30 Days Wild – Day 18 (already!)

Quite a rare event today, it rained from the time I arrived at the reserve until I left, admittedly it was not raining much by late afternoon, but still enough to get damp.

a rainy day at Blashford

The moth trap was fairly busy although with few moths of particular note, there was one migrant, which was also one of the smallest moths in the trap, a diamond-backed moth. They migrate here each year, sometimes in mind boggling numbers.

diamond-backed moth

This year has already been quite good for migrant moths with several rare species turning up around the country, although so far, none in any trap that I have run!

There were lots of caddisflies and a single click beetle. This is a species I first knowingly saw only recently at Linwood and like most “new discoveries” when I look them up the books say something like “common and widespread”. Of course once you have seen one you start seeing more, and so it is with this rather smart little beetle.

Denticollis linearis

I grappled with office work all morning, but had to get out in the afternoon. The recent weather has resulted in a growth spurt by vegetation all around the reserve and today’s heavy rain has caused a lot of it to collapse over the paths, loads of work to do in the next few days. I have worked in nature conservation more or less all my working life, you might imagine this is mostly about managing habitat for wildlife, but in reality it is mostly about managing access for people, but trying to do it with proper consideration for nature. Hopefully maximising the opportunity for people to experience nature whilst keeping the chance for wildlife to thrive. Personally I regard this as just good land management, a standard that we should expect to see everywhere, nothing at all special. Some places will have more people and some more wildlife, but the idea sometimes put around that there is no need to consider nature in, for instance a park, because it is for people and okay because nature can live on nature reserves, seems to me ludicrous. People need nature and nature should be everywhere in all its variety and abundance.

My afternoon walk was decidedly damp, but it was interesting to see a few of the plants adapted to life in environments where freshwater is short looked in the rain. Hare’s foot clover often grows on dry seawalls or gravels, where they can withstand extremely dry conditions.

hare’s foot clover

The hairy leaves and flowerheads all had huge water droplets, presumably an adaptation to enable it to gather as much water as possible when it is available and channel it towards the plant base, it would work with mist or dew as well as rain. We have a good population of the typically coastal annual beard grass, a species that is able to grow in places wet in winter but very dry in summer.

annual beard grass

30 Days Wild – Day 16

Another very warm night and the moths are still improving in numbers, but still feel well down on what I would have expected. Probably the pick of the moths for attractiveness was a very fresh peach blossom.

peach blossom

When it is very warm the moths will fly very easily as they are at an active temperature, rather than having to warm up first, so I had to photograph most of them when they were inside the trap, hence the rather less than flattering background of the next two. The phoenix has disruptive patterning and rests with its abdomen arched upward, a bit like a leaf stalk.


In terms of rarity, or at least scarcity, the best of the catch was a great oak beauty. This is now quite restricted in range as it frequents large, old oak woods, unsurprisingly the New Forest is one of its UK strongholds.

great oak beauty

When I opened up the car parks this morning I spotted a couple of pyramidal orchids growing on the very edge of the concrete.

pyramidal orchid

Car park edges can provide unusual habitats, with broken concrete and gravel providing habitat for perhaps surprising species. As well as the orchids there are several patches of biting stonecrop, a plant typically found on coastal shingle.

biting stonecrop

A fait bit of time today was spent in meetings and various odd jobs. One was trying to restore the non-slip surface to the pond boardwalk, a rather laborious task but being beside the pond had compensations, one of which was finding this newly emerged black-tailed skimmer.

black-tailed skimmer

30 Days Wild – Day 15

Another warm day spent mostly applying wood treatment to the bird hides, not the most pleasant of jobs, but we need to eke out as many years as possible from the hides. Most are in their mid-teens now and will not last forever and whilst funds for capital projects like initially installing a hide can be obtained, with a bit of luck, replacing them tends to be a lot more difficult. We tried to stay out of the full sun as much as possible and so retreated from Lapwing Hide, which is very exposed, at lunchtime and went to Woodland Hide, which is more shady for the afternoon. The sun did bring out the first marbled white and meadow brown of the year on the reserve, the latter decidedly later than normal.

On our way back for lunch we passed through the still inaccessible path through the old concrete plant. We have overseen the restoration of this area with the view of getting it added to the reserve, but it has been difficult as the “soil” is mostly crushed concrete and hardcore stone. At least it is not nutrient rich, which in the long run should mean we get a much more diverse flora, but it makes establishment a slow process. We have done some seeding and a little planting, some of which has been protected from deer by fencing, the effect is dramatic.

The sun had brought out the dragon and damselflies again and the pond by the Centre was alive with egg-laying groups of azure damselflies.

egg-laying azure damselflies

It has been a good year for four-spotted chasers on the reserve, this is a common species in pools on the New Forest but often scarce on the reserve, so it is good to see them regularly.

four-spotted chaser

I posted a scarce blue-tailed damselfly the other day, so here is its common counterpart found on the reserve today.

common blue-tailed damselfly

All the dragon and damselflies have aquatic larvae, their nymphs having to avoid getting eaten by other larger nymphs, water beetles and fish for about a year or more if they are ever to fly. to survive many will need to find lots of dense water plants to hide out in. The silt pond on the way to Ivy South Hide is ideal and it has a large population of the semi-emergent water plant, water soldier. It has arrived here, probably from a garden pond, as it is not native in this part of the country, although it is a native plant in the UK.

water soldier

I will end Day 15 with one of the most spectacular plants of the season, the foxglove, this one was beside the path toward Ivy South Hide.


30 Days Wild – Day 13

Another hot day, so decided to avoid the New Forest and the coast and head inland up the Test Valley. We stopped for a picnic just south of Stockbridge and watched beautiful and banded demoiselle chasing up and down a chalk tributary. The males do wing-flick displays from prominent perches on their home stretch of stream.

banded demnoiselle

It was then on up to Broughton Down once again, very hot on top of the Down and it was noticeable that there were fewer blue butterflies than last week, perhaps they were all seeking shade. The extra week had brought the fragrant orchids into flower, in all their different shades.

fragrant orchid

In the heat the butterflies that were out were very active, so I was quiet pleased to get this small blue which briefly settled.

small blue

Over the last week the dark green fritillaries have started to emerge, all far to fast for a picture though. I did manage to get a small copper, one species I did not see last week.

small copper

Sainfoin grows on the top of the Down, probably as a left over from fodder crops rather than a true native as these were tall plants, very handsome though. As I was looking at the plants I disturbed a wood tiger moth, not a species I see very often, they fly in sunshine and this one was not going to show itself properly so I had to settle for a hidden shot.

wood tiger moth

Back at home I found a common frog hiding behind the fern pots when I watered them, always good to see in the garden.

The day ended with a flying display by stag beetles, I had at least five in the air at once over the house roof and there were more clattering away in the grass. I see them every year but don’t think I have ever seen so many at once.

30 Days Wild – Day 12

I had to wait in for a delivery today so made the most of the moth trapping by running two last night. Not a huge number of moths, but a good variety. The picture here has privet hawk-moth, a common chafer beetle and maiden’s blush.

I have a starling nest box on my house and they are currently feeding their second brood, which should fledge any day now.

Starling at nestbox

Sometimes they will fly directly to the box, at others they will stop on the fence on their way in or out on.

Adult starling with beetles

They return every minute or so and when they stop, if I am quick, I can see some of what they are bringing as food for the chicks. This beakful is beetles, I think a small species of dung beetle. Once or twice a fledged juvenile also came onto the fence, perhaps one of the first brood still around.

Juvenile starling

Although I have never seen them approach the nestbox, the bird that really seems to bother the starlings is magpie. Whenever they see one there is a lot of alarm calling and the adults will not come to the box. So when the magpies come to the pond for a drink there is a good bit of commotion.

Magpie feeling thirsty

One of the most frequent birds in my garden is the woodpigeon, I confess not a favourite of mine.


Although they are rather smart birds to look at and clearly very successful.

woodpigeon close-up

I did go out for a short walk later in the afternoon to visit an area of bog close to home that I check from time to time for dragonflies and other insects. I have often thought it looks just right for scarce blue-tailed damselfly, a species I have rarely seen in Britain, but until today I had never managed to find one there. It is similar to the common blue-tailed but the blue “tail-light” is one segment further toward the tail end.

scarce blue-tailed damselfly

In fact I saw only one damselfly and also just one dragonfly, that was a recently emerged keeled skimmer.

keeled skimmer

The bog has a good flora too, including a great population of bog asphodel, although it is only just starting to come into flower.

bog asphode

I will finish with some much maligned and often overlooked creatures, aphids. I found these on a wild rose in my front hedge, several different stages, I think all of the same species, although I don’t know which one!

They feed by sucking the plant with piercing mouthparts. The females can reproduce parthenogenically as well as sexually and the young are born rather than hatched from eggs like most insects. The males are winged and can fly huge distances once they get carried up high in the air. They form, a significant part of the aerial plankton fed on by swifts, swallows and martins.

30 Days Wild – Day 11

I undertook a bit of a back garden safari on Day 11. The wildlife in my garden is concentrated in our meadow patch, an area of about 4m by 5m which was a traditional lawn a few years ago.

garden mini-meadow

At this time of year the ox-eye daisy is the most obvious plant in flower, but for sheer number the lesser stitchwort would win, others are cat’s ear, buttercups and bloody cranesbill. Some years ago I scattered a little seed of grass vetchling, but had never seen any come up, so I was surprised to find a few in flower. As is often the way once I had seen these few, I spotted several more, evidently it had grown but I had just missed it.

grass vetchling flower

A key species in most meadows is yellow rattle, it is a partial parasite, often of grasses and reducing the vigour of the grass is key to establishing lots of other species. My yellow rattle has not germinated as well as usual this year, but I still have a good few in flower now.

yellow rattle

My local grasslands, where not heavily improved, have lots of corky-fruited water dropwort and I was keen to get it growing in my garden, so I grew a few from seed and now have several well established plants that are seeding for themselves.

Swollen thighed beetle on corky-fruited water dropwort flower

The meadow attracts lots of insects and the addition of a tiny pond has expanded the list of species significantly. Water attracts damselflies and we have several of the common species now including the large red damselfly, typically the first to emerge.

large red damselfly

I did venture out for a bit in the afternoon for a short walk in the New Forest. Shortly after leaving the car I was surprised to hear a nightjar churring, they don’t often do this in broad daylight, although I have heard them do so before. Soon after I came across a newly fledged brood of redstart, one of the special birds of the Forest.


juvenile redstart

On the open heaths the heath spotted orchid are starting to flower, similar to the common spotted orchid, but typically shorter and overall a smaller plant, they can be very abundant especially on the slightly damper heaths.


heath spotted orchid

In some of the wetter hollows on the heaths that are now drying again after May’s rain there are patches of the once very rare, coral necklace, it seems to be increasing, although still restricted to these seasonal pools and larger puddles.


coral necklace

30 Days Wild – Day 10

A third the way through June already! After looking for, and not finding, bee orchids the other day I am suddenly seeing them with ease, I suppose I was just not noticing them in bud. We have a lot of grassland around the lakes, perhaps surprisingly most of it dry grassland. Almost all of it is very nutrient poor, which sounds bad, but is actually good if you want a good mixture of plants. Nutrient rich habitats tend to get dominated by tall grasses and hungry herbs like nettles and hogweed, meaning smaller species don’t get a look in. Some years ago the old concrete plant was demolished and we undertook the restoration of the area including the old main entrance roadway. It has taken time but it is now well colonised by lots of plants and will only go on getting better.

Nutrient poor grass with ox eye daisy, bird’s foot trefoil and lesser stitchwort

The banks along the track are where most of the soil was piled up and it has a growth of bramble and some very fine dog rose.

dog rose

The extreme of dry, nutrient poor habitat would be something like the gravel outside the Centre, it is hard to imagine anything growing there when you think about it, almost nothing that could be described as soil and any water flows away almost a soon as it falls. But look closely and there are all sorts of plants. I am no botonist, so some of my identifications might be awry but I think we have the following:

procumbent pearlwort

shepherd’s purse – named because the seed pods are supposed to look like a shepherd’s purse.

buck’s horn plantain

Another buck’s horn plantain, trying to confuse me by looking quite a lot different from the first

fern grass Catapodium rigidum

There are a good few more too, but I think that is enough low growing tiny plants in gravel for now!

Although it is often thought that orchids are plants of old grasslands, actually they are good colonists of new habitats and their ultra-tiny seeds can be carried a long way on the wind. They are almost all plants of nutrient poor sites, I have already mentioned that we have good numbers of bee orchids, but we have several other of the commoner species too, including the common spotted orchid, this was the first one I have seen with open flowers so far this year.

common spotted orchid

30 Days Wild – Day 9

The moth trap this morning did not have a lot of moths, although there was the first large yellow underwing of the year, this is one of the commonest moths in the trap throughout late summer and the autumn.

As well as a couple of common chafer beetles there was also a great diving beetle in the trap.

Diving beetles can fly between ponds and do so a lot as anyone who has made a garden pond will know, they can attract beetles with in hours. Fish are not so mobile, although they are often said to get moved as eggs attached to the legs of ducks there is rather little evidence for this. Overwhelmingly they are moved by people or move between sites during flood events. Two common species in the lakes on the reserve are rudd and perch, both in the picture below.

two rudd and a perch

Fish are prey for some birds such as kingfisher and heron, but also predators, taking smaller fish and lots of insects. So the larval stages of dragonflies, although voracious predators themselves have to be skilled at avoiding fish throughout their nymphal stage. So it is perhaps a surprise that so many dragon and damselflies survive to adulthood. Today I added another species to this years list when I saw my first scarce chaser of the year.

scarce chaser

Scarce chaser used to be a rare species of larger rivers, but in recent years it has spread and now exploits standing waters as well, just like the commoner broad-bodied chaser, although that specie soften uses small ponds too.

broad-bodied chaser

I had been wondering where out bee orchids had got to, with lots of pictures of them flowering elsewhere I wondered if we had lost ours, but no, they were just a bit later coming into flower.

30 Days Wild – Day 8

The volunteers were in today and we spent the morning putting up some new fencing and the afternoon working on the hides to get them in shape for reopening. Along the way we saw a few butterflies and loads of damselflies, the first species of the year, sometimes appearing in late March, is the large red damselfly and there are still lots on the wing.

large red damselfly

A few warm days have made a real difference to the insects and there are a good few hoverflies out now, it has been a bit of a long wait for them this year. There are several wetland specialist species, one such is Anasimyia transfuga, seen today at the Centre pond.

Anasimyia transfuga

There are a lot of species of generally black hoverflies, almost all of them in the large genus Cheilosia, their similarity and number often make identification a bit time consuming, but I think this one, also on water dropwort, is Cheilosia variablis.

Cheilosia variablis

A lot of the insects around the pond can be seen on the hemlock water dropwort or yellow iris. The iris are especially favoured by the various species of reed beetles, all of which seem to look very similar, so I am not going to commit to which one these are.

reed beetles

30 Days Wild – Day 5 (The Blues and more)

I was not working on Saturday and, as the sun was shining I wanted to go out, but at the end of half-term week where should I go? The New Forest would be busy, so I headed up onto the chalk, to Broughton Down, which turned out the be a good decision. It was alive with butterflies and especially with blues. Most frequent were common blue.


There were also rather fewer Adonis blue, you can tell the difference by the little black lines that go through the white wing outline.


A scatter of small blue gave me the run-around and it took a while to get any sort of picture of one.


Although not actually blue, the brown argus is closely related to the common blue, in fact small female common blue can easily be confused with it.


The last of the day’s blues was the holly blue, there were several females egg-laying on dogwood around the reserve.


Not all the butterflies were blues, although almost all were small and often difficult to keep up with. I find green hairstreak especially difficult to find and follow, their erratic flight and green colouration mean they seem to just disappear. So I was pleased when this one landed right beside me, even if a bit of milkwort was rather in the way.


Other small fast butterflies are available and skippers are certainly in this category, I saw both bare ground specialist skippers in good numbers, high on the down there were dingy skipper.


Whilst in the valley there were several grizzled skipper.


Other butterflies were rather few, with only brimstone frequent, a few speckled wood, green-veined white and a couple of rather late orange-tip finished off the list for the day.


Not all insects are butterflies of course, there were quite a few green pot beetle.

Hoverflies were not abundant, despite the sunshine but I did see a Sceava pyrastri, typically a migrant species to the UK.


Quiet a spectacular resident species typical of species rich grassland is Chrysotoxum festivum.


I had hoped to be able to identify the rather brightly marked craneflies that were quiet abundant, I even got a fair picture of it, but it turns out there are several very, very similar species and a picture is just not enough.


All of the species so far were ones I had seen before, but when I sat down for a drink I noticed several tiny moths on the germander speedwell flowers, these turned out to be Cauchas fibulella, whose caterpillars feed on…. germander speedwell!

A pretty good Wild Day on a great site, I will be back.