I only managed to grab an hour’s walk today, once again dodging the rain showers that have been rolling in throughout the day. I thought I might blog about the wild garlic that’s covering every inch of the wilder areas in Penarth’s Alexandra Park but decided it would be better to wait until the flowers are at their peak as that would make for better photos. Then, as I was checking out the garlic and taking a few shots, my eye was caught by the number of insects sitting on their leaves, basking in the fleeting patches of sunshine, braving the weather on this mostly grey wet day. So here they are …
Devil’s-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis) has a beautiful flower that paints the wildflower meadows at Lavernock Nature Reserve in shades of purple lusciousness and provides some very welcome late summer nectar and pollen to a host of insects, particularly bees, flies and butterflies.
And that name? Well, the story goes that the devil was not pleased that the plant’s medicinal properties were healing the skin conditions of people suffering from bubonic plague and scabies so, in a fit of rage, he tried to kill off the plant by biting off the ends of the plant’s roots. Ever the party pooper!
At first glance I thought this big brute was a hoverfly, ’cause I know there are some very large hoverflies, but one look at those eyes told me otherwise. Meet Tachina grossa, the largest Tachnid fly in Britain and Europe.
As you can see, it feeds on pollen and nectar and, though it’s harmless to us humans, it’s no friend of moths. The female Tachina grossa lays her eggs on living larvae, in particular the large hairy caterpillars of the Oak eggar moth and the Fox moth. The fly larvae eat the caterpillars from the inside, eventually but not immediately killing them.
So, it may look kind of cute in the photograph below but I’m just glad I’m not a large hairy caterpillar.
Last Sunday, on #WildflowerHour, the challenge was to find #plantsforpollinators, i.e. to find wildflowers that support a variety of the insects that act as pollinators. I had found several different insects on Bramble flowers last week so posted a series of photos that showed them. And that gave me the idea for day 13 of #30DaysWild, namely to see what insects I could find on the local Bramble bushes. It was overcast and a bit cooler today, so I didn’t see as many butterflies as last week, but there were bees and bumblebees, flies and hoverflies, one butterfly, and a number of bugs and beetles. Here they are …
‘If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.’
~ E. O. Wilson (1929 – ), American biologist, environmentalist, author
I was handing out the cigars last Monday!
Now, you might well think me more than a little mad to be excited about the birth of a fly but this was the first time I had tried rearing one … and it was actually successful, which bodes well for the fact that I’m intending to take part in a fly-rearing investigation this summer (more on that closer to the time).
The fly is Phytomyza ranunculi, a creature whose larvae often make their home in the leaves of Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna). I blogged about this leafminer, its larvae and the pupa here, and it is that pupa which finally hatched earlier this week. I had been told it would take about 3 weeks to hatch but it was, in fact, longer than that – it was 6 February when I found the pupa and 12 March when it hatched, so 34 days in total.
Now, here I must admit to a rookie error. As it was well over the 3 weeks, I had almost given up on its hatching so, on Monday night, when I had a sudden notion to open the container, I didn’t look inside first. The fly popped straight out, perched on the edge for a very brief time – and I managed to get just one photo, and then it flew off. I’ve searched for it in my flat, and it did a quick fly by when I was washing the dishes yesterday, but I haven’t been able to find it, neither to take more photos nor to let it outside.
I’ve only had a couple of visits to Cosmeston Lakes Country Park this month because my volunteer work on the Mary Gillham Archive Project has been taking up a bit more time as we try to get as much as possible done before the project effectively finishes at Christmas – though, having said that, I did spend four hours at Cosmeston last Friday trying to replicate, for the project website, photos Mary had taken in the early days of the park. These are a couple of those: Mary’s photo of the west lake in September 1987 on the left, and my photo from the same spot thirty years later on the right.
But I digress … apart from the berry-eating visitors, the Redwings and the Mistle thrushes, and finally managing to grab a couple of half-decent photographs of a Green woodpecker, I haven’t found anything particularly noteworthy bird-wise at Cosmeston during November. I have, however, been impressed by the numbers of insects still around, despite the fact that it has been noticeably colder, with daytime highs in the low teens and several overnight frosts.
On 5 November, the ‘fireworks’ at Cosmeston were these lovely little Common darters. In an area shaded from the cool westerly wind but warmed by the bright sun, each had claimed itself a fencepost to bask on. And, nearby, a lone bumblebee looked like it wanted to snuggle for warmth into this seed-head ‘duvet’ of Old man’s beard (Clematis vitalba).
On 24 November, though my focus was on finding the exact spots where Mary had taken her photos, I did still have one eye on the wildlife and noticed quite a lot of flies about. Like the dragonflies of two weeks earlier, these two flies and one hoverfly were favouring sheltered spots on wood to make the most of the sunshine.
Have you ever noticed that some small beasties like to sit on fences?
I guess fences are often a good spot to sunbathe, and to keep a look out, and they probably resemble logs and branches to the mini-beasts.
Common darter dragonflies are keen fence-sitters – they don’t even mind barbed-wire fences. And I was particularly delighted to find the Black darter dragonfly (below) sitting on a fence at Cosmeston the other day – my first sighting of this species.
Flies and hoverflies also enjoy a spot of fence-sitting and can often be found taking care of their ablutions in such places. So, the next time you decide to sit on the fence, make sure some other creature hasn’t beaten you to it!
On Friday I went for a wander around one of my favourite local haunts, Cosmeston Lakes Country Park and, while there, I set myself a little challenge. How many critters could I find in one small area, perhaps no more than 2 metres square?
My challenge wasn’t pre-planned: I had seen very little at this point on my walk and was thinking to myself that this was due to autumn and the cooler weather but, when I saw a Speckled wood butterfly at this particular spot – a bank covered with shrubs and small trees – I started wondering how much more there was that I simply wasn’t seeing. So, I stopped and looked harder. There was no poking under grasses or bushes, no sweeping or brushing to encourage movement, just focussing my eyes and ears to really see and hear.
There were, in fact, three Speckled woods – I just hadn’t noticed the other two, plus three different species of spider (the Garden spider was lunching on another critter but it was partly consumed and too tiny to identify), one hoverfly, three species of flies, a gall on Bramble that would’ve been home to the larvae of the tiny gall wasp Diastrophus rubi, and a leaf mine, made by the larva of some unidentified mini-beast. And I’m absolutely sure I didn’t spot everything!