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!

 

30 Days Wild – Day 19

A much better night for moths with 32 species, a long way short of our best but better than we have had for a while. A new one for the year was a dot moth, like a lot of largely black moths they wear very quickly, however this one was very, very fresh.

black rustic

dot moth

Calm conditions often result in more smaller moths, presumably because they find it easier to fly when it is less windy. A lot of the micro moths are Tortrix species, this is one I have not yet identified, I must get round to looking it up.

tortrix 1

Tortrix moth

I was busy in and around the office for a lot of the day, so did not get out as much as I would have liked. When I did it was pleasing to see that the oystercatcher pair still have at least one chick. I did not see it, but the adults flew up to mob a passing marsh harrier with such vigour that they must still have a chick somewhere nearby.

As I mentioned I was around the office for a lot of the day doing exciting things like seeing if we can get our wifi to work well enough to allow remote education work from as far away as the pond. Traditional education work will clearly be difficult or impossible for some considerable time, but hopefully we can continue via the internet. In many ways what we have is Blashford Lakes , but not exactly as we knew it.

30 Days Wild – Day 18

Day 18 was the day the rain came to Blashford, now that we are open, at least in a limited way, it also brought a few visitors, although not many. The rain is welcome after a very long dry spell, but it is unfortunate that it has come just as we reopen.

rain

rain

Planning for how we are able to carry on providing environmental education and safe access to wildlife continues. At present with 2 metres distancing things are very difficult, especially as our paths are under 2m wide, which is why we have a one-way system on the path network.

On Ivy Lake the mute swan pair hatched three cygnets and while ago, the swans that have nested there in recent years have proved very bad at rearing their young, so I did not hold out much hope they would survive. However, although there is  along way to go, they are still alive and thriving.

swan and cygnets

swan and cygnets

I am also delighted to say that the common tern on the raft are still going strong, most, possibly all, have now hatched their chicks and they are sometimes being left alone in groups when their parents go off to find food. With a bit of luck you will just be able to  see the chicks in the picture below.

terns on raft with chicks

terns on raft with chicks

There is a group of small chicks near the shelter on the left-hand side of the raft. Hopefully they will continue to grow well and fledge, over the years our fledging success has been very high, fingers crossed it will be again this year.

I have slipped a bit behind, but will try and catch up.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 17 – Up on the Down

I had a day off and the weather was okay so I headed out for a visit to Broughton Down, a real gem of a reserve, a steep chalk down with a surprising variety of habitat, even the grazed down varies in character as you move around the site. I started at the furthest end of the reserve where the turf is short and covered in an abundance of fragrant orchids.

orchid bank

orchid bank

These come in various shades from quite dark to almost white.fragrant orchid

Although the fragrant orchids were the most abundant there were patches of common spotted orchid, especially in the shade or where the soil was probably a bit deeper or less dry.common spotted orchid

There are other species on site but the only other orchid I was were a few pyramidal.

pyramidal orchid

pyramidal orchid

The other thing that immediately struck me was the super abundance of dark green fritillary, there must have been hundreds, they far outstripped all other species present and I have never seen so many anywhere before.

dark green fritillary

dark green fritillary

Downland is not just about orchids, there are lots of other plants to enjoy, such as greater knapweed, fairy flax, thyme and squinacywort.

sqinancywort

squinancywort

The grassland has a good few anthills and the difference in the flora on these is very obvious, they tend to have thyme and often speedwell too, no doubt they benefit from the deeper soil and good drainage.

anthill

anthill

Thyme is a great nectar source an dis visited by lots of bees and a real favourite for a lot of butterflies too. It can be a good plant to grow if you have a very sunny dry area in the garden and of course it is a culinary herb.

thyme

thyme

The grassland on an unimproved down is the richest in terms of species that you can find anywhere in the UK and I could fill several blogs with flowers from this one visit. Even the plantains, usually a rather drab group of plants, look better on downland.

hoary plantain

hoary plantain

The tall white stems of common valerian stand out well above the generally short vegetation.

common valerian

common valerian

One of the shortest of all the plants is milkwort, common on downland, but also found in lots of other short grasslands, there are several species and forms found in different habitats.

milkwort

milkwort

All these flowers feed lots of insects, including lots of butterflies apart from the fritillaries, one of the other common species was marbled white.

marbled white

marbled white

A question I am sometime asked is what is the difference between butterflies and moths and the answer is that there is no clear answer! Butterflies fly in the daytime, but so do some moths. Although we recognise the general shape of a butterfly, there are moths with the same overall appearance. In fact what we conventionally call butterflies are actually just six of the families of Lepidoptera that we have chose to call butterflies, the rest we call moths.

I did see a few day-flying moths as well as butterflies, the best was a six-belted clearwing a moth that looks like a wasp.

six-belted clearwing

six-belted clearwing

Lots of insects can feed lots of insect predators, some of them also insects, like this robberfly, a chalk downland species in S. England, but with an odd distribution nationally and elsewhere in quite different habitats.

Leptarthrus brevirostris 4x3

Leptarthrus brevirostris with prey

On the way home we stopped to look at a field of poppies and looking at the hedgerow I spotted several tiny soldierflies walking about on the hazel leaves. I decided to try and get some pictures, not easy as they were very small and constantly on the move, but here are my best efforts.

Pachygaster atra

Pachygaster atra

Pachygaster leachii

Pachygaster leachii

Both are common species, but very easily overlooked!