Southern Marsh Orchids

Southern Marsh Orchids

Monday, 9 December 2013

Another day in the garden

I posted a little while ago about the insect activity on the Fatsia japonica bush in my garden, see here:  Today's warmer sunny weather once again brought out a lot of insects (for the time of year!) looking for nectar.

There were 4 species of  hoverfly, Eristalsis tenax (Drone Fly) the most common (about 20 or so at any time), a few Scaeva pyrastri with their very distinctive white comma shaped markings, a couple of Episyrphus balteatus (the Marmalade Fly) which can be identified by the double black bands on each tergite, and a fourth species which I didn't manage to id unfortunately.  Both S pyrastri and E balteatus are often migratory species which breed in the UK.  E balteatus is also notable for variable colour.  Darker specimens mean the development of the larval stage was in relatively cool conditions, and sure enough the specimen below was comparatively dark.

Episyrphus balteatus (Marmalade Fly)
Eristalsis tenax (Drone Fly)
There were many species of other Diptera, most of which I could not begin to id, but there more obvious, and strangely photogenic were Flesh Flies, Blue-bottles and Green-bottles:


There were also quite a few Yellow Dung-flies (Scathophaga sp).  I gather these are normally predatory on other insects, but in this instance it appeared to me that they were nectaring rather than hunting.
Scathophaga sp

Also feeding were a single Bumblebee, a Vespid wasp and a Red Admiral butterfly.  Not bad for mid December!
 Nigel - this is the Bumblebee!


  1. Good stuff for December!

    I had a Fatsia in one of my former Cardiff gardens and it was always productive at this time of year. If only I could find room for one in my current garden...

  2. It was like Piccadilly Circus for insects on Monday, clouds of insects buzzing about the Drone Flies especially. Not at all what you expect for this time of year. I don't know where they are coming from, but it was surprising to see so many on the wing, amazing what difference a bit of sunshine makes. Fatsia grows better in a bit of shade btw so if you have a dark corner where not much else will grow they are worth a try.

    I still haven't found the courage to take another look at those wasps yet mind you...

  3. Interesting. I've often wondered about Fatsia japonica and its possible benefits to late flying insects. Most of my garden is shady but is also full and because the garden is small and raised above the ground floor of the house by around five feet, I have always regarded Fatsia as being too large for the site.
    I have grown two plants of common Ivy, from cuttings of the flowering growth, so instead of climbing they just form evergreen shrubs that flower and fruit. There is still quite a lot of flower on one of them, but unfortunately I'm not here in the day to see if anything is visiting them.

  4. Crikey, I see you are up early today Mark! Most of the ivy has long finished flowering here so the Fatsia is probably the only thing that insects can use at the moment. I think you are right about Fatsia being too big for a small spot, I suspect it woudn't take well to pruning either as it would probably loose it's shape quite easily. I suppose restricting it's root growth by planting in a big pot might help? You'll know more than me about that though!

  5. I'm always up before five on weekdays, that's why I'm strict about no mothing outside of weekends. Fatsia can be successfully pruned to limit their size a little and I might try the variegated form (should be slower growing) to see what happens.
    The ivy up here starts flowering about a month later than it down down with you, which means we don't tend to get as much visiting it, that late in the season. My ivy has flowers open now and plenty of buds still coming on, but nothing seems to be using it, apart from the odd small fly. There is a bit of sunshine forecast for Saturday, so if I get the chance I'll check it out.

  6. I noticed that Ivy flowers were only just going over at Pontlanfraith this week, whereas they have been well over and in fruit and much loved by Wood Pigeons at Aberthaw and Port Eynon for sometime.

    But I do wonder as to whether this extraordinarily warm autumn, with the Winter Equinox only a week away, makes this another abnormal season with sightings to boot. Pottering around my garden on the west side of Bridgend this morning I was stunned to find a single flower of my Daphne mezerium fully opened with lots of fat buds to open in the next week. This has never flowered before mid January before.

    As for other flowering plants for insects this month Mahonia is well in flower at present both here and at Parc Slip with a reasonable amount of dipteran activity in the right conditions but I have not had time to stand and watch what.

    Adam I assume you did to photograph the bumblebee? A general description would do.

  7. Yes, the poor old plants don't really know what season they are in. I'm finding all sorts of shrubs and herbaceous plants that should have been over weeks if not months ago, still in flower. There are a few oaks and birch trees around the valley that are not only still have leaves on but are substantially still green.

  8. Nigel - I've added a pic of the Bumblebee, and you'll see why I didn't post it before! If you feel brave enough to suggest an id I'd be delighted to hear what you think. All I can say is that it was at the smaller end of the spectrum, had a distinctly white tail, and an orange band round the thorax and abdomen, the rest being black. Looking at my Aidgap bee guide, I'd say Buff-tailed, White-tailed or Garden, but I am hopeless with Bees. Though it is about time someone did a good key for them to be fair!

  9. I am laughing at your last sentence which is repeated so often by my circle of people interested in bumblebees, but think it will have to wait until we all retire which for most of us is well inside a decade or has already happened.

    Smaller end of the spectrum suggests not a queen; distinct white tail is a nightmare because so many of the "true bumblebees" and the cuckoo bumblebees have got white tails be they queen, drone or worker; your description of an "orange band" does not seem to be borne out by the photo which looks bleached to almost white but you saw it and I didn't, but as you did not say yellow particularly lemon yellow I would plumb for Buff-tailed worker (Bombus terrestris) and speculate that you may still have a functioning nest somewhere in your locality which might over winter if there is enough South African winter flowering heather forage in that quarry in which you live, or on the edge of.

    And that gives the possibility that you might see it again, in which case look out for a thin band on "orange" between the white tail and the black; if it had been distinctly lemon I would have gone for the B. lucorum group; and if it had three bands of "orange" one band front and one back of thorax as well as abdomen them it will be B. hortorum particularly if it had a waspish thin face rather than the more rounded friendly heads all the rest of them have.

    There are others possibilities, Heath/jonellus is one I under record all the time...

  10. I have seen it again on a couple of occassions Nigel, but never with the camera to hand unfortunately. If it appears again I'll see if I can net it and take a closer look. You could well be right about the colour of the band, indeed from the photo it looks like there is only one!

  11. And I look forward to seeing 'An illustrated key to the bumblebees of Britain by Nigel Ajax-Lewis' on my Christmas list one of these years then!

  12. It is very pleasant to have one's ego massaged occasionally but having veered off into the slovenly dementia end of my function, I remembered over night that Paul Williams at HQ (the Natural History Museum) has a website that might suit you which goes into probably all I know and much much more.