30 Days Wild – Day 11 – Land of Giants

Another great night for moths, as anyone trying to sleep will have noticed, good moth nights tend to be too hot and windless for sleeping.  I caught 31 species in the garden and an impressive 46 at Blashford Lakes. I say impressive, but this is just for these days, catches of 80 or even 100 plus species were more common in days gone by and can still be achieved on the very best night at the best sites. There now seems to be no doubt that moths, along with perhaps all insects, have become less common. This seems to be a gross decline in numbers across the board, rather than a the extinction lost of species, although rarity does precede extinction.

It is very hard to say exactly why insects have declined but I think it is to do with human n=intervention in the environment, perhaps not a single cause but a combination of habitat degradation, nutrient enrichment, habitat fragmentation, chemical use etc. The sum of our many and various impacts on the world around us. I have run traps in more out of the way places where human impact is less obvious and have been impressed by the large number of individuals, even if not species that I have seen. Once in the far west of Ireland I saw several hundred garden tiger moths attracted to a single light trap, it was an extraordinary sight!

A 25 year long study of 63 nature reserve in Germany using a standardised collecting method concluded that flying insects of all types had declined by 75% during the study period, a truly shocking statistic an done that supports the gut feeling of most that look at insects here too. You can find out more on  Naturespot an excellent site that records wildlife across Leicestershire and Rutland.

puss moth

puss moth -one of my favourites from last night’s catch.

Moth traps do not only attract moths and last night at Blashford we caught a giant lacewing, these are really big, at least for lacewings. It is a species found in damp woodland that I have only ever found at a moth light, they must be hiding out there somewhere, but they are not the most obvious creatures when resting.

giant lacewing

giant lacewing

After a morning spent mowing bramble regrowth I was off the Fishlake to do a walk for Trust members. It was very hot in the sunshine and we enjoyed seeing a hobby and hearing a cuckoo.  The cuckoos will very soon be leaving us again, work by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has shown that many of our cuckoos arrive here in mid April and leave by the end of June. How do they know? They have fitted a number of them with satellite tags and you can follow their progress at BTO Cuckoo tracking , it is a fascinating project and well worth a look.

Personally I enjoyed the sight of lots of male banded demoiselle jockeying for the best perches on the yellow water lily flowers along the barge canal.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Back home I had a wander around the edge of the meadow and it struck me that I had not mentioned clovers, perhaps because they are in almost every patch of grassland, even maintained lawns. I have just the two most common species, the red and the white clover, but both are wonderful nectar sources for insects, especially bees. Clovers, like the rest of the pea family to which they belong have the ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, which is why they were used in crop rotations before we had chemical fertilisers to increase the nitrogen content of our soils.

white clover

white clover

I think I will have a quiet night in today, last night I was tramping around a New Forest heath in search of nightjar for a survey being run by the Wildlife Trust. I enjoy a survey as much as the next person, but I confess that when I was crossing from one transect to the next and found that the “path” actually just lead into an uncrossable bog, resulting in the need for a nearly two mile detour, the appeal waned a little. I did find some churring nightjar though and heard a drumming snipe. These are two of the strangest natural sounds to be heard in this country and ones that, if you have not heard them on a dark June night, need to be added to your “Bucket lists”, a proper Wild Experience.

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Nearly the end of the summer holidays – and at last summer is here!

I’m camping with my family again this weekend – nothing too adventurous, just a few miles down the road from home at a campsite in the Forest! Doesn’t matter where it is though, its just being away from home and the kids being able to run riot with the extended family and friends and their families who are all there too. We haven’t had much luck weather wise with our camping this year so I’m looking forward to packing away a DRY tent on Monday!

In the meantime despite all the early signs of autumn (blackberries and blackberry pickers, volunteer Geoff bringing in his windfall apples from home for the birds (and other wildlife!) outside Woodland Hide, late morning dew-laden grass and cobwebs, hirundines gathering in pre-migration flocks, common and green sandpipers on the shore (and even a woodsandpiper outside Tern Hide on Wednesday and Thursday this week), the sun is shining here at Blashford too – and it is bringing out the butterflies again at last too! The volunteers who walk the butterfly transects on a weekly basis have had their best counts for a while, and sightings this week have included clouded yellow and  grayling – my lunch by the pond today was a fiesta of brimstones, green veined white and small tortoiseshell. This female common darter was reasonably obliging too – until it decided that my hand was a better perch!

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Like the butterflies, dragonflies are fairly active again now after a bit of a lull with the poorer weather and there was even a report of a ruddy darter by the pond earlier in the week although the visitor who reported it could not be 100% as it had only been a glimpse, albeit of a very red dragonfly which he was sure was not a common darter, so keep your eyes open for us – ruddy darter are not a common sight on the reserve by any means, although the common darter very much can be in some autumns.

Our volunteers recording reptiles on the northerly transect had a good week this week too – 4 adders, 4 grass snakes and an additional 9 newly “born” juvenile adders, which is great news (unless you don’t like snakes that is, in which case look away now!):

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Three baby adders by one of the survey tins

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Another juvenile adder on the side of the path – please watch where you are walking!

Visitors and photographers continue to gather in Goosander Hide to enjoy and photograph the all too obliging kingfishers, who continue to oblige! With so many eyes on Ibsley Water they’re picking up plenty of other exciting birds too – Sunday and the start of this week had marsh harrier pasing through on several occasions and on Thursday morning Dee was lucky enough to not just see, but photograph, this honey buzzard coming through:

Honey buzzard by Dee Maddams

Honey buzzard over Ibsley Water by Dee Maddams

 

Tracy and I have had another busy week playing (I know, I know, but it really is hard work, honest!).

This weeks Wild Days Out have included a “Wild Challenge” day which went really well and were thoroughly enjoyed by everyone, although sadly bookings were not as great as the other events this summer so it was a privileged few who participated in the fun and testing team activities in the end. They elected to challenge themselves as a girls vs. a boys team and needless to say, it was the boys who won…! Actually that is entirely unfair – the girls took and held an early lead and only just lost out (72 points to the boys 76!) in the very last activity of the day! A good time was had by all, but I think the girls (probably quite rightly!) felt robbed! Haven’t got any pictures to share as there were a number of children for whom we did not have photographic consent, but IO can tell you that the highlights were the natural tinder fire lighting challenge, the “Rapidough” style clay sculpting challenge and the “Kims” game plant identification & memory challenge!

Wednesday was the turn of the younger 5-8 year olds to join us, this week for nothing more complicated than a fairly freeform “wild play day” of firelighting, den building, bug hunting, mud/clay play and “natural painting” with clay, charcoal, chalk and blackberries and a water fight! Just to ramp up the pressure on what otherwise would have been a fairly relaxed day for us as staff “Ofsted” were here to inspect the quality and safety of our provision. We did of course pass with no problems, just a couple of suggested amendments to some of our recruitment procedures, but I have to say I was pleased to when she let me know we had passed and left so I could get on with the more serious business of playing and could relax again!

Bug hunting was very much the order of the day and it was nice to see banded demoiselle as opposed to the beautiful demoiselle we see normally at Blashford alongside the other damselflies and grasshoppers, crickets etc. in the grass. Caterpillars were also very much in evidence, including a “woolly bear” (tiger moth?) caterpillar and this goat moth caterpillar which REALLY fascinated them!

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Not a bug, but equally fascinating was a common shrew (I “tweeted” a picture at the time but I have managed to delete the picture off my phone so can’t share it here sadly!), who was either too hungry to worry about the 6 or so children that were crowded around it at any one time, or too young to know that it was supposed to be afraid and run away! In the end we carefully moved it away from curious eyes (and the fingers that were starting to become inquisitive!) into some long grass and some peace and quiet!

The day finished with an “environmentally responsible” water fight – okay, you can probably never really have a truly environmentally friendly water fight, but a couple of buckets of water and a load of sponges must come pretty close and are so much more “eco” than little rubber balloons or lengthy hosepipe battles… and it was a lot of fun!

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AND FINALLY, in all senses of the word, having started with a mention of my family, I shall finish with my family and specifically my eldest son Toby. AGES ago he took it upon himself to raise some money for Blashford Lakes by making and selling some fairy cakes to our neighbours – all his own idea and all his own work. His collection sat around at home for a while, and then my desk for a while and I have kept meaning to properly acknowledge his contribution and completely failing to do so – until now:

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It isn’t a huge amount in the grand scheme of things, but all donations are always very gratefully received at Blashford Lakes and by the Trust generally, and I know for a fact that this is a pretty reasonable sum to Toby anyway, so Toby, THANK YOU and I’m only sorry I didn’t say thank you sooner!

They were good cakes too 😉

 

 

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 7: Top Tips

Up and out early, relatively early anyway, to do a bird survey at our Linwood reserve this morning. Many species now have fledged young so the trees were full of birds, the highlight was probably a redstart at a probable nest site on the reserve edge.

Then on to Blashford where I was pleased to see the three small lapwing chicks and at least one of the larger ones still surviving along with both oystercatcher youngsters, all from Tern hide. I had to remove a fallen branch from the roof of Ivy North hide, luckily it had not damaged the roof itself, I hope the winds have now abated and we won’t have any more down for a while.

I then went to do some nettle control on the shore of Ibsley Water, we are making great progress removing the large nettle beds and establishing a grassland sward with a good scatter of ox-eye daisy and other flowers. I did have to check first so as to avoid the patches with peacock and small tortoiseshell larvae. The western shore is usually well sheltered from the prevailing winds and so it was today. I saw a fair few meadow brown butterflies and a lot of damselflies and dragonflies including banded demoiselle and three species of chasers, four-spotted, broad-bodied and scarce, all making the most of the windbreak provided by the roadside trees. Scarce chaser used to be very rare but seems to have benefited from climate change and is now more widely seen, it has also   moved from breeding only in rivers and now uses lakes and gravel pits as well.

scarce chaser

scarce chaser

Both the females and recently emerged males look like the one above, but the males develop blue abdomens with age.

At lunchtime I tried out a lure for clearwing moths outside the Centre whilst I ate my lunch. These moths are rarely seen as they do not come to light and are very fast flying. The lures are artificial chemicals that mimic the pheromones produced by female moths. Each species has a unique chemical signal and I tried the one for red-tipped clearwing today and had immediate success!

red-tipped clearwing coming to lure

red-tipped clearwing attracted to a pheromone lure

In a short time I saw perhaps six individuals, with up to three at one time. The lure only attracted them for a few tens of seconds before they seemed to become aware they had been duped. They are very fast and even at a high shutter speed I could still not stop the wing beats. As you can see they do not really look like moths and it would be easy to pass it off as a wasp. Eventually one did land on a nearby bramble allowing me to get a somewhat better picture.

red-tipped clearwing

red-tipped clearwing

Red-tipped clearwing caterpillars feed on willows feeding on stems rather than leaves, most clearwings caterpillars feed by tunnelling into wood and roots, making them even harder to find that the adults. A great bit of “Wild” to go with my lunch!

 

A Bit of the Blues

Still quite a lot of bird song around, although the leaf cover makes seeing them a little tricky. most evident amongst the summer visitors  are blackcap, garden warbler and whitethroat song.

The seeds from the ripe catkins are now very much in evidence, but in among the drifting white downy seeds there are quite large numbers of almost inconspicuous blue damselflies. From the ones I managed to identify there is a mixture of common blue and azure damselflies.  At Blashford I’ve only been  aware that we have these two species, although there might just  be variable damselflies, which do occur on the New Forest. Blue damselflies are a group of insects that many find difficult to separate in the field and in truth they do look very similar.  Just as with birdwatching it helps to know a little about their range and habitat preferences so you can eliminate those species which are unlikely to occur.  To separate the blue and Azure it helps to be aware of  subtle differences in the arrangement of the various coloured parts.  Many field guides make mention of the shape of the black markings on the second segment of the abdomen (tail!) which is ‘club shaped’ on the blue and a ‘U’ shape on the Azure.  Personally I find this quite difficult as they perch with their wings along the body length, which can obscure these markings. My favoured field marks are the thicker blue stripes on the thorax of the common blue and also the double clear blue segments near the tip of the tail. Azure damselflies have one and one half blue segments on the tail.

Common blue damselfly ( Enallagma cyanthigerum)

Common blue damselfly ( Enallagma cyanthigerum)

Note the thick blue stripes, club shape near top of abdomen and blue end to  tail with a faint black line separating equal sized patches of blue.

Azure damselfly (Coenagrion puella)

Azure damselfly (Coenagrion puella)

Thinner blue stripes on thorax, ‘U’ shape mark and unequal sized blue bits on tail end.

All this, of course, applies to the male damselflies. the females are more confusing ( ’twas ever thus !!),  being less conspicuous by  having paler blue colouring and more black markings as in the case of this female common blue.

Female common blue damselfly

Female common blue damselfly

Also ‘on parade’ but proving more elusive to photograph, was a banded demoiselle damselfly, which perched approximately 10 feet up  and partially obscured by leaves – this poor image gives some indication of its stunning metallic lustre.

Banded demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)

Banded demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)

I spent some time today cutting back nettles and brambles around the entrance gates to the reserve, serenaded by blackcap and whitethroat, but otherwise not seeing much wildlife other than a fine male orange-tip butterfly, which failed to stop long enough to have it’s picture taken. More obliging was this speckled wood near the Woodland Hide.

Speckled wood

Speckled wood

Sometimes when wildlife watching you can see the most amazing things – like this mallard walking down an oak tree……

 

'Spider-Duck'??

‘Spider-Duck’??

A sort of duck-down!!!!!

Not really!!  Saw this mallard on fallen oak and couldn’t resist the urge to  turn the image sideways – sorry.

A relatively new addition to the reserve’s equipment is this small sailing boat to be used in some educational activities. Its been carefully tided up and all sharp edges removed before being set in the ground with some holes in the bottom and a soak-away underneath, so that it doesn’t fill with rain, all courtesy of some of our  volunteers, many thanks to them – you know who you are!.

 

Activity boat set into the ground for children.

Activity boat set into the ground for children.

But nature being what it is, it won’t be too long before the boat will be colonised by all sorts of wildlife.  In fact its already starting to happen as it appears there is a ‘piratical teddy’ on board.

Captain Ted

Captain Ted