Friday, 11 July 2014

Insect World at Lakenheath Fen

17th June 2014

I had of course gone to Lakenheath in the hope of getting some more photos of Bitterns, Hobbys, Bearded Tits and Marsh Harriers, but just in case it was quiet I also packed my new macro lens. Just as well as I did because it was the only lens that I used all day.

I decided to take the southern trail next to the railway as this would be more sheltered from the northerly wind and hopefully I would be able to find some nectaring insects on some sunny sheltered vegetation. It was fairly quiet at first but then I came to some patches of Hogweed and the flat flower heads were attracting a lot of insects. By far the most numerous insects on one particular plant was this rather attractive black and yellow fly which I eventually identified (with a lot of help) as the Fungus Gnat Sciara hemerobioides.

A little further along, insects were queuing up to have their photograph taken including this Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn Beetle and these Thick-legged Flower Beetles, both priceless gems waiting to be admired at the side of the path.

A little further along I came across some butterflies enjoying the flowers on a Bramble bush, with all the usual suspects including Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Comma. However as I left the area of Brambles and moved towards more open grassland the butterflies also changed with the appearance of numerous Meadow Browns and Large Skippers.

I had taken this photo expecting it to be a Small Skipper, but it was only when I got it home and looked on the monitor that I saw the ink dots on the end of the antennae which make it an Essex Skipper. Result!!

I had now gone past the New Fen watch-point and was following the ditch with cut access points to the north of the path. Plenty of dragonflies here, mostly the very common Azure Damselfly seen here in a mating wheel and some Large Red Damselflies. Large Reds are the most earl;y damselflies to emerge and won't be flying for much longer.

However, what surprised me most was the number of Red-eyed Damselflies also enjoying the vegetation. These are normally a damselfly of open water and lily pads which is why you don't normally get close views. But all along the the path were several individuals right next to the path waiting for their photograph to be taken.

Also present of course was the Four-spotted Chaser which are particularly common at Lakenheath. Luckily these insects are very easy to photograph as they always come back to the same perch. And if there isn't an existing perch, you can put your own in, which just might be in a position convenient for photography.

But then the jewel in the crown. I had been scrutinising all the blue damselflies quite thoroughly but they all turned to be Azures. Even Common Blues were absent as the area was quite heavily vegetated. But then my vigilance and patience were rewarded when one the the blues turned out to be a Variable Damselfly. There has only been one record of Variable Damselfly in Hertfordshire (photographic evidence), and the only one I have seen before was at Wicken Fen back in the 1990s. So overall a very rewarding experience.

So now on to the hoverflies which I started photographing this year. I have started keeping a list but only after the identification has been verified as they can be a very confusing group and, like some moths, can only be identified to individual species by microscope or dissection. Today was a good day as it took me from 3 species to 7 species, so just 274 to go!! I have labelled each group of photos at the top.

Episyrphus baleatus

Helophilus pendulus

Melangyna compositarum agg

Syrphus sp

Tropidia scita

A very different day to usual but great fun.

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