Oh, to Bee in England…

As though to emphasise the change in season today was one of those rare days when it was possible to see both brambling and swift at Blashford Lakes an opportunity that lasts for only a few days.  When I started birdwatching in the Midlands our equivalent was seeing fieldfare and swallow in the same place, on the same day. The brambling were at least 2 males at the feeders and the swift at least 14 over Ibsley Water.

Despite the remaining reminders of winter it felt very spring-like, with orange-tip, green-veined and small white, comma, peacock, brimstone, holly blue and several speckled wood butterflies seen, along with the year’s first damselfly, the large red.

After last night’s thunder storm I was not surprised that the moth trap was not over-filled with moths, although the catch did include a lesser swallow prominent, a pale prominent and a scarce prominent, the last a new reserve record, I think.

The warm weather has encouraged a lot of insects out, I saw my first dark bush cricket nymph of the year near the Centre pond. Nearby I also saw my first dotted bee-fly, this species used to be quite scarce but can now be seen widely around the reserve, although it is well outnumbered by the commoner dark-bordered bee-fly.

dark bush cricket nymph

dark bush cricket nymph

The wild daffodil are now well and truly over but the bluebell are just coming out.

bluebell

bluebell

A lot of trees are in flower now or are shortly to be, the large elm on the way to Tern hide is still covered in flower though.

elm flowers

elm flower

Trees are a valuable source of food for a lot of insects and the find of the day was a species that makes good use of tree pollen. I had spotted what I at first thought were some nesting ashy mining bees Andrena cineraria, but they did not look right. That species has a dark band over the thorax and black leg hairs. This one had white hairs on the back legs and no dark thorax band. I took some pictures and it turns out to be grey-backed mining bee Andrena vaga, until very recently a very rare species in the UK which seems to now be colonising new areas.

grey-backed mining bee 2

grey-backed mining bee

They make tunnelled nests in dry soil and provision them with pollen from willows for the larvae.

greybacked mining bee

grey-backed mining bee with a load of pollen

The same area of ground also had several other mining bees, including the perhaps the most frequent early spring species, the yellow-legged mining bee.

yellow-legged mining bee 2

yellow-legged mining bee (female)

 

Moths Again

A combination of the need to do some repair work on the trap and a lot of very unfavourable weather has meant that it has been a good time since I have run a moth trap. Finally I have made some repairs and the conditions have picked up so the trap has gone out.

So far catches have been unremarkable and involve the typical early spring species such as the aptly named early thorn.

early thorn

early thorn

Although the early thorn does fly from March, early in the year, at least for moths, it also has a second brood which flies between July and September, when the name is not so appropriate.

A number of closely related species, mostly in the genus Orthosia and commonly known as “Quakers” fly at this time of the year, often the most frequent is the common Quaker, although it is often outnumbered by the small Quaker. One of the most distinctive of these is the twin-spotted Quaker, with its prominent “twin-spots”, although a few do not have them so prominent, just to keep me on my toes.

twin-spot quaker

twin-spotted Quaker

Although not called a Quaker the Hebrew character is in the same genus and easily identified by the prominent black markings on the fore-wings.

Hebrew character

Hebrew character

Other species are also now flying, the oak beauty is a close relative of the peppered moth, famous for having industrial melanism. The March moth, unsurprisingly flies now as does the yellow horned, which is widespread wherever there is birch growing.

yellow-horned

yellow horned

I might reasonably be asked “Why fly so early int he year?” it is rather cold and there are few flowers around to feed from. Equally there are not so many moth eating birds and bats about to hunt them when they are flying at night. Starting early in the year also means the caterpillars can get started eating the fresh, new growth. For species with more than one brood per year, such as the early thorn, it also allows time for the second brood to be reared, lay eggs and have the caterpillars pupate in time to over-winter ready to hatch in the next spring.