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Thankfully the weather has been kind to us for the duration of National Insect Week and the reserve has been alive with a plethora of insects. The first proper flush of Meadow Browns have emerged along with Ringlets, Small and Large Skippers. Speckled Woods are dancing once again and the first Marbled White of the season was gliding along the river wall on Friday.
Small Tortoiseshell - Bernard Bradshaw
Meadow Brown - Chris Barnes
Dragonflies have also emerged from their watery larval homes and Brown Hawkers and Emperors are now cruising the ditches with the odd late Hairy Hawker, Broad-bodied and Four Spot Chasers and Black-tailed Skimmers while Ruddy Darters are hunting from the brambles in the woodland but have as yet, not turned pillar box red.
Four Spot Chaser - Pete Woods
Ruddy Darter - Pete Woods
Hairy Hawker - Andy Reid
Red-eyed and Common Emerald Damselflies have joined the trio of Blues and all eyes are open in the hope that one of us will find the first Green-eyed Hawker or Scarce Chaser for the reserve as both these species are increasing in the south-east.
I managed several hoverfly hunting sorties and found a good selection: Chrysotoxum bicinctum and verralli, Xanthogramma pedissequum agg, Sphaerophoria scripta, Eupeodes luniger and corollae, Meliscaeva auricollis, Episyrphus balteatus, Syrphus ribesii, Cheilosia illustrata, Cheilosia sp, Neoascia interrupta, Eristalis pertinax, tenax, nemorum, arbustorum and intricaria, Eristalinus sepulchralis, Helophilus pendulus and hybridus, Parhelophilus versicolor, Volucella bombylans and pellucens, Syritta pipiens, Tropidia scita. Unsurprisingly the hogweed and brambles were the favoured nectar bars of choice for many species.
Cheilosia illustrata - HTV
Eristalinus sepulchralis - HTV
There were lots of Blue and Greenbottles around and hopefully Phil will narrow down one or two for me along with an impressive Tachinid with rather protruding mouth parts and the biggest Soldierfly I have ever seen in the shape of a Flecked General - Stratiomys singularior which was seen supping on the smelly Hogweed in the Cordite three days on the trot!
Flecked General - Stratiomys singularior - HTV
And all the time we were watching all these lovely insects we were having to keep an eye on the marauding Clegs who were homing in on us for blood...
Cleg - Ken Bentley
The first Cockchafers were on the wing and it is always pleasing to find my favourite longhorn beetle with the best Scientific name I know. - Agapanthia villosoviridescens. Glow-worms were seen crossing the paths most days whish was a good omen for Friday night and golden Sun Beetles scurried out of the way. I have a bit of history involving one of these quarter inch long lovelies, a red hibiscus patterned shirt, my inner ear and a glass of water but I may save that traumatic ‘while at work’ story for another day...
Agapanthia villosoviridescens - Paul Bashford
Bumblebees seem to be around in good numbers and it was pleasing to find Tree - Bombus hypnorum, Shrill - Bombus sylvarum and Brown Banded – Bombus humilis amongst the more usual species. Bryony Bees are still nectaring on the White Bryony around the trail but particularly near the centre and the progeny of the slightly furry Bryony Ladybirds can now be easily located on the undersides of the same leaves.
Bryony Ladybird larvae - HTV
Bryony Ladybird larvae after a moult! - magic! Andy Reid
And so to our Late Night Opening yesterday where we were treated (after pizza) to a clear blue sky and speedy sunset complete with Barn and Short-eared Owls and a productive mothing session in the Wildlife Garden through to about 1130 where about 30 or so species came to the light while we all gathered round and watched.
Sunset - Simren Soor
Sunset - Andy Holburn
These included such great names as the Phoenix, Scarce Footman, Heart and Dart, the Snout, Angle Shades and the Gothic but it was the duo of Elephants that stole the show with singles of Small and Large Pachyderms although the latter waited till we were packing up to appear unlike the enormous Privet Hawkmoth that clattered around the top of the willow tree on several occasions!
Small and Large Elephant Hawkmoths - HTV
In the pot - The Phoenix - HTV
As usual we were kept company by several Common Pip bats and both Barn Owl and a Whimbrel were heard. There was one species we all wanted to finish up a superb evening and that was Glow-worm and a scout around the car-park and ramp verges resulted in ten illuminated females and two males – one of which was busy making more Glow-worms and the other that was attracted to my moth bulb and obviously thought his luck was in!
Mating Glow-worms - HTV
All a glow and then flashed! HTV
We may have got out of 'work' at gone midnight but it was a superb way to end up our own participation in National Insect Week...
Here at Rainham, we have been working with Thames Chase Community Forest - a lovely local forest not too far from the reserve. Just wanted to tell you a little about this lovely local forest...
Photo courtesy of the Thames Chase Trust.
Thames Chase Community Forest covers 40 square miles of countryside around the London/Essex borders. The forest is managed by the Thames Chase Trust, a local charity dedicated to improving landscapes for people and wildlife. In the past, this area was sadly damaged by industrial development, gravel extraction and landfill. Over the past 25 years the Community Forest has worked hard to restore the natural woodland, planting more than 2 million trees and creating ponds, meadows, footpaths and cycle routes. Wildlife is thriving in this more diverse habitat and there are more opportunities than ever for the local community to connect with nature. Whether you want to walk your dog, spot wildlife, ride your bike, or explore the play trails with your children, there are countless special places within the Community Forest to enjoy. Visit Thames Chase Forest Centre in Upminster to discover their cafe, shop, restored 17th century barn and children’s play structures. They also host a varied programme of events. For more information please see www.thameschase.org.uk
Photo from Paul Vine, courtesy of the Thames Chase Trust.
The Thames Chase Trust do amazing work looking after this wonderful forest for wildlife and for people!
Have you noticed the pile of wood dust by one of the benches at the bottom of the ramp?
Here's what's making it... Ectemnius cephalotes - sometimes known as a Big Headed Wasp
In she goes - Phil Collins
The female wasps excavate nest burrows in old pieces of wood. They will often share an entrance – three were seen entering before any of them came out again. They construct chambers within the wood and provision them with paralysed flies for the wasp's larvae to feed on. We have even been able to identify the flies they are catching with at least one large Bluebottle and a Cleg!
However, the wasps are not alone... a fly has been loitering outside the hole.
Eustalomyia species are cleptoparasites (from Greek klepto, to steal) and lay their eggs in the wasps' brood chambers. On hatching, the fly larvae consume the provisions that have been left by the female wasp for her own larvae to eat. The flies usually wait until the wasp has left before entering the burrow but that did not seem to be the case here with some daring raids!.
Eustalomyia hilaris - lurking - Phil Collins
We actually saw a fly go into the nest shortly after a wasp had gone in. I have no idea what would happen if wasp and fly met in the burrow; I suppose if there are many brood chambers off the main burrow they would provide a hiding place if needed!
Jerry Hoare has compiled some superb footage of these industrious insects at work...
Click here to be amazed!
So thanks to Phil and Jerry for providing me with so much great information and to Ted Benton for confirming the identity of this difficult group of wasps...