insects

Here There Be Dragons

Its been a big week for Nar Cottage’s wildlife garden as we discovered that our first “home grown” dragonfly had completed its three year lifecycle. This photo is of an emperor dragonfly nymph “exuvia”, the exoskeletal shell left behind after the nymph transforms into a dragonfly and emerges as a winged adult. The Emperor’s emergence happens overnight so sadly we didn’t see it happening.

Emperordragonfly larvae exuvia after metamorphosis
Emperordragonfly larvae exuvia after metamorphosis

Emperors are know as early pioneers of new ponds and were one of the very first visitors to our brand new, bare-earthed pond back in 2013. Three years on and our pond looks very different, teeming with aquatic life and surrounded by lush native plants and wildflowers creeping to cover much of its surface. The Emperor dragonflies never returned after the first season, but we continue to see lots of Broad-bodied Chasers, Southern Hawkers as well as damselflies about.  Emperors will take other chaster dragonflies, so I hope our population of those survives its emergence!

Signs Of Spring – Insect And Amphibian Emergence

Queen buff-tailed bumble bee

At last…! Some milder days in between the blustery weather, ones when you can really feel the sun on your back. Slowly more signs of spring are present. Insects start to emerge from their overwintering. Though I’ve yet to photograph my first butterfly of the season (a brimstone on 25th March) I’ve enjoyed watching out for the early emerging bugs, bees and, that renowned augury of springtime, the first amphibian frogspawn.

My first sign of early spring insect life was this female Minotaur beetle. One of 8 British “Dor” beetles, she emerges in March and roams woodland and pastureland. Despite their size and fearsome looks, Minotaur beetles are herbivores feeding on ruminant dung. After mating she will dig a burrow up to a metre long to lay her eggs.

Minotaur beetle or Dor beetle
Minotaur beetle or Dor beetle

My second insect sighting was while out gardening. I saw the most gigantic queen buff-tailed bumblebee crash land and nectar furiously on my white crocus. She clambered across our daisy-filled “Meadow Mat” at a surprising rate of knots, looking like she was on a mission, perhaps seeking a nest site to  establish her colony for the season. Sometimes known as the Large earth bumblebee from their latin name Bombus terrestris, Buff-tailed bumblebees are one of the earliest bees to emerge in spring and also among the largest to visit gardens in Europe.

Queen buff-tailed bumble bee
Queen buff-tailed bumble bee

Looking closely you can see some mites hitching a ride on her thorax. Unlike some mites, they are not parasitic but are in fact harmless detrivores, who survive by living in the bumblebee nest and providing a cleaning service to the colony, feeding on old beeswax and other detritus.

Queen buff-tailed bumble bee with parisites
Queen buff-tailed bumble bee laden with parisites

And last but not least, frogspawn arrived to our pond on the 26th March this year, 4 days later than last year and in smaller quantities. With a greater amount of protective pond plants established, hopefully the tadpoles will stand a better chance this year against our hungry newt population.

Frospawn and mite
Frospawn and mite

Photography in the Dog Days of Summer

Common blue butterfly perched on pink heather blossom

One of the things I chatted about on my recent BBC Norfolk radio appearance was the difficult light and the challenges it presents to photographers in high summer. But there is always something to shoot for….

By the time we reach August., though its still very hot and to us the height of summer, in the natural world the days are already drawing in and autumn is just around the corner. Its already getting a little easier to capture soft light in mornings and evenings and if you rise early after a clear night you might even find dew on the ground.

August is a great time to to visit our lowland heaths where the beautiful pink carpet of flowers is just coming into its own and can make a wonderful backdrop for close up photography.

Common blue butterfly perched on pink heather blossom
Common blue butterfly perched on pink heather blossom

 

Cross orbweaver spider against heather
Cross orbweaver spider against heather

 

August is a good month to spot late dragonflies as well as second brood and migrant butterflies. Most first generation butterflies are getting very tatty by now and make poor photographic subjects but some species have second broods that metamorphose into a second brood in late summer.

The late summer harvest means that hares, who have enjoyed the cover of the growing crops since spring become easier to spot hunkered down in the stubble of harvested fields.

Brown hares nestling amongst stubble
Pair of European Brown hares nestled in their form among crop stubble

Many birds are already preparing for their Autumn migrations and this month I’ve immensely enjoyed watching the fledgeling swallows and house martins practice their flight techniques and feeding up for their forthcoming long journey by swooping around my wildlife pond.

Swallow hunting insects over pond
Swallow hunting insects over pond

Feeling Summery

Essex skipper on corn marigold

Its high summer the bees are buzzing and the butterflies fluttering. Our newly planted wildflower meadow has undergone a  transformation into a thing of beauty, enabling me to have a spot of just for fun macro photography in my back garden…

Essex skipper on corn marigold

Hoverfly on cornflowerRed Poppy and beetle

Glorious Summer!

Two spot ladybird amongst pastel meadow grasses

two spot ladybird in pastel meadow grasses

It is amazing how much has changed in a month – both in nature and in my home life…

We finally moved in to our bungalow, the builders have gone and so have most of the cardboard boxes. I am finally starting to relax as the stresses and strains of 18 months of a major renovation project and house selling and buying start to fade. We are loving living in the light and airy space we dreamt of and designed at last.

And the sun has finally come out with a vengeance, bringing a flaming July in place of the flaming June of the proverbs. The wheat and barley is turning golden, the rape has gone to seed and everything is becoming parched and bleached from day after day of unrelenting blue skies. As I explore the local trails the meadows are displaying beautiful pastel shades of greens, pinks and beiges with hundreds of ringlet, meadow brown, skipper and gatekeeper butterflies flitting up as you walk through the grasses. They are host to many other mini creatures too and I was pleased to capture this shot of a ladybird, which evokes, for me at least, the feeling of the gloriously hot halcyon days of summer we’re experiencing right now.

July Rainstorms

Bumble-bee grooming himself dry after rain shower
Bumble-bee grooming himself dry after rain shower
Bumble-bee grooming himself dry after rain shower

Thanks to arctic meltwater and the jetstream we look set to break the record for the wettest July in history as well as the wettest June. Its not just humans that are affected by these unusual weather patterns though. This buff-tailed bumble-bee got caught out in a torrential downpour and became soaked through. Wet wings make it impossible to fly and, being cold-blooded, warming up enough to dry out properly in cool conditions can be quite a challenge.

At one stage the bee was hanging precariously off the lavender stalk due to the weight of the rainwater. Eventually though he managed to separate his soaked together wings and start vibrating them to shake off  the moisture and warm up his body temperature. A thorough groom and sunbathe later a very clean, fluffy bumble-bee was refuelling his energy reserves by drinking nectar from the lavender flowers.