Monday, 28 July 2014

"The small gilded fly doth lecher in my sight" (King Lear, nature lover)

Nature is famously good for us, with talk of “green gyms” (marketing speke for a walk in the countryside) and mental health.  The verdant green of a spring time woodland or flower strewn verge are a delight. I am less sure about the darkened woods of late summer as the leaves strip out all light or the wilder moors: Wuthering Heights, The Hound of the Baskervilles and Lorna Doon are not set high on the moors by accident. Nonetheless Druridge Bay has that overwhelming calm of sea and sky that King Lear could have done with instead of contemplating flies out in the storm. I have always assumed the “small gilded fly” he observed were Long-legged Flies, Dolichopodidae, perky, iridescent inhabitants of damp vegetation and exposed mud. They do a lot of letchering in sight (green bottles do not, so I’m ruling them out). The sun has brought out the more conspicuous Dolichopodiae in skipping, fizzing mobs. Most are very tricky to identify but one is not, Poecilobothrus nobilitatus, on account of the white wing tips of the males. These frantic suitors whirr and fan their wings to females, then hop and skip back and forth over the object of their amorous attention. However since they all tend to crowd together in the drying puddles and rims of the ponds the mob is a constant agitation of distracted flirting and collisions. As each fly shifts and twitches new neighbours jump into view so within seconds they seem to have lost sight of their intended.  They are also easily distracted trying to yank midge larvae out of the mud which they chew up with macerating mouth parts.  If you approach to abruptly the whole mess of flies scatters but lie down to watch and they will soon return to their choice patch of mud for another round of dancing.  They are flies of high summer’s hot days as the ponds dry down to squirming mud and a delight to watch.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

The burnet moths cyber noir day out

The July warmth has unleashed a very special day along the dunes around the Druridge Bay Country Park; the burnet moths have hatched. They are not rare nor unfamiliar, but well worth the time to creep up and admire. The newly emerged are shimmering black winged, whilst their bodies are the deepest sable fur. Vivid red spots blotch their wings, five or six spots per forewing depending on the species. Antennae stand proud, a filigree segmented hook of which the finest blacksmith would be proud. They seem slightly out of place on the dunes, dressed for Frank Millar's Sin City. Seen against the yellow of Birds Foot Trefoil or gaudy purple-pink of the Bloody Cranesbill, the burnet moths add to a remarkably colourful dune-scape. Maybe the Burnets are more fin de si├Ęcle Gustav Klimt that contemporary cyber noir. The males whirr, slightly clumsily, low through the marram stems or cluster on thistles. They can detect a female in her cocoon even before she emerges and the males wait around to mate even as she hauls herself out. Here are a pair with the females white cocoon as their foot hold. They shimmer in the sun. The high summer butterflies are also out in force. Common Blues fizz  past, the more tentative Small Heaths flitter away from out under your feet and Ringlets bob low amongst the stems as if on the end of invisible strings. Walk the dune path south of Druridge Bay Country Park and you will find these beautiful insects in abundance. The burnets do not last long, their extraordinary looks maybe burn out too soon, befitting their vanity, which deserves your attention.