Oh dear, that cold must have been worse than I realised, as I see that I have missed two days!  I was thinking that this is the worst cold I've had in a long time.  Then I remembered that I had a bad one last spring, when what is normally the worst single day, actually lasted nearly a week.  If I hadn't written that down, I would have forgotten completely.  It's amazing how the body and mind forgets pain and discomfort once it has gone - until there is some threat of the the same circumstance again.

So, today back to work, despite some coughing and spluttering still.  A morning in the bat loft with a plumber, followed by a butterfly transect in lovely spring weather in the afternoon.  Not many butterflies about, though - those that overwintered as adults have probably had enough good weather to lay their eggs before dying off, and now we are looking at freshly emerged adults.  So all I counted were a couple of speckled woods and a few orange tips.

One insect that was out in reasonably numbers was the Bee fly, Bombylius major.  It's fairly easy to identify as it looks like a bee hovering at a flower, but then you realise it is actually a fly (those big eyes, plus it has only one pair of wings), with its proboscis permanently extended.  Sometimes they stop to rest on bare soil or stones, as in the picture.

Bombylius major is a parasite, and has several host species, including beetle larvae and the brood of solitary wasps and bees, particularly mining bees such as Andrena. By mimicing bees, they are able to get close to the real bees' burrows. Then the female will flick her eggs into or near the nests of the host insects. The larvae feed on the food stored for the bee grubs, as well as on the young solitary bees or wasps. 

Although Bombylius major is an excellent pollinator for early flowers such as primroses, the larvae limit the population of other pollinators. Fortunately the adults are only around from April to June, so host species with multiple broods per season, and those that only nest late in the summer, are not badly affected.




Grey seals

Yestercay I could feel a cold building up, today it hit hard.  However, we went to Skomer as planned, and I took some video of grey seals.  I'll post it when I'm recovered, but right now it's time for an early night.


Goat Willow

Continuing the theme of willow, today I found what I believe to be a goat willow.

It was a large (10m) round tree growing by a stream.  The male catkins were still yellowish and the leaves just beginning to come out - but not far enough out to get any detail. 



Creeping Willow

One of the plant groups I've never really tried to get to grips with are the willows.  And despite good intentions each spring, I haven't managed to photograph any catkins either.  So I'm trying to do better.

These, I believe, are the female catkins on the creeping willow, Salix repens.  The 2m bush was one of a group (characteristic of a plant with creeping rootstock), the leaves are untoothed, and slightly downy (though the down seems to wear away later), and the catkins, which are now maturing, were out before the leaves.




Plectranthus barbatus

I'm always on the look-out for interesting snippets of information about plants (and animals of course), and things turn up at odd times.  After another day in the bat loft, I was tired enough to collapse in front on the TV and watch "Botany: a blooming history" on BBC4.

Towards the end of the program, a mention was made of a botanist collecting plants in Ghana (I think - I was half asleep by then) and hearing that one of them was used locally against Malaria.  I recognised the picture being shown as something I had photographed in Madeira:

Plectranthus barbatus (Coleus barbatus) is, according to various web pages, a herb that cures most things.  However none of the pages I've looked at mention malaria.

According to the program (which was first shown several years ago) further work was on-going as to whether the claims were scientifically proven, and if so, were other plants in the same family also effective, and if so, which one was most effective and so should be the one to be studied as a potential source of medicine.