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The weather is all too seducing. I feel like a naughty schoolgirl playing truant as I abandon indoor chores.
“I have to go and pick up some bales from the top.” I call out to anyone listening as I guiltily slide out of the office donning wellies and sunglasses (the eyes haven’t recovered from troglodyte-sight following the last couple of years’ rain). On the bobcat I change the scraper for the grab and trundle off up the lane, dogs in tow. The snail pace of the bobcat feels just fine today, and despite the engine noise the vibrant gloriousness of the farm can be hungrily appreciated.
Mission accomplished all too quickly so I reluctantly return to my office and try to concentrate. I get sidetracked by twitter, I get sidetracked by chatty emails, I get sidetracked by the phone. I just get side tracked by anything.
Robert calls up the stairs “Want to come on a walk?”
“I’m trying to work.” I shout back “Trying…” And it’s definitely trying “So yes please…hold on a second and I’m there.” I give up all pretence, close down the computer, grab socks, rucksack, puppy and dogs and I’m off.
Robert’s day time interest-of-the moment is hoverflies. Having been on his course he’s all fired up. So with butterfly net, collection jars and an insect pooter – a thing to suck up insects into a collection tube (and I thought he was talking about a computer…) – he scours the hedge and wood line of all accessible fields and moorland; this wonderful weather has been perfect for insects, especially hoverflies.
We decide on Scadsbury, an hourglass culm grassland field bordered by ancient woodland leading down to the River Lew. Primroses dotted among the soft pink-mauves and deep purple-blues of violets spill out of the woodland into the scalloped edges of the field; nature’s own subtle embroidery. Dancing a jig at the very tops of pussy willow trees, males of the beautiful moth Adela cuprella seek to attract mates. This small moth, with its metallic bronze and copper wings, and flowing white antennae many times the body length, has never before been recorded in Devon but it’s common this year. The book says it comes and goes, some years being very seldom seen if at all, and others in some numbers.
Down by the river clumps of pungent wild garlic are linked through a green carpet of bluebells teetering on the edge of flowering.
Robert finds his hoverflies while the dogs and I introduce Willow to woodlands, boggy grassland and rivers. She’s entranced while we (yes, even Skye and Ness, though they have tried their best to ignore her) are enchanted by her!
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed an insect hovering around flowers that you presume is a bee or wasp, but on closer inspection something is just not right? No pollen sacks? No sting? Most probably it’s a hoverfly.
Robert, as you may have gathered, has a keen interest in moths and bumble bees, but this year due to the awful weather they have done very badly. So unfortunately his numerous mothing and bee finding forays have been total washouts and he’s returned home empty handed and despondent. However during these expeditions he’s noticed that the hoverfly has actually done rather well; so the frustrated entomologist in him has found an alternative outlet – identifying and photographing hoverflies.
Hoverflies, as their name suggests, are known for their hovering abilities. Many of our 250 British species are brightly coloured, mimicking bees and wasps. Although they themselves are quite harmless, having no sting, by this ruse they gain some protection from birds and other predators. The adults are abundant on flowers for much of the year, feeding on both pollen and nectar, while the larvae live in rooting wood, compost heaps, stagnant water and so forth feeding largely on decaying organic matter. A few, like Volucella pellucens, live in the nests of bees and wasps, scavenging dead and dying insects and other debris. And another, the Arctophila superbiens’ larvae, live in water filled hoofprint along shady muddy paths…no brownie points for knowing why this particular insect has thrived this year!