30 Days Wild – Day 14 – Concrete to Orchids

Blashford’s brilliant volunteers were working hard again, this time on a project to produce a grassland on the former concrete block plant entrance. This is a project with a lot of difficulties, the site was abandoned fro three years and much of it got overgrown with bramble. The old hard standings and buildings were broken up leaving a mix of rubble, gavel and a very little soil. This might sound a bad start for a grassland, but it actually has potential, the most diverse grassland habitats are those with very poor soils and this area has a very, very poor soil. From this poor beginning we are making real progress, the old tarmac entrance now has flowering ox-eye daisy and bird’s-foot-trefoil and this is in just the second season since seeding. Perhaps most remarkably as we headed back for a cup of tea we found a flowering bee orchid!

bee orchid on Hanson entrance track

bee orchid growing on old entrance road

I suspect it may have come not as a seed but as a small plant along when some of the soil was being moved around, but clearly it is doing well. When I returned in the afternoon to do some more mowing of bramble regrowth I came across a pyramidal orchid on the bank that used to edge the road. The soil there was not so disturbed, so I would guess it had arrived some time ago.

pyramidal orchid

pyramidal orchid

Although the day had started drizzly it dried up, as it always does on a Thursday morning, famously it never rains during our Thursday volunteer sessions, whatever the forecast might say.

By afternoon it was hot in the sunshine and as I ate lunch I saw lots of insects. On bramble flower behind the Education Centre I found a yellow-and-black longhorn beetle.

yellow-and-black longhorn beetle

yellow-and-black longhorn beetle

I also saw several dark bush cricket nymphs.

dark bush cricket nymph

dark bush cricket nymph

What’s in My Meadow Today?

The wild carrot that I featured before the flowers open a while back is now in full flower and attracting insects.

dronefly on wild carrot

dronefly on wild carrot

There are several species of dronefly, all named for their similarity to male honey-bees. I think this one is Eristalis pertinax, but actually might be E. nemorum as it looks a little bright to be pertinax.

The reason for my late post of this time is that I was out again last night surveying nightjar. I heard possibly one that moved about or up to three, unfortunately I could never hear two at the same time, so I cannot say with certainty that there was more than one.

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30 Days Wild – Day 13 – A Swarm of Bees

Out early this morning, or fairly early at least, to get in a breeding bird survey at one of our smaller reserves before work. Most of the birds were unremarkable, the typical birds of a New Forest wood, but I did get a calling crossbill in a willow tree, probably a dispersing bird that had just stopped for a rest and a hawfinch. I have long thought hawfinch could be at this site but had never previously recorded one there. I have failed to find redstart this year though and it is my impression that there are not so many  in the Forest generally this summer.

Then to was off to Blashford, where I had run two light traps overnight. Despite this the rather cooler, clearer conditions meant that the catch was considerably lower than yesterday. There was a clear highlight though, a blotched emerald, not a rare species but one I don’t see every year. The various green moths fade very quickly and so catching a fresh, near perfect individual is a treat.

blotched emerald

blotched emerald (male)

Although it was trapped in the office rather than in the trap the tiny moth that Tracy spotted was the emerald’s only competition for the title of “Moth of the Day”.

Ypsolopha sequella

                     Ypsolopha sequella           

This striking little moth has caterpillars that feed on field maple and sycamore, it is not rare but I don’t see them very often. To take the picture I moved it from the window to  rather more photogenic surroundings.

I spent the day split between mowing and desk work. I started work in conservation many years ago, at that time if you managed a nature reserve a desk was considered a decidedly optional extra. The day ended with a trip out on the water to visit the Gull Island to ring some black-headed gull chicks. We have been putting colour-rings on a sample each year for a number of seasons now. This evening we ringed 24 birds in about 45 minutes on the island. The trips need to be carefully planned for days that are not too windy, cool or damp and each visit needs to be short so as not to expose the nests to risk of cooling too much. The results of previous years have seen the chicks heading off, mainly south and west, sometimes very quickly, one made it to Somerset within two weeks and it could not even fly when it was ringed! Others have gone to the Newport Wetlands Centre in Wales, Nimmo’s Pier in Galway, Ireland and across the channel to France.

As I was transporting the boat to get us out to the island I noticed a groups of bee orchid, so on the way back I stopped to look at them. Although there were only about fifteen of them there was a great variation in the flowers.

bee orchid 2

A fairly typical bee orchid flower

bee orchid 3

A slightly oddly shaped flower

bee orchid 1

Paler and more elongate

bee orchid 4

With very pale flowers

bee orchid 5

The best marked and brightest one

An extraordinary variation in a small population, even for a variable species.

What’s in My Meadow Today? 

I have quiet a few cowslip in the meadow and they flowered well this spring and they will shortly be seeding, so I will probably have a good few more in the next few years. It is easy enough to plant things into a created meadow, what is probably the best test is which species establish and then start to set their own seedlings.

cowslip seedhead

cowslip seedhead

30 days Wild – Day 10 –

I had the best moth catches of the year so far both at home, where the pick was a privet hawk-moth and at Blashford where honours were shared between a small elephant hawk-moth and a scarce merveille du jour.

scarce merveille du jour

scarce merveille du jour

The day was warm, although not always sunny, but it was warm enough for damselflies and dragonflies to be flying. The small blue damselflies so far have mostly been azure, but the numbers of common blue seem to be increasing and both can get very abundant at Blashford in good years.

common blue damselfly

common blue damselfly (male)

I had some mowing to do in the morning in an area where we are trying to establish a grassland and prevent the encroachment of bramble, we are getting there, but it takes time. Cutting at this time or year hits the bramble hard and although it does have an impact upon annual species perennials survive perfectly well and will benefit in the long run. I only cut a small part of the area at any one time, which also helps to minimise the impact. In one of the better areas which I was not cutting I found a single bee orchid.

bee orchid

bee orchid

The management of open areas does not just involve cutting, we also graze some areas and on the lichen heath we have been experimenting with stripping off the top few centimetres of vegetation. This gets us back to the mineral, sandy gravel to see if we can combat the increase in nutrients which is slowly turning it into dry acid grassland. Looking at one of the plots today I think we may have had some success as it was well colonised by one of the areas rarer plant species , slender bird’s-foot-trefoil,  a species that does not seem to like competition.

slender bird's-foot-trefoil

slender bird’s-foot-trefoil

Once again today I saw a painted lady, this one flying vigorously northwards, so no picture, I did get one of the other migrant butterfly I saw, a red admiral. It was perched on nettle, the foodplant so this one might have had more of a mind to breed than migrate.

red admiral

red admiral on nettle

The nearest thing to bird highlight on the reserve today was a bar-headed goose, as their native range is other side of the Himalayas I think we can be sure it is an escapee or the descendant of escapees.

I got home, with time to take a quick look in the meadow…………

What’s in My Meadow Today?

I mentioned meadow buttercup yesterday and today I spotted a small yellow and black hoverfly on one of the flowers. It is a common and distinctive species and one that is probably found in gardens all over the country.

Sphaerophoria scripta

Sphaerophoria scripta  (male) on meadow buttercup

My other find was a couple of ants on a flower of common vetch, they seemed to be feeding, at the base of the flower, possibly they had made a hole to get at the nectar flow without entering the flower, as bumblebees will do to runner bean flowers, effectively taking the nectar without doing the job of pollination.

common vetch and ant

common vetch and ant

30 Days Wild – Day 19: Too Hot for Walking

I was down to do a guided walk at Blashford in the morning, but it was so hot that two of the walkers cried off and all we managed was a short amble along the Dockens Water to Goosander hide. At least going through the trees by the river was a bit cooler and the Goosander hide was quite busy with a fair few sand martin coming into the nesting wall. There are also now hundreds of greylag and Canada geese on Ibsley Water, come to moult their flight feathers on the relative safety of the open water. Unlike ducks, geese become completely flightless for quite a while when they moult so they have to seek out somewhere safe, but also with accessible food.

On the way to the hide we saw a few bee orchid and several butterflies, including a couple of summer brood comma, my first small skipper of the year and a few marbled white. One of the participants on the walk told me that they are also known as “Half-mourning”, something I had not heard before.

marbled white

marbled white on ox-eye daisy

Sometime ago I posted that we had some puss moth caterpillars, they were quite small then, but now they have grown a lot and today I was dividing them up into three groups to make it easier to keep up with feeding them. They are very fine caterpillars and get ever more so with age.

puss moth caterpillar

puss moth caterpillar

 

30 Days Wild – Day 13: Gulls get Rings

Tuesday is one of our two regular volunteer days at Blashford Lakes, this week’s main task was further work to improve the grassland habitat along the western shore of Ibsley Water. We have had a long-term project to remove bramble, nettle and willow that has been threatening to take dominate. This shore was remodelled into a steep bank using the topsoil removed from the gravel pit surface when it was first dug, conditions ideal for the development of nettle beds and bramble thickets. To reverse this we have been mowing to allow grass and perennial herb species to get the upper-hand.  This has been targeted work aiming to take out only the least desirable species. Even the nettle beds have elements that we leave, such as any patches with nets of peacock and small tortoiseshell larvae.

peacock caterpillars

peacock caterpillars

Alongside the nutrient-rich soils there are poorer patches and these have a more interesting flora including a number of bee orchid.

bee orchid and mower

bee orchid

At the end of the day I went out to Gull Island in Ibsley Water with the bird-ringers to colour-ring a sample of the black-headed gull chicks. We have been doing this for a number of years to find out where the birds from this recently established colony go to and if the chicks reared here return to breed in later years. We managed to catch and ring thirty chicks during our short visit, a good sample.

209C gets ringed

209C gets a ring, where will it go and will it come back?

In the evening I came across a female stag beetle on the fence in the garden, the first female I have seen this year. The day ended on a fine calm note and so I decided to head out to listen to the nightjar again. One came and perched on a branch very close by and gave great views. I never tire of watching and listening to nightjar and to have the opportunity to do so just a few minutes walk from home is wonderful.

30 Days Wild – Day 4: A Day for Orchids

After working in the morning with the Sunday volunteer team path trimming, I got out on site for an hour or so in the afternoon. This is peak orchid flowering time, we don’t get many at Blashford and this year’s dry spring seems to have done them no favours, however I did see four species. First was a small group of bee orchid near the Goosander hide.

bee orchid

bee orchid flower

The packet of pollen, known as pollinia can be seen hanging down in the centre, there would have been two, so one has probably been carried away by a visiting insect.

I also found single specimens of common spotted orchid

common spotted orchid

common spotted orchid

and also a southern marsh orchid.

marsh orchid

southern marsh orchid

I also came across a common twayblade, but it was too dark for a picture.

The sunshine was a bit on and off, even with a brief shower at one point, but in the sunnier periods there were quite good numbers of insects out and about. My best picture of an insect today was of a hoverfly Xylota sylvarum, a very fine species with a golden-haired tip to the abdomen.

Xylota sylvarum

Xylota sylvarum, doing a bit of wing cleaning.

My last thing to do for the day was to clean out and feed the puss moth caterpillars, hatched from some eggs laid by a female I caught in the trap. Rearing caterpillars is one of those things I enjoy doing each year, the species vary according to what we come across, in recent years we have reared lime hawk-moth, eyed hawk-moth, iron prominent and alder moth amongst others.

puss moth young caterpillar

A young puss moth caterpillar, they get very impressive when they are fully grown.

 

 

3o Days Wild – Day 23

Another Thursday and we decided to tackle what is without doubt the volunteers least favourite task of the year, ragwort control around Ibsley Water. When I first started at the reserve ragwort was the dominant plant around large areas of the shore, often to the exclusion of all other plants. Over the years we have cut and pulled it to try and establish a more mixed and predominantly grassy sward. It has been back breaking work, but it finally seems to be paying off. Walking the eastern shore it is now no more that occasional and forms part of an increasingly varied sward including sedges, bee orchid and much more.

Ragwort is actually a valuable nectar source and present in small amounts in grassland that is not used for hay does not present any real risk to livestock. Although poisonous few animals will eat it when growing. Fortunately at Blashford the grassland has many other nectar sources so loss of some ragwort  probably has minimal impact upon nectaring insects. As we worked we saw a good range of butterflies, despite the overcast conditions including lots of meadow brown.

meadow brown pair

Meadow brown pair mating

I also saw my first small skipper of the year, although a few have been seen on the reserve by others.

small skipper

small skipper

The day was not entirely positive though. Arriving at the reserve and looking out onto Ibsley Water it was clear that the black-headed gull pairs with chicks and single common tern pair that had just started sitting on the small island neat Tern hide had been lost overnight, probably to a predatory mammal. Fox is probably likely, but they often get the blame when others are actually the culprit and I cannot rule out badger, mink or otter.

black-headed gulls

black-headed gull pair

I got a real surprise at the end of the day when I closed up the Tern hide I realised there was a female common scoter floating around with the tufted duck flock. There was also a black-necked grebe reported in the hide diary, although I could not find it.

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 19

Sunday and almost mid-summer and I was at Blashford where we were hosting Fordingbridge Astronomical Society’s Sun Day. They had telescopes set up so that the sun could be safely viewed and some of its usually hidden secrets seen. However, the clouds did not play along and the sun remained hidden resulting an early end to Sun Day.

However Sunday continued and in the afternoon I was leading a walk to look for dragonflies, damselflies and miscellaneous other bugs. Unfortunately the clouds had continued to gather and light rain started to fall, making insects hard to find.

wet damselfly

soggy damselfly

Despite the rain we did see four species of butterflies, an optimistic migrant red admiral at the Centre Pond, common blue and meadow brown hiding in the meadow and a hundred or more peacock caterpillars in front of the Ivy North hide.

In the morning it had been a little less wet and I had found a few more insects and other invertebrates out and about, including this snipefly, with huge eyes.

fly

snipefly

There are also a lot more siders about now.

spider

spider

Mid-summer is also a time for flowers, perhaps a surprise to some of our visitors, but Blashford is actually quite a good site for orchids, we have several species and sometime sin quite large numbers. This despite most of the being a “Brownfield” site, we tend to think of orchids as plants of ancient downland sites, but many will colonise freely if they get the chance. The bee orchids are at their best now and some can be seen on bank on the side of the main car park.

bee orchid flower

bee orchid flower