I popped round to Matt’s house yesterday with the idea that we might head out somewhere to look for birds. In the end we spent a couple of hours simply looking at the wild area at the bottom of his garden – no more than 20 square metres, but packed with wildlife! It shows that you don’t need to spend thousand of pounds, or dump hundreds of kgs of CO2 into the atmosphere, to go on safari. There is more than enough of interest right under our feet.
I’ve split the finds into three parts: bees and hoverflies and various other bits and bobs, which I deal with here; spiders, which I’m planning on doing in another post.
So, to the bees and hoverflies.
I’d been hoping to see this bee – Andrena labiata (Red-girdled Mining Bee) – which Matt had found a few days beforehand (see his blog for details), but whether it needs more sun than we had yesterday or whether we were just unlucky, I don’t know. Either way, it wasn’t there. What we did have though were two nice bumblebees. Tree Bumblebee (B. hypnorum) workers were busy on the flowers round the garden, pollen packed on their hind legs, as the slo-mo video shows, here:
Alongside hypnorum was another smaller worker, B. pratorum – Early Bumblebee. It’s a beautiful little bee, working busily among the blossom:
Whilst these were large, obvious visitors to the garden, the hoverflies were less easy to see, darting and dashing between patches of sunlight and flowers. We trapped four, all similar in being narrow-bodied and colourful, but quite distinct when one puts them under a microscope lens. The first was the familiar ‘Marmalade’ fly – Episyrphus balteatus:
The colour, and the ‘moustache’ patterns on the abdomen, make this unmistakable (allows a dangerous thing to say with insects, in my experience, but I’ll stick my neck out). It’s a very common one, seen regularly in the garden and standing out for its colour alone.
Next was Platycheirus albimanus, another common hoverfly, with both male and female trapped. It is one of the varied Bachini tribe, which have black thorax, often shiny, and black faces … and the genus Platycheirus has many different species, though only two common ones with silver/bronze, rather than orange/yellow, abdomenal markings. The female (eyes are separated on female hoverflies, and meet at the top in males) shows silvery spots:
Meanwhile, the male, had more bronze-coloured, faded, spots:
The male can be distinguished from the similar P. ambiguus by a clump of hairs on the front femur. I’ve tried to capture this under the microscope, though it’s not easy to see:
The final slim hoverfly was like the Bachini, but from the genus Melanostoma: M. scalare:
The female has the distinctively-shaped orange pattern on the abdomen. The other British Melanostoma, M. mellinum, is similar but females can be told apart by scalare having large ‘dust spots’ between the eyes, above the mouth – the two grey, triangular patches on the photo below:
Apparently, in mellinum these dust patches are much smaller.
As ever, all this information is new to me and I’m learning as I go, taking it straight from two great books: the photo field guide by Ball and Morris, and the classic text ‘British Hoverflies’ by Stubbs and Falk. Each is wonderful, the former giving lots of information,, clear photos, and great distribution data; the latter being more focused on the key along with Falk’s wonderful hand-painted illustrations in the back. I recommend them both.
The final hoverfly, which was easily visible without the need for trapping, was this mating pair of Merodon equestris – I think!
The male stayed on top of the female for a good 15 minutes at least, from the time we saw them, vibrating its abdomen, presumably, having mated, to keep other males from mating again (excuse the sideways video!):
Finally, we had a few other bits and bobs, including this wonderful male Oedemera nobilis – the aptly named Swollen Thigh Beetle.
It was an iridescent beauty, and yet well hidden amongst damp grasses.
The only other thing of note was this diurnal micro moth which, up close, had a beautiful orange quarter-moon shape on its dorsum.
It is one of the Dichrorampha Tortrix micros. Sterling, Parsons and Lewington (2012, p.329) note that the ‘at first sight, most of the species in this (Dichrorampha) group appear dull, and they tend to be dismissed as ‘too difficult to identify”. Here, the dorsal mark meant that it was either D. alpinana, D. petiverella or D. vancouverana, and a quick look under the microscope showed that it was the first of these:
All-in-all a nice couple of hours finding all sorts of stuff to keep us going. And still the spiders to go … I’ll try and get to them when I can!