Saturday, May 15, 2010

Stewartby Lake

I’ve only ever had brief views of Dingy Skipper so, on a morning of warm, sunny intervals, I headed for the southern shore of Stewartby Lake hoping for some more prolonged sightings…and I wasn’t disappointed:

This one was enjoying some high-energy hawthorn nectar! There’s plenty of Bird’s-foot Trefoil around for the larvae to feed on, too.

And these two were ensuring I will see more next year, which is encouraging because these delicate butterflies have been declining nationally.

I must have seen over 20 Dingy Skippers, but there were also a couple of Grizzled Skippers around. It’s not easy to get a good photo, because these delightful ADD-Skippers were pretty active and never settled for long.

At one point there seemed to be Green Hairstreaks everywhere I looked, either fluttering around or else sunbathing. Other butterflies included Orange-tip, Brimstone, Peacock and my first Small Heath of the year. I also saw my first large dragonfly of the year: a Four-spotted Chaser which paused a few metres in front of me before banking majestically over the top of the Hawthorn scrub.

Of course, I was on the lookout for Hoverflies, though I never seem to come across many in this habitat. This is one of my favourites, though: Dasysyrphus albostriatus. I had thought that the abdomen stripes differed in their angles from individual to individual….

But this Hoverfly demonstrates that each individual specimen can change the angle of those stripes!

It’s been a really good spring for Beeflies, though there are less around now. This is the only species that I’ve found in Bedfordshire: Bombylius major, with its chocolate brown marks on the leading edge of the wing. The larvae of Beeflies parasitize the grubs of various solitary bees. The female Beefly has a ‘sandtrap’ at the end of the abdomen – it coats the eggs with sand particles to make it easier for them to flick them towards the nestholes!

This is my first Soldier Beetle of the year. Think of the livery of the famous Coldstream Guards – I think that it’s the red wing-cases of one of the members that gives this family its name. This one has darker wing-cases, though. The red femora/thighs are pretty distinct and indicate that it’s Cantharis rustica. They’re said to appear in mid-May, so this one’s pretty much on-schedule!

Finally, a fossil. I’ve found a few of these Jurassic remnants in Bedfordshire over the years. They’re known as Devil’s Toenails, though I’m not sure whether people who came across them in the past really believed that the Satan has passed that way! It is a Gryphaea oyster.

The Natural History Museum website comments: ‘In Scotland, fossil Gryphaea shells are known as clach crubain , translated as 'crouching shell'. They were apparently used in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to cure pain in the joints. Oakley made the interesting point that their contorted appearance is suggestive of painful joints, an example of sympathetic medicine.’

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