Autumn’s nibbled tresses

The weather certainly feels as though it is heading for autumn, although the recent (and current!) rainfall has certainly improved the look of our original dipping pond which with a tear in the liner had definitely suffered during the rather long hot dry spell.

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Our dipping pond, looking much happier and healthier than it did a few weeks ago

Thankfully we have had the second pond to use for our dipping sessions and yesterday saw another four very happy family groups delving into its depths to see what they could catch.

The highlight for me this time were the few alderfly larvae we caught in the morning:

alderfly larvae

Alderfly larvae

Whilst out by the pond we also had great views of a number of dragonflies, with a common darter perching close by on the boardwalk, a pair of common darters mating in the wheel position and resting on nearby vegetation, and in the afternoon a female southern hawker getting very close to us and egg lay into the grooves in the wooden boardwalk.

common darter

Common darter

Mating common darters

Pair of Common darters mating

Female southern hawker

Female Southern hawker

Female southern hawker 2

Female Southern hawker

I have seen dragonflies egg laying straight into the water and pond vegetation many times before but hadn’t realised some species prefer to lay their eggs into wood on the pond margin and will happily use a newish boardwalk rather than an older rotting stick.

Whilst dipping a Common carder bee flew onto one of the children, who was not worried at all, but in brushing it off her leg it fell into the pond where she was so close to it. It was quickly rescued and relocated onto some of the flowering water mint to recover:

 

August is the time of year to look for the last of our flowering orchids, Autumn Lady’s-tresses, which can be found on grassland and heathland. Here it grows in places on the lichen heath, if it is given the chance!

It is a very delicate looking orchid with white individual flowers that spiral round the short stem. I have been on the lookout for them since the start of the month, when they first started popping up on social media, but had no success. Although they can be very hard to spot I put their absence in part down to the very dry spell we had over the spring and summer. Jim though did manage to spy a small group of them on the lichen heath and Bob, in checking for them again came to the conclusion the increasing numbers of rabbits on the reserve have in fact merrily munched their way through the ones that have flowered.

Not expecting much, I decided to have one last try this morning before the rain arrived and was rewarded with one flower, admittedly slightly past its best, in amongst a clump of I think St John’s Wort (I say I think as that was also going over) which clearly kept it safe from the rabbits. Nearby I also spied a second stem, with the flower bitten clean off:

Autumn lady's-tresses

Autumn Lady’s-tresses

nibbled autumn lady's-tresses

Autumn Lady’s-tresses nibbled stem

If anyone would like to try and find some, I think Wilverly Plain in the forest will be a better place to look!

It is probably time for me to relocate everything from the Welcome Hut (a much nicer spot to work from even in the pouring rain!) back to the centre, so I will finish with a few photos taken a week or so go that I didn’t quite get round to sharing: a bee-wolf and another heather colletes bee enjoying the heather in bloom in the meadow and a solitary bee on the Inula hookeri outside the front of the Centre.

So many insects, and a baby toad

Last Thursday I was passing the marjoram in the planter outside the front of the Education Centre when I noticed a bee I had not seen before. It was quite large and very striking, with a strong pattern on the underside of the abdomen. I managed to take a couple of photos and after a bit of research decided it was one of the sharp-tailed bees and probably the large sharped-tail bee, Coelioxys conoidea. Since Thursday it has been a fairly regular visitor to the marjoram and has been seen and photographed by a number of visitors, and Bob also confirmed it was a large sharp-tailed bee.

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Large sharp-tailed bee, Coelioxys conoidea

Sharp-tailed bees are cuckoo bees, laying their eggs in the nests of megachile (leaf-cutter bees) or anthophora (flower bees) species. Only the females have the pointed abdomen which is used to cut a slit in the partition of the host’s cell so the egg can be placed inside. The coelioxys species hatches first, with the grub devouring the host egg and its food source.

This particular species favours the coast leaf-cutter bee, Megachile maritima. As the name suggests, they have a strong liking for the coast but can be found inland in areas of the New Forest. On Monday I noticed a leaf-cutter bee enjoying the Inula hookeri which is now flowering outside the Centre. The plant has large flower heads which the bee was meticulously working its way round before flying off to the next, so I was able to watch it for some time. Although not completely sure it was a coast leaf-cutter bee, they must be onsite somewhere if the large sharp-tailed bees are present.

Leaf-cutter bee

Leaf-cutter bee enjoying the Inula hookeri, possibly Megachile maritima

Bob has been on a mission to fill the planters with plants that are good for pollinators but not liked by the deer, who have taken quite a liking to a number of them. The Inula hookeri however is not to their taste and the large yellow flowers are providing a brilliant nectar source for insects and its been great to watch the butterflies and bees visiting.

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Brimstone enjoying the Inula hookeri

Whilst watching the brimstone enjoying the flowers I noticed a bright green and very smart leafhopper, Cicadella viridis:

Cicadella viridis

Leafhopper, Cicadella viridis

There are also still blue mason bees around, they quickly made use of the new bee block Bob added in to the end of the planter and can often be seen resting on the planter itself.

Blue mason bee

Blue mason bee

On Sunday I popped to the meadow in the hope of seeing another bee I haven’t seen before which this time favours heather. The heather is now in bloom, but seeing a heather colletes bee proved harder, or at least seeing one still for long enough to get a good look was quite a challenge. They whizz around even faster than the green-eyed flower bees do.

Eventually one settled long enough for me to get a look and half decent photo:

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Heather colletes bee, Colletes succinctus

Whilst watching the bees whizzing around I noticed a bee-wolf fly straight towards me clutching a honeybee. It landed by my feet, I had obviously been right next to its burrow and had taken it slightly by surprise, but after sorting itself and its prey out it flew to its burrow and disappeared. It was fascinating to watch.

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Bee-wolf with honeybee prey

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Bee-wolf with honeybee prey

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Bee-wolf with honeybee prey

The light trap has revealed more than just moths over the past week. Last week we had a couple of visits form a rather large longhorn beetle, the tanner beetle, which is also attracted to light. They are a large beetle with a body length of 18-45mm and are broader than the other longhorn species.

Credit for this photo goes to regular visitor John 6×4, as I have been regularly working from the Welcome Hut since our wifi was improved and he bought the beetle over, on a log, for me to photograph. We were also able to show it to a passing family who were rather impressed!

Another beetle that found its way into the light trap was this species of dor beetle. It was very active so was a bit harder to photograph:

Dor beetle

Dor beetle

On the moth front the two traps have contained a good variety, although many are quick to fly first thing where it has been so warm. Highlights have included bloodvein, coxcomb prominent, light crimson underwing, pebble hook-tip and a stunning gold spot.

Bloodvein

Bloodvein

Coxcomb prominent

Coxcomb prominent

Light crimson underwing

Light crimson underwing, photographed in the trap, it instantly flew once I took the towel away properly

Pebble hook tip

Pebble hook-tip

Gold spot 2

Gold spot, the photo definitely doesn’t do this moth justice

We have also received some great photos this week from visitors. Jon Mitchell visited on Sunday for the first time since lockdown and was able to see and photograph both the large sharp-tailed bee and the heather colletes bee, along with damselflies, a gatekeeper and a couple of dragonfly exuvia by the pond. The second dragonfly nymph clearly thought the first had picked a good spot when it crawled out of the pond.

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Sam has visited a number of times recently and asked his mum to share photos she took of the toadlet and alder beetle larvae he found whilst exploring here on his last two visits:

Toadlet by Sam

Toadlet spotted by Sam

Alder beetle larvae by Sam

Alder beetle larvae spotted by Sam

We do enjoy seeing photos taken by visitors whilst out and about on the reserve so if anyone else has anything to share please email it to BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org, along with whether or not you are happy for us to share it wider via the blog.

Thank you very much to Jon and Sam for sharing your photos with us.

Still going wild

On Sunday we had another of our fortnightly Young Naturalist catch ups, and it was great to hear what the group have been getting up to. Will had been down to the Lymington and Keyhaven Marshes and shared some photos from his walk, including one of an avocet with chick.

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Thomas and Alex had been for a walk at Iping Common, a Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve, and had seen Silver-studded blue butterflies, a glow worm larva, a bloody-nosed beetle and a pill millipede.

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Harry talked to us about the bug hotel in his garden which he built six years ago and is very popular with the spiders and Poppy had also sent me a photo during the week of the female broad-bordered yellow underwing moth which had emerged from a pupa she had found in the garden. Last time we met online she had shown everyone the pupa wriggling and we had guessed at Large yellow underwing, so weren’t far off!

Sadly Saturday night was so windy we didn’t have a huge number of moths to look at, despite Bob running both light traps, but we did have a dozen or so to study under the digital microscope. The group are getting quite good at identifying a few we either catch more regularly or stand out, such as the Spectacle moth or Buff-tip. The most exciting was this lovey Purple thorn, which was very obliging and posed for some time for photos:

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Purple thorn

Nigel had put together another quiz for the group, this time on butterflies, dragonflies, other insects and some spiders they are likely to see whilst out and about and we talked through a presentation on bees, the main reason for all the bee photos I’ve been taking recently!

The group have requested reptiles and amphibians as themes for the next couple of sessions and we will run another in a fortnights time. Grass snake photos will certainly be easy, I spotted one curled up in the vegetation by the Education Centre pond Sunday afternoon:

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Grass snake

When I arrived at Blashford yesterday a rather substantial branch had come down by the entrance so I decided to walk the closer footpaths to check everything else was as it should be.

I popped into Ivy South Hide to have a look at the tern rafts and could make out quite a few Common tern chicks, although they were difficult to count especially when an adult came back with food and they all dashed around. Closer to the hide there was a pair of Black-headed gull chicks on one of the life-ring rafts and I watched the smaller one bobbing around in the water before it climbed back on to the raft:

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Black-headed gull chick

Walking back up the Dockens path I saw another grass snake, this time a young one, basking on the large fallen tree close to the mushroom sculpture. I managed a quick photo before it disappeared over the back of the trunk:

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Grass snake

Further along the path I spotted another plant I have not noticed before, identified by Bob today as Tutsan. Tutsan is a deciduous flowering shrub in the Hypericum or St John’s Wort family, and native to western and southern Europe. Its leaves were apparently gathered and burned to ward off evil spirits on the eve of St. John’s Day and it has also been used to treat wounds and inflammation. The name Tutsan comes from the French words “tout” (all) and “sain” (healthy), a reference to the plant’s healing capabilities.

Tutsan

Tutsan

From the river dipping bridge I decided to head over to Tern Hide to have a look at Ibsley Water and see if there were any Ringlets in the area of rough grass between the pedestrian gate and car park height barrier. There were a couple flying about and I also saw my first Gatekeeper of the year, although it did not settle for a photo.

Ringlet (2)

Ringlet

Whilst photographing the Ringlet I noticed a hoverfly, Volucella pellucens, on the bramble flowers. Also called the Pellucid fly or Large Pied-hoverfly, it is one of the largest flies in Britain and has a striking ivory-white band across its middle and large dark spots on its wings. The adults favour bramble flowers and umbellifers whilst the larvae live in the nests of social wasps and bumblebees, eating waste products and bee larvae.

Volucella pellucens

Volucella pellucens

On reaching Tern Hide a movement caught my eye and I noticed a large wasps nest under the roof and to the right of the right hand door. I spent some time watching them flying in and out. Bob did head over there yesterday too to take a look and shared a photo, but here’s another:

Wasps and wasp nest

Wasps and wasp nest

Although we’re not going over there as regularly as we would have done under normal circumstances, I’m surprised neither of us had noticed it sooner given the size!

Yesterday afternoon we had a brief power outage whilst our supply was switched back from a generator to the mains, and as the sun was shining I took the opportunity to linger by the planters outside the Centre, chat to the few visitors that were passing and see which insects were visiting the flowers. Although we’ve shared a few Green-eyed flower bee photos before, they are so smart I couldn’t resist taking a few more photos of them when they either rested on the planter edge or paused for long enough on the vervain.

I also spotted an Alder beetle on the lavender, a bee enjoying the astrantia, a Large white butterfly on the verbena and a mint moth.

The mini meadow by the Welcome Hut is also still really good for insects, with Thick-legged flower beetles, hoverflies and Small skippers enjoying the remaining ox-eye daisies, yarrow and ragged robin. The hoverfly could I think be a male Long hoverfly,  Sphaerophoria scripta, with its narrow body noticeably longer than its wings. The female of this species is broader.

Today has been decidedly soggier, but I did watch a butterfly fly past in the rain and there are plenty of soggy looking damselflies trying to find shelter on the plant stems:

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly funded by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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It’s the little things…

Whilst Bob has been doing a brilliant job of blogging his 30 Days Wild antics, this week is also National Insect Week. Organised by the Royal Entomological Society, it encourages everyone to appreciate and learn more about the ‘little things that run the world’.

Insects are by far the most diverse and ecologically important group of animals on land and there are over 24,000 known species in the United Kingdom alone, with hundreds of species to be found in almost every garden and green space. With so many to study they are grouped into orders, for example the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), Hymenoptera (bees, ants and wasps), Orthoptera (grasshoppers and crickets) and Coleoptera (beetles) to name a few.

Insects have a huge role to play and without them our lives would be very different: they pollinate fruit, flowers and vegetables; they are food for amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals; and they feed on lots of living and dead things themselves, breaking down waste and helping to keep the balance of nature. You can find out more about National Insect Week on their website.

So here’s a very mini Blashford insect safari, using photos I’ve taken over the past few days, covering a very meagre 23 species and spanning five orders – I have quite a few more to track down!

The moth trap has revealed some spectacular moths over the past few days, including some very smart Privet and Elephant hawk-moths:

There was also another Scarce merveille du jour, with its lichen coloured forewings which provide it with brilliant camouflage:

Other species included a swallow-tailed moth, peppered moth, pebble prominent, lobster moth, large emerald, iron prominent, buff tip and barred straw:

The raised planters outside the front of the Centre are still a good place to look for insects, with plenty of bees, ladybirds, and butterflies making the most of the flowers:

There has also been a red admiral regularly resting on the fence posts and gravel outside the front of the Centre…

red admiral

Red admiral

…and I also found this Figwort sawfly on the mullein by the corner of the building:

sawfly

Figwort sawfly, Tenthredo scrophulariae

I’m not sure I’ve seen the sawfly before, or if I have I don’t think I’ve had the time to photograph and identify it, so it was nice to find a different species. Its striking yellow and black bands mimic a wasp and whilst the adults will sometimes nectar on flowers as this one was doing, they will often eat other insects. The larvae feed on either mullein or figwort.

Where we have not been using the grassy area by the side of the Centre for school lunches and Wild Days Out free play, the grass has been able to grow nice and tall and a few other plants have sprung up, particularly around the tunnel. One plant in particular seemed popular with the bees and volunteer Phil tested out his plant finder app on it for me on Tuesday as I had been trying to identify it without much success. It reminded me a bit of dead nettle.

Known as Black horehound (Ballota nigra), it grows along hedgerows, road side verges and on waste ground and belongs to the mint and dead nettle family, Lamiaceae. When the leaves are crushed it gives off a pungent rotten smell to deter herbivores (perhaps we need to relocate some into the planter by the Centre which has been targeted by the deer) which has given it the local name of ‘stinking Roger’ in some places. It also has a long tradition in herbal medicine and has been used to treat a range of issues from respiratory problems to travel sickness and depression to gout.

carder bee on black horehound

Carder bee on black horehound

There have been a number of emperor dragonflies hawking over the Centre and ponds and yesterday I spent some time sat by the pond watching a male fly overhead, occasionally dive bombing me. Every so often he would return to one particular iris to perch, either on or above the exuvia that was still clinging on, so I guess this could have been where he emerged:

emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly

This damselfly was not quite as fortunate as I found it in the firm grasp of a zebra spider who was doing an excellent job of carrying it around the post to devour in peace:

zebra spider and damselfly

Zebra spider, Salticus scenicus, and damselfly

In venturing further from the Centre to check the reserve, I had a brief glimpse of a fritillary along the Dockens path and managed a quick photo. I think it’s a Silver-washed fritillary:

fritillary

Silver-washed fritillary

In studying all the mullein I came across in the hope of stumbling across a mullein moth caterpillar, I had to settle for this grasshopper instead, although it did pose very obligingly for a photo:

grasshopper

Grasshopper

Now is definitely a good time to find and watch insects, and you don’t need to venture far to track them down as even the smallest garden or green space can provide a home for this incredibly diverse group of animals. So if you get the chance head outside and see what you can find!

Moving away from the insects, I ventured into our woodland log circle area on Sunday and it has certainly enjoyed the lack of bug hunting children, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so green and grassy. On a number of logs I found the fruiting bodies of the slime mould Lycogala epidendrum, also known as wolf’s milk or groening’s slime. If the outer wall of the fruiting body is broken before maturity they excrete a pink paste.

slime mould

Slime mold, Lycogala epidendrum or wolf’s milk

Finally, although they have been disappearing very quickly with the warmer weather, the grass snakes by Ivy Silt Pond have been very obliging, with two often on the stretch of hedge immediately behind the temporary sign:

grass snakes 2

Grass snakes on the dead hedge by Ivy Silt Pond

Bluebells to Beaulieu

I have been very absent from the blog this last few months, so this is another quick round up of what our Young Naturalists group have been up to since April – it seems like such a long time ago now!

At the end of April we visited another Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust nature reserve, Roydon Woods.  Spring is a great time to visit and we had timed ours perfectly with the flowering bluebells.

Bluebells

Bluebells

The group also enjoyed photographing and identifying some of the other spring flowers, including Bugle, Greater stitchwort, Wood spurge and Wood anemone:

We also saw Primroses, Lesser celandine, Arum maculatum or Lords-and-Ladies, Speedwell and Wild strawberry. There were also a number of Dor beetles on the paths:

Dor beetle

For the birds, we saw Song thrush, Buzzard, Redstart, Black cap, Great tit, Blue tit, Blackbird, Swallow and Raven and heard Great spotted woodpecker and Chiffchaff.

It was great to discover a different part of the forest with the group, and perhaps we could return again in the Autumn to experience the nature reserve at a different time of year.

During May we met twice, once for the Bird Trail and again at the end of the month to carry out some nest box monitoring with British Trust for Ornithology volunteer Brenda, who keeps a watchful eye over all of the nest boxes on the reserve.

The Bird Trail was organised by Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust in partnership with Hampshire Ornithological Society, with each competing team vying to be the one which saw, identified and recorded the most species of bird (and other wildlife – the number of which would be critical in the event of a tie in the number of birds seen).

Following a set route that took in Tern Hide, Ivy South Hide, Woodland Hide and Ivy North Hide, we were also kept busy with a range of other wildlife activities throughout the day including a bird ringing demonstration, pond and river dipping, looking at the moths caught in the light trap, owl pellet dissecting, a static birds of prey demonstration by Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre and a bird feeding strategy activity provided by New Forest National Park Authority Rangers.

Jim was able to blog after the event, and our Young Naturalists team did manage to improve on last time’s second place to come first, recording 44 bird species over the course of the day. Our highlights were probably the Hobby, which flew over the Education Centre whilst we and some of the other teams were having lunch, along with the Chaffinch, simply because it took us all day to see one – we had to wait until we had completed our circuit of all the bird hides and had walked back up to the feeder by the Welcome Hut.

At the end of May, Brenda offered to once again take the group round a number of the nest boxes on the reserve as she checked them and ringed the young. They were delighted to be able to peak inside the nest boxes, a couple of which had been made by older members of the group, see the birds being ringed and handle them carefully before putting them back in their nests.

The nest box monitoring and checking on the reserve by Brenda is carried out following the BTO’s Nest Recording Scheme Code of Conduct and we ensured at all times that nest disturbance was kept to a minimum and our observing did not have a negative impact on their chance of success. The group were incredibly quiet, careful, asked lots of great questions and knew how lucky they were to get the opportunity to join Brenda for a closer look inside the boxes. 

After spending time with Brenda we headed off down to the river in search of two invasive species, Himalayan balsalm and Pink purslane, which when found we pulled up. Hopefully we made a little bit of a difference!

At the end of June, which doesn’t seem quite so long ago, we returned to the Beaulieu River for another canoe safari, an activity the group did a couple of summers ago and really enjoyed. It was brilliant to see the wildlife from a different perspective.

Group

Receiving our briefing

Whilst out on the water we saw Little egrets, Oystercatchers, a Common tern, lots and lots of Canada geese, Swallows, Black headed gulls, a Buzzard, Marbled white butterflies, dragonflies and a Bee which we rescued from the water.

We tried samphire (not popular with all!), watched fish jumping and stuck our hands in the Mermaid’s hair.

The highlight though had to once again be the thousands upon thousands of Moon jellyfish which we paddled through along one stretch of the river:

We had a great day wildlife watching from our canoes, but only Alex opted to jump in off the jetty at the very end:

Alex

Our Young Naturalists group is funded by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.