Mike Bloxham

Working with the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country is a great tonic- occasionally! It may involve visiting some mundane wildlife sites but it turns up is fair share of wildlife surprises. This year's booby prize appeared to be a visit to Billesley Lane Allotments in Moseley. An assessment of invertebrate value was required and quickly! Normally allotments have only limited allure - the margins and the compost heaps can be good but the general environment usually suggests a wildlife component subjugated by yards of fencing and separated from the oxygen of faunal & floral refurbishment by miles of housing and roads. This one was different. A jumble of old posts and a long rambling hedgerow containing old willows and birch separated it from a golf course with interesting fairways amongst islands of encouraging and varied vegetation. In the distance Moseley Bog of Tolkein fame could just be seen and another whole side of the site was bordered by a woodland sling with old poplars and oaks.

We walked towards some neglected plots adorned with white globes of over-wintered leek flowers on high stems; an unwanted yet exotic waste product of earlier toil. Other admirers were there before us: several large orange and black flies crawled slowly on the florets and left reluctantly but fast on our intrusion. Volucella inanis by name (and nature?). Already it was worth our coming. One flower head unexplored - tenanted by a large and sombre fly which moved and suddenly glowed bronze. The net came down. Driven with emphatic sweep on instant recognition of the rarity, it had detained Callicera aurata. Not bad for the first ten minutes of our odyssey.

Callicera aurata (photo of mounted specimens Andy Purcell )

A deep ditch ran beneath sleeper bridges, dividing the plots. The locals said it carried storm & waste water off the road systems and from errant washing machines. A glance at the source confirmed this as a grey liquid oozed between strands of sewage fungus. After one hundred metres of clinker- filled course a different story was told. The emerging water chuckled crystal clear on its way, joined by a bubbling spring from the golf course and a gravel strand well swept offered up a real dollie - the tiny Teuchophorus monocanthus - normally very local in these situations on some of Britain's purest streams.

At the end of our work a disgruntled holder working on his plot joined us. Something had got at his asparagus. A sharp tap on the fronds revealed the culprit. An asparagus beetle- Crioceris asparagi. He was not impressed but I was. It was the first time I had ever seen one. One man's meat is another man's poison!

Thanks must go to Landcare Associates and EcoRecord ( the wildlife database for Birmingham and the Black Country) for giving me opportunity for this survey. Readers wishing for a full list of findings on the day may contact EcoRecord (Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country). An earlier record for Callicera aurata exists for Wolverhampton where Guy Knight (newly appointed director of the Bug House at Liverpool Museum) found it in the back garden of his home.

Editor's comment
For the un-initiated: RECORDER 3.3 is positively lyrical about Callicera aurata as follows: Designation Red Data Book 3. A hoverfly usually found in ancient forests with over-mature and senescent trees especially Fagus (beech) and Quercus (oak) Adults are primarily arboreal rarely descend to feed at flowers or to drink at streams. Occasionally found at great distances from apparently suitable breeding localities (eg a recent record in a suburban garden in Wolverhampton). Larvae have been found in rot holes high (18 m) in an old beech tree in ancient forest. In Great Britain mainly recorded from ancient forest in southern central England (especially the New Forest) but there are a scatter of records for SW England, Wales and the Midlands, and two records from central Scotland. In Europe the situation is not clear because of confusion with C. aenea, but there are records from Norway, France, south to the Mediterranean and eastwards through central and southern Europe to Turkey.

Volucella inanis is a large black and yellow striped hoverfly. The larvae are commensals in social wasp nests. This species has been confined to SE England but is showing a marked tendency to spread NW. The first records for proper (!) Worcestershire were in Tiddesley Wood near Pershore (the first records for 100 km grid square SO). They have also been found in Solihull this summer. More in our next!


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