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Once again I have given up the blog to a worthy lady who is also a volunteer for me - Jasmin Perera. Here is her account of our recent trip to the Isles of Scilly -  Cornwall's detachable toes!

 

Isles of Scilly 2013


Greetings! I am one of the many volunteers at the Museum working for Erica McAlister in the diptera section, and recently I got a fantastic opportunity to travel along with her and some of the other curators to the Isles of Scilly! (p.s Thank you Erica for involving me in this project)

 

The aim of the trip was to gather up-to-date information on the flora and fauna populating the islands by collecting as many specimens as possible. This information will be useful in so many ways and will hopefully provide us with a better understanding of how the environment around us is changing.

 

I was not just working alongside the dipterists but also with lepidopterists, botanists and hymenopterists, to name but a few. And so in the process I learnt about many different methods of collecting.

 

Day 1 – Settling in


Disembarking the ferry at St Mary’s Island we were greeted by Mark Spencer (a Museum botanist specialising in British Flora) who had arrived a couple days before us. He was the main organiser for the trip and with much excitement he led us to our unusual home for the week.

 

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Home sweet home – The Woolpack.

 

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Residents of the Woolpack included this baby swallow.

 

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Wonderful cup-of-tea views from the top of the bunker. Needless to say, lots of teas were made!

 

We had the privilege of staying in a world war bunker, named the Woolpack. Built in the early 1900s the bunker has had many residents from soldiers to vagrants, but is currently in the care of the Scilly Isles Wildlife Trust. And for one week it was home to a group of keen Museum staff and volunteers!

 

Day 2 – An early Christmas and majestic elms


On the first morning Martin Honey (lepidopterist) retrieved his light trap which he had placed outside of the Woolpack on the previous evening. The light trap consisted of a large round container filled with carefully arranged empty egg cartons and a very bright light bulb on top. A couple of us huddled around him as he revealed what treasures were hidden in the crevices of the cartons. It felt like unwrapping presents at Christmas!

 

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Image of a very unfocused Ruby Tiger, Phragmatobia fuliginosa.  In the background is the light trap, Martin’s leg and a male Four Spotted Footman, Lithosia quadra (in egg carton).


Martin was able to identify many of the specimens on site and explained that he follows a code while collecting;  He will only collect what is needed for scientific purpose and the remaining moths that can be readily identified are set free in dense vegetation near their place of capture. The last bit is especially important as it gives them a fighting chance (to not become a birds breakfast!).

 

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Diverting off the footpath and into the elm wilderness - Holy Vale Nature Trail.

 

Now it was my turn - armed with my net and pooter, I went along with a fellow dipterist Zoe Adams and a Hymenopterist, Natalie Dale-Skey, to find some insects! We spent our first day exploring on St Mary’s Island, the main island. St Mary’s is one of the few places left in the UK where you can find mature elm trees after the devastating Dutch elm disease in the late 20th century wiped out most of the mainland UK population.

 

I felt very fortunate to be amongst these majestic trees whilst collecting on the Holy Vale Nature Trail. And more excitingly there were plenty of hoverflies in areas where the sun had broken through the trees’ high canopy, and crane flies in the lower vegetation. I also managed to catch a few Ichnumonids along the way.

 

Day 3 – Pelistry Bay


During the morning I wandered with Erica along Pelistry Bay, also on St Mary’s,  to get some sweep samples by the coast.

 

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Pelistry Bay – Bladderrack kingdom.

 

Walking on rocks covered in slippery bladderwrack seaweed, I soon realised my balance needed to be in sync with my sweeping and pootering action.

 

Day 4 – The Eastern Isles


Today we were very lucky as a few of us had the opportunity to visit the uninhabited Eastern Isles. Accompanied by the warden for the Wildlife Trust we sailed to Ganilly Island, which is filled with curious bees and beautiful landscapes. Trying to sweep proved tricky on the grassy areas due to the hundreds of solitary bees buzzing around my legs. I wish I had taken a picture of them as several sat sleepily inside the net refusing to leave.

 

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View from Ganilly Island.

 

Erica and I ended up on a rocky shore hunting for Asilids to the chorus of singing seals. Asilids are speedy little predators but Erica was a font of helpful tips when it came to catching these stealthy mini beasts: In order to catch one, you require a lot of patience! 

 

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Asilidae caught from West Porth Beach, Great Ganilly.

 

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Erica in a Fern jungle! On our way to Nornour island (in the background).

 

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Seals welcomed us to the Eastern Isles.

 

And so the waiting game began. Whilst being entertained by the song of a distant seal, Erica and I sat quite still on opposite rocks. Asilids wait for a fair while on a rock until a potential prey appears. Once one was spotted, we held our nets close to the ground, and crept towards it. When the Asilid is within ‘net range’, we lunged at the flies thrusting the net down over the individual. To my dismay, I need more practise but it was great watching Erica at work!

 

Day 5 – Ruby Cow Dung


On an overcast day we decided to stay close to bay and seek out the beautiful Ruby Cows that are being bred on St Mary’s island. The ‘Scilly’ cows are curious creatures and they watched and followed us swooping our nets and pootering flies within their enclosure.

 

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‘Peculiar human’.

 

However, it was not the cows we were interested in but their poo! We huddled around a fresh piece and watched male sepsid flies fluttering their wings in hope of attracting a mate. We were also hoping to see some Scathophagid flies mate. This is a far more barbaric ordeal compared to the Sepsidae as the female often gets ripped to shreds from a bombardment of eager males.

 

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Erica capturing the moment.

 

Each day ended around the dinner table, where people took turns to cook. We used a lot of local produce and any edible plants growing nearby like Rock Samphire (as sourced by Mark). It was a perfect time to find out what everyone had been up to and wind down for the night. One of the rooms in the bunker was converted temporarily into a lab and the ping-pong table in there did a good job as an insect pinning area!

 

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Behold: pinning area. I spent the evenings here perfecting the art of spreading out the wings and legs of tiny flies.

 

In summary this was a valuable and enjoyable fieldtrip in the most amazing location. With my specimens pinned I left feeling inspired and raring to go on another one! (hint, hint, Erica!)

 

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Our field trip was even documented by a film crew!

 

Watch the Isles of Scilly fieldwork video to see more of our trip.

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This blog piece is written by the young and keen Victoria Burton, who rashly agreed to come away with the Museum's team of dipterists and the Dipterists Forum to Speyside in Scotland....here is her story.

 

Hello, I’m Victoria and I have just finished an MSc in Taxonomy and Biodiversity,  run here at the Natural History Museum, London.

 

I am also a fly fan, so when Erica mentioned there may be a space on the Museum’s collection trip to Scotland with the Dipterists Forum I had to tag along! As a born and bred Southron this was my first trip over the border and a great opportunity to see some of the habitats and species which are not found ‘down south’.

 

The trip started on a Saturday in September with an early meet up at the Museum to pack equipment into our hired people carrier or ‘van’ as it became affectionately known, before the long drive north. This was also a good opportunity to get to know the fellow dipterists I would be staying with for the next week and their dipteron predilections:

  • Duncan, our native interpreter/navigator.
  • ‘New boy’ Dan, fan of bristly flies.
  • Zoe, who spent a lot of time paddling for simuliids.
  • Vladimir, fungus gnat aficionado.
  • Not forgetting ‘The Boss’ Erica herself whom we rescued from the side of road after she was rudely dumped by an incompetent taxi driver!

 

After democratically deciding who would be sharing a room, copious wine and conversation were had before I retired, excited for my first visit into the wilds of Scotland. This began with being introduced to Dipterists Forum members and the customary discussion over maps.

 

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Suggestions for a collective noun for dipterists?

 

We started with the Rothiemurchus Estate and on my first step into the Caledonian pine forest I was immediately struck by the wonderful scent of pine. The dipterists disappeared in all directions, and I began the sweep-stick head in net-poot ritual, although I had many escapes being distracted by the yummy bilberries (or blaeberries as they are known here) appearing in my net.

 

There were lots of the big hoverfly Sericomyia silentis, the first time I had seen live individuals; this impressive hoverfly became a familiar sight over the week, and always made a big fuss when caught in a net.

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Sericomyia silentis having a wash and brush up on a leaf.

 

A long day of diptera in the field is inevitably followed by a long evening with diptera in the laboratory and so with a little bit of table rearrangement we soon had a makeshift lab in our cottage.

 

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Must be the cosiest ‘lab’ I have ever worked in.

 

Our second day took us to Inshriach Forest, first stop Uath Lochans. These lochans, which our ‘native’ informed us meant ‘little lochs’ were breathtakingly still in the morning light, with a perfect reflection of the sky and mountains.

 

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The beautiful Uath Lochans.

 

Around the lochans grew a colourful springy patchwork of heaths and other plants, mosses and lichens, dotted about with fungi including bright red Russula.

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Bright red Russula fungi.

 

A handy boardwalk has been constructed around the boggy edges of the Lochans, from which I swept an amazing little fly. Running around in the pooter it looked like it was wearing boxing gloves and I was soon informed it was a shore fly (Ephydridae) called Ochthera.

 

Back in the lab I was encouraged to unhinge its raptorial forelegs, which inspire its common name, mantis fly. There is a lovely description in Colyer and Hammond’s Flies of the British Isles in their engaging style describing its “terrible fore-legs” with “tibiae curved and folded back upon the femora like the blade of a pocket knife, forming a trap from which the unhappy victim has little hope of escaping”.

 

Raptorial forelegs occur widely in insects, famously in the mantids, but also other groups of flies such as the hybotid dance flies which we found lots of during the week, and mantisflies, which confusingly are neither mantids nor flies but in the order Neuroptera.

 

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The mantis fly Ochthera (probably O. mantis).


On day three we visited sites around Carrbridge, where I swept my first ever hippoboscid in Beananach Wood - these were Lipoptena cervi, the deer ked. They are very strange, flattened flies resembling lice, and must look even more louse-like when they settle down on a host and shed their wings; indeed Carl Linneaus originally classified them with headlice. Another peculiarity is that the females produce just one big larva at a time, nourishing it mammal-style inside their body, giving birth just when it is ready to pupate – aw.

 

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Lipoptena cervi - I went a bit lepidopterist with this specimen, the wings are normally held over the abdomen, but you do get to see its bristly bum.

 

On Wednesday we headed to the seaside to visit Culbin Sands but unfortunately the weather was miserable (dreich in Scots-speak) so a midweek day off was announced.

 

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Dan and Vladimir make a valiant effort to catch seaweed-inhabiting flies.


We met up with Duncan’s mum Sheena, aunty Moira, and friend for some tea and cake in Elgin before being brought to meet the Gordon clan and fed fresh homemade drop scones (Scotch pancakes) complete with homemade fruit preserves – heavenly!

 

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Duncan's Aunty Moira and scones.


More deliciousness was to come when it was revealed that Duncan’s cousin Euan worked for BenRiach local distillery, so before long we were whisked off for a private tour and tasting session! Despite (or maybe because of) all the whiskey I managed my turn to cook dinner and all survived.

 

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Euan presiding over the tasting session (whisky taxonomy?).

 

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“And not a single fly was caught that day…” (Actually we did get a few!)

 

The fourth day of our trip arrived with better weather and surprisingly few sore heads, and we headed off to Insh Marshes which I was much looking forward to since I had heard great things about it, and I was certainly not disappointed. It was one of those sites that whisper “I’m special”.

 

On sorting my catch later I found my first ever pipunculid, or big-headed fly, which I like to describe as “massive head, all eyes”. Their heads are also notorious for falling off, so I was quite proud when I managed to micropin my specimen without casualty, only for this to be dashed when I later staged it.

 

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Zoe and Erica sweeping their way along a valley in Insh Marshes.


Our last collecting day took us to some calcareous sites, and after nearly a week of acidic habitats it was quite a contrast to see some calcicole plants, many of which I am very familiar with, living as I do between two great ridges of chalk in Hampshire. Our first site was Fodderletter, a tiny but wonderful unimproved wetland SSSI huddled away on the Glen Livet Estate. Here we found lots of lovely big blowflies feeding on ragwort flowers, including the giant Cynomya mortuorum which caused much excitement, only slightly deadened by Alan Stubbs stating “oh yes it is quite common in Scotland”.

 

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Handsome male Cynomya mortuorum with its lovely orange face and ‘mane’.

 

I was fortunate to catch a female on our next site, Creag Chalcaidh Quarry near Tomintoul. This was an intriguing site with springs spilling through the old quarry walls, producing chalky mats of algae. There were lots of unusual craneflies, which I don’t yet ‘do’ - their tendency for legs to fall off bothers my perfectionist nature, although this is soon to be addressed on a cranefly identification course.

 

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Alan hunting rare craneflies in classic dipterist pose.

 

Our final site of the day, and indeed the trip was Bochel Wood, where I managed to catch an empid along with its meal, a bibionid. Since dipterists are, in my partner’s words “obsessed with genitalia” it would be remiss if I didn’t include a photograph of the impressive equipment possessed by this Rhamphomyia.

 

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Crazy, crazy genitals…

 

On that note I’d better hand back to Erica, after raising a wee dram to great food, drink and company, and above all great flies!

 

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A chilly Culbin Sands group shot.


With thanks to Daniel, Duncan, Erica, Vladimir, Zoe and the Dipterists Forum

Thanks also to Chris and the Angela Marmont Centre for use of the photo stacking system.

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So this week I have stepped aside to enable a way superior creative force to write the blog piece- in fact I should retire and pass it over to her completely…..

 

Frances Slabolepszy is one of the visitor services people front of house – she assists the public, promotes our work and every now and then waves at us 'behind the scenes' people as we walk past enclosed behind the glass windows. She and some fellow front of house staff (Henry Marks, Mark Humpries and Daniel Osborne) were persuaded to go hunting and killing with us for insects and other arthropods as part of our project with the Ministry of Defence Project working on Porton Down. We have been collecting insects on site for a while now but I will let Frances tell you the events of the day……

 

At a top-secret military location with scientists from The Natural History Museum of London.

 

The sky is overcast. A red flag flaps in the wind. A buzzard takes off from its perch on the flagpole. Three Land Rovers – one red, one white, one blue – turn off the road and into the long grass.

 

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Patriotic landrovers.....image from Mark Humpries

 

 

“This is one of the few places where red flags fly at all times.” This is the voice of our guide Stuart Corbett, “that’s because it’s dangerous at all times.” Our convoy passes below a mounted security camera and our location is reported to security on the radio. A fox is disturbed and streaks across our path. A roe deer takes fright and runs into the distance. The Land Rover’s bump over rabbit holes and we veer off into an area of scrub, out of sight of the road. We are surrounded by thick bushes and trees. We stop. We have our orders: “When I say ‘Kill now’, you kill.” We have been told that if we stumble upon anything vaguely military-looking in the long grass, we should not kick, lick or sniff it. To be honest, I’m a little terrified.

 

This may possibly be because I don’t love insects, yet now I find myself on the last Specimen Collecting Field Trip of the season with a rabble of entomologists at a top secret military testing station called Porton Down. It’s not that I hate insects, I don’t mind them and I’m not afraid of them but they always seem to be ruining otherwise pleasant experiences. Insects are what sting you or bite you at picnics, or land in your food, or stop you sleeping at night with their incessant whine or appear unannounced in your sleeping bag. Bugs – up until this moment in my life – were to be avoided. Now I’m surrounded by nets, pooters (whose sinister function I have only just discovered) and universals (small tube containers for the specimens) and I am here – just for bugs. (Incidentally I will no longer be using the term ‘bugs’ in the future.)

 

I have barely climbed out of the vehicle and the entomologists have all disappeared. Rhinaixa is a swirling cloud of white nets in the distance, Duncan is on his hands and knees digging through soft sand, Erica is bashing wildly at some grasses, Jan is labelling and organising frantically and from behind a tree Jon calls out: “Is anyone interested in isopods? I’ve found some!” And so it begins.

 

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Jan Beccaloni (second from right) - resident spider expert at NHM alongside Porton Down staff (Stuart and Sarah 2nd and third from left) and volunteers from both the NHM and Porton Down.....image from Mark Humpries

 

The first thing I have to learn is how to catch the insects. To start with you catch the specimens in a big net. I noticed quite a few different approaches to this: there is the graceful swirling net technique, or the more aggressive bashing and slashing with the net technique, or if you are looking for spiders you put your net under a tree and then hit the tree with a metal bar until the spiders fall out. Once you’ve got a net full of activity it’s: “Pooter’s at the ready!” (a scientific term frequently used by Erica McAlister) and then the fun really starts. I must say here that when I first saw a pooter (that morning) and Duncan said: “And this is for sucking up the specimens,” I laughed loudly to show that I thought his joke was hilarious and then said, “No, really...” and he said: “No. Really. These are for sucking up insects.” There is not a great deal of irony around pootering.

 

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A slightly larger than necessary net containing a henry with Erica and myself observing...image from Peter Turnbull

 

But after a while, once you’ve got over the rather counter-intuitive process of selecting and sucking up insects with your mouth a new feeling starts to emerge, which I had already observed in the scientists. There is a sense of mouth-watering anticipation as their pooters hover over the flying, jumping, crawling creatures in their net. There is a sensuousness to it - as if they were going to choose something delicious to eat rather than suck a spider into their pooter. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. And once trapped inside the universals the specimens are greeted with the warmth and familiarity of old friends. There is an almost parental pride as the scientists cluck over the specimens that mean the most to them. And then they kill them. Or sometimes the specimens in the pooter start killing one another. To avoid this we were given the order to “Kill!” when we are told to kill, otherwise those of us who cannot identify the carnivores or cannibals from the rest, might lose valuable specimens. This has happened before: “And it’s always the ones that you want!” sighs Erica.

 

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Pootering - just look at the concentration....image from Mark Humphries

 

To kill the specimens you blow a piece of toilet paper dipped in Ethyl Acetate into the pooter and they are all gassed inside. If, like me, you stick the wrong end of the pooter into your mouth later, you will also go some way to gassing yourself.

 

I really began to appreciate what I was seeing after looking at a Machimus Robberfly through a magnifying glass. It was the sort of magnifying glass that you have to put right up against the universal and hold right up to your eye. It means you come face to face with the insect in a way that makes you feel like you are right in there with them. It’s extraordinary, looking at them in such extreme close-up, the rest of the world drifts away and it’s just you and this unbelievable (and huge) alien creature. You cannot help but be impressed. I took the magnifying glass away from my eye and suddenly I was back in the world of humans, standing in a field – but I had changed. I had the fever now. I understood what it meant to be totally enthralled by insects and I wanted more!

 

We made three stops during the day in areas with different terrain, and over the course of the trip I was amazed by so many new ideas and by the scientists themselves. I felt very privileged to be among such passionate people. Get Jan started on spider web evolution and she will tell you things you never thought possible, it sounds like she is describing an entirely different universe - which she is, of course. Duncan showed me the little white lungs of a woodlouse which totally blew my mind. And to hear Erica talk about her love of flies is to fall in love with them yourself – which is not an easy thing for ordinary people! And I even learnt how to sex spiders. The secret’s in the tips of their palps, which are on their heads and look like antennae.

 

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My specimens ...image from Mark Humphries

 

By the end of the day I felt like I had entered another world, one that had existed like a parallel universe alongside me all my life. But one I have chosen in the past to swat away, to squash, to whine about or simply to ignore. Not after this Collecting Trip though, not ever, ever again! To come eye to compound eye with a Hoverfly is to be changed forever.'

 

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Frances was truely one of the most enthusiastic people I have taken into the field...now to get her into the lab and identifying the material...this is not the last that you will her from her....

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Away with the flies...

Posted by Erica McAlister Sep 10, 2012

Recently the Dipterists Forum along with the Natural History Museum ran an Introduction to Diptera Course down in Wells, Somerset. The intention was to not only introduce the major groups of flies, detailing their fantasticle attributes (that is a real word when applied to Diptera), but also to give them time to collect and curate their own collection.

 

I therefore found myself, after a large amount of preparation from various people in terms of bringing together laboratory and field equipment, producing booklets etc, and booking vehicles (although it did transpire that I was a little limited on the last one….), taking 7 willing volunteers from London down to the West Country (and into Cheddar Land). We had two cars, one that was rammed with equipment – the other rammed with people, and we drove off full of the joys that only flies can bring…

 

Roger Morris, Stuart Ball and Alan Stubbs and I were running the course. Roger and Stuart had been running introduction courses for a while and so were old hands at it, and had many, many boxes of UK specimens for everyone to familiarise themselves with. Alan is basically a legend. He is the man who will sidle up to you with a hidden gem, usually something with long legs although some may be missing, on a scrap of paper with an almost illegible scrawl which is its name, tell you some interesting facts about the creature, smile and then sidle off again. This will go on for days!! It’s Diptera bliss….

 

So we arrive Friday afternoon to Cathedral School, where we had secured lodgings for the duration. I have gone back several centuries with the language as the house and school deserve that tone! (See below).

 

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There was also a resident cat that used to just shuffle around in the sunshine, shifting from doorstop to doorstop.

 

The first evening consisted of introductory lectures on the basics of anatomy, terminology (always a pain that one as there is not enough consistency within Diptera) as well reading the landscape. Alan give the latter talk splendidly, detailing how we start with the geology of the countryside, then the soils, then the overlying vegetation and how all of this influences the matrix of flies that we are likely to encounter.

 

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Alan, probably working on another legendary tome….

 

The real fun began the next day, after a good healthy (not) school breakfast to start the day (It is essential that all fieldwork is fuelled by generous portions of both food and nutty bitters, and an ice cream or two….). We gave a quick introduction to the types of field equipment you would need along side the various techniques you need to use them! Telling people to stick their heads in a net is all very well in principle but when faced with a net of buzzing, crawling insects many people suddenly become adverse to the idea!!

 

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Lovely style and technique demonstrated by one of the students, Emma!

 

But out into the field we headed and then proceeded to catch as many flies as we could (by the second or third sampling trip, students realised that this was not a great idea as they all had to be pinned which involved a large amount of time!)

 

Whilst trying to avoid the natural hazards (rabbit burrows - not always successful) ...

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... students went ‘a sweeping’ and ended up with the inevitable net hair….

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And then it was back to the lab for sorting and identification time!

 

As well as spending the days sampling and then identifying, there were further lectures on common flies (not in the rough sort of way) as well as help with the curation of the specimens which included pinning, carding and avoiding impelling yourself with micropins.

 

I believe a good time was had by all if any of the comments that have come back are anything to go by;

 

‘My favourite moment from the Diptera course was when Alan Stubs did his impersonations of various Dipteran larvae, snaking around and representing mouthparts with rapturous arm movements. For me the most useful part was having all of the publications available, the reference specimens, and the new key to families which will come in most useful.’ – Mark Pajak

 

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Mark with head in net.....

 

‘This course was the best identification course I have been on. Alan, Stuart, Roger and Erica were more then helpful, very patient and accommodating. It was a very relaxing but informative four days. I highly recommend this course and the dipterists forum for anyone interested in ecology. Flies underpin so much of our world, however it’s easy to ignore them because they are difficult to work with but this course really breaks things down and by the end flies seem manageable! I'm looking forward to doing more with the forum and more learning!’ – Megan McKerchar

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Megan showing off flies..

 

‘Possibly my favourite part of the course was Alan Stubbs’ introduction to reading the landscape and geology of potential collecting sites. Primarily, I think this was due to, although being something that you consider before collecting, I didn't really appreciate to the extent that has been opened up to me after this.’ – Peter Wing

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Peter and Pooter (sounds like a 1950's childrens TV program!)

 

I did not have to pay them anything…..

 

Check out the Dipterists Forum web site for further details on courses.

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Hunting in Pembrokeshire

Posted by Erica McAlister Jun 21, 2010

Well I have just been to some of the most glorious countryside in the UK. The Dipterists forum annual summer collecting trip was based in Stackpole, South Wales at a Natural Trust Centre. This was surrounded by wood, and fields, and Lakes (containing Otters although I did not see any!!) and the Centre itself had a large hall within which we set up our microscopes!

 

One of the lovely lakes that had Otters.

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It is always a great week, concentrating on collecting flies from as many different habitats as possible, to add data to recording schemes as well as building personal collections, and in our case building and maintaining the comprehensiveness of the National British Collection. We (another colleague and I) get to spend the week collecting, pinning and id’ing flies with some of the UK experts in a range of different fly groups. Alan Stubbs (co-author of British Soldierflies and their Allies, and British Hoverflies) is one of the main men (and very very good on craneflies) and an absolute ice-cream demon. Peter Chandler (co-author of ‘A Dipterist’s Handbook’ and the British Checklist of Diptera) is another and is the UK expert on fungus gnats (but not very good at opening ice cream tubs). They, and another 28 roamed the countryside for the best fly (and bee, sawfly, bug and the odd beetle! there were many groupies!!) John Kramer and Richard Underwood were also present who regularly volunteer at the NHM and again are very good Dipterists.

 

Please if you see these people do not approach (Dipterists at large)...

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After a long drive, we had nothing to do but eat, a consistently good theme of the week. We were allocated rooms and then set up our microscopes. We had a quick walk down to the Lake which in the setting sun was more than pleasant

 

Hunting started properly the next day. We set off to the Coast to sample amongst the Dunes. I had great fun chasing Robberflies, trying to poot’ Dolichopodids of the cliff face, attempting to catch shore flies (they fly so close to the surface you just end up whacking the net against the rocks!) and sweeping along the edge of a stream whilst paddling!! Oh sometimes, fieldwork is just so difficult I don’t know how I cope...

 

Fieldwork involves a lot of ice cream....

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The afternoon we moved on to woodlands (now here you will be pleased to know that I scratched my legs to death) and ended up at Scrubby Bottom where we were attacked by horseflies (which we killed and have subsequently pinned ).

 

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The evenings are spent eating, and pinning. We use Cherry Lorrel for killing the flies as it is not only an effective killer but it also relaxes the specimens as well and so we are able to pin them in the most appropriate way. You can stick a micropin through most of them and then pull out their legs, so that most of their limbs are elongated and the wings are carefully pinned, spread away from the body.

 

Here is a horse fly which has had it's wings spread out so we can clearly see the markings on the abdomen

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These are left in that position overnight to ensure that the legs, wings etc set in the correct position. We had prepared some little labels which enabled us to quickly sort the material into correct dates and sites.

 

The next couple of days were doing very similar things. We would gather around in the morning, pouring over maps. They had been highlighted with ‘hotspot’ areas of woodlands, marshes, dunes etc which were thought to be great for the little flies. Most people were collecting specific families of flies and therefore their requirements would differ. Peter was collecting fungus gnats and therefore preferred damp woodland, whilst I was hunting for Robber flies and so liked hanging out in the dunes. That must have been a lovely sight for the general public to see me on my hands and knees with my pooter tube in my mouth and a net in one hand poised, ready to catch a fly. There may have been a little bit of bad language as well when I missed them….

 

Me collecting from a stream (thanks to Ken Merrifield)

 

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We took one day off to collect on Skomer. I say take off as although I and the others did collect flies, I got very distracted by the Puffins . Amazing little things. The path ran alongside the cliff and as they land with their beaks stuffed full of fish, they wait for us humans to move aside so they can run over it and into their burrows. We had accidentally left a bag in the way and you could almost sense the impatience (and watch them tap their little feet in frustration) as they waited for us to sort ourselves out and move the offending article before shooting across!!

 

here it was waiting.....

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And then a mad dash across the path

 

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One of the most productive days was just down a country lane where there was a mixture of open habitat and closed canopy (and therefore a slightly damper area). Loads of lovely flies here including Horseflies (which I have to say are incredibly attractive J), Hoverflies and some Mycetophilidae (fungus gnats!)

 

As well as us Dipterists, we had some other entomologists sneak along with us including a sawfly specialist and a bee specialist. It is actually really nice to have a variety of people as you end up learning other interesting facts and how to collect different groups.

 

All in all a brilliant week. I have to say that is some of the loveliest countryside I have seen in a while. I can not believe that I have been all over recently and I seem to be raving more about what is on our own doorstep!

 

Excellent meadows for the hoverflies etc

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Am back in the Museum for a week as it is National Insect week and I am doing two talks!! It should be good as I just talk about how wonderful flies are!!! (http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/whats-on/national-insect-week/index.html)



Erica McAlister

Erica McAlister

Member since: Sep 3, 2009

I'm Erica McAlister, Curator of Diptera in the Entomology Department. My role involves working in the collection (I have about 30000 species to look after and over a million specimens), sometimes in the lab, and thankfully sometimes in the field.

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