Category Archives: Nature Notes

Impressive summer insects on the wing

There are many impressive flying insects on the wing during the summer months. Some due to their colours or intricate design and others are just large.

In this last category fall the Carpenter bee, the Hornet, the thread wasted and the Mammoth wasps.

Many people flap their arm in fear at these airborne creatures whereas standing still and observing them may be better practice, they are generally docile and quite attractive if viewed calmly. (Unless you are poking the hornets nest of course!)

The first Hornet activity this year out in the garden was in early spring. Several were actively hunting for bees which I would presume to be the newly hatched queens as all but the breeding hornets are vegetarian. They flew around the almond trees with heavily scented blossom and plucked honey bees out of the air.

They took the fresh prey to a nearby branch (gory bit – dissected and dropped the head) and devoured their meal. Hornets create a new hive each year from scratch, starting with a single queen.

Just click the Insect image title to read more about each insect over at the Grazalema Guide website.


Carpenter bees

Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa violacea) Abeja azul de la maderaCarpenter Bees (Xylocopa violacea) Abeja azul de la madera
Do not be alarmed by their size of up to 23mm, they are not aggressive and will simply go about their business of collecting nectar from flowers

imagine a bumble bee, double its size, paint it jet black in your mind’s eye and give it iridescent blue / violet wings. They are large, noisy, weigh down flowers with their bulk but can deftly avoid humans with their lumbered flight. If they enter the house it is usually to search for a suitable nest hole. They are solitary creatures and gained their common name due to their ability to make nest holes in dead would. Although they can do this they take the easier option of ready made holes in wood, metal, brick etc whenever possible.


The Mammoth wasp

Mammoth Wasp – (Megascolia (Regiscolia / maculata flavifrons) – Avispa parasita de cuatro puntas
They hold no danger to humans despite their size and black / yellow warning colours. They feed eagerly on flower nectar and this is the best time to view them.

A long black insect with two yellow stripes on the abdomen and a yellow face if female. This has a complicated lifecycle as the Mammoth wasp parasitizes a beetle larva. At the moment there are 6 or more flying around each large rotten tree stump in the garden. They all seem to be males and are probably waiting for the females to emerge. Later in the summer, when they have settled down they are much easier to observe feeding off flowers, with alliums being a favourite.


Thread-waisted wasp

Thread-waisted Wasp (Sceliphron spirifex)Thread-waisted Wasp (Sceliphron spirifex)
Sceliphron spirifex are solitary wasps and are not aggressive, they do not sting unless mishandled. The sexes look very similar with the female being larger and with a visible sting.

Wasp like with yellow / black colours these creatures are also people friendly. They search out shaded, protected places to create their mud nests and the back of a picture frame seems an ideal choice. They carefully roll up a tiny ball of mud outside, fly with it into the house, deposit it, shape it and return with more tirelessly throughout the day. They produce a hollow tube and next to this they make another and another fanning the wet mud with their wings to assist the drying process.


Bees and wasps may receive bad press and cause unnecessary concern to many, especially as some of the species of Iberia can be rather large.

Hornets

Hornets behave in a social manner, creating a nesting colony which thrives and dies in just one year life cycle.
Hornets behave in a social manner, creating a nesting colony which thrives and dies in just one year life cycle.

Hornets were once common throughout Europe but are suffering decline due to the misconception that such a large wasp type creature would have a very dangerous sting. The fact is, they are no worse than a normal wasp sting, will again avoid human closeness and they have a fascinating life cycle.


We must not forget that this group are important pollinators of our crops. Also some wasps feed on caterpillars that may otherwise be a garden pest and flies do a necessary job of clearing up decaying matter.

Altogether they aid the biodiversity that is delicately balanced to a level beyond our perception.


The Grazalema Guide – Tourist Information Portal for the Sierra de Grazalema, The town of Ronda and the Caminito del Rey.

http://grazalemaguide.com/

Finding dragonflies and damselflies in Spain

Dragonflies and damselflies in Spain are extremely beautiful insects which capture the very essence of summer as they perform their intricate aerobatics around the gleaming backdrop of rivers and pools on hot sunny days. They are reasonably easy to observe and are also important indicators of the health of our wetlands, being top insect predators both as airborne adults & aquatic larvae. Heres a few lists and places for finding dragonflies and damselflies in Spain

For those with an interest in observing and photographing these insect jewels, August is definately the best month. Many people avoid Spain during the peak of summer due to the intense heat (which may be hovering around the high 30’s and low 40’s) so, you’ll have the countryside pretty much to yourself. The scent of hot pine resin, gum cistus and the baked appearance of the area is quite different from the spring wild flower season just a few months earlier and is an experience in itself.

During a few days visit in August you should expect to see around 15 species of Dragonfly and Damselfly and in some cases you may even be rewarded with upwards of 10 species in just a single location including emperors and goldenrings along with damselflies such as the beautifull copper demoiselle and Iberian blue tails…

Continue reading Finding dragonflies and damselflies in Spain

Hike Pyrenees – Some excellent articles to read!

Phil & Anna have been living in the Pyrenees for over 12 years and love the culture, wildlife and mountains there. They run Hike Pyrenees, which organises guided and self guided hiking holidays in the Pyrenees and other areas of Spain.

During this awful coronavirus lockdown here in Spain everything is shut and tourist related business have suffered greatly. Hotels are closed and we are not allowed to walk the beautiful hills, valleys and mountains of Spain. This been especially hard for us wildlife guides! But, I have to say, the guys at Hike Pyrenees haven’t wasted a minute. Their blog is packed with new articles Pyrenees and some of the fascinating flora, fauna and history of the area. There is even a downloadable coloring book to keep the kids happy and learning about the wildlife of the area!

Read more by clicking the link below and remember, local guides are the best! 🙂

The fantastic blog of Hike Pyrenees! flora, fauna and history of the area.

Hike Pyrenees S.L. is a licensed travel agent and tour operator in Spain. CIF B22379200, travel agency CAA305, Turismo Activo TA-HU-0308

July flowers in the Sierra de Grazalema

There will be a marked difference between the first and second parts of this month as plants succumb to the heat and set their seeds. Areas that have held high moisture levels during the winter and spring will now come into their own with ribbons of bright pink Oleanders mapping the watercourses with Penny Royal and Apple Mint accompanying them. Climbing higher, aromatic herbs tucked into rock crevices in the mountains will be attracting bees and butterflies with their nectar rich blooms. Continue reading July flowers in the Sierra de Grazalema

Flowering plants – May in the Sierra de Grazalema

Spring is in full swing during the month of May and the plants in flower are so numerous that it is difficult to choose which ones to mention here. You will see that the waysides and meadows hold a tremendous variety, pause to count how many species you can find in just one square metre! Note that there is a subtle difference between the flowering times in the sheltered valleys to that of the exposed higher pastures. Look below the featured plants here, to see a condensed list to whet your appetite! (Grouped by colour). Continue reading Flowering plants – May in the Sierra de Grazalema

March – Plants of the month

MARCH. As shrubs begin to show colour, spring is becoming more obvious and this alters from when we enter the month with a few shy blooms, to crossing into April with the “now in flower” list ever increasing. Over the first two weeks of March, the plants in flower are scattered and you need to know where to look, during the third and fourth weeks the selection grows with colour cropping up on roadsides, pastures, rocky slopes and river valleys. Continue reading March – Plants of the month