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

 

Our Young Naturalists are back onsite!

Since May 2020 we’ve managed to stay in touch with 17 of our Young Naturalists and gain one new member, through 13 online sessions and three onsite sessions (we managed to squeeze two short campfire sessions in during December and met up again onsite at the end of April).

Using zoom and aided by the digital microscope we’ve looked at pond and river life, moths, birds (less successfully online I have to admit…) and a variety of skulls. Aided by PowerPoint and a lot of photos we’ve also covered topics including insects (primarily bees, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies), reptiles, birds of prey and freshwater fish.

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Their topic requests have at times kept me on my toes!

We were also joined online by Owain from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation back in the summer and Amy from the New Forest National Park Authority in October. Following on from our session with Amy, we were joined in November by a New Forest Commoner, Lyndsey Stride, who took us on an autumnal forest walk via zoom and talked about the key New Forest habitats, how her animals interacted with them and and the commoning year.

Rather than being attached to individuals, the common rights of the New Forest are attached to properties and land in the Forest, with the New Forest Commoners being those who occupy the land or property to which the privileges are attached. These privileges include the right to graze stock on the open forest and many commoners are descendants of families who have been commoning for many generations. Today commoning doesn’t generally provide a living, resulting in many commoners being employed elsewhere and it was really interesting to hear Lyndsey talking about her way of life.

At the end of April we were able to meet up properly on site, much to my relief as I had I think had my fill of zoom, and, being able to facilitate more young people than in December we also reverted back to our old meeting time of 10am until 2.30pm – it was great to have a bit more time to do things and a bit more time to catch up with the group.

With dawn chorus day (the first Sunday in May) fast approaching I thought it would be fun to make and try out parabolic reflectors, having seen some great do it yourself versions on social media. Using Sarah Dowling‘s fabulous art work as a guide, we had a go at making them using a plastic bowl and some wooden offcuts Geoff had kindly provided and prepped for us.

plant pot parabolic 4

Plant pot parabolic instructions by Sarah Dowling

We placed a piece of wood inside the bowl and put a couple of elastic bands around it, which would be used to keep the recording device in place, then screwed through this piece of wood (avoiding the elastic bands!), the bowl and into another piece of wood that would be used as the handle.

Once made, you could attach your recording device inside the bowl (in this case we used mobile phones) and either record the sound using a recording app or just via the video function on the phone. They worked brilliantly and I was impressed by how much bird song they picked up for something so simply made.

After testing our recording capabilities (the instructions suggested downloading either the ‘Rode Reporter’ app for IOS or the ‘RecForge II’ app for android) we went on a wander in search of bird song. Thankfully it was not hard to find!

plant pot parabolic 2

Using our plant pot parabolics

plant pot parabolic

Recording bird song

It was quite breezy so some of the recordings picked up a lot of background noise, but I was quite pleased with a couple that came out more clearly and you could make out blackcap, garden warbler, blackbird, robin, chiffchaff, and Cetti’s warbler singing, as well as a black-headed gull calling (or squawking) as it flew overhead. I’ll definitely be taking mine out again on a walk at some point!

After having lunch we headed down to the river, as having talked about freshwater fish during our last online session some river dipping seemed rather fitting.

Although Jim had been busy running river study sessions for small groups of home educated children, they had been exploring further down stream and as a result we caught a good number of bullheads and a stone loach in our usual river dipping spot. We also found a very nice demoiselle nymph.

Our next Young Naturalists session is on Sunday 30th May and if the weather is nice we will be heading off on a walk in search of reptiles. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

If you know of an enthusiastic Young Naturalist please do spread the word, we are always keen to welcome new members – booking is essential via either our website or Eventbrite and anyone joining us for the first time will need to have completed a parental consent form, which can be obtained by emailing us at BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk

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

Saved by the moths…

We have been running our fortnightly Young Naturalists catch-ups now since the the end of May and, seven catch-ups in, they are keeping me on my toes in terms of content. Although shorter than a normal on site meeting, making sure we have plenty to discuss for the whole two hours online has kept me busy, collating their photos so we can share them with everyone during the session, catching pond creatures beforehand so we can look at them under the digital microscope, and putting together presentations on other topics, chosen by them and generally not my area of expertise!

I have fallen behind with my Young Naturalist blogs but August’s sessions focused on dragonflies and damselflies (thankfully I now have a good number of photos of different species which made putting together a presentation quite easy)…

lifecycle

Life cycle of a dragonfly and damselfly

…and owls (thankfully the Trust’s image library has a number of fabulous photos of owls that have been taken by other members of staff or sent in by very generous photographers, along with their permission for us to use them)…

owls

Owl presentation

Other birds of prey have also been requested, so the image library will be coming in quite handy again at some point… 

It is always a bit nicer to look at something living though, so at every session we have had one if not two light traps to rummage through and volunteer Nigel has also run his trap at home to add to our moth chances. With the exception of a few cooler nights, we have had a great variety of moths to look at, they have become a regular feature! 

Here are the highlights from the last couple of sessions, plus possibly a few that were caught in between:

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Sticking with the moth theme, this morning there were a pair of Burnished brass in the trap, unmistakable with their brassy, metallic forewings. There are two forms of this moth, which differ in the brown central cross-band which is complete in f. aurea but separated into two blotches in f. juncta

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Burnished brass, f.juncta on the left and f. aurea on the right

We haven’t just been catching moths in the light trap, but also lots of caddisflies, shield bugs, beetles and this rather smart looking Eared leafhopper:

Eared leafhopper

Eared leafhopper

They can be found on lichen covered trees, in particular oaks, but are incredibly hard to spot due to their amazing camouflage.

Fingers crossed for some mild September nights so we have some nice autumnal moths to identify for a little longer, or we may have to get into caddisfly identification…

Elsewhere on the reserve the dragonflies continue to be very obliging, with common darter and southern and migrant hawkers perching on vegetation behind the centre to be photographed – the migrant hawker below was pointed out to me by regular visitor John:

Migrant hawker

Migrant hawker

Migrant hawker 2

Migrant hawker

This morning large numbers of house martin were gathering over the main car park by Tern Hide and Ibsley Water, in preparation for their incredible migration to Africa, whilst the shoreline has also become busier, with an increase in wagtails over the past few days.

Yellow wagtail

Yellow wagtail

Pied wagtail

Pied wagtail

Pied wagtail (2)

Juvenile Pied wagtail

Yellow wagtails are summer visitors and they too will head to Africa for the winter. Most Pied wagtails are residents however those that occupy northern upland areas will head south for the colder months, boosting the populations already found in the warmer valleys, floodplains and on the south coast. They can migrate as far as north Africa to escape the cold.

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

Tigers, kittens and emperors

Emptying the moth trap this morning revealed a beautiful garden tiger moth, which was definitely a treat to see. When disturbed they display their orange hind wings with blue-black spots, the bright colours acting as a reminder to predators that they are unpalatable.

Garden tiger

Garden tiger moth

Garden tiger 2

Garden tiger moth

The larvae of the garden tiger moth are large, black and covered in long, dense, black and ginger hairs, giving them their name the ‘woolly bear’. They feed on stinging nettles, dock leaves and a variety of garden plants. They can be seen from August until the following June and are often seen moving rapidly across bare ground when fully grown so are a good caterpillar to keep an eye out for, although it is best to leave them to it if you do see one as the hairs can irritate.

When the sun is shining the pond is still a brilliant to spot to look for dragonflies, with common darters often resting up on a chosen spot and both brown hawkers and emperor dragonflies hawking overhead or egg laying:

Common darter

Common darter resting on a picnic bench

Emperor dragonfly

Male emperor dragonfly pausing briefly on vegetation

There are still plenty of damselflies around and I managed to photograph this pair of common blue damselflies mating. The male is blue and the female is a more camouflaged olive green colour:

Common blue damselflies

Common blue damselflies mating

The male dragonflies and damselflies have two pairs of hooks at the tip of the abdomen which they use to grasp either the neck (in damselflies) or head (in dragonflies) of the female. Pairs can often be seen flying together in tandem and shortly after capturing a female they will mate and form the ‘wheel position’ seen in the image above. Some species remain coupled for several hours amongst vegetation whilst others, like the chaser dragonflies, couple briefly for just a few seconds. Following mating the female is ready to lay eggs.

There are also still plenty of butterflies on the wing, including this common blue which was outside the front of the centre earlier today.

Common blue

Common blue

On Sunday we held another of our online Young Naturalist catch ups where we expanded on the last session delivered by Owain from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and discussed all six native reptiles. We were treated to some fantastic photos by Kimberley, taken on her phone, of a very friendly male sand lizard she had encountered whilst walking her dog at Dewlands Common in Verwood.

I used to visit Dewlands Common regularly when employed by East Dorset District Council so it is great to know they are still present on the site.

Will also shared some photos he had taken, including a lovely photo of a wool carder bee on lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina). We had been hoping the lamb’s ear in one of the planters outside the Education Centre would attract wool carder bees as they will scrape hairs from the leaves to line and seal the brood cells in their nests, but sadly there has been no sign of any.

Will also shared a photo of a small skipper butterfly which was taken up on the Laverstock Downs, a gatekeeper which he had photographed at Horatio’s Garden at Salisbury Hospital, and an abandoned robin’s nest in his bird box at home – the robin’s had for some reason moved elsewhere.

We also looked at the moths in the light trap, where the highlight was this very fresh looking Sallow kitten:

Sallow kitten

Sallow kitten

Finally regular visitor and volunteer Phil shared this photo with us of the Osprey which visited on the 16th July. It was only here on that day, but did spend quite some time sat on the perch out on Ibsley Water and Phil was able to get a photo from a distance. I was on leave that week so completely missed it!

Osprey by Phil West

Osprey by Phil West

Our Young Naturalists are kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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The native and the more exotic…

This morning I was getting ready for our online Young Naturalists session when I spotted a Large skipper by the pond, the first one I’ve seen this year. It stayed there for some time although I couldn’t see it later on in the day, despite a bit of looking.

They have a pretty faint chequered pattern on the wings, so are easy to tell apart from the similar Small and Essex skippers which fly at the same time.

Large skipper

Large skipper

We have just had our Centre wifi improved enabling us to teach online whilst outside, which is great for our fortnightly Young Naturalists sessions and, although too late for this term, will also allow us to offer virtual sessions to schools as things slowly return to some kind of normal in the autumn.

I tested it out today, running our fortnightly session from the shelter behind the Centre, emptying the moth trap with the group (sadly there weren’t many moths) and showing them the evidence of leaf-cutter bees in the bug hotel.

outdoor classroom

All set up for today’s virtual Young Naturalists session

Whilst outside I also spotted a male blackbird sunbathing on the top of the bug hotel, and managed to take a couple of distant photos:

Blackbird

Blackbird 2

I then watched it bathing in the pond, but wasn’t quite in the right place to get a photo.

For our Young Naturalists session today we were joined by Owain Masters, Public Engagement and Education Officer for Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust’s Snakes in the Heather project. The project aims to raise public awareness of the conservation needs of our native reptiles andFinal heathland heritage, helping to promote a better understanding that will safeguard their future. In particular it focuses on the conservation of the smooth snake, Britain’s rarest reptile.

Although not present on the reserve, we are lucky to have them locally on the sandy heaths of Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey.

Owain shared his passion for snakes with the group, talked about the three species native to the UK and tested the group with a fun quiz, ‘snake or fake’, to see what information they had picked up whilst he had been talking. He had been due to join us onsite for a session so it was great he could join us online and hopefully we will be able to reschedule his site visit at some point in the future.

Given our session had a reptile theme, the group’s show and tell was also distinctly reptilian, with Thomas and Harry sharing photos of their pet geckos. Slightly more exotic than our native snakes! Apologies to Alex’s mum… a second gecko may now be on the cards…

The group also shared a few native reptile encounters, with Harry, Thomas and Alex talking about their adder encounters, Cameron and Torey sharing a photo their dad had taken of a grass snake outside the front of Ivy South Hide and Will sharing a photo of a common lizard:

Will also talked about seeing osprey at Fishlake Meadows and watching a collared dove from his bedroom window that was nesting in his garden. He had also seen a large white butterfly, red admiral, scarlet tiger moth and female stag beetle.

Finally, Cameron shared some really lovely landscape photos from a walk around Whitsbury, near Fordingbridge:

Next time we will be chatting a bit more about reptiles and looking at all six species naive to the UK and have our usual rummage through the light trap. It will be interesting to see what wildlife they have all encountered between now and then.

After the session was over I had another look by the pond for the large skipper but had to content myself with this lovely skipper instead, I think a small skipper rather than an Essex skipper.

Small skipper

Small skipper

Finally, towards the end of the day a very kind visitor pointed out a crab spider that was lurking in amongst the buddleia flowers by the pond. After a bit of searching, I think its a goldenrod or flower crab spider. Its pale colouring and purple stripes did help it blend in really well with the flowers, I have no idea how they spotted it!

Goldenrod or flower crab spider Misumena vatia

Goldenrod or flower crab spider, Misumena vatia

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

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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:

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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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Here be dragons!

Yesterday we had our second Young Naturalists catch up via Zoom, looking once more at the moths in the light trap using the digital microscope and also at some pond creatures I had caught out of the new dipping pond first thing.

We talked about dragonfly and damselfly nymphs and had another look at an exuvia I had found floating in the pond (the dried outer casing left behind when the nymph finishes the aquatic stage of its lifecycle), looked at lesser and greater waterboatmen and a couple of different diving beetles and a diving beetle larva, talked about what materials cased caddisfly larva use to make their cases (the one I caught was thinner and more streamlined than the one in the photo below, living in a tiny tube made of pieces of reed or leaf), talked about the feathery gills on the baby newts or efts which enable them to breathe underwater and are absorbed as they develop, and watched a whirligig beetle whizzing around on the surface of the water – they definitely have the best name out of all the pond creatures!

I didn’t get round to taking any photos of the creatures as a number were trying to escape whilst I was talking about them, so they were swiftly released back into the pond whilst volunteer Nigel chatted through the moths he had caught in his light trap at home. Here are some photos I took a while ago now, it was quite nice to go pond dipping again!

Nigel had also prepared an A to Z of birds quiz which kept the group entertained, especially as not all of the birds were native to this country. Bonus points were also awarded for additional questions about each bird, so I think the group learnt a thing or two, including where Nigel has been on past holidays!

After a very soggy start to the day the sun came out after lunch so I went for a walk around the reserve. In the meadow I was treated to some great views of a female Black-tailed skimmer, who I had disturbed when passing but seemed content to settle again on the grass:

Female Black-tailed skimmer

Female Black-tailed skimmer

Seeing dragonflies and damselflies at rest is one of the best ways to tell the two apart, dragonflies rest with their wings outstretched, as above, whereas damselflies rest with their wings held together over their abdomen or body:

common blue damselfly

Common blue damselfly at rest

I also found a Mint moth, Pyrausta purpuralis enjoying the ox-eye daisies. Although the grass and flower stems turned brown very quickly with the absence of rain, the flowers themselves are still blooming.

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Mint moth, Pyrausta purpuralis

On my way up to Lapwing Hide I saw what I first thought was a bumblebee, but on closer inspection realised it was a bumblebee hoverfly.

Bee mimic hoverfly volucella plumata

Bee mimic hoverfly, Volucella bombylans var. plumata

This hoverfly is an excellent bumblebee mimic. There are two main varieties, Volucella bombylans var. plumata seen above has yellow bands and a white tail, mimicking the Garden, White-tailed and Buff-tailed bumblebees whilst Volucella bombylans var. bombylans is black with a red tail, mimicking the Red-tailed bumblebee.

Mimicry reduces the chances of the fly being predated because it resembles a bee. In addition, the females lays their eggs in the nests of bumblebees and wasps where the larvae feed on the nest debris and occasionally the bee larvae as well.

On my way back to the Education Centre I was lucky enough to spot another female Black-tailed skimmer, who also posed beautifully so I could take a really good look and take some more photos:

Female Black-tailed skimmer 2

Female Black-tailed skimmer

Female Black-tailed skimmer 4

Female Black-tailed skimmer

Female Black-tailed skimmer 3

Female Black-tailed skimmer

Dragonflies have amazing vision, which they use to locate and catch insects whilst on the wing. Like most insects they have have compound eyes: each eye contains several thousand individual facets, with each facet containing a tiny lens. Combining all the images from each lens makes their sight better than most other insects.

Their eyes are holoptic, which means they meet along the middle of the head and take up most of it, wrapping around the head from the side to the front of the face. In comparison a damselflies eyes are also large, but they do not meet and there is always space between them. This is known as dichoptic and can be seen on the Banded demoiselle below:

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Banded demoiselle

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

Young Naturalists catch up

On Sunday we held our first online Young Naturalists meeting using Zoom. It was a great success with eleven young people joining us for two hours. We chatted about what everyone had been up to over the last couple of months, including their wildlife highlights and where they had been on their daily walks, how they had been finding homeschooling and projects they had been doing at home – a lot of lockdown ponds have been created which is lovely to hear!

We were joined by volunteer Nigel who pond dipped his garden pond and shared his catch with the group, shared some of the moths caught in his light trap the night before and talked about some of the butterflies out on the wing at present, using photos to help.

We also used the digital microscope to take a closer look at the moths caught overnight at Blashford. Sadly the trap included the remains of a privet hawk-moth, indicating a bird had managed to get in and have a feast, something that does unfortunately happen on occasion. An easy meal for the bird, not so good for the moths! We had a closer look at what had been left behind, its head and one wing. The head was still wriggling which was slightly disconcerting! By chance, Alex and Thomas who had also run their moth trap at home the night before had caught a privet hawk-moth too, which hadn’t fallen foul of an intruder in the trap, and we were able to have a look at a live one.

We had some great moths in the trap and looked up a couple we didn’t know online using the Hants Moths Flying Tonight webpage.

We also had a closer look at some dragonfly exuvia I had collected from around the pond:

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

The larger exuvia is from a emperor dragonfly whilst the smaller one is from a downy emerald. These exuvia are both larger and different in shape to the damselfly one I shared yesterday.

It was great to be able to catch up with the group and we are planning on running sessions fortnightly over the next couple of months. We will be making the most of the moth trap, looking at some of Blashford’s pond and river creatures using the digital microscope, using photos to improve insect identification, create a few quizzes to keep us going and continue to share wildlife sightings and experiences.

When I returned from furlough I got in touch with the group to see what they had all been up to and whether they had any wildlife highlights from their time in lockdown. I hadn’t got round to sharing them sooner, so these are there replies, hopefully a couple more will follow:

Kiera – from an email on the 20th May

Last week we went for a walk at Kings Hat near Beaulieu and we stumbled upon this lizard running through the grass. It’s the first one I have seen in the wild!

lizard

Common lizard by Keira

Amber – from an email on the 18th May

I have been lucky enough to have taken some great nature photos during lockdown. We have been very careful to only walk from home on our dog walks. I have a dachshund called Hagrid.

We’ve recently discovered lots of great walks around Hightown Lakes in Ringwood, some longer than others. In March we came across a mummy duck with absolutely loads of ducklings. Then just last week, we were on our way to the lakes and saw the most wonderful thing, a field of Canada geese, and about 30 gosling’s!! I have never seen so many, they were impossible to count.

The best picture I managed to take was a chicken having a paddle, I didn’t know chickens liked water.

Will A – from an email on 20th May

My dad has built a veggie planter in the front garden and another planter with a wildlife pond and seating area in the back garden. I enjoyed helping build the wildlife pond and have included some pictures of the garden.

Since we only live a ten minute walk away from Stanpit Marsh we have made an effort to get out for a walk most days and I am appreciating things a lot more. I have seen Stanpit spring into life since the end of February. I feel very lucky to have this on my doorstep especially when compared to others. I have also heard from a neighbour that seals have been seen on the beach at Highcliffe.

I’m looking forward to catching up with them again in a couple of weeks to see what else they have been up to.

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

Shovelling silt

On Sunday our Young Naturalists were treated to the lovely task of clearing all the silt, mud and other debris from the main car park by Tern Hide, following the recent flooding, a task they got stuck into and I think quite enjoyed!

Car park

Before

I think the thing they enjoyed the most, was trying to sweep the water lengthways down the puddle then through the outflow pipe…

Playing aside, they did scrape off a lot and Bob was very impressed by their efforts.

After lunch they then had a go at pewter smelting, as we had all the kit to hand and they hadn’t tried it before. They used the play-dough to make a mould before melting the pewter shot over the fire and carefully pouring it into the mould.

Their finished items looked great, we will have to do it again:

Pewter smelting by Izzy Fry 2

Pewter pine cone and mould by Izzy Fry

Cast items

Finished items – alder cones, shells, pine cones and acorns

After the session Izzy went to the Woodland Hide to see what she could spot and sent in these brilliant photos:

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Thanks Izzy for sharing!

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

Boxes for birds and bugs

At the end of January we made bug homes and bird boxes with our Young Naturalists. They took their bug homes away with them but the bird boxes have since been put up on the reserve by volunteer Brenda who monitors them throughout the nesting season. The past couple of years we have enjoyed spending a session with Brenda and helping out with the nest box monitoring, and we are looking forward to doing the same again this spring.

They particularly enjoyed using Geoff’s bench drill to drill the holes in the bug homes and his pyrography kit to decorate both them and the bird boxes.

Their finished bug homes and bird boxes looked great and I’m sure the birds and bugs will appreciate them.

As we were building the boxes we were distracted by the kingfisher which has been frequenting the pond behind the Education Centre. Best viewed from inside, they enjoyed taking photos through the windows and viewing it through binoculars.

Photographing the kingfisher

Watching the kingfisher

New member Issy managed to take some great photos:

Kingfisher 9 Issy Fry

Kingfisher by Issy Fry

Kingfisher Izzy Fry

Kingfisher by Issy Fry

Our woodwork filled session would not have been possible without the huge efforts of volunteer Geoff, who pre-cut all the bug home and bird box kits and provided all the tools and fixings including the bench drill and pyrography kit. The group do really enjoy building things and it’s great to see how much those who are now on their second or third box building session have grown in confidence. Thank you Geoff!

We also found time during the session once again take part in the Big Garden Bird Watch, visiting the Woodland Hide for the fourth year in a row. Our records were definitely not as numerous as previous years and we recorded 14 species and 32 birds altogether: 8 chaffinch; 3 blue tit; 3 long-tailed tit; 3 blackbird; 2 dunnock; 2 great tit; 2 coal tit; 2 goldfinch; 2 robin; 1 nuthatch; 1 jay; 1 magpie; 1 reed bunting and 1 song thrush.

Jay Issy Fry

Jay by Issy Fry

By comparison, last year we recorded 91 birds and 18 different species. Our missing species this year were siskin, brambling, woodpigeon, jackdaw and great spotted woodpecker (last year we did not record song thrush). The most abundant species last year was also chaffinch, however we recorded 38 at one time compared to this years 8.

This was also the first year our number of different species had decreased, with 15 different species recorded in 2017, 16 in 2018 and then 18 in 2019.

Comparing the results to the past three years is interesting – this winter has definitely been milder resulting in fewer birds coming down to the feeders and fewer finches in general. The absence of brambling this winter, the odd sighting of a lesser redpoll and fewer siskin on the feeders has certainly been noticeable. As a result we have not been ground feeding like previous years as there haven’t been the bird numbers and the feeders have so far provided enough food.

There is still time for a cold snap, but perhaps we will have to wait until next winter for our usual winter visitors.

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