Thursday, 23 May 2013

Small is beautiful

Having a small person in the house now means that some things have changed radically. Our time outdoors is constrained by sleep patterns (to some degree) and time spent with the camera is now precious. That said, the recent spell of (whisper it) fine weather here has given me an opportunity to get out into the garden and appreciate what's lurking in the vegetation there.

Some background... when we moved in, the back garden was effectively a wasteland only recently reclaimed from a seething mass of bramble, with a small patch of dog-fouled perennial rye grass at the bottom. We began by digging out bramble roots and pulling up ash seedlings which sprout like weeds in this area, but aren't really suited to a tiny garden, and mulled over the possibilities inherent in the grass patch. I hesitate to call it a lawn... Both being of a somewhat wildlife-friendly bent, we decided that chucking a bit of species-rich hay around might be quite fun, so we asked a friend of ours for a couple of bags of hay next time he cut his patch - and duly got about 15 sacks of clippings (thanks David!!). We raked over the rye-grass until there were some sizable bare patches amongst it, strewed the clippings, and jumped up and down on them for a while, just to make sure.

The next spring, we began to see the fruits of our labours - well, the flowers. Germander Speedwell, Ribwort Plantain, Meadow Buttercup, Sweet Vernal-grass all came up with some vigour, and a handful of Yellow-rattle plants emerged too, to our pleasure. In the autumn we repeated the grass-strewing over the bare patches, and were rewarded with Centaury, Common Knapweed and Bird's-foot Trefoil joining the party.

This year I've noticed that we seem to have an abundance of invertebrates, when compared with my memories of previous years. OK, last year was nothing to shout about for most wildlife (except bryophytes and molluscs, perhaps) but this spring hasn't exactly been brilliant weather either. However, looking over the back garden now during a sunny spell and the air is full of a myriad shining wings - mainly small hoverflies and other flies. This intrigued me, so I thought I'd take the camera out and have a look... and what's pictured below might not yet be identified - and indeed may not be identifiable - but it gives a flavour of what's going on in the garden.

One of a number of slender hoverflies which cruises the garden - this one a rather black/bottle-green animal.

A small, yet perfectly-formed longhorn beetle of some description, working its way over the raspberries (the raspberry canes have proved to be a fertile hunting ground for photos this year - nearly as good as the hazel-honeysuckle tangle nearby). Edit: thanks to Tim Worfolk, below, a name: Pogonocherus hispidus

One of the flesh-flies, as far as I can tell. Edit: TW suggests perhaps Graphomyia sp (Muscid)

Leaf-mining flies (Liriomyza sp.) doing their stuff on the comfrey. Perhaps not identifiable to species, but they bear a passing resemblance to L. pusilla - and as the name suggests, they're small! About 2mm long, snout to tail-tip.

A more conventional hoverfly, brilliant in black and yellow. Edit: Eupiodes c.f. luniger is suggested

A tiny teardrop-shaped spider which feasts on aphids. Go to it...

Yet another fly - there is a startling diversity in the garden... Edit: this one appears to be perhaps Beris c.f. chalybata, a Stratiomyid fly.

A solitary bee, one of the Andrena species. This one seems to have a particular liking for our dandelions.

Apropos of which, dandelion clocks too are worth a closer look. Their geometry is pleasing when the clocks are whole...

...and there is also beauty to be found in the detail of the seeds when they are exposed.

Even plain old Ribwort Plantain takes on a new dimension at this scale: I hadn't realised that the anthers seem to be swollen bags of pollen. These release their pollen on the wind, but if you see them on a still day when the rain is falling gently, you can see little puffs of pollen clouding up, for all the world like miniature cannon-smoke drifting across the grass...

Another small fly which enjoys hanging out around the honeysuckle growing through the hazel. Notable particularly for its antennae... Edit: Dolichopodid fly: Syntormon sp.

A scorpion-fly, I think. Edit: an Empid of some species - anyone feel like raising the bar?!

Micropterix calthella - a tiny micro-moth, about 4-5mm long, which has decided our raspberry canes make a great place to lure in some of the opposite sex. They spend a lot of time wandering up and down their few cms of stalk, waving their antennae around, looking left and right and occasionally scrapping over the right to use a particularly choice spot.

Another hoverfly, this one with powder-blue markings on the dorsal side of the abdomen, and a rich ochre stripe along the sides. Edit: Platycheirus sp. (female); thanks to 'Ophrys' on i-spot for that one.
Final edit: Many thanks indeed to Tim Worfolk (two bird theory blog - visit: it's great!) and 'Ophrys' on I-Spot for their help with identifications so far...


Tim Worfolk said...

Hi Jeremy, enjoyed looking through your blog - and I'll add it to my list. Not sure if we've ever met but I believe you do know my better half?

Just for the fun of it, and because I recognised a few from my own past attempts at ID, I may be able to give names (or at least family/genus) for some of your insects:

The Longhorn beetle is Pogonocherus hispidus;
your 'flesh-fly' is a Muscid, prob. Graphomyia sp.;
your black and yellow Hoverfly is Eupeodes (prob.luniger);
the small black fly (after the spider) is a Stratiomyid, Beris sp. (prob.chalybata);
the next fly (with the big antennae)is a Dolichopodid; a Syntormon sp.;
and the next (with the long proboscis)is an Empid, though no idea even what genus.

The other hoverflies I feel I should know but I'm very out of practice - and probably have similar photos sitting in my 'unidentifed folder'.

Look forward to seeing more.

jeremy barker said...

Thanks Tim! Particularly for the helpful ID comments. I'll carry on posting in a while - it's currently a battle to get useable photos with high contrast and a toddler competing for my attention!

Don't think we've met yet, but yes, I know your better half - might well bump into you at Topsham some day in the future (fancy joining the gull-count in January?!)