Nature Notes

One of the interesting spin-offs from writing these Nature Notes is that I can make seasonal comparisons.

Looking at the Notes for July 18, 2013, I see that I was enchanted by the loud insect buzz from our cotoneaster.

This year everything seemed to bloom at once and the cotoneaster bonanza is well over. To find a buzz yesterday I had to scan the pale pink astrantias that have spread themselves all over the garden, and there they were – bumblebees, honeybees and lots of hoverflies.

I like hoverflies: they are the unassuming servants of pollination. They come in all shapes and sizes, some small and thin – busy, airborne pins - some quite bulky but still agile and manoeuvrable, some cleverly mimicking the much more dangerous bumblebees or wasps. In fact over 5,000 species of hoverflies have been identified and there are probably a similar number still to be discovered.

There’s evolutionary success for you! They feed on nectar – hovering to sip from flowers – hence their name. They are flies – so have only one pair of wings - unlike bees that have two. However, the wings move too fast for me to count: some hoverflies have been recorded zipping along at 40km per hour. I’ve no idea how many species visit my garden, I just enjoy watching them and wondering at their variety. Some people are not so easily satisfied.

I’ve just finished reading a fascinating book, The Fly Trap, by Swedish author and entomologist, Frederik Sjoberg. He’s a passionate hoverfly fan, and set about identifying and recording every species on the 15sq km island where he lives. So far he’s recorded 202 out of the 368 found in Sweden – not bad – and he is still finding new ones. It’s a long-term project and as he searches he sees so much more of his small island’s ecology.

Although I once counted and marked all the hedgehogs that passed through my garden over a three year period (18 one summer), Sjoberg’s obsessive approach is not for me. But, I agree with him that boundaries sharpen one’s awareness: I love the idea of having my own patch. Whether it’s an island, Wharfedale, the local nature reserve or park or your own back garden, getting to know it through seasons and over years gives detail, depth, historical perspective and endless delight.

Our centenarian Wharfedale Naturalist' Society member now concentrates on the view from her window but continues to report sightings with characteristic verve and expertise.

Jenny Dixon

Wharfedale Naturalists Society