Watching the Wildlife

carder bee - not a fly (photo credit: fairweatherpaddler)
carder bee – not a fly
(photo credit: fairweatherpaddler)

“Mammy. Honey bee.”
“No. That’s a fly sweetheart.”

“Mammy. Honey bee.”
“That’s a bumblebee. See his little fluffy bum?”

“Mammy. Honey bee.”
“No. That’s another fly darling.”

We are working on identifying the wildlife. It’s a long process but we are getting there. It’s an education and a half for me at the same time. I am constantly having to fish out books to peruse photographs and read descriptions to try and identify what we have. Today I found a field digger wasp on the Little Paddler in her car seat. The poor thing was clinging on for dear life to the seatbelt straps as we drove along with the windows down in the heat. I didn’t know that at first glance but my trusty wildlife bible broadened my knowledge base.

I never knew there were so many types of wasps. Last spring, we found what seemed to be a particularly mean looking queen wasp. I make no bones about killing a queen wasp if I find it in spring before it starts a nest. They had taken to nesting in the eaves of the boathouse. It wasn’t pretty. But this looked different. Uglier and meaner. I caught it in a glass and set about trying to identify it. After much discussion and trying to coax her around to show us her best side, we declared her a German wasp (no black anchor markings on her face which would have meant common wasp). Apparently they usually nest underground and are considered quite beneficial to the garden as they collect lots of insects to feed on. We set her free and wished her the best.

Then there was two summers ago when we found not one but two giant wood wasps in the house. You should see the size of these things. And the length of the antennae and what looks like the biggest stinger you have ever seen on an insect. Queue panic stations – for me; Mr. Fairweather was quite calm about the whole thing. I had visions of the timber being infested with them laying eggs and as they all emerged, surely the integrity of our timber structure would collapse? Apparently not. It’s quite common for them to emerge from cut timber but they lay in live timber. Surely a nugget of information everyone needs in their lives?

I have delved in to the pages of Collins Complete Irish Wildlife often. Whether it has been to identify the bullfinch that had taken to calling to the bird feeder. Or to figure out what the difference between a rook and a crow was (rook is the name for what we commonly refer to as a crow, while crow is the family of birds – just in case you were wondering). Or even the little flowers I find growing in the ditch as we walk along. Dog violets, ground ivy and vetch since you ask. I can identify more trees now – although to be fair, Mr. Fairweather did train as an arborist in a past life so I couldn’t help but pick up some gems of information. Taxus baccata anyone? And don’t mention sycamores to him.

Mr. Fairweather often refers to me as a townie. I object. He ignores the objections. I didn’t grow up in the middle of a farm the way he did. Visiting uncle’s farms doesn’t count apparently. When we moved here, his brother kept asking had I heard the vixen. She would come some nights and sit underneath their bedroom window to utter her mating call. Even knowing what it was, the cry would lift him out of his bed. I finally heard her. It was one night in winter when Mr. Fairweather was off doing a late shift. I was on my own with a brand new Little Paddler. The moon was almost full and lit up the sky. The wind moved the branches of the trees in the nearby woods. And the vixen screamed. It is no wonder that there are stories of banshees in Ireland.

hoverflies were everywhere last summer (photo credit: fairweatherpaddler)
hoverflies were everywhere last summer
(photo credit: fairweatherpaddler)

I am blessed that I have lots of people around me to ask my never ending questions. When it comes to bumblebees, I am even fortunate enough to have a bumble expert living nearby who is only too happy to examine any photographs I happen to produce over a cup of tea. I now know the difference between a carder bee and a buff tailed bumblebee. And I am absolutely convinced that this is a skill that will come in handy at a pub quiz somewhere along the line. I am going to keep asking because the more I know, the more I want to know. The more I look, the more I see. And I like what I see. I shall keep planting my flowers for the bees and pollinators and shall even finish my wildlife hotel for them too. I like having them around and I like watching them and hearing them buzz away merrily in the heat of the day.  And one day my Little Paddler will know the difference between a honey bee and a house fly.


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