Just a quick heads-up that tomorrow Wessex Water will be carrying out their annual weed cover survey of Blashford Lakes, during the course of the day they will be crossing the lakes with a canoe on transects to measure the weed amounts and take samples. Each survey will only take a short time but during the day all the main lakes will be subject to survey and, inevitably some disturbance.
I was working at Fishlake Meadows yesterday morning and it was wonderful to be somewhere so green and full of flowers. Access to water is not a problem for the plants at Fishlake so they have kept growing whilst the rest of the countryside has turned brown.
Many of these flowers are also very good nectar sources and it was noticeable how many bees there were visiting the flowers. Butterflies were also common, but there were rather few hoverflies, but this maybe because they tend to keep out of the sun at the warmest part of the day.
Over-topping most of the others is the hemp agrimony, a popular plant with butterflies like peacock and red admiral.
Another very tall plant is angelica, an umbellifer and very popular with hoverflies.
Slightly smaller and almost finished flowering now, the meadow sweet is a typical plant of wet meadows and river banks.
Of similar height and with prominent purple spires of flower, the purple loosestrife is impossible to miss and very popular with nectaring bees, brimstone and white butterflies.
Some plants get a bad press and thistles are certainly one of these, they can be a nuisance when they become dominant, but they are a great nectar source for lots of insects, popular with bees, butterflies and flies. At Fishlake creeping thistle is scattered and as such not a problem but an addition to the floral display.
A particular favourite with bees is comfrey, the bell-like flowers of which come in two shades, this is the paler one.
To get at the nectar of the comfrey needs a long tongue, for those that do not have one more open flowers and especially composites are a favourite. Ones with a good supply of food will also attract longer tongued visitors too, fleabane is popular with a wide range of species from hoverflies to butterflies.
Fleabane dies best on damp ground, where the ground is properly wet a favourite flower with insects is water mint, this will grow on the bank and as an emergent plant in shallow water.
All in all something to suit all nectar seekers, we can mimic this diversity of flower type in our gardens if we too want to attract the widest range of insects.
Jim, reported the sighting of a great white egret on Ivy Lake the other day and speculated that it might be “Walter” our regularly returning bird. This bird was ringed in 2003 in France and first arrived at Blashford in August of that year, since then he has come back to spend each autumn and winter with us. We know that it is the same bird each year as he was ringed as a nestling with a combination of coloured rings. He is now 15 years and 3 months old, a good age for almost any bird. I have seen a maximum age for this species in Europe of 17 years, but it seems the official European bird ringing site (EURING) reports a maximum age of only 13 year and 9 months, which would make Walter Europe’s oldest great white egret by some margin.
With this in mind I was very keen to establish if the bird seen was actually Walter and not some other visitor and as I locked up yesterday there he was outside Ivy North hide, with rings on full show. This egret was indeed Walter returned and apparently a record breaker.
Of course he would have also been Europe’s oldest last year as well, he was reported then and does not seem to have made it onto the database, so perhaps there are others, even older out there that have also not got into the records yet. But, for now at least we will claim him as the oldest.
So how old might he get? The oldest great white egret (also known as “Great egret”), I can find is 22 years in North America and a grey heron has reached 37 years 6 months, so we could be seeing him for some years yet with a bit of luck.
Although there has not been much sign of migrating birds at Blashford Lakes so far, there have been some insect arrivals. The birds at this time of the year are returning from breeding to the north, the insects, by contrast, are arriving from the south. It seems likely that there will be many more in the days to come as the high pressure builds back and temperatures rise again.
So far we have recorded a couple of lesser emperor dragonflies, but no southern migrant hawker as yet, but I am hopeful that someone will spot one somewhere on the reserve soon. The other migrant so far have all been moths. This morning the traps had silver Y, rush veneer, diamond-backed moth, dark sword-grass, Cydia amplana and Yponomeuta sedella, all probably freshly arrived from the south.
Perhaps oddly there have been very few migrant butterflies this summer, just a few painted lady and those several weeks ago now. It has also been a very lean year for humming-bird hawk-moth and convolvulus hawk-moth so far, but maybe numbers will pick up.
Just as I wrote the above I heard a buzzing sound at the window, only to find a humming-bird hawk-moth trapped inside the house!!! I have just successfully released it into the great outdoors to continue heading north.
I wonder what tomorrow will bring…………
Despite continued warm nights the number of moths coming to the trap are actually declining, I suspect it might have got too warm and especially dry for many moths to cope with. This does not mean the traps have been devoid of interest though, on two recent mornings the catch has included one of Britain’s largest beetles, the tanner beetle Prionus coriarius.
This is something of a New Forest speciality, being quite frequent in the area and rather scarce across the rest of south-east England.
It will be interesting to see if the numbers pick up again now that it has rained and the weather settles down again, as it is supposed to do by the end of the week.
At Blashford things remain pretty quiet, there are unusual numbers of gadwall making the most of the weed in Ivy Lake, the peak count so far is 139. Numbers of coot, both there and on Ibsley Water are relatively high as well. There has been very little sign of migration so far, although there are several common sandpiper around and at least one green sandpiper. There has been some indication of small birds on the move, the ringers have caught whitethroat and grasshopper warbler and there are a few willow warbler and chiffchaff that seem to be passing through.
The prolonged dry conditions have caused the grass to go brown almost everywhere you look at the moment. Grasses are a group of plants that are drought adapted and when it rains you can be confident that it will green up again quite rapidly. Other plants respond differently, most annuals are as crisp as the grass, often growing less than usual and seeding earlier before the lack of water kills them. What is obvious though is that even in the brownest grass there still dots of green, these are the deep rooted perennial plants. In my mini-meadow the field scabious in particular still has green leaves and is covered in flowers.
The plants that can keep growing in these conditions provide valuable nectar sources for insects. At Blashford Lakes one plant that just carries on is burdock and the plants near the Education Centre are a magnet for insects.
Most butterflies have had a good season, numbers overall have been higher than in recent years, although many are not flying for very long. The species that over-winter by hibernation such as peacock and small tortoiseshell have disappeared, they will be hiding away in sheds and cellars, before they fly again in the early autumn.
One group of butterflies that don’t seem to mind the conditions are the whites, perhaps being white their colour reflects the heat better than the dark browns, which hide away in the shade during the hottest part of the day.
As well as butterflies the same flowers are attracting bees as well, at Blashford Lake, a swell as the bumble-bees, I have seen lots of green-eyed flower bee on the burdock flowers. These smallish, compact bees are very fast flyers and have a distinctive, high pitched buzz.
In general the reserve remains quite for birds. On Ivy Lake over a hundred gadwall is a good count for the time of year and on Ibsley Water there are good numbers of coot and tufted duck, although counting them is proving tricky. A few migrant waders are turning up, a common sandpiper or two and the occasional black-tailed godwit are witness to approaching autumn. The ringers have reported catching willow warbler, whitethroat and grasshopper warbler recently, almost certainly all migrants rather than local birds.
Things have been relatively quiet at Blashford recently, although also very busy! Quiet in that we are in a time when the breeding season is more or less over and the migration season has hardly started.
Overall the bird nesting season was a mixed story. Resident birds mostly started late, the snow in March set them back. The migrants were mostly late arriving, with some in lower numbers than usual. It seemed that migrants that come from the SE were much as usual but those that take the West African route were down. Having arrived most small birds relished the warm weather with lots of insects to feed their young and seem to have done well. Resident species have had a more mixed time, single brooded species such as blue tits have done well, multi-brooded worm feeders like blackbird and song thrush have had a harder time.
Overall it has been a bumper season for insects, in the main they all do well in a hot summer a hot summer, although those that use shallow wetlands are probably finding things difficult.
As the breeding season ends we are starting to see some migration, swift are leaving as are the young of the first brood of sand martin and adult cuckoo have all gone. The first waders are coming back from the north, green sand piper and a number of common sandpiper have been seen on the reserve.
Yesterday a party of 7 black-tailed godwit flew south over Ibsley Water, they were in full breeding plumage and showed no sign of moult, so I would guess they were newly arrived from Iceland. If conditions are good they will make the flight in one go, arriving at a favoured moult site such as one of the harbours on the south coast. Once they get here wing moult starts almost straight away.
Further signs of approaching autumn are rather larger, at Fishlake Meadows 2 osprey have recently been seen perched up in the dead trees, one carries a blue ring, apparently ringed as a nestling in Scotland.
The prolonged hot weather is taking a toll, a lot of trees are losing their leaves in an attempt to reduce water loss, some will lose branches and as the ground dries one or two are falling. Perhaps surprisingly it is often trees growing on usually damp sites that are suffering the most. Easily accessible water in typical times mean they have not developed such large or deep root systems and are more vulnerable in drought conditions.
I seem to have been very busy recently, a couple of days away and evenings spent out surveying nightjar have left no time for blogging. The last few days have produced a few notable species in my garden which I will cover, a Blashford update will have to wait a bit longer I’m afraid.
The other day I recorded my first silver-washed fritillary in the garden, it was on a Buddleia, the “butterfly bush”, I do not grow the common davidii, which seeds freely and can be an invasive species in dry habitats. To avoid the seeding risk I grow a sterile hybrid known as Buddleia weyeriana, it may not be quiet as attractive to insects, but has the advantage of a much longer flowering season.
The moth trap has been productive as well, warm nights are always good for moths and we have had lots of those recently. The pick of the recent catches has been a very smart mocha, caught a couple of nights ago.
Followed last night by a Jersey tiger, this splendid looking moth used to be found only along the south coast of Devon, but in recent years has become established on the Isle of Wight and very recently along the southern edge of the New Forest too.
Sorry for the lack of posts, we seem to have been very busy and by the end of the day exhaustion has taken over. It is the time of year when there is lots of growth to cut back, bramble regrowth to cut off and nettle to remove from potential grassland areas. Today I spent the morning removing ragwort from one of the areas due to be mowed later this month and the afternoon mowing bramble regrowth from a bank beside Ibsley Water where we are trying to establish grassland. Hot and heavy work, there are times when I think I am getting too old for it! Being out in the sun did mean I saw lots of butterflies, meadow brown and gatekeeper are probably the most abundant now.
There are also a number of summer broods out, I saw peacock, small tortoiseshell, common blue, brown argus and small copper. Possibly a side effect of the hot weather is the number of common blue that are unusually small, some as small or smaller than brown argus. I think this happens because the food quality of the plant the caterpillar was on was not good enough or in sufficient quantity for it to grow to full size.
When I had lunch I took a look at the Centre pond and there were dozens of pairs of azure damselfly pairs, egg-laying in tandem. They do this so that the male can be sure that the eggs being laid are the ones that he has fertilised. Some dragonflies do the same and others will stay hovering close tot eh female whilst she lays.
I know that I was only doing “What’s in My Meadow Today” during 30 Days Wild, but I will end with a picture from there anyway. One thing that is very noticeable as the grass has gone brown and then yellow is that some plants remain green, field scabious is one of these, which is not just green but flowering well.
After a June and 30 Days Wild which was extremely hot and the met office now tells us was the driest on record we have now hit July and things are not changing. I did see some cloud on Sunday, but all it seemed to do was increase the humidity.
The heat is making it difficult to work, despite this on Sunday five volunteers turned out and we pulled Himalayan balsam for an hour and a half, a remarkable effort. On Monday I saw removing ragwort from the areas I plan to mow on the shore of Ibsley Water.
All this heat continues to be very good for insects, the moth catch overnight on Sunday/Monday was the highest I have ever had at Blashford, one trap caught 96 species! This included a lot of micro moths, many of these are quite spectacular looking, but it is hard to appreciate what they really look like as they are so small.
The one above is actually quiet common and I see it fairly regularly. I did catch a few new species for the reserve including a chalk grassland species that feeds on marjoram, a plant which does grow in the gravel near the building, so perhaps it was a local rather than a wanderer.
There are lots of butterflies and dragonflies around the reserve. Silver-washed fritillary are having a good year and gatekeeper are now emerging as are the summer broods of small copper and brown argus.
Brown hawker and southern hawker dragonflies are both already flying in some numbers, although common darter are still quiet few.
The picture above was my best of a few attempts at getting a flight shot over the Centre pond at Sunday lunchtime. At the same time I saw a large red damselfly that had fallen into the pond and been preyed upon by a water boatman.
When you are an insect there are many ways to die more or less everything is out to get you! There are predators and more gruesomely parasites almost everywhere. I found a parasitic wasp hunting for a beetle larva in which to lay its egg.
The needle-like ovipositor can be pushed deep into the wood, when not in use it is protected by a sheath, in the picture you can see the ovipositor in use probing almost vertically downward.
The dry weather is stressing plants and some smaller trees are losing their leaves already. Most of the grass is now brown and many species rapidly going to seed. There are still flowers out there though and one such is creeping cinquefoil.