even allow the identification of this one to Neomyia cornicina. It is amazing what the brain retains.

Neomyia cornicina - bristles aside - the green betwen the eyes will at least get you to Neomyia rather than Lucilia
and this is a Lucilia sp....

Another fun little fly was the punky arsed Eriothrix rufomaculata - a tachinid who was so busy feeding that it did not notice that its buddy was being wrapped up by a Comb-footed Spider - Enoplognatha ovate.

Eriothrix rufomaculata

Enoplognatha ovate with dinner

Common and Holly Blues were numerous and I eventually found a Brown Argus while Speckled Woods were dancing in the trees. 

Speckled Wood

Jerry had caught himself a little Lasioglossum bee to study when a vivid blue hawker flashed through before turning round and flying straight back at me with wholly blue eyes blazing. I shouted ‘Blue-eyed hawker!’ and Jerry’s little bee was hastily put to one side. He is still trying to identify it...

He zoomed around for several minutes showing off his blue non-stripy flanks and generally vivid blueyness and regularly went up to battle Migrant Hawkers which had also suddenly appeared but he would not land and ended up disappearing over the trees into the Cordite. I later found several hanging Migrants but not this blue eyed beauty.

male Migrant Hawker

female Migrant Hawker

female Migrant Hawker
David Lee also saw one on the northern Trail on Friday and his shots capture the brilliance of this species.

David Lee's BEH from Friday...

Brown and Southern Hawkers were also patrol but as usual the former never seem to land while Ruddy Darters predominated amongst the Sympetrums with only one Common seen.

male Southern Hawker
male Ruddy Darter

male Ruddy Darter

female Common Darter

We found several more Volucella zonaria on territory and a nice plump Eristalis tenax with the hairy eye stripes, the furry white bummed Eristalis intricaria (who is one of the most consummate of hovering hovers) and the black and yellow wasp-like Chrysotoxum festivum.

Eristalis tenax

Wasp Spiders, now fat and round, had laid their traps in the taller areas of grass but I suspect that the forecast rain tomorrow will cause a few problems for them.

Wasp Spider

Dark Bush Crickets chirped from the undergrowth but I caught one out on a bench and sewing machine Long-winged Coneheads seem to now be the commoner of the two species present on site.

Dark Bush Cricket

I left Jerry to continue on his way round to lock up and pottered back on the return loop munching a few specially selected Blackberries and day dreaming of a good night’s sleep.

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