Sunday, 15 April 2018
Yesterday was a Good Day for folk who like spotting wildlife. It was warm, it was sunny, there was almost no wind. In the garden here, two comma butterflies (new for the year) and a roving brimstone were about for most of the day and the cuckoo put in his first appearance of 2018 too, by singing briefly in the morning (*Selborne has also arrived back in the New Forest now). A dark-edged bee fly, he of the long proboscis who looks like a bee but is actually a fly, (and who wouldn't stay still long enough for a photo) also arrived, along with several andrena species, tiny mining bees who were sunning themselves on the evergreen leaves of the star jasmine bush. The fact that both appeared on the same day is no coincidence, because the bee fly is a parasitoid of andrenas, with its grub growing up in the bee nest and ultimately eating its host.
Before you eew too much, the life cycle of the bee fly is amazing and worthy of comment (and I think admiration). When she is ready to lay her eggs, the female bee fly dusts her abdomen with sandy soil (no one is quite clear why, my pet theory is it's to weigh the eggs down) then flies low over potential andrena nest sites, shooting her eggs towards any darker patches in the ground that look like nest entrance holes. She lays thousands of eggs a day, so can afford to be a little indiscriminate. The bee fly larva spends the winter underground in the andrena nest where it eats the host before appearing in spring as an adult bee fly. Only very healthy andrena populations can sustain bee fly populations, so if you've got bee flies in your garden it's an indication of a healthy mining bee population too. I get very disheartened whenever I hear of folk dressing their lawns with chemicals in order to produce a rich, green, even sward of grass, because essentially this sterilises the habitat, kills off other interesting plants and annihilates the species who would otherwise live there, like the andrena bees and the bee flies.
A little further up the garden, this red-tailed queen bee was enjoying having the comfrey all to herself. She's the first red-tailed I've seen this year.
The snails in the pond were being affectionate, warmed by the sun...
And the newts were finding it just too much effort to do more than float about near the surface...
Spring also arrived in the house. I discovered this beautiful male first generation engrailed moth in the shower. He's passed the winter as a pupa in a custom-made chamber underground he will have excavated as a caterpillar at the end of last summer, emerging probably only yesterday or the day before judging by how perfect he is, to look for a mate. We have a good sized population of engrailed moths here because of all the trees: oaks, sallows, hazel, birch, privet are all larval food plants for this species that grow in and around our garden.
This morning, the warm weather has gone and it's raining, but there are still things to see if you get outside and look for them. Pop and I went for an early run and saw a male kestrel, a red kite, a buzzard and some newly arrived swallows hawking hopefully for insects. I think I also saw a lesser spotted woodpecker flying away. It looked very similar to the flight pattern of the great spotted but was a much smaller bird. I can't be certain but I can't think what else it could have been. Lesser spotted are very rare (i've never seen one) but they are present in this neck of the woods. I wish I'd had my camera with me so I could know for sure.
Later, I took both dogs out round the fields where, along the old green lane, wood anemone and celandines and dog violets are now in full bloom and the odd bluebell is starting to come out too. Lots of queen bumbles were exploring the leaf litter, looking for nesting sites. We walked on up to the hedge where the yellowhammers sing in spring, but alas all was quiet there. Instead, we found these...
It's a yellow dung fly with prey. Oddly, there are no livestock in these fields and as these flies are usually associated with cattle dung I'm curious as to what it was doing here. This is the male, the females are less golden in colour.
Further along I found this. It's a song thrush egg and is the most beautiful blue, don't you think?
Below is a song thrush egg I found last year beside a blackbird one so you can see the difference. The song thrush is on the left.
Our bats have also survived the winter and were out flying a little before dusk yesterday. I had the bat detector out, but despite trying both the 45 and 55 kHz frequencies used by common and soprano pips respectively, they weren't making their usual rapid clicks of sound. Instead, there was the odd loud squeak as they chased each other round and round the chimney pot. I've not heard them talk like that before, they weren't hunting noises and it's too early for mating calls (June) so I wondered if they were social calls to re-establish bonds after a winter of hibernating. Our bats are two boys in any event and they have lived together a while. Curious. If anyone knows or has any thoughts on this please let me know.
The weather is set to get hot here this week so I'm looking forward to more interesting insects emerging and a spot of butterfly seeking in some woods I know locally where orange tips and holly blues can usually reliably be found, and where yellow hammers and whitethroats both sing.
I'll leave you with Ted's favourite summer snooze point, which he took full advantage of while I was gardening yesterday... Fierce Guard Dog that he is :o)