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.

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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

A Close Encounter of the Adder Kind

Two days together as I was too late last night to blog. Wednesday saw the last of my “Get to Know Invertebrates” courses on what was not a very good day for looking for the target groups which were dragonflies, damselflies and grasshoppers and crickets. Despite the less that ideal weather we did find quite a few species. To find dragonflies we resorted to looking for larvae in the Centre pond, we found a large emperor larva, several small hawker larvae, probably southern hawkers and 2 downy emerald larvae, or at least that is what we decided they were anyway, which I had not seen in this pond before.

emperor dragonfly larva

The downy emerald larvae have unusually long antennae for larvae and rather long spidery legs. I had always associated them with larger ponds and lakes surrounded by trees, but the two we caught seemed to be doing well in the little Centre pond.

downy emerald larva

We saw only two adult dragonflies one of which we could not identify on the distant brief views we had, the other was a fresh black-tailed skimmer that we found in the meadow.

black-tailed skimmer

Damselflies were found resting in the rushes but we were luckier with the grasshoppers, it was warm enough for them to be active and we found good numbers of mottled, meadow and field grasshoppers as well a nymphs of speckled bush-cricket and long-winged conehead.

Today was Volunteer Thursday, so despite the similarly iffy forecast, I was pretty confident about the weather and so it proved, although there was one very, very brief shower. We were clearing ragwort (again), but have now all but cleared the eastern shore of Ibsley Water apart from the area with the lapwing chick(s). I started by collecting up some of the heaps from the last two weeks and luckily was paying attentions and did not just grab the pile with the adder sitting on it!

adder

It was sitting in the shelter of the heap so as to be out of the wind and in the sun whenever it came out, obviously it was a good spot as there are several flies perched on the snake , including one on top of her head. It is a female and although mature, not yet fully grown. I also saw at least 3 grass snakes today, including 2 from the Ivy South hide.

The moth trap was a bit disappointing this morning with fewer moths than yesterday. In the bottom of the trap was the evidence of bird activity with the remains of a broad bordered yellow underwing, the colour is very intense and much darker than the large yellow underwing.

broad bordered yellow underwing remains

Closing up at the end of the day I made another record count of mute swan for Ivy Lake, they are now up to at least 65 and I think probably 68.

Some of the 65 (or was it 68?)

I also saw the recently hatched common tern chicks today, this last pair is so far behind the others that I think within a week they will be along as all the rest will have flown. From the Tern hide I saw a fledged redshank chick, possibly the one from the western shore of the lake that I last saw about ten days ago.

In the end it was a much better day than yesterday and especially so for butterflies, I saw meadow brown, gatekeeper, marbled white, large white, small white, red admiral, comma and several small skippers.

small skipper male

 

 

 

 

A Giant Felled

I will miss out bird news today as there really wasn’t any. The insects continue to hot up though with the moth trap having over thirty-five species including a few new for the year and one quite scarce one, a beautiful brocade.

beautiful brocade

The caterpillars feed on bog myrtle, so it may have wandered down from the New Forest or possibly have been reared on our very own small patch. Other moths included the first large yellow underwing of the year, spectacle, nut-tree tussock, maiden’s blush, orange footman, snout, alder moth, buff tip and silver Y.

alder moth

Non-moths included an orange ladybird and a giant lacewing. It was also a good day for various other species, I saw my first Odontomyia tigrina, a species of black soldierfly, of the year, but failed to get a picture as it was just too far to reach over the pond. I did get a fair shot of a bee-fly though.

Bombylius major

Just before lunch the overflow form one of the tanks in the loft started to gush into the stones behind the Centre, the ball valve had failed and a quick trip to the builders merchants was in order, fortunately it did not tack too long to fix. However on my way back I noticed the giant hogweed plants on the verge near Ivy Lane and decided I really should do something about them before they get too established, so int he afternoon I went down and cut through the tap-root of each one below the lowest leaf, which I understand should kill the plant. I had thought all the plants were ont he verge but I did find one inside the reserve, this is yet another invasive alien species and one we do  not want, although magnificent to look at it  a serious skin irritant and can become very dominant and then difficult to control.

cut down giant hogweed

On my way back to the Centre I passed the Ellingham Inlet Pound where there were good numbers of red-eyed damselflies and my first black-tailed skimmer of the season, although so newly emerged as to not have a black tail yet.

black-tailed skimmer, newly emerged male

 

blue-tailed damselfly

 

beautiful demoiselle

Some were not quite so lucky and one male damselfly had fallen prey to a spider.

spider with damselfly

At the end of the day I went out onto Ivy lake to deploy the refuge rafts for the common tern chicks, they are actually just old pallets but they serve very well. They provide a place to large chicks to perch if they get blown off the rafts when exercising, just before they can fly, this can result in them getting dumped into the water and then not being able to get back on the nesting rafts due to the fencing around the edge. The danger is that if they spend a day int he water they get cold and die, whereas if they can climb out somewhere safe they can usually fly within a day or so and are usually fine.

afloat with tern refuges

I wa sable to get a count of the tern nests, there were seventeen with eggs, sixteen with the usual full clutch of three, one of one, which is probably a new nest and still with eggs being laid. There was also a nest scrape with no eggs so I expect there are eighteen pairs in all.