Spring Insects

This last week the insects seem to have been coming out in force in the garden. After the relative quiet of the winter, it’s great to hear the buzz of insects in the air again. Moths may not buzz, but it’s still really nice to have them appearing again too. March brought the start of the Garden Moth Scheme for the summer. After a few weeks of fairly plain looking moths (sorry Common Quakers, but you aren’t the most showy of moths), it was nice last weekend to get a few of the more beautiful ones – in fact the Pine Beauty and Oak Beauty.

Hopefully it won’t be too long before the really spectacular hawk-moths start turning up in the trap too.  Butterflies have been proving a bit more elusive than the moths; so far I’ve just seen a few Small Tortoiseshells in the garden, but not managed to nab any photos.

Wasps may not be popular with everyone, but when you study them close up, they really are stunning insects and they are already making themselves known around the garden this year.

In the last 2 weeks, we’ve already recorded 12 species of bee in the garden – a promising start to the bee season. First up was my perennial favourite – the Hairy Footed Flower Bee. The males appeared first, patrolling frenetically around the garden, seeing off anything remotely bee-shaped that got in their way.

The last few days, I’ve been seeing more of the females – distinguishable by their all black bodies with orangey pollen brushes on the back legs. Our garden has naturalised primroses all over the place and the bees love them.

Another favourite is the Tawny Mining Bee, in particular the females who have this bright red foxy looking hair all over them. I spend (some may say waste) an awful lot of time chasing these round the garden, trying to get the perfect photo to do them justice.

Not quite so showy and much smaller is the Red Mason Bee. We get these little bees every year, finding nooks and crannies in the brickwork to nest in.

The much larger Red-tailed Bumblebee is also on the wing now, although so far I’ve only seen Queen bees like this one (I think).


The strikingly coloured Mourning Bees have already been busy on the rosemary flowers. These are also a favourite, not least because of the obvious white “kneecaps” which make them a cinch to identify.

Buzzing like a bee, but actually a fly, Bee-Flies seem particularly abundant this spring. I’ve previously only ever seen the one below – the Dark-edged Bee-Fly. They seem to torment the male Hairy Footed Flower Bees by hovering around “their” primroses. They also seem curious about us and often hover in front of me as if they’re trying to work out what this huge being is?

But there is a second species of Bee-Fly – the Dotted Bee-Fly. I’ve been hoping to see one of these for years and have chased a lot of the Dark-bordered ones around fruitlessly trying to find one with dots on. Then I read on Twitter this week to look out for the white stripe on the abdomen – easier to spot when they are flying than the dots on wings whirring like mad. And so I was thrilled when using this marker, I finally spotted one – complete with dotty wings and white striped bum (white stripe is more apparent in the second photo below).

As for other groups of insects, well they’re all starting to appear too. Hoverflies are always fairly abundant, although tricky to get a decent photo of. This male (male because its eyes meet in the middle, so I’m told) Eupeodes was more obliging than most.

A single Cinnamon Bug so far, but easily visible against the primrose leaves.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Shield Bug family of insects. We’ve recorded 7 species in the garden in total, although so far this year we’ve only seen the green one and this Dock Bug.

Not had the time yet to go rooting about in the undergrowth looking for beetles, but did at least spot the first ladybird of the year. Slightly disappointingly I think it is a Harlequin, so not an ideal spot, but hopefully some of the native species will appear soon too.

Final photo for the blog, this crab spider lying in wait for a bee. I know they’re not actually insects, but having spotted him today posing so nicely on the red valerian, it seemed rude not to include him. I thought these spiders were supposed to be able to camouflage themselves, but this one doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job.

So that’s a round up of the spring invertebrates currently buzzing/flying/crawling around the garden. It feels like everything is springing into life at last and we can look forward to an insect (and arachnid) filled summer.

 

 

Grafton Wood

Lovely day yesterday out and about at Grafton Wood, one of our favourite butterfly hunting spots. Forecast was for sunny spells in the morning so we headed over, hopeful of a good day’s butterfly spotting. The sunny spells were slow to materialise and for the first hour we hardly saw a butterfly. Nor did we see anyone else, it was as if everyone else knew the butterflies were having a day off! Eventually though the butterflies started to appear – a slightly dopey Common Blue was the first to pose for us.

After the initial dozy one, more blues arrived plus Green-Veined Whites and our first Painted Lady of the year.  All in all we tallied up 11 species – not bad after such an unpromising start.

The one butterfly we’d particularly hoped to see though, the Brown Hairstreak, eluded us. They are notoriously tricky to find and we’ve only ever seen one, right here at Grafton Wood in 2015. So it was no great surprise not to find one yesterday. We did however meet  a very helpful gentleman who gave us some top tips for spotting them and showed us some new areas of the wood to look for them in future.  So butterfly-wise we were very happy.

But Grafton Wood is buzzing with more than just butterflies, there are plenty of other insects to enjoy. We kept seeing beautiful big hornets – either Grafton has lots of them or we were being stalked by the same one everywhere we went.

There were lots of small moths flying about in the grass, but the mothy highlight was spotting a group of Buff Tip moth caterpillars that had almost stripped a young tree bare.

We also saw a few shieldbugs, including this nice specimen of a Forest Bug (Pentatoma rufipes).

In the sunnier periods we could hear crickets chirruping in the grass. We saw several of these particularly large ones, which turned out to be a new species for us  – the Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus discolour).

Grafton is also a great place to go for dragonflies and damselflies. Darters (like this female Common Darter (thanks to Neil for ID)) were reasonably common all over the wood.

We also saw several of the much larger Southern Hawker dragonflies, particularly around the small pond. They seemed to be inexhaustible though and never once did we see one land. Both of us spent ages trying to get a photo of one in flight over the pond; this blurry shot was the best we managed.

Damselflies were also common around the pond – again another new species for us – the White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes), which has, as the name suggests, white legs! (although to be honest the legs look more like pale blue to me)

I found one individual sitting on a flower, seemingly staring straight at me. It stayed so long and I spent so long trying to get the perfect photo, it ended up feeling like we were having a bit of a staring contest – if we were then he won!

One insect we’d been trying to get a photo of all summer, was a scorpion fly.  These are seriously weird looking insects, with a long beak like structure on the head and a scorpion style tail on the males. We’d seen lots of them at Trench Wood a few months ago, but then only the females which don’t have the scorpion bit. Grafton Wood however was buzzing with males. It still wasn’t easy to get a photo of the tail as the wings kept getting in the way, but here are our best efforts.

Final surprise of the day was a cheeky little deer face, peeking at us over the wheat field as we walked back to the car.

Grafton Wood has never disappointed us and this weekend was no exception.

30 Days Wild – Day 7 – Birdwatching Surprise

Day 7 of 30 Days Wild and I was at my Dad’s house in rural Herefordshire. I spent the morning doing a bit of cleaning in his kitchen and while doing so, observed that his garden was full of birds (clearly I wasn’t 100% focussed on my cleaning duties!) Since I’d got the camera with me it seemed the ideal thing for today’s bit of wildness – a spot of birdwatching in his garden. First of course we had to have our pub lunch – there are certain priorities in life after all! Needless to say by the time we got back and I got myself set up in the garden, all the birds had decided they’d got better places to be!

In the morning there had been several large black birds (too far away to see if they were crows or jackdaws) going in and out of this hole in an old apple tree. They must have been too smart to do so while I was watching, as not one appeared while I waited, although I could hear them in the trees nearby. I might take my trail cam down and leave it pointed at the tree sometime, but in the meantime I drew a blank.

In the morning I had also seen magpies, wrens, robins, blue tits and pigeons – in the afternoon – zilch, zippo, nada! Then just as I was about to give up on them all –  a total surprise. I was leaning against another old apple tree (Dad’s house was built in an old orchard) when a Gold Crest suddenly appeared just a few feet in front of me. By the time my brain registered what it was, it had already spotted me and started to move, so I only managed this one rubbish shot. You’ll probably have to take my word for it that he was indeed a gold crest, since the key bit – i.e. his crest, is hidden by a twig. Still his appearance made up for the absence of everything else. I grew up in that garden and don’t ever remember seeing a gold crest before, so it was a real treat.

Loitering under various trees did have the unplanned benefit of letting me admire the tree canopies. There is a beautiful large copper beech tree overhanging Dad’s garden and the leaves were stunning from below (or indeed from any angle).

The birds may have been a bit contrary today, but fortunately a few insects were a bit more obliging. I spotted several pairs of these adorable little Woundwort Shieldbugs, all feeling the love in one of Dad’s flower beds. Not a species I’d come across before and smaller than other species I’ve seen.

A rather striking fly – the grandly named Pellucid Fly (Volucella pellucens) is one of Britain’s largest flies, but was a welcome sight given the lack of birds to photograph.

Although the garden was once part of an orchard, most of the apple trees have got too old and fallen. Those that are still there are covered in ivy and mistletoe. The hedges are full of hawthorn and other native plants, notably elderflower. All great habitats for wildlife. Seeing the elderflower in bloom reminds me of my childhood and the smell takes me right back.

I think I’ve seen a few other people on 30 Days Wild making elderflower champagne. We used to make this as children too, so I picked a load and took them home. This is as far as they’ve got at the moment. I’ll have to dig out a recipe and hopefully turn  them into something drinkable over the next few days – fingers crossed.

So as is so often the case with my 30 Days Wild acts, things didn’t go quite as planned. But who cares – a pub lunch and an enjoyable hour or so spent in Dad’s garden, listening to, if not seeing a lot of birds. There are worse ways to spend your day!

The Darling Bugs Of May

Apologies for the title, couldn’t resist a bad pun! After the quiet winter and early spring months, all the insects are suddenly emerging in May. It feels like our garden is gearing itself up again ready for the 30 Days Wild in June. Everywhere I look there is something buzzing (everywhere except the bee hotel I’ve put up which is of course silent!)

May wouldn’t be May with out the arrival of the May Bugs in the moth trap. These huge beetles can apparently be a pest for farmers, but I love seeing them. They are fascinating animals and I can still remember my amazement the first time I found one in the moth trap a few years ago. (Chris wasn’t so excited when I woke him up to show him my find!)

One of the areas particularly buzzing at the moment is a patch of poached egg flowers that I’d sown last year. I’d forgotten about them, but they all popped back again this year and look fantastic. I’d grown them originally as I’d read they were good for hoverflies – not sure about that but the bees love them!

Most of the bees are plain old honey bees (very welcome all the same of course).

There were also a few of these very small furrow bees Lasioglossum sp. It’s virtually impossible to get this one to species level without killing and examining it, which I’m not prepared to do, so it will have to remain a sp.

This next bee is one of the yellow faced bees – Hylaeus sp. Unfortunately since I didn’t manage to get a shot of its face, I also can’t identify this one to species. But since I’ve not recorded any other Hylaeus, I’ve counted this as bee species number 30 for the garden!

This next one did get identified to species (not by me but by a kind soul on facebook) as Osmia caerulescens – the Blue Mason Bee. This was also a new species for the garden, making 31 in total now over the last 2 years!

The bees weren’t the only ones enjoying a poached egg. This beetle (some kind of click beetle I think) spent a long time perusing the flowers.

This Hairy Shieldbug didn’t move much, just seemed to be using the flowers as a vantage point to survey the garden!

And of course my favourite – the Swollen Thighed Beetle had to get in on the act, displaying his fat thighs nicely.

The poached egg plants weren’t favoured by all the bees; some preferred other flowers like this Early Bumblebee on the alliums

and this Common Carder bee on a campion.

Somewhat inevitably the new bee hotel that I put up in the spring has been virtually ignored by all the bees. But at least it provided a resting place for this shieldbug.

The hoverflies were supposed to be interested in the poached egg flowers, but like most things in the garden, they never do what I expect! This little marmalade hoverfly preferred this small yellow flower to the slightly brash poached eggs.

This large fat bumblebee-mimicking hoverfly (Merodon equestris) preferred just to perch on the leg of the bird table. Even when I had to move the bird table to a different part of the garden, the hoverfly followed it over – no idea why?

After a very quiet spring moth-wise, May has finally brought an increase in their numbers to the moth trap. The moths of winter and early spring are generally fairly subdued looking, so it’s always nice when some of the more interesting species start emerging. I love this Pale Tussock with its lovely furry legs.

The Buff Tip is a regular visitor to our garden – it has the amazing ability to look just like a broken twig.

The hawkmoths are the biggest of our native species. Over the years we’ve had Elephants, Small Elephants, Eyed and Poplar Hawk-moths but never a Lime one. So I was thrilled when not one but two turned up last night!

With more moths emerging, more of their foes have emerged too. This beautiful but deadly (if you’re a moth of the wrong species) wasp Ichneumon stramentor parasitizes moth caterpillars.

As well as all of the above, there have been plenty of beetles, flies, caddis flies, daddy longlegs and other insects buzzing around this May, I just haven’t managed to take any photos of those. Something for another blog post maybe. But finally one of my favourite images from the month, a ladybird, even if it is a Harlequin rather than one of our native ones.

Ivy Stakeout

As stakeouts go, this may not have been the most action packed and I doubt they’ll make a movie of this one; but the end result for me was all the excitement I needed! We’d been seeing loads of posts on social media about Ivy Bees (Colletes hederae). This species of bee was only discovered in Britain in 2001, when they were spotted in Dorset. Since then they’ve been spreading north and have reached as far as Staffordshire.  They forage pretty much exclusively on ivy flowers, so the adults emerge in time to match the ivy flowering in September.

As usual bee envy set in and we (well mainly I) wanted to see them too. There is a very large stand of ivy down the road from us, so when Chris went for a walk with his camera last weekend, he was under instruction to look out for ivy bees. And much to my delight, he found them! Of course now I knew they were in Malvern, I wanted to spot one in our garden too.  So this is how I came to be staking out the ivy in our garden today. It’s not a huge patch of ivy like the one down the road, but it is flowering, so I sat down to wait.

Since I wasn’t immediately inundated with the desired bees, I spent time observing the other insects. There was a surprising amount around considering it is now technically autumn. This grasshopper may have been missing one back leg, but it was making the most of the sunshine, sitting on top of one of the solar panels for the pond pumps.

grasshopper-on-solar-panel

There were also a few Green Shieldbug nymphs, of varying stages, meandering about the leaves at my feet, with at least one adult visible but out of photographic range.

shieldbug-nymph

shieldbug-nymph-2

I got a bit excited when I spotted something on the ivy flowers, but it turned out to be just a Common Wasp.

wasp-v-vulgaris-on-ivy

One of my favourite hoverflies clearly wanted in on the photo shoot too – this is Helophilus pendulus, which is sometimes known as The Footballer because his stripy thorax is supposed to look a bit like a football shirt!

hoverfly

There were quite a few bees about – such as this rather tatty looking Common Carder (top) and slightly fresher looking Honey Bee (bottom)

carder-bee

honey-bee

I was about to give up for the day, when a single bee landed next to the ivy.  It didn’t hang about long, so I didn’t get the chance for many photos, but at least I got enough to confirm it was an Ivy Bee – my stakeout had paid off!

ivy-bee-7

Although I was very pleased to have got a pic of our Ivy Bee, the photos Chris took last weekend were loads better, not least because they show the bees actually on the ivy! So here are a couple of my favourites.

ivy-bee-media-2

ivy-bee-media

The Bees, Wasp & Ant Recording Society (BWARS) have got a mapping project going to record the spread of the Ivy Bees, so our sightings both in the garden and down the road have been duly logged. If anyone else spots these distinctive bees, do please record them as well, so that they can build up a better picture of the current distribution. http://www.bwars.com/content/colletes-hederae-mapping-project

30 Days Wild – Day 20

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_20Day 20 of 30 Days Wild and it’s the mid summer solstice – extra time to do something wild! It’s also the start of National Insect Week – a celebration of all things insect related. I could have marked the summer solstice by staying up all night, but since I’ve got work tomorrow, it seemed more prudent to celebrate National Insect Week instead!

NIW_Logo_FBWe’re lucky in that we get loads of insects in the garden, so I thought I’d have a look this afternoon and see how many of the different groups of insect I could find. Insects are an incredibly diverse group, but all have an exoskeleton, 3 pairs of legs and a three part body. It’s amazing how you can take that basic body scheme and turn it into such a wide variety of shapes and sizes!

So in no particular order here are some of the insects I found in the garden this afternoon. First up the ants, surely one of the most populous insect groups on earth. I’ve no idea what species this is, forming an ant hill in our lawn, but we’ve got an awful lot of them!

Ants

Flies may not be the most popular or the most attractive group of insects, but they are fascinating when you look at them close up like this. (Photos like this do always remind me of the Jeff Goldblum film The Fly though!)

Fly

Hoverflies belong in the same group (Diptera) as the fly above – they are all considered True Flies. We get loads of hoverflies in the garden, although of course few showed their faces tonight because I was looking for them. Some are small and skinny like this Sphaerophoria species.

Hoverfly Sphaerophoria

While others are bigger and chunkier like this Common Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax), which looks more like a bee.

Eristalis tenax

Aphids or greenfly are not true flies and are certainly the bane of many a gardeners’ life. But they all have their place in the food chain, being fodder for amongst other things the ladybirds.

Aphids

I couldn’t resist posting this photo below of a Woolly Aphid – I didn’t see one today, this was taken a few weeks ago during the Bioblitz – but it is so darn cute close up, I just had to include it.

Woolly aphid

Crickets and grasshoppers are just starting to appear again in the garden. This grasshopper was pinging about our very weedy drive when I got home today.

Grasshopper

Shieldbugs like the one below are in the same super group of insects (Hemiptera) as the aphids, although they don’t look anything like each other.

Shieldbug

I had hoped a butterfly would make an appearance, but none obliged this afternoon. So the Lepidoptera today are represented by the only moth I could find – this Mint Moth. In the summer we have loads of these fluttering around the herbs – they don’t restrict themselves to just mint!

Mint moth

Of course I had to include a bee photo. Although there were plenty flying around this afternoon, it was a bit windy, so I had problems with the flowers blowing around as I tried to take photos. I think this is just about recognisable as a Buff-tailed Bumblebee though.

Bumblebee

Beetles make up the group Coleoptera and again are hugely diverse. I found this one in the pitfall trap this afternoon.

Beetle

So that’s all the insect groups I could find today in the garden. Not bad although there are of course lots of others not represented – dragonflies & damselflies, earwigs, ladybirds (although these are a type of beetle), froghoppers, lacewings, caddisflies – the list goes on. Over an average summer we’ll see examples of most of these in our garden – you just need to look and it’s surprising what you can find.

Foxglove 30 WEEDSAnd finally as usual another “weed” from our garden for my 30 Lazy Garden Weeds. This time the Foxglove. I was so pleased to find this growing under the apple tree this week. I’ve tried a few times to get them to grow in the garden – scattering seeds with no success. But this one seems to have seeded itself in here all by itself. Hopefully it will be the first of many. The bees love them and so do I!

 

Out and About – Hartlebury Common

Once again we ventured forth from our sofas and hit the outside world in search of adventure – or more precisely moths! We’d heard that Hartlebury Common in North Worcestershire might have Emperor Moths – large day flying moths that we’ve always wanted to see. Hartlebury Common is an SSSI, consisting of lowland heath and supposedly good for Emperors.

Hartlebury Map

Needless to say after several hours tramping about in intermittent sunshine, there were no signs of the regal Emperors. Fortunately Hartlebury  provided other wildlife of interest. Insect-wise there were lots of bees feeding on the gorse and broom. A single Tortoiseshell butterfly provided fleeting hope that we’d spotted an Emperor; but a Bloody-nosed Beetle (Timarcha tenebricosa) stopped us in our tracks as he trundled across the path. When Chris tried to gently move him to one side, he secreted his trademark blood red liquid from his mouth, which made identifying him later a hell of a lot easier! You can see the “blood” droplet in the second photo.

Bloody Nosed Beetle Bloody Nosed Beetle on its back

The gorse bushes also offered up a Gorse Shieldbug (Piezodorus lituratus) – a species we’d never seen before, so nice to bag another one.

Gorse Shieldbug at Hartlebury (6)

The birds were abundant and singing all round us. A green woodpecker taunted us all morning, but remained steadfastly out of camera range. A tree creeper posed on a tree trunk just long enough for us to spot him, but not long enough for us to focus and get a photo. Fortunately a wren was slightly more accommodating, although a bit far away to get a really good shot.

Wren at Hartlebury

A pair of Jays made the trip all worthwhile though. I’d previously only seen glimpses of these beautiful birds, so to see them as clearly as this made my day.

Jay at Hartlebury 2

Jay at Hartlebury

A chaffinch also posed perfectly on an old tree stump.

Chaffinch at Hartlebury (2)

The final bird of the day was either a Chiffchaff or a Willow Warbler. Apparently the two are very similar and the best way to tell them apart is by their songs. Of course we were so intent on taking photos, that we didn’t really pay much attention to the songs. Back at home and listening to sample bird songs on “tinternet”, Chris thought we’d heard a Chiffchaff and I thought it was the Warbler. So if anyone can confirm the bird by appearance alone and settle our argument, that would be great.

Chiffchaff (11)

Having never before stood under a pylon (slightly incongruous in the middle of the Common), I thought I’d attempt an arty shot – not sure I’ve really got the hang of art though!

Pylon at Hartlebury

So Hartlebury Common may not have offered up any Imperial sightings, but there was plenty of interest to while away a few hours.

 

New Year’s Resolutions

Well 2015 is over and I reckon it’s been a pretty good year for the wildlife in the garden. The final tally includes:

  • Elephant Hawk-moth155 species of moth recorded in the garden, plus about 6 more seen out and about. Most of the 155 came to the moth traps, but a few were more adventurous and made it as far as the bathroom!
  • Common Blue28 species of butterfly bagged, of which 17 appeared in the garden at least once during the year.

 

  • Bee on buddleia12 species of bee in the garden (which reminds me I must do a bee post soon). At the height of the summer (such as it was) the garden was buzzing with bee activity.

 

  • Box Bug7 species of shieldbug in the garden, including a rarity for Worcestershire – the Box Bug (which remains the only wildlife to have used our new bird bath!)

 

  • Hedgehog3 mammal species in the garden (grey squirrel, hedgehog and regular if unidentified bats) plus one family of mice living in the garage.

 

  • Toad3 amphibian species (toad, frog and common newt) visiting our pond/bog and surviving attacks from our garden furniture.

 

  • SparrowhawkOne sparrowhawk (and consequently one less sparrow) in the garden. Numerous other small birds though eating their way through a small fortune’s worth of bird seed.

 

  • Blue Tit on Suet FeederOne family of blue tits successfully fledged from our bird box, after 6 years of it sitting empty. Fingers crossed for a repeat next year.

 

  • Swollen Thighed BeetlePlus numerous beetles (including my personal favourite – the swollen-thighed beetle), molluscs, ants, wasps, hoverflies and other assorted invertebrates.

 

  • TeaselsAnd finally of course to maintain the “too lazy” ethos – zero weeds were harmed in the making of this list!

 

So that brings me to 2016 and some New Year’s resolutions. As there is virtually no chance of me succeeding with any of my usual resolutions (cut down the drinking, lose weight, grow taller, read the classics, write a classic, stop fantasizing about George Clooney etc. etc. etc.) I thought I’d make an alternative list of things I might actually achieve.  So for 2016 I hope to:

  • Try and see at least 4 more species of butterfly – there are lots of great wildlife reserves within easy distance of Malvern, so hopefully we can bag at least some of the following: Grayling, Wood White, Purple Emperor, Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Silver-studded Blue and Green Hairstreak.
  • Have a go at beetle trapping. Having more or less got the hang of the moth traps, it would be good to expand our insect repertoire.
  • Dig a new pond – one that actually has water in, not just soggy mud.
  • Replace at least some of the overgrown weeds with more butterfly and bee flower beds.
  • Work out what species those unidentified bats are – it’s been bugging me for years!
  • Get that moth tattoo I’ve been toying with for ages!
  • Learn to photoshop convincingly so I can fabricate evidence of the above when I fail to achieve these resolutions too!

Wishing all lazy wildlife enthusiasts a happy, healthy and environmentally friendly 2016.