Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Out looking for bees and other insects

I went on a Natural History Society of Northumberland tour of the Spetchells at the weekend with Gordon Port, an insect expert, and Louise Hislop, a local bee expert.  It was great to see things we wouldn't otherwise have noticed and to learn more about the various insects.  The weather wasn't very insect friendly at first but improved as we went along.

There was an opportunity to take a few photos, mainly record shots.  The bees included a female Andrena nigroaenea

A female Andrena cineraria.

A female Andrena fulva.

A couple of male Andrena bees.

A couple of cuckoo bees.  Nomada goodeniana.

And a Sphecodes bee.

Other insects included a dramatic crane fly Nephrotoma crocata.  It is not dangerous or poisonous despite the colouring - another example of Batesian mimicry.

This is a mint moth (Pyrausta aurata).

This is a fairly dingy-looking dingy skipper (Erynnis tages).

And a rather exotic red and black beetle.  I guess it is one of the longhorn beetles but didn't get to ask Gordon which one it is.

There were lots of other bees, wasps, beetles, butterflies, moths, froghoppers, damselflies etc that escaped being photographed.  A great day out.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Nest box news 4

It is a week since the eggs hatched and the six chicks have made a lot of progress.  They spend most of the time asleep and still have their eyes closed but they have been cheeping since Thursday.  These photos show how they have grown in the past week.









Both parents are now bringing in food and the mother is happy to leave the chicks for longer.  The size of caterpillars being brought in has increased as they have grown.  This the father bringing in a caterpillar this morning but having difficulty deciding which chick to feed it to.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Bird of the week - Great crested grebe

This is the best time of year for watching great crested grebes because the chicks have hatched and are taking piggy back rides.  The sexes are said to look alike but these two are noticeably different in appearance.  I would have guessed that the bird with the punk hairstyle is the male but comparing with my photos earlier in the year it was the other one offering pondweed.  That would make this the male.

And this the female.  I'm not sure about it though.

The chicks' colouring is amazing - pin-striped suits and a pink heart on the forehead.

This pair has three chicks.

Earlier in the year the two adults were performing a courtship dance with the male offering pondweed to the female. Not a very extravagant gift but it obviously did the trick.

He also caught a fish but wisely kept that for himself.

Great crested grebes were almost wiped out in this country in the 19th century because they were hunted for their feathers and skins.  The population was reduced to around 50 pairs but they have made a comeback and there are now around 5000 breeding pairs in the UK.

Great crested grebes were common in Thomas Bewick's day.  He wrote "These birds are met with in almost every lake in the northern parts of Europe, as far as Iceland, and southward to the Mediterranean; they are also found in various parts of America.".  He drew his grebe standing on land - something they don't often do.

Although Bewick said the birds were found in America I can't find any evidence that they are now.  However, John James Audubon did paint the great crested grebe.  I think his painting shows winter and summer plumage.

You can listen to Bill Oddie's BBC Radio 4 Tweet of the Day on great crested grebe here.  Watch BBC video of the great crested grebe here.  And watch video of the courtship dance here.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The bee tree

Being a solitary bee must be an exhausting business.  The male bees spend most of their short lives flying around looking for a mate.  The female bees make countless foraging trips to collect nectar and pollen to provision their nests. It's not surprising then that they occasionally take a short rest.

On my latest visit to the Spetchells at Prudhoe I noticed a sycamore at the side of the chalk that was almost the only tree in full leaf.  The leaves gave a perfect platform for the bees to take a quick break.  The tree was also surrounded by flying male bees searching for females.  

Here are a few of the female mining bees I saw on the tree.  I know the names of some of them.  This is an orange-tailed mining bee (Andrena haemorrhoa).

A tawny mining bee (Andrena fulva). 

A buffish mining bee (Andrena nigroaenea).

Possibly a Halictus bee (correction, Louise tells me it is a lasioglossum).

And here are a few males, probably all Andrena mining bees..

This is a male ashy mining bee (Andrena cineraria).  There were also females around but none stopped on the tree while I was watching.

I also noticed these two nomad bees.  Judging by the number of segments in the antennae I think both are male. Nomads are cuckoo bees so the females have less work to do - they spend their time searching for unguarded mining bee nests in which to lay their eggs, perhaps explaining why so few stopped for a rest on the tree.  I think this one is Nomada goodeniana.

And this might be Nomada marshamella.

There were a few other bees, including some very small ones, that didn't stop long enough to have their photos taken. I'll be back there soon for another look.