30 Days Wild – Day 6 – Digging no More

On my way to open the Ivy South hide this morning I found a dead mole lying on the path.

dead mole

dead mole

As sad sight but it did offer the opportunity to take a close look at one of these common, but not often seen, little mammals. They are fantastically well adapted to their life underground, with very dense velvety fur and the most amazing front feet shaped like clawed shovels.

mole front foot

mole’s front foot

The claws seem to have serrated edges, I would guess as an aid to grooming the fur the keep it clean. Living underground they have little need for eyesight and instead use their sense of smell and sensitive whiskers to find food.

mole nose

mole’s nose

The end of the nose looks very like that of a pig, as both find food by shovelling their nose along through the soil I imagine we have to assume that this design is the optimal one for this purpose. Moles are fierce predators, although their prey is mostly worms and insects and they are very effective hunters with voracious appetites and extremely sharp teeth. If ever find a live one and pick it up do so with great care as they will bite and can easily break the skin.

This time of year often sees dead moles above ground, especially if the weather is dry, I suspect lack of food forces them to move around more. Competition with other moles, which can be very vigorous and aggressive, probably leaves some without a set of tunnels and lack of food result in death.

Moth trapping both at home and at Blashford produced no surprises this morning, although at home I did have a fine male fox moth, the large antennae are used to smell for the female pheromones on the air and so find them for mating.

fox moth (male)

fox moth (male)

I was mostly catching up on paperwork int he office today so it was good to get out into the garden for a bit when I got home.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

One of the species that I have managed to establish in the meadow is corky-fruited water dropwort, it is an umbellifer and like most of this family of plants very popular with insects. It is typical of grasslands along the south coast and was very common at Farlington Marshes when I worked there and I’m sure still is.

corky-fruited water dropwort

corky-fruited water dropwort

Whilst looking at the dropwort I saw a blue-tailed damselfly resting in the grass, I don’t see them so much in the daytime, so I think they come to the long grass to roost in the evening as there are often several in the meadow at this time.

blue-tailed damselfly (male)

blue-tailed damselfly (male)

Blue-tailed damselflies are one of the most widespread species and can withstand low levels of pollution and some salinity, so can occur where other species cannot survive. There is a very similar but much rarer species, the scarce blue-tailed damselfly, which I have not seen for a few years. It looks almost identical but the blue segment of the abdomen is one segment further towards the tip. It is most often found in acid areas such as the New Forest, but even here is uncommon, I might have to go and see if I can find some this summer.

Insects on the Up?

The progress of the season has been rather erratic this year, with spells of very warm or even hot weather interspersed with much colder days. Overall I think that we are still a little behind the average of recent years, but it is a very mixed picture.

Sunday was a fine, warm, sunny day with little wind, ideal for insects and I saw my first beautiful demoiselle, broad-bodied chaser, four-spotted chaser and emperor dragonfly of the year. The four-spotted chaser had emerged from the Centre pond, I think th efirst time I have proved that they have done so there, although I have seen individuals there a number of times. Numbers of large red, common blue, azure and blue-tailed damselfly are also continuing to build.

I am trying to look more closely at the bees on the reserve this year, Blashford has a lot of dry ground with sandy slopes, ideal for solitary bees. In fact “brownfield sites” such as Blashford are particularly good for bees as they often have variations in soil type, slopes and banks ideal for nesting.

Andrena bicolor

Andrena bicolor

Gwynne’s mining bee, Andrena bicolor is one of our commonest spring mining bees and also has a summer brood, it is a close relative of the much rarer grey -backed mining bee, Andrena vaga which was found on the reserve for the first time a couple of weeks ago. The rarer species is still around, but not in the same numbers as a fortnight ago, some of them are getting worn now and so look rather like the much commoner ashy mining bee Andrena cineraria.

ashy mining bee excavating

ashy mining bee Andrena cineraria excavating a nest tunnel.

For several years now there has been increasing evidence of an overall decline in total insect abundance, it is very hard to prove absolutely but accounts of declining moth trap catches and a general scarcity of many insects is attested by many. Older people will remember that when travelling any distance by car in the summer it was necessary to clean many squashed insects off the windscreen. Of course more aerodynamic cars may be a factor too. Whatever the reason it has become much harder to find many insect species in the average summer these days. It was pleasing to see a fair few hoverflies out yesterday including a number of Cheilosia species, a rather difficult genus of mainly black species, the identification of the images below maybe open to revision!

Cheilosia bergenstammi male

Cheilosia bergenstammi (male)

Cheilosia impressa

Cheilosia impressa (female)

Despite the warmer days the nights are still quiet cool and so the moth trap has remained quiet. The pick of the catch was a chocolate-tip moth, it is evidently quiet a good year for therm as this was the third we have caught recently.

chocolate-tip

chocolate-tip

The only grasshoppers and crickets about at present are a few tiny nymphs, but this is the time for finding adult groundhoppers, although the only one I saw was a common groundhopper, but at least it posed for a picture.

common groundhopper

common groundhopper

It would be good to think that we are turning a corner in the insect decline, unfortunately I doubt it, I suspect the wider environment is continuing to become less insect friendly. Although some of this is down to the use of very effective insecticides and industrial mono-culture farming, it is also our overall failure to leave any space for them, even where it would be easy to do so.

An Emperor and a Mullet Hawk

Lots of woodland birds about but mostly hidden in the dense foliage whilst they go about their breeding business.

Out on the water, the tern rafts are well occupied. I’m told, by those with sharper eyes than mine, that there are 15 pairs of common tern.  With luck this should ensure a reasonable breeding season, although many are sharing their rafts with black-headed gulls – not a recipe for raising small tern chicks successfully.

Tern raft with compliment of common terns and black-headed gulls

Tern raft with compliment of common terns and black-headed gulls

One of the perpetual mysteries, following  successful  common tern breeding in previous years, is the apparent lack of returning youngsters.  Admittedly its very difficult to be sure of the provenance of any of the terns which breed here. Given their location on the rafts, ringing the chicks would be quite  difficult and because of the mixed age of chicks from  different pairs, the optimum time for ringing some could well disturb others and cause them to abandon the rafts, with disastrous consequences.

A few fortunate visitors were lucky enough to see an osprey passing through, although I gather it was quite distant. A old local name for these birds is mullet hawk, presumably from their habit of catching such fish around the coast and within estuaries.

At least four different damselfly species are  on the wing, common blue, azure, blue tailed  and large red.   The warmer conditions are encouraging the emergence of other insects. Yesterday  a couple of visitors spotted  this emperor dragonfly hanging up in some nettles. The strong green colouring caused some confusion at first sight and downy emerald was suggested, but on closer inspection I’m fairly sure its a freshly emerged emperor dragonfly.

Freshly emerged emperor dragonfly

Freshly emerged emperor dragonfly