Look out behind you

Behind You!

Many thanks to Jon Mitchell for sending in the “action shot”!

Just thought you might like to see a photo I took from Ivy South on Sunday afternoon (whilst waiting for a kingfisher to perch – no joy!). Us photographers were keeping ourselves amused by taking shots of a female brown hawker that was depositing eggs on the underwater parts of the branches of the fallen tree in front of the hide. At one point, a coot shot in to try and catch the hawker and have a nice high-protein meal.

Fortunately (for the hawker – not for the coot) the dragonflies eyes were good enough to see the coot coming behind her – and she flew away just in time.”

Otherwise things are much the same as they were last time I blogged although the number of hirundines on site has certainly dropped. There are still at least three great white egrets (reported again this morning, on Ibsely Water) and photographers are still semi-permanently encamped in Ivy South Hide waiting for a stunning kingfisher picture. The kingfisher is still very much in evidence but this week I think there have been far more kingfisher sightings than pictures!

The stinkhorns I posted last week are now limp stipes, but have been replaced by new ones which have emerged sequentially every few days and I’ve spotted the odd beefsteak fungus starting to form now too.

 

The Heat Continues

After a June and 30 Days Wild which was extremely hot and the met office now tells us was the driest on record we have now hit July and things are not changing. I did see some cloud on Sunday, but all it seemed to do was increase the humidity.

The heat is making it difficult to work, despite this on Sunday five volunteers turned out and we pulled Himalayan balsam for an hour and a half, a remarkable effort. On Monday I saw removing ragwort from the areas I plan to mow on the shore of Ibsley Water.

All this heat continues to be very good for insects, the moth catch overnight on Sunday/Monday was the highest I have ever had at Blashford, one trap caught 96 species! This included a lot of micro moths, many of these are quite spectacular looking, but it is hard to appreciate what they really look like as they are so small.

Mompha propinquella

Mompha propinquella

The one above is actually quiet common and I see it fairly regularly. I did catch a few new species for the reserve including a chalk grassland species that feeds on marjoram, a plant which does grow in the gravel near the building, so perhaps it was a local rather than a wanderer.

Acompsia schmidtiellus

Acompsia schmidtiellus a species that feeds on marjoram.

There are lots of butterflies and dragonflies around the reserve. Silver-washed fritillary are having a good year and gatekeeper are now emerging as are the summer broods of small copper and brown argus.

gatekeeper

gatekeeper

Brown hawker and southern hawker dragonflies are both already flying in some numbers, although common darter are still quiet few.

southern hawker

southern hawker

The picture above was my best of a few attempts at getting a flight shot over the Centre pond at Sunday lunchtime. At the same time I saw a large red damselfly that had fallen into the pond and been preyed upon by a water boatman.

water boatman with large red damselfly prey

water boatman with large red damselfly prey

When you are an insect there are many ways to die more or less everything is out to get you! There are predators and more gruesomely parasites almost everywhere. I found a parasitic wasp hunting for a beetle larva in which to lay its egg.

Ichneumonid wasp Ephilates manifestator

Ephilates manifestator probing for beetle larvae

The needle-like ovipositor can be pushed deep into the wood, when not in use it is protected by a sheath, in the picture you can see the ovipositor in use probing almost vertically downward.

The dry weather is stressing plants and some smaller trees are losing their leaves already. Most of the grass is now brown and many species rapidly going to seed. There are still flowers out there though and one such is creeping cinquefoil.

creeping cinquefoil

creeping cinquefoil

 

Still Wild After all These Days

Summer moves on, at Blashford on Sunday I saw my first gatekeeper of the year, oddly a little later than in some years, most other butterflies have been merging a little earlier than usual, so I am not sure why they alone are later.

gatekeeper

The first gatekeeper at the year

It was also the first day I had seen brown hawker dragonfly, although I would guess they have been flying for a couple of days. The first common tern chicks also flew, even if a little tentatively, hopefully we will see over seventy fledge this year. Another first for the year was Essex skipper, they at every like small skipper, but tend to fly a couple of weeks later.

Essex skipper on yellow rattle

Essex skipper on yellow rattle

At least I think it is an Essex skipper!

I had another go at getting a flight shot of a hoverfly, a very frustrating thing to try, this was my best attempt.

hoverfly

hoverfly

I went on a walk down the Dockens Water to check where we will need to go Himalayan balsam pulling and if we have missed any plants. I found a few, but also a number of native marshland plants.

marsh bedstraw

marsh bedstraw

water forget-me-not

water forget-me-not

Mothless, well Almost

Yesterday I ran a “Moth event” at Blashford, unfortunately I forgot to tell the moths and there were probably more human participants than moths! Usually late August is a good time for catching large numbers of moths, but big catches require warm, calm nights following warm settled days. What we had was a windy, mostly clear night following a rather stormy day.

Luckily the day got more settled as it went on, at least until late afternoon anyway. This brought out good numbers of insects, including as many dragonflies as I have seen this year. Around the reserve I saw several brown hawker, southern and migrant hawkers, an egg-laying emperor dragonfly and a fair few common darter. Damselflies included common blue, azure, red-eyed, small red-eyed and blue-tailed.

Butterflies were rather fewer, most that I saw were whites, with all three common species near the Centre. Out on the reserve a few meadow brown and gatekeeper are still flying and speckled wood are increasing again. Near the Lapwing hide I saw both red admiral and painted lady, perhaps indicating some continued arrival of passage insects.

The sunshine in the middle of the day brought out reptiles as well and I saw two grass snake and an adder. The adder was very fat and I suspect a female which will shortly be giving birth, since adders have live young rather than laying eggs as grass snakes do.

adder

adder

I have heard reports of wasp spider being seen around the reserve recently and today I finally saw one.

wasp spider

wasp spider

This is a female, the males are much, much smaller and wander about seeking the females.

I had hoped for a few different birds, following the rough weather, perhaps a few terns, but there was little change form the past week. A few extra waders were the best that could be found, 2 dunlin, 2 oystercatcher, 2 common sandpiper, 1 redshank and the pick of the day, 3 greenshank, although they only flew through. There are starting to be a few more ducks around, I saw 8 shoveler and 3 teal, but there are still no wigeon on the reserve, although they should not be far away. Away for the water looking up there were 2 raven, and single hobby and peregrine. Whilst low over the water before the day warmed there were 1000+ sand martin and c200 house martin.

Perhaps the sighting of the day for many visitors though was the female roe deer that spent part of the morning in front of the Woodland hide.

roe deer at Woodland hide 3

roe deer doe at the Woodland hide

 

Phew!! What a scorcher. – now you know I’ve run out of ideas for titles!!!

In a somewhat ironic (or iconic) piece of fortune the first mini-beast of the day was a gatekeeper butterfly which buzzed me as I opened up the gate to the Tern Hide car-park.

Gatekeeper or Hedge brown - keeping an eye on our gate!!

Gatekeeper or Hedge brown – keeping an eye on our gate!!

Other butterflies are really making their presence felt – not before time, following the unusually cold ( do you remember that?) spring.  A red admiral has been floating around the Education Centre and without moving too far away it’s been possible to see both large white and small white, meadow brown, speckled wood, peacock, comma, brimstone and what was almost certainly a silver-washed fritillary scuttling through.  Many of them will have been looking for nectar sources, but the plants that always used to be cited as the ‘butterfly bush’ , buddleia , have yet to produce much in the way of flowers– possibly another effect of the cold spring.

A gentle stroll around the path between Ellingham Water and Dockens water, ostensibly to do a bit of trimming back of overhanging branches and invasive brambles, produced a few bonuses in terms of dragonflies and damselflies including a fine male emperor dragonfly, a couple of brown hawker and numerous common blue damselflies,and one beautiful demoiselle. Only a keeled skimmer stayed still long enough to have its picture taken and that was from some distance away.

Keeled skimmer

A more obvious pair of megafauna graced us with a fleeting glimpse, as a female roe deer and her fawn dashed across the lichen heath.

Along the path heading south towards the Iron Age hut there are a number of broad-leaved helleborine, which are only just starting to come into flower. Disappointingly a number of them have been decapitated, probably having been nibbled by deer.  There were, however, several intact specimens, which even before fully flowering have a delightfully sweeping architectural shape.

Broad-leaved Helleborine

Broad-leaved Helleborine

but only one that had started to bloom.

Broad-leaved helleborine

First flowering spike of broad-leaved helleborine

Helleborines are in the orchid family, a fascinating group of plants with more different members than any other family of vascular plants. Genetically they are rather complicated with more DNA than many more complex plants and animals including ourselves. As a group that is currently rapidly evolving many hybrids may be formed and for this reason may present  challenges to anyone wishing to identify the species. Given my track record on plant ID, I might be foolish, but I’m pretty sure these are broad-leaved helleborine…

As it’s the time of year for interesting insects I’ll finish, as usual, with a few moths.

Pinion

Pinion

Pale prominent

Pale prominent

Small scallop

Small scallop

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

Gold ‘n Brown with an Imperial Finish

A really hot day today, and very humid with it. As often happens on such days the reserve was quiet as everybody headed for the coast. At first glance you could have been for given for thinking there was not a lot about at Blashford today. A look at Ibsley water revealed no passing black terns, not even a single wader. I did see a circling hobby, quite a scarce sight this summer and as I watched it I noticed a swift higher int he sky behind it. In some years this would be quite late for a swift and I had not seen one at Blashford for a few days. however I think there will be good numbers of late records this year with the rather delayed summer we have had.

Walking to open the Ivy South hide I caught the distinctive smell of a stink horn fungus, the foul smell attracts flies which spread the spores.

stink horn

It was really a day for insects, although the moth catch was rather poor considering the warm night we had, the pick of the bunch was another gold spot, always a fine species to see.

gold spot

When I went into the Centre I could hear a clattering sound and quickly discovered it was coming from a brown hawker that had got trapped inside overnight, luckily it had not set off the alarm! It took several attempts to catch it but eventually I succeeded and let it go, after I got a couple of pictures.

brown hawker

The Buddleia bushes have been alive with peacocks and red admirals for a few days now, today there was also a single small tortoiseshell, these have been very thin on the ground this year, a silver-washed fritillary was nice to see and a grayling a real surprise as I have not seen one on the reserve for two or three years.

grayling

I had a quick look ou ton the lichen heath on my way to Ellingham Pound. The sandy areas of the heath are very good places for solitary bees and wasps of various sorts and I saw a couple of bee wolves, a wasp that hunts and kills honey-bees. I also found the wasp in the picture, I don’t have any idea what it is but it was very smart.

wasp species

A couple of years ago there was a lesser emperor dragonfly on the Pound and it is also a very good place to see red-eyed and sometimes small red-eyed damselflies, so I had a good look when I saw an emperor dragonfly darting over the water. There were lots of red-eyed damselflies but no small ones that I could find. I was pleased to see a coot chick and even more so to see two great crested grebe chicks, now quite well-grown, the first time I have known them to breed on this water.

On my way back I looked in the grassland and came across a big female wasp spider. The webs are quite large and coarse and the aim is to catch grasshoppers, which they seem very good at doing. They always have a very obvious zig zag of silk, possibly to make it obvious to larger creatures so they avoid destroying it. The picture one below has a grasshopper trapped in the web just below the zig zag and the spider is eating another.

wasp spider

The real highlight of the day came right at the end. I went down to the Ivy South hide to lock up and there were several photographers who reported few birds but good value on dragonflies from the hide. As they talked I scanned the lake and noticed an odd emperor with a dark abdomen and very blue “saddle”, it looked like a lesser emperor but was too far away to make any certain claim. In the conversation mention was made of an emperor egg-laying on the fallen trees below the hide and how it as unusual to see the male in tandem when the female was egg-laying, I had never seen this and then a picture was shown and I suspected immediately that they were in fact lesser emperors although the small screen made detail hard to see. When I got home I checked and it is indeed the case that lesser emperors do remain in tandem when egg-laying, we had lesser emperor breeding in Ivy Lake! I think a first for Hampshire.

Out in the Sunshine

It seems summer has actually arrived, today was very warm, too warm for the task of ragwort rem,oval on the shore of Ibsley water, or at least too warm for me anyway. This is an area of the reserve I rarely visit and certainly I only go there if there is a job to be done.  I got most of the ragwort removed and had a close up view of the islands we made last autumn out of one of the spits that used to run into the lake. The three low islands we made were used by nesting lapwing, redshank and oystercatcher this summer so I think we can claim a success. They certainly look pretty good at present.

Ibsley Water islands

The sun brought out a good few dragonflies and butterflies and I saw my first brown hawker of the year today, although I could not get a picture. It also tempted the flowers of the common centaury to open, they only do so in sunshine so must have had rather few open days this summer.

common centaury

In fact the reserve is starting to look quite flowery in places, the pond at the Centre has a good show of purple loosestrife. In this country it is often pushed out by the invasive Himalayan balsam which grows in similar habitats. In North America it is th purple loosestrife that is the invasive alien and they are trying hard to control it as it spreads and overwhelms their native riverside plants.

purple loosestrife