30 Days Wild – Day 30

The last of the 30 Days for this year, just 335 wild days to go until 30 Days 2021. It has been the oddest of months, despite a relaxation in lockdown, most people have not been venturing far, although this has been a limitation, it has also opened the eyes of many to what they have within walking distance of home. Perhaps more significant it has highlighted the importance of local informal spaces, we cannot rely on travelling to a greenspace far from home, we need it close at hand. Our wildlife needs this too, a few highly protected nature reserves just will not do we need space for wildlife everywhere. When I say “We” I mean everybody, not just wildlife enthusiasts, all of us feel better and live healthier lives with access to greenspace and especially diverse informal greenspace. Luckily for wildlife this is also exactly what it wants too, far from the needs of wildlife being at odds with the needs of people they are actually aligned, particularly when it comes to mental heath and well being.

Times remain uncertain, for all of us and for our wildlife, will our relationship actually been changed? Will the “New normal” actually be new and importantly better? Let’s hope that in our haste to leave this crisis behind we don’t sprint off looking back at it as we run headlong over the precipice of the next.

We entered the 30 Days in extreme heat and are leaving it with the cool, breezy damp of  the old fashioned English summers of my childhood, that is as they mostly were, rather than as we all remember them. It has been a month of heat and drought, of record moth catches, full of damselflies and beetles, I have seen a good few new species and missed some favourites.

Today’s highlight in the moth trap was a glow worm, a new species for the garden. The males fly, unlike the females, but do not glow, again unlike the females. I do not think they are very strong flyers so I assume it had not come far even though I have never seen glow worm locally when out looking and listening for nightjar.

glow worm

glow worm (male)

I ran two traps at Blashford, moths were rather few but did include a small scallop, unfortunately it had not inflated its wings properly, although it could obviously fly.

small scallop

small scallop

There was also a satin wave, not a rare moth but often they are rather worn, but not this one.

satin wave

satin wave

Anyone who has visited recently will have seen the tremendous growth of plants in Ivy Silt Pond, mostly water soldier, but also lots of others such as bur-reed.

patch of bur reed

patch of bur-reed

There are several species, I am fairly sure this one is unbranched bur-reed.

bur-reed

Unbranched bur-reed (I think)

I will end on a correction, the jewel wasp I posted a few days ago has been re-identified for me as Hedychrum nobile (many thanks to Paul Brock). This species is probably a recent colonist in the UK, it is not quite clear when it arrived, as it remained unidentified for some years. it is clear that it is spreading though from the original sites close to London.

Hedychrum nobile

Hedychrum nobile

I will not stop blogging, although the frequency will undoubtedly reduce. Thank you to everyone who reads, follows and comments. I hope you have had a great 30 Days Wild and done lots of your own wild things and that you keep on doing them.

30 Days Wild – Day 29 – Almost there!

When I met Tracy at Blashford she mentioned a large wasp nest that had been made at the Tern Hide, so when I went over there on my site check I took a look. I am not sure how I had missed it before.

wasp nest 2

wasp nest

The nests are made of chewed up wood pulp, essentially paper and the hides are often a favourite source, the sound of scraping wasp jaws is one that summer hide visitors will know well. If the hide were open this nest would be a problem as it is very near the door, but as it is not and I doubt it will be anytime soon, I think I can leave it alone.

Returning to the Centre a visitor then told me of another wasp nest, this time under a sign near the car park.

wasp nest 1

another wasp nest – 2 in one day

This one will need to be avoided as it is under the sign and not obvious so easy to inadvertently get very close to. We have put out a sign and I will fix up a temporary fence to keep people at a safe distance.

We have several species of social wasps in the UK, I am pretty sure that both of these nests are the same species though, the common wasp Vespula vulgaris.

I went down to check on the common tern rafts and am pleased to say they are still doing well, with lots of fast growing chicks making good use of the shelters.

terns raft and chicks

tern raft and chicks

It is not a great picture, but you can see the chicks, especially grouped around the left hand shelter. There is a good way to go yet,  but this is great progress in a season when I had feared I would get no rafts out for them.

30 Days Wild – Day 28

A really blustery day spent at home, mainly in the garden. The conditions meant the moth trap had few visitors and photographing insects on waving flowers was a near impossibility.

The highlight was a male Cheilosia caerulescens, a hoverfly I first saw last year and which was only first found in the UK in 2006. It is one that probably came here in plants transported for the horticultural trade. The larvae mine the roots of house-leeks and were probably in the roots of imported plants. It was first found in Surrey and is now quite widespread in S. England.

Cheilosia caerulescens 4x3

Cheilosia caerulescens

Although this species may not do too much harm, unless you are an avid grower of house-leeks, it does illustrate how difficult it is to keep from inadvertently bringing species into the country. With increased travel and much more international trade the opportunities for stow-a-ways are many.

Introduced species can be a hot topic, with widely differing views about what controls there should be. My personal feeling is that wherever you stand on the rights or wrongs of controlling invasive species, bringing ever more in should be seen as a bad idea. Any newly arrived species is unlikely to be adapted to the environment and so most die out. If they don’t they will be competing with species already present, there are not generally lots of unused resources lying around, something will be using them and any arrivals will effectively be taking away resource from something else already using it. In the worst cases they thrive to the exclusion of lots of other species, especially if there is no local control by predators, parasites or disease to keep them in check as would be likely in the native range. The upshot of this is that we tend to gain widespread generalist species and lose localised specialist species, in short the species diversity is reduced and some of the variety that makes the world so interesting is lost. This is happening worldwide of course and the impact of introduced species is one of the greatest extinction threats to local wildlife faced across large areas of the world.

As I mentioned I spent most of the day in the garden and many of our garden plants are  a good fit for potentially invasive species. Most are not native to the UK and many not to Europe, but they are selected to be types that will grow here, and the ones we grow most often are the easiest to grow, which is to say they grow very well here. All characteristics that would make a successful invasive species. A lot don’t grow well from seed for one reason or another, but some will set viable seed and a good few will grow well from roots or rhizomes, which is why fly-tipping of garden waste can be sure a problem and  a major route out into the countryside for garden plants.

I have been refurbishing my pond over the lockdown period and it is beginning to look a lot better, with several plants coming into flower, including water forget-me-not and lesser water plantain.

water forget-me-not

water forget-me-not

lesser water plantain

lesser water plantain

30 Days Wild – Day 27

A very different day, windy and quite wet at times with heavy showers, especially in the morning,. Despite this the moth catch was still reasonable, although nothing like yesterday’s. There were several species caught for the first time this year such as slender brindle, dingy footman, black arches, blue-bordered carpet and European corn borer. There were also several extra micro moths such as pine shoot moth,

pine shoot moth

pine shoot moth

and Zeiraphera isertana.

Zeiraphera isertana

Zeiraphera isertana

However the top prize for “Catch of the Day” went to a soldierfly, Oxycera rara.

Oxycera rara 4x3

Oxycera rara

Perhaps blown in by the windy weather, a young, second calendar year little gull was over Ibsley Water. At the Centre a hobby flew over and there was a grey wagtail around the ponds. The common tern colony on the rafts on Ivy Lake is still going strong, with the chicks growing fast and lots of pairs with all three chick still surviving. The wind can be a problem for chicks when they are first trying to fly, lifting them off the rafts prematurely, luckily they are not that well grown yet. However strong winds can make it much harder for the adults to catch the fish they need to feed the chicks, resulting in poorer growth, or at worst, starvation. The next couple of weeks will see how they have fared.

30 Days Wild – Day 26 – So Many Moths

The night of 25th-26th June was one of the best for moths for many years, it was ideal, warm and calm. Moths fly for longer on warm nights, unlike day flying insects they cannot use the sun to warm up for flight, so are dependent upon the air temperature being high enough. This is why, on most nights the main flight will be at dusk and numbers decrease through until dawn.

I knew it would be good from the forecast and from the fact that sleep was difficult, one advantage of this was that I was awake at dawn so could go and close the trap before the birds could clear any moths that had not got inside. In my garden I run a small, low power actinic moth trap, the light is less bright and doe snot disturb neighbours, the lower light output means it catches fewer moths. I could see immediately that it was full of moths, the eventual tally was a remarkable 79 identified species, with one or two more unidentified.

Meanwhile at Blashford I had put out two traps in slightly different habitats, if my small trap had that many species how many would there be in the bigger traps? The answer turned out to be about the same, one around 75 species and the other just over 80. I suspect that some of the micro moths, which make up a lot of the catch on calm nights, get out of the trap if it is not covered and taken in soon after dawn.

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Many of the micro moths are stunning to look at, if you can see them well enough! This is where macro photography and especially digital photography comes in so handy, the images can be enlarged on the screen.

My home trap did yield one new species for the garden and not a micro moth either, it was a red-necked footman. These are curious moths, I will not see any for ages and then suddenly see a whole swarm of them, perhaps 100 or more flying together around a tree top in bright sunshine.

red-necked footman

red-necked footman

A number of the micro moths have similar patterns, even if they are not closely related, one recurrent pattern is white with dots, this is a common pattern in the Yponomeutidae, but then crops up again int he distantly related thistle ermine, which is a Pyralid and of course in the white ermine itself, which is one of the tiger moths.

Not everything that gets attracted into a moth trap is a moth, other night-flying insects also arrive. I was very interested to catch a fine beetle that I had not seen before and which I did not remember seeing illustrated.

Diaperis boleti 4x3

Diaperis boleti

When I first tried to identify it, thumbing through some general beetle books, I did eventually found it, the text said “rare in Britain”. Having identified it, at least tentatively, I looked it up on the web and found a rather more contemporary account of its status. I confirmed it was indeed Diaperis boleti, one of the darkling beetles that feed on bracket fungi, it used to be rare, but now it seems it has “become quite widespread and is locally frequent”. It is probably another species that is benefiting from a warmer climate, a reminder that there are winners and losers when things change.

At Blashford the micro moth theme continued, but with a mostly different caste, a few of which are below.

Out on the reserve the breeding season progresses, the common tern chicks are growing fast and a good few of the black-headed gull have fledged.

black-headed gull juv

black-headed gull (juvenile)

 

30 Days Wild – Day 25

As usual my day started with a check through my garden moth trap, the moth highlight was a lobster moth, which was not in the trap but on the house wall. As usual it was a male, I have always hoped to get a female one day so I could obtain some eggs and rear their extraordinary caterpillars, which I have never seen.

lobster moth

lobster moth (male)

Not all the insects attracted are moths and the other highlight was a cream-streaked ladybird.

cream-streaked ladybird

cream-streaked ladybird

Mid-summer is typically a time when very little changes when it comes to the birds on the reserve, there are ever more youngsters around as the breeding season progresses, but generally until autumn passage gets going not much change in the species present. So I got a bit of a surprise when I went over to check to on the Tern Hide, as I approached I heard a Mediterranean gull calling, not too surprising as we get them quite regularly, although they did not breed this year, but then I could also hear a common gull. Common gull typically breed on moorland lakes and I have never seen one at Blashford in mid-summer, what was more this was an adult bird, a younger one would at least have been more likely.

common gull

common gull (adult)

One regular change at this time is the arrival of lot so geese to moult, the local geese are greylag, Canada and Egyptian. With so many in one place we do get occasional visitors, such as a Ross’s goose the other day, an escapee from somewhere, but without rings. This time I saw a single barnacle goose, another species that is establishing a feral population.

barnacle goose

barnacle goose

The native range of both barnacle and Ross’s geese is the far Arctic north, at least barnacle gees do winter in the UK, but the Ross’s wintering areas are the Pacific coast of N. America. I had wondered if these two would stay to moult with the local geese, when they moult they are flightless for a period, which is why they choose to do so on the largest body of water they can find and why Ibsley Water attracts so many, however both seem to have been one day wonders.

Another fine evening meant another walk out onto the heath from home. There are still lots of silver-studded blue around and they were roosting in the tops of the heather as the sun went down.

silver-studded blue

silver-studded blue

I also found a tiny and very well marked micro moth called Aristotelia ericinella, which appropriately enough has caterpillars which eat heather.

Aristotelia ericinella

Aristotelia ericinella

This summer has been very good for grasshoppers and on the heaths there are lots of field grasshopper and at the margins if there is more grass, or it is a little damper there will be meadow grasshopper too. I was a little surprised to find a woodland grasshopper out in the open heather though, as they usually utilise grassy rides within woodland.

woodland grasshopper

woodland grasshopper

30 Days Wild – Day 24

Not a lot to report from Wednesday, I was busy with non-wildlife things and then it got so hot that I could not get out into the open for long, When it gets really hot a lot of insects will seek out shade and stop flying. The brown butterflies do this very readily , perhaps unsurprisingly ringlet, as the darkest, most frequently. Being dark allows better heat absorption in cooler days, but in really hot weather overheating becomes a real risk.

Some insects don’t seem to mind, wasps seem to keep going well, maybe not being hairy like bees makes them less prone to overheating. Another group that just carry on are the grasshoppers. I seem to remember reading somewhere that the pitch of their stridulations gets higher with temperature. I made a short walk onto the heath close to home and there were lots of wasps, all far too lively to get pictures of and many grasshoppers. The area has a dry bank running into a valley mire. The drier area has lots of field grasshopper, whilst the mire has a good population of the now nationally rare large marsh grasshopper. Although they are our largest grasshopper they do not have a loud stridulation, it actually sounds like a gently dripping tap. I could not find a large marsh grasshopper to photograph but did find a common green grasshopper.

common green grasshopper

common green grasshopper

In fact common green grasshoppers are not particularly common locally, they seem to become more so as you head north and west.

30 Days Wild – Day 22

A busy day of path cutting and planning for the “New normal”, more accurately looking at what we can safely do and exploring new possibilities for education when site visits are more difficult.

Access to the reserve is now improving, the car park on the south side of Ellingham Drove is now open during the normal hours 09:00-16:30, seven days a week. The Education Centre, bird hides and toilets remain closed. The circular routes have been laid out as one-way, with signage, this makes social distancing easier as do the step-asides, which will make it easier to pass people. Cycling is not permitted in any case, but I would also urge that running is not really appropriate as it does not make it easy to access the step-asides in time to avoid getting too close. These measures will remain in place even if the social distancing is reduced to 1m, a sour paths are typically only 1.5m wide at most.

Some paths, such as that between Ivy Lake and Rockford Lake are too narrow to allow more than one or two passing points along their entire length and I would urge that people consider carefully if they should be using these.

Most of my wildlife encounters happened once I had returned home. In the mini-meadow the crow garlic heads are opening.

crow garlic

crow garlic

They are remarkably similar, at a glance, to the unopened flower heads of wild carrot. There were a couple of meadow brown catching a few late rays of sunshine, as was this female, low down in the grass.

meadow brown

meadow brown (female)

During the spring I made a bee hotel with I hung on the front wall of the house. Although it has not attracted lots of bees, there has been a wide variety of species. The mason bees have mostly sealed their holes, but now there are leaf-cutter bees.

leaf-cutter bee (male)

leaf-cutter bee (male)

Where there are nests there are parasites, such as this rather intimidating looking wasp Gateruption jaculator.

Gasteruption jaculator

Gasteruption jaculator (female)

30 Days Wild – Day 21

Another day in the garden, I would have gone out into the Forest, but it was obviously packed, so contented myself with insect hunting on my own small patch. As ever I started with the moths in the garden trap, which included a new species for me, although it was not the most spectacular moth you will ever see. It was a brown scallop and if the name sounds underwhelming it at least is not overselling.

brown scallop 4x3

brown scallop

It is not an abundant species anywhere but it does occur regularly in Hampshire, although almost entirely on the chalk and seemingly not in the New Forest area. The food plant is buckthorn, but even then it is not found everywhere this plant grows. A little more impressive was a shark, the moth not an actual shark (which would have been well beyond impressive!). This is a moth I see in most years and has caterpillars that eat sow-thistle and hawkweed species.

shark

shark

Back in April I caught a female emperor moth, which laid some eggs. The eggs hatched and are now almost fully grown caterpillars, having fed on willow, they will actually eat all kinds of things. but I had willow easily to hand. The emperor moth is one of the species in which the female produces an especially far carrying pheromone. When she is newly emerged she just sits near the cocoon and waits for the males, which fly by day, to find her. After mating the female will then fly of at dusk before laying her eggs, so moth traps tend to catch females, as a general rule for most species many more males are caught than females as they fly around far more at night in search of a mate. The caterpillars are very smart and quite variable.

emperors

emperor moth caterpillars

The emperor is our only representative of the family Saturniidae, the family that includes the silk moths and the largest moths in the world, such as the atlas moth and lunar moths.

Although the day was mostly sunny and warm there were rather few butterflies in the garden, but these few did include another silver-studded blue, this time a male and a very fresh one too.

silver-studded blue male 4x3

silver-studded blue (male)

The blue was very bright and colourful, but was outdone by a wasp I found on the wild carrot, it was a cuckoo wasp, that is to say a nest parasite of another species of wasp. they are generally difficult to identify, but I am informed this one is likely to be Chrysis viridula.

cuckoo bee 4x3

Chrysis viridula

30 Days Wild – Day 20 – Playing Catch-up

Still trying to catch-up with the 30 Days, Day 21 and I am just writing Day 20! Day 20 was quiet a day, before I got to the reserve I got a call to say that two cars had left the road and were in the water, as the call came from South West Water it could only be Ibsley Water! Considering the distance from the road and the trees etc in the way I had visions of vehicles leaving the road at very high speed, so expected to find lots of emergency services and general mayhem. In fact I arrived to nothing of the sort, indeed to nothing going on at all. It turned out to be the major incident that never was. The two cars had left the road but not into a lake anywhere at Blashford, but a stream on the edge of Ringwood. Somehow, by the repetition of errors and misunderstandings it had got amplified to a different location and a whole different scale of incident.

After this the rest of the day was quiet, I checked the moth trap and trimmed some paths, the recent rain has sped up growth tremendously and I will have to get out again next week.

The moth trap included some notable species, best of all was a lunar yellow underwing, a very local species in the UK with the main population in the Suffolk Sandlings. Locally there is a population on Porton Down and a small one at Blashford Lakes, where I see one or two in most years.

lunar yellow underwing 4x3

lunar yellow underwing

There was also an Evergestis limbata a Pyralid moth that was first discovered in the UK in 1994 on the Isle of Wight. I have seen it a number of times at Blashford, perhaps because the larvae feed on garlic mustard, which is very common on the reserve.

Evergestis limbata

Evergestis limbata

Much more common, but very attractive were two small angle shades.

small angle shades

small angle shades

Later in the afternoon I made a quick visit to the sweep meadow where Tracy had seen several bee wolf the other day and I was not disappointed. This wasp hunts honey-bees to provision its nests. This one is a male, they do not enter the nest tunnels dug into the sand, but wait near them to see if they can find a female to mate with.

bee wolf (male)

bee wolf (male)

I will see if I can do Day 21 and 22 tomorrow and so catch up, just a week to go and another 30 Days will have flown by. Not that I restrict myself to only doing wildlife related things to the month of June, just in case you were wondering!