Love bugs and other surprises at Bantham Beach in south Devon

Last weekend we took advantage of the mild weather and went to Bantham Beach for a picnic and a walk. It being Sunday, we weren’t the only ones with this idea and, by the time we arrived, a flotilla of windbreaks had appeared on the beach, sails flapping in the breeze and barbeque smoke drifting aimlessly. Bathing didn’t seem to be high on the agenda; the tide was very low and the water still rather cool, so there was much paternal sandcastle building and a group of young men worked off their testosterone in a game of head-the-football. Despite this, there was plenty of space and the situation and the views were glorious.

Burgh Island with thrift
Burgh Island with thrift

 

After our picnic, Hazel wanted to do some sketching so Elizabeth and I walked on the cliff path where there are good views across the Avon estuary to Burgh Island and its art deco, icing sugar, hotel. Thrift was beginning to form its pink, cliff-top drifts and yellow kidney vetch was showing well. A couple of rock pipits skittered skilfully around the cliffs.

As we walked, I watched out for interesting insects and was well rewarded. Several small solitary bees with black abdomens and pale stripes bathed in dandelion petals, nectaring I suppose. The BWARS experts told me that these were Andrena males but from my pictures we couldn’t identify the species.

solitary bee
male Andrena on dandelion

 

Later on we saw two black St Mark’s Flies “loved up” (I owe this expression to Emma Sarah Tennant). It is, in fact, a very appropriate expression as these flies are also called “love bugs” because of their ability to copulate in mid air.

St Mark's flies
St Mark’s Flies, mating pair. The male on the right has a much larger head and eyes despite being slightly smaller overall.

 

On a rising part of the cliff path we found a long section of hard, grass-free soil with many small holes. We also found some of the occupants, one dead and one alive. These are Polymorphic Sweat Bees (Halictus rubicundus); the females have a pale- striped, black abdomen and their hind legs are coated in yellow/orange hairs.

Halictus nests
Halictus nests. If you look carefully at the small bank on the left of the photo you can see crumbly soil coming from the nest holes.

 

Halictus rubicundus
Halictus rubicundus on hard ground.

 

Halictus rubicundus dead
dead Halictus rubicundus – they nest on the main path up the cliff and so are very vulnerable to passing walkers

 

We had agreed to meet Hazel near the Gastrobus for a drink. Elizabeth and I arrived a bit early but eventually I saw Hazel coming along the sandy path across the dunes from the beach. Suddenly she shouted: “Come quickly, get your camera, it’s an adder”. I did as she said and fumbled my camera out of its case. Sure enough slithering across the path was a very fine adder that disappeared in to the rough grass on the other side of the path leaving only swirly patterns on the sand. As I was taking the photos I did my best to look at the snake; the zigzag patterns and the colours did make an impression but the photos tell the story better.

Adder at Bantham 1
starting to cross

 

Adder at Bantham 2
nearly across

 

Adder at Bantham 3
entering the undergrowth

 

Adder at Bantham 4
the evidence

 

There are many signs dotted around the dunes at Bantham warning about ”Adders”. Now we know why!

12 thoughts on “Love bugs and other surprises at Bantham Beach in south Devon”

  1. I love the St Mark’s Flies and hope they will be very happy together! 🙂

    What a beautiful walk with so many surprises on the way. This is what I love about exploring our incredible countryside. Thank you for sharing the adder photo story – I’ve never seen one in the wild.

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  2. Great photos here. I’m visiting from DoveGreyreader scribbles.
    I saw an adder on a path beside Loch Lomond years ago, otherwise I’ve only ever seen a discarded skin but I can’t remember where.

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  3. I too am surprised how long the adder is. I was going to say the path where you saw the Halictus rubicundus is similar to one near me and that I might go hunting to see if there are any there . . . but I know there are no adders (or, rather, no-one has ever mentioned that there are!) so it is probably the wrong kind of terrain after all.
    I’ve put a link to this post from the National Insect Week post on Loose and Leafy. http://tinyurl.com/gm9uwz4

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  4. Thanks Lucy. The Halictus and the adder were in rather different environments. The adder popped out of the dunes to cross a sandy path whereas the Halictus were on the coast path in packed soil. I would recommend having a look for the Halictus. We were out yesterday on the coast path near Bigbury and there were a lot of Halictus nests in packed soil often right where people walk and a few bees.

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  5. Great to see an Adder like that. The last one I saw was a very long time ago on the footpath through the goods yard at Westbury. Sadly the snake ‘legged-it’ before I could get the camera out for a photograph. I’ve seen lots of slow worms and lizards in more recent times but Adders elude me.

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