Greens

The cool autumn nights see rather few moths flying, but those that are around include some of the most attractive of the year. A personal favourite, as I have posted beforen (several times!), is the Merveille du jour, with its black, white and green colour scheme, there was one particularly fine one in the Blashford trap this morning.

merveille du jour

A lot of autumn moths are yellow or brown, presumably as camouflage as the leaves change colour, but there are also several with shades of green. The merveille du jour would be well hidden on a lichen covered tree, whereas the green brindled crescent might do better in the vegetation.

green brindled crescent

Although the moth traps with their ultra-violet light attract most of the moths it is also worth checking the security lights and today the one at the Centre door had attracted a micro moth Tinea semifulvella, a species with caterpillars that eat organic debris in places like old bird nests.

Tinea semifulvella

The trap attracts various other insect as well, most conspicuously caddisflies. Unfortunately these are harder to identify and I have never spent much time trying to name them, although I do have an identification key, but it takes time to get started on a new group and I never seem to have any of that to spare.

Halesus sp. caddisfly

At least I am pretty confident about the genus of the one above, I have not even got that far with the one below.

caddisfly

Over the last few years the alder trees that used to line the Ivy Silt Pond have been dying or otherwise have needed to be felled, gradually opening up the view from the footpath. The aim now is to try to open up the view along as much of the path’s length as possible. This does make it easier to see the birds on the pond but, more importantly, it makes it easy for the birds to see us. Wildfowl on water feel quite safe, even if there is a predator about, so long as they know where it is and know they can escape if they need to. In this case we are the potential threat, but if we can be seen and are a safe distance away that is probably okay. By cutting the bramble to about waist height they can easily see we are behind the hedge but can easily follow where we are as we go down the path. In this way they are likely to habituate to the presence of people, but it does take time.

Opened up view of Ivy Silt Pond

I was delighted this morning to see 24 mallard. 2 gadwall, 2 teal and a wigeon on this pond, what is more all, apart from the teal, stayed feeding quietly as I walked by. Habituation would be my preferred option throughout the reserve if it were possible, it offers more opportunity to see the wildlife, but it does depend upon the separation between people an wildlife to be very predictable. It works well on coastal sites with deep ditches or mudflats separating viewer from the wildlife, such as is found at Farlington Marshes or Lymington/Keyhaven Marshes. Contrary to what you often read walking on the skyline is actually a good thing on these sites as the birds can always see where the people are and know that if we are on the top of the seawall we are not a threat. Perhaps unsurprisingly wildlife likes to feel safe and avoids unpredictable situations. One way to accommodate more wildlife into our lives is to understand this and plan accordingly, we could have a lot more space for wildlife without actually needing more physical space, all we need to do is think about how we design and use the space we share.

30 Days Wild – Day 13 – The Eyes Have It

After the long sunny spell of lockdown we are now in a spell of old fashioned English summer weather, a bit of sunshine then a shower or even a thunderstorm.

silt pond

Approaching shower over the Ivy Silt Pond

When the sun comes out it is strong and very warm, these conditions are actually good for insect photography as the insects need to warm up after each cloudy spell meaning they are basking a lot more than in continuously sunny conditions. The timber of the planters outside the Centre make an idea spot to warm up and are being used by lots of species.

leaf cutter bee

leaf-cutter bee

I know Tracy has already posted some pictures of the green-eyed flower bee, but prepare yourselves for another, as they are very smart little insects.

green-eyed flower bee

green-eyed flower bee (male)

The eyes of many insects are very large and provide a huge field of view using an array of separate element arranged together in a compound eye. This is evidently very effective  enabling them to move at speed, through dense vegetation and often backwards or sideways. In some insects the eyes are patterned or coloured, the green-eyed flower bee is both as are the horseflies.

Tabanid

band-eyed brown horsefly Tabanus bromius (male)

This is a male horsefly and so it won’t bite, like a lot of male flies it has much larger eyes than the female providing very close to all-round vision. The size of the eye facets also varies across the eye surface, sometimes in ways that will identify the species. It seems that the larger facets give better acuity. Male horseflies feed at flowers, so not too difficult to find, the large eyes are for finding and  identifying females and avoiding predators as many are large and tempting prey for birds. Horseflies are also very fly fast and it seems they can process visual information much faster than we can allowing them to navigate between obstacles at high speed. The males of many species also perform dance flights, often in the very early mornings, long before the day has warmed up.

I made a site check walk around the reserve, which told me that the rain has produced a spurt of growth in brambles and next week I will need to get out and cut the path edges again. I also found a “new” pyramidal orchid, that is one somewhere I had not seen before and a very fine example it was.

pyramidal orchid

pyramidal orchid

The marsh thistle is just coming into flower, it comes in two colour forms, this being the pale one and is a plant I always associate with silver-washed fritillary, as they seem particularly fond of nectaring at the flowers.

marsh thistle

marsh thistle

Although I ran the moth trap there was not a great deal caught. In the great days of the Victorian moth collectors they did not have lamps to attract moths in any quantity and so found lots by looking for and then rearing larvae. I found this caterpillar on an oak branch, checking in the excellent and recently published Field Guide to Caterpillars by Barry Henwood and Phil Sterling, I concluded it was almost certainly a maiden’s blush.

maiden's blush

maiden’s blush (I think)

 

Continuing Works and Wildlife

We are still in the grips of various construction projects on the reserve and the pace is going to step up again next week. The levelling of the Centre car park should be completed early next week, so things on that front should ease. At the same time on Monday work on the new dipping pond behind the Education Centre starts and on Tuesday we commence taking down the Tern hide. This will lead to some disturbance and disruption, however we will be trying to keep this to a minimum and the reserve will be open throughout, with only local restrictions at times.

At the end of the works we will have a new dipping pond, which we need as our existing one is leaking. Having the levelled car park should mean the rainwater no longer puddles near the Education Centre. Replacing the Tern hide is needed because the existing one is starting to show its age and we didn’t want to wait until it actually starts to fall down, although the floor is starting to give way so time was not on our side.

Meanwhile out on the reserve yesterday saw the bittern seen again at Ivy North hide after no reports the day before and also a report of the yellow-browed warbler again near Ivy South hide.

It might only be the end of January but the season is on the move, near Woodland hide the wild daffodils are starting to push up.

wild daffodil pushing up

wild daffodil just showing above ground

More remarkably I came across a bramble bush with flowers on!

bramble flowers

January bramble flowers

The Woodland hide is getting busier, and there have been reports of single brambling and redpoll in recent days, despite taking  a look all I saw were the “regulars”.

nuthatch

Nuthatch, a ringed bird, perhaps from the nesting box on the Education Centre

Late in the day I was at Goosander hide as the gulls were arriving to roost. I have noticed before that the black-headed gull often look as though they are feeding, swimming around constantly picking at the water’s surface. I assume feeding on some sort of emerging insect, probably a gnat of some sort, however I have never seen as many doing this so densely packed together as I did last evening.

gull feeding frenzy

black-headed gull flock feeding at the water’s surface

So the reserve is still open and full of all the usual wildlife, but please bare with us if there are areas cordoned off from time to time and please take note of any signs and fences as these will indicate safe routes and keep contractors diggers and people safely separate.

Busy in the Sunshine

Sorry for the lack of posts, we seem to have been very busy and by the end of the day exhaustion has taken over. It is the time of year when there is lots of growth to cut back, bramble regrowth to cut off and nettle to remove from potential grassland areas. Today I spent the morning removing ragwort from one of the areas due to be mowed later this month and the afternoon mowing bramble regrowth from a bank beside Ibsley Water where we are trying to establish grassland. Hot and heavy work, there are times when I think I am getting too old for it! Being out in the sun did mean I saw lots of butterflies, meadow brown and gatekeeper are probably the most abundant now.

gatekeeper

gatekeper

There are also a number of summer broods out, I saw peacock, small tortoiseshell, common blue, brown argus and small copper. Possibly a side effect of the hot weather is the number of common blue that are unusually small, some as small or smaller than brown argus. I think this happens because the food quality of the plant the caterpillar was on was not good enough or in sufficient quantity for it to grow to full size.

When I had lunch I took a look at the Centre pond and there were dozens of pairs of azure damselfly pairs, egg-laying in tandem. They do this so that the male can be sure that the eggs being laid are the ones that he has fertilised. Some dragonflies do the same and others will stay hovering close tot eh female whilst she lays.

azure damselfly pairs

azure damselfly pairs

I know that I was only doing “What’s in My Meadow Today” during 30 Days Wild, but I will end with a picture from there anyway. One thing that is very noticeable as the grass has gone brown and then yellow is that some plants remain green, field scabious is one of these, which is not just green but flowering well.

small skipper on field scabious

small skipper on field scabious

30 Days Wild – Day 26 – Seeking the Sleepy

A very hot day, which caused me some problems when trying to choose a task for the Tuesday volunteers. We have a lot of mowing to do at this time of year, but working for long periods in such hot sunshine is not safe or sensible. What we did was spend a short session clearing nettle and bramble regrowth from the western shore of Ibsley Water, but with five people working we still got a good bit done.

The aim of this work is to establish grassland along this shore and in particular along the earth bank put up to screen the gravel digging and later lake from the busy A338 Salisbury road. The difficult with such earth banks is that they are deep soils with lots of nutrients they grow great crops of nutrient hungry “weedy” species, so this bank was initially dominated by a huge growth of ragwort. We got on top of that and then the area became dominated by nettles with bramble. Repeated mowing can get on top of this and eventually grasses will replace them but it is hard work and ideally the cuttings are raked up and removed. In fact what we are doing is trying to establish a herb-rich grassland by removing nutrients, exactly the principle of hayfield management.

We stopped for an early lunch and then headed for some shade to put up some dormouse boxes. We had a report of an animal seen in a small willow a few weeks ago which sounded quiet good for this species, but which we have not certainly recorded on the reserve. So we have put out five boxes in a suitable area and see if we can confirm them as present. Dormice will sleep during the peak of the summer so I don’t expect we will get any signs of occupancy for at least several months, possibly even until next year.

When I was locking up I saw my first common tern chick attempting to fly, it ended in a splash-down in the lake but this is not normally a problem for them unless they have been very prematurely forced from the raft. Tern chicks swim well and we have refuges for them to climb out onto. Also on Ivy Lake it was interesting to see two new coot nests, it seems very late for them to be starting here, but this has been an odd season for coot. In the spring all the coot left, just when they would normally have been starting to nest and they only really returned around six weeks ago and then seemed only interested in feeding.

At home my moth trap had caught another small elephant hawk-moth, a pine hawk-moth, buff arches and 2 festoon.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Although the grass is high one of the interesting elements to a hay meadow is that the mix herb species means that the structure is many layered. There are flowering plants with their head above the top of the grass stems, but also low down just a few centimetres above the ground level. One of the ground floor residents and a very good nectar source is selfheal, which is coming to the end of its flowering season now.

selfheal

selfheal

I confess I had never looked very closely at the flowers of this common plant before, so had never noticed the “spines” on the tops of the flowers. I do not know their purpose, but perhaps they are to encourage insects to use only the open “front door” to the flower, which is where they will pick up the pollen that the plants wants transporting to the next flower.

Not many of the  “30 Days” left now and day 27 will be spent in meeting, so wildlife might be in short supply!

30 Days Wild – Day 12 – The Power of a Flower

Tuesday at Blashford is volunteer day, or at least one of them, we also have a regular work party on a Thursday as well, today we were balsam pulling. The balsam in question is Himalayan balsam, a garden plant that escaped into the countryside and particularly likes growing along river and stream banks, “riparian habitats” as they are known. It is an extraordinary plant, growing to two or three metres tall in a matter of a few weeks,outgrowing all native plants that live in similar places. It also has explosive seed pods which can throw the seeds a metre or more when they pop. Being a non-native it has escaped its natural disease and insect controls and grows almost without check, which is why it has become a problem.

before

a disappointingly large stand of balsam

We have been removing this plant by pulling them up for many years now and have made good progress on the upper parts of the Dockens Water, where there are very few plants now. Clearly though, we failed to find quiet a few plants last year for there to be quite such a dense stand as this. Flooding carries the seed along and will also concentrate it where the seed gets deposited. We had a lot of plants to pull up, but we did pull them up and this is what it looked like a short while later.

after

after balsam pulling

What is very clear is that once the balsam is gone there is very little other vegetation, showing how it out competes other species.

Himalayan balsam has very nectar rich flowers, leading some to claim it is “Good for bees”, bees and other insects will take nectar from it, but I think the case for it being “good for bees” is very questionable. When it flowers it is very popular, but before this it shades out all the other flowering plants that would providing nectar, so across the season it probably provides no more than would be there anyway, it makes the habitat one of feast or famine cutting off food sources earlier in the season.

Flowers are immensely rich sources of food for lots of creatures, perhaps especially insects, but I have watch deer carefully picking off flowers and leaving the rest of the plant. The flower has the protein-rich pollen and the sugar-rich nectar, in short the stuff needed to make animals and keep them running. The flowers are not giving this largess, they are trying to get their pollen transferred to another flower to allow seed formation and make new plants. As the year progresses different flowers become the main attraction for lots of insects. Just now hemlock water dropwort is very attractive, but a new draw is appearing in the form of bramble flowers.

bramble flowers

bramble flowers

We easily notice the larger species such as butterflies, but look closer and you will see lots of tiny insects.

bramble flower with pollen beetles

A bramble flower with several small beetles

I think the beetles in the picture are pollen beetles, but I am not certain.

Closely related to brambles, the roses are at their peak now, the similarity in flower form between the bramble and this dog rose are clear even if the rose is the showier.

dog rose

dog rose

I was pleased to receive reports of four little ringed plover chicks seen today from Tern hide, the first proof of any hatching so far this year. It was also good to see the common tern arriving at the rafts on Ivy Lake carrying small fish to feed newly hatched chicks.

My moth trap highlight today was a lobster moth caught at home, not a species I see very often and I still have to find the extraordinary caterpillar which is the source of the moth’s name.

lobster moth

lobster moth

To refer back to my earlier comments about the food value of flowers, I noticed the mullein moth caterpillar in my garden has eaten most of the flowers off the figwort plant, it has eaten all the best bits first!

mullein moth on figwort

mullein moth on figwort

What’s in My Meadow Today?

I know it is not a plant that belongs in a meadow in southern England, but I like bloody crane’s-bill, so I have it in the meadow, where it grows and seeds quite well.

bloody cranesbill

bloody crane’s-bill flower

Something else that does not really belong are the anthills, this is not because ants are not native here, but you do not usually get anthills in meadows. This is because a meadow is really a field that is grown to produce a crop of grass, so the act of cutting the field would knock down the anthills before they became large. I cut the grass around the anthills taking care to leave them to get bigger year by year as I rather like them. This maybe because I spent many years working at Farlington Marshes where the masses of anthills are a significant feature of the reserve.

anthill

One of the anthills being extended by the ants.

 

30 days Wild – Day 10 –

I had the best moth catches of the year so far both at home, where the pick was a privet hawk-moth and at Blashford where honours were shared between a small elephant hawk-moth and a scarce merveille du jour.

scarce merveille du jour

scarce merveille du jour

The day was warm, although not always sunny, but it was warm enough for damselflies and dragonflies to be flying. The small blue damselflies so far have mostly been azure, but the numbers of common blue seem to be increasing and both can get very abundant at Blashford in good years.

common blue damselfly

common blue damselfly (male)

I had some mowing to do in the morning in an area where we are trying to establish a grassland and prevent the encroachment of bramble, we are getting there, but it takes time. Cutting at this time or year hits the bramble hard and although it does have an impact upon annual species perennials survive perfectly well and will benefit in the long run. I only cut a small part of the area at any one time, which also helps to minimise the impact. In one of the better areas which I was not cutting I found a single bee orchid.

bee orchid

bee orchid

The management of open areas does not just involve cutting, we also graze some areas and on the lichen heath we have been experimenting with stripping off the top few centimetres of vegetation. This gets us back to the mineral, sandy gravel to see if we can combat the increase in nutrients which is slowly turning it into dry acid grassland. Looking at one of the plots today I think we may have had some success as it was well colonised by one of the areas rarer plant species , slender bird’s-foot-trefoil,  a species that does not seem to like competition.

slender bird's-foot-trefoil

slender bird’s-foot-trefoil

Once again today I saw a painted lady, this one flying vigorously northwards, so no picture, I did get one of the other migrant butterfly I saw, a red admiral. It was perched on nettle, the foodplant so this one might have had more of a mind to breed than migrate.

red admiral

red admiral on nettle

The nearest thing to bird highlight on the reserve today was a bar-headed goose, as their native range is other side of the Himalayas I think we can be sure it is an escapee or the descendant of escapees.

I got home, with time to take a quick look in the meadow…………

What’s in My Meadow Today?

I mentioned meadow buttercup yesterday and today I spotted a small yellow and black hoverfly on one of the flowers. It is a common and distinctive species and one that is probably found in gardens all over the country.

Sphaerophoria scripta

Sphaerophoria scripta  (male) on meadow buttercup

My other find was a couple of ants on a flower of common vetch, they seemed to be feeding, at the base of the flower, possibly they had made a hole to get at the nectar flow without entering the flower, as bumblebees will do to runner bean flowers, effectively taking the nectar without doing the job of pollination.

common vetch and ant

common vetch and ant

Making the most of it…

Over the last few weeks we have been utilising our willow crop, making the most of the many withies our osier bed produces. Sometimes referred to as basket willow, common osier has traditionally been coppiced or pollarded for its withies: thin, pliable rods used for making baskets or hurdles, screens or sculptures.

IMG_6091

Willow withies, cut and ready to be woven!

Willow is of value to wildlife, with the caterpillars of a number of moth species feeding on the foliage, the catkins providing an important source of early nectar and pollen for bees and other insects and the branches making good nesting and roosting sites for birds.

Our volunteers were busy harvesting the willow over the winter months. Some are left to grow for longer, producing large poles which can be used for fencing stakes or den building poles, whilst our main bed is pollarded each year, providing us with toasting sticks for cooking food over the campfire, bundles of willow we can sell to willow weavers and Forest School leaders for willow craft activities and lots of withies we can use ourselves.

At their February meeting, our Young Naturalists had a go at constructing a living willow dome to the side of the Education Centre. Although it may not look living now, the willow rods pushed into the ground will hopefully take, producing lots of side shoots we can then weave into the basic structure.

We began by pollarding the last few willows in the osier bed and rummaging through the piles of cut withies to select a number which were nice and long and straight.

Using a piece of twine tied to a stick pushed into the ground, we measured out our willow dome and pushed a number of withies into the ground in a circle. We then pulled in the tips of those rods and tied them together at the top before adding some horizontally part way up the structure to pull in the shape and create a dome.

Megan had made willow hoops on a Natural Wellbeing session in January whilst with us for work experience and shared this new found knowledge with Mollie and Will, producing a number of hoops we could use as windows.

IMG_0667-001

Making willow hoop windows

We added in two archways for doors and our willow hoop windows then, having run out or time, admired our creation.

IMG_20180225_142745

Our willow dome

Hopefully the willow will grow and over time we will be able to strengthen our structure with the new growth, giving it more shape and definition. I know it will be a welcome addition to the area by the Education Centre, our Wildlife Tots in particular loved the structure when they joined us at the start of the month. Thank you to volunteers Geoff and Roma for your help, and to volunteer placement Sarah who has added in more willow over the past week to fill in some of our gaps!

IMG_20180309_165528

Our willow dome with a few more willow rods – thank you Sarah!

We have also used the willow to make hedgerow baskets on an adult workshop and simple platters with children from Moyles Court School as part of their Global Development Day.

On our hedgerow workshop we harvested the willow on day one, using it to create the framework of our baskets before foraging for other materials on day two, including bramble, holly, ivy, sedge, rush, broom, birch and larch, experimenting with these materials when weaving the body of the basket. Here are some of our participants finished creations:

At Moyles Court School we made simple willow platters with the children as part of their Global Development Day, introducing them to the material and discussing the many uses of willow. They really enjoyed their willow weaving experience and everyone went away with a willow platter they had expertly woven:

Whilst we’ve used a lot of last year’s willow growth, we still have plenty left for other creations, projects and campfire cooking – and there will always be more of this wonderful natural material to harvest next Winter and use in the Spring!

A Day by the Sea

On Monday Jo and I spent the morning working with the Milford Conservation Volunteers at Keyhaven. Although we mainly work at Blashford Lakes and Fishlake Meadows we have a number of other sites to look after. The reserve at Keyhaven is large, consisting of almost all the saltmarshes and mudflats outside the sea wall between Hurst Beach and the Lymington River. It is an important reserve for nesting gulls and terns in the summer and for waders and wildfowl in the winter. Its value is greatly enhanced by the neighbouring Hampshire County Council nature reserve, together the two reserves make one of the largest areas managed for nature conservation in the county.

The work we were doing was on the one small area of the Trust reserve that is inside the seawall. The wall here used to be a rather porous construction of timber and clay, as a result the land behind it was wet and quiet salty. Since the wall was reconstructed just over 25 years ago the saltwater has been kept out more effectively and the area has become drier and fresher. A lot of species are adapted to live in the narrow habitat band that lies between the saltiness of the sea and truly freshwater, as this habitat is very restricted these species tend to be very local and frequently rare. A time of rising sea level might be thought of as one which would bring benefits to these species, but in fact many are in decline. Our modern seawalls are effectively engineered so that they keep almost all of the saltwater outside and freshwater inside, the fuzzy edge that was the home of the brackish habitat lovers has been squeezed.

I was approached last year by a group of local residents interested in the potential of getting the brackish elements back, by finding a way to get some more seawater onto the marsh. It was really exciting to have such interest in what is often perceived as a dull habitat. Although we are still looking at how they goal might be achieved there is interest in the idea from both Natural England and the Environment Agency.

Monday’s task was to tackle some of the scrub that has established since the site has become fresher so that the former open character can be restored. We coppiced lots of willow and cleared a large area of bramble thicket. Hopefully once there is a more salty regime this will help to limit the regrowth of much of this scrub and encourage brackish marshland habitat.

 

P1090874
Clearing bramble thicket with the Milford Conservation Volunteers, (and collecting rubbish).

 

A Clear(er) View

On Thursday the volunteers cleared the annual vegetation from in front of the Tern hide, we do this each year for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is that it improves the view of the nearest shore from the hide. Another is that it clears the ground for the nesting lapwing and little ringed plover next spring. There are also always some seedling bramble, birch and willow that need pulling out before they get established.

before

The shore before we started

after

and after a couple of hours of hard weeding

Looking out from the hide today this did not make much difference as visibility was seriously reduced due to persistent heavy rain. Despite this there were some birds to see, including at least 800 sand martin, 3 swift, 2 dunlin, a little ringed plover, 3 common sandpiper, 33 mute swan and 3 pochard. Ivy Lake was quieter with just a few coot, gadwall and great crested grebe, there are also still two broods of two common tern chicks on the rafts.

Today was not a day for invertebrates, but I do have one more picture from Thursday, spotted in long grass as I went round locking up, a wasp spider, my first of the year.

wasp spider

Wasp spider female with prey.