Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Pottering around the garden

Today has probably been the finest of the year so far, with wall-to-wall sunshine and genuinely warm conditions. I gave Chris a nasty turn by appearing in a short-sleeved shirt.

Our one plant of Hacquetia epipactis has come through the winter unscathed. This odd yet dainty member of the Carrot Family appears to have green petals, but these structures are in fact bracts. Although it is a native of woodlands in Central Europe, it does well as a rock garden plant and I wouldn't be without it.

Hacquetia epipactis in our garden at Byfield, 23 April, 2013

A Skimmia, Skimmia japonica, was in bloom at the far end of the garden and, unlike the Hacquetia, was attracting a few bees together with some flies. I have never been very fond of Skimmias although I do acknowledge that they have many virtues, being tough, floriferous and good for attracting insects. And yet they are...dull. However, they did much to raise themselves in my esteem today when a rather nice hoverfly paid a visit. It was a very smart male Eristalis intricarius. Males can generally be recognised because their eyes are holoptic, i.e. they meet in the middle,
The hoverfly Eristalis intricarius on Skimmia.
 Byfield, 23 April, 2013
This fairly common species is a bumble bee mimic - and a very good one. In fact it is quite variable and therefore can be said to mimic several bumble bee species. A genuine bumble bee also put in a visit. It was a worker Red-tailed Bumble Bee, Bombus lapidarius. It seemed to be behaving rather oddly and on looking closely I could see that it was carrying a dozen or so mites. They were positioned at the rear of the thorax, and the bee kept trying to dislodge them by combing them with its legs - with little or no success.
Red-tailed Bumble Bee on Primula denticulata.
Byfield, 23 April, 2013
A second species of Eristalis was present; this was Eristalis pertinax. Again it is a mimic, but this very common species resembles a honey bee rather than a bumble bee. It was a male, hovering just above  head-height, darting off every few seconds to intercept a rival - or to check if the intruder was a female.

Despite the very pleasant conditions there were fewer flies around than I would  have expected - a legacy of our very cold winter? - and the only other specimen I secured was one of the Cluster Flies, Pollenia angustigena (see blog for 18 April).

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