The hoverfly Callicera rufa is an enigmatic species that was once only found in the Caledonian forests of the Scottish highlands. Then in 2011, it was found south of the border in Shropshire and subsequently at other sites in the Midlands. In 2019 it was located in South Wales.
In its traditional range, C. rufa is found on Scots Pine, but in the new locations further south it is found on other conifer species. As an adult, it is a difficult species to observe, as it spends most if its time high up on the pine trunks. The larvae are to be found in water-filled rot holes in the pines. Following this range expansion in England, I had wondered about the possibility of it occurring in the extensive pinewoods here on the Sefton coast, despite the main species of pine in these woods being Corsican Pine.
In late Spring 2020, I decided to search for C. rufa on the Sefton coast and on the 20th May I arrived at Formby to begin my quest. Most of the sightings in England have been in pines that are on hills, sometimes rather steep ones, but the coast here is rather flat, so I concentrated my search on pines that were situated on the most raised areas I could find, little more than sandy mounds. After an hour of searching, I spotted some insect activity someway up on an exposed, sunlit, pine trunk. Looking through my binoculars my hopes were confirmed…Callicera rufa! It was a male, busily chasing any passing insect, then returning to the trunk. I could see the warm orangey pile on the thoracic dorsum, the orange legs and the very distinct porrect antennae. At one stage, another individual landed on the trunk, causing the insects to clash and they both buzzed around the trunk. The male always returned to the same area of trunk, about 4 metres up.
I didn’t expect to find my target after just one hour of searching on my first day! This new location for C. rufa is perhaps a further indication that this species is more common and has expanded its range than previously thought. Surely, further searches of pinewoods, even in less than previously thought of “classic” locations such as Formby, will produce more records of this charismatic insect.