Thursday, February 24, 2011

Every mile is two in winter...

The words of 16th century Welsh poet George Herbert providing the title for this blog entry. They still have resonance today of course. February may have only 28 days but I've lost count of just how many of those I've spent bemoaning the weather!

February Sunrise
It's probably unfair on nature actually, after all it could have been so much worse (and was last year) but it's been the grey blanket that seems to have enveloped us all for countless hours, days and weeks that has been so tiresome. Even on the odd occasion when the burning planet has managed an appearance its not had the warmth to burn off the mist and fog.

Its been said (not by me I hasten to add) that February is the month for ducks. Referring to the amount of rainfall no doubt. But I have a different analogy to offer.
I like to think of it in this way. Imagine a duck swimming on the local village pond (something we are losing at an alarming rate actually, but that's for a future blog) to all intents and purposes the duck looks serene enough above the waterline but below there is lots of activity to propel him along.
Well that's how February is. Calm & quiet on the surface but look just below and nature is working as hard as ever to prepare for the following season.

Yesterday though following yet another miserable weather day there was for anyone who cared enough to notice at the dying of the day a sure sign of brighter things to come when the skies above the Kent countryside for a few moments looked as though they had been colour washed by an artists brush charged with warm reds.
To those of us born and bred here in the Garden of England it invoked just one thought "Red sky at night Shepherd's delight"   


And so it was that today dawned with blue skies and the spring sounds of skylarks over local farmland.
The warmer temperatures also meant that I could write an entry in my diary along the lines of it being the best day of the year thus far for spotting insects and bugs. Even our own garden that has seemed to be dormant for so long now sprung to life with a whole raft of insects and bugs coming out of hiding to 'catch some rays'

The first sign that it could be a special day came when whilst I sat in the car that I'd parked in a sunny spot mid-morning a cold, female Bee seemed to find the warmth of the car appealing.

Female Bee

This was my first sighting of a Bee of any kind this year. A welcome sight and a sure sign that Spring is close enough to smell.

Second on the list of visitors was a beautifully marked Wolf Spider in the garden.
These can be tricky to photograph because they have terrific eyesight coupled with an acute sense of touch and often are long gone before I've managed to set the camera up.
Today however, either my turn of speed was better than usual, the spider was still trying to warm itself from a winter slumber or I was just plain lucky!

Wolf Spider

I'm not sure if it's predominantly females that appear first in spring but again it was so with the next 'first' for 2011.
Hover Flies or as I think they are known in America 'Flower Flies'  are amongst the prettiest of British flies. Now I realise that for most folks describing any fly as pretty is pushing it a little but having photographed and studied so many over time and got to know a little about them I do believe they can be beautiful and to try and illustrate the point take a look at the photograph below of a Tachinid fly taken during last summer. C'mon, did you even know flies could look this good?

Phasia hemiptera (male)

Anyhow, to get back to Hover flies. Hover Flies belong to a large family of small to big flies. They are true flies or Diptera, with only one pair of wings in the Family Syrphidae. ( Wasps and bees have two pairs ).
The one that I spotted today on one of the evergreen shrubs in the garden rejoices under the scientific name of 'Episyrphus balteatus' but I much prefer the descriptive common name of Marmalade Fly.

Many of the of hoverflies have ornate body patterns, often of black and yellow, to mimic wasps and bees but are harmless. Hover fly mimicry includes warning coloration of yellow and black, a narrow waist like a wasp and even the ability to mimic the stinging action of a wasp, by pushing the tip of the abdomen into your fingers if they are caught and held.
The Marmalade Fly

To cap a wonderful springlike day filled with warm sunshine, enough bugs to entertain a sad old hippy who delights in chasing them around the Kentish countryside pushing a camera into their faces at every opportunity, on my afternoon walk I spotted this tiny weevil waking from it's winter dreams.

Weevil (8mm)

And so after a winter that began with early snow in November and that felt like Ground-hog Day on more than a few days it does now seem that the march of spring is now unstoppable and the promise of all that it holds has already began to lift the mood and is sustenance for the soul.

Until the next time then...

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