Wednesday 15 July 2020

Being a busy bee: BSBI President goes all entomological!

Fly orchid
Image: Sue Brindle
In late May, we heard from BSBI President Lynne Farrell who had been out looking for - and finding - Fingered Sedge in her local area while the whole country was under deep lockdown and none of us could go too far from home. A month later, Lynne was able to go a little further afield (while still following Government guidance, of course) but one of her most interesting finds was actually made much closer to home! 

Over to Lynne:  

"After my local walking survey of Carex digitata (Fingered sedge), I have moved on to search for Ophrys insectifera (Fly Orchid) in the South Lakes, as I am now allowed to drive to visit sites. However, due to the very dry and hot weather we experienced in May and early June, this has not been so successful. Some of the populations have been located, often with local people accompanying me at a safe distance, in the field. But many of the early-flowering orchids have been struggling with the unusually clement weather, which is not what I would have expected for species that enjoy Mediterranean conditions. At several sites there were shrivelled rosettes, which did not look at all like they would produce inflorescences, and indeed many of them did not, and simply fizzled out. A few did survive and an image of a fine spike growing on the Arnside reservoir grassland was visited by people keen to see it on their walks (photo above right). It is a species with a relatively short life-span, often no more than 5 years for an individual plant, and it prefers edges of woodland/grassland, so populations fluctuate anyway, and sites ‘disappear’ when they become overgrown. Perhaps readers can let me know how Fly Orchid has fared in their patches?

Wool Carder Bee
Image: Rob Petley-Jones
"But the fine weather has benefited other species, and many friends have reported the buzzing of the bees in their gardens and out in the countryside. Sitting on my garden bench one hot afternoon, I was suddenly aware that the orange Buddleja globosa behind me was alive with literally 100s of bees. I got my Field Guide to Bees out and found at least five species, sending a few images to local entomologists. Friends Ron and Jane Petley-Jones, also keen gardeners, came round to help with further identification, take Buddleja cuttings, and have tea in the garden, during which time Rob took more photos, saying he thought one bee, resting on my rockery, was especially interesting. This turned out to be an Anthidium manicatum (Wool Carder Bee), which is widely scattered in England and Wales but not that common, and very attractive (photo on left).The males have abdominal spines, which they use to defend their territory round a patch of flowers, usually in the Lamiaceae family, head-butting, wrestling, crushing and even killing intruders. As the Field Guide says, it is a robust bee. So I have been Buddleja-watching for several weeks now. The dark purple ‘Black Knight’ is about to come into bloom.

The Phantom Hoverfly on Arnside Knott
Image: L. Farrell
 "Of course, I have been up Arnside Knott again as I live very nearby, keeping an eye open for various plants, but I also managed to photograph an unusual flying object (photo on right). This turned out to be even more exciting than the bee, as it was identified as The Phantom hoverfly Doros profuges, a UK BAP species, mainly found in the Weald, at one site in N. Lancs, and strangely, one caught in a malaise trap in 1991 on Mull (yes, in "my" vice-county). Rob got very excited when I sent him my photo and came over the next day, as Doros only flies for 2-3 weeks, so I had to go up the Knott again! The news hit the hoverfly network and even Stuart Ball and Roger Morris, authors of Britain’s Hoverflies Wildguide, expressed delight. The book says ‘unmistakable due to its size and wing-markings’ and ‘extraordinarily difficult to find, even at its few well-known sites’. However, it now has a new British site, and I am very pleased with my recent entomological observations.

"Keep your eyes open when out botanising folks, you never know what else you will find".

I love the fact that the President of the Botanical Society is also finding rare invertebrates at new locations! We may not all have Lynne's huge network of contacts across all branches of wildlife and nature conservation, but we can certainly emulate her by keeping our eyes peeled as we explore our local patches, noting and photographing what we see and using the internet to find local contacts in biological recording networks. Happy hunting! 

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