30 Days Wild – Day 20: Over Heated

Tuesday is one of our volunteer days at Blashford, but it was not a day for heavy work in the sun. Luckily we needed to do a second sweep along the Dockens Water to remove Himalayan balsam plants that had either not germinated last time, or that we had missed. We found only about a couple of hundred plants, testament to the work we have done reducing it over the years. Along the way we saw a few common frog and good numbers of beautiful demoiselle.

beautiful demoiselle male

beautiful demoiselle (male)

I retreated into the office in the afternoon, where at least it was a little cooler, until it was time to lock up.

There was a little excitement at locking up time as I found a person paddling an inflatable boat on Ivy Lake. We know the damage this can do, some years ago two canoeists were found on the lake and this resulted in many of the tern chick jumping off the rafts in panic and several were lost. Luckily the chicks are about a week too small to jump off so they remained, although the adults were less than happy. It turned out the boatman was an angler, although not fishing.  He had a large bucket of bait and was looking for fish. It is a curious thing that anglers are very difficult to persuade that there is anything wrong with trespassing like this, they know that the water is not fished and private. When asked it turned out the boat had not been cleaned before use and he did not know where it had been last time out. The danger to inland waters and especially fisheries, of disease and alien species being moved about on wet gear seemed to have passed him by entirely. Anglers even had a euphemism for illegal entry and fish theft, they know it as “guesting” and it seems to be an accepted part of the “sport”. Small wonder that invasive aliens species and fish diseases get so easily moved around.

Once it cooled down a bit in the evening we went out for a walk on the edge of the New Forest. In some of the dried out puddles I came across a lot of coral necklace, a small plant typical of these locations and a bit of a New Forest speciality.

coral necklace

coral necklace

The main reason for the visit was to see silver-studded blue butterflies and I was not disappointed.

silver-studded blue

silver-studded blue, settling down to roost for the night.

Along the way we also found a small heath and a freshly emerged common emerald damselfly, I am not sure I have seen one at this stage before and it was a very different colour from the mature adult.

common emerald recently emerged

common emerald

The usually wet areas are very dry, so some species usually growing in wet bog are now high and dry, one example of this was a group of oblong-leaved sundew plants growing by the dry path.

oblong-leaved sundew

oblong-leaved sundew

Sundews are carnivorous plants catching insects on the sticky globules on the leaves.

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30 Days Wild – Day 19: Too Hot for Walking

I was down to do a guided walk at Blashford in the morning, but it was so hot that two of the walkers cried off and all we managed was a short amble along the Dockens Water to Goosander hide. At least going through the trees by the river was a bit cooler and the Goosander hide was quite busy with a fair few sand martin coming into the nesting wall. There are also now hundreds of greylag and Canada geese on Ibsley Water, come to moult their flight feathers on the relative safety of the open water. Unlike ducks, geese become completely flightless for quite a while when they moult so they have to seek out somewhere safe, but also with accessible food.

On the way to the hide we saw a few bee orchid and several butterflies, including a couple of summer brood comma, my first small skipper of the year and a few marbled white. One of the participants on the walk told me that they are also known as “Half-mourning”, something I had not heard before.

marbled white

marbled white on ox-eye daisy

Sometime ago I posted that we had some puss moth caterpillars, they were quite small then, but now they have grown a lot and today I was dividing them up into three groups to make it easier to keep up with feeding them. They are very fine caterpillars and get ever more so with age.

puss moth caterpillar

puss moth caterpillar

 

30 Days Wild – Day 18: Hotting-up

Sunday and it certainly was a day of sun and one to try and stay out of it too. We were due to visit Wisley Gardens but before we went I had a look around our garden and found a male broad-bodied chaser perched on a dead stem in the border.

broad-bodied chaser

male broad-bodied chaser

We went from our modest suburban plot to the manicured expanse of the RHS gardens. As we have a perennial border I am always interested to see what the borders in these large gardens are growing. I am a fan of very big plants so am always on the look out for new ones, especially Umbellifers, which are usually good for insects. I was especially impressed by one huge one, when I checked the label I realised it was a plant I have growing as a seedling in a pot and here it was with towering 4m high flowering stems.

It was so hot that it was quite difficult to stay out in the more open areas, it was not only the people that were feeling the heat and in a shady grassland I came across a white-legged damselfly perched up out of the sun.

white-legged damselfly

white-legged damselfly

30 Days Wild – Day 17: Lepe and a Jumper

A day off and mostly spent in the garden, I had intended to do some work but it was too hot to do very much. It was even too hot for most insects apart from bees. I did see a very few butterflies, two meadow brown and single, rather worn, male common blue.

common blue

A slightly tatty male common blue.

My pond is dropping fast, it is only shallow with very sloping sides meaning it has a large surface area relative to volume. I fill it from water collected off the roof, but in this weather it does not last long. Despite not having much water it still attracted a male keeled skimmer, which stayed for several hours.

keeled skimmer

male keeled skimmer

In the evening we headed down to Lepe Country Park to enjoy the sea breeze. Many years ago I used to manage this site when I worked for Hampshire County Council. It has changed a bit since then. The sea defences I put in to the east of the lower car park have finally been abandoned. On the cliff top, the meadow area behind the car park has developed from the deep ploughed cereal field that we took over and seeded, to a really successful flower-rich grassland divided with hedges that provide shelter and cover for nesting birds.

Despite the beach being small and very popular it still has sea kale and yellow-horned poppy, two plants typical of shingle beaches and usually the less disturbed ones.

yellow-horned poppy

yellow-horned poppy

Walking east to the Mulberry Harbour casson construction site I looked for the broad-leaved heleborines that used to grow straight out of the shingle, I found one very large plant hard against the brick wall.

broad-leaved heleborine

broad-leaved heleborine

I was also pleased to find several little robin plants at the very far eastern end, this smaller relative of the common herb Robert is a bit of a Solent coast speciality.

little robin

little robin

I was also searching the shingle, as many years ago I found a jumping spider here that was a new record for Hampshire, however all I could find was a few of the common zebra spider.

zebra spider

zebra spider

They may be common but I can spend a lot of time watching these spiders as they stalk their prey, they are formidable predators at their own tiny scale.

30 Days Wild- Day 16: The Curlew’s Cry

I spent a good part of the day at a small reserve in the New Forest at Linwood where we are discussing a habitat restoration project with the Our Past, Our Present Heritage Lottery project. The reserve is small but interesting as it is in the New Forest but not grazed by livestock. It is mainly woodland of quite recent origin and within the trees are areas of mire and it is maintaining these that is the objective. The open history of the site is attested by the patches of bog myrtle and the rare white sedge. The sedge is not that rare nationally but is predominantly a northern and western species and is rare in southern England.

white sedge

white sedge

The New Forest is something of a haven in southern England for species that are otherwise typically more often found northern or even upland areas. The reason is mainly that it is one of the few areas with bogs and mires in this part of the country. One of the once typical birds of such places, the curlew called repeatedly from the open bog beyond the reserve as we were looking around. There are now only about 40 pairs remaining in the New Forest and breeding success is worryingly low. As with many other species habitat change is probably a major factor nationally, but within the New Forest increasing recreation is probably a factor too, since the habitat appears to remain much as before.

There was not much news from Blashford, although the second year little gull was still to be seen from Tern hide.

30 Days Wild – Day 15: Trying to Impress

I was out on the eastern side of Ibsley Water with the volunteers this morning to clear the areas we cut and which are grazed by ponies of ragwort. It is toxic to animals, but they will usually not eat when it is growing, however they will if it is cut and gets mixed with grass or hay. At one time it was one of the commonest plants in this area but now it is much reduced and overall the grassland is looking much better, with quite a good range of species. A couple of highlights this morning were several patches of corky-fruited water-dropwort.

IMG_1455

corky-fruited water-dropwort

Corky-fruited water-dropwort is an Umbellifer, one of the carrot family and is very attractive to insects, this one had lots of pollen beetles on it. It is quiet frequent in unimproved grasslands in a swathe roughly south of the M4, so it is pleasing to see it at Blashford where the grassland is still recovering from the ravages of mineral extraction. Another find was knotted clover, a plant of dry sandy places, often near the coast, I am not sure if I have found it at Blashford previously.

knotted clover

knotted clover

At lunchtime I tried the pheromone lures for clearwing moths again, completely without success. However I did spot a handsome black-and-yellow longhorn beetle.

black-and-yellow longhorn beetle Rutpela maculata

black-and-yellow longhorn beetle Rutpela maculata.

After doing various odd jobs in the afternoon I went to lock up the hides and found a pair of crab spiders on a hemlock water-dropwort flower head, The male is quite different from the female and a lot smaller so he has to tread carefully if he is not going to get eaten.

crab spider pair

crab spider pair

It seemed it was not only the spiders that were making plans, on a nearby ox-eye daisy I saw a female hoverfly Eristalis horticola, with a male hovering low over her and darting from side to side. I am not sure if she was impressed but he was trying hard to dazzle her with his advanced hovering skills.

Eristalis horticola pair

Eristalis horticola pair

I also found another slime mould, on the same log as the one the other day, although this was clearly a different species.

slime mould

slime mould

The only new bird sighting of note today was of a first summer little gull as I locked Tern hide. It was pleasing to see that the single oystercatcher chick from gull island has fledged and that the remaining one near Tern hide is close to doing so. In additions the single large lapwing chick is also close to flying and two of the smaller ones are still going strong. Even better was a sighting of two well grown little ringed plover chicks today. On Ivy Lake the common tern chicks are growing well and most broods seem to still be of three chicks.

30 Days Wild – Day 14: Getting Brown

A hot day and at this time of year one when you need to take care in the full sun. I was in the office for much of the morning, which was at least cooler. At lunchtime I went outside, hoping to see some hoverflies and soldierflies on the hemlock water-dropwort, but all I saw was bees. I think it was too hot for many insects, on these kind of days they often sit out the hottest part of the day in the shade and can be found clinging to the underside of leaves.

A number of people have commented on the lack of butterflies in recent days, it is true there are not a lot, but this is not that unusual at  this time of year. The spring species have mostly finished and the high summer species are just starting, the “gap” is often bridged by lots of white butterflies, but this year they have been quiet scarce. At Blashford the mid-summer butterflies are the browns and the meadow brown are just starting to appear in numbers now. They do not bask with wings open very much once the day has warmed, up so it was no surprise that they were all sitting with wings closed today.

meadow brown

meadow brown

Meadow brown has just one generation a year and they will fly from now until early September. Some species, like small tortoiseshell and comma have two generations, with the second over-wintering as an adult hidden away out of the worst of the frost. Another of the browns, the speckled wood has three overlapping generations so can be seen from late March to early November, it can also over-winter as ether a caterpillar or a pupa.

speckled wood

speckled wood

In other news, I saw the larger of the lapwing chicks today from tern hide and it must be getting close to fledging now, as is the one remaining oystercatcher chick. The three smaller lapwing chicks seem to have been reduced to two, but they at still growing well. Out on the rafts most of the common tern eggs have now hatched and generally they seem to be in broods of three, with lots of small fish being brought in, so they are growing fast. Today many of the chicks were using the shelters to get out of the strong sunshine, over-heating can be a real problem for small chicks, so shade is important.

30 Days Wild – Day 13: Gulls get Rings

Tuesday is one of our two regular volunteer days at Blashford Lakes, this week’s main task was further work to improve the grassland habitat along the western shore of Ibsley Water. We have had a long-term project to remove bramble, nettle and willow that has been threatening to take dominate. This shore was remodelled into a steep bank using the topsoil removed from the gravel pit surface when it was first dug, conditions ideal for the development of nettle beds and bramble thickets. To reverse this we have been mowing to allow grass and perennial herb species to get the upper-hand.  This has been targeted work aiming to take out only the least desirable species. Even the nettle beds have elements that we leave, such as any patches with nets of peacock and small tortoiseshell larvae.

peacock caterpillars

peacock caterpillars

Alongside the nutrient-rich soils there are poorer patches and these have a more interesting flora including a number of bee orchid.

bee orchid and mower

bee orchid

At the end of the day I went out to Gull Island in Ibsley Water with the bird-ringers to colour-ring a sample of the black-headed gull chicks. We have been doing this for a number of years to find out where the birds from this recently established colony go to and if the chicks reared here return to breed in later years. We managed to catch and ring thirty chicks during our short visit, a good sample.

209C gets ringed

209C gets a ring, where will it go and will it come back?

In the evening I came across a female stag beetle on the fence in the garden, the first female I have seen this year. The day ended on a fine calm note and so I decided to head out to listen to the nightjar again. One came and perched on a branch very close by and gave great views. I never tire of watching and listening to nightjar and to have the opportunity to do so just a few minutes walk from home is wonderful.

30 Days Wild – Day 11: Various Insects

Still a windy day but none the less quite warm in the sun, so if you could find some shelter it was very pleasant. The kind of day to go looking for insects making the most of exactly such places. In the garden the moth trap had one new species for the year, a varied coronet.

varied coronet

varied coronet

This moth was known only as a scarce migrant until about 70 years ago when it started to breed in Kent, since when it has spread widely, although I don’t often catch it myself.

I found a number of insects around the garden warming themselves including a number of hoverflies.

Merodon equestris

Merodon equestris

This one looks like a bumblebee in an effort to be left alone by birds, it is also known as the greater bulb-fly as the larvae feed on bulbs, it is not a favourite with many gardeners.

By the pond I found an unfortunate broad-bodies chaser that had emerged but failed to get its wings properly expanded, it will never fly, after a year of development in the pond it had failed at the last hurdle.

unfortunate Libellula depressa

unfortunate dragonfly

In the afternoon I ventured out into the New Forest for a short walk. Again it was the sheltered clearings that harboured the most wildlife and in one patch of sunlight I spotted a humming-bird hawk-moth, luckily it landed allowing me to get a picture.

humming-bird hawk-moth

humming-bird hawk-moth

There were also hoverflies, although not so many as in the garden. On one sunny logs I found a specimen of Xylota abiens.

Xylota abiens
Xylota abiens

These hoverflies almost never visit flowers, but are often seen sunning themselves or moving over leaves, they may find the food they need from honeydew on leaves rather than nectar from flowers. This individual ahs picked up a hitch-hiker in the form of a tiny red mite which you can just make on the top of the thorax.

I also found one dragonfly, this time a recently emerged keeled skimmer.

keeled skimmer close up

keeled skimmer close-up

This close-up shows how the front legs are not used for standing, but held up behind the head ready to be used for manipulating prey to allow feeding in flight.

30 Days Wild- Day 10: Bees and Butter

Not at work on Day 10, so I spent some time in the garden. It is a mixture of fairly traditional borders and a small wilder area which we manage as a mini-meadow. In the border the emphasis is on plants that look good but have flowers that will be attractive to insects. Certain types are particularly good, the star so far this year has been the Echium pinana which attracts bees in amazing numbers. Another very good group of plants are the scabious and similar species. We have a good patch of the very large Cephalaria grandiflora which lots of insects will visit.

common carder bee on Cephalaria gigantea

common carder bee on Cephalaria gigantean.

I have always liked growing Umbellifers in the garden and I am pleased to say they seem to getting more popular, most species are attractive to hoverflies, this year we have added the lace flower (Orlaya grandiflora), and it seems to have been well received by the insects.

hoverfly on Orlaya grandiflora

hoverfly on Orlaya grandiflora

To provide feeding for as many bees as possible it is necessary top grow a range of plants with a range of flower types as different bees are adapted to exploit different flower forms. They will also collect pollen as well as nectar. Some of the bumblebees have especially long tongues and so can reach into flowers with very long tubes such as some of the clovers which smaller species cannot.

red-tailed bumblebee on white clover

red-tailed bumblebee on white clover

The star sighting of the day was attracted in by the flowers, but it was not a bee, but a humming-bird hawk-moth, my first of the year. Although they seem to be getting more regular these day-flying migrant hawk-moths are always exciting to see.

I am lucky to live within a short walk of the New Forest, so as dusk approached a short excursion to listen to nightjar was in order. It was a bit windy, which reduced activity a bit but we still heard one or two churring birds and briefly saw some wing-clapping display flight.

In walking through the pines to get top the heath edge something brilliant yellow stood out on the woodland floor. So bright, in fact that my first thought was that it was a bit of rubbish, but it was not, it was a large patch of troll butter. This is slime mould and like most is found of rotten wood.

troll butter

troll butter