Of moths and other insects, and a bit more besides…

I’ve fallen behind with my Young Naturalists updates, but since meeting at the reserve for the first time in April, enjoying the bird song and river dipping, we’ve been out onsite enjoying all the reserve has to offer, looking for reptiles, improving our moth identification, pond dipping and enjoying the insect life in the meadow. We’ve also been campfire cooking and improving the biodiversity of one part of the reserve by spreading wildflower seed. 

At the end of May we went for a walk on the northern part of the reserve, in the hope of finding some reptiles. We saw chiff chaff, blackcap and reed bunting and enjoyed listening to the reed warblers and Cetti’s warblers calling in the reed bed. 

We headed off into the reedbed to check some of the reptile refugia or felts used by the volunteers when they survey the reptiles. Our first sighting however wasn’t of a reptile, instead we found this caterpillar of the Oak eggar moth on top of one of the felts:

oak eggar caterpillar

Oak eggar caterpillar

The hairy caterpillars feed on bramble, blackthorn, willow, hawthorn, hazel and other woody plants.

Under another refugia we were lucky enough to see our first reptiles, finding two adders. The first disappeared quickly into the vegetation, but the second stayed long enough for some of the group to get a good look and take some photos:

adder Daisy Meadowcroft

Adder by Daisy Meadowcroft

Adder by Daisy Meadowcroft

Adder by Daisy Meadowcroft

After leaving the reed bed we saw speckled woods enjoying the sunshine and watched the sand martins flying over Goosander Hide. We also saw a female adder basking on the bank by the hide.

After lunch we decided to pond dip, catching a very smart male smooth newt:

smooth newt

Smooth newt

We also caught an impressive Emperor dragonfly nymph, which given the number of exuvia around the edge of the pond was a bit of a surprise, there were still more lurking in there!

Emperor dragonfly nymph

Emperor dragonfly nymph

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia 2

Dragonfly exuvia

The larva’s final moult takes place out of the water. As the adult dragonfly emerges from its larval skin, the cast skin or exuvia is left behind. It’s always fun to carefully look for evidence of their metamorphosis amongst the vegetation (and man made structures!) in the pond margins and the group had a good hunt, photographing their finds.

In June I had planned to spend the session focusing on insects, but with the weather so changeable we ended up adding in some campfire cooking as well. We began by looking through the moth trap where the highlight was this Poplar hawk-moth:

Poplar hawk moth

Poplar hawk-moth

Alex with a Poplar hawk moth

Alex with the Poplar hawk-moth

We also had a Buff tip, with its amazing camouflage, a very smart Muslin moth and a Burnished brass:

Buff tip

Buff tip, doing its best broken silver birch twig impression

Muslin moth

Muslin moth

Burnished brass

Burnished brass

Rummaging through the moth trap didn’t take very long, and with the sun briefly making an appearance we hot footed it to the meadow before the showers came.

Meadow sweeping

Meadow sweeping

In the meadow we saw a small skipper butterfly, grasshoppers, a speckled bush cricket, a green leaf weevil and a green-eyed flower bee enjoying the selfheal.

We also saw a number of Thick-legged flower beetles, also known as swollen-thighed beetles and false oil beetles. They are often seen on the flowers of ox-eye daisies and other open-structured flowers and only the males have swollen thighs:

Thick legged flower beetle

Male Thick-legged flower beetle on Ox-eye Daisy

Female Thick-legged flower beetle

Female Thick-legged flower beetle on Perforate St John’s-wort

The meadow and the lichen heath are both covered in Perforate St John’s-wort at the moment, it is having a really good year. Traditionally it was used as a remedy for all kinds of ailments, including wounds and burns, and is still popular today for the treatment of mild depression. Research and opinions however differ on how effective the latter is.

It can be identified by its bright yellow star shaped flowers and the tiny ‘holes’ in its leaves. The holes are in fact colourless glands that apparently give off a foxy smell. If you hold a leaf up to the sun, the tiny holes are easy to see, but they’re definitely more obvious on a sunny day!

Perforate St John's Wort

Tiny ‘holes’ in the leaves of Perforate St John’s-wort on a sunnier day

After a short while in the meadow, we headed back to the Centre collecting nettle tops on the way to make some nettle soup. We also picked some mint and lemon balm from around the pond to make tea. After gathering the kit and our lunches, we headed to the campfire area.

Alex decided to toast his sandwich and after eating we boiled some water for the tea and made our soup. Both had mixed reactions, although to be fair some teas did contain nettle, mint and lemon balm and we possibly gave the wrong person the nettles to wash… so our soup did contain a number of less welcome additions!

July’s session was also influenced by the weather. I had planned to do the Big Butterfly Count with the group last Sunday, something we have participated in with them for the last few years. The UK wide survey is running until the 8th August, so there’s still time to take part if you would like to, you just need 15 minutes and a sunny spot…

Thankfully, moth trapping has improved over the past few weeks, with more species and numbers of moths coming to the traps, and we were able to spend the morning having a good look through and identifying most of what we found.

Daisy made a list of those we were able to identify (we lost a few on opening the traps and some of the micro moths did stump us) and we managed to record 70 moths of 39 species in the first trap and 63 moths of 28 species in the second trap. Both traps were close to the Centre, with one positioned out the front towards the mini meadow by the Welcome Hut and the other positioned out the back of the building.

Our grand total from the Saturday night was 133 moths of 52 species. Here are some of the highlights:

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The Large emerald in particular proved popular:

Large emerald 2

Large emerald

Rosie photographing the large emerald

Rosie photographing the large emerald

After lunch, we went back to the meadow to see if the Bird’s-foot trefoil had gone to seed. If it had, we were going to collect some to add to the other seed we had from Bob to sow, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite ready. We did see a Common blue butterfly resting on a seed head:

Common blue

Common blue

We then went looking for wasp spiders on the lichen heath, managing to find two in amongst the soft rush. Their colours mimic the common wasp, keeping them safe from predators.

Wasp spider

Wasp spider

Wasp spiders build large orb webs in grassland and heathland. Their webs are quite distinctive, with a wide white zig-zag running down the middle known as a stabilimentum.

After some impromptu boat making by Kimberley and Harry, we stopped off at the river to see whether or not their boats would sail:

We then began our seed sowing, adding Bluebell seed in amongst the hazels to the side of the path between the bridge over the Dockens Water and the road crossing to Tern Hide. We swept away the leaf litter and put the seed thinly on the soil surface, before brushing the leaves back over to cover them.

We then crossed over the road towards Tern Hide and went through the gate to the part of the site currently still closed to visitors. This was once a concrete plant, and when the plant was demolished we began restoring the area, including the old main entrance roadway. Although it has taken time, this spot is now well colonised by lots of plants and our addition of some extra seed will hopefully help improve it even more. 

We added Wild carrot to the driveway, scattering it thinly onto patches of bare ground, Devils-bit scabious up on the bank as it prefers a deeper soil and Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon on the same bank, poking each seed individually into the ground using a pencil (we also saved some of these for the mini meadow by the Welcome Hut). Finally we also added Yellow rattle seed and some assorted hawkbits and crow garlic.

Fingers crossed some of them come up!

Thank you to the Cameron Bespolka Trust for funding our purchase of tools and equipment for the group.  

Green-eyed flower bee

Green-eyed flower bee on Inula hookeri by the Education Centre

 

Moving in

Clearing the vegetation growing in front of the bug hotel a number of weeks ago has opened it up to a lot more sunlight, and as a result I noticed this week that the leaf-cutter bees have been busy and used one of the blocks of wood:

Evidence of leaf cutter bees

Evidence of leaf-cutter bees

They will happily make their homes in solitary bee hotels positioned in a sunny spot, so our south facing bug hotel is ideal.

The females collect sections of leaf which they chew into a pulp and mix with saliva to create the walls of a cell for their offspring. Inside each cell she lays an egg and leaves it with a mixture of pollen and nectar on which to feed. The cells are then sealed up before she moves on to the next one, and finally she plugs the hole to the whole cavity with more leaf pulp. The young will develop over winter and emerge the following year.

I had a good look at the other blocks of wood the Young Naturalists had drilled holes in and added to the hotel and noticed another had four holes each with a solitary bee in it, the weather was not so nice so they were probably deciding whether or not to venture out. One did emerge from its hole, flew to a couple of bramble flowers then decided to fly back to the comfort of the wood.

As well as enjoying the comfort of the bug hotel the bees have been favouring the rather large thistle which has sprung up behind the Education Shelter.

Whilst by the bug hotel I spotted a couple of dark bush-crickets on the ground below:

Dark bush cricket

Dark bush-cricket

Bush-crickets have very long thread-like antennae, compared to grasshoppers which have much shorter antennae.

When the sunshine has been out female emperor dragonflies have been busy ovipositing or egg-laying in the newer of the two ponds by the Education Centre. They can lay hundreds of eggs over their adult lives, in batches over a few days or weeks. The eggs are elongated in shape and laid into plant material on or near the surface of the water using a scythe-like ovipositor.

Emperor dragonfly

Female Emperor dragonfly egg laying

Whilst having lunch earlier in the week I was joined by a red admiral, which seemed very happy to settle on the gravel and let me get very close for a photo:

Red admiral

Red admiral

I also managed to get my first ever photo of a ruby-tailed wasp… but they do not hang around for long so it is a bit of a distant photo!

Ruby tailed wasp

Ruby-tailed wasp

They are though very beautiful to look at, even if from a distance. Ruby-tailed wasps are also solitary, however instead of doing all the work themselves like the leaf-cutter bees mentioned above, the females lay their eggs in the nests of other solitary bees and wasps, favouring mason bees in particular. When the eggs hatch, they eat the larvae of the mason bees, giving the ruby-tailed wasp its other name of ‘Cuckoo Wasp’.

Parasitising other bees’ nests is risky, but the ruby-tailed wasp has a number of defences. It has a concave abdomen which allows it to curl up tightly into a ball and it has a hard body cuticle that protects it from the stings of the host species. They can sting themselves, but this sting is not venomous.

Recent highlights from the light trap have included this black arches and eyed hawk-moth:

The planters in front of the Centre are still attracting lots of bees including the green-eyed flower bees we have shared photos of in the past. Earlier in the week there was a tiny species of yellow-faced bee on the astrantia along with a sawfly of some description:

Yellow faced bee

Yellow-faced bee

Sawfly

Sawfly

The mini meadow by the Welcome Hut is still good for butterflies when the sun has been shining, with four skippers dancing round each other earlier in the week. There have also been ringlet in the area of long grass and bramble by the boat, along with comma and red admiral on the wing fairly regularly. The gatekeepers are also now flying, the adults emerge slightly later in the season and are also known as hedge browns.

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper

30 Days Wild – Day 27

A very different day, windy and quite wet at times with heavy showers, especially in the morning,. Despite this the moth catch was still reasonable, although nothing like yesterday’s. There were several species caught for the first time this year such as slender brindle, dingy footman, black arches, blue-bordered carpet and European corn borer. There were also several extra micro moths such as pine shoot moth,

pine shoot moth

pine shoot moth

and Zeiraphera isertana.

Zeiraphera isertana

Zeiraphera isertana

However the top prize for “Catch of the Day” went to a soldierfly, Oxycera rara.

Oxycera rara 4x3

Oxycera rara

Perhaps blown in by the windy weather, a young, second calendar year little gull was over Ibsley Water. At the Centre a hobby flew over and there was a grey wagtail around the ponds. The common tern colony on the rafts on Ivy Lake is still going strong, with the chicks growing fast and lots of pairs with all three chick still surviving. The wind can be a problem for chicks when they are first trying to fly, lifting them off the rafts prematurely, luckily they are not that well grown yet. However strong winds can make it much harder for the adults to catch the fish they need to feed the chicks, resulting in poorer growth, or at worst, starvation. The next couple of weeks will see how they have fared.

A Bit of a Catch-up

Apologies for a bit of a gap in posts, a combination of not a lot to report and too much to do.

The volunteers have been busy working in and around the former Hanson concrete plant site to get it into shape for the winter and to enhance the establishment of the plantings and sown grassland areas.  I am amazed how well the planting have survived considering the prolonged dry spell we have had and the almost unspeakably poor soil they were planted into, testament to how carefully they were planted. We have also been cutting nettle, bramble and thistle growth off the areas that we want to establish as grassland such as the shore to the west of Goosander hide where we were working on Tuesday in the oppressive heat.

before

The shore before we started covered with low bramble.

after

The shore at the end of the day.

It turned out there was quite a lot of grass and other plants under the bramble cover, so whilst there is still a fair bit to do I think we should be able to establish a grassy bank in the longer term, ideal for wigeon in the winter and lapwing in the spring.

The warm weather has been good for insects with butterfly numbers surging in the last week.

speckled wood

speckled wood

Moth trapping has also been good with several new species for the year.

Crescent

crescent moth

As well as good numbers of old favourites.

black arches

Black arches moth, a male with feathery antennae, the pattern seems to be slightly different on each one.

purple thorn

Purple thorn.

We are into a bit of a slack time for birds at the moment, although with autumn migration just starting things should pick up soon. A single green sandpiper has been around and common sandpiper reached at least six on Monday. Today there were 6 pochard, 4 more than recently. Almost all of the common tern have fledged now, just the three late broods remain, once again success has been very high at around two chicks fledged per pair. On Iblsey Water there are at least four broods of tufted duck and one of gadwall.

I had hoped to feature some of the many fine pictures I have been sent in recent days and I will do so soon, I’m afraid tonight that the technology has defeated me.

Sunny Day

As is usual on a sunny day in August the reserve was very quiet yesterday, the birds having finished nesting and most of the migrants have yet to get moving. The human visitor too mostly go elsewhere when the summer sun comes out. However the sun does bring out the insects and there was a fair showing of dragonflies and butterflies, although tempered by the fact that numbers seem to be well down this summer across the board.

The moth trap catch was quite good, but much lower than I would have hoped, but with a warm week ahead we could be in for bumper catches by next Sunday morning when I have a moth event. To whet the appetite here are a couple of pictures of regulars from the trap.

black arches

black arches, male

brown china-mark

brown china-mark

Out on the reserve there were insects about but numbers are still rather disappointing, I did see a painted lady though, a species that has not been common this year. On the edge of the lichen heath I was looking for bee wolves when I spotted what, at first I thought was a large ant, but in fact was a true-bug nymph that was trying to look like an ant.

bug nymph

Alydus calcaratus nymph.

If anything they look even more convincing from the side.

bug nymph 2

Alydus calcaratus nymph

You can see the rostrum, that is the piercing feeding tube under the head that gives it away as a true bug, rather than the jaws that an ant would have.

One group of insects that do seem to be abundant are the grasshoppers. One species that still seems to be increasing is the lesser marsh grasshopper, a previously coastal species that has spread inland.

lesser marsh grasshopper

lesser marsh grasshopper

Although there were few birds of note around, there were significant numbers of some species. On Ibsley Water I counted 271 tufted duck and 355 greylag geese, the goose flock included what looked like an emperor goose accompanied by a barnacle goose and  a single hybrid off-spring.