30 Days Wild – Day 3

I spent most of the day report writing, not an activity conducive to seeing a lot of wildlife. However at lunchtime I got out by the pond and found a male common blue damselfly tucking into a small moth he had caught. They are very aggressive predators, even if only at a small scale.

common blue damselfly

male common blue damselfly with prey

It was a good day for insects and the hemlock water-dropwort was quite busy with hoverflies and bees. Amongst the hoverflies were a couple of Scaeva pyrastri, a migrant from the continent with distinctive white comma markings.

Scaeva pyrastri

Scaeva pyrastri

There was little to report on the bird front today, although I did see my first flying black-headed gull fledglings of the year, they are very early and well ahead of any of the others on the reserve.

A Constellation of Garlic

A fairly busy day on the reserve today with a steady stream of new visitors, it is always good to encounter people who are still just discovering us after all this time! I was out with the volunteers removing brambles from a warm south-facing bank which I hope will prove popular with insects and reptiles.

It seems odd to say there was not a lot of bird news when the Bonaparte’s gull was still present, but it has been here a while now and most who were keen to see it have done so by now. The first summer little gull is also still with us, otherwise migrants were a dunlin, a whimbrel and at least three common sandpiper. Numbers of swift have increased again I think, with at least 100 zooming noisily about this afternoon.

Out on the edge of the lichen heath I saw a small copper and a grey-patched mining bee.

grey-patched mining bee Andrena nitida

grey-patched mining bee Andrena nitida

I only saw my first damselfly of the year a couple of days ago, I don’t think I have ever waited until May before I saw my first of the year before. My first was, as expected, a large red damselfly and today I saw a single female common blue damselfly.

common blue damselfly

common blue damselfly (female)

As you can see it is not at all blue, but it has not long hatched out and has yet to acquire its colour, many females do not get all that blue anyway.

The wild daffodil have long since ceased flowering and the bluebell are starting to go over, but the reserve’s only patch of ramsons, also known as wild garlic, is looking very fine and in full, starry flower. Half close your eyes and it looks like a firework display  worthy of any New Year. I was hoping to find the hoverfly that feeds on it as it would be new for the reserve, but no such luck.

ramsons 2

ramsons

Although I had not luck with the hoverfly I did find a snail-killing fly near the Centre Pond, I think it is Tetanocera ferruginea.

snail-killing fly-001

Tetanocera ferruginea

Although it was a rather cool night the moth trap did catch a few species including my first pale pinion of this year, never an abundant species, I usually see only a few each year.

plae pinion

pale pinion

 

30 days Wild – Day 10 –

I had the best moth catches of the year so far both at home, where the pick was a privet hawk-moth and at Blashford where honours were shared between a small elephant hawk-moth and a scarce merveille du jour.

scarce merveille du jour

scarce merveille du jour

The day was warm, although not always sunny, but it was warm enough for damselflies and dragonflies to be flying. The small blue damselflies so far have mostly been azure, but the numbers of common blue seem to be increasing and both can get very abundant at Blashford in good years.

common blue damselfly

common blue damselfly (male)

I had some mowing to do in the morning in an area where we are trying to establish a grassland and prevent the encroachment of bramble, we are getting there, but it takes time. Cutting at this time or year hits the bramble hard and although it does have an impact upon annual species perennials survive perfectly well and will benefit in the long run. I only cut a small part of the area at any one time, which also helps to minimise the impact. In one of the better areas which I was not cutting I found a single bee orchid.

bee orchid

bee orchid

The management of open areas does not just involve cutting, we also graze some areas and on the lichen heath we have been experimenting with stripping off the top few centimetres of vegetation. This gets us back to the mineral, sandy gravel to see if we can combat the increase in nutrients which is slowly turning it into dry acid grassland. Looking at one of the plots today I think we may have had some success as it was well colonised by one of the areas rarer plant species , slender bird’s-foot-trefoil,  a species that does not seem to like competition.

slender bird's-foot-trefoil

slender bird’s-foot-trefoil

Once again today I saw a painted lady, this one flying vigorously northwards, so no picture, I did get one of the other migrant butterfly I saw, a red admiral. It was perched on nettle, the foodplant so this one might have had more of a mind to breed than migrate.

red admiral

red admiral on nettle

The nearest thing to bird highlight on the reserve today was a bar-headed goose, as their native range is other side of the Himalayas I think we can be sure it is an escapee or the descendant of escapees.

I got home, with time to take a quick look in the meadow…………

What’s in My Meadow Today?

I mentioned meadow buttercup yesterday and today I spotted a small yellow and black hoverfly on one of the flowers. It is a common and distinctive species and one that is probably found in gardens all over the country.

Sphaerophoria scripta

Sphaerophoria scripta  (male) on meadow buttercup

My other find was a couple of ants on a flower of common vetch, they seemed to be feeding, at the base of the flower, possibly they had made a hole to get at the nectar flow without entering the flower, as bumblebees will do to runner bean flowers, effectively taking the nectar without doing the job of pollination.

common vetch and ant

common vetch and ant

Insects on the Up?

The progress of the season has been rather erratic this year, with spells of very warm or even hot weather interspersed with much colder days. Overall I think that we are still a little behind the average of recent years, but it is a very mixed picture.

Sunday was a fine, warm, sunny day with little wind, ideal for insects and I saw my first beautiful demoiselle, broad-bodied chaser, four-spotted chaser and emperor dragonfly of the year. The four-spotted chaser had emerged from the Centre pond, I think th efirst time I have proved that they have done so there, although I have seen individuals there a number of times. Numbers of large red, common blue, azure and blue-tailed damselfly are also continuing to build.

I am trying to look more closely at the bees on the reserve this year, Blashford has a lot of dry ground with sandy slopes, ideal for solitary bees. In fact “brownfield sites” such as Blashford are particularly good for bees as they often have variations in soil type, slopes and banks ideal for nesting.

Andrena bicolor

Andrena bicolor

Gwynne’s mining bee, Andrena bicolor is one of our commonest spring mining bees and also has a summer brood, it is a close relative of the much rarer grey -backed mining bee, Andrena vaga which was found on the reserve for the first time a couple of weeks ago. The rarer species is still around, but not in the same numbers as a fortnight ago, some of them are getting worn now and so look rather like the much commoner ashy mining bee Andrena cineraria.

ashy mining bee excavating

ashy mining bee Andrena cineraria excavating a nest tunnel.

For several years now there has been increasing evidence of an overall decline in total insect abundance, it is very hard to prove absolutely but accounts of declining moth trap catches and a general scarcity of many insects is attested by many. Older people will remember that when travelling any distance by car in the summer it was necessary to clean many squashed insects off the windscreen. Of course more aerodynamic cars may be a factor too. Whatever the reason it has become much harder to find many insect species in the average summer these days. It was pleasing to see a fair few hoverflies out yesterday including a number of Cheilosia species, a rather difficult genus of mainly black species, the identification of the images below maybe open to revision!

Cheilosia bergenstammi male

Cheilosia bergenstammi (male)

Cheilosia impressa

Cheilosia impressa (female)

Despite the warmer days the nights are still quiet cool and so the moth trap has remained quiet. The pick of the catch was a chocolate-tip moth, it is evidently quiet a good year for therm as this was the third we have caught recently.

chocolate-tip

chocolate-tip

The only grasshoppers and crickets about at present are a few tiny nymphs, but this is the time for finding adult groundhoppers, although the only one I saw was a common groundhopper, but at least it posed for a picture.

common groundhopper

common groundhopper

It would be good to think that we are turning a corner in the insect decline, unfortunately I doubt it, I suspect the wider environment is continuing to become less insect friendly. Although some of this is down to the use of very effective insecticides and industrial mono-culture farming, it is also our overall failure to leave any space for them, even where it would be easy to do so.

Roasting and toasting

It was rather warm on Sunday for our August Young Naturalists gathering, so we decided to roast ourselves even more by spending time in the meadow, a habitat we haven’t really visited yet this year, followed by a bit of blackberry bread cooking over the campfire…

We began though with a look through the light trap which revealed at least 19 different species including a lovely Peach blossom, a Purple thorn, a Pebble hook tip and a Chinese character, amongst others.

We were then distracted by a Southern hawker flying over the pond, which Talia managed to photograph whilst it was busy hawking for insects:

Southern hawker by Talia Felstead

Southern hawker by Talia Felstead

After gathering up some sweep nets, identification sheets and bug pots we made our way over to the meadow in search of wasp spiders, grasshoppers and bush crickets and anything else we could find. It didn’t take us long to locate the wasp spider, just inside the gate on the left hand side.

Wasp spider by Talia Felstead

Wasp spider by Talia Felstead

I set the group a challenge to find a pink grasshopper and a Roesel’s bush cricket. I don’t think they believed me about the pink grasshopper, but once they’d spotted one they tried their best to catch it and find more, but without any success! So sadly no photo!

Most grasshopper species are a more sensible green-brown colour, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings, but some do carry genes that make them pink or purple-red. They just might not survive for long in the wild (or stay in one place long enough for a photo!), as they are more likely to be predated. The group did now believe there were pink grasshoppers though, and there were plenty more sensibly coloured ones around that didn’t move quite as fast for us to catch and look at closely.

As for the Roesel’s bush cricket, although we swept through the grass outside the meadow as well as in it, we couldn’t find one, so I will have to be content with the photo Bob put on the blog yesterday instead. We did though catch a very fine looking female long-winged conehead cricket instead:

Female bush cricket by Talia Felstead

Long-winged conehead by Talia Felstead

Bush cricket

Long-winged conehead, quite content on Megan’s hand

We also found a number of other spiders, including some brilliantly patterned orb web spiders and a wolf spider, alongside caterpillars, an orange swift moth, common blue damselflies, honey beesbaby toads and more.

After getting a bit hot in the meadow, we relocated momentarily to the shade and picked blackberries before heading to the campfire area to attempt a bit of bread making. Megan and Will H did a superb job of mixing us up some dough whilst Will S and Ben helped lay the fire which Ben then lit.

I offered the group blackberries, dried fruit, freshly picked marjoram and chocolate buttons for their ingredients, which seemed to cater for all tastes, and we had a mix of fillings and shapes on the grill – not everyone opted for chocolate! Everyone went back for seconds…

The group enjoyed bread making so much they requested more campfire cooking, so we agreed on a winter cookout towards the end of the year, the food list is already quite lengthy!

We also found time to hunt here for minibeasts, finding a flat backed millipede that managed to stay still long enough for Talia to take a photo and a ground beetle larvae.

Flat backed millipede by Talia Felstead

Flat backed millipede by Talia Felstead

Beetle larvae by Talia Felstead

Beetle larvae by Talia Felstead

Thanks to volunteers Geoff and Roma for their help on the day and to Talia for taking lots of great photos and sharing them with me for the blog.

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

Meanwhile, Back at Blashford

Whilst Tracy was off roaming the southern side of the Forest with the Young Naturalists, I was back at Blashford where Sunday was very pleasantly sunny and warm. As the week ahead looks grey and damp, it was likely to be the best day of the week for butterflies and a good opportunity to get the transects done. Although numbers of butterflies are declining as the spring species decline there are a few summer ones starting to appear, the last couple of days have seen the first common blue and brown argus on the wing. Thanks to Blashford’s brilliant volunteers for organising and doing the butterfly transects.

brown argus

The first brown argus of the year (well my first at least).

I also finally saw my first grass snake of the year too, perhaps not strictly my first as I did find a freshly dead one a couple of weeks ago, probably killed by a buzzard. This live one was rather unexpectedly crossing the open gravel behind the Education Centre.

grass snake

grass snake on gravel

Although it has been sunny recently it was still quite cool in the persistent north or north-east wind, this changed on Saturday and the extra warmth seemed to prompt large numbers of damselflies top emerge, I must have seen many hundreds on Sunday, mostly common blue damselflies, but including large red, azure and beautiful demoiselle.

common blue damselfly

common blue damselfly (male), still not quiet fully coloured up.

It is very pleasing to see that two of our projects are showing signs of success again. The tern rafts are used every year, but it gets harder each year to stop them all being claimed by gulls, timing in putting them out is the key. By Monday there were at least 20 common tern on the rafts so hopefully this will be enough to fend of the gulls. The other project, the sand martin wall, has had more mixed fortunes. After a few years of success to start with it fell out of favour with none nesting for several years, but this year they are back! Not in huge numbers but a visit to Goosander hide is well worth the effort.

A number of people have asked me recently when the “new” path from the main car park to Goosander hide will open, regular visitors will have noted that the work was completed some months ago now. Unfortunately the answer is still “I don’t know” but rest assured I will make it known when it is open. The hold up is not of our making, but to do with the process of transfer from previous occupiers via our landlord and the meeting of various planning and other requirements.

The change to more south-westerly winds has reduced migrant activity, but the reserve has still seen a some waders passing through in the last few days, on Sunday a sanderling with a peg-leg was by Tern hide and today a turnstone was on Long Spit (as I have decided to christen the new island we created to the east of Tern hide this spring). Both these are high Arctic breeders and only occasional visitors to Blashford.

Progress Against an Invader

Thursday at Blashford is volunteer day and we had a good turn out of fourteen for our first Himalayan balsam pull of the year. After many years of pulling this plant we have very significantly reduced the population and it is nowhere the dominant plant. The advantage of doing the first sweep early in the season is that we remove a significant number of plants but also get an idea of where the main problem areas are and so where to concentrate on our later visit. Pleasingly we found no more than a couple of hundred plants on about half the length of the stream, enough to suggest that there is still a seed source upstream  somewhere but not so many that it is having a serious impact on native wildlife.

The common terns are finally taking some interest in the rafts on Ivy Lake, although they are still not really taking control of any in numbers sufficient to deter the black-headed gulls. I tried putting out another raft during the afternoon in the hope that a new one might tempt them in. The gulls often just loaf around on the rafts, but have the annoying habit of bringing reeds and sticks and leaving them scattered  over the surface. I suspect they are mostly young adults, as the older birds started nesting a couple of weeks ago, a few may eventually build a proper nest, but in the meantime their practice efforts are putting off the terns.

Generally things were quite across the reserve, most of the birds are now nesting or getting ready to do so. Our visitor form North America, the Bonaparte’s gull is still to be seen, although it does not now attract more than the occasional admirer. I did manage to get a slightly better picture of it, which does show a couple of the differences from black-headed gull. You can see the slightly smaller size and overall thinner, more “pointed” look. Now that it is getting a summer plumage hood you can also see that this is blacker than that of black-headed gull, which is actually chocolate brown.

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull (right)

A very noticeable feature of the past week has been the huge increase in the numbers of damselflies around the reserve. Common blue and azure damselflies are now out in numbers, but the large red damselfly, typically the commonest spring species is very hard to find, perhaps due to the very poor April weather last year.

 

 

Mothless, well Almost

Yesterday I ran a “Moth event” at Blashford, unfortunately I forgot to tell the moths and there were probably more human participants than moths! Usually late August is a good time for catching large numbers of moths, but big catches require warm, calm nights following warm settled days. What we had was a windy, mostly clear night following a rather stormy day.

Luckily the day got more settled as it went on, at least until late afternoon anyway. This brought out good numbers of insects, including as many dragonflies as I have seen this year. Around the reserve I saw several brown hawker, southern and migrant hawkers, an egg-laying emperor dragonfly and a fair few common darter. Damselflies included common blue, azure, red-eyed, small red-eyed and blue-tailed.

Butterflies were rather fewer, most that I saw were whites, with all three common species near the Centre. Out on the reserve a few meadow brown and gatekeeper are still flying and speckled wood are increasing again. Near the Lapwing hide I saw both red admiral and painted lady, perhaps indicating some continued arrival of passage insects.

The sunshine in the middle of the day brought out reptiles as well and I saw two grass snake and an adder. The adder was very fat and I suspect a female which will shortly be giving birth, since adders have live young rather than laying eggs as grass snakes do.

adder

adder

I have heard reports of wasp spider being seen around the reserve recently and today I finally saw one.

wasp spider

wasp spider

This is a female, the males are much, much smaller and wander about seeking the females.

I had hoped for a few different birds, following the rough weather, perhaps a few terns, but there was little change form the past week. A few extra waders were the best that could be found, 2 dunlin, 2 oystercatcher, 2 common sandpiper, 1 redshank and the pick of the day, 3 greenshank, although they only flew through. There are starting to be a few more ducks around, I saw 8 shoveler and 3 teal, but there are still no wigeon on the reserve, although they should not be far away. Away for the water looking up there were 2 raven, and single hobby and peregrine. Whilst low over the water before the day warmed there were 1000+ sand martin and c200 house martin.

Perhaps the sighting of the day for many visitors though was the female roe deer that spent part of the morning in front of the Woodland hide.

roe deer at Woodland hide 3

roe deer doe at the Woodland hide

 

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

 

 

 

 

Row, row, row your boat

As yesterday was so gloriously sunny, our Young Naturalists enjoyed a day exploring the further reaches of the reserve and finishing off a fun task started back in January at our volunteer get together.

We began the day though with our usual rummage through the light trap, where the group were thrilled with a good selection to identify, their best so far this year. Our haul included the following: white ermine, cinnabar, treble lines, poplar hawkmoth, common marbled carpet, marbled brown, orange footman, common white wave, angle shades, light brocade, brown silver lines, common pug and marbled minor. Here are a few photographs taken by Young Naturalist Talia Felstead:

Common marbled carpet

Common marbled carpet

Cinnabar

Cinnabar

Poplar hawkmoth

Poplar hawkmoth

Light brocade

Light brocade

Marbled brown

Marbled brown

White ermine

White ermine

IMG_1543

Angle shades

It was then time to undertake a practical task with a difference, the lining of the coracle made earlier in the year at our volunteer get together. Coracles are small oval shaped boats traditionally used in Wales, but also in parts of western and south western England, Ireland and Scotland. Designed for use in swiftly flowing streams they have been in use for centuries, primarily by fishermen.

The structure is usually made up of a framework of split and interwoven willow rods, a material which we have plenty of here on the reserve, so it seemed silly not to take the plunge (literally) and attempt our own Blashford coracle.

Coracle frame

Our willow framework and wooden seat

The group were up for the challenge of finishing it off, cutting a slightly less traditional liner out of some left over pond liner from Testwood Lakes – thank you Testwood! This outer layer would have originally been an animal skin, covered with a thin layer of tar to make it fully waterproof. Today this has been replaced with tarred calico or canvas, with the Blashford way being whatever we could lay our hands on. So pond liner it was!

We carefully cut the liner to size, before Bella came up with the idea of looping cord through slits cut in the liner and weaving it in and out of the liner and willow rods. It was then time to take it down to the river for the all important will it float test…funnily enough no one else was brave or silly enough to give it a go:

She floats

Looking slightly dubious

Looking concerned

Getting ready…

 

Excitingly, it floats rather well, I think to the disbelief of some of the Young Naturalists, and possibly volunteers! So now we can get cracking with the rest of the flotilla…with plans already in place for a coracle themed Wild Day Out for the older children in the summer holidays.

After lunch we headed over to the northern side of the reserve on a wildlife hunt. We quickly spotted large numbers of Common blue damselflies sunning themselves on the gravel, moving a little further ahead as we approached them:

Common blue 3

Common blue damselfly

We headed up to Lapwing hide where on entering we were greeted with this view of a Canada goose with seven goslings:

Canada goose goslings 2

Canada goose goslings

Canada goose goslings 3

Canada goose with goslings

We stayed for a while, spotting a couple of herons, a little grebe and watching a Common tern fishing over Ibsley Water before perching on one of the posts:

Common tern

Common tern

On our way back, Edie somehow spotted this Elephant hawkmoth in the long grass to the right of the path:

Elephant hawk moth

Elephant hawkmoth

Finally, our last wildlife spot was this Beautiful demoiselle, which perched beautifully for a photo:

Beautiful demoiselle 2

Beautiful demoiselle

Thanks Talia for taking the photos!

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