Category Archives: Hoverflies of Southern Spain

Summer begins

June 5th

The weather for the first days of this month has been rather unsettled; most mornings, although warm, have been overcast with levanter cloud and sudden strong breezes have sprung up from nowhere. But bursts of very hot sunshine and warm evenings that stay light until about 10pm, all confirm that summer has begun. The ambience of the garden and surroundings has changed noticeably now that many parent birds have fledged young to keep track of and feed. For a few days following seeing the young Nightingale I heard it frequently and loudly summoning its parents with a loud, insistent piping call. One morning I heard it piping frantically and went out to look just as a Kestrel swooped low through the garden, probably looking for the source of the calling. I’ve had a few glimpses of adult birds dashing across the garden, but haven’t  seen the young one at all.

Wren family 

On Friday morning I heard baby bird calls very close by and discovered the source to be a tiny fluffy fledgling Wren that was perched on one of the dracaena plants on the covered terrace. It was incredibly cute, with its yellow gape and wispy downy tufts of feather still attached to its head. It was not alone either, there were two more tiny siblings close by, all ‘tsup,tsup, tsupping‘ animatedly and I could hear a parent urgently trying to muster them and persuade them to join them over the wall in the cover of the cork oaks.  Finally  they all took off at once, buzzing the short way across the lawn and up and over the way, tiny wings whirring, hardly bigger than large butterflies.

3/6/11-Fledgling Wren, downy 'ear' tufts still visible on its head

That wasn’t the last I saw of the little family; later in the evening I heard them just across the garden wall, in the same place they had headed to in the morning. One popped onto the top of the wall and sat enjoying the late evening sunshine.

3/6/11-8.00pm - A Wren fledgling enjoying the late evening sunshine

A little later again, while watching TV, through the window I caught sight of a bird fluttering around the light fitting on the terrace. Intrigued, I watched it pop in and out a few times. It was a Wren that then flew to the end of the terrace, began calling then flying back and forth and in and out of the light fitting. (Wrens have nested in that fitting twice in recent years and as I believe it may still be used as a roost by its maker, I have not cleared out the old nesting material). In response to the adult’s calling the babies came and with much fluttering and popping in and out, finally all seemed to settle in there. What a touching little scene that was and a wonderful display of bird parenting; I’m not sure if they were joined in there by an adult, but I’m sure they would have stayed close by. Much to my surprise and delight the family returned to roost on Saturday night too, again there was much fluttering around and popping in and out before they settled, but by 10pm they were tucked up safely for the night. Sunday brought a different scenario though. At least one Wren did arrive and popped in and out of the roost, but I don’t think any stayed in. Then from somewhere, a male House Sparrow appeared and although too big to get into the light fitting, he appeared to ‘guard’ it, blocking the entrance. He left after afew minutes, but by now it was almost dark. I didn’t see the Wrens come back, so either he had frightened them away or they were already inside and the House Sparrow had just been looking to see what was happening in there.

3/61/11-Ilex Hairsteak with large chunks of wings missing

I’m delighted that the pair of Spotted Flycatchers are in and around the garden frequently throughout the days, out hunting until it’s almost dark. (Their pairing was confirmed when I witnessed an attempted mating on a garden lounger!)  On several consecutive mornings I have watched them from the terrace as they hunt from perches low down on various plants and posts, and even garden furniture. A favourite place seems to be on the aeonium plant, which happens to be next to the patch of flowering thyme which the Ilex Hairstreak butterflies and various other insects visit for nectar. Not surprisingly there are a few butterflies struggling around with chunks of their wings missing.

3/6/11-Lang's Short-tailed Blue on marjoram

The privet flowers are all but over now, so the insects I had such wonderful views off recently will have had to seek pastures new. Fortunately the wildflowers at the front of the neighbouring cork oak plot, and those of the vacant plots opposite are all blooming profusely now. They won’t be there for much longer as the owner of the plots will be along anytime soon with his little tractor and cutting machine to mow them all down. I think he may have to do it as dried grass etc. could become a potential fire hazard in the summer. The thought of that spurred me to go and have a good look at what is growing there and see what other insects I might find too.

3/6/11-Wildflowers on the edge of the cork oak plot may look straggly, but there are a good variety of species there providing nectar for a range of insect species

The wildflowers growing at the front of the cork oak plot are a bit straggly as they are shaded by the trees for much of the day, but having a closer look I was surprised by the number of species I found there.

3/6/11-Rabbit's bread - Andryala integrifolia , with tiny hoverfly -Sphaerophoria scripta

3/6/11-Hoverfly-Syrphus ribesii

3/6/11-A pretty lemon-yellow flower of Tolpis -Tolpis barbata - a member of the daisy family

3/6/11-A mallow flower holding a tiny young Oak Bush Cricket

The wildflower species that appears to be one of those most important to an array of insect species, with plants in flower in various places from late spring through to September, is Scabious. It tends to be an untidy plant and the flowers are smallish but pretty, and everything from minute flower beetles, butterflies and hoverflies to the huge Mammoth Wasps and Violet Carpenter Bees seem to find it irresistible.

3/6/11-Scabious is very attractive to a wide variety of insect species

3/6/11-Sotogrande -Mammoth Wasp(m) - Scolia

3/6/11- A not-sure-what-this is, but it resembles the 'eristalsis' species

3/6/11-Banded Hoverfly-Volucella zonaria

I was sitting out on the terrace this afternoon and – aagh! – I saw a Geranium Bronze butterfly fluttering around my geranium plants, then land on a leaf. Oh dear, what to do? I hate to think about killing anything, but then I don’t want lacy-leaved, or no-leaved geraniums either.

5/6/11-Geranium Bronze butterfly, probably laying eggs on my geranium leaves

The final days of May

I’m starting this post with a tribute to the privet shrub, without whose bountiful blossom this spring I would not have seen the array of beautiful insects I have recorded recently.

When we first moved into the house the privet hedge, planted in front of the garden wall had been allowed to grow to a very straggly 2-3 metres high. I’d had plenty of past battles with rampant privet hedges, but rather than dig it out I cut it right down into a low hedge interspersed with some taller trunks I clipped into various topiary shapes. I like it kept neat and tidy, but usually allow some parts to blossom each spring as I am aware some insects are attracted to it. This year I missed out the usual early spring cut as I was away in Wales, so the whole hedge was already in flower when I got back. A very happy accident as it turned out, and although it’s untidiness does bother me a bit I will definitely leave it to finish flowering before I trim it and will also leave some to fruit for the birds to pick at later on.


Privet was originally the name for the European semi-evergreen shrub, Ligustrum vulgarum and later also for the more reliably evergreen  Ligustrum ovalifolium (Japanese privet), used extensively for privacy hedging. It is often suggested that the name privet is related to private, but the Oxford English dictionary states that there is no evidence to support this. The term is now used for all members of the genus Ligustrum which includes about 40-50 species of evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous shrubs and small trees, native to Europe, north Africa, Asia and Australasia with the centre of diversity in China, the Himalays, Japan and Taiwan. The generic name originated in Latin  and was applied by  Pliny the Elder (23 CE – 79) to L. vulgare. The genus is placed in the olive family, Oleacea.

The flowers are small and fragrant and borne in panicles. They have four curled-back petals and two high stamens with yellow or red anthers, between which is the low pistil; the petals and stamens fall off after the flower is fertilized, leaving the pistil in the calyx tube. The fruits, borne in clusters, are small purple to black drupes; individual shrubs may produce thousands of fruits, most of which are eaten by birds.

The Privet is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera  (moth) species including Common Emerald, Common Marbled Carpet,Copper Underwing, The Engrailed, Mottled Scalloped Hazel, Small Angle Shades, The V-pug and Willow Beauty.

Source : Wikipaedia

* Not mentioned above is the Privet Hawkmoth Sphinx ligustri, a large and attractive moth, with a wingspan of 100mm.


I spotted a Painted Lady zoom in over the wall  and after a bit of flying up and down it finally settled with its wing firmly closed.

30/5/11- Painted Lady

The butterfly was at the far end of the hedge, quite high up and as I looked at it, squinting against the bright sunshine, I caught a quick glint of metallic green. The light was very bright and all I could see was part of the underside of a large insect nestled right into the flower head against the stem. I moved around, trying to find an angle that would reveal what I hoped was a Rose Chafer. After several minutes of waiting, my patience was rewarded when out it crawled, albeit very briefly, into view. What glorious insects they are; deserving of a far more glamorous name than it has been given and definitely a jewel in my list of sightings so far this year.


30/5/11-A beautiful Rose Chafer on privet

Rose Chafer – Cetonia aurata

A beautiful scarab beetle, with a body length of around 20mm. It is a bright, metallic, jewel-like green, with whitish marks and stripes across the elytra. From mid-May they may be found on sunny days in flowery places on the blossoms of rose, hawthorn, elder etc. The larvae live in the rotting wood of old trees. 

There is still blossom left on the privet that is still attracting a few insects. I can’t imagine I can top what I’ve already seen, unless of course I may be very lucky and see a Privet Hawkmoth: they do fly in June and July…

The next insect I saw along the hedge took me from the dazzling to something much more modest, a subtly coloured and patterned Long-tailed Blue, another ‘new’ species for this year, similar in  general appearance to the Lang’s Short-tailed Blue I saw a few days ago. It came to rest on a privet leaf and I was able to get a fairly close look at it, although when I saw the photo I realised it  had actually lost its tails. It obligingly half-opened its wings too, revealing the bronze -brown uppersides, slightly suffused with violet-blue. This is a female; the male’s uppersides are bluish-lilac with a dark margin to the forewing  and a dark spot at the base of the tail streamer.

31/5/11-A closer look at a Long-tailed Blue- Lampides boeticus

31/5/11-Long-tailed Blue -A glimpse of the upperwings revealed this to be a female

Not too far along I spotted another of my favourite insects, a cute-looking, furry little Bee-fly that was feeding on lantana flowers.

31/5/11-A Bee-fly -Bombylius major

The Bee-fly is an expert flyer that generally resembles a small furry bumblebee. It plunges its long straight proboscis into flowers, using it to suck out nectar often whilst hovering skillfully, but sometimes using its long spindly legs to help it balance. The insects cute appearance belies its parasitic nature; the females lay eggs close to the nests of mining bees, and the larvae enter the nest and parasitize the bees.

31/5/11-Bee-fly using its long legs to help with balance as it probes a flower

Ilex Hairstreak butterflies continue to feed on the thyme flowers, but this afternoon there were also two on the yellow button flowers of the santolina (cotton lavender), which is where I have seen one or two in previous years.One of the butterflies was missing part of a hind wing, probably as a result of a bird attack, maybe one of the Spotted Flycatchers. 

31MAY11-Ann Ilex Hairstreak & a tachinid fly feeding on santolina

A closer view of the small Tachinid fly - Phyrxe vulgaris

Tachinid flies are useful rather than beautiful insects: a species that help greatly to control various forest and agricultural pests: the larvae are internal parasites of numerous butterflies & moths.

31MAY11-A pretty view of a Speckled Wood on santolina flowers

Butterfly species recorded in and around the garden this month:

Large White, Small White, Cleopatra, Clouded Yellow, Ilex Hairstreak, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Lang’s Short-tailed Blue, Long-tailed Blue, Geranium Bronze, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Small Skipper

(13 species)             

Hoverflies and wasps

May 21st-31st

Sunny mornings and the privet in full flower attracted some interesting insects to the garden this week. I am a big fan of bees, wasps and hoverflies: most are very attractive insects and even the bigger ones pose little or no threat to people. Many species are important pollinators, wasps clean up a lot of debris and hoverfly larvae consume aphids, so they are very useful visitors to our gardens too.

The first hoverfly  to attract my attention this morning would have been impossible to overlook, a large colourful insect, the Belted hoverfly – Volucella zonaria was completely absorbed in its quest for nectar.

Belted hoverfly - volucella zonaria

Volucella zonaria is a large, impressive hoverfly with a wingspan of up to 45mm. Overall effect of the insect is slightly reminiscent of to that of a hornet, although it behaves like a typical hoverfly, frequently sunbathing then darting off. It is thought the larvae probably live in wasp’s nests.

Hoverfly - Volucella zonaria, a large colourful and impressive insect

There were greater numbers of other slightly smaller, but still quite large hoverflies, recognising two different Eristalsis species.

Drone-fly - Eristalsis tenax

Eristalsis tenax is also known as the Drone Fly referring to its mimicry of a male honey bee. It is a common and familiar species with a wingspan of 24-28mm. A rather hairy insect, highly variable in its appearance, but basically deep brown with 2 quite narrow, whitish rings, and greater or lesser amounts of orange on the edges of the abdomen. It occurs in a wide variety of habitats, almost anywhere there are flowers.

31/5/11-Drone fly - Eristalsis tenax

29/5/11-Sotogrande, Honey bee -Apis mellifera- has 4 wings

Eristalsis pertinax is rather similar to the Drone Fly, but slightly more slender and with a strongly tapering abdomen that has one pair of broad yellow-orange markings. The front legs are wholly orange. 

30/5/11-Sotogrande, Eristalsis pertinax

30/5/11-Eristalsis pertinax

There were a few smaller hoverflies around too, some were familiar, but there were others I have so far been unable to identify.

Syrphus ribesii is a common and fairly typical hoverfly with a wingspan of 20-24mm. It is found in most flowery habitats such as rough grassland, hedgerows and gardens.

31/5/11-Sotogrande, Common Hoverfly-Syrphus ribesii

Metasyrphus corollae is even smaller, with a wingspan of just 16-18mm. This is a very widespread and common insect found in similar habitats to the above.

Hoverfly-Metasyrphus corollae

27MAY11-A very tiny hoverfly (or wasp) I have not yet identified

I was watching Ilex Hairstreak butterflies nectaring on the thyme flowers and was distracted from them by a large dark-winged insect that was also interested in the nectar. More used to seeing them on the ground, it took a minute to realise it was a Sand Wasp. It kept retreating to the stone in the photograph, then running back to the flowers, scrambling through them rapidly, while constantly flicking its wings. It was joined by another, showing no aggression towards it. I thought they were perhaps hunting for caterpillars for their nests, but I didn’t see them find any.

Sand Wasp - Ammophila sabulosa

Sand Wasp – Ammophila sabulosa:  a very distinctive large species, with a body length of 20-24 mm. The females catch caterpillars, dragging them back to pre-dug nests. They stock each nest with a single large caterpillar and lay an egg on it before covering it over. 

A Sand Wasp enjoying nectar from a thyme flower

Over the next few days I began to see Sand Wasps all around the garden, the one below was on the ground scurrying around some flowerpots when I disturbed it and it flew across to a rosemary shrub, staying very still as though trying to hide. I saw them scouring the lantana and the thyme often, always in a big hurry and with wings almost constantly flickering impatiently. I watched one disappear under a fallen palm frond from which it did not re-emerge so I assumed it had dug itself into the ground there. I have yet to see one with a captive caterpillar.

31/5/11-A Sand wasp trying to hide in the rosemary shrub

The following wasp is another I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to identify without absolute success yet. I think it may well be wasp of the family Eumenidae, which includes potter and digger species.

30MAY11-Sotogrande- query wasp of Eumenidae family

* I am not overly-familiar with a lot of the insects from these species myself and am trying to identify them as I come across them, but I am not going to claim that I’m right in my conclusions, so as always, I am pleased to be corrected.