30 Days Wild – Day 17

Out with Blashford’s brilliant volunteers this morning, today’s task, hunting down Himalayan balsam. There were once huge drifts of it along the Dockens Water, now much reduced and apart from a few spots, actually difficult to find. There is something very satisfying about heading into a large clump and pulling it out and the vast bulk of this has been done by volunteers, not just at Blashford but all across the New Forest and along the Avon Valley. The New Forest Invasive Non-Native Plants Project and its Avon Valley counterpart lead for HIWWT by, Catherine Chatters and Jo Gore respectively, have been dealing with this and several other invasive plants, mostly along the streams or in ponds. Water plants easily escape garden ponds, either in flood events or as throw outs when they grow too vigorously and many have become a serious problem, out competing native specie sand even blocking waterways. It is often quite easy to find people prepared to tackle large patches of plants like balsam, but the really tricky bit is getting the last few plants, lots of ground to cover and few plants to find.

Himalayan balsam

With plants that grow along streams and rivers it is important to start in the headwaters and work down as the seeds are often carried by water, so will go downstream but not up. Many produce large amounts of seed so it is important to get them before the go to seed and to try to get every last plant.

Looking for balsam involves walking down the river on both banks as far as the winter flood level looking for seedlings. The Dockens Water is shallow enough for someone to walk in the river to get the plants in out of the way places on the river bank, so I spent the morning in waders going down the river. One advantage is getting a different view of things and along the way I found an old kingfisher nest hole.

kingfisher nest hole

The green at the entrance shows the higher nutrients here where the droppings tend to accumulate.

The moth traps had a few new species for the year, my favourite was a small elephant hawk-moth.

small elephant hawk-moth

Lots of work to do out on the reserve, the change in the weather has resulted in a spurt of growth, with brambles and nettles shooting up and out all along the paths, the heavy rain will now cause a lot of them to drop, lots of cutting to do. Having eight kilometres of paths is great until they all need trimming at once!

Tales from the Riverbank Photography Competition

Kingfisher

Kingfishers By Jon Hawkins

Bob has once again been doing a brilliant job of producing a blog for every day in June as part of the The Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild – we’re halfway through the month and I’m sure another 15 blogs will appear! 

As the UK’s biggest nature challenge, 30 Days Wild challenges you to do one wild thing a day throughout the month of June. That’s 30 simple, fun and exciting Random Acts of Wildness to see you through the month… and hopefully beyond!

If you’re a Hampshire resident and looking for a challenge, why not have a go at photographing the streams that feed the Test and Itchen rivers and enter your favourite photo (or two!) into the Trust’s Tales from the Riverbank Photography Competition?

banded demoiselle (2)

Banded demoiselle

If you head further up the Test Valley from Stockbridge (Bob’s Day 13 if you missed it) you reach the chalky headwaters of the River Test, namely the Upper Test, Bourne Rivulet, Upper Anton and Pillhill Brook. These, along with the chalk streams that feed the River Itchen (the Candover Brook, River Arle and the Cheriton Stream), make up the project area for Hampshire and Isle of Wight’s Watercress and Winterbournes project, a landscape partnership scheme supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund that aims to bring together local communities and organisations to restore and celebrate these beautiful waters. 

With only around 200 chalk streams existing worldwide, and most of those in England, our Hampshire streams provide an ecologically rare home for a whole host of wonderful wildlife, including water vole, brown trout, southern damselfly, water crowfoot, and endangered white-clawed crayfish.

brown trout

Brown trout

We’re looking for photos of the streams that feed the Rivers Test and Itchen, as well as their wildlife, heritage, and communities. So whether you’re a camera whizz or a smartphone snapper, capture these amazing places and you could be a winner.

The competition is free to enter and open to Hampshire residents. You could win £75 of gift vouchers, and there are special prizes for under-18s. The competition closes on 31 August 2021 – visit our website for more details and the competition categories.

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30 Days Wild – Day 14

I tried to get the sides and front sections of Lapwing Hide painted with wood preservative today, I got half of it done before the heat defeated me, with no shade the hot sun was just too much. It seemed much the same for the butterflies, despite the sunshine I saw a mere handful today, contrary to what you might think most species don’t like it too hot. In common with a lot of insects they go and hide under leaves in the shade when it gets too much for them.

We have been preparing the hides for reopening, although that ha snow been put back again, so at least I have a bit more time to get the painting finished.

Luckily it cooled a little in the evening and as I was sat out in the garden I could watch the starlings coming and going to feed their second brood of chicks. They are getting quite large now and very noisy.

starling chicks checking for incoming food

My garden mini-meadow is looking good, I have a lot of goatsbeard but I rarely see it in flower, as they only open in the morning on sunny days and close up around midday, personally I rather prefer their alternative traditional name of Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon. They get the goatsbeard name from the large seedheads.

Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon seed clock

Another favourite plant is corky-fruited water dropwort, not abundant but I have several well established plants in amongst the ox-eye daisy crowd.

corky-fruited water dropwort

Looking out of the window the stag beetles are flying again, up to five in the air at once last night!

30 Days Wild – Day 7

Not a lot of wildlife seen today as I was mainly driving around collecting materials. Along the way I dropped into Fishlake Meadows to drop off some posts and pick up the Blashford ladder, the purple heron that has been there for a few days had been seen, but I never made it out of the car park!

I did run the moth trap at Blashford overnight, there were not a great many moths but this little Tinea semifulvella was new for the year. The larvae feed on fur and feathers, often in old bird’s nests.

Tinea semifulvella

When I finally got back to Blashford at the end of the day it seemed it had been another big day for emerging dragonflies, with lots more emperors and some small species too. They usually emerge pre-dawn and make their first flight in the early morning, as they ar every vulnerable to predation by birds when they first emerge. However one had emerged and was still inflating its wings, not an emperor I think, perhaps a black-tailed skimmer, but I am not at all sure.

emerging dragonfly

We occasionally get involved in larger projects and one such is the search for the elusive noble chafer beetle. This big green beetle is known to be in the New Forest, but is regarded as rare, but how rare is not known. It is similar the the much commoner rose chafer, so maybe some get passed off as that species. A project has been set up to try and answer the questions around just where it is and how frequent. It turns out they find one another by use of a pheromone which ha snow been synthesised, meaning they can be attracted to a lure and counted before being released. We are helping out, or trying to, so far we have attracted no beetles, but of course negative data is valuable data, so we are contributing.

noble chafer lure

30 Days Wild – Day 3

I had high hopes for the moth trap this morning and I have to say I was a little disappointed, so rather than a moth, my insect from the trap for today is a true bug, a striped plant bug, proving once again that it is not only moths that are attracted to moth traps.

striped plant bug

Outside the Centre at Blashford we have a number of planters filled with plants chosen to attract insects. It is not just the plants that can attract then though, we also have a number of wooden posts with holes drilled in them which are used by nesting bees and especially mason bees. At this time of year the species using the largest holes is the red mason bee. These bees, about the size of a honey-bee make cells for each larva which they provision with pollen and then seal up with mud.

red mason bee

Around the Centre the gravel has been colonised by lots of plants that do well in well drained conditions, such as marjoram, dark mullein and hedgerow cranesbill.

hedgerow cranesbill

Where it is less trampled and perhaps not quite so dry the vegetation is taller and at this time of year the bright flowers of green alkanet are very obvious and popular with several of the smaller bee species.

green alkanet

Both this plant and the cranesbill are believed to be old introductions to this country from the near continent. A fair bit of out flora has been imported, by accident or design, much that has come from just across the Channel has settled in and now lives like a native. These species have often come with their own insect and other controls and so don’t get out of hand, unlike some introductions from further afield which have often left their escaped their natural controls, which is why they can do so well and out compete native species.

30 Days Wild – Day 2

A much warmer night after a couple of sunny days and now there are more moths appearing in the trap. My highlight at home was a rather beautiful alder moth, the adult is fine and the caterpillar, if you can find one is magnificent, try a web search and see if you don’t agree.

Alder moth

Whilst alder moths are not that frequent in the trap, one of the commonest species is the light brocade and I caught several both in my garden and at Blashford Lakes. The name of this moth harks back to the Victorian days of mothing, when brocade would have been a familiar material.

Light brocade

One of the fascinations of Blashford Lakes is the wide variety of habitats within the reserve. There is a lot of water, both in the form of the lakes themselves and the small Dockens Water river, but also various pools and puddles of various levels of permanence. At the other extreme we have a lot of very dry, sandy habitats, almost all derived from the left-overs of the gravel industry. These dry habitats have lots of rare and interesting species, one I was shown today, that I had not previously seen is shepherd’s cress.

It is similar to the familiar shepherd’s purse, although I confess I do not seem to see that as frequently as I used to. A lot of these rare plants of the dry habitats are small and unprepossessing, they cannot compete with more vigorous species and thrive only in very nutrient poor habitats. An increasing and rather unreported problem is the increase in nutrients falling in rain, particularly nitrogen, which enriches the soil eliminating these specialists of nutrient poor places.

A muggy night ahead with the promise of lots more moths tomorrow, so long as we don’t get too much rain, I may have to get up early in the morning to check the traps.

30 Days Wild – Day 1

It’s that time of year again and after a rather slack time for blogging I will try an pick up the baton again. Although we are moving close to Mid-summer’s Day, it actually still feels quiet spring-like, despite the weather having finally turned warmer. So I will start with bluebell, still in flower in lots of places at Blashford Lakes, although just starting to go over in places.

Bluebell

Ferns are a feature of the woods around the Centre, especially those self-sown on the old spoil heaps left by the gravel workings. Perhaps the least “ferny” is the hart’s tongue fern, which completely lacks the pinnatifid form that is normally associated with a fern

Hart’s tongue fern

Despite getting warmer the moth trapping remains very poor, but the trap does not only catch moths, one of last night’s non-moths was this rather cute looking brown lacewing, I am not sure of the species as they are rather difficult to identify in life.

Brown lacewing

Warm and dry conditions at this time of year can result in “snowfall” at Blashford, or at least that is what it can seem like, as the willow seed is shed in clouds and collects in drifts along the paths.

Seeding willow

Having said the moth trapping has been poor, I did catch one rarely seen species last night in my garden trap, a buttoned snout, not a lot to look at perhaps, but a new record for my garden. It had been though they were in steep decline, having been regularly found by earlier naturalists. However it seems our modern reliance on light traps for recording moths maybe to blame. They do not often come to light, so were considered scarce, but if you look for the caterpillars, as entomologists did before they had light traps, it turns out they are not so hard to find. How you look is important, especially if you want to infer change.

Buttoned snout

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