Monday, April 21, 2008

Bee flies and syrphid flies

I was fortunate enough to be on a birding excursion this afternoon in a class that I've been taking. We saw all sorts of interesting things, thanks to our instructor, a great birder, but also an experienced entomologist.

We saw birds, of course, and we're in the midst of peak spring migration, but I think my favorite new thing was learning about bee flies. They look like small, very cute bees, but are actually bee mimics. This one was visiting small pale tangerine-colored flowers out in the meadow (a weedy plant that I should know the name of, but which is really quite lovely). They're pollinators, just like bumblebees, honeybees, and other bees, but as flies, mimic bees to avoid predators. Here's a great array of bee fly images from giffbeaton.com.

Similarly, watching a syrphid fly that mimics yellow jackets was fascinating. These flies are also flower visitors, and are sometimes called flower flies. Here are some good images from a NC Extension Sustainable Agriculture site.

I was able to get a good look at a number of birds that were less familiar to me. A Eastern Kingbird and a number of blue-gray gnatcatchers were highlights, as well as a tufted titmouse carrying a HUGE wad of moss in her beak for nest building. We also saw the nesting female red-shouldered hawk apparently feeding bits of an anole or lizard that her mate had just brought to her. She's probably staying at the nest with her nestlings while they grow feathers -- they're altricial (born with little or no down), so need plenty of help to stay warm, and need to be fed. Hopefully, they'll be independent enough in the next few days (it takes about a week) that both parents will be feeding them, so we'll have lots more activity. We were able to see the male come in, deposit the critter, and quickly depart, and then the backside of the female as she fed her young.

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