From pond to meadow

At the beginning of June we re-started our Wildlife Tots sessions, discovering the weedy depths of the Blashford Pond. 

Our morning session started with a rescue, with Isabelle fishing this Emperor dragonfly out of the pond. It was quite happy to be handled, or relieved to be rescued, so we were all able to take a really good look.

I then relocated it to a safer spot, where it could finish drying off. It was still there when we met the afternoon group, so they were able to take a look at it too before it flew off. 

Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly

Newly emerged adult dragonflies are known as tenerals. They are weaker in flight and paler in colour. As the body and wings harden off they begin hunting for food, spending about a week feeding away from water and gradually acquiring their adult colouration. They are then ready to return to the pond to mate. 

It was a good day to look for dragonflies, we found lots of exuvia on the vegetation around the edge of the pond and found another newly emerged Emperor dragonfly along with a newly emerged Broad-bodied chaser.

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

Emperor dragonfly (4)

Emperor dragonfly

Broad bodied chaser

Broad-bodied chaser

From the pond itself we caught dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, newts and a caseless caddisfly nymph, amongst others: 

It was also nice to see the other insects enjoying the vegetation around the edge of the pond, like this honeybee, large red damselfly and figwort sawfly:

Honeybee

Honeybee

 

Large red damselfly

Large red damselfly

Figwort sawfly

Figwort sawfly

At the end of the day I was lucky enough to spot another dragonfly emerge, this time it was a Black-tailed skimmer:

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So it was a very good day for dragonflies!

At the beginning of July we headed to the meadow. On the edge of the lichen heath we spotted this small tortoiseshell butterfly:

Small tortoiseshell

Small tortoiseshell

As we went in to the meadow we disturbed this grass snake, and we watched it slither up the hill to the birch trees at the top.  

Grass snake

Grass snake

We then sat quietly and did a still hunt, looking closely at the miniature world of the meadow around us before using sweep nets to catch grasshoppers, spiders, beetles, true bugs and more.

Meadow sweeping

Meadow sweeping

We also saw a solitary bee, small skipper butterfly, ruby-tailed wasp and marmalade hoverfly:

Solitary bee

Solitary bee

Small skipper

Small skipper

Ruby-tailed wasp

Ruby-tailed wasp

Marmalade hoverfly

Marmalade hoverfly

My highlight from the meadow though was this solitary wasp, the Bee-wolf. The females prey on honeybees, paralysing them with a sting and carrying them back to their sandy burrow. Up to six paralysed honeybees are placed in each chamber within the burrow, then a single egg is laid and the chamber is sealed with sand. After hatching, the larva feed on the honeybees before spinning a cocoon to hibernate in through the winter and emerging the following spring.

Bee wolf

Bee-wolf

Bee wolf

Bee wolf

Our Wildlife Tots group offers fun outdoor play and wildlife discovery activities for pre-school aged children and their parents or carers once a month, usually (but not always!) on the first Monday. After a break in August, we will be meeting again in September, and details will be available on the events page of our website soon. 

Small copper

Small copper

30 Days Wild – Day 16

Another very warm night and the moths are still improving in numbers, but still feel well down on what I would have expected. Probably the pick of the moths for attractiveness was a very fresh peach blossom.

peach blossom

When it is very warm the moths will fly very easily as they are at an active temperature, rather than having to warm up first, so I had to photograph most of them when they were inside the trap, hence the rather less than flattering background of the next two. The phoenix has disruptive patterning and rests with its abdomen arched upward, a bit like a leaf stalk.

Phoenix

In terms of rarity, or at least scarcity, the best of the catch was a great oak beauty. This is now quite restricted in range as it frequents large, old oak woods, unsurprisingly the New Forest is one of its UK strongholds.

great oak beauty

When I opened up the car parks this morning I spotted a couple of pyramidal orchids growing on the very edge of the concrete.

pyramidal orchid

Car park edges can provide unusual habitats, with broken concrete and gravel providing habitat for perhaps surprising species. As well as the orchids there are several patches of biting stonecrop, a plant typically found on coastal shingle.

biting stonecrop

A fait bit of time today was spent in meetings and various odd jobs. One was trying to restore the non-slip surface to the pond boardwalk, a rather laborious task but being beside the pond had compensations, one of which was finding this newly emerged black-tailed skimmer.

black-tailed skimmer

30 Days Wild – Day 7

Not a lot of wildlife seen today as I was mainly driving around collecting materials. Along the way I dropped into Fishlake Meadows to drop off some posts and pick up the Blashford ladder, the purple heron that has been there for a few days had been seen, but I never made it out of the car park!

I did run the moth trap at Blashford overnight, there were not a great many moths but this little Tinea semifulvella was new for the year. The larvae feed on fur and feathers, often in old bird’s nests.

Tinea semifulvella

When I finally got back to Blashford at the end of the day it seemed it had been another big day for emerging dragonflies, with lots more emperors and some small species too. They usually emerge pre-dawn and make their first flight in the early morning, as they ar every vulnerable to predation by birds when they first emerge. However one had emerged and was still inflating its wings, not an emperor I think, perhaps a black-tailed skimmer, but I am not at all sure.

emerging dragonfly

We occasionally get involved in larger projects and one such is the search for the elusive noble chafer beetle. This big green beetle is known to be in the New Forest, but is regarded as rare, but how rare is not known. It is similar the the much commoner rose chafer, so maybe some get passed off as that species. A project has been set up to try and answer the questions around just where it is and how frequent. It turns out they find one another by use of a pheromone which ha snow been synthesised, meaning they can be attracted to a lure and counted before being released. We are helping out, or trying to, so far we have attracted no beetles, but of course negative data is valuable data, so we are contributing.

noble chafer lure

Here be dragons!

Yesterday we had our second Young Naturalists catch up via Zoom, looking once more at the moths in the light trap using the digital microscope and also at some pond creatures I had caught out of the new dipping pond first thing.

We talked about dragonfly and damselfly nymphs and had another look at an exuvia I had found floating in the pond (the dried outer casing left behind when the nymph finishes the aquatic stage of its lifecycle), looked at lesser and greater waterboatmen and a couple of different diving beetles and a diving beetle larva, talked about what materials cased caddisfly larva use to make their cases (the one I caught was thinner and more streamlined than the one in the photo below, living in a tiny tube made of pieces of reed or leaf), talked about the feathery gills on the baby newts or efts which enable them to breathe underwater and are absorbed as they develop, and watched a whirligig beetle whizzing around on the surface of the water – they definitely have the best name out of all the pond creatures!

I didn’t get round to taking any photos of the creatures as a number were trying to escape whilst I was talking about them, so they were swiftly released back into the pond whilst volunteer Nigel chatted through the moths he had caught in his light trap at home. Here are some photos I took a while ago now, it was quite nice to go pond dipping again!

Nigel had also prepared an A to Z of birds quiz which kept the group entertained, especially as not all of the birds were native to this country. Bonus points were also awarded for additional questions about each bird, so I think the group learnt a thing or two, including where Nigel has been on past holidays!

After a very soggy start to the day the sun came out after lunch so I went for a walk around the reserve. In the meadow I was treated to some great views of a female Black-tailed skimmer, who I had disturbed when passing but seemed content to settle again on the grass:

Female Black-tailed skimmer

Female Black-tailed skimmer

Seeing dragonflies and damselflies at rest is one of the best ways to tell the two apart, dragonflies rest with their wings outstretched, as above, whereas damselflies rest with their wings held together over their abdomen or body:

common blue damselfly

Common blue damselfly at rest

I also found a Mint moth, Pyrausta purpuralis enjoying the ox-eye daisies. Although the grass and flower stems turned brown very quickly with the absence of rain, the flowers themselves are still blooming.

P1180411 (2)

Mint moth, Pyrausta purpuralis

On my way up to Lapwing Hide I saw what I first thought was a bumblebee, but on closer inspection realised it was a bumblebee hoverfly.

Bee mimic hoverfly volucella plumata

Bee mimic hoverfly, Volucella bombylans var. plumata

This hoverfly is an excellent bumblebee mimic. There are two main varieties, Volucella bombylans var. plumata seen above has yellow bands and a white tail, mimicking the Garden, White-tailed and Buff-tailed bumblebees whilst Volucella bombylans var. bombylans is black with a red tail, mimicking the Red-tailed bumblebee.

Mimicry reduces the chances of the fly being predated because it resembles a bee. In addition, the females lays their eggs in the nests of bumblebees and wasps where the larvae feed on the nest debris and occasionally the bee larvae as well.

On my way back to the Education Centre I was lucky enough to spot another female Black-tailed skimmer, who also posed beautifully so I could take a really good look and take some more photos:

Female Black-tailed skimmer 2

Female Black-tailed skimmer

Female Black-tailed skimmer 4

Female Black-tailed skimmer

Female Black-tailed skimmer 3

Female Black-tailed skimmer

Dragonflies have amazing vision, which they use to locate and catch insects whilst on the wing. Like most insects they have have compound eyes: each eye contains several thousand individual facets, with each facet containing a tiny lens. Combining all the images from each lens makes their sight better than most other insects.

Their eyes are holoptic, which means they meet along the middle of the head and take up most of it, wrapping around the head from the side to the front of the face. In comparison a damselflies eyes are also large, but they do not meet and there is always space between them. This is known as dichoptic and can be seen on the Banded demoiselle below:

P1030688 (2)

Banded demoiselle

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

30 Days Wild – Day 27

That unusual combination of hot and windy today, the breeze providing some, but not  a lot, of relief from the strong sunshine, although increasing the risk of getting unknowingly burnt. The volunteers were tidying up around the Centre and trimming and pulling nettles from the path edges.

The extra warmth is good for dragonflies, snakes and butterflies, although it makes them very active and so difficult to get close to. There are, at last, dragonflies to be seen in fair numbers, most though seem to be emperor or black-tailed skimmer. One species that I thought I might have missed was downy emerald, typically a late April dragonfly at Blashford, that you see through May and tails off in June. So I was pleasantly surprised to find a female beside Ivy North Hide as I locked up. It was also pleasing to get a picture as this is a species that does not often land within reach, often perching high up.

downy emerald female

downy emerald (female)

30 Days Wild – Day 21 – The Longest Day

The longest Thursday in fact and so Blashford volunteers day. We were clearing bramble regrowth to help with grassland restoration around Ellingham Lake, on the way we went around Ellingham Pound where there was a redshank, a species I had never seen there before, all the ones I have seen previously on the reserve have been beside Ibsley Water. The single pair of common tern on the raft on the Pound are still present, I suspect they have small chicks, but we could not see them.

I was supposed to be doing an insect based wildlife walk int he afternoon, but there were no takers, which was a shame as there were lots of insects out and about today. The sunny weather is very popular with Odonata, dragonflies are very evident and there are lots of black-tailed skimmer basking along the paths.

black-tailed skimmer

black-tailed skimmer (male)

As I was not doing the walk I went path cutting on the northern part of the reserve instead, on the way I passed a large flowering patch of bramble. Bramble flower is often good for feeding insects and it did not disappoint, there was a very fresh and fine white admiral, a new species for me at Blashford. Unfortunately I did not have a camera with me so you will just have to imagine it! Whilst path cutting I also saw my first ringlet of the year, although I know the butterfly surveying volunteers have been seeing them for  a few days now.

At the end of the day going to lock up I noticed a patch of hart’s tongue fern in a patch of sunlight, they are typically in shady places and I would guess this patch is only in full sunlight for a very short time each day and perhaps only in mid-summer.

hart's tongue fern

hart’s tongue fern

Back home in the evening I had the moth trap to look at as I had not had time to go through it in the morning. There was nothing of great note until I found a small elephant hawk-moth, not rare but a favourite of mine.

small elephant hawk-moth 2

small elephant hawk-moth

Finally………..

What’s in My Meadow Today?

As summer moves on  anew range of plants are starting to flower and yesterday the first field scabious flower started opening. They will go on flowering well into the autumn and are very popular with bees, hoverflies and butterflies as well as looking great in the grass.

field scabious

field scabious

I established the original few plants from seed and planted them out as small plants, these have now grown very large and are producing seedlings of their own.

30 Days Wild – Day 4 – In Training

Not a very Wild Day today as I was mostly inside receiving First Aid training, important but not very wildlife-filled. On the plus side the training was taking place at Testwood Lakes, so at lunchtime I got out for a short walk around the area nearest the Centre. They have a fine education pond and it had several dragonflies racing about over it, I saw emperor, four-spotted chaser and black-tailed skimmer. On the emergent stems around the edge there were lots of damselfly exuvia, the case that is left when the larva leaves the water to transform into the flying adult. Unlike butterflies and moths this is done without a pupal stage, the aquatic larva walks from the water, the larval skin splits and the adult emerges, this is known as “incomplete metamorphosis”. Other insects that use a similar route are grasshoppers and true bugs. I could not get a picture of a damselfly exuvia but I did find an emperor one close enough to photograph.

emperor exuvia

emperor dragonfly exuvia

The pond is planted up with a good range of native water plants and marginals, we have many very attractive species to choose from. This makes the trade in invasive pond plants all the harder to defend, we do not need them to achieve an attractive pond and dealing with them when the get out into the countryside is very costly. One of my favourite native marginal species is the flowering rush and Testwood has several on full bloom now.

flowering rush

flowering rush

I was first introduced to this species when working at Titchfield Haven many moons ago in a time before digital cameras and mobile phones, hard to imagine such a time now I know!

What’s in My Meadow Today?

It was rather breezy and cloudy when I got home but as quick look in the meadow and I found a resting male common blue, it was waving about alarmingly in the wind but this shot is more or less in focus.

common blue

common blue at rest

Training continues tomorrow, so I doubt I will see much wildlife, but at least everyone should be a little bit safer on the volunteer tasks.

I am lucky as usually I get to spend a lot of my time out in the open and in wildlife rich places, today I had to grab what few minutes I could, but luckily there is, or should be, at least some wildlife somewhere to make every day just little bit wilder.

30 Days Wild – Day 21: More Dragons than Game of Thrones

Although thankfully less death and destruction and all the dragons are dragonflies, they are really enjoying the hot weather. From a photography point of view the heat makes it very difficult to get close to them as they are extremely active. I saw lots of emperor dragonfly today, there have been a number of reports of  the migrant lesser emperor in recent days, although none from Blashford as yet. I did manage to get a picture of a male black-tailed skimmer today though, perched along the path to Ivy South hide as I went to lock up.

black-tailed skimmer

black-tailed skimmer male

The butterflies are also liking the conditions although avoiding the very hottest part of the day. I did see my first ringlet of the year, again on the path to Ivy South hide, they are usually most frequent on the northern side of the reserve, it was too active for me to get a picture this time.

In recent days I have noticed that there almost always seem to be stock dove on the lichen heath, yesterday there were at least eight there. They seem to be picking at the vegetation, or possibly seeds, often they don’t immediately notice me on the path allowing some good views until they suddenly realise I am there and race off with a clatter of wings. Otherwise it was generally quiet, from Tern hide it was good to see two little ringed plover chicks as I opened up along with the single oystercatcher chick.

A Mighty Perch has Landed

I will try and make up for the lack of any posts over the last few days by doing a short run through recent times at Blashford. On Thursday the volunteers were again busy on the western shore of Ibsley Water, raking up the grass, nettles, thistles and brambles that Ed and I were cutting. The idea is to encourage grass growth for wintering wildfowl such as wigeon and for them to leave the grass short enough for it to be suitable for lapwing to nest on in the spring. It is  a lot  of work but we are progressing steadily and hopefully we will see the effects this coming winter. It was quite warm and as we worked there were lots of butterflies, especially marbled white, meadow brown and gatekeeper.

gatekeeper

gatekeeper

At the end of the day on Thursday Ed and I set out to complete a project that he had been planning for some time, this was to put up a tall perch well out in Ibsley Water. As Ibsley Water is mostly between four and seven metres deep this was going to be quite a task.

transporting the perch

transporting the perch

After a bit of searching around for the right spot and the application of specialist perch placing skill the job was done.

the perch in place

the perch in place

All we have to do now is wait for the first osprey to land on it! So far all I have seen are common terns.

terns on the perch

terns on the perch

It was my turn to man the reserve on Saturday and despite mostly attending to office work it was a surprisingly varied day. It started with seeing a very smart adult summer plumage turnstone in front of Tern hide.

turnstone - almost a good shot, I knew we should have weeded the shore!

turnstone – almost a good shot, I knew we should have weeded the shore!

It was around all day and I am sure there will have been many good pictures taken of it, but this was my best.

turnstone

turnstone

In recent days there have been several reports of an adult Arctic tern at the Tern hide, apparently it had a ring on one leg. I photographed this one which fitted the bill in that it has a ring and a, more or less, all red bill, however this is still a common tern.

common tern, ringed adult

common tern, ringed adult

At this time of year many adult common terns bills have reduced black tips, or even no black at all, so you need to check other characters as well. In this case these are easily seen as it is perched so close to the hide. The characters to look for are: dark, almost black outer primaries (the long pointed part of the wings), on a common tern these feathers are old and very worn by now, on an Arctic tern they would be much paler grey. The legs of common tern are also longer as is the bill, but these features are of less use unless you have seen lots of Arctic terns. Sadly this shot shows none of the letters or numbers on the ring, but if anyone else gets pictures of this bird it would be great to try and see if we can read the ring and find out where it has come from.

There were also several of the fledged juvenile common terns around as well, soon these will be leaving so it is good to enjoy them whilst they are still here.

common tern, juvenile

common tern, juvenile

As I said I spent much of the day in the office, but got out on various errands as well, one was to respond to a call to say there was a mute swan stuck on the path alongside Rockford Lake.

swan on the path

swan on the path

Swans that land on Ivy Lake get attacked by the resident pair and if they fail to fly off get pushed up the bank and end up on the path where they are unable to get into Rockford Lake due to the fences. After a brief bit of swan wrestling I got the better of it and was able to lift it over the fence to join the non-breeding flock on Rockford Lake.

It was a great day for insects with lots of butterflies, dragonflies and other creatures out and about. I briefly saw a clearwing most but frustratingly failed to either get a picture or identify it before it flew off. It had been nectaring on a burdock plant at the Centre, which also had lots of tiny picture-winged flies on the flower heads.

picture-winged flies

picture-winged flies

The butterflies included lots of comma and this silver-washed fritillary.

silver-washed fritillary

silver-washed fritillary

Dragonflies included brown hawker, common darter, emperor, a probable migrant hawker and this black-tailed skimmer, which I found eating a damselfly.

black-tailed skimmer

black-tailed skimmer, female

How long will it be before the first osprey lands on the new perch? I for one will be very disappointed if there has not been at least one by the end of August.

Other bird sightings during the day included the great white egret on Ivy Lake, a green sandpiper on Rockford Lake and common sandpiper, dunlin, juvenile redshank and a report of a wood sandpiper all on Ibsley Water. I would be keen to hear more about the last record as only one person seems to have seen it despite there being lots of people about all day, it would be good to know a few details as we don’t see many of them at Blashford.

Damsels, Dragons, Millers, Footmen, Pebbles, Arches and an Elephant

It’s that time of year when, in the insect world, we would expect there to be an awful lot happening . So , as we have done for the last few years, we put on a dragonfly walk on the reserve. At the same time last year I actually ‘phoned around to the people who had booked, advising them that there was little to be seen.  If you remember last summer was a little short of sunshine and warmth.

This year’s walk  promised to be an entirely different affair. Indeed as we opened up the main car park near the Tern Hide there was a little blue gem of an insect by the gate.  It settled on a patch of gravel, darted of rapidly and returned to the same spot and repeated this activity several times, whilst I was trying to inset the key into the padlock. From its size, colour  and behaviour (settling on the ground) it was almost certainly a black-tailed skimmer, not a dragonfly I immediately associate with the reserve . Unfortunately with binoculars and camera in  our car boot and time pressure to open up the reserve and prepare for our visitors, I didn’t get a good view or a picture.  Things were, perhaps,  looking promising for the walk!

On the way round opening the other hides there were an enormous number of blue damselflies , mostly common blue damselfly. We extended our perambulations beyond  simply opening up the hides and were fortunate enough to see a couple of female broad-bodied chaser dragonflies.

We had a dozen participants for the walk.  The temperature was starting to rise so that we had,if anything, the reverse problem of last year.  so I planned a route that would start at the pond near the Education centre and then take us through some of the more shady parts of the reserve to the open, sunny glades where we had seen the damselflies and dragonflies earlier.

All worked fairly well and we had some views of common blue, large red, blue-tailed and emerald damselfly around the pond.   As we wandered further afield we were treated to little pockets of activity, where many common blue damselflies abounded, although we failed to find any azure damselfly which I had hoped would give us good comparison with the common blue. With the temperature climbing sightings of dragonflies were sparse and fleeting. A couple of Emperor dragonfly and distant brown hawker from the Ivy South Hide area and a brief view of  a broad-bodied chaser and another high-flying brown hawker, near the bridge over Dockens Water, were the best on offer.  Fortunately a quick stop at Ivy South Hide rewarded everyone with a clear view of a scarce chaser, perched on a branch over the water and periodically darting out and then back to its perch.

During the wind-up session, back at the pond,  a very obliging common darter (In best ‘Blue Peter’ tradition – ‘one I’d released earlier!!’) made a welcome appearance.

Sorry to say I don’t have any pictures to show you, most of them were moving too rapidly for me to get any decent shots, but I managed to capture an evocative image of some common blue damselflies.

Common blue damselflies

Common blue damselflies

But the heat that made the dragonflies so elusive was a positive help in encouraging  moths into activity and many were attracted to the light trap. With over 100 macro moths from 33 different species there were many attractive insects to catalogue.  In a strange echo of the somewhat mystic or medieval tag of ‘Damsels and Dragons’ which apply to the species mentioned above, many of the moth names have, for me, a resonance of earlier times.   Unlike the dragonflies these are most obliging and I love the myriad shapes and colours( I still don’t understand why are they so colourful when for the most part they are active at night???)  so I thought I’d share a few images with you:-

Miller

Miller

Rosy footman

Rosy footman

Pebble prominent

Pebble prominent

Buff-tip

Buff-tip

Buff Arches

Buff Arches

Elephant Hawkmoth

Elephant Hawkmoth

All the above were at Blashford, but if I may  I’d like to include one we caught at home Friday night – this wonderful Lime Hawkmoth ( a first for me!!)

Lime Hawkmoth

Lime Hawkmoth

As I said above, it’s a time for insects and other mini-beasts, not least of which at the moment are the huge numbers of harvestmen in, on and around all the hides. They are related to spiders, but with almost imposibly long legs.

Harvestman

Harvestman

But let’s not forget the animals that, perhaps, Blashford Lakes are most famous for, the birds.  In particular, the common tern where the tern rafts have, once again, proved very successful, despite earlier worries about the numbers of black-headed gulls that had also taken up residence. I’ll leave you with this image showing a couple of young birds with adults.

Common tern and young

Common tern and young