Tag Archives: Helophilus pendulus

The disappearing dove

Every year millions of migrating songbirds heading from Africa to Europe get blown out of the sky by weird people with shotguns. That combined with the policy in the UK of destroying habitat at an alarming rate is making life impossibly possibly difficult for some of our iconic bird species, one of which is the turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur, Dansk: turteldue).

But last summer I was exploring one of my regular haunts, Milton Country Park, on the northern edge of Cambridge, on a warm Saturday morning and the air was buzzing with insects including this handome hoverfly known as the ‘footballer‘ due to its rather fetching black and yellow striped thorax. This species is common in England reaching a peak in July which is when I snapped this individual.

The footballer hoverfly – Helophilus pendulus

And hoverflies aren’t the only abundant insects to be found in July. Milton Country Park is also home to mumerous species of Odonata, the dragonflies (Anisoptera) and damselflies (Zygoptera).

Common blue damselfly – Enallagma cyathigerum – perched on a seedhead

The Park has 4 big lakes:

MCP map

…and a few other streams and pools, and despite the abundant human presence it remains a haven for some properly exotic wildlife including a bittern that appeared for a week or so last year, and the occasional osprey stopping off on migration from sub-Saharan Africa to breeding sites further north in the UK.

The great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus, Dansk: toppet lappedykker) isn’t an exotic migrant but it’s a beautiful bird and can always be found here:

The grebe was almost hunted to extinction because its dense feathers were coveted as a substitute for fur. But it has recovered and can now be found on lakes over most of the UK. The one above is an adult and the one below still has the striped head markings of a juvenile.


But getting back to the point, the undoubted star of the show on this trip was the turtle dove:

The turtle dove is in very serious decline, I believe we have lost around 97% of our breeding population and it is anticipated it will become extinct in the UK by 2020 as it’s also under increasing pressure in Europe. The reason for its catastrophic decline is that it feeds on seeds from cereals and other plants and both of these are a scarce commodity in the fields of the UK at the time the doves need them.

So the birds arrive here in the UK exhausted after a heroic migration across the Sahara and the Mediterranean. And those that avoid the gun-toting imbeciles in southern Europe arrive here to find there’s not enough food. So as it takes them a long time to rest and feed and get back into breeding condition, they only have time for a maximum of one brood per season before they have to head all the way back. And this enforced curtailment of there breeding window means they just can’t sustain their numbers.

They arrive back in the UK from around mid April so I’ll try to capture some more photographs before they finally stop coming here all together.

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Anachronous insecta

A few posts ago I showed you some of the spider I encountered in the short spell of good weather we had in the late summer and early autumn. I think maybe some species were making hay whilst the sun was shining because there were also a lot of hoverflies around at that time too. And here are  three of the species I found. It’s the wrong time of year to be posting about hoverflies, hence the title of the post, but I haven’t been able to get out with my camera so I reckon a hoverfly post is better than none at all! Identifying hoverflies can be tricky because there are species which look very similar to each other and I’m no expert, so I hope my identifications are accurate but if any of you spot an error please let me know.

Eristalis tenax

Eristalis tenax is a type of hoverfly known as a ‘drone fly’, so called because they mimic honey bee drones. They are common throughout the UK and the females, which mate before overwintering and laying their eggs in the springtime, can be seen in any month of the year because they emerge from hibernation to feed when the weather warms up sufficiently. The larvae of this species are called ‘rat-tailed maggots’ and feed in sewage outflows and rotting carcasses – the more putrid it is the more they seem to like it! They are aquatic and the reason they are called ‘rat-tailed’ is that they have an extendable tube which can protrude up to around 5cm which they poke out of the water and use to breath air.

Tapered drone fly – Eristalis pertinax

The tapered drone fly is so called because the male has a tapered abdomen which is visible on this individual. It is otherwise a similar species to E. tenax and it’s larvae are also known as rat-tailed maggots. Apart from the taper it’s also distinguishable from E. tenax by it front legs which are pale.

My favourite hoverfly I found this year is this one:

The footballer – Helophilus pendulus

It’s called ‘the footballer’ because it’s colours are likened to a football shirt. It’s scientific name means ‘dangling sun lover’. The larvae of this species feed on detritus and have been found in wet manure, drains and in very wet sawdust. It’s widespread throughout the UK and can be seen throughout the summer in bright sunny locations in hedgerows. Despite the unsavoury but indispensable habits of the larvae of all of these species they transform into the most handsome adults.

I haven’t done a dedicated Christmas post this year so here’s wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2013!