Bees, butterflies and botany at Lesbury

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Beginning a week of annual leave, a fortnight past, I hopped on the train keen to explore surrounds of Lesbury in North Northumberland. Arriving at Alnmouth station and taking the short walk North to where the circular walk begins beside the River Aln, a roadside field rife with Common Knapweed provided an interesting first port of call.

Here, the plentiful purple flower-heads were strewn with countless bumblebees, making for quite the sight as I set about trying to identify those in front of me. A male Buff-tailed Bumblee came first, followed by Common Carder Bee and a handful of vibrant male Red-tailed Bumblebees. White-tailed were present too, though proved too quick for the camera, and it soon became clear that plenty of cuckoo bumblebees were present also.

With many of these looking somewhat bleached and faded, identifying them was quite a task and I stress that my current identifications are entirely provisional. That said, most numerous was Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee, followed the red-tailed Hill Cuckoo Bumblebee. More interesting still what was what likely amale Field Cuckoo Bumblebee with its extensive tail markings, and a rather fluffy looking bee may have been Barbut’s Cuckoo Bumblebee. A new species for me if so – I just hope that someone with more knowledge than I can confirm or correct.

Here too, a solitary bee feeding on Cat’s-ear was likely Gwynne’s Mining Bee. My first since spring and no doubt part of a second generation.

Finding myself heading North along the margins of a nearby arable field, my attention soon turned to plants. Most interesting among the lush riverside vegatation was an abundance of Hemp Agrimony, while the lovely white blooms of Common Hemp-nettle were plentiful. Closer to the crop, and at times interwoven with the planted broad beans, a number of interesting arable ‘weeds’ were also spotted. Field Pansy, Sun Spurge, Common Poppy and Redshank were numerous, and Welted Thistle was nice to see.

A closer look at the invertebrate life here revealed a number of 14 and 7-Spot Ladybirds, while Small Copper, Small Skipper and Peacock butterflies made the most of the abundant thistle blooms. Lesser numerous (and not at all interested in the thistles) it was also nice to encounter Wall Brown here, alongside a lone Silver Y.

Perhaps the most interesting insect of the trip, the inconsicuous ladybird, Rhyzobius litura, was found here too while sweeping a stand of Tansy. Tiny and anything but brightly covered, I confess that at the time, I had no idea this was in fact a ladybird. Thank goodness for the UK Ladybirds Facebook group, and many thanks to Richard Comont for the speedy ID.

Further North along the Aln, the vegatation changed somewhat with smaller, arable plants giving way to an abundance of Wild Carrot and Common Ragwort. As ever, these proved popular with pollinators and a number of hoverflies were recorded, among these, Leucozona laternaria and Cheilosia illustrata pictured below. Also spotted here were plenty of Marmalade Hoverflies, along with Syritta pipiens and the striking Leucozona lucorum. More Hill Cuckoo Bumblebees could also be seen, while butterflies included more Small Copper and new for the day, Large White.

Further on towards the stepping stones at Greenrigg, edible crops gave way to what could almost be described as a somewhat beautiful meadow habitat, chock-full of Musk-mallow, Red Clover and Bird’s-foot Trefoil. This might just have seemed natural if it were not for the the striking (but introduced) flowers of Lucerne and Sainfoin also present. Plants which together with the native species here proved a magnet for insects – new species here including Early Bumblebee and the impressive Pied Hoverfly.

Crossing the river at Greenrigg, a hasty rush along the opposing bank ensued as I tried to squeeze in a look around Lesbury itself before needing the board my train. Trying and failing to ignore the plantlife here, a few interesting finds included Small Bugloss (not a plant I see very often) and an extensive patch of Enchanter’s Nightshade tucked away in a small roadside copse.

Owing to a few too many pauses, I did not have time for a proper look around Lesbury, though I did squeeze in wander along the river. Here, riparian plants proved interesting with Water Figwort spotted first, followed by two mint species. One of which looked a lot like Apple Mint while the other remains a mystery. Both Purple and Yellow Loosestrife were notable here too, and the beautiful yellow flowers of the non-native Monkeyflower were conspicuous.