Sunshine After the Rain

On Monday the wind dropped, the sun came out and suddenly the meadows were filled with flying insects. This, finally and incontrovertibly, felt like spring had begun.

The bee-flies are finally out:

The dark-edged bee-fly, with the black leading edge to its wings. I record the date of the first bee-fly sighting in the meadows each year and it has pretty consistently been around 20th March. This year, however, it was 3rd April which tells a story of what spring has been like so far

The sluggish movements of this bristly fly caught my attention. It is a male cluster fly (one of the eight Pollenia species in the UK). Although their biology is still poorly understood, it was interesting to learn that they are parasitic on earthworms. The females lay their eggs near earthworm burrows and the fly larvae then feed on the worms:

Many of the mining bees now out are really very tiny but this female yellow-legged mining bee is one of the larger ones:

Nice to see that a pair of siskin had dropped by:

We currently have some no-go areas in the meadows. A woodpigeon has built her nest quite low in a pine tree and she flies out in a panic whenever we go near. It’s uncomfortable to think that her eggs are left unprotected because of us and so we are trying to give her some space:

The woodpigeon’s nest in the copse

We are also having to steer clear of the area around the hide pond for large portions of the day because a pair of mallards are loafing about there. They are resting and regaining strength over the two week period that the female is egg laying and I feel honoured that they have chosen us – but they are here for many hours each day,,,and it’s really quite inconvenient.

I forget that both the male and the female have those lovely blue patches and I see now that the female’s is more of an azure blue to the male’s royal blue – or maybe it is the way they are catching the light:

After swimming around for a bit, they go to sleep at the side of the pond:

We are now six weeks into our building project to construct a new garage and utility room in the garden and things are progressing well.

The bizarre sight of a daffodil-yellow dumper truck in the meadows

A few weeks ago the builders built us a butterfly bank in the first meadow using the very chalky soil that had been dug out for the foundations:

I have spread native seed in this low-nutrition soil and soon it should be covered in flowers for pollinators as well as providing a south-facing warm bank for invertebrates

A whitebeam tree also had to be removed at the beginning of the works and we used the branches to build a dead hedge.

This week the trunk of the tree has been positioned to make a really quite comfortable bench with a view of the sea:

And the stump has been turned upside down and buried so that it can slowly rot down underground, forming dead-wood habitat for invertebrate larvae and hibernating reptiles.

There is a very large upside-down tree stump under this mound

By hook or by crook we have now put every part of the whitebeam to good use in the meadows.

A pine tree also had to be trimmed back a bit this week and we have used the cut material to make another dead hedge on the cliff edge:

The builders called us over one afternoon because they had found a creature that they didn’t recognise that had fallen into a trench. They thought it might be a gecko but it turned out to be a smooth newt:

He had a lovely red tummy that he wasn’t keen on showing to the builders:

We released him into the safety of the wood piles down by the wild pond.

Once again crow wars have been going on in the skies above the meadows. Bands of marauding crows have been noisily entering our airspace to test how determined the resident crows are to see them off. It is atmospheric and exciting to watch, but two years ago a crow was mugged and murdered here by the other crows and we are well aware that this is deadly serious for them.

There has been high drama in the wood as well. Some sweet young bunnies have been living down the burrow that was used as a fox den last spring. I still have a camera on the hole in case the foxes reuse it this year:

One sunny afternoon this week, one of the bunnies was sitting out in the open:

Twenty seconds later, the camera took another photo:

A buzzard swoops down on the bunny

There wasn’t another photo taken for forty-five minutes and so I’m afraid don’t know what the ending of this story is – although I suspect it didn’t go too well for the rabbit.

There has been a lot of activity at the owl box and it seems that there is still a power struggle going on between the owls and the squirrels. The owls have been very much in evidence around the box, including this photo with both of them there:

However, squirrels are still going into the box and so there can’t possibly be an owl sitting on eggs in there:

In this photo, the squirrel is even carrying leaves into the box:

Last year two tawny owl chicks were ringed in this box on 2nd May. Are the owls going to be able to sort this squirrel problem out in time?

The regeneration area of the wood is adorned with flowering primroses at the moment. It’s beautiful, especially in the warm sunshine with the brimstone butterflies flitting between the flowers:

The structure of the primrose flower means that only long-tongued invertebrates can access the nectar positioned at the bottom of the flower tube:

This means that it is only the brimstone butterflies and bee-flies who are currently on the wing and able to drink the primrose nectar at the moment:

It took me a while to get this photo. The bee-flies have to hover at the flower and they only stay there a really short time. They are also frustratingly sensitive to a dark figure looming over them with a camera
A bee-fly that has just left a flower. I didn’t manage to get this photo in focus but I include it nonetheless because it shows that the already-long proboscis of the bee-fly is extended even further when its tongue comes out – this enables it to reach to the bottom of the tube

Other invertebrates, such as this female marmalade hoverfly, were landing on the primrose flowers but only use them for basking because they absolutely do not have the right mouthparts to get to the nectar.

Marmalade hoverfly female on a pin-eyed primrose flower

I have just learnt something very interesting about primrose flowers. Some of the plants have pin-eyed flowers with a single stigma (the female part) just protruding. Other primrose plants have thrum flowers with the male parts at the top. I have drawn a diagram (although I now see that I have stupidly misspelt thrum – there is no silent b at the end)

A long-tongued insect, reaching down to the bottom of a pin-eyed flower, would pick up pollen from the anthers halfway along its proboscis. If it were next to reach into a thrum flower, that pollen would be in exactly the right place to fertilise the stigma halfway up the tube. Conversely, if the insect first visited a thrum flower, the pollen would adhere to the base of its proboscis, which is in just the right place to touch the stigma in a pin-eyed flower.

A pin-eyed primrose on the left and a thrum on the right:

I have to admit to loving Easter, and not just because of all the chocolate, toasted hot cross buns and the appealing pastel colours with which to dress the house.The spring bulbs are up in the garden and everything is bursting with the promise of things to come – what is going to happen out there this year and what exciting wildlife discoveries will we make?

The weather looks like it might be kind to us for at least part of the long weekend and we plan to get out there and enjoy it. I hope that you can too, and have a thoroughly lovely Easter.

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