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Holy Bee-flies!

Bombylius major (Dark-edged Bee-fly) in a Cotswold churchyard.

No, the title of this note is not an unexpectedly pious exclamation from the script of a new Batman film, but rather the consequence of an idea that has been developing in my mind as one of the county fly recorders.

Dark-edged Bee-fly feeding.

Our most common bee-fly is Bombylius major (Dark-edged Bee-fly) which appears quite early in the year (the first Gloucestershire records in 2017 are from 15 March). The species has two essential site requirements: the presence of solitary bees (because its own larvae feed on the larvae of the bees) and of the spring wild flowers which the adult flies visit for nectar. These requirements may be met in a wide range of habitats, including urban parks and gardens, but are not so easily found across intensively farmed countryside.

Dotted Bee-fly at rest.

Although it is much less common, Bombylius discolor (Dotted Bee-fly) can also be seen in Gloucestershire. The two species are difficult to distinguish unless the pattern of dark markings on their wings can be seen clearly.

Last year it occurred to me that churchyards might be good places to search for bee-flies, particularly in the Cotswolds where some village churchyards provide oases of semi-natural vegetation within many square miles of agricultural land. This year I am continuing to explore this idea during the flight season of the adult bee-flies, which are active between March and June.

A tightly mown churchyard – but bee-flies inhabit a marginal semi-natural strip.

Sadly, even some of our most picturesque rural villages have churchyards in which the only natural vegetation permitted is tightly mown grass. The solitary bees may still make use of some of these places, but they are unlikely to attract bee-flies in the absence of unmanicured corners where native flowers can grow.

A corner of the most floral semi-natural churchyard I have found.

On the other hand there are churchyards subject to less intensive management (either deliberately or thanks to benign

neglect) where springtime flowers can flourish; my experience so far suggests that, with a little patient searching, the Dark-edged Bee-fly can almost always be found in such places.

There are also, of course, intermediate situations, such as a spacious, mown grass churchyard I have visited where several trees have been removed in the recent past, but the ground flora of violets and celandine that they once sheltered is hanging on; presumably the surrounding grass will eventually overwhelm these flowers, but for the moment they are still attracting bee-flies. Unsympathetic management is an obvious threat to the flora and fauna of our churchyards; perhaps the presence or absence of bee-flies could play a part in assessing their wildlife value,  in both rural and urban parts of the county.

Heaven for bee-flies, bumblebees and other pollinating insects – another corner of that very floral churchyard.


Forthcoming Meeting Dates for your Diary

The GNS Annual General Meeting will take place on Friday 7th April at Watermoor Church Hall, Cirencester, 7.00 for 7.30pm, followed by a talk from David Simcox – the fascinating history of the Large Blue Butterfly in the Cotswolds and the story of its re-introduction.

GNS Outdoor Meeting Sunday 26th March – A visit to Coombe Hill Canal and Reserve – General Interest to be led by Andrew Bluett (01452 610085 / 07584 689090) – 10.00 am until 12.30. Meet in the reserve car park; follow the narrow lane to the left of the Swan Inn at Coombe Hill traffic lights on the A38 to the car par at the end of the canal. SO 886 272. Please dress appropriately for the weather, you may get away with good boots but wellingtons will probably be necessary.

GNS Outdoor Meeting Sunday 9th April – Darkham Wood, Redmarley – A new venue for GNS Meetings in a privately-owned wood; This is a recording meeting and a chance to find out what wildlife is present. Drive through the village of Redmarley from the A417 towards Durbridge Farm, meet at the entrance to the wood SO 740 301 and drive through to the hardstanding area. Leaders are Rick Benson-Bunch and Des Marshall – 01242 245143, 10.00am to 1.00pm. Please dress appropriately for the weather, good boots or wellingtons will be necessary.


Starling Murmuration & Roost 1

For the past few days there has been a big Starling murmuration and roost in the old brick-pits at Walham, just to the north of Gloucester between 5.30 and 6.15pm (SO 822 199); on Thursday 2nd March estimated 3000+ birds, in the first ten minutes being pursued by a small falcon, probably Merlin, also a Sparrowhawk.

 Suggested viewing from the Maisemore Road (SO 817 200) – park safely and walk carefully, it’s possible to walk to the riverbank on the public footpath from the Maisemore Road or walk upstream along the river side path from Westgate to something like SO 821 197.


First Curlew of the year

The level of the Severn rose considerably on 1-2 February, though it is dropping again now; as a result, smaller local streams could not flow out into the Severn and have backed up on the meadows, bringing a light flood with perfect conditions for the birds – after a very short flood in the second half of November, this is the first real flood of this winter.

At Coombe Hill Meadows on 4 February, the circular walk was under water; some water on the boardwalk to the Grundon Hide, but the hide is perfectly accessible, scrapes on 1.05m. and shallow flooding everywhere. The first Curlew of the year (unringed) was sitting quietly on its own, feeding and preening, not calling at all, behaving just like a bird that had only just arrived from its winter quarters on an estuary or coast somewhere.  Also a Black-tailed Godwit and 340 Lapwings.  Sharp increase in duck numbers: 3 Mute Swans, 20 Canada Geese, 1 Shelduck, 1040 Wigeon, 1000 + Teal, 40 Mallard, 48 Pintails (29 males, 19 females, many paired but some courtship parties with more males), 20 Shoveler.  Flock of 16 Pied Wagtails, probably migrants.

At Boddington, where there have been several hundred Lapwings for the last week, none at all today.

At Severn Ham, Tewkesbury, no sign of any Curlews; 10 Mute Swans flew over to the south, 3 Cormorants were fishing on the Severn.

Near Corse, where there have been good numbers of Lapwings in the last few weeks, only about 30 left; also a large flock of at least 1,500  mixed Fieldfares and Redwings (mainly Fieldfares, probably at least 1,200) on a freshly planted field.

At Ashleworth Ham, where water levels were also higher: no Culrews yet, but 2 Mute Swans, 175 Canada Geese, 4 Greylag Geese, 1 Shelduck, 130 Wigeon, 800 Teal, 45 Mallard, 1 Pintail, 2 Shoveler, 3 Tufted Ducks, only 1 Lapwing, 2 Nuthatches, 1 Goldcrest.

 


Coombe Hill and Ashleworth today

For some weeks now, water levels at both Coombe Hill and Ashleworth have been unusually low for the winter months, and water bird numbers have been low: we really need a small flood!

No change in conditions today: light frost, mist early on, much of the water surfaces iced over, rather more birds at Ashleworth than at Coombe Hill.

At Coombe Hill, practically all birds were round a hole in the ice on the Long Pool: 2 Mute Swans; 2 Canada Geese; 1 Shelduck; 40 Wigeon; 60 Teal; 15 Mallard; 10 Shoveler; 2 Grey Herons; 1 Coot on the Long Pool, five on the canal;  NIL Lapwings or Snipe; finally succeeded in finding two Stonechats alongside the footpath.

At Ashleworth, good numbers of birds right in front of the hide: 2 Mute Swans; 61 Greylags flew in (so they haven’t all departed to the breeding grounds); 200 Wigeon; 700 Teal; 20 Mallard; 2 Pintail; 15 Shoveler; 25 Snipe.  While we were pouring over our telescopes, carefully counting ducks and Snipe, we missed a Marsh Harrier flying past at some height, which was photographed by one of the keen cameramen: the picture looked altogether convincing.

Why do people buy takeaway meals then leave the debris on the roadside at nature reserves?

Boddington: about 200 Lapwing, shared between sheep grazed and cereal fields just south of the Gloucester Old Spot Inn.  So that’s why there are none at Coombe Hill or Ashleworth.

 


Birds of Prey Day at John Moore Museum – Saturday 11 February

A Live Animal Event for February half-term week

John Moore Museum
Saturday 11th February 2017
10am to 1pm & 2pm to 5pm
John Moore Museum, 41 Church Street, Tewkesbury, GL20 5SN
For the start of Half Term week in Gloucestershire, the museum welcomes back J.R.C.S Falconry who will be bringing along a selection of birds of prey from their extensive collection.

Visit us to meet a Golden Eagle, a Hooded Vulture, an Eagle Owl, a Little Owl, an American Kestrel and a Barn Owl.  An opportunity to see birds of prey, from some of the largest to the smallest.

A falconer will be on hand to answer all your questions about these amazing birds as well as on the ancient art of falconry.

Admission: Adult: £3.50, Seniors & Students £3.00, Children £1.50

Contact: Simon Lawton (Curator)
E-Mail: curator@johnmooremuseum.org
Website: www.johnmooremuseum.org
Telephone: 01684 297174