Wet & Windy August Weather

Apart from yellow Common Jelly Spot fungus (Dacrymyces stillatus; #542) sprouting out of my old garden furniture and a few flies there’s not much doing in the garden that last week or so. The swifts are gone and it feels like later summer. I finally added a fly-over Linnet (Linaria cannabina, #541) to the garden list and a party of a dozen or so Mistle Thrushes passing over was a sign of successful breeding season. There are plenty of flies about, even when the weather is poor. The fly with the khaki green hairy body is a cluster fly (Pollenia rudis, #540), also called the Attic or Loft Fly because of its habit to overwinter in lofts. While the adults feed on flowers, fruit and faeces, their larvae are parasites of earthworms, doing the usual of burrowing in and eating their host from the inside.

Fished out of the Pool

Continuing the succession of interesting beasts pulled out of the pool, I was very impressed on Saturday with this trio. The very boldly coloured rove beetle is Platydracus stercorarius. It is quite common and widespread, but I’m sure I’ve never come across it before. A couple of the smaller black rove beetles were in the pool; with their brownish mid-section (elytra), I believe they are Gyrohypnus angustatus - a common species in damp places and around gardens, The Oak Bush Cricket is a first for this year and always a welcome find.

Barbut's Cuckoo Bee (Bombus barbutellus, #537 )

This faded male bumblebee is, I believe, Barbut’s Cuckoo Bee. This species resembles its host, Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum), but has an almost circular face, unlike the elongated face of Bombus hortorum. As a cuckoo bee, the female searches out a nest of its host bumblebee, entering the nest, usually killing the host queen, then laying its eggs in the nest. The cuckoo bees larvae are then fed and looked after by the host worker bees until they leave the nest in July - September.

Moths

The Yellow Shell Moth (Camptogramma bilineata) is one of the commoner ones in the garden, but it’s very prettily marked so why not post a photo. The larvae feed on chickweed and sorrel, that latter of which I have plenty in the garden.

Probably I overlooked it before, as it’s not rare, but this week I found two Lesser Yellow Underwing (Noctua comes). The first of them must have come into the bedroom overnight and was hiding out under one of the pictures. It’s smaller than the very common Large Yellow Underwing, of which there have been many during July, and the pattern of spots on the wings is a little different.

Too fast to photograph, I saw my first Hummingbird Hawkmoth of the summer last week, stopping briefly on the lavender, before zooming off next door. These are migrants from continental Europe. There also start to be a few grass moths around, including the Satin Grass Veneer (Crambus perlella), but at this point last summer I had seen many more.

Peacock Butterfly (Aglais io, #437)

Last summer I managed to go right through from June to the end of the year without seeing one, so it’s good that the Peacocks are back this year. After seeing one in the warm spell at the end of March, this week there have been a few about in the garden, including this one posing nicely on the garden fence.

Other butterflies right now include large, small and green-veined whites, red admiral and the odd ringlet,, On the other side of the balance sheet, speckled wood which I saw plenty of last year have been totally absent and I didn’t see a comma or a common blue yet either.

#437 Peacock Butterfly (Aglais io)

#437 Peacock Butterfly (Aglais io)

Still Finding New Plants

In the chaos of my flower beds it is still proving possible to find some new wild flowers. I’m also not so knowledgeable on plants, so I don’t always spot them until quite late when they flower.

Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) is in flower in July, and now I know what it is I’m seeing plenty of it in other places too. It has pretty purple spike of flowers and soft leaves. As the name suggests, in days before elastoplasts and savlon, the leaves were made into a salve and applied to wounds as an apparently quite effective herbal remedy.

The other plant, which I might easily have taken to be cleavers and pulled out as a weed, is Field Madder (Sherardia arvensis). It has similar looking circles of leaves as cleavers, but the leaves are more pointed and the flowers on closer inspection are pale lilac colour rather than white. This one is growing in my veg plot where my peas should be if they had germinated properly, so it’s still a weed, but at least it’s a more unusual one and also not as fast growing as its sticky relative which gets tangled everywhere in my flower beds.

Swollen-thighed Beetle (Oedemera nobilis, #532)

This pretty, iridescent green beetle is also called the False Oil Beetle, but either way IMO it really deserves a nicer name. Female beetles like this individual, don’t even have “swollen thighs”; it’s just the male who has enlarged rear legs. This beetle visits a variety of flowers for pollen, but in this case was yet another rescue from the paddling pool. Formerly the species had quite a restricted range in Southern England, but since the 1990’s it has been spreading to the Midlands and northwards.

532 Swollen-thighed Beetle.jpg

Wasps, but Not the Pesty Kind

The common wasps are back whenever we sit outside for a meal; but these two wasps are not the kind to bother you when you are eating.

The one on the left is a parasitoid wasp, rejoicing in the name Gasteruption jaculator. With its amazing long, white-tipped ovipositor it lays eggs into the nests of solitary bees, where its larvae will eat the bee larvae. According to the NBN atlas there’s not many records in Gloucestershire, so happy to snap it on my Goldenrod.

There’s a nice article here talking about the lifecycle (and name) of this pretty bizarre looking wasp https://www.gwct.org.uk/wildlife/species-of-the-month/2017/gasteruption-jaculator/.

The other wasp was fished out of the swimming pool, and with its smart black and yellow colour it looks like a potter wasp. These make their nests in hollow stems of plants like brambles, perhaps they might use a bee hotel as well. They hunt larvae from beetles and other insects, which they bring back to the nest for their own larvae. Species-wise I wondered about Gymnomerus laevipes (Box-header Potter Bee), but there are lots of similar-looking species, none of which seem especially well recorded and it’s hard to tell from the photos.

Beetles Little & Large

The boys fished this Common Cockchafer or Maybug (Melolontha melolontha) out of the paddling pool, where it had crashed overnight. It survived okay though by doing the backstroke, and when released scuttled away to bury itself in the leaves down under the Hazel trees. It’s getting to the end of the season for these big bugs, as they typically emerge in May then live for only six weeks.

The Maybug’s little brother is a Viburnum Beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni), which is a pest of Viburnum shrubs, but did not seem to be doing much damage where I found it on my runner beans. Even smaller, Derocrepis rufipes, is a tiny leaf beetle, which was on the Hollyhock flowers.

Finally, the Red Soldier Beetle (Rhagonycha fulva) that I had been hoping might turn up on the huge Ragwort I left to grow in the lawn arrived, but opted for the Goldenrod. These soldier beetles eat nectar & pollen on flowers, but also other visiting insects. This one was on its own, but otherwise they seem to spend most of their time mating (hence their nickname of “bonking beetles").

Damselflies

Not having much of a pond, only a couple of basins, I don’t attract many dragonflies or other aquatic insects, so it was good to see my second (first this year) Blue-tailed Damselfly and also a Beautiful Demoiselle in the garden on consecutive days last week. The blue-tailed damselfly is one of the commonest species and can tolerate quite polluted water, the demoiselle is normally more of a riverside species but I did also have a couple of them in the garden last summer. In addition to these two species the only dragonflies I’ve seen are an Azure Damselfly back in May and a Southern Hawker that was around for a few days last July.

#158 Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)

#158 Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)

Attracted to Yellow

When the sun shines the number of insects on the flowers goes up. The current batch of pollinating insects seem to like yellow and orange best; the Goldenrod (which is just opening up) being hands down the most popular with many species.

Long hoverflies are one of the commonest species at this time, along with marmalade and white-footed hoverflies. I’ve also seen a few Thick-legged Hoverflies (Syritta pipiens), a species that I didn’t record last year.

The small bee is I believe a collettes, Colletes daviesanus. These are plasterer bees and nest, sometimes in large colonies, in the mortar on old walls. I’m sure they will like the soft lime mortar on my walls and apparently a big colony can eventually damage the fabric of the wall. The bristly, orange-marked fly is Eriothrix rufomaculata. The adults of this species are attracted to flowers, while their larvae are parasites of moth larvae.

Alstone & Dixton Hill

We were back exploring the Cotswold hills around Winchcombe again this weekend, this time above Alstone in some flower-rich meadows. As well as the beautiful views there was plenty of wildlife to enjoy, especially butterflies and flowers. I find the over-sized Goat’s Beard seed heads and the Woolly Thistle flower buds both pretty impressive and it was great to see so many grasshoppers and butterflies. So far I’ve only seen the odd butterfly visiting the garden, and moths are not very numerous either, but in the wilder meadows there were very many meadow browns, ringlets, marbled whites and skippers..

Full Grown Weeds

A nice thing about plants is that, if you don’t mind a few weeds (and I don’t) you can just leave them there and let them grow. Identifying grown plants with flowers is much easier and now after a wait I can add three extra species to the list. Not being that expert at plants, I finally registered and used Plantsnap App to help with identification - I have to say it saves a lot of time looking through my field guide!

Canadian Fleabane is one that I found last year, however then it was just a small impoverished thing growing in cracks in the paving - seeing the full grown plant I didn’t realise it was the same species. Field Pennycress is a new find, coming through the paving just feet from my front door,. The paved front yard is covered in plants and definitely a Pathclear-free zone. According to Wikipedia the Pennycress is a potential biofuel crop, so I suppose like the Fleabane if it gets to grow without the constraint of being stuck between paving slabs and trampled on by everyone, then it must grow to a more impressive height than my specimen!

The Common Ragwort and Spear Thistle have been growing up for weeks, me resisting the urge to pull them out, and are now 3-4 feet tall. It’s taken a good while for them to flower, but now they have and they can stay a little longer. Both plants are common around the village, and I’m hoping can attract some different insects into the garden. Some of the soldier beetles I saw walking up Alderton Hill last weekend isn’t too much to ask, is it?

Common Awl Robberfly (Neoitamus cyanurus, #520)

Another interesting insect in the garden - my first robberfly - a Common Awl Robberfly (Neoitamus cyanurus). This one got itself trapped in the kitchen window, but usually these insectivores should be found outside hunting flies and larger insects which they grab in mid-air and then immobilise with a venom. Sometimes also known as assassin flies or stiletto flies, these flies are strong and can often take insects as large or larger than themselves.

Alderton Hill & Dumbleton

This weekend we enjoyed a lovely walk over Alderton Hill to Dumbleton and back. There were plenty of butterflies, including many Marbled Whites and these, easier to photograph, Large Skippers hanging out on brambles next to a field of uncut wild grass. The Ragwort flowers were covered in Red Soldier Beetles, mostly busy making baby beetles. This Robin’s Pincushion, on a wild rose in the hedge, is caused by the larvae of a small gall wasp (Diplolepis rosae), which secrete a chemical that causes the rose bud to grow abnormally. Each gall contains many larvae living in separate compartments inside the gall. Birding-wise, I was happy to see a little owl and my first spotted flycatcher this summer.

Pellucid Hoverfly (Volucella pellucens, #517)

The Pellucid or Large Pied Hoverfly is one of the largest UK hoverflies, looking a little like a bumblebee and very fast-flying. With its white band round the body and black spots on the wings it is quite a striking insect. The adults feed on nectar from flowers, but lay their eggs in the underground nests of social wasps, like the Common or German Wasp. On hatching the larvae drop to the bottom of the wasps nest where they live on dead insects and unhatched wasp larvae, emerging as adults the following summer.

The Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua, #516)

I found this funky-looking caterpillar yesterday morning. It is from The Vapourer aka the Rusty Tussock Moth (Orgyia antiqua). The caterpillar looks a bit scary with its long hairs and red & yellow spots, but actually the hairs on this species are not irritating (to people at least). They are usually in birch or hazel trees, or other deciduous shrubs, but this one was in one of the flower beds. The moth is fairly dull,;chocolate brown with a white spot on each wing, but interesting in that, like the Winter Moth, the female is flightless.

Cream-spot Ladybird

After seeing my first 10-spot ladybird last month, I found my first Cream-spot Ladybird Calvia quatuordecimguttata, #515). As mentioned in an earlier blog it seems a very good ladybird year, as there are a lot of ladybird larvae and pupae all over the garden. This Cream-spotted Ladybird was in the Hazel trees I planted a few years back and am trying to coppice. There’s no shortage of aphids in there, so plenty of food.

#515 Cream-spot Ladybird (Calvia quatuordecimguttata)

#515 Cream-spot Ladybird (Calvia quatuordecimguttata)

Bugs are Back

While there’s many less insects around than this time last year, a bit of sunshine helps. Birch Catkin Bugs are plentiful, but this Deraeocoris flavilinea flower bug is one I only found once last year. This flower bug is a relatively newly arrived non-native species that was first recorded in UK in 1996, but it seems finds our gardens to its liking and has spread to much of the country..

I added a couple of new species for the list in the last week or so. The first is a Broad Centurion (Chloromyia formosa, #508) soldier fly that was attracted to the yellow front door. The other a new ladybird, the 10-spot Ladybird (Adalia decempunctata, #512), which comes in regular black spots on red, but also various other colours including this dark brown & cream combination. There seem a lot of ladybird larvae around this year (as well as lots of aphids), so maybe it’s going to be a good ladybird year.

In Search of the Roman Villa

I had been meaning to go looking for the ruined Roman villa near Winchcombe for ages, and finally got around to it on Sunday. The villa is hidden deep in the woods up the valley from Sudeley Castl. There’s not much to see of the old walls especially with the vegetation so high, but a section of mosaic can be seen kept under a low roof canopy and protected by plastic sheeting. Pretty low-key compared to most Roman ruins in UK!

Aside from the local archaeology there were plenty of flowers to be seen. I found this pure-white albino pyramidal orchid among the common spotted, bee and purple pyramidal orchids in some very lovely wildflower meadows. Wood Vetch (.Vicia sylvatica) was a nice find; something of a local specialty along the Cotswold scarp.