30 Days Wild – Day 15 – Half Way Day in the Garden (weather permitting)

Another day off today, I would have spent much of it in the garden but the rain had other ideas. However I did get out between the showers and even had some sun at times.

The moth trap was not busy being mostly filled with the really common species like heart and dart, Vine’s rusticwillow beauty and treble lines. One of the very common species for much of the season is shuttle-shaped dart, a moth that is so common as to be largely ignored and not helped by a rather drab colour scheme. However the detail of the wing patterning is exceedingly intricate.

shuttle-shaped dart

shuttle-shaped dart

At this time of year I am always drawn to the mini-meadow, it attracts so much insect life and today was no exception. There were an array of bees, hoverflies, beetles and bugs, including the grass bug Notostira elongata, this one is a male, with a much stronger, more contrasting, pattern than the female

Notostira elongata male

Notostira elongata male

I had not recorded this species in the garden before that I could remember. Another “First” was the hoverfly Scaeva selenitica, a species of pine woodland, so I expect it had wandered off the New Forest to visit some good nectar sources.

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Scaeva selenitica (male)

You can tell that this one is a male as the eyes meet on the top of the head to give it the maximum possible all-round view of the world. This difference in eye size between the sexes is common amongst flies and is probably to help them, spot females.

Caught up again! Just fifteen more days to go.

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30 Days Wild – Day 14 – It’s Not Just Grass!

A day off catching up with domestic tasks, so wildlife watching was largely restricted to the garden. The mini-meadow is looking very fine at present, it may only be 5m by 4m, but it is packed with flowers and has  a very good structure. The term “structure” in relations to grasslands means the variation in height and the layering of the vegetation. A well structured grassland will have vegetation at every level. In mine the lowest level is occupied by lesser stitchwort, mouse-eared hawkweed, cowslip, bugle, bird’s-foot trefoil and white clover. Slightly higher is the yellow rattle, creeping buttercup, dandelion, ribwort plantain, red clover and bloody cranesbill.  Higher still are the ox-eye daisy, hawkbits, field scabious, perforated St John’s wort, meadow buttercup and corky-fruited water-dropwort. The top layer is mostly taken by knapweed. There are several different grass species and a number of other herbs dotted about. 

This structure allows insects to move about all through the area at every level and light can get through to the ground. This is the opposite of an intensive grassland where the objective is a dense even grass sward, these may be fields, but they are really high yield grass crops, with high biomass and low biodiversity. Traditional forage crops were hay, and repeated cropping tended to increase biodiversity and and reduce the biomass. It is easy to see why farmers seeking lots of forage would move to an intensive model, but the result has been a 97% loss of herb rich grasslands in the UK in a lifetime.

“Views over green fields” might be trumpeted by estate agents or implicit in the idea of the “Green Belt”, but green fields are ones that have lost their biodiversity. Similarly green lawns, verges and civic areas are ones that have had their diversity and wildlife stripped away. It is easy to see why agricultural grasslands have been “improved” to increase their productivity, these are businesses seeking to make a profit. Despite this most of the best remaining herb-rich grasslands are on farms and farmers are at the forefront of improving the situation.

So why are local authorities and corporate owners of mown grasslands so set on removing their variety has always been a mystery to me. Many years ago I worked at a Country Park and took to leaving the banks and other areas not walked on to be cut just once a year, mowing the rest as paths and patches around picnic tables. Pretty soon we had meadow brown, common blue and marbled white flying between the picnic places. However I soon got complaints, not from the site users, but from councillors and others who declared it “untidy”, I did not give up but as soon as I moved on they restored the old regime.

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My mini-meadow, it really is not difficult to have diverse wildlife friendly spaces rather than dewilded grass.

Some land uses demand regular mowing, but it should not be the default approach, we should expect habitats to be managed to maximise their environmental value. Wildlife lives everywhere, given the chance and should do so, we should expect land managers to be properly discharging their responsibility for the land they manage and to be looking to increase biodiversity, not mowing, or worse still, spraying it to oblivion.

meadow brown

Meadow brown in the meadow, hiding from the wind

Bombus lucorum

Bombus lucorum, the white-tailed bumblebee on ox-eye daisy

30 Days Wild – Day 13

As I was wondering if I should put on a fleece under my jacket in an effort to keep both dry and warm, it was good to think back to those balmy days of short-sleeves in February and know that it would be warm again, sometime. Needless to say, despite it being mid-June, it was not a day for insects, or much else.

The stalwarts of Blashford’s Brilliant Volunteers worked through it all though and we made a good job of finally clearing the yard of scrap metal and old tyres. Sadly we are “donated” rather a lot of rubbish, not generally by our visitors, but in the form of fly-tipping. I suppose it is something we should feel “Wild” about, but after years of working in the countryside it, sadly, has becomes an expected part of the job.

Although I have said our reserve visitors are generally very good alt not leaving litter, there have been a few incidents recently of mess being left at the Goosander Hide, probably int he evenings. There is some indication of a degree of general anti-social behaviour as well. If anyone is on the reserve at any time and sees such things going on it is very useful to have such details as it is easy to get. These issues are difficult to tackle so any information is useful, an email to the Blashford Lakes email or if ongoing int he daytime a call to the office or one of our mobiles is very helpful, the contact details are posted in the hides.

One sign of summer at Blashford was in evidence though, although it was necessary to peer through the drizzle to see it, the ponies are back grazing the shore of Ibsley Water.

pony in the mist

Pony in the mist

The weather has been a problem in lots of ways, one of them is that it is preventing us from colour-ringing our usual sample of young black-headed gull. It seems likely that most will have fledged before we get the weather to go and ring them.

black-headed gull juv

juvenile black-headed gull

Let’s hope for some more summery conditions next week.

30 Days Wild – Day 12 – Here be Bees

Another mostly dull day, although dry, conditions that may seem not so good for finding insects, which is true, but if you find them they are much less active and so easier to see well.

hoverfly

hoverfly, Platycheirus albimanus (I think)

On such days insects will often be found sitting in the open in the hope that the sun will come out and enable them to warm up enough to become active. Predatory species, if they can get active can then easily catch prey that has not warmed up so much. Robberflies are one such predator and several species are on the wing now.

robberfly

robberfly

Many insects will vibrate their wing muscles to increase their core temperature, bees have an added advantage of being furry which will help to reduce heat loss.

solitary bee

solitary bee

The cooler weather did encourage me to do some control of the bramble regrowth in the grassland in the former Hanson plant entrance, this area gets very hot in the sun, which should make it good for insects. The soil, if it can be called that is very poor, an advantage for establishing a non-grassy sward, but here it is so poor, that in places almost nothing will grow. This is in contrast to the bank of deeper soil just to the south where there are probably too many nutrients.

Hanson bank

Grassy bank on former Hanson entrance

Despite having only been seeded three years ago and on soil spread from the old concrete block plant site it already has some quiet surprising species.

old roadway

bee orchid on line of old tarmac roadway

I assume the bee orchids must have been already in the soil, surely three years is too short a time for them to have grown from seed? There were only  a few but one was one of the variants, I think “Belgarum”.

bee orchid flowert variant

bee orchid variant

30 Days Wild – Day 11

Following the recent and unseasonable wet and windy weather the volunteer task on Tuesday was first to walk all the paths and check for fallen branches and other hazards. With five miles of paths this takes a while, especially when there is clearance to be done, not exciting work but very necessary.

This same weather has been having quite an impact on nesting birds, it makes food harder to find for some, although rain makes worms easier to find. Open nests can get wet and wet chicks can chill very quickly. Some species with young that leave the nest soon after hatching are especially vulnerable. However many are still doing well, I came across this brood of coot on the Ivy Lake Silt Pond as I was locking  up on Day 11.

coot adult and juvs

Adult coot and cootlets.

Some of the black-headed gull juveniles have fledged, but many are still wandering around their island or on the rafts, they are mostly quite large so should cope with getting wet reasonably well.

black-headed gull

black-headed gull adult on watch near a nest

The nesting terns are due to start hatching soon, I do worry that very small chick will be at great risk if this period of cool wet weather continues. Very small chicks have fluffy down and a very high surface area to weight ratio. This means if they get wet, the down holds onto the water and they can chill very fast and die. In addition wet, windy conditions make it harder for the adults to find and catch food. Crossed fingers everyone, let’s hope the rain eases and the wind drops soon.

30 Days Wild – Day 10 – Damp(ish)

Most of my “Wildness” involved being indoors looking out, although it was not too bad at the beginning and end of the day. The office window at Blashford looks out over the picnic tables and the small pond used by education groups for pond-dipping. It was a movement on the pond-dipping boardwalk that attracted my attention as I was using the photocopier.

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Roe deer eating hemlock water-dropwort

It seemed to be eating mainly the flowers, but the books will tell you that every part of the plant is highly poisonous. I have previously noticed that cattle seem very partial to eating this plant, apparently without obvious harm.

I ventured out at lunchtime, but only as far as the Tern Hide, but I was rewarded with an adult lapwing accompanied by a juvenile with several colour-rings. I do not know for sure yet, but I am pretty certain it is one ringed by the Waders for Real project in the Avon Valley. Given the poor success of our own birds this year I was just pleased to see a fledged juvenile.

colour-ringed juv lapwing

colour-ringed juv lapwing

Although the juvenile was running around feeding well and could fly very well it was still being defended vigorously by the adult, which spent sometime dive-bombing a family party of Canada geese.

wet lapwing

A rather damp adult lapwing, still watching over the youngster despite having left home.

Other birds around were two wigeon, a drake and a duck, but not together, a black swan, hundreds of swift, similar numbers of house martin (in both cases over 350). The highlight though was a marsh harrier, hunched down in the shelter of the vegetation on one of the islands, looking rather miserable.

30 Days Wild – Day 9 – Fair Play

I was at Roydon’s Wood Fair for most of the day, so I was working, but it was a very enjoyable day and there were lots of people visiting. As usual there were lots of stalls with a general New Forest/Woodland craft theme, so anything from willow weaving to venison rolls via woodcarving and local honey and cider.

Setting up for th eWood Fair

Setting up at the Wood Fair

One of the activities I did was a guided walk, actually just a short stroll into one of the meadows beside the site. There were meadow brown and large skipper butterflies and a Mother Shipton moth, lots of common spotted orchid and, an all too brief flyover sighting of two hawfinch. 

Roydon is a remarkable site, a complex mix of unimproved, flower-rich, damp meadows, heathland and woodland. It also has the virtues we would seek in all conservation sites, large size and linkage to a wildlife-rich wider countryside in the New Forest.

Oak half alive

An oak tree, undoubtedly on its way out, but still wonderful wildlife habitat with deadwood and dense ivy cover.

I also did a session looking at the moth trap catches, despite the catches being rather low there were still crowd pleasers like privet hawk-moth, eyed hawk-moth and buff-tip. I also spotted a hobby flying over as we were looking at them.

It seemed that well over a thousand people came along to the event, in just about perfect weather, pleasantly warm, but not too hot, with a breeze but not too windy. Given the recent weather we have had and what is predicted for the coming week, this was a very good day to have chosen.

30 Days Wild – Day 8

A morning walk at Fishlake Meadows with a Wildlife Trust group got the day off to a good start, although rather windy and eventually curtailed by rain. We were looking at insects and flowers in Ashley Meadow, a part of the reserve that is not normally open to visitors. It has lush wet meadow and fen vegetation including a good population of southern marsh orchid.

Ashley Meadow flowers

Meadow vegetation with southern marsh orchids

Insects were rather few, but we did find larvae of the fleabane tortoise beetle, a few snail-killing flies and hoverflies, before the rain put an end to things. The canal was a little higher after the rain but the yellow water lily were keeping their heads above water well enough.

yellow lilies in Barge Canal

yellow water lily in the Barge Canal

Back at home by lunchtime today as the walk was a morning only event, th esun came out and a quick check soon found the silver-studded blue just about a metre from where I left it yesterday.

silver-studded blue

silver-studded blue

Something hopped onto the grass close by, a grasshopper nymph, the first I have seen in the garden this year, although it is already well grown, so I must have just missed it until now.

field grasshopper nymph

grasshopper nymph, I think of field grasshopper.

As it was World Oceans Day I thought I should go down to the sea, so made a quick trip to Lepe. A steady passage of common tern carrying fish suggests that breeding to the west is going well, so far, I just hope the storm has not flooded out too many nests.

Lepe

The Solent at Lepe

Even though it is June the last twenty-four hours have been decidedly wild, in not such a good way, with unseasonable wind and a fair bit of rain.

A different sort of wild tomorrow as it is the Wood Fair at Roydon Woods and I will be there doing some mini-beats walks and generally enjoying this fabulous site and of course all the exhibits and stalls.

30 Days Wild – Day 7 – Blue out of the Grey

Not perhaps the best day to be wild, but after a long dry spell much of our wildlife will be welcoming the rain. Birds like song thrush and blackbird need worms to rear their young. The snails will welcome some rain as it will deflect the thrush from eating them and enable them to get out and eat my vegetable plants!

However it did not rain all day and in a brief sunny interlude I found a blue butterfly in my mini-meadow and not just any blue, but a male silver-studded blue.

silver-studded blue 4x3

silver-studded blue (male)

To record an odd individual might not seem a great surprise, but I have seen them every year and sometimes several individuals of both sexes. This is a heathland species, renowned for having colonies that are very localised. In fact research has shown that most travel no more than 50m from where they hatch and many only up to 20m. Their flight is quite weak and usually low to the ground, in short they don’t get out much!

When I see them in the garden they are in the mini-meadow, a tiny grassland about 4m x 5m, otherwise the garden has a small lawn and flower borders with a small vegetable patch, no heath at all. What is more I live in the midst of ordinary suburban gardens, across two roads there is the New Forest, but even then it is short turf and conifer plantation. The nearest silver-studded blue colony is relatively close at 750m away, but it seems that this is something like 15 times as far as even an fairly intrepid silver-studded blue would go in a lifetime. To cover this distance would also involve not crossing open heath, but a large conifer plantation, two roads with hedges and a further line of trees. Even stranger the butterflies I see are, like today’s, not well travelled, worn, veterans but freshly emerged and pristine.

Silver-studded blue have remarkable lifestyles, their association with ants is only matched by the large blue. The newly hatched larvae are taken into the nests of one of two species of black ant and only venture out at night to feed on a variety of plants, but on heaths, usually heather or gorse seedlings. The caterpillars secrete a sweet substance beloved by ants, in fact it seems they suffer when it is not removed by ants.

The mystery of why I see them regularly in my garden remains, maybe they do breed in my meadow, but if so they are feeding on bird’s foot trefoil, something the heathland variety does not usually do, although they do so in limestone areas such as on the Great Ormes Head. It would also need there to be the right ants present, something I cannot confirm and it would be in a very atypical habitat, so seems very unlikely.

silver-studded blue closed

Settling before the next rain shower.

If anyone can shed any light on this mystery I would be delighted to hear, I am at a loss to explain why they appear so often so far from their nearest colony.

30 Days Wild – Day 6

The Blashford volunteers were out in force today and we were pulling Himalayan balsam along the Dockens Water, I am delighted to say that we found very little until we got down to the very lowest part of the stream, just where it leave the reserve. All the years of work seem to be paying off. This lower part of the stream is an area where we have been allowing the stream “to do its own thing” a little bit of rewilding, if you like. This has been the approach for over ten years now and all we do in there is clear rubbish washed down the stream and control invasive alien species, such as the balsam. It has developed into an amazing area of habitat.

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Wet woodland along the Dockens Water

We came across a strange patch of red in the stream at one point, I think it is a red alga presumably exploiting some mineral seepage, but I may very well be wrong about that!

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The red stuff!

The reserve was generally quiet, but as I locked up the Tern Hide I noticed a second calendar year Mediterranean gull close to the hide, it had a colour-ring on the left leg and luckily it was showing well enough to read the code.

colour-ringed Med gull

colour-ringed Mediterranean gull

I think it was ringed in Ireland and I will update when I have found out details form the scheme organiser.