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Friday, 23 May 2014

It's all abuzzin' in the pollinator meadow

Just a recap - my 'Pollinator Meadow' is a strip in my veg patch where 2 years ago I sowed a packet of mixed flower seeds especially for pollinating insects. It's been a great experiment and I've spent hours watching the bug life in it. This is now year 3 and what is left are biennials and perennials and the star of the show right now is the Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis). It is tall and flops and has swamped most of the rest of the plants, but I know from last year that when it's finished flowering, I'll cut back those long stems and then the other plants can get some light and air! And the Dame's Rocket will reflower on and off again but in a more compact way.

The kale that was attracting bees left right and centre a few weeks back is over now, the last plants having come out a few days ago because I've got to get veggies in there. I relocated the Ornate Shield Bugs to the Hesperis as they needed a new home, hope they will like it! What has been interesting to note is how different insects are attracted to different flowering plants. Yet both the Kale (and Purple Sprouting Broccoli, but I'll lump the two together as the flowers are pretty much identical) and Dame's Rocket are all from the brassica family, yet only two nectar feeders liked both plants. 

One being the Heineken Hoverfly (Rhingia campestris), but that one is absolutely everywhere in the garden and is not at all fussy about where it feeds, and was the only hoverfly interested in the Kale flowers. The other is the only bee I've seen on the Dame's Rocket, Melecta albifrons, which is the cuckoo bee of the Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes).

The Pollinator Meadow beyond my spuds and strawbs.

There's so much insect life happening around the Dame's Rocket and unlike the brassica veggies which had a faintly unpleasant cabbagey smell, this one smells wonderful, so it's a delight to hang around here watching!

Heineken Hoverfly (Rhingia campestris).

Couldn't get a very good photo but here is Melecta albifrons
which doesn't seem to have a common name!

Being a brassica certain white butterflies are attracted to it to lay their eggs, although so far I've only seen signs of mating or feeding on this plant. This is the only plant where I've managed to get shots of female Orange Tips! Other butterflies will come by to feed on it, of course.

Top and bottom left, female Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines).
Bottom right: Green-veined White (Pieris napi).

First time I've seen them this year but they've been around on all the recent sunny days.
This is the Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth (Hemaris fuciformis) and their larvae feed
on Honeysuckle and Galium species, both of which I have here.

Best of the lot is seeing the Bee Flies which are such cool critters!
Family Bombyliidae but I haven't the time to try to ID this one.

Another shot of the Bee Fly.

OK I'll limit myself to three. Bee Flies are too cool to shrink into a collage!

Plenty of hoverflies are attracted to this plant. Not sure what the one on the left is,
but I think the two on the right are Eristalis sp.

However, where there are pollinators, there are also spiders lying in wait. Now I have another 'pet' crab spider in this patch, just like I did last year! This one is living on a Wallflower.

I only spotted the spider because I saw the dangling hoverfly!
This is Misumena vatia which changes its colour to yellow when it is on yellow flowers.
The hoverfly is an Eristalis species, but I don't know which one.

It has a little nest! Isn't it cute? :-)

A smaller crab spider yet to ID, but as I couldn't get any real details I probably won't be able to!

Another unknown but really tiny spider on a Wallflower petal.

Two more pictures which are not in the Pollinator Meadow but in the veg patch so that sort of counts. I was trying to hoe a weedy patch before planting pumpkins, when all of a sudden a Cinnabar Moth appeared and started flitting around the various weeds checking them out. It was looking for Groundsel (of which there was plenty and I wanted to hoe it off!) but I ended up having to leave some just for this moth. :-)

Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae) checking out a weed
plant which isn't Groundsel.

And finally, the first Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) of the year appeared
on 20th May and just flitted about the veggie patch.

Typical isn't it, since writing the above I had a wander round this morning and now find there are lots of honey bees attracted to the Dame's Rocket and even one bumble bee! So here are a few more photos from this morning.

Well is this the same Painted Lady as in the previous photo or another one?
Note this one has lost a chunk off each lower hind wing!

There was a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) out this morning feeding on the Dame's Rocket.

I'm just starting to see Thick-legged Flower Beetles (Oedemera nobilis).
You can see why they are called that.
Only the males have these chunky thighs though.

This is one of my favourite bumble bees which I think
is a male Bombus pratorum, which are known as
the Early Bee or Early-nesting Bee.

More exciting news as my Swallowtail eggs have hatched out and I've been taking photos of them as they grow; the biggest cats are now about 5mm long. My fancy new Manfrotto tripod and ballhead have just arrived (birthday present, yes it's my birthday today) so I'm looking forward to setting it up (may need OH to help as I'm sure I will not have a clue, haha!). Hopefully I'll get some better shots of the caterpillars now. I'll wait until they are the size of the caterpillars that I originally brought in to raise a couple of years back until I do a post about them.


  1. Ho Mandy your photos are stunning, the Bee Hawkmoth is amazing and the photos of the Bee Flies too, hope the rain stops soon hate to say it but I am having withdrawal symptoms, need to be in the middle of a field some were...

    1. Thanks very much Amanda! I know what you mean about withdrawal symptoms, though at the same time I am horrified by how many photos I am taking!! I am trying my best to get all my photos labelled/tagged with species this year so I can be better organised when I am trying to look back at say all hoverflies or all bees. Last year's are only partially sorted which will have to be finished this winter!

  2. I'm SO envious of your critters! And...captured beautifully, as always! Really looking forward to your Swallowtails! Monsoon will come here soon which usually rewards me with some bug life and then Fall for butterflies. Fingers crossed :-)

    Happy Birthday!

    1. Thanks for the birthday wishes Marianne and glad you like my critters! I inadvertently acquired a new tiny caterpillar yesterday, which must have come in on the fennel frond that I cut for my babies. So funny! Oh well, the more swallowtail babies the better! Hope your monsoon comes soon. :-)

  3. Envious, Marianne? Me too!! So many different species and all so interesting and different to what I see here!
    I love that bee hawkmoth and the bee flies! Your photos are stunning, Mandy!

    Is it your birthday? Happy Birthday! :)

    1. Hi Kim and thanks for visiting! Yes it was my but I don't put that into fb or G+. Thanks for the wishes. :-) Glad you like the bugs and that's what I like about 'us lot' being all over the world, everyone else's local areas and finds are so interesting because they are so different!

  4. Happy Birthday! Great to have new camera equipment- bet you can't wait to use it. I shall look forward to seeing the swallowtails progressing. I am a huge fan of bee flies and your pics of them are wonderful. Similarly, the BBB hawk- am keeping my eyes peeled for them here this year. We're also experimenting with a wild flower patch so it was very interesting to hear how yours has fared. All very encouraging. CT :-)

    1. Thanks CT! Is that what I call you? By the way I am Mandy (real name) rather than Milly. :-)
      I need to have a look at my honeysuckle to see if I can find any BBB Hawkmoth caterpillars! All the Hawkmoth cats are really cool looking but I've hardly seen any. Did find my first Lackey caterpillar yesterday though which is a beauty! As you know moths you'll know what I'm talking about. :-)
      Good luck with your wildflower patch and I look forward to seeing and hearing the progress. You'll have fun. :-)

  5. Lovely post again and happy belated birthday. I'm jealous cos you seem to have more, bigger, brighter, more colourful bugs which hang about contentedly in the sun. (gripe, moan, rant). :)))

    Your Early Bumblebee seems to a little different to the one (I think) I got. Mine had reddish/orangey bum fluff. Must go back for a second look/comparison at some time. Never seen a thick legged anything or a Cinnabar Moth.

    Keep pressing the button so that I can see stuff to look out for when we come to the exotic south.

    1. Thanks Nick for the comment and wishes. Had some sun today but we haven't seen much of it the last week. Hope you do find lots of interesting bugs when you are here but then you will wish you had your macro lens..... can't win 'em all! :-)

      I looked at the other pics I had of this bee and it does have a orange bum but looks a bit washed out, whether it's my pics or the bee I don't know. I think if you went down across the border you might find more insects!

      Have been pressing button on damselflies by the pond today. :-)