30 Days Wild – Day 13 – The Eyes Have It

After the long sunny spell of lockdown we are now in a spell of old fashioned English summer weather, a bit of sunshine then a shower or even a thunderstorm.

silt pond

Approaching shower over the Ivy Silt Pond

When the sun comes out it is strong and very warm, these conditions are actually good for insect photography as the insects need to warm up after each cloudy spell meaning they are basking a lot more than in continuously sunny conditions. The timber of the planters outside the Centre make an idea spot to warm up and are being used by lots of species.

leaf cutter bee

leaf-cutter bee

I know Tracy has already posted some pictures of the green-eyed flower bee, but prepare yourselves for another, as they are very smart little insects.

green-eyed flower bee

green-eyed flower bee (male)

The eyes of many insects are very large and provide a huge field of view using an array of separate element arranged together in a compound eye. This is evidently very effective  enabling them to move at speed, through dense vegetation and often backwards or sideways. In some insects the eyes are patterned or coloured, the green-eyed flower bee is both as are the horseflies.

Tabanid

band-eyed brown horsefly Tabanus bromius (male)

This is a male horsefly and so it won’t bite, like a lot of male flies it has much larger eyes than the female providing very close to all-round vision. The size of the eye facets also varies across the eye surface, sometimes in ways that will identify the species. It seems that the larger facets give better acuity. Male horseflies feed at flowers, so not too difficult to find, the large eyes are for finding and  identifying females and avoiding predators as many are large and tempting prey for birds. Horseflies are also very fly fast and it seems they can process visual information much faster than we can allowing them to navigate between obstacles at high speed. The males of many species also perform dance flights, often in the very early mornings, long before the day has warmed up.

I made a site check walk around the reserve, which told me that the rain has produced a spurt of growth in brambles and next week I will need to get out and cut the path edges again. I also found a “new” pyramidal orchid, that is one somewhere I had not seen before and a very fine example it was.

pyramidal orchid

pyramidal orchid

The marsh thistle is just coming into flower, it comes in two colour forms, this being the pale one and is a plant I always associate with silver-washed fritillary, as they seem particularly fond of nectaring at the flowers.

marsh thistle

marsh thistle

Although I ran the moth trap there was not a great deal caught. In the great days of the Victorian moth collectors they did not have lamps to attract moths in any quantity and so found lots by looking for and then rearing larvae. I found this caterpillar on an oak branch, checking in the excellent and recently published Field Guide to Caterpillars by Barry Henwood and Phil Sterling, I concluded it was almost certainly a maiden’s blush.

maiden's blush

maiden’s blush (I think)

 

Staying Wild – Life Still Bee Hard

I had a couple of days off on Friday and Saturday but was back at Blashford on Sunday. Although it was raining at first by the end of the day it was actually feeling summery, with bees and butterflies.

Opening up I saw the common scoter was still on Ibsley Water, but apart from a single redshank, a pochard and 97 tufted duck I could see little else.

I was working with the volunteers during the morning, and attended to various odd jobs in the afternoon. As I said the sun came out and  along with it lots of insects. In the sweep meadow I found a very splendid bee basking on a fence post, I am pretty sure it is a coast leafcutter bee, as the name suggests usually found on the coast in sandy places, it presumably finds the sandy soil of the Lichen Heath to its liking.

coast leafcutter bee male

coast leafcutter bee (male)

At lunchtime the picnic tables were attracting lots of basking female horseflies, they all seemed to be Tabanus bromius. Luckily they seemed more interested in warming up than biting, at least for now.

Tabanus

Tabanus bromius female.

Towards the end of the afternoon I was at the sandy bank where I observed the Nomad bees several weeks ago as they tried to parasitize the yellow-legged bee colony. This time the solitary bees, I am not sure what species, were being attacked by hunting wasps.

bee hunting wasp

wasp hunting solitary bees

It was capturing the small bees in the same way that a bee wolf does honey bees, but it was a small wasp, hunting smaller bees. After stinging them it carried them to a nest hole and tried to get them underground. From what I could see the bee was not dead but incapacitated and certainly seemed unable to fight back

One Wheel on my Wagon

Usually a warm night such as we had would have resulted in a bumper moth trap catch, a sit was the catch was good by this year’s standards, but not great. there were a few species that were new for the year including obscure wainscot and shoulder striped wainscot and a Pyralid moth Pempelia palumbella.

Pampelia palumbella

I have mentioned before that it is not only moths that get caught in the moth trap and one of the other things today was a horsefly, this one was one of the common species Tabanus bromius. All horseflies have patterned eyes, formed both by the colours and the different sizes of the eye facets.

Tabanus bromius

As it was Thursday the volunteers were out on the reserve today, this is not the best time of year in terms of the jobs that need doing, but despite this sixteen people turned out to pull ragwort along the shore of Ibsley Water. We did take a look at the sand martin bank on the way which is always good, not as busy as last year but still very good to watch. We did  find rather a lot of ragwort, but not nearly as much as last year. We did not get to clear the grassy spit of land between the Goosander and Lapwing hides as there was at least one lapwing chick there and we did not want to disturb it.

On our way back at the end of the task I noticed the annual beard grass int the area south of the Goosander hide was looking good. This grass is really a species of upper saltmarshes but somehow it got to Blashford and finds the poor silty soils, especially where they are wet in winter, very much suitable habitat.

annual beard grass

The plan was to go and ring some more black-headed gull chicks this evening, but before that could happen I had to fix the trailer wheel and bearing, luckily I had the parts and it proved an easy task. We went out to ring some chicks, but got only twelve. On my way back the bearing on the other trailer wheel failed! Luckily I had bought two, so it should be easy to sort it out, I guess they had both just reached the end of their working life.

There was rather little else to report, although at least two more common tern chicks had flown when I looked from the Ivy South hide this morning.