Feeling blue?

Clifden Nonpareil (blue underwing)

It is properly grim out there today so just a quick post with a truly blue stunning insect to cheer up your weekend!

Just three individual moths in the light trap this morning, two of which were this awesome moth, a blue underwing (which sadly you can’t see in my picture so you’ll just have to imagine the sky blue/black banded hindwings!), or Clifden Nonpareil.

A one time resident of the UK it became extinct during the mid-20th Century with just occasional sightings of migrants each year. More recently however it has become more frequent and is thought to be making a very welcome back ūüėä

Recent bird highlights include a grey phalarope which has been present on Ibsley Water all week and showing relatively well. To the best of my knowledge not seen yet today by the handful of visitors braving the downpours, but the hundreds (thousands?) of house martins skimming hither & thither across the surface of the lake are very impressive to behold!

Autumn vibes

The recent wet weather has resulted in an increase in fungi on the reserve and even on a short walk a really good variety can be found. Fly agarics, the stereotypical mushroom of fairy tales, have popped up in the sweep meadow near Ivy North hide:

This morning I spotted lots of purple jellydisc fungus, Ascocoryne sarcoides, just by the bridge by Ivy North hide, which looks rather brain-like and grows on the rotting wood of deciduous trees:

Purple jellydisc 2

Purple jellydisc

A little further along the path there was some white or crested coral fungus, Clavulina coralloides, growing out of the ground:

white coral fungus

White coral fungus

Quite close to the white coral fungus I spied some flat oysterlings, Crepidotus applanatus, growing out of dead wood set a bit back from the path. This kidney-shaped fungus attaches directly to the dead wood of deciduous broadleaf trees without a stem. 

flat oysterling

Flat oysterling mushroom

The edge of this path is always a good place to look for candlesnuff fungus, Xylaria hypoxylon, which also grows on deadwood. It is also known as stag’s horn fungus, candlestick fungus and carbon antlers:

candlesnuff fungus

Candlesnuff fungus

A bit further along the path I found the distinctive slime mould Wolf’s milk, Lycogala terrestre. It didn’t photograph particularly well in today’s poor light, but is pink-peach in colour and can be seen all year round on decaying wood.¬†

Wolf's milk slime mold

Wolf’s milk slime mold

Towards the end of this little loop there were common puffballs, Lycoperdon perlatum

Common puffballs

Common puffballs

…and the Deceiver, Laccaria laccata:

Deceiver

The Deceiver

 

Finally, just by the Welcome Hut, I noticed some small stagshorn, Calocera cornea,¬†growing out of some dead wood. This jelly fungus rarely branches and again it really didn’t photograph well in todays rain.¬†

small stagshorn

Small stagshorn

This small loop revealed a really good variety, and those photographed above are the ones I was fairly confident in identifying, there were more I wasn’t as sure about!

We haven’t run the light trap this week, but last week and over last weekend it revealed a few nice species:

Lunar underwing

Lunar underwing


Chestnut

Chestnut


Green brindled crescent

Green brindled crescent


Pine carpet

Pine carpet

 

I will be running it tonight, so fingers crossed we will have something to look at during our online Young Naturalists session tomorrow. A Merveille du Jour or Clifden nonpareil would be very nice, but that might be wishful thinking! The photos below were taken a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t quite get round to sharing them at the time:

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The weather has been a bit bleak today, but it has been nice to get out on the reserve under slightly drier circumstances and enjoy what autumn has to offer:

Beech trees along the Dockens

Beech trees along the Dockens on Thursday when there was a bit more sunshine


Spindle

Spindle, by the badger sculpture

The Blues

Cooler wetter nights are resulting in large declines in moth numbers now, but this time of year is the main flight period of the Clifden Nonpareil at Blashford and over the past few days we have caught four. It is a really big moth, with wings closed a lightly patterned grey, but if the hind -wings are flashed quite different and you can then see why it is also known as blue underwing.

Clifden nonpareil

This year had been a record one for this species in the UK, or at least a record in recent decades, with lots of records during September from a wide area of southern England. This moth was locally resident in England until the early part of the 20thC when it died out and became just a very rare migrant. Over the last twenty years or so it has slowly recolonised, especially in the New Forest area. We have been catching them regularly at Blashford for a few years now, mostly in October. I suspect a lot of the ones caught earlier are migrants from the near continent.

Wherever they come from they are spectacular moths and I remember seeing them in the moth book years before I ever caught one and thinking how amazing it would be to see one. Even though I have now seen quiet a lot of them I can confirm that it was and still is amazing to see them.

Autumn Flight

Definitely feeling autumnal now, with the evenings getting rapidly earlier and a generally cooler and windier feel to the weather. There are still signs of summer when the sun comes out, dragonflies such as migrant and southern hawker and common darter are still out and about as are a fair few butterflies. This peacock, looking so fresh that I wonder if it was a second generation individual, was feeding on Inula hookerii beside the Centre a couple of days ago.

A very fresh peacock

Peacock butterflies over-winter as adults and emerge in spring to mate and lay eggs, sometimes they survive well into mid-summer, the caterpillars then feed up and pupate and a new generations hatches from July and after feeding up hibernates. However in very warm years they sometimes lay eggs and produce a summer brood as small tortoiseshell and comma do.

There are also lots of speckled wood around at present, these follow a quite different strategy, having several broods from early spring until late autumn. They are one of the only butterflies that can be seen in every week from late March to the end of October as the generations overlap.

speckled wood

There are a fair few autumnal moth species, some of which also overwinter as adults, one of these is the brick.

brick

Some others fly only in the autumn and over-winter as eggs, one of these is the magnificent merveille du jour, one of my favourite moths, not rare, just very splendid.

Other autumn species include deep-brown dart,

deep brown dart

and brown-spot pinion.

brown-spot pinion

We are still waiting for a Clifden nonpareil, perhaps oddly we have yet to catch one this year, despite the fact that they seem to be having one of their best years in living memory, with individuals turning up widely across the country.

Recent Activity and a Little Wildlife

I am sorry for the lack of posts recently, I will try and get back to a couple a week again. Recent weeks have been busy both at Blashford and at Fishlake.

At Blashford the volunteers have been constructing an artificial badger sett.

badger sett construction

badger sett construction, the chamber.

Once the chamber had been made a roof was added along with an entrance tunnel.

P1110340

construction continues.

Yesterday we covered the whole structure with a layer of soil to bury, now all we have to do is wait and see if the badgers approve.

The ponies have now left Blashford as the grazing season draws to a close. Meanwhile at Fishlake the cattle have grazed in both Ashley Meadow and the North-west fen and done a great job. Reducing the tall herbage will take several seasons but we are now holding the succession into rank fen with increasing willow scrub and starting to reverse it.

P1110376

British white cattle, now back in Ashley Meadow.

The autumn has been relatively quite for birds, or at least for rarities at both sites. Fishlake has been visited by several osprey, but they have not stayed as long as in  previous years. There have been several great (white) egret as both sites and 2 cattle egret flew south over Ibsley Water at Blashford. Both sites are now starting to see increases in wildfowl, with small flocks of teal at Fishlake and wigeon at Blashford.

The warm summer saw a number of records of lesser emperor dragonfly, a migrant that is occurring in increasing numbers, this great picture of a hovering male was sent in by  Kevin Kearns.

lesser emperor Kevin Kearns

lesser emperor Kevin Kearns

Moths have been a little disappointing, with a couple of Clifden nonpareil and a few commoner migrants. We have caught a couple more of the non-native Australian Pyralid, Masotima nitidalis, introduced with tree ferns but now evidently eating our native ferns in the wild.

Masotima nitidalis

Masotima nitidalis

There is still time for some autumn excitement where migrant birds are concerned, although we will soon be entering the late autumn lull before the main arrival of wintering birds. Insects will be winding down for winter, but fungi are coming into their main season, so there is always something to look forward to.

P1110358

Fungus season is starting

Great Expectations and Small Surprises

I was not at Blashford for most of yesterday, a site meeting at Fishlake to look at the upgrade work to the canal footpath, followed by a meeting about tern conservation meant that it was mid-afternoon before I arrived.

I was at Fishlake a little early so had a quick look over the reserve, the only bird of any note was a great white egret, although these are now more or less in the “expected” category these days.

The tern meeting was interesting, if a little depressing. Our terns are declining,  in almost every year for the last three decades or more they have failed to produce sufficient young to maintain the population. Problems are many, but sea level rise is major among them, there are fewer places to nest and these are being competed over by gulls, terns and shore nesting waders. Added to this, even some of the remaining areas that are available are visited too often by people for the bird to feel safe.

There are lots of local initiatives aimed at arresting the decline, involving building shingle banks, putting up electric fencing and wardening. But it is all small scale and local gains cannot address the overall decline. It epitomises the problem that those of us working in conservation have, however “successful” we are with nature reserves we are all too often not doing more than delaying the inevitable for many species. Reserves can act as refuges but unless the chance is there for species to spread out from them they will eventually be lost. A nature reserve is just to small, too isolated to be able to provide a genuinely viable home for most species in the long term.

When I did eventually get to Blashford and got over to Tern hide I was surprised to see an adult little gull, then even more surprised to see two, then three and finally four. They were sometimes dipping after insects on the lake’s surface right in front of the hide, a magical sight.

Recent night shave been especially mild and quite good for moths, combined with some southerly winds this is a recipe for catching migrants. There have been some rarities around but the best I have caught was a vestal on Sunday.

vestal

vestal

Today’s catch was pretty good as well and included sallow, pink-barred sallow, red-line Quaker, satellite, straw dot, white-point, chestnut, snout, large wainscot, beaded chestnut, barred sallow, canary-shouldered thorn, black rustic, lunar underwing, lesser yellow underwing, large yellow underwing, frosted orange, feathered thorn, several Epirrita (a group of hard to identify moths including autumnal moth, and the two November moths), Hysopygia glaucinalis (a Pyralid moth) and the pick of the bunch a Clifden nonpareil.

Clifden nonpareil

Clifden nonpareil, also known as blue underwing

The Clifden nonpareil used to be a rare migrant, but is evidently established locally in southern England now, as it used to be before it died out. It is a close relative of the more familiar red underwing, but is larger and with a blue and black hind wing. I did catch a red underwing the other night too.

red underwing

red underwing

Black & Blue

Thursday saw another black tern swooping over Ibsley Water along with a ruff, I think a new bird as the long-stayer had not been seen for several days, and at least one great white egret. Other birds included at least 2 common sandpiper, a green sandpiper and a small group of wigeon.

The good showing of blue underwing moths, or as I prefer, Clifden nonpareil continues with our fifth of the year. A slightly damaged individual, although the forewing damage does allow the blue hindwing to be seen.

Clifden Nonpareil

Clifden nonpareil

We’ve Got the Blues, Again

Tomorrow I have a moth event at Blashford, we will be opening two moth traps and looking through at the catch, identifying¬†and photographing them. Over the last few days we have caught three Clifden nonpareil moths, also known as the blue underwing, this is a spectacular species and probably the UK moth with the largest wing area. In fact there was one yesterday and another today, obviously it would be great if there was one tomorrow, but things being what they are I suspect there won’t be! It is also still quite rare nationally, having only recently recolonized the UK, luckily for us the New Forest area is probably their stronghold.

Clifden nonpareil

Clifden nonpareil, or blue underwing.

The caterpillars feed on aspen and probably other poplar species, as it happens we have a number of aspen at Blashford Lakes, which is probably why they seem to be established on the reserve. Aspen is an interesting tree as is has quiet a lot of insect species associated with it. It is a tree that can grow very tall, but also produces lots of suckers, so there can be niches for species that prefer the canopy and shrub layer provided for by a single tree. It is very prone to being browsed and the suckers are often eaten off, increasing numbers of deer are probably one reason that aspen is in decline in many areas.

We may not see a Clifden nonpareil, but I hope we will see a good few moths and one thing that I am fairly sure about is that a number of them will be yellow or orange, autumn is the season for yellow moths, probably because it is the time for yellow leaves.

sallow and pink-barred sallow

pink-barred sallow and sallow

Although autumn is well underway now there at still quite a lot of insects about when the sun comes out, southern hawker, migrant hawker and common darter dragonflies are still around in fair numbers and butterflies include red admiral, comma and a lot of speckled wood. As I was eating lunch yesterday I noticed a fly on the picnic table next to me and realised it was one of the snail-killing flies.

Elgiva cucularia

Elgiva cucuaria a snail-killing fly.

It is the larvae that kill the snails, in the case of this species , aquatic snails, which is probably why it was close to the Education Centre pond.

A Day Unparalleled

Although I failed to see it a when I opened up this morning, the grey phalarope remained on Ibsley Water as did a juvenile black tern and the two ruff. A feature of recent days on this lake has been the mass fishing events, when a flock of cormorant, sometimes a hundred or more will act together to drive  large shoal of small fish into a corner. This attracts grey heron, little egret and the great white egret, which patrol the shallows, everyone gets some fish, sometimes several, which shows just how big the shoal must be.

The swallow and martin flock was perhaps a little smaller today, but still ran to¬†several thousand and once again included a single swift. However it was not the birds that made for an “Unparalleled” day, it was a moth, a Clifden nonpareil, or blue underwing.

Clifden Nonpareil

Clifden nonpareil in egg boxes from the moth trap.

These are very large and, until recently, very rare moths. Having become extinct in the UK they turned up only as rare migrants until recolonizing about ten years ago. The New Forest area seems to be their stronghold now and in the last few years we have seen one or two each year, but they at still a real treat. It is just a shame it did not turn up yesterday for the moth event.

Big Blue headshot

Clifden nonpareil close up.

We have been doing quite a lot of grass cutting recently, some areas we are managing like meadows to increase the variety of wild flowers and this means we have to cut and remove the bulk of the grass by the end of the growing season. Today we cut areas of the sweep meadow used by education groups near the Ivy North hide. In this areas we cut in alternate years to leave longer herbage for over-wintering insects. If we leave it uncut for too long bramble and small trees start to colonise and many of the grassland plants, upon which so many insects depend, disappear.

P1080283

A meadow area near Lapwing hide prior to cutting.

P1080284

Meadow area near Lapwing hide after cutting.

The grass is raked up and piled into a heap which should provide a good place for grass snakes to breed next year, especially if the heap is in a sunny spot.