Of moths and other insects, and a bit more besides…

I’ve fallen behind with my Young Naturalists updates, but since meeting at the reserve for the first time in April, enjoying the bird song and river dipping, we’ve been out onsite enjoying all the reserve has to offer, looking for reptiles, improving our moth identification, pond dipping and enjoying the insect life in the meadow. We’ve also been campfire cooking and improving the biodiversity of one part of the reserve by spreading wildflower seed. 

At the end of May we went for a walk on the northern part of the reserve, in the hope of finding some reptiles. We saw chiff chaff, blackcap and reed bunting and enjoyed listening to the reed warblers and Cetti’s warblers calling in the reed bed. 

We headed off into the reedbed to check some of the reptile refugia or felts used by the volunteers when they survey the reptiles. Our first sighting however wasn’t of a reptile, instead we found this caterpillar of the Oak eggar moth on top of one of the felts:

oak eggar caterpillar

Oak eggar caterpillar

The hairy caterpillars feed on bramble, blackthorn, willow, hawthorn, hazel and other woody plants.

Under another refugia we were lucky enough to see our first reptiles, finding two adders. The first disappeared quickly into the vegetation, but the second stayed long enough for some of the group to get a good look and take some photos:

adder Daisy Meadowcroft

Adder by Daisy Meadowcroft

Adder by Daisy Meadowcroft

Adder by Daisy Meadowcroft

After leaving the reed bed we saw speckled woods enjoying the sunshine and watched the sand martins flying over Goosander Hide. We also saw a female adder basking on the bank by the hide.

After lunch we decided to pond dip, catching a very smart male smooth newt:

smooth newt

Smooth newt

We also caught an impressive Emperor dragonfly nymph, which given the number of exuvia around the edge of the pond was a bit of a surprise, there were still more lurking in there!

Emperor dragonfly nymph

Emperor dragonfly nymph

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia 2

Dragonfly exuvia

The larva’s final moult takes place out of the water. As the adult dragonfly emerges from its larval skin, the cast skin or exuvia is left behind. It’s always fun to carefully look for evidence of their metamorphosis amongst the vegetation (and man made structures!) in the pond margins and the group had a good hunt, photographing their finds.

In June I had planned to spend the session focusing on insects, but with the weather so changeable we ended up adding in some campfire cooking as well. We began by looking through the moth trap where the highlight was this Poplar hawk-moth:

Poplar hawk moth

Poplar hawk-moth

Alex with a Poplar hawk moth

Alex with the Poplar hawk-moth

We also had a Buff tip, with its amazing camouflage, a very smart Muslin moth and a Burnished brass:

Buff tip

Buff tip, doing its best broken silver birch twig impression

Muslin moth

Muslin moth

Burnished brass

Burnished brass

Rummaging through the moth trap didn’t take very long, and with the sun briefly making an appearance we hot footed it to the meadow before the showers came.

Meadow sweeping

Meadow sweeping

In the meadow we saw a small skipper butterfly, grasshoppers, a speckled bush cricket, a green leaf weevil and a green-eyed flower bee enjoying the selfheal.

We also saw a number of Thick-legged flower beetles, also known as swollen-thighed beetles and false oil beetles. They are often seen on the flowers of ox-eye daisies and other open-structured flowers and only the males have swollen thighs:

Thick legged flower beetle

Male Thick-legged flower beetle on Ox-eye Daisy

Female Thick-legged flower beetle

Female Thick-legged flower beetle on Perforate St John’s-wort

The meadow and the lichen heath are both covered in Perforate St John’s-wort at the moment, it is having a really good year. Traditionally it was used as a remedy for all kinds of ailments, including wounds and burns, and is still popular today for the treatment of mild depression. Research and opinions however differ on how effective the latter is.

It can be identified by its bright yellow star shaped flowers and the tiny ‘holes’ in its leaves. The holes are in fact colourless glands that apparently give off a foxy smell. If you hold a leaf up to the sun, the tiny holes are easy to see, but they’re definitely more obvious on a sunny day!

Perforate St John's Wort

Tiny ‘holes’ in the leaves of Perforate St John’s-wort on a sunnier day

After a short while in the meadow, we headed back to the Centre collecting nettle tops on the way to make some nettle soup. We also picked some mint and lemon balm from around the pond to make tea. After gathering the kit and our lunches, we headed to the campfire area.

Alex decided to toast his sandwich and after eating we boiled some water for the tea and made our soup. Both had mixed reactions, although to be fair some teas did contain nettle, mint and lemon balm and we possibly gave the wrong person the nettles to wash… so our soup did contain a number of less welcome additions!

July’s session was also influenced by the weather. I had planned to do the Big Butterfly Count with the group last Sunday, something we have participated in with them for the last few years. The UK wide survey is running until the 8th August, so there’s still time to take part if you would like to, you just need 15 minutes and a sunny spot…

Thankfully, moth trapping has improved over the past few weeks, with more species and numbers of moths coming to the traps, and we were able to spend the morning having a good look through and identifying most of what we found.

Daisy made a list of those we were able to identify (we lost a few on opening the traps and some of the micro moths did stump us) and we managed to record 70 moths of 39 species in the first trap and 63 moths of 28 species in the second trap. Both traps were close to the Centre, with one positioned out the front towards the mini meadow by the Welcome Hut and the other positioned out the back of the building.

Our grand total from the Saturday night was 133 moths of 52 species. Here are some of the highlights:

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The Large emerald in particular proved popular:

Large emerald 2

Large emerald

Rosie photographing the large emerald

Rosie photographing the large emerald

After lunch, we went back to the meadow to see if the Bird’s-foot trefoil had gone to seed. If it had, we were going to collect some to add to the other seed we had from Bob to sow, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite ready. We did see a Common blue butterfly resting on a seed head:

Common blue

Common blue

We then went looking for wasp spiders on the lichen heath, managing to find two in amongst the soft rush. Their colours mimic the common wasp, keeping them safe from predators.

Wasp spider

Wasp spider

Wasp spiders build large orb webs in grassland and heathland. Their webs are quite distinctive, with a wide white zig-zag running down the middle known as a stabilimentum.

After some impromptu boat making by Kimberley and Harry, we stopped off at the river to see whether or not their boats would sail:

We then began our seed sowing, adding Bluebell seed in amongst the hazels to the side of the path between the bridge over the Dockens Water and the road crossing to Tern Hide. We swept away the leaf litter and put the seed thinly on the soil surface, before brushing the leaves back over to cover them.

We then crossed over the road towards Tern Hide and went through the gate to the part of the site currently still closed to visitors. This was once a concrete plant, and when the plant was demolished we began restoring the area, including the old main entrance roadway. Although it has taken time, this spot is now well colonised by lots of plants and our addition of some extra seed will hopefully help improve it even more. 

We added Wild carrot to the driveway, scattering it thinly onto patches of bare ground, Devils-bit scabious up on the bank as it prefers a deeper soil and Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon on the same bank, poking each seed individually into the ground using a pencil (we also saved some of these for the mini meadow by the Welcome Hut). Finally we also added Yellow rattle seed and some assorted hawkbits and crow garlic.

Fingers crossed some of them come up!

Thank you to the Cameron Bespolka Trust for funding our purchase of tools and equipment for the group.  

Green-eyed flower bee

Green-eyed flower bee on Inula hookeri by the Education Centre

 

Making hay

On Thursday I began cutting the mini meadow by the Welcome Hut to hopefully keep or increase the flower species present and keep the surrounding grasses under control. Without this the grasses can form an impenetrable thatch which which the wildflowers struggle to grow through.

This little patch of ground by the Welcome Hut was laid with wildflower turf last year and has looked fabulous this spring and summer, with ragged robin, marjoram, yarrow, clover, selfheal, wild carrot and bird’s foot trefoil flowering, to name just a few. The wild carrot may have been a later addition, planted by Bob, along with some scabious and I think he also added some yellow rattle seed…

Ragged robin

The meadow in May, full of ragged robin

Over the summer it has been alive with grasshoppers, crickets, butterflies, beetles, bees and more: 

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Skipper sp. resting on a blade of grass, taken in June


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Small copper, taken in July

Although many of the flowers and grasses have now died back, whilst cutting the vegetation I watched a number of spiders scurrying about and disturbed this very smart looking caterpillar:

Ruby tiger caterpillar

Ruby tiger caterpillar

At first the garden tiger moth sprang to mind, its caterpillars are also known as the woolly bear, but it didn’t look big enough or quite right, so after a bit of searching I think it is the fully grown caterpillar of the ruby tiger moth:

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Ruby tiger moth

The caterpillars feed on a variety of herbaceous plants including ragwort, plantain, dock and dandelion. This caterpillar is probably from a second brood and will overwinter as a caterpillar, emerging during early spring: I relocated it to a safer spot away from my shears. 

I have quite a bit more cutting to do, but it is good to cut a meadow in sections and to leave some sections untouched. I might wait for some nicer weather before carrying on!

Whilst outside the front of the Education Centre I also saw this common carder bee enjoying the Inula hookerii which is still flowering:

Common carder bee

Common carder bee

The light trap only contained two moths, the highlight for me being this frosted orange:

Frosted orange

Frosted orange

The last few days have not been so pleasant, although the original dipping pond I imagine is grateful for the rain. This morning I spied this very bedraggled looking bumblebee on one of the planters outside the front of the Centre. Despite looking very sorry for itself it was moving around, so I attempted to warm it up slightly, gave it some sugar water (which it literally lapped up) and released it somewhere hopefully more sheltered as it had become very active. My good deed for the day, fingers crossed it survives the night…

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Soggy bumblebee

 

So many insects, and a baby toad

Last Thursday I was passing the marjoram in the planter outside the front of the Education Centre when I noticed a bee I had not seen before. It was quite large and very striking, with a strong pattern on the underside of the abdomen. I managed to take a couple of photos and after a bit of research decided it was one of the sharp-tailed bees and probably the large sharped-tail bee, Coelioxys conoidea. Since Thursday it has been a fairly regular visitor to the marjoram and has been seen and photographed by a number of visitors, and Bob also confirmed it was a large sharp-tailed bee.

coelioxys conoidea (2)

Large sharp-tailed bee, Coelioxys conoidea

Sharp-tailed bees are cuckoo bees, laying their eggs in the nests of megachile (leaf-cutter bees) or anthophora (flower bees) species. Only the females have the pointed abdomen which is used to cut a slit in the partition of the host’s cell so the egg can be placed inside. The coelioxys species hatches first, with the grub devouring the host egg and its food source.

This particular species favours the coast leaf-cutter bee, Megachile maritima. As the name suggests, they have a strong liking for the coast but can be found inland in areas of the New Forest. On Monday I noticed a leaf-cutter bee enjoying the Inula hookeri which is now flowering outside the Centre. The plant has large flower heads which the bee was meticulously working its way round before flying off to the next, so I was able to watch it for some time. Although not completely sure it was a coast leaf-cutter bee, they must be onsite somewhere if the large sharp-tailed bees are present.

Leaf-cutter bee

Leaf-cutter bee enjoying the Inula hookeri, possibly Megachile maritima

Bob has been on a mission to fill the planters with plants that are good for pollinators but not liked by the deer, who have taken quite a liking to a number of them. The Inula hookeri however is not to their taste and the large yellow flowers are providing a brilliant nectar source for insects and its been great to watch the butterflies and bees visiting.

Brimstone (2)

Brimstone enjoying the Inula hookeri

Whilst watching the brimstone enjoying the flowers I noticed a bright green and very smart leafhopper, Cicadella viridis:

Cicadella viridis

Leafhopper, Cicadella viridis

There are also still blue mason bees around, they quickly made use of the new bee block Bob added in to the end of the planter and can often be seen resting on the planter itself.

Blue mason bee

Blue mason bee

On Sunday I popped to the meadow in the hope of seeing another bee I haven’t seen before which this time favours heather. The heather is now in bloom, but seeing a heather colletes bee proved harder, or at least seeing one still for long enough to get a good look was quite a challenge. They whizz around even faster than the green-eyed flower bees do.

Eventually one settled long enough for me to get a look and half decent photo:

Colletes succinctus (2)

Heather colletes bee, Colletes succinctus

Whilst watching the bees whizzing around I noticed a bee-wolf fly straight towards me clutching a honeybee. It landed by my feet, I had obviously been right next to its burrow and had taken it slightly by surprise, but after sorting itself and its prey out it flew to its burrow and disappeared. It was fascinating to watch.

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Bee-wolf with honeybee prey

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Bee-wolf with honeybee prey

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Bee-wolf with honeybee prey

The light trap has revealed more than just moths over the past week. Last week we had a couple of visits form a rather large longhorn beetle, the tanner beetle, which is also attracted to light. They are a large beetle with a body length of 18-45mm and are broader than the other longhorn species.

Credit for this photo goes to regular visitor John 6×4, as I have been regularly working from the Welcome Hut since our wifi was improved and he bought the beetle over, on a log, for me to photograph. We were also able to show it to a passing family who were rather impressed!

Another beetle that found its way into the light trap was this species of dor beetle. It was very active so was a bit harder to photograph:

Dor beetle

Dor beetle

On the moth front the two traps have contained a good variety, although many are quick to fly first thing where it has been so warm. Highlights have included bloodvein, coxcomb prominent, light crimson underwing, pebble hook-tip and a stunning gold spot.

Bloodvein

Bloodvein

Coxcomb prominent

Coxcomb prominent

Light crimson underwing

Light crimson underwing, photographed in the trap, it instantly flew once I took the towel away properly

Pebble hook tip

Pebble hook-tip

Gold spot 2

Gold spot, the photo definitely doesn’t do this moth justice

We have also received some great photos this week from visitors. Jon Mitchell visited on Sunday for the first time since lockdown and was able to see and photograph both the large sharp-tailed bee and the heather colletes bee, along with damselflies, a gatekeeper and a couple of dragonfly exuvia by the pond. The second dragonfly nymph clearly thought the first had picked a good spot when it crawled out of the pond.

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Sam has visited a number of times recently and asked his mum to share photos she took of the toadlet and alder beetle larvae he found whilst exploring here on his last two visits:

Toadlet by Sam

Toadlet spotted by Sam

Alder beetle larvae by Sam

Alder beetle larvae spotted by Sam

We do enjoy seeing photos taken by visitors whilst out and about on the reserve so if anyone else has anything to share please email it to BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org, along with whether or not you are happy for us to share it wider via the blog.

Thank you very much to Jon and Sam for sharing your photos with us.

Counting butterflies and moths…

For the past few years we have taken part in Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count, usually incorporating it into our July Young Naturalists session. We’ve missed doing it as a group this year, for obvious reasons, although I have reminded the group about the survey and hopefully some of them will be able to take part before it finishes on Sunday 9th.

Given the sun has been shining today and you only need 15 minutes to spare, I thought I would spend a bit of time by the Education Centre ponds after lunch and see what I could spot. We have counted at this spot before, but last year we went to our wild play area where we do den building and campfire activities, so if I get the chance I might try there later on in the week.

There was an abundance of gatekeepers, I counted nine in the 15 minutes, but given they are the most abundant around the whole reserve at present that was not too surprising, and two small whites. Perhaps not the most exciting count, but all records are useful and help to build up a bigger picture. In comparison, albeit in a different location on the reserve, last year we managed 15 butterflies altogether and five species, compared to today’s 11 butterflies and two species.

I didn’t take any photos at the time, as I was obviously focused on spotting, counting and recording, but the survey does include some day flying moths and in looking closely at the wild marjoram in search of the mint moths you can quite often see, I spotted a clearwing moth. On closer inspection it was a red-tipped clearwing:

Red-tipped clearwing (4)

Red-tipped clearwing

Red-tipped clearwing (3)

Red-tipped clearwing

I have only ever seen clearwing moths attracted to pheromone lures before, so spotting one nectaring on the marjoram was very exciting (and a complete distraction from the butterfly counting) and although it didn’t stay still for long I was pleased to get a couple of photos.

I did also spot a couple of mint moths:

There is still time to sit back and count butterflies, all you need is 15 minutes and a sunny spot, so if you get the chance between now and Sunday 9th August it is well worth it, you never know what you might see. Details can be found on their website, along with a downloadable chart and you can also use smartphone apps which make recording your sightings even easier.

As well as watching the butterflies and moths, there were lots of bees enjoying the marjoram and I noticed a shield bug on the buddleia. After taking a photo and looking it up, it is I think a hairy shieldbug.

Hairy shieldbug (4)

Hairy shieldbug

Hairy shieldbug (3)

Hairy shieldbug

Yesterday morning I decided to check Goosander Hide was still secure, so headed over the road first thing. Calling in at Tern Hide, there was a lapwing on the shoreline and large numbers of Egyptian geese out on the water. Coot numbers on Ibsley water also seem to be increasing, and I saw a number of mute swans and grey herons. There were also pochard, cormorant, tufted duck and great crested grebe present.

Walking the closed footpath through the old Hanson concrete site I saw a grass snake basking on the path. I didn’t notice it until I was almost on top of it, so was too slow to get a photo as it disappeared quickly into the vegetation. A little further on I had my second grass snake sighting, this time of one swimming along the edge of the Clearwater Pond. Too distant for a photo, I watched it through my binoculars until it was out of sight.

From Goosander Hide I watched the remaining sand martins flying overhead, every so often swooping low over the water and into the nesting holes in the sand martin bank. After a few minutes a kingfisher appeared, first settling further away on the trees that have been felled into the lake, before flying closer and resting on a perch. Every so often it flew down in front of the bank, hovered in front of the holes as though it was investigating them, then returned to the perch. After doing this a few times it flew closer and perched just below the hide window, which took me by surprise and I managed to get a couple of closer photos:

Kingfisher

Kingfisher in front of Goosander Hide

Kingfisher (2)

Kingfisher in front of Goosander Hide

After visiting Goosander Hide I headed back to the Centre, feeling I had been out for long enough and we were potentially going to be busy, and the rest of the day was spent working from the Welcome Hut and chatting to visitors. A very nice office I have to say!

Given I hadn’t made it quite that far yesterday, I decided to head up to Lapwing Hide this morning as the reserve was very quiet first thing. At the hide I was greeted by a very smart red underwing moth, which was happily settled on the door. You can just see a hint of the red underwings that give this moth its name in the photo below:

Red underwing (2)

Red underwing

From the hide I saw Canada geese, three little grebe and a number of black-headed gulls. The reedbed just past the hide was looking lovely in the sunshine:

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Reedbed near Lapwing Hide

On my way back I followed a fox cub along the path; a really nice encounter, it would run ahead, round a corner, turn then on seeing me approach run off again. I thought it had left the path to the left, but on heading round to Goosander Hide I had a second fox cub encounter, spotting one off to the left of the path sunbathing under some branches. On spotting me it too didn’t hang around, but it was great to watch, albeit briefly.

I had a quick look out of Goosander Hide but didn’t linger, spotting two grey wagtails working their way along the shoreline and a moorhen, then headed back to the Centre again along the closed Hanson footpath.

Along the path I saw a brown argus enjoying the fleabane, the first one I have seen this year and a change to all the gatekeepers I had been spotting:

Brown argus

Brown argus

The moth trap has produced another couple of really nice species recently, including a very smart female oak eggar which was in the trap last Thursday morning, and a dusky thorn which was in there this morning:

Oak eggar

Female oak eggar

Oak eggar (2)

Female oak eggar

Dusky thorn (3)

Dusky thorn

By the new dipping pond this morning there was a pair of mating red-eyed damselflies. I watched them being hounded every time they settled by male common blues, but managed a couple of photos:

Red eyed damselflies (4)

Red-eyed damselflies

Red eyed damselflies (3)

Red-eyed damselflies mating

Finally, and last but not least, here’s a very smart species of digger wasp on one of the planters outside the front of the Centre.:

Digger wasp

Digger wasp sp.

 

Golden delight

Yesterday I accompanied Bob to the old Hanson concrete plant to see how the area was developing, what was growing and what insects were around. On our way we popped in to Tern Hide where there was a common sandpiper foraging on the shore of Ibsley Water:

Common sandpiper

Common sandpiper

The old Hanson plant, now named by Bob as ‘the empty quarter’, does look rather barren. Most of the area has crushed concrete underfoot, but plants including St John’s wort, ragwort and lots of common centaury are growing, alongside grasses and the pioneer tree species silver birch, which is quick to colonise new habitats following disturbance and will need managing to ensure the saplings do not take over.

Hanson site

The Empty Quarter

The sandy looking area in the photo above was probably the most interesting as here there was less crushed concrete and an abundance of holes in the softer ground, evidence the area is being used by solitary bees and wasps. There is obviously enough flowering on this part of the reserve and the surrounding banks for the green-eyed flower bee below:

Green eyed flower bee

Green-eyed flower bee

There were lots of dowdy plume moths (identified later by Bob, who also discovered one of their favourite larval food plants is common centaury) and we also saw a species of leaf-cutter bee and a six-spot burnet moth:

Leafcutter bee

Megachile sp

Six spot burnet

Six-spot burnet moth

I haven’t set foot on this part of the reserve before so it was nice to get the opportunity to have a look and see how it is developing. For those of you who are regular, long-standing readers of the blog, please don’t ask about the footpath, there is still no news…

Elsewhere on the reserve I have seen my first cinnabar moth caterpillars, with their distinctive black and yellow stripes. Their bright colours are a warning to predators not to eat them: as they merrily munch their way through common ragwort, the toxins present inside the plant build up inside them, making them unpalatable to predators.

Cinnabar caterpillar

Cinnabar caterpillar

There are also plenty of gatekeeper butterflies on the wing, like this one enjoying the common fleabane in the sweep meadow:

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper

When I emptied the moth traps this morning there were a couple of nice species inside, including a yellow-tail, coronet and a canary-shouldered thorn.

The highlight from the moth trap though was a hornet. Hornets are attracted to light, but are very docile first thing in the morning, taking a while to warm up and fly off. This one was quite content walking around the bench until it was ready to fly away, and it was nice to have a really good look at it up close:

Hornet

Hornet

Although hornets may get a bad press, they are much less aggressive than their smaller relative the common wasp and will only sting if attacked. They play an important role in pollination and are a gardener’s friend, helping control unwanted pests with their diet of insects.

Today has been a really good day for dragonflies, with common darter, emperor and brown hawker all on the wing over the ponds by the Education Centre. The common darters in particular have been posing nicely and letting you creep up quite close for a photo:

Common darter

Common darter

Today’s highlight though has to be the golden ringed dragonfly a visitor spotted over the ponds behind the Centre, with regular visitor John letting me know so I could take a photo:

Golden ringed dragonfly

Golden ringed dragonfly

This striking black dragonfly has yellow rings along the length of the abdomen, hence the name, and green eyes. The females are the longest dragonfly in the UK due to their long ovipositor which can reach 84mm in length. If they choose to rest they may stay in one place for some time and although present on the reserve (we sometimes catch their nymphs in the Dockens Water when river dipping, where they prefer flowing acidic water to still water) they are not quite as easy to see here as some of our other dragonfly species. It was a rather nice end to the day!

Still going wild

On Sunday we had another of our fortnightly Young Naturalist catch ups, and it was great to hear what the group have been getting up to. Will had been down to the Lymington and Keyhaven Marshes and shared some photos from his walk, including one of an avocet with chick.

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Thomas and Alex had been for a walk at Iping Common, a Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve, and had seen Silver-studded blue butterflies, a glow worm larva, a bloody-nosed beetle and a pill millipede.

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Harry talked to us about the bug hotel in his garden which he built six years ago and is very popular with the spiders and Poppy had also sent me a photo during the week of the female broad-bordered yellow underwing moth which had emerged from a pupa she had found in the garden. Last time we met online she had shown everyone the pupa wriggling and we had guessed at Large yellow underwing, so weren’t far off!

Sadly Saturday night was so windy we didn’t have a huge number of moths to look at, despite Bob running both light traps, but we did have a dozen or so to study under the digital microscope. The group are getting quite good at identifying a few we either catch more regularly or stand out, such as the Spectacle moth or Buff-tip. The most exciting was this lovey Purple thorn, which was very obliging and posed for some time for photos:

Purple thorn (2)

Purple thorn

Nigel had put together another quiz for the group, this time on butterflies, dragonflies, other insects and some spiders they are likely to see whilst out and about and we talked through a presentation on bees, the main reason for all the bee photos I’ve been taking recently!

The group have requested reptiles and amphibians as themes for the next couple of sessions and we will run another in a fortnights time. Grass snake photos will certainly be easy, I spotted one curled up in the vegetation by the Education Centre pond Sunday afternoon:

Grass snake (4)

Grass snake

When I arrived at Blashford yesterday a rather substantial branch had come down by the entrance so I decided to walk the closer footpaths to check everything else was as it should be.

I popped into Ivy South Hide to have a look at the tern rafts and could make out quite a few Common tern chicks, although they were difficult to count especially when an adult came back with food and they all dashed around. Closer to the hide there was a pair of Black-headed gull chicks on one of the life-ring rafts and I watched the smaller one bobbing around in the water before it climbed back on to the raft:

Black-headed gull chicks (2)

Black-headed gull chick

Walking back up the Dockens path I saw another grass snake, this time a young one, basking on the large fallen tree close to the mushroom sculpture. I managed a quick photo before it disappeared over the back of the trunk:

Grass snake (3)

Grass snake

Further along the path I spotted another plant I have not noticed before, identified by Bob today as Tutsan. Tutsan is a deciduous flowering shrub in the Hypericum or St John’s Wort family, and native to western and southern Europe. Its leaves were apparently gathered and burned to ward off evil spirits on the eve of St. John’s Day and it has also been used to treat wounds and inflammation. The name Tutsan comes from the French words “tout” (all) and “sain” (healthy), a reference to the plant’s healing capabilities.

Tutsan

Tutsan

From the river dipping bridge I decided to head over to Tern Hide to have a look at Ibsley Water and see if there were any Ringlets in the area of rough grass between the pedestrian gate and car park height barrier. There were a couple flying about and I also saw my first Gatekeeper of the year, although it did not settle for a photo.

Ringlet (2)

Ringlet

Whilst photographing the Ringlet I noticed a hoverfly, Volucella pellucens, on the bramble flowers. Also called the Pellucid fly or Large Pied-hoverfly, it is one of the largest flies in Britain and has a striking ivory-white band across its middle and large dark spots on its wings. The adults favour bramble flowers and umbellifers whilst the larvae live in the nests of social wasps and bumblebees, eating waste products and bee larvae.

Volucella pellucens

Volucella pellucens

On reaching Tern Hide a movement caught my eye and I noticed a large wasps nest under the roof and to the right of the right hand door. I spent some time watching them flying in and out. Bob did head over there yesterday too to take a look and shared a photo, but here’s another:

Wasps and wasp nest

Wasps and wasp nest

Although we’re not going over there as regularly as we would have done under normal circumstances, I’m surprised neither of us had noticed it sooner given the size!

Yesterday afternoon we had a brief power outage whilst our supply was switched back from a generator to the mains, and as the sun was shining I took the opportunity to linger by the planters outside the Centre, chat to the few visitors that were passing and see which insects were visiting the flowers. Although we’ve shared a few Green-eyed flower bee photos before, they are so smart I couldn’t resist taking a few more photos of them when they either rested on the planter edge or paused for long enough on the vervain.

I also spotted an Alder beetle on the lavender, a bee enjoying the astrantia, a Large white butterfly on the verbena and a mint moth.

The mini meadow by the Welcome Hut is also still really good for insects, with Thick-legged flower beetles, hoverflies and Small skippers enjoying the remaining ox-eye daisies, yarrow and ragged robin. The hoverfly could I think be a male Long hoverfly,  Sphaerophoria scripta, with its narrow body noticeably longer than its wings. The female of this species is broader.

Today has been decidedly soggier, but I did watch a butterfly fly past in the rain and there are plenty of soggy looking damselflies trying to find shelter on the plant stems:

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly funded by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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It’s the little things…

Whilst Bob has been doing a brilliant job of blogging his 30 Days Wild antics, this week is also National Insect Week. Organised by the Royal Entomological Society, it encourages everyone to appreciate and learn more about the ‘little things that run the world’.

Insects are by far the most diverse and ecologically important group of animals on land and there are over 24,000 known species in the United Kingdom alone, with hundreds of species to be found in almost every garden and green space. With so many to study they are grouped into orders, for example the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), Hymenoptera (bees, ants and wasps), Orthoptera (grasshoppers and crickets) and Coleoptera (beetles) to name a few.

Insects have a huge role to play and without them our lives would be very different: they pollinate fruit, flowers and vegetables; they are food for amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals; and they feed on lots of living and dead things themselves, breaking down waste and helping to keep the balance of nature. You can find out more about National Insect Week on their website.

So here’s a very mini Blashford insect safari, using photos I’ve taken over the past few days, covering a very meagre 23 species and spanning five orders – I have quite a few more to track down!

The moth trap has revealed some spectacular moths over the past few days, including some very smart Privet and Elephant hawk-moths:

There was also another Scarce merveille du jour, with its lichen coloured forewings which provide it with brilliant camouflage:

Other species included a swallow-tailed moth, peppered moth, pebble prominent, lobster moth, large emerald, iron prominent, buff tip and barred straw:

The raised planters outside the front of the Centre are still a good place to look for insects, with plenty of bees, ladybirds, and butterflies making the most of the flowers:

There has also been a red admiral regularly resting on the fence posts and gravel outside the front of the Centre…

red admiral

Red admiral

…and I also found this Figwort sawfly on the mullein by the corner of the building:

sawfly

Figwort sawfly, Tenthredo scrophulariae

I’m not sure I’ve seen the sawfly before, or if I have I don’t think I’ve had the time to photograph and identify it, so it was nice to find a different species. Its striking yellow and black bands mimic a wasp and whilst the adults will sometimes nectar on flowers as this one was doing, they will often eat other insects. The larvae feed on either mullein or figwort.

Where we have not been using the grassy area by the side of the Centre for school lunches and Wild Days Out free play, the grass has been able to grow nice and tall and a few other plants have sprung up, particularly around the tunnel. One plant in particular seemed popular with the bees and volunteer Phil tested out his plant finder app on it for me on Tuesday as I had been trying to identify it without much success. It reminded me a bit of dead nettle.

Known as Black horehound (Ballota nigra), it grows along hedgerows, road side verges and on waste ground and belongs to the mint and dead nettle family, Lamiaceae. When the leaves are crushed it gives off a pungent rotten smell to deter herbivores (perhaps we need to relocate some into the planter by the Centre which has been targeted by the deer) which has given it the local name of ‘stinking Roger’ in some places. It also has a long tradition in herbal medicine and has been used to treat a range of issues from respiratory problems to travel sickness and depression to gout.

carder bee on black horehound

Carder bee on black horehound

There have been a number of emperor dragonflies hawking over the Centre and ponds and yesterday I spent some time sat by the pond watching a male fly overhead, occasionally dive bombing me. Every so often he would return to one particular iris to perch, either on or above the exuvia that was still clinging on, so I guess this could have been where he emerged:

emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly

This damselfly was not quite as fortunate as I found it in the firm grasp of a zebra spider who was doing an excellent job of carrying it around the post to devour in peace:

zebra spider and damselfly

Zebra spider, Salticus scenicus, and damselfly

In venturing further from the Centre to check the reserve, I had a brief glimpse of a fritillary along the Dockens path and managed a quick photo. I think it’s a Silver-washed fritillary:

fritillary

Silver-washed fritillary

In studying all the mullein I came across in the hope of stumbling across a mullein moth caterpillar, I had to settle for this grasshopper instead, although it did pose very obligingly for a photo:

grasshopper

Grasshopper

Now is definitely a good time to find and watch insects, and you don’t need to venture far to track them down as even the smallest garden or green space can provide a home for this incredibly diverse group of animals. So if you get the chance head outside and see what you can find!

Moving away from the insects, I ventured into our woodland log circle area on Sunday and it has certainly enjoyed the lack of bug hunting children, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so green and grassy. On a number of logs I found the fruiting bodies of the slime mould Lycogala epidendrum, also known as wolf’s milk or groening’s slime. If the outer wall of the fruiting body is broken before maturity they excrete a pink paste.

slime mould

Slime mold, Lycogala epidendrum or wolf’s milk

Finally, although they have been disappearing very quickly with the warmer weather, the grass snakes by Ivy Silt Pond have been very obliging, with two often on the stretch of hedge immediately behind the temporary sign:

grass snakes 2

Grass snakes on the dead hedge by Ivy Silt Pond

All the small things

I spent some time in the meadow last Thursday and again yesterday, it feels as though it is going over more quickly than usual this year because it has been so dry so it was nice to take a closer look and see which insects are on the wing.

Last week I found a male and female bee-wolf, a solitary wasp that digs a nest in a sandy spot and hunts honey bees. The males gather together to form a lek, where each male defends a small territory and uses pheromones to attract a female. The females work a lot harder, digging a nesting burrow which can be up to one metre long and may have as many as 34 side burrows that end in brood chambers. Once excavation on the burrow has begun, the female will prey on honeybee workers, paralysing them with a sting and bringing them back to the burrow. Up to six paralysed bees can be placed into one chamber then a single egg is laid on one of the bees and chamber is sealed up with sand. After hatching, the larvae feed on the honeybees before spinning a cocoon to hibernate in throughout the winter, emerging in the spring.

I also found a number of different solitary bees enjoying the ox-eye daisies. I’ve been trying to learn a few more bees this year, but the solitary ones are quite hard. They were fun to photograph though!

I also spotted a ladybird larva, a female thick-legged flower beetle (the males have the thick back legs) and a pair of fairy-ring longhorn beetles.

The highlight yesterday was this small skipper, the only butterfly I saw in the meadow when I visited:

When I was there yesterday I had two great views of a fox cub, both sightings took me by surprise so there is no photo, but it first walked up the slope outside the meadow then a bit later came through the ox-eye daisies in the middle before disappearing through the fence. I’m assuming it was the same cub, but I suppose it could have been two different ones.

In the woodland there are lots of scorpion flies on the nettles and I also spotted a speckled bush cricket nymph. The dock are being devoured by the larvae of the green dock beetle, who have completely stripped the leaves from many. If you look closely you can see the larvae along with the occasional shiny green beetle.

I also had my first sightings of grass snake yesterday, although my first was actually this dead one on the path near the meadow, I’m assuming it was predated by a bird:

dead grass snake

Dead grass snake

Having a dead grass snake as my first for this year, I decided to go down towards Ivy South hide and see if I could spot a live one in the dead hedge and was rewarded with two:

There were two there again this morning.

Going back to the reserve’s insect life, the planters outside the front of the centre are still continuing to attract large numbers of bees, hoverflies, horseflies, shield bugs and damselflies and this morning I had glimpses of a dark bush cricket and a ruby tailed wasp. Sadly no photos of either, I will have to keep looking every time I walk past…

The moth trap numbers have decreased again with the drop in temperature, but last week there was a very smart eyed hawk-moth in the trap and yesterday there was a spectacle moth:

You can guess how the spectacle moth gets his name…

Yesterday I noticed a jay spending quite a bit of time on the ground outside the back of the Centre and I watched it for some time sunning itself, stretching its wings, shaking and preening. It could have been dust bathing, but the picnic bench was in the way to see properly. After a while I managed to get a few photos:

It was joined by a great spotted woodpecker, who spent some time hopping around on the ground, possibly looking for ants, before flying up to a tree.

The woodpecker was sat calling from the bench a short while ago, so it must be a favoured spot.

Nature and wildlife on my doorstep

Young Naturalist Izzy Fry has written a blog for us to share about her experiences during lockdown, along with some fabulous photos. Whilst off she also began writing her own blog, titled My Nature and Photography, and you can find it here.

Enjoy!

Red admiral by Izzy Fry

Red admiral by Izzy Fry

 

Despite the current circumstances, Summer is just round the corner. The weather is warming; young hares begin to bound around the meadows and migratory birds have returned. Bees are busy collecting pollen, wildflowers are in full bloom, and butterflies begin to lay their eggs.

Hare by Izzy Fry

Brown hare by Izzy Fry

 

Although many of us are contained to our homes and gardens, there is still so much to explore! I am lucky enough to live on a farm surrounded by woodland and fields which is a haven for wildlife. From Rabbits and Pied Wagtails on the farmland to Spotted Flycatchers and Muntjacs in the woods.

I absolutely love photography, and it has massively helped me to get through these past months. One of my favourite things to photograph is the birds and squirrels in my garden!

Grey squirrel by Izzy Fry 2

Grey squirrel by Izzy Fry

I have made my own woodland table to get photos of my garden wildlife on natural objects. I get four Grey squirrels which spend hours munching on the loose food on the table as well as providing lots of different bird foods, to attract different species!
For example, peanuts for tit species and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, nyger seed for Gold and Greenfinches, fat balls for Robins and Long‐tailed tits and seeds for Nuthatches and Sparrows!

To give me a project during quarantine, I have also made my own nature and photography blog where I post about my photos and nature experiences. Nearly a year ago I made an Instagram account ‐ @focus.photograph.y – and I loved sharing my photos with people! I also have a big interest in journalism and so decided to make a blog to present my photos and journalism at the same time! This is the link to it – https://mynatureandphotographyblog.wordpress.com/

Blog

Homepage of Izzy’s blog

My family owns two hives full of honeybees which we collected from swarms in people’s gardens! I have been out learning more about them with my mum who is
a beekeeper. We have been looking at the three different types of bees – the drones, workers and queen! The drone honeybees have a bigger abdomen and their job is to care for the eggs and larvae! The worker’s job is to collect pollen and make the honey and the queen is the most important bee of all! The queen’s only job is to reproduce – she is the mother to every single bee (around 15,000!) in the hive!


I was walking back home one day from my daily exercise, when I heard a loud cheeping noise coming from a hole in a tree. At first, I thought it was a Nuthatch nest as they usually nest in small cavities in trees, but after sitting close by for a while, I noticed a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers flying around in the trees nearby. After a bit longer, I saw them go in to feed their chicks! It was amazing to watch – unfortunately, I did not get any photos as I didn’t want to spook the parents by moving the camera around! But I plan to go back soon and see if I can get some shots!

To keep ourselves occupied during lockdown, my family decided to install a pond in our garden in the hope to attract more wildlife! After digging a big hole and placing the pond liner inside, we filled it with pond water from a nearby pond. We also had a mini pond inside full of tadpoles which had hatched from toad spawn which we put in too as well as 3 newts we caught and a caddis fly larvae!

Very close to my house, we have a small orchard where I saw a big group of juvenile blue tits! For the last couple of days, I have sat for ages photographing them in the trees and being fed by their parents. Did you know that even after having fledged, blue tit chicks will still rely on their parents for food for a while after leaving the nest!


Even though we are limited to a small space at the moment, there are still lots of activities that you can do to stay connected to nature! For example: make a bird feeder, build a bug house, watch a wildlife webcam.

Blue tit on feeder by Izzy Fry

Blue tit on homemade bird feeder by Izzy Fry

Currently we all have a lot of free time, and so it is the perfect time to explore!

Meadow brown by Izzy Fry

Meadow brown by Izzy Fry

Summing up…

The past two weeks hasn’t all been about the current improvements at Blashford, we have been in search of reptiles and amphibians on two Wild Days Out, run a busy family pond dip session (distinctly lacking in newts, we must have scared them all off the week before!) and woven some very pretty Easter baskets using materials found on the reserve.

And the reserve is looking lovely! It is getting greener by the day, although some trees are suffering more than others from the ever increasing number of munching Alder leaf beetles. This Crab apple in particular is being stripped bare:

There are plenty of wildflowers out, including Germander speedwell, Ground ivy, Cuckoo flower, Moschatel, Primrose, Cowslip and Common Dog-violet. Lesser celandine is carpeting the woodland floor near the reserve entrance and the Bluebells will soon be following suit, with some already flowering.

The warm sunny weather has bought the butterflies out in force, with Brimstone, Orange-tip, Speckled wood, Small white, Comma and Peacock all on the wing.

Large numbers of Sand martin have been investigating the holes in the Sand martin wall in preparation for nesting and Swallows are also back, although currently in much smaller numbers. Three Black tern spent most of today over Ibsley Water and as I left all three had alighted the Osprey perch out in the lake. Little ringed plover have been on the shoreline and Lapwing continue to display overhead.

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Sand martins

David Stanley-Ward sent in two very fine photos recently, one of two fighting Coot taken from the new Tern Hide and the other of two Great-crested grebes displaying in front of Goosander Hide.

Coots

Fighting Coots by David Stanley-Ward

Great-crested Grebe

Great-crested Grebes by David Stanley-Ward

If you have visited recently and would like to share your wildlife sighting with us, please do email them to BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk along with whether you are happy for us to use them on the blog and on other promotional material and how you would like to be credited. We don’t always manage to post images straight away, but do always enjoy seeing them, so thank you David for sharing these.

The woodland is full of bird song, with Chiff-chaff and Cetti’s warbler in particular standing out with their more striking calls. Blackcaps are seen frequently although they do not stay in one spot for long and Willow warblers are also present whilst Brambling and Reed bunting continue to feed in front of the Woodland Hide. Sedge warbler and Reed warbler can also be heard in the reedbeds by Ivy North Hide and Ivy Silt Pond.

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Brambling

And finally back to the events! On our Wild Days Out Amphibian and Reptile Rambles we managed one young grass snake, the same snake in the same spot on both days. This really isn’t the best photo, but if you look in the centre you might be able to make out the tip of it’s tail as it disappeared into the undergrowth.

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Spot the tiny grass snake’s tail!

On both days the weather was fairly cool so we failed to spot an adder, but both groups enjoyed a longer walk over to Goosander Hide and the older children managed to make it as far as Lapwing Hide.

Back at the pond we had more success, catching a number of newts, and we also found some under the logs in the woodland. Both days were enjoyed by all, even if the reptiles were a bit thin on the ground!

And last but not least, on Wednesday morning a very satisfying two hours were spent weaving in willow wood, with a number of children creating some very striking Easter baskets using materials collected on the reserve and a wooden disc base prepped by volunteer Geoff. We used rush, sedge and larch as well as the willow, with a couple of the older children even having a go with fresh bramble. One of the girls stripped the bark off some of the willow leaving the inner white of the rod on show. They all looked amazing!

The last couple of weeks have been very varied, but with the weather warming up it has been lovely to be out and about on the reserve. Spring is definitely here!