Sunday, February 26, 2017

HumBug: Beacon Islands on a Dreary Day

Posted By on Sun, Feb 26, 2017 at 3:00 PM

click to enlarge A tiny fly using its long mouth parts to gather nectar from a pussy willow. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A tiny fly using its long mouth parts to gather nectar from a pussy willow.
It was sunny when I went to get my hiking boots but by the time I got dressed and out the door, it was 49 degrees and drizzling. I went anyway. The path down to the river was dark, the only sounds were the gentle “pok, pok” of water dripping from branches. The burning in my fingertips told me it was too cold for insects to be servicing the barely open Indian plum flowers. Down on the flood scrubbed river bar were scant traces of life.
click to enlarge A bumblebee on a pussy willow branch. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A bumblebee on a pussy willow branch.

Near the end of the trail, out in the open, something buzzed furiously around me three or four times then headed off. From the quick glimpse I got I knew it was a bumblebee. It headed for a big pussy-willow about 50 meters upstream. Against the subdued damp earth tones of the river bank, dark overcast sky and somber evergreens, the yellow green of their catkins stood in sharp contrast, beckoning nectar and pollen feeders.

click to enlarge A teensy wasp gets in on the pollinating. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A teensy wasp gets in on the pollinating.

It was busy despite the cold. Insects were there in numbers. I started taking pictures and realized except for a couple of tiny bees they were all flies of one sort or another. Members of the order Diptera they are unique among the orders of insects in having only two wings instead of four. In my opinion it is the most diverse order. They fill the same niches as most of the other orders from parasites and hunters to, in this case, nectar feeders, which provide pollination services to a great many flowering plants. My college entomology professor did his thesis on pollinators of the wildflower Clarkia. To everyone's surprise, the majority of insects to visit the flowers he monitored were various species of flies. It may be true for willows as well.

click to enlarge A black fly pollinating on the same plant. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A black fly pollinating on the same plant.

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