With the world shut down around us the uplifting role that wildlife plays in our lives becomes more vital than ever. So, for my own sanity as much as anything, I’m going to keep a daily diary of what I find around my garden. Photograph the wildlife you can see from your window or in your garden and post your pictures on the ‘Sussex Wildlife Trust Nature Table’ page.
I was out in the front garden clapping for the care NHS last night and it struck me what a beautiful warm, calm night it was. Somebody should organise a round of applause for the weather. For the past five weeks the weather has been absolutely glorious. For once the weather is the only thing we're not moaning about. It's as if the Weather Gods have decided that we've got enough to worry about at the moment and bestowed an entire month of blue sky and sunshine on us. Even the one downpour we've had (considerately timed to occur when I was asleep) saved me watering the garden. Just imagine if we had had to endure this pandemic while rain lashed at our windows. It doesn't bear thinking about.
Yesterday was a scorcher. I was sat in the garden just watching the insects flying about. There were a few Buff-tailed Bumblebees bumbling through the garden but most of the insects I could see from my seat were droneflies. Dronefly is the name given to a few species of hoverfly which do a pretty convincing job of looking like Honey-bee drones (the male bees in the hive). Hoverflies are amazing insects and they do a great job working tirelessly pollinating our plants, although I can't imagine if I ever started a doorstep 'clap for hoverflies' campaign it would ever take off. This particular hoverfly seemed to enjoy soaking up the sun on Ian Botham's head
...and even came and joined me on my t-shirt for a while too.
I could identify it from its pale 'feet' as Eristalis pertinax the Tapered Drone Fly. There are almost 300 species of hoverfly in the UK and this species is one of the first to appear each year. We got chatting. It didn't seem very talkative but it was nice to sit out and relax in the sun together. In fact, I was thinking of dedicating today's diary to hoverflies in its honour. But then another insect caught my attention.
A bee-fly landed near my feet and joined me and the hoverfly for a spot of sunbathing. I grabbed my camera and got the rubbish picture above.
The sort of picture I wanted to take was this one here
...which was taken by my friend Polly Mair in her Seaford garden.
Bee-flies are common insects in gardens. They're the perfect mixture of weird and wonderful and they look like kind of cuddly too...for a fly.
I absolutely love 'em. In fact I once made this design that I wanted on a t-shirt. But it never really caught on.
Bee-fly's have a ridiculously long proboscis - the long, straight tube which allows them to drink nectar from flowers - and visually they are a curious mix of bee and fly. They have two wings - so they're definitely flies (bees have four wings). But they're all fuzzy so you could confuse them for a bee.
But there aint no bee flies like a bee-fly flies.
I just love the way they whirr their wings and whizz around the garden. Check out Polly Mair's great little clip of a bee-fly nectaring. The camera speed slows down the bee-fly's wings and shows the incredible way this insect hovers.
I just LOVE that little side-step shuffle at the ten second mark.
There are actually 9 species of bee-fly (Bombylidae) in the UK but only four have this body shape. The one you're most likey to see in your garden is the Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major). That's the species that Polly filmed tap-dancing on the Forget-me-not. In this photo by Anders Illum you can clearly see the main species i.d. feature: the two-tone wing.
But yesterday, as I prowled the garden trying to get a bee-fly photo for you, I found a different species of bee-fly - a Dotted Bee-fly (Bombylius discolor). I was so excited !!! I have never seen one before. I raced around the garden trying to get a photo of this amazing aerial acrobat. I almost fell over Ian Botham at one point and went head first into the pond. I'm sure that clip would have got a few retweets on Twitter.
I did get this photo as it zipped overhead...
and this one - which makes the bee-fly look like it's coming in for landing on the roof
but eventually it landed by the path and I got this snap.
...which I'm pleased with because you can clearly see the wing pattern and why it's called the Dotted Bee-fly. Wow - I was really excited to find this amazing little insect. I wouldn't have been any more excited if I saw a tiger strolling past the greenhouse. Well, actually I probably would have been. But I was still pleased to find a Dotted Bee-fly in my back garden.
There is so much weird and wonderful wildlife you can see in your garden or from your window and there are three events being held over the weekend to help you explore and learn more.
The City Nature Challenge
The Nature 2020 project have organised a great event from Friday until Sunday for people living in the Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere. The City Nature Challenge (details here) asks you to photograph wildlife in your garden and then upload your photos online to be identified by an expert. It's a great chance for you to find out what's flying / growing / crawling in your garden and local area. So grab you camera and get out in the sunshine.
The 2.6 Alphabet Challenge
This is the perfect activity for children and families. Sussex Wildlife Trust have put together this nature themed scavenger hunt.
It's based on the 26 letters of the alphabet - all you have to do is find an animal or plant for each letter A – Z. Watch the video, print out the sheet and you're off!
Full details here.
Back Garden Bird Race
I'll be running our weekend bird race again. It's going to be on Sunday this week. 10-11 as usual. I'll post more details and another i.d. guide in tomorrow's diary.
Full details here.
Corona Wildlife Diary Archive #1-37: here