So many insects, and a baby toad

Last Thursday I was passing the marjoram in the planter outside the front of the Education Centre when I noticed a bee I had not seen before. It was quite large and very striking, with a strong pattern on the underside of the abdomen. I managed to take a couple of photos and after a bit of research decided it was one of the sharp-tailed bees and probably the large sharped-tail bee, Coelioxys conoidea. Since Thursday it has been a fairly regular visitor to the marjoram and has been seen and photographed by a number of visitors, and Bob also confirmed it was a large sharp-tailed bee.

coelioxys conoidea (2)

Large sharp-tailed bee, Coelioxys conoidea

Sharp-tailed bees are cuckoo bees, laying their eggs in the nests of megachile (leaf-cutter bees) or anthophora (flower bees) species. Only the females have the pointed abdomen which is used to cut a slit in the partition of the host’s cell so the egg can be placed inside. The coelioxys species hatches first, with the grub devouring the host egg and its food source.

This particular species favours the coast leaf-cutter bee, Megachile maritima. As the name suggests, they have a strong liking for the coast but can be found inland in areas of the New Forest. On Monday I noticed a leaf-cutter bee enjoying the Inula hookeri which is now flowering outside the Centre. The plant has large flower heads which the bee was meticulously working its way round before flying off to the next, so I was able to watch it for some time. Although not completely sure it was a coast leaf-cutter bee, they must be onsite somewhere if the large sharp-tailed bees are present.

Leaf-cutter bee

Leaf-cutter bee enjoying the Inula hookeri, possibly Megachile maritima

Bob has been on a mission to fill the planters with plants that are good for pollinators but not liked by the deer, who have taken quite a liking to a number of them. The Inula hookeri however is not to their taste and the large yellow flowers are providing a brilliant nectar source for insects and its been great to watch the butterflies and bees visiting.

Brimstone (2)

Brimstone enjoying the Inula hookeri

Whilst watching the brimstone enjoying the flowers I noticed a bright green and very smart leafhopper, Cicadella viridis:

Cicadella viridis

Leafhopper, Cicadella viridis

There are also still blue mason bees around, they quickly made use of the new bee block Bob added in to the end of the planter and can often be seen resting on the planter itself.

Blue mason bee

Blue mason bee

On Sunday I popped to the meadow in the hope of seeing another bee I haven’t seen before which this time favours heather. The heather is now in bloom, but seeing a heather colletes bee proved harder, or at least seeing one still for long enough to get a good look was quite a challenge. They whizz around even faster than the green-eyed flower bees do.

Eventually one settled long enough for me to get a look and half decent photo:

Colletes succinctus (2)

Heather colletes bee, Colletes succinctus

Whilst watching the bees whizzing around I noticed a bee-wolf fly straight towards me clutching a honeybee. It landed by my feet, I had obviously been right next to its burrow and had taken it slightly by surprise, but after sorting itself and its prey out it flew to its burrow and disappeared. It was fascinating to watch.

P1200506 (2)

Bee-wolf with honeybee prey

P1200507 (2)

Bee-wolf with honeybee prey

P1200509 (2)

Bee-wolf with honeybee prey

The light trap has revealed more than just moths over the past week. Last week we had a couple of visits form a rather large longhorn beetle, the tanner beetle, which is also attracted to light. They are a large beetle with a body length of 18-45mm and are broader than the other longhorn species.

Credit for this photo goes to regular visitor John 6×4, as I have been regularly working from the Welcome Hut since our wifi was improved and he bought the beetle over, on a log, for me to photograph. We were also able to show it to a passing family who were rather impressed!

Another beetle that found its way into the light trap was this species of dor beetle. It was very active so was a bit harder to photograph:

Dor beetle

Dor beetle

On the moth front the two traps have contained a good variety, although many are quick to fly first thing where it has been so warm. Highlights have included bloodvein, coxcomb prominent, light crimson underwing, pebble hook-tip and a stunning gold spot.

Bloodvein

Bloodvein

Coxcomb prominent

Coxcomb prominent

Light crimson underwing

Light crimson underwing, photographed in the trap, it instantly flew once I took the towel away properly

Pebble hook tip

Pebble hook-tip

Gold spot 2

Gold spot, the photo definitely doesn’t do this moth justice

We have also received some great photos this week from visitors. Jon Mitchell visited on Sunday for the first time since lockdown and was able to see and photograph both the large sharp-tailed bee and the heather colletes bee, along with damselflies, a gatekeeper and a couple of dragonfly exuvia by the pond. The second dragonfly nymph clearly thought the first had picked a good spot when it crawled out of the pond.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sam has visited a number of times recently and asked his mum to share photos she took of the toadlet and alder beetle larvae he found whilst exploring here on his last two visits:

Toadlet by Sam

Toadlet spotted by Sam

Alder beetle larvae by Sam

Alder beetle larvae spotted by Sam

We do enjoy seeing photos taken by visitors whilst out and about on the reserve so if anyone else has anything to share please email it to BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org, along with whether or not you are happy for us to share it wider via the blog.

Thank you very much to Jon and Sam for sharing your photos with us.

The Benefits of Staying at Home

I am still going over the reserve to make site checks, mainly security and safety checks, but sadly also dealing with the result of the actions of people who see the present situation as an opportunity. Arriving on site the first thing I spotted was a donation, sadly not a positive one, but a quantity of fly-tipped rubbish, inconveniently thrown well into a bramble to make it extra difficult to retrieve.

fly-tipping

fly-tipping

Thankfully very few people are continuing to drive out to the reserve, although some are, and they are providing good cover for a variety of people up to no good. There has been evidence of poaching on most days since the “Lockdown” started as well a several people wandering around in off-limits areas of the reserve, for no legitimate reason.

On my patrol I surprised a roe deer, she started up, but still had not seen me and stopped to look around to see what I was, standing very still she took a while to realise I was just a few feet away!

roe deer 4x3

rod deer doe

It was very warm in the sunshine and there were lots of butterflies about, mainly brimstone and peacock, but I also saw my first green-veined white of the year.

battered peacock

a rather battered peacock

Today I was with everyone else, at home in the sunshine. So the garden was my domain and I decided to keep a list of all the birds I could record in the day, it turned out to be a rather poor 29 species, although I did see my first two swallow of the year, both flying over heading north. I ran a moth trap overnight, but that was disappointing too, only Hebrew character and pine beauty, however with bright sunshine the daytime insect were out ion abundance. Solitary bees were particularly abundant, with lots of Andrena scotica, the chocolate mining bee, and not they don’t mine chocolate!

chocolate mining bee 4x3

chocolate mining bee

My small bee hotel, actually just a block of wood with holes drilled in it and placed in a sunny spot, had Osmia caerulescens, the blue mason bee nesting in it last summer. The males are now emerging, they are quite unlike the metallic blue females, but very smart for all that.

blue mason bee male 4x3

blue mason bee male

Staying at home is not just good for the nation’s health, if you look hard, or even not so hard, there is lots to see and some of it is really spectacular.