Butterflies and Beetles

Suddenly it seems to be summer. On Sunday I saw as many insects as I have seen for some years, the past couple of years have been poor ones for insects, so we are due a good season. Butterflies are at a low just now, most spring species have come to and end and summer ones have yet to get going. However I did see common blue, small copper, a few orange-tip, speckled wood, a few red admiral and peacock, small and green-veined white and most exciting of all, and a first for the reserve, a green hairstreak.

green hairstreak

green hairstreak – a reserve first!

It was also good for beetles, including several brilliant common malachite beetle near the Centre pond.

common malachite beetle

common malachite beetle

Longhorn beetles are also starting to appear.

longhorn beetle pair

longhorn beetle pair

There are also huge numbers of damselflies all over the reserve now, but still rather few dragonflies, although I did manage to see a single hairy dragonfly perched near Ivy North hide, although I failed to get a picture of it.

Meanwhile, Back at Blashford

Whilst Tracy was off roaming the southern side of the Forest with the Young Naturalists, I was back at Blashford where Sunday was very pleasantly sunny and warm. As the week ahead looks grey and damp, it was likely to be the best day of the week for butterflies and a good opportunity to get the transects done. Although numbers of butterflies are declining as the spring species decline there are a few summer ones starting to appear, the last couple of days have seen the first common blue and brown argus on the wing. Thanks to Blashford’s brilliant volunteers for organising and doing the butterfly transects.

brown argus

The first brown argus of the year (well my first at least).

I also finally saw my first grass snake of the year too, perhaps not strictly my first as I did find a freshly dead one a couple of weeks ago, probably killed by a buzzard. This live one was rather unexpectedly crossing the open gravel behind the Education Centre.

grass snake

grass snake on gravel

Although it has been sunny recently it was still quite cool in the persistent north or north-east wind, this changed on Saturday and the extra warmth seemed to prompt large numbers of damselflies top emerge, I must have seen many hundreds on Sunday, mostly common blue damselflies, but including large red, azure and beautiful demoiselle.

common blue damselfly

common blue damselfly (male), still not quiet fully coloured up.

It is very pleasing to see that two of our projects are showing signs of success again. The tern rafts are used every year, but it gets harder each year to stop them all being claimed by gulls, timing in putting them out is the key. By Monday there were at least 20 common tern on the rafts so hopefully this will be enough to fend of the gulls. The other project, the sand martin wall, has had more mixed fortunes. After a few years of success to start with it fell out of favour with none nesting for several years, but this year they are back! Not in huge numbers but a visit to Goosander hide is well worth the effort.

A number of people have asked me recently when the “new” path from the main car park to Goosander hide will open, regular visitors will have noted that the work was completed some months ago now. Unfortunately the answer is still “I don’t know” but rest assured I will make it known when it is open. The hold up is not of our making, but to do with the process of transfer from previous occupiers via our landlord and the meeting of various planning and other requirements.

The change to more south-westerly winds has reduced migrant activity, but the reserve has still seen a some waders passing through in the last few days, on Sunday a sanderling with a peg-leg was by Tern hide and today a turnstone was on Long Spit (as I have decided to christen the new island we created to the east of Tern hide this spring). Both these are high Arctic breeders and only occasional visitors to Blashford.

One Day, Two Reserves

I am not often at Blashford on a Saturday, but this weekend I was, I managed to intersperse catching up on paperwork with a walk round all the hides. Getting around the reserve is very pleasant but also highlights all the tasks that need planning into the coming winter season, I think an eight month winter would just about be enough!

Opening up the hides I saw a greenshank and three wheatear from the Tern hide, which suggested that there might well be migrants about and with luck “something” might turn up.

As usual the day proper started with a look through the moth trap. This contained no rarities but one unexpected moth, a very fresh dark form coronet, this is an attractive moth and one we see quite often, but it flies in June and July. If I was to get one at this time of year, I would have expected it t be an old, battered one on its last legs, not a pristine newly emerged one.

coronet late season

coronet

The cumulative results of my wanderings throughout the day indicated that there were indeed a reasonable scatter of migrants around the reserve. Chiffchaff were frequently to be seen, although willow warbler were many fewer than last week. In one mixed flock of birds near the Lapwing hide I saw a very smart juvenile lesser whitethroat, a rather rare bird at Blashford these days. On the south side of the main car park a spotted flycatcher was catching insects from the small trees and there were several blackcap eating blackberries.

In the early afternoon I was in Tern hide when I spotted an osprey in the distance flying towards us down the valley, it looked as if it was going to come low over Ibsley Water, but as it came over Mockbeggar North lake a large gull started to chase it and, rather than brush off this minor irritation, it gained height and headed off at speed to the south. It was a young bird and is going to have to learn to tough out such attention.

It was not a bad day for insects, I saw red admiral, painted lady, small white and speckled wood, despite almost no sunshine and there were good numbers of migrant hawker and brown hawker about. I also saw more hornet than I had noticed so far this summer and very widely about the reserve too.

Other birds of note were mostly signs of approaching autumn, a single snipe near the Lapwing hide was the first I have seen since the spring here and later wigeon, one on Ivy Lake and 4 on Ibsley Water were also the first returns that I have seen.

For a couple of years now I have been noticing increasingly large floating mats of vegetation in the Ivy Silt Pond and kept meaning to identify the plant species involved. I finally did so yesterday and one of them, the one with the rosettes of pointed leaves, is water soldier, a rare plant in Hampshire and mostly found on the Basingstoke canal!

water soldier

water soldier

It is probably most likely to be here as a result of escaping from a local garden pond, but might be wild, anyway it seems to be a notable record and as far as I know it has not been recorded here before.

In the evening I went out to another reserve in my area, Hythe Spartina Marsh, it was close to high water and I was interested to see if there was a wader roost. There was, not a large one but interesting, it included 74 ringed plover, 30 dunlin, 2 turnstone, 3 grey plover and a single juvenile curlew sandpiper. In addition 2 common sandpipers came flying north up  edge and on the way across the marsh I saw a clouded yellow butterfly nectaring on the flowers of the sea aster. I also saw that on e of the juvenile ringed plover had got colour rings on its legs, however it would only ever show one leg so all I could see was a white ring above a red ring on the left leg, not enough to identify where it had come from. Ringed plover can breed locally on our beaches or have spent the summer way off in the high Arctic of Canada, so it would have been good to see all the rings.

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

 

Counting butterflies

Sunday saw our Young Naturalists meet again at Blashford for their July session, starting as usual with a rummage through the light trap. Twenty one species were recorded altogether, with newcomer Tommy impressing us all with his moth knowledge! Our haul included this flame shoulder, black arches and pale prominent:

We then used secateurs, loppers and shears to cut back the vegetation creeping through the fence around the back of the pond, making the path that runs round here more accessible. It was much needed, as the brambles and nettles had certainly taken over!

Our main activity for the day however was to take part in the Big Butterfly Count, recording the number of species spotted in a sunny spot. We had two different spots in mind, so headed over to our meadow before lunch to see what was about. Here we recorded seven different species, 18 butterflies in total, including two small coppers and a common blue:

After lunch we headed down towards Ivy South Hide, spying a fishing heron on the way and we were just in time to see a grass snake basking on the logs outside the hide windows, before it slithered lower down into the reeds.

We carried on past Ivy South Hide, walking the circuit around Ellingham Lake and spotting ten species of butterfly on the way, including a speckled wood, brimstone and four small skipper:

There’s still time to take part in the Big Butterfly Count, which is running until 7th August. Details and a great butterfly ID chart can be found on their website: http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/  All you need is a spare 15 minutes and a sunny spot, which could be a garden, park or wood. It has rapidly become the world’s biggest survey of butterflies and day flying moths so get out there and get spotting!

Thanks to Talia for being our chief photographer and to Nigel and Geoff for leading the session!

A Trip to Kitts

A quick bit of catch-up. On Thursday we did not do a volunteer task, but instead went up to Kitts Grave, the part of the Martin Down National Nature Reserve that belongs to the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. The site is managed as part of the wider reserve by Natural England, but we do a couple of tasks there each winter and it is always good to go an see how the habitat is developing. We have been helping with scrub clearance there to reinstate chalk grassland patches and rides within the scrub. It seems to be working well and the area is fabulous for a wide range of insects. Unfortunately Thursday was mostly dull but luckily warm enough for some insects to be about. Very obvious, as they sat around on the foliage in full view, were several scarlet tiger moth.

scarlet tiger

scarlet tiger moth

The mix of scrub and grassland is very good for ringlet and they don’t mind flying even in very overcast conditions.

ringlet

ringlet

As the grassland area grows we will no doubt be seeing more and more marbled white, the dull conditions meant they were basking with their wings wide open, something they rarely do in sunshine.

marbled white on creeping thistle

marble white on creeping thistle

Meadow marvels

We’ve spent a lot of time in the meadow over the last few weeks, weather permitting! Occasionally we have had to resort to ‘look, but don’t touch’ as the showers have left the grass too damp for sweep netting, but this habitat has certainly come alive with a great range of insects, spiders and bugs.

Today we headed there with our Wildlife Tots, after a crafty caterpillar and butterfly making session in the classroom and a quick look in the light trap. We also had a look at the Lime hawk-moth caterpillars we have been rearing in a tank in the centre, they have certainly grown on their diet of silver birch leaves (more accessible than the lime trees we have on the reserve!) and look even more impressive!

Lime hawk moth caterpillar

Lime hawk-moth caterpillar

On our way to the meadow we were distracted on the lichen heath, finding flowers for our card and pipe cleaner butterflies to nectar on, and discovered these cinnabar moth caterpillars. Once we had our eye in, we found lots of black and yellow caterpillars munching their way through the ragwort:

Cinnabar caterpillar

Cinnabar moth caterpillar

On entering the meadow, we embarked on a still hunt, no mean feat for a group of toddlers! We found a quiet spot on the path so as not to trample the long grass and sat quietly, looking intently at the miniature world going on around us:

still hunt

We’re going on a still hunt…

After being brilliant still hunters, spotting butterflies, damselflies, bumblebees, grasshoppers and beetles, we had a go at catching many of the creatures using a sweep net.

Thanks too to Wendy for sending us this lovely photo of Wildlife Tot Sam with his very impressive sunflower, planted during our March into Spring session back in, yes you’ve guessed it, March! It’s so tall!!

Sam and his sunflower

Sam with his amazingly tall sunflower!!

Carrying on with the meadow theme, this was also the focus of our last Young Naturalists session at the end of June. We were fortunate to have more sun than today, with the butterflies in particular quite happy to let us get close enough for photos.

little skipper

Small skipper butterfly

Common blue butterfly

Common blue butterfly

Meadow brown

Meadow brown butterfly

cricket

Cricket, with super long antennae, longer than the length of its body

Grasshopper by Talia Felstead

Grasshopper, with its antennae shorter than its body

Robber fly

Robber fly

Fairy-ring longhorn beetle

Fairy-ring longhorn beetle, I think!

common blue damselfly

Common blue damselfly

Identifying our catch 2

Identifying our meadow creatures

The moth trap as usual revealed a good selection of moths ready for the group to identify, whilst we also spotted Mullein moth and Orange tip butterfly caterpillars:

Although the meadow was a fitting spot to visit as we met right at the end of National Insect Week, it wasn’t all about the insects and we still found time to visit Ivy South hide in search of a basking grass snake…

Grass snake by Talia Felstead

Grass snake by Talia Felstead

…and spotted this toad whilst carrying out Plantlife’s Bee Scene survey, in search of wildflowers good for bumblebees:

Toad by Talia Felstead

Toad by Talia Felstead

Luckily our wanderings found plenty of wildflowers good for bumblebees, a relief perhaps as we were looking on a nature reserve, but still a worthwhile activity for the group to do, encouraging them to brush up on their plant identification. Of the fifteen Bee Scene flowers we had to look for, we found dandelion, white clover, hedge woundwort, foxglove, bramble, red campion, red clover and thistle throughout the day, luckily spotting a few bumblebees too!

Buff tailed bumble bee by Talia Felstead

Buff tailed bumble bee by Talia Felstead

More details about the survey can be found on Plantlife’s website – all you need is a local green space, which doesn’t have to be a nature reserve, it could be your garden, a park, footpath or school grounds. Happy wildflower hunting!

Red campion by Talia Felstead

Red campion by Talia Felstead