Thursday, April 28, 2016

Eric Ennion

Eric Ennion (1900-1981) is primarily remembered as a brilliant bird illustrator, whose combination of observational, drawing and water-colour skills produced pictures of birds that are full of energy and are uniquely graceful. But he also illustrated a few books on other forms of wildlife and one such was this .....

Life in Pond and Stream by Richard Morse, first published by Oxford University Press in 1945 and revised in 1950. 

Ennion set out on a medical career but his love of wildlife and artistic skills drew him towards natural history illustration. At the time that he illustrated this book he had just left his medical practice to become Warden of Flatford Mill Field Studies Centre and was enjoying the first public exhibition of his paintings at Ackermann Galleries in London.

You can read more about the man and his paintings at

His illustrations for Life in Pond and Stream show all the hallmarks of an artist whose work was informed by first-hand observation. The book has fifteen plates - here is a small selection. 

Natterjack toad;kingcup;edible frog;common frog;butterbur;common frog;common toad

Great crested newts; smooth newt; palmate newt

Perch; pike;roach; dace; bream; eel; freshwater mussel

Raft spider; bladderwort; water spider; water boatman

Freshwater shrimp; freshwater louse; Cyclops; water flea; crayfish

It's well worth hunting down this delightful little book in second-hand bookshops.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Bee-fly - every mining bee's worst nightmare?

I photographed this bee-fly Bombylius major on a sunny bank neat Thorsgill wood in Teesdale last week.

These furry little flies that mimic bees are parasites of mining bees and several of them seemed to have just emerged from their underground nursery in bees' nests.

Their first actions on emergence are to feed on nectar, darting from blossom to blossom with incredible speed, rarely stopping to settle and usually just hovering in front of a flower, sucking up nectar with that long and deadly-looking proboscis.Violets and primroses, both flowering at this site, are popular nectar sources. 

Few flies look so menacing but they are totally harmless - unless you happen to be a mining bee.

When mining bees dig their new tunnels and provision them with pollen for their developing larvae a bee-fly will hover close to the ground near the entrance,flicking eggs into the tunnel entrance with its tail. When the eggs hatch the larvae will eat the mining bee host's own larva.

You can find more information, a bee-fly ID guide and a video of the insect laying eggs at

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Amazing Eyes of a Green Lacewing

We found half a dozen of these green lacewings fluttering against the window of a bird-watching hide at Low Barns Nature Reserve yesterday. They must have hibernated in there. We let them all go but before that I took a few photographs, because these common insects can be surprisingly hard to spot in the open.

They have the most beautiful gauzy wings and eyes like jewels but their colour varies depending on the way that they are lit.

The two photos above are with the camera's built-in flash but ....

... this one is with natural light. Notice how the spots on the abdomen show up so much clearer with this illumination. Flash can sometimes conceal important identification features, which is one of the reasons why identifying insects from photos can be tricky ....

Flash can also create strong reflections from shiny surfaces, like the wings of this insect, that are folded over the body like a tent.

Perhaps the most striking fetaure of these insects when they are photographed with flash is their eyes, which resemble glowing red, green and yellow jewels. In natural daylight they seem to be golden but with flash internal reflection and refraction within the separate lenses of the eye create this multi-colour starburst effect.

Lacewings, in the larval and adult stages of their life cycle, are great allies for the gardener, consuming large numbers of aphids. This is a lacewing egg, on a long stalk on the underside of a hawthorn leaf, with the larva just hatching.

 It is a voracious greenfly consumer, impaling its prey on powerful jaws and they carrying around the empty skin of its victim on those hairs on its back. There are some pictures of one, resembling a miniature walking compost heap, here.