Out with the volunteers again today continuing with work to prepare the grassland around Ibsley Water for grazing again, we have replaced a few hundred metres of fence and tidied up some of the old fence lines. With no grazing possible last year and recent rain, the grass is as long as I have seen it, although this makes it very popular with marbled white, which like a longer sward than most other species. It was also interesting to revisit parts of the reserve I rarely get to. This may sound odd as I work on site, but some areas are very difficult to get to without causing a lot of disturbance to the wildlife so we only go there when there is work to be done. One such is towards the northern end of Ibsley Water where we did some work laying over willows last year to give more cover along the shore, it looks really good now.
The main wildlife excitement of the day came from the moth trap, which contained two species previously unrecorded on the reserve and both were new to me. One was tiny, so easily overlooked Cosmopterix scribaiella is a recent colonist of the UK and still quiet local, the larvae mine the leaves of common reed, so it has plenty of habitat.
The other was not so easily overlooked as it was a “macro-moth”, an olive crescent. This was for many years a very rare species with perhaps just a couple of local colonies in the UK, however in the last few years it has increased and now seems to be locally established in oak woods in S. England, probably benefiting from climate change.
More rain! We had 30mm overnight, but at this time of year this means it is worth checking for migrating birds that might have been forced down by the rain. Believe it or not autumn migration has already started. Many cuckoos will have headed south and lots of high Arctic waders are on the move, These will be either birds that have failed in their breeding attempt and have no time to try again or species where only one parent rears the chicks. One of these is red-necked phalarope, the female can lay eggs in more than one nest and these are then incubated and the chicks reared entirely by the male. All the same finding a female red-necked phalarope on Ibsley Water when I opened up was a treat, sadly too far away for a picture and it seems it did not stay beyond mid-morning.
The moth trap had few moths of note but this little micro moth was rather smart. Unfortunately a lot of these tiny moths cannot be identified reliably to species without dissection, so Genus will have to do.
Also in the trap was a small and rather strange fly, I think some sort of midge, but I have no idea, it seemed almost translucent.
The sun did come out for a while and I got out to do some fencing work, it was good to see a fair few butterflies, mainly meadow brown and marbled white but including a small tortoiseshell.
Since I collected some eggs from a female that I reared form larvae I had last year, my emperor moth caterpillars have been growing. I have let most go , as I had hundreds at one point and now have about 15 or so. As they grow they change colour an dare now looking their best.
Looking ahead the next few days look poor with rain for at least part of every day, so a sunny morning presented an opportunity to get out and the call of the Downs won over again, this time it was Martin Down. Martin Down is the largest intact downland area in Hampshire and home to significant populations of corn bunting, yellowhammer, greypartridge and turtle dove. It is also now a the heart of the Martin Down Farm Cluster, this is a group of farms that have come together to improve their farms for all of the above species and many more downland specialists. Big though Martin Down is it cannot support viable populations of many species in the long term, so sympathetic management of neighbouring land is essential.
I spent most of my time in the Kitts Grave area, not the classic open grassland downland, but a mosaic of grassland and scrub. Martin Down is a National Nature Reserve and managed by Natural England, Kitts Grave is part of the reserve but is owned by the Wildlife Trust, so I occasionally get to go there in a work capacity as well. The whole reserve is famous for its butterflies and although the day was not completely sunny they were out in some force.
There were quiet good numbers of marbled white and meadow brown, but most of the blues were looking quite battered by recent weather. The rain does make for lost of growth though, ideal for growing caterpillars, so long as it is not too heavy.
I did not restrict myself to butterflies as there are so many more insects to look at. Over the last few years the downland villa, Villa cingulata has turned up at lots of new sites, probably benefiting from climate change. I narrowly missed out of finding the first for Hampshire, when I found one at Old Winchester a few years ago as there had been one seen a short while before near Winchester, so mine was the second. I have since seen them at Martin Down and Noar Hill, so they are widespread across the county now.
This is one of the bee-flies and they scatter their eggs around the nesting areas of solitary bees, the larvae then live as parasites in the nests, so they have probably spread along with an increase their bee hosts.
As well as butterflies there are lots of day-flying moths too, the most striking of which are the burnets moths. There are several species, I am pretty sure this is the narrow-bordered five-spot burnet.
As well as butterflies, moths and flies there were also lots of bees and beetles. This large longhorn beetle was one that stayed still for a picture.
Rather smaller was a tumbling flower beetle, I am not certain of the species yet, but I am pretty sure it is Variimorda villosa as species of ancient broadleaved woodland, so perhaps a surprise to see it on a downland site. However this is one of the delights of Kitts Grave, where the downland merges into a block of ancient woodland.
Species rich habitats are not single entities downland needs to merge into other habitats to be great downland, woodland needs glades and transitions to grassland and scrub, this is what landscape scale conservation is about. Conservation of little islands of “pure” habitat has not long-term future, yet this is what we have largely been left with as nature reserves. Martin Down is huge for a nature reserve at about 350ha, but it is surrounded by 1000s of hectares of mainly arable farmland, unless some of the wildlife can find a way to live alongside modern agriculture it will eventually be lost. This is where the Farm Clusters come in, sympathetic management of field margins can give space for wide ranging species like turtle doves and corridors for smaller species to expand out into the wider countryside, perhaps to recolonise smaller isolated habitat islands. With luck species like yellowhammer, which were almost ubiquitous in farm hedges across the country will find a way back and a “little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese” will mean something again.
The moth trap was surprisingly quite for such a muggy night, perhaps the recent poor weather means there are just not many moths flying. I posted a plume moth the other day and mentioned their odd wings, although the one I showed had wings folded, here is a white plume moth showing the wing structure.
A new moth for the year was a festoon, a moth of oak woods that is surprisingly scarce at Blashford.
After drizzle early the day brightened and the dragonflies came out, this male scarce chaser was by the Education Centre pond at lunchtime.
It was a day of odd jobs either in the office or out on the reserve and after a bit of path trimming and making a new Hampshire gate, I was off to Fishlake Meadows for the first time in a while. This is a fabulous site, a wetland that has established itself on former arable farmland when the pumps which kept it dry were turned off. Not only is it an amazing bit of habitat but it is more or less in the town of Romsey, or at least a short walk for most of the town’s residents. It has an osprey more or less resident for the summer, marsh harrier, hobby and red kite regularly flying over and warblers in abundance.
I saw juvenile warblers all over the place with blackcap, whitethroat, sedge and reed warbler and lots of Cetti’s warbler.
There has also been a pair of stonechat breeding this year and I found one of the juveniles preening in a small bush beside the path.
The real joy of the place is the extensive shallow water and fen vegetation it has developed, this is what supports all the insects that in turn support many of the birds. Lots of teh marsh and fen plants have “frothy” flowers and none more so than meadow sweet.
Running it pretty close though is meadow-rue, something of a specialist in more alkaline wet areas than the less fussy meadow sweet.
Lots of flowers attract lost of insects and I found another chafer beetle, I think my third species of the #30DaysWild this year.
When I got home the sun was still out and I took a quick look in the garden mini-meadow and found a meadow brown, I like to think it was born and bred in our meadow, but even if it has flown in, it is making a home in our meadow.
Rather rarer in gardens, although not in ours as we have a colony close by, is silver-studded blue, this was the first in the garden this year and unlikely to have been reared here.
Working with the Blashford volunteers again today, this time a little ragwort control, but not too much, fencing checks before the ponies arrive and a count of the bee orchids along the way. We found over 60, which is a good number for this part of the reserve and a very variable lot they were too.
The last one looks like a toy duck with a tiny gosling on its head! (or at least it does to me).
Back at the Centre for lunch I noticed the dark mullein is now in flower so went to look for some mullein moth caterpillars, did not find any but got this close up image of one of the flowers.
I had a quick look on the lichen heath near the Pound afterwards when I went to collect parts of one of the rafts that had collapsed after I had been unable to get it in last autumn. These dry, sandy habitats have a whole suite of species that specialise in living on them and coping with the difficult conditions. One of these is the small velvet ant, actually a wingless wasp that parasitises other wasp species that make nest tunnels in the sand.
Another specialist of sandy habitats is the chafer beetle Anomala dubia, one I had not seen before.
We are now firmly into horsefly season and today’s humidity was ideal for them. Many species of the Tabanidae have amazingly patterned and coloured eyes. only the females bite, luckily this Chrysops caecutiens.
A day off so went out for a couple of short walks. The first was on the coast at an ex industrial site now long since colonised by nature and lots of it. There were meadow brown, marbled white and my fist small skipper of the year flying over a flowery grassland interspersed with belts of magnificent scrub. I failed to get any pictures of the butterflies but did manage this which is probably a heath sand wasp.
Later in the day I went out on the Forest walking round Shatterford area. Lots of stonechat, singing woodlark, one of my favourites, melodic and melancholy, and what may be my last cuckoo of the year. Coming back to the car as the sun was going down the cotton grass was looking very fine indeed.
Although it can get very busy at times the New Forest is a magnificent area, it is not so much that it gets too many visitors, that is a hard judgement to make, but it gets too many who perhaps don’t see it for the wonder it is. There are lots of competing claims of the Forest resources and everyone feels entitled to “Their share”. However I think this is to look at things the wrong way, the Forest is not something to portion out and consume, we should not be using it up. Everyone who uses the Forest has an impact upon it, we all need recognise this and try to make it as small as possible, ideally so small it cannot be noticed, access with responsibility. Obviously the same goes for all our countryside and in fact everywhere we share, but somehow these issues become more obvious in a National Park setting.
A busy Tuesday working with Blashford’s volunteers doing path clearance all around the reserve. At this time of year, especially when we get heavy rain, the paths can easily get drooping nettle, bramble or long grass leaning in from both sides and meeting in the middle. Cutting back is done to the minimum needed to keep the path open and we only cut back this season’s growth, especially as we are still in the nesting season, larger scale cutting is needed from time to time, but this is always done in the winter. The only exception is if we get a tree is a danger to our visitors, as is sadly the case with some of our ash trees, many of which have had to be felled in the last couple of years.
I did run the moth trap, but there were precious few moths to show for it, there was one new species for this year, a common plume moth. These tiny moths have wings divided into many thin, feather-like elements, these are folded together at rest so the wings are as narrow as the body and a very unmoth like appearance..
The longest day, and it certainly felt like it, but then it also felt like February, rain all day and a maximum temperature of 12C. I did get out to do some more path cutting, in a fleece and waterproofs. Wildlife was a bit thin on the ground, or perhaps just keeping a low profile. The cold and rain had brought in a lot of desperate swifts and martins looking for any insects they could find low over Ibsley Water. There are few wildfowl around at present, although there was little variety today provided by a goosander and a black swan.
I did run the moth trap overnight, there were actually quiet a few moths, all things considered, my favourite was one of the smallest, a Tortrix moth with the rather splendid name Pseudargyrotoza conwagana.
The other thing that caught my eye was a rather intimidating looking fly, it was not large, but still looked like it could give me a good bite if I let it, I confess to having no idea what it is.
Days start getting shorter from now on, but let’s hope there will be some summer still to come, I could do without winter starting before the end of June.
I was doing a live moth trap opening event for the Trust’s Wilder Weekend, unfortunately the conditions overnight were not great for moths, so filling an hour was a bit of a challenge! The trap may not have had many moths, but there were lost of small ones flying in my mini-meadow this afternoon, most of them “grass moths” like this Crambus pascuella.
Despite the sunshine I saw only one butterfly, at first I though it was a male common blue, but it was actually a female. Typically the females are mostly brown, but this one was one of the blue form, not quiet as blue as a male.
The most exciting find was a male scarce blue-tailed damselfly, I saw my first for several years in the New Forest only a few days ago and now here was one in the garden!
Shortly after taking this picture I spotted a female as well! Not so scarce after all.
I have been experimenting with a new macro lens and tried a few close up images of some of the meadow plants, here is a field scabious in bud.
And here is Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon, gone to seed, surely the best of all seed “clocks”.
Whilst searching for things to take picture so I found this tiny meadow grasshopper nymph.
I went for a short walk out on the Forest in the late afternoon, the bog asphodel is now in flower and the recent rain has topped up some of the bog pools.
By one of the wet patches I found a large cranefly with patterned wings, I later identified it as Pedisia rivosa, a fairly frequent species around wetlands across much of the country.
I don’t often work on a Saturday, it is usually one of Jim’s days, but today I was at Blashford along with several volunteers and very few visitors. There was a live streamed event as part of the Trust’s Wilder Weekend, Craig put on a great show doing a virtual pond dip. Tomorrow I am doing a live moth trap opening unfortunately the forecast is not good for moths overnight, cool with rain and quite breezy. Last night was not great either and the trap was quiet this morning, but there were a couple of rather nice micro moths. Taleporia tubulosa is a little unusual, only the males have wings and the larva lives in a long case rather like a caddisfly. it also eats a variety of things from lichen, to insects via dead leaves, not typical caterpillar food.
A second tiny moth I have identified as Pammene argyrana, although this may not be correct as I find these small ones tricky. Like a lot of the tiny moths, you can only really appreciate them when they are magnified, something that is much easier to achieve easily now that digital photography is here.
I worry that there will be very few moths tomorrow, especially if we get prolonged rain, but we will just have to go with what we are given, looking for insects is always a rather uncertain business.
Today was generally cool and overcast so not a day to look for dragonflies, unless of course you find one that has just emerged, as we did beside the pond at the Centre, I think it is an emperor, I guess it emerged early in the morning hoping for sunshine to dry off and harden the exoskeleton before flying off, unfortunately it chose the wrong day.
After yesterday’s rain I spent a good bit of time today cutting back fallen vegetation from the path sides. We try to keep all our paths to a standard that will take an electric buggy or pushchair to maximise access to the reserve. If you are going to have good access it is an advantage if it is to areas that are varied and interesting. Blashford does have a lot of varied habitats, but there are still areas that rather uniform, such as the old silt ponds. As these dried out they were colonised by willows, over time they grew, all the same age and close together forming a jungle of stems with very little foliage at the top. Over the years we have been clearing areas to make rides, the wetter parts have become reedbed and we tried coppicing to create some thickets. This last did not work as the deer browsed off the new growth, so we tried pollarding, which worked but did not give us low thicket stage vegetation. To achieve this we have had to resort to laying the trees over, cutting most of the way through the stems, so they still grow. This is not enough though, as the deer will still ate off the new growth, so we have to pile branches over the stems or lay another willow onto the first and so on with each protecting the last and it does work.