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!

Woodwork and wandering

The weather last week resulted in two very different Wild Days Out, with Tuesday very wet and soggy and not the best conditions for wildlife watching although we did still manage a trip to the hides and a walk in search of wasp spiders, and the Wednesday much warmer and brighter.

On Tuesday we swapped wildlife watching for some making, made possible with a small group and limited only by the children’s imagination, the materials we could lay our hands on and the woodwork skills of volunteers Chris and Lucy and myself. The group did keep us on our toes! But the focus and determination that went into the making was fabulous, we started with a bit of wand making then this progressed into making paints from blackberries, charcoal and clay, bug homes, a willow snail and a sword and a shield.

And there was definitely time to play at the end, especially when they found a toad!

Playing

With very different weather on the Wednesday, we headed off to the lichen heath in search of wasp spiders, munched a few wild strawberries and blackberries then made our way to Goosander Hide to see what we could spot.

Unfortunately we didn’t manage to spot any adders, but on our way back we did see a number of butterflies enjoying the sunnier weather:

There were also plenty of butterflies and other insects enjoying the flowers by the pond at lunchtime:

We also spent a bit of time enjoying the new sand pit, tunnel and stepping stones:

After lunch we rummaged through the moth trap, with the highlights including a stunning Elephant hawk-moth, a Poplar hawk-moth and a Canary-shouldered thorn:

We then headed off on the ‘Wild Walk‘, keeping our fingers crossed for grass snakes and we were not disappointed, spotting six altogether either on the branches in Ivy Silt Pond or outside the front of Ivy South Hide: 

We carried on along the sculpture trail then headed down to the river to finish with a paddle and some rush boat racing:

We still have some spaces available on our summer Wild Days Out and details on how to book can be found on our website.

A Black and Grey Day

That is black as in the tern, as there was another juvenile black tern today and even better, grey as in grey phalarope!

grey phalarope

Grey phalarope, juvenile

Yet another in a proud line of “record shots” of wildlife at Blashford, my excuse is that it was a long way off and I have to say to is much better than my efforts the last time we had a phalarope at Blashford. Of course it should not be here, it has been blown in by the north-westerly gales and Ibsley Water was just the nearest thing to the open sea that it could find.

Despite the phalarope and black tern and a supporting caste of 2 ruff, 2 dunlin a ringed plover and Walter the great white egret my personal show-stopping wildlife spectacle of the day was actually the house martins. Thousands and thousands of them, I think at least 8000, possibly even more than 10,000 at the start of the day. They swarmed over the water like gnats with a 1000 or so swallow a few hundred sand martin and still a single swift.

I had an autumn moth event this morning, I was a little concerned we might have no moths to look at after yesterday’s paltry two moths, luckily it was not quite that bad. The highlight were 2 feathered gothic, the first of the year, others included snout, pinion-streaked snout, frosted orange, canary shouldered thorn, square spot rusticautumnal rustic and a few micro-moths.

feathered gothic

Feathered gothic, male

Batty evenings and dewy mornings

Last night a number of our Young Naturalists were joined by HIWWT’s Senior Ecologist Sarah Jackson, for an evening in search of Blashford’s bats. After a short introduction inside, we headed out armed with bat detectors to see what, if anything was flying about above our heads.

Sarah has been at Blashford the past couple of Thursday evenings, running a popular beginners course on Bat Ecology and Survey Techniques, so we had high expectations after being treated to aerial activity from Soprano and Common pipistrelles, Daubenton’s bat, Noctules and excitingly, a surprising flyby by a Greater horseshoe. Definitely my highlight of Thursday evening!

Sadly our total number of species last night didn’t quite match the five mentioned above, but we were lucky enough to quickly pick up lots of the characteristic ‘wet slaps’ or ‘smacks’ of both Common and Soprano pipistrelles. On our way down to Ivy South hide we paused to listen to the Tawny Owls calling in the distance and with Ivy Silt Pond pretty quiet on the bat front, we went in to the hide in the hope of more bat activity. Here the pipistrelles were immersed in a feeding frenzy over the lake, not surprising given the amount of flies on and above the surface of the water!

We stayed long enough watching them by torchlight and listening to them on the bat detectors that we also picked up Daubenton’s bat, with their distinctive call sounding like a rapid series of regular ‘clicks’, before leaving the hide to the spiders.

spider

A spider interrupted in Ivy South hide

As the sky was clear in places, we were able to spot a couple of the Autumn constellations, The Plough and Cassiopeia. If you look hard enough at the two photos below you might be able to make them out!

the-plough-3

The Plough – seven stars in the shape of a saucepan, part of the constellation Ursa Major

casseopeia

Cassiopeia constellation, you can just make out the ‘W’ shape formed by five bright stars

Here’s a dot to dot to give you a better idea!

Thank you Sarah for joining us! Sarah’s second Beginners Bat Ecology course is also fully booked, but details of other courses offered by the Trust can be found on our website:

http://www.hiwwt.org.uk/courses

With courses on astronomy, nature photography, wildlife identification, forest school and wildlife art, there’s lots to choose from.

On opening up this morning the spider’s webs along the edge of the lichen heath were laden with dew, a sure sign of a cooler morning and lowering temperatures. I was lucky enough to see three kingfishers on Ivy Silt Pond, but there was no sign of a grass snake first thing.

spiders-web

Dew covered spiders web

The light trap was emptier than it has been, with 17 moths present, seven species in total. In amongst the Large yellow underwings, there was a Snout, two Sallows and this Canary shouldered thorn:

canary-shouldered-thorn

Canary shouldered thorn

The trap also contained a rather smart Ichneumon fly, Enicospilus ramidulus, which unusually hung around long enough to be photographed:

ichneumon-fly-2

Ichneumon fly ‘Enicospilus ramidulus’

The highlight, or surprise, of the light trap though was this rather sluggish hornet, which was happy to be removed from the trap and relocated for a photograph or two:

 

Wildlife roundup

Very aware of the recent lack of postings – with Bob away the last couple of weeks and Tracy and I leading groups or events every day time has been a precious commodity!

Tracy is planning on writing a post summarising our summer holiday activities over the last few days on Monday so I won’t dwell on that other than to say what ever she writes about me when she does post, take with a pinch of salt!

😉

It does seem that after a coolish spell with a few short, sharp showers we might be getting a bit of a summer again. The insects are certainly benefitting from the better weather with more dragonflies, moth and butterflies on the wing across the reserve.

Brown hawkers are the dragonfly of the moment and are flying in good numbers. A tricky insect to photograph the damselflies are always much more obliging – thanks to Stephen Parris for sending in his picture of a common blue:

Common blue damselfly by Stephen Parris

Common blue damselfly by Stephen Parris

You won’t thank me for pointing it out, but in the light trap there was plenty of evidence of the season moving on – many autumnal moths are yellow, presumably an evolutionary trait that provides better camouflage amongst the woodland canopy as the leaves begin to turn. The attractive canary shouldered thorn is by far the most common moth in the trap this week:

IMG_20160806_094822

Canary shouldered thorn

IMG_20160806_095541

Scalloped oak

IMG_20160806_094521

Herald

On the spider front wasp spiders are becoming more visible – I saw my first about 3 weeks ago when one was caught by a group sweep netting in the meadow area by Ivy North Hide, but not seen any there since, but this week reports of small females are coming in from the usual spot in the rush on the approach to Goosander Hide. In addition regular visitor Garry Prescott spotted a couple of small raft spiders on the centre pond this morning.

The kingfishers will no doubt have had a good breeding year again this year and they are certainly much in evidence around the site and this years fledged youngsters from one of the families along the river is once more starting to make camp outside Goosander Hide this week. Saw two opening up this morning, one to the right of this picture below but much too small at that distance for me to get a picture of so settled for the grey heron instead!

IMG_20160806_091739

Ivy North Hide

Finally reptiles are much in evidence again with the better weather – grass snakes are still basking in front of Ivy South Hide, although not as frequently as they have done. Instead the best spot to check is the fallen alders over the Ivy Silt Pond on the approach to Ivy South Hide where at least one and often three can be seen basking on the tree trunks over the water. Adder are worth keeping an eye open for along the path edges on the approach to Lapwing Hide too! Thanks to Martin King for dropping off some great pictures of an Ivy South Hide grass snake, including this one, my particular favourite!

Grass Snake by Martin King (2)_resize

Grass Snake by Martin King

 

 

 

 

Oranges and Lemons

After a three week break of duty, it made a pleasant change to be opening up the reserve and be greeted by a common sandpiper immediately outside the Tern Hide.  Ibsley Water bore  its usual compliment of waterfowl. Mute swans were much in evidence, not only as their physical presence, but from the large scale scattering of innumerable moulted white feathers floating across the lake.  Duck numbers are building up with representatives of several species including gadwall, tufted duck, wigeon,  mallard and shoveler. As usual at this time of year it can be quite difficult to sort many of them out as the usually distinctive drakes have moulted into a somewhat drab ‘eclipse’ plumage, similar to the females.  This is thought to be a survival mechanism, making them less conspicuous whilst they moult their flight feathers. Large numbers of lapwing are now making use of the shingle spit to the east of the tern hide and are accompanied by several (we counted fourteen) Egyptian geese.

Although we are still experiencing warm weather the numbers of insects have dropped dramatically since I was last here. A male Southern Hawker dragonfly was periodically patrolling the pond behind the Education Centre, but only a few large white butterflies and a red admiral were much in evidence.

The moth trap hasn’t been set out  much lately, but Jim kindly put it on for us last night.  Our reward was some seventeen species of moth, but the downside was  a fairly large number of wasps – sorry don’t know what species – plus a couple of LARGE hornets, which made emptying the trap somewhat challenging…

A rather sleepy hornet .

A rather sleepy hornet .

Other ‘interlopers’ were this rather nice shield bug,

Shieldbug

Shield bug

and a number of what , with their smooth outlines, look to me like water beetles

Water beetle?

Water beetle?

Not many of the moths were, to be frank, that dramatic or spectacular, although the rather ‘dead leaf’ looking angle shades is always good value

Angle shades

Angle shades

and also in among them this Frosted Orange

Frosted Orange

Frosted Orange

and a number of species with a distinct yellow (lemon?) hue, including this Canary-shouldered Thorn..

Canary-shouldered Thorn

Canary-shouldered Thorn