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

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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.

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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.