Bee-flies, Butterflies and a Good Tern

Another very warm spring day at Blashford today and the air was full of all the sights and sounds of the season. There are now chiffchaff and blackcap singing in many parts of the  reserve and there were reports of a willow warbler singing near the Ivy North hide.

The volunteers were working near the main car park today, where we were buzzed by bees as butterflies floated by. As were headed back for cake, we also saw a bee-fly, it turned out not to be the usual Bombylius major or dark-edged bee-fly, but the much rarer Bombylius discolor  or dotted bee-fly, a new species for the reserve.

And so onto cake, cake is not a rarity at Blashford, less common than biscuits, but not rare. In this case it was to honour the departure of Katherine, an Apprentice Ranger with The New Forest National Park scheme run as part of the Our Past, Our Future Heritage Lottery Project. But it was not for this reason alone, but also to mark the last day of our own Volunteer Trainee, Emily, who also made the cakes, a valuable extra skill. Katherine had spent three months with us and Emily six, remarkable staying power by any standards. In fact Emily has volunteered to stay on, so is not going to be lost to the reserve yet. Katherine has moved on to spend a time with the Forestry Commission team locally.

After cake we headed out to look at the changes to the butterfly transect routes, it was a shame that it was still March, the transect counts don’t start until the 1st April and it is often hard to find many butterflies in the first few weeks. Today they were everywhere and altogether we saw seven species between us. There were lots of peacock, a few brimstone and at least 3 speckled wood, but also singles of comma, small tortoiseshell, red admiral and orange-tip.

red admiral

A rather battered red admiral, probably one that has hibernated here and so is perhaps five or six months old.

Of the seven species five are ones that hibernate as adults, just the speckled wood and orange-tip will have emerged from pupae this spring. There is a small chance that the red admiral was a recent immigrant as they do also arrive from the south each spring, although usually later than this.

A different sort of life form is also in evidence on the reserve at present and I do mean a very different life form, slime mould. These are a bit of a favourite of mine and the one on a log towards the Ivy South hide is certainly living up to the name and is now oozing slime.

slime mould

slime mould, with slime

Locking up at the end of the day there was one last surprise, looking over Ibsley Water I saw a tern amongst the many black-headed gull, not as I expected an early common tern but a very fine sandwich tern, something of a rarity away from the coast.

sandwich tern

Sandwich tern, an unexpected visitor.

 

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Winging It

We had another busy day with the volunteers at Blashford today, preparing the tern rafts for their deployment, probably sometime toward the end of the month. As though in a reminder to me that we needed to get on with this there were 3 common tern outside Tern Hide this morning when I opened up. Otherwise there was little of note, a single drake pochard, at least 4 wigeon and 6 mute swan were the best I could do. My bird of the day, was my first cuckoo of the year, although this was singing somewhere off to the eats on the edge of the New Forest rather than on the reserve.

It was a good day for insects though, the moth trap was much busier than yesterday, new for the year were early tooth striped and frosted green.

frosted green

Frosted green

There were lots of butterflies enjoying the really warm sunshine. In particular I saw lots of peacock, many in pairs like these two I found getting to know one another on the path to the Goosander hide.

pair of peacock

Peacock pair

There were also lots of drone flies and bumble-bees and several bee-flies, all the same species Bombylius major. These bee-flies hover in front of flowers using their long proboscis to drink nectar to fuel their high octane lifestyle. Their wings move incredibly fast and they use a rotating action to maintain the hover, just like humming-birds. The shots below were taken at 1/4000 sec, but still the wing movement is not stopped.

beefly in flight

beefly in flight 2

When I got to the Woodland hide this morning I was struck by the lack of sound, the brambling which have been very noisy recently were quiet and there were very few siskin. I suspected they had gone overnight, however when I locked up there were still at least 3 male and 6 female brambling at the feeders. So I think I was partly correct, recently males have far outnumbered females and it is the noisy males that I hear each morning, so it seems a lot of the males have gone and perhaps a few females have arrived. This is a typical pattern with migrant birds, the males travel ahead of the females to try and get the best territories, with the females following on to arrive once the weather is a bit better and the males established on territories.

 

Upon Reflection

Today was yet another dry, sunny, early spring day, the fourth in a row. Despite the sunshine it was quite fresh, with a cool easterly breeze. Still the sunshine tempted many creatures out into the open. I saw my first grass snake and adder of the year and a peacock butterfly with red admiral also being seen. It was wise to stay out of the wind though and find ways to make the most of the sun’s warmth. The butterflies were staying on the sheltered side of lines of trees but it is possible to do more. It is well known that dark things warm up more and this is why snakes often shelter under dark rocks and why surveyors use roofing felts to attract them in. I saw a number of hoverflies out and about including several Eristalis pertinax.

Eristalis pertinax

They seemed to favour perching on very pale or white surfaces, presumably because they were reflecting the light, although they would not get as warm as a dark surface. I also saw my first large bee-fly of the year and it was also on a pale surface.

bee-fly Bombylius major

Dark insects on very pale surfaces make for difficult photography, but these were the best that I could do.

Many spring flowers are yellow, one of the first in most years is the colt’s foot, although this year the daffodils seem to have beaten it.

colt's foot

The extremely bright yellow is also very hard to capture in a photograph, but I think the yellow flowers of lesser celandine are even more difficult.

lesser celendine

These have shiny, brilliant yellow petals, in some species and perhaps in this also the petals actually concentrate the heat of the sun so that the centre of the flower is heated making it more attractive to pollinating insects. Despite colt’s foot and celandine being attractive to pollinating flies I saw none actually doing so, but then insects still seem to be in short supply, even though many flowers are now in bloom.

In bird news I hear the bittern was seen again yesterday, although not today, but it must surely be due to go soon. On Ibsley Water the Slavonian grebe and both black-necked grebe were seen and the gull roost contained at least on adult ring-billed gull and  a number of Mediterranean gull.