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18 April 2010 @ 07:12 pm
The Insects Awaken  

Spring has come to Hurdman Park as well, and I've been spending more time there during the week. The Wood Ducks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds and Song Sparrows are all back, and one day I saw a Great Blue Heron standing on a downed tree on the opposite side of the river. I keep hoping that I'll find some kinglets or White-throated Sparrows there, but so far they've been mysteriously absent. Robins are everywhere, cardinals and goldfinches are singing exuberantly, and one day I even saw a Brown Creeper.

Since I haven't seen any new migrants at Hurdman lately, I've been spending my lunch hours there looking for butterflies and other insects instead. The insects have become numerous over the past week, and I was happy to come across some interesting ones while exploring the trails.

Hover fly (Helophilus obscurus)

Hover flies, also known as flower flies, are one of my favourite types of insects. Many of them are black and yellow and resemble bees or wasps. However, they do not sting and are harmless to humans. I found one along the trail where the bird feeders are hung in the winter; I thought him quite handsome with his bronze-coloured thorax.

Hover Fly (syrphid sp.)

On trails on the west side of the transitway I photographed my first bee fly. These tiny flying balls of fuzz belong to the family Bombyliidae, one of the largest families of the order Diptera (the group of insects which encompasses all flies having only one set of wings), with over 5,000 species worldwide. They nectar on flowers and have a long, pointed proboscis which resembles a stinger, adding to its resemblance to a bee. Bee flies tend to hover above flowers while feeding, undoubtedly to avoid capture by predators lurking in the blossoms, such as the ambush bugs and the crab spiders.

I didn't see them nectaring, for there are few flowers in bloom right now. They were resting on the ground instead, where I found them to be extremely wary and difficult to approach....too difficult for a macro shot.

Bee fly (Bombylius sp.)

A few butterflies were around, too. A Mourning Cloak fluttered by overhead, and I saw three Cabbage Whites...my first ones of the year. This species does not overwinter in the adult stage, as do the Mourning Cloaks and anglewings, but hibernates in the chrysalis stage instead. They are one of the first butterflies to transform into adult butterflies in the spring, and thus appear fresh with no wear and tear.

Cabbage Whites have two or three broods in the northern part of their range, which includes southern Canada. This species' flight season lasts well into fall, since two or three successive generations complete their life cycle from egg to adult, then reproduce and lay more eggs, during one season. Adults have a life span of about two weeks, so the Cabbage Whites that are seen flying in September are not the same ones that emerged in the spring, but are instead their grandchildren or great-grandchildren!

Two of the butterflies that I saw were mating, aided, perhaps, by a little alcohol.

Mating Cabbage Whites

While exploring, I came across a downed tree which was buzzing with insects. I found one which I thought was a hover fly, until a closer look made me realize it was a bee instead! Bees fold their wings over their back, whereas the hover flies rest with their wings out to the side.

Cuckoo Bee (Nomada sp.)

The trails on the west side of the transitway are more extensive than those on the east side, and go through an interesting wood which is larger than it first appears. In the wood I came across a patch of violets, although I am not sure which species they are or whether or not they are native to the area. I found them quite pretty, and was surprised not to see any insects nectaring on them.

Violet sp.

In a small group of trees I came across a large hover fly buzzing about only a few inches above the ground. He flew back and forth for a while before finally landing on a green leaf.

Hover fly (Helophilus obscurus)

I have never seen a hover fly with a striped thorax before, and spent much time following him about trying to photograph him. The variety of these wasp mimics is quite interesting, as different species have bands of different shapes on the abdomen. While most hover flies are black and yellow, others may have varying amounts of red, orange or even blue.

Hover fly (Helophilus obscurus)

I soon ran out of time, and with great reluctance, I left the trails to return to work. It is just so difficult to go back inside when the weather is so wonderful right now!

Xray Is As Xray Doesxraytheenforcer on April 23rd, 2010 02:47 pm (UTC)
those are some great shots -- the bee fly looks like something on Star Trek.
Soul Diasporasoul_diaspora on April 24th, 2010 03:27 am (UTC)
It is just so difficult to go back inside when the weather is so wonderful right now!

I know the feeling :-) I was out at Mud Lake today despite still having a cold; hopefully my immune system won't pay too heavy a price for it.

I like the sharpness of that last hover fly picture.