Messing around on the water…

Last Sunday fourteen of our Young Naturalists met up again for our usual monthly meeting, and this time we were back in Beaulieu and heading out onto the water on a canoe safari with New Forest Activities. We were hoping to get a different view of some of the river birds and spot some of the moon jellyfish we had heard so much about. Moon jellyfish can often be seen in large numbers in the Beaulieu River during the summer months and are easily identifiable by the four rings visible in the centre of their transparent bodies.

After a briefing from our instructors we sorted ourselves out into canoes and headed out onto the water.

Briefing

Receiving our briefing

The weather wasn’t as hot and sunny as it had been, possibly a good thing for being out on the water, but it was warm and the group didn’t appear to mind getting a bit wet. Some got wetter than others!

After getting used to our canoes we headed upstream, foraging for wild samphire along the way and spotting lapwing. We also looked at a nesting platform which hopefully may one day tempt a passing osprey to stay in the area for longer.

We soon noticed lots of small jellyfish in the water, which the group were particularly excited by. We had a go at scooping up some of them to see what they felt like before quickly returning them to the river. They were quite hard to catch but Annabel in particular seemed to have the jellyfish catching knack.

A lot of the creeks and inlets were out of bounds due to nesting birds but we were able to explore one, spotting crabs in the shallower water and watching the jellyfish drift by. Turning back round at the end was entertaining.

Heading up the creek

Heading into the creek…

On the lookout for crabs

On the lookout for crabs…

After a picnic on the shore at Beaulieu, it was time to head back down river and back to Bailey’s Hard. Although the sun had by now come out, the wind had also picked up and getting back was definitely harder!

The group had a great time, spotting lapwing, oystercatcher, mute swans, mallards and swallows on and over the water, but the wildlife highlight was definitely the jellyfish!

Thank you to New Forest Activities for a fun day out and to volunteers Nigel, Geoff and Emily for joining us.

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

30 Days Wild – Day 29: A Grave Day

Luckily not as bad as it sounds, in fact actually a “Jolly”. Each year the volunteer team have a day out at Kitt’s Grave, it is part of the Martin Down National Nature Reserve but belongs to the Wildlife Trust. Although it is managed by Natural England we usually go up top do a couple of tasks each winter, although we did not make it last season. We have been assisting in the clearance of scrub to open up glades and ultimately restore areas of chalk grassland. As we have been doing this for some years it is interesting to see how the habitat has been developing, I am pleased to say that the answer is well so far.

Our visits are usually a great chance to see lots of butterflies, but as we left the car park this morning we were wondering if we would see any at all. Luckily we had a good start in other ways, with a turtle dove purring away in the thorns. Crossing the road to Kitt’s Grave we heard a lesser whitethroat and heard and saw yellowhammer and corn bunting. Then a surprise, a ringlet, then more and marbled white, small skipper, meadow brown, small heath and even dark green fritillary. Although it was overcast it was warm enough for insects to be active, but not so warm that they were too flighty, this allowed a great chance to get really good views as they basked in an attempt to get warm.

ringlet

basking ringlet

Some of the butterflies were warm enough to get on with life.

ringlets

ringlet pair mating

The marbled white were especially numerous and lots of the females were egg-laying.

marbled white

marbled white male basking

I noticed one small skipper below a pyramidal orchid flower spike, at first I thought it was sheltering, but it did not look right, then I realised that it was actually in the jaws of a crab spider, ambushed as it was trying to get warm, or maybe feeding. Luckily not all of them had fallen victim to predators.

small skipper

small skipper on scabious

We also saw silver-washed fritillary, but the most surprising butterfly seen was a purple hairstreak, picked up off the path, but which flew off before a picture could be taken. Although we never saw the sun we did see a common lizard, sitting out in the hope of catching a few rays. As we always do and despite unpromising conditions we had a great time and saw a lot of wildlife. Martin Down is a magical place to go and a reminder of what large parts of the southern chalk must once have been like.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 28: Good for Snails?

This maybe the time of year when the sun is at its highest but it was hard to tell today as it never actually stopped raining, it eased to drizzle at times, but never stopped.  It seemed that the return of wet weather had every froglet, toadlet, slug and snail out and about in celebration of the end of the hot, dry days.

The night was damp but warm with the cloud overhead and the moth trap was quite busy again, I had only one out last night. Although it is a “Moth trap” it would be more correct to call it a nocturnal flying insect trap as it catches many other insects, in fact sometimes many more non-moths than moths. One of last night’s non-moths was a fly and one that probably also benefits from damp conditions as it was a snail-killing fly. It is actually the larvae that are the killers of snails and slugs. Considering I have so many slugs and snails in my garden it is surprising I have never found a snail-killing fly there, although the reason for this is that they do not generally prey on the common garden species.

snail killer

snail-killing fly

I also realised that yesterday’s moth catch included one that was new to the reserve, although all the books describe it as “common”, I had never seen one before. It was a green arches. Looking at the distribution map for Hampshire it is apparent that it avoids the New Forest area for some reason, despite being a moth of damp woodland, perhaps it does not like acid soils.

green arches

green arches

The heavy rain in the morning did present one surprise, as I opened up the Tern hide there was a flock of 20 black-tailed godwit flying around, eventually landing to the east of the hide. They were all in fine, red breeding plumage, these were Icelandic godwits returning to the south coast for the winter, or at least to moult. They had all their wing feathers too, which would indicate that they had probably arrived straight from Iceland and just been forced low by the rain. This early in the “autumn” they will be birds that have failed to breed successfully so head to the south coast of England to undergo their post-breeding moult. This will start only once they get here so they can make the journey fully feathered, having arrived they will start to moult their wing feathers almost immediately. Moulting is an energy intensive business, but there is lots of food in the mud at this time of year and not many waders around competing for it, so their strategy is a good one. A lot of godwits from this population have been given colour-rings, so when they landed I checked through the flock, but there were all unadorned.

30 Days Wild – Day 27: Location, Location, Location

After several days of the forecast promising rain in a couple of days, it finally arrived, although not yet in great quantity it is none the less welcome, so long as it does not get out of hand.

I have been running two moth traps at Blashford on several recent nights and it is remarkable how different the catches are. On trap is on the open ground beside the Centre and the other about 50m away under some trees. One of the most immediate differences that I notice when opening the traps is that the one close to the Centre has hawk-moths in it, that under the trees does not. Clearly the hawk-moths favour flying over open ground, perhaps their fast flight is just not suited to confined spaces, like trying to drag race around the streets of Fordingbridge. Under the trees there are many more smaller moths, is seems probably that they are actively avoiding the open spaces where their weak flight may mean they lose control over where they are going.  It has certainly been a lesson in importance of exact location in determining what is caught.

As a further illustration of the difference that location made is that the trap in the open caught 34 species, whilst the one under the trees 40 species, but there were only 18 species that were caught in both traps. Both have been run for the same time each night, coming on and going off at the same time, the effect would seem to be due to where they have been running. Open sites might be expected to catch less on windy nights but last night was not windy so this is unlikely to have been a factor and both sites are shaded from the morning sun, which might otherwise warm the moths and means some fly out of the trap, so lost moths can probably be discounted too. Clearly I will need to give more consideration to precisely where I put the trap in future as it would seem to be a very important factor determining what gets caught.

30 Days Wild – Day 26: In the Woods

A day of meetings for me today, but at least one of them was in a woodland on a small reserve where we are looking at some works to rejuvenate a mire that is getting shaded out by willow, birch and pine. The area has a lot of fallow deer and although we saw only a couple of adults we found two fawns lying up in the bracken.

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fallow fawn

There were a few butterflies out including meadow brown and ringlet, but it was reptiles that stole the day. We saw a very large female grass snake and as we were leaving a fine male adder.

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adder

I had to wait until I got home to see my other highlight of the day, when I checked the moth trap it contained a small elephant hawk-moth, one of my favourite species.

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small elephant hawk-moth

 

30 Days Wild – Day 25: Very Black and White

I made a brief foray to the coast in the morning and was rewarded with the sight of a pair of avocet with two chicks. The parents were very alert, using their typical contact call to keep in touch and a very distinctive alarm call whenever a great black-backed gull or similar predator was spotted. The chicks obviously knew exactly what this meant and immediately stopped their feeding on the open mud and ran into the long grass beside the lagoon.

I managed two very poor shots of one of the feeding adults, they were much too active for digi-scoping.

avocet

feeding avocet

Although broad sweeps of the surface layer are the typical method of feeding there were times when there was a need to get further in.

avocet 2

Deep feeding

Avocet are not the rarity they once were and a real conservation success story, they are also one of those species that sort of demand to be looked at.

30 Days Wild – Day 24: Wild in the Garden

Gardens are also habitats, domesticated but at the same time with potential to be wild. They are very diverse and cover a large area when totalled together, but they are also dynamic, styles of gardening change over time and with changes of ownership. So however good for wildlife they might become they are individually precarious places for wildlife. An example of this is the change that happened to the garden of my former home, after twenty years something of a wildlife haven with breeding grass snake and slow worm, the new owners filled the pond, laid the whole to grass and fenced it to allow their dogs to roam safely. This is not to say that having a wildlife garden for twenty years was a waste of time. Lots of species will have benefited and most will have spread out to new homes and they will mostly have been species that are good at moving around to have got to my garden in the first place.

The more people that can find space for wildlife in their gardens the more “stepping stone” patches that wildlife can use to move about, potentially connecting populations and reducing local extinctions.

garden meadow

Lady’s bedstraw now flowering in our back garden mini-meadow

Such little patches of grassland will not make a huge difference on their own but when added to other nearby patches in other gardens, on road verges and playing field edges might add up to enough to support populations  of many insects such as this robberfly.

Dioctria baumhaueri

Dioctria baumhaueri with prey

Robberflies are predators, so if the habitat can support a predator it must also be supporting populations of its prey, the presence of predators is a positive sign.

It has been for sometime a mantra of conservationists that  we need a countryside that has habitats that are “Bigger, Better and more Joined-up”. Larger areas will support more species and be more resilient to species loss. It is useful if the patches actually join, so are contiguous, but if not then as close as possible with stepping stones or, better still, corridors between them. Contiguity, or if you prefer continuity of area is important as is continuity in time. Very short-lived bits of habitat will hold fewer species than ancient sites with very little change. Some specialists thrive on change and to do well need bare, new sites, rapidly being ousted by other species once things settle down, but even these species need a continuous supply of new sites, so continuity is still vital to their survival. Looking at habitat in this way, seeking the continuities can allow you to spot where the valuable sites are, even in the absence of wildlife records. It might also suggest what are the key habitats on which to concentrate management for the most positive outcomes.