Bug-ingham Palace

Last Sunday our Young Naturalists made a rather magnificent bug hotel in a sunny spot close to the new dipping pond. The improvement works here on the reserve resulted in a rather large number of pallets accumulating, so it was great to be able to put some of them to good use.

Bug hotel

Positioning the bug hotel

We stacked the pallets one at a time, packing them with various different materials to create lots of different nooks and crannies, including bark, sticks, pine cones, old roof tiles, bamboo, off-cuts of roof from the old Tern Hide, pebbles and sawdust. We also drilled different sized holes in some of the bits of wood.

We still have a few more gaps to fill with more pine cones, dried plant and reed stems and dry grass and I’m hoping we can add a green roof to finish it off, but we were pretty pleased with our efforts:

To make a sign, Torey and Sophie carefully broke up a pallet with Geoff’s help and some of the group had a go with a pyrography pen to burn writing and pictures onto the wood.

Sign

We didn’t quite have time to finish the sign on Sunday, but volunteer Lucy made a brilliant job of finishing it off on Monday, the bugs should be impressed!

IMG_0886

We’re looking forward to seeing who moves in!

Finley and Percy had a go at using the various bits and pieces we had assembled to make a bird feeder:

Bird feeder

After lunch we headed off to do the Big Butterfly Count. We decided to do ours in the wild play area where we do our den building and campfire activities, as although we had seen a lot of butterflies that morning around the Centre we fancied a change of scenery to the area where we had been working. On route we spied this Brimstone:

Brimstone

Brimstone butterfly

With Nigel as our time keeper, we positioned ourselves in the long grass and counted the greatest number of different species seen at any one time in our 15 minute window. We managed five species in total and 15 butterflies altogether: four Meadow brown, three Brown argus, three Gatekeeper, three Common blue, one Red admiral and one Speckled wood.

The Big Butterfly Count runs until the 11th August so there’s still time to get involved – you just need to find a sunny spot (this could be your garden, a park or in a wood) and spot butterflies for 15 minutes then submit your sightings online.

We had a few minutes to spare before the end of the session so decided to head back to the Centre via the lichen heath in search of wasp spiders, which we’d heard were visible in the patches of bramble and taller grass and rush.

Finally, we spied some Cinnabar caterpillars munching on the ragwort:

Cinnabar caterpillar

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

 

 

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30 Days Wild – Day 17 – Butterflies and More

We have been doing butterfly transects at Blashford Lakes for some years now, I say “We”, what I really mean is that the volunteers have been doing them. I used to do transects myself on previous sites I have managed and thoroughly enjoyed doing them, an opportunity to go out on site for the main purpose of looking for wildlife, something I actually get to do rather rarely! In theory I have always been on the rota to help with the transects at Blashford, but as a stand-in, if someone else is unavailable. Well this week I have been called upon and as it was warm and reasonably sunny this afternoon I headed out.

It was not a classic butterfly day but I did see 26 butterflies of four species. Most notable were the five red admiral, I suspect they are new migrants as the weather is set fair for an arrival of migrants over the next day or so. Locally bred were meadow brown, common blue and speckled wood.

speckled wood

speckled wood

Whilst looking for butterflies it is inevitable that you will see other invertebrates, I saw six species of dragonflies and damselflies, several yellow-and-black longhorn beetle and lots of the larger summer hoverflies, especially Volucella bombylans and Volucella pellucens. 

Vollucella pellucens

Vollucella pellucens

Not all of the invertebrates were adult, I found a vapourer caterpillar feeding in the open, something they can afford to do, as they are protected by a dense coat of hairs which most birds will avoid.

vapourer caterpillar

vapourer caterpillar

Some things I cannot identify, or at least not accurately, one such is this digger wasp, I am pretty sure it is one of them, but which one?

digger wasp

digger wasp spp.

Some of the invertebrates were not insects at all, I came across a loose bit of bark on the ground and under it were several slugs, the familiar leopard slugLimax maximus.

leopard slug

leopard slug

This is the common native large slug in woods and gardens. However it is increasingly being overtaken in abundance by the green cellar slug, Limax maculatus. This is a species native to wood in the Caucasus area that was accidentally introduced some fifty years or so ago and is now spreading rapidly.

I

yellow slug

green cellar slug Limax maculatus

One plant that is oddly scarce at Blashford is honeysuckle, so I was pleased to see one of the few plants we do have growing well in magnificent, full flower.

honeysuckle

honeysuckle

Lastly a picture of a rare plant in Hampshire, but one that is quite common at Blashford, slender bird’s-foot trefoil, it is flowering abundantly just now.

slender bird's-foot trefoil

slender bird’s-foot trefoil

Quiet a “Wild Day” considering I was stuck in the office wrestling with report writing for quiet a good part of the day and also out doing path clearing for part of the day.

30 Days Wild – Day 14 – It’s Not Just Grass!

A day off catching up with domestic tasks, so wildlife watching was largely restricted to the garden. The mini-meadow is looking very fine at present, it may only be 5m by 4m, but it is packed with flowers and has  a very good structure. The term “structure” in relations to grasslands means the variation in height and the layering of the vegetation. A well structured grassland will have vegetation at every level. In mine the lowest level is occupied by lesser stitchwort, mouse-eared hawkweed, cowslip, bugle, bird’s-foot trefoil and white clover. Slightly higher is the yellow rattle, creeping buttercup, dandelion, ribwort plantain, red clover and bloody cranesbill.  Higher still are the ox-eye daisy, hawkbits, field scabious, perforated St John’s wort, meadow buttercup and corky-fruited water-dropwort. The top layer is mostly taken by knapweed. There are several different grass species and a number of other herbs dotted about. 

This structure allows insects to move about all through the area at every level and light can get through to the ground. This is the opposite of an intensive grassland where the objective is a dense even grass sward, these may be fields, but they are really high yield grass crops, with high biomass and low biodiversity. Traditional forage crops were hay, and repeated cropping tended to increase biodiversity and and reduce the biomass. It is easy to see why farmers seeking lots of forage would move to an intensive model, but the result has been a 97% loss of herb rich grasslands in the UK in a lifetime.

“Views over green fields” might be trumpeted by estate agents or implicit in the idea of the “Green Belt”, but green fields are ones that have lost their biodiversity. Similarly green lawns, verges and civic areas are ones that have had their diversity and wildlife stripped away. It is easy to see why agricultural grasslands have been “improved” to increase their productivity, these are businesses seeking to make a profit. Despite this most of the best remaining herb-rich grasslands are on farms and farmers are at the forefront of improving the situation.

So why are local authorities and corporate owners of mown grasslands so set on removing their variety has always been a mystery to me. Many years ago I worked at a Country Park and took to leaving the banks and other areas not walked on to be cut just once a year, mowing the rest as paths and patches around picnic tables. Pretty soon we had meadow brown, common blue and marbled white flying between the picnic places. However I soon got complaints, not from the site users, but from councillors and others who declared it “untidy”, I did not give up but as soon as I moved on they restored the old regime.

P1050731

My mini-meadow, it really is not difficult to have diverse wildlife friendly spaces rather than dewilded grass.

Some land uses demand regular mowing, but it should not be the default approach, we should expect habitats to be managed to maximise their environmental value. Wildlife lives everywhere, given the chance and should do so, we should expect land managers to be properly discharging their responsibility for the land they manage and to be looking to increase biodiversity, not mowing, or worse still, spraying it to oblivion.

meadow brown

Meadow brown in the meadow, hiding from the wind

Bombus lucorum

Bombus lucorum, the white-tailed bumblebee on ox-eye daisy

30 Days Wild – Day 1

It’s that time of year again! I have started the 30 Days with a day off, so I was out in the garden, thanks to a rather warm day there were lots of insects about. As ever my mini-meadow was the place to look.

common blue

common blue female

I have not been able to confirm if they are breeding in the meadow yet, but I have recently seen both males and females, so I am hopeful. The garden is also good for bees, lots of bumble bees of several species and solitary bees too, such as this mason bee, which I think is orange-vented mason bee.

mason bee

mason bee (I love those eyes!)

These bees seem to face a lot of problems, not least a lot of parasites, one of which maybe this wasp with an almost unbelievably long ovipositor, this one is  the rather splendidly named Gasteruption jaculator.

Gasteruption jaculator

Gasteruption jaculator

I also got out onto the New Forest for a bit, I called in at a site that is well known for its population of southern damselfly, and found lots of them!

southern damselfly 4x3

southern damselfly male

Nearby there were lots of heath spotted orchid, smaller than the common spotted orchid and with a more compact and shorter flower spike, they are common across a lot of the New Forest heaths.

heath spotted orchid 4x3

heath spotted orchid

Back at work tomorrow, so we will have to see what Blashford has in store.

Osprey!

Just when I thought that migration was almost over we get sent this splendid picture of an osprey flying over Goosander Hide last Sunday, thanks to Jon Mitchell for sending this into us.

osprey jon mitchell

Osprey by Jon Mitchell

My best bird sighting from yesterday was a couple of turnstone on Ibsley Water, it has been a very good spring for these high Arctic breeding waders, by contrast numbers of dunlin, usually one of the most common migrant waders, have been very low.

Numbers of moths have started to increase a bit, although the nights are still rather cool int he main. Sunday night yielded a few firsts for the year in the form of common swift, orange footman and cinnabar. I also saw my first buff-tip of the year, the last fell victim to a blue tit which got into the trap.

buff-tip

buff-tip

One of the regular surveys that happen on the reserve are the butterfly transects, typically May sees a big drop in numbers as the spring species season ends and we wait for the summer species to emerge. This drop in numbers has not been as noticeable as usual this year due to a very good early emergence of small copper and the blues, in our case common blue and brown argus (yes it is a “blue” really, just not a blue one!).

common blue

common blue

Although it has not been very warm, it has been sunny, which seems to be resulting in a good season for insects, or at least for some, I have noticed that dragonflies still seem to be very scarce, although damselfly numbers appear to be picking up. Looking around the Centre area at lunch yesterday I found a lacewing larva, it sticks the husks of its aphid victims to its back as a form of concealment, or at least to make it look unappetising.

lacewing larva

lacewing larva

Out in the meadow I noticed several common malachite beetle, usually on the yellow flowers, many insects favour particular types of flowers, but some also seem to pick particular colours.

common malachite beetle

common malachite beetle

As it was World Bee Day, I will end with a picture of a bee, nectaring at the flowers of green alkanet at the back of the Centre, these bees seem to favour flowers of this type, also commonly seen at forget-me-not.

solitary bee

bee at green alkanet flowers

 

A Perfect Day

It was a glorious day at Blashford today, to my mind the perfect balance of sunshine and cool temperatures, the ideal autumn day for getting work done on the reserve. It was also a pretty good day for birds, although many of them have been with us for a while now.

When I first looked from Tern hide as I opened up I saw the two young little gull and thousands of house martin, low over the water, I estimated 3000 at least but they were everywhere low over the trees, lakes with others high in the sky. I could see no sign of the black tern or grey phalarope. A small wader on the gravel island way out near the middle of the lake caught my eye, there was something of a redshank about it but it was not one. This meant wood sandpiper was the most likely candidate and after a little while it was disturbed by a black-headed gull and made a short flight confirming the identification, our second of the autumn.

Later in the day it turned out the phalarope was still present and I got good views of it as I locked up. Other birds included both great white egret, at least one green sandpiper and reports of common sandpiper, I missed that, so did not get the “Sandpiper set”. Locking up the Ivy North hide I saw a pintail, the first for a few days.

I got no pictures of birds, or anything else today (working too hard, obviously!). However I will post a few pictures of recent notable records from the reserve, not great pictures mind you. The first is of a small Tortrix moth Olinida schumacherana, which seems to be the first record for the 10km square that includes the reserve.

Olinida schumacherana

Olinida schumacherana

The next is the Australian Pyralid moth that we first recorded last year as possibly new for Hampshire. In appears to have been introduced with the tree ferns that the caterpillars eat, although it now seems to be finding local ferns to its liking.

Austral Pyralid

Musotima nitidalis

It was first found in the UK in Dorset in 2009.

I will end with a couple of pictures from my garden, two late butterflies bringing  a little colour to the end of their season.

small copper

small copper on Sedum

common blue male

A very fresh male common blue

Busy in the Sunshine

Sorry for the lack of posts, we seem to have been very busy and by the end of the day exhaustion has taken over. It is the time of year when there is lots of growth to cut back, bramble regrowth to cut off and nettle to remove from potential grassland areas. Today I spent the morning removing ragwort from one of the areas due to be mowed later this month and the afternoon mowing bramble regrowth from a bank beside Ibsley Water where we are trying to establish grassland. Hot and heavy work, there are times when I think I am getting too old for it! Being out in the sun did mean I saw lots of butterflies, meadow brown and gatekeeper are probably the most abundant now.

gatekeeper

gatekeper

There are also a number of summer broods out, I saw peacock, small tortoiseshell, common blue, brown argus and small copper. Possibly a side effect of the hot weather is the number of common blue that are unusually small, some as small or smaller than brown argus. I think this happens because the food quality of the plant the caterpillar was on was not good enough or in sufficient quantity for it to grow to full size.

When I had lunch I took a look at the Centre pond and there were dozens of pairs of azure damselfly pairs, egg-laying in tandem. They do this so that the male can be sure that the eggs being laid are the ones that he has fertilised. Some dragonflies do the same and others will stay hovering close tot eh female whilst she lays.

azure damselfly pairs

azure damselfly pairs

I know that I was only doing “What’s in My Meadow Today” during 30 Days Wild, but I will end with a picture from there anyway. One thing that is very noticeable as the grass has gone brown and then yellow is that some plants remain green, field scabious is one of these, which is not just green but flowering well.

small skipper on field scabious

small skipper on field scabious

30 Days Wild – Day 4 – In Training

Not a very Wild Day today as I was mostly inside receiving First Aid training, important but not very wildlife-filled. On the plus side the training was taking place at Testwood Lakes, so at lunchtime I got out for a short walk around the area nearest the Centre. They have a fine education pond and it had several dragonflies racing about over it, I saw emperor, four-spotted chaser and black-tailed skimmer. On the emergent stems around the edge there were lots of damselfly exuvia, the case that is left when the larva leaves the water to transform into the flying adult. Unlike butterflies and moths this is done without a pupal stage, the aquatic larva walks from the water, the larval skin splits and the adult emerges, this is known as “incomplete metamorphosis”. Other insects that use a similar route are grasshoppers and true bugs. I could not get a picture of a damselfly exuvia but I did find an emperor one close enough to photograph.

emperor exuvia

emperor dragonfly exuvia

The pond is planted up with a good range of native water plants and marginals, we have many very attractive species to choose from. This makes the trade in invasive pond plants all the harder to defend, we do not need them to achieve an attractive pond and dealing with them when the get out into the countryside is very costly. One of my favourite native marginal species is the flowering rush and Testwood has several on full bloom now.

flowering rush

flowering rush

I was first introduced to this species when working at Titchfield Haven many moons ago in a time before digital cameras and mobile phones, hard to imagine such a time now I know!

What’s in My Meadow Today?

It was rather breezy and cloudy when I got home but as quick look in the meadow and I found a resting male common blue, it was waving about alarmingly in the wind but this shot is more or less in focus.

common blue

common blue at rest

Training continues tomorrow, so I doubt I will see much wildlife, but at least everyone should be a little bit safer on the volunteer tasks.

I am lucky as usually I get to spend a lot of my time out in the open and in wildlife rich places, today I had to grab what few minutes I could, but luckily there is, or should be, at least some wildlife somewhere to make every day just little bit wilder.

30 Days Wild – Day 2 – Hawks and Dragons

Once again a day off at home trying to work in the garden, but the sun was a bit much so productivity was rather low!

However the day started with a look through the moth trap, most of the moths would have been attracted before midnight when it was warmer, but as the minimum was 14 degrees some will have been active throughout. The pick of the catch were a couple of hawk-moths.

lime hawkmoth

lime hawk-moth

Lime hawk caterpillars eat the leaves of lime trees, but also birch. Many hawk-moths are named after the larval foodplant, or at least one of them. The privet hawk-moth caterpillars eat privet, but also lilac and ash, it is our largest resident hawk-moth.

privet hawkmoth

privet hawk-moth

Other moths caught were buff-tip, heart and dart, treble lines, flame shoulder, light brocade and fox moth.

The sun brought a few butterflies out, I saw a male common blue and a female brimstone in the garden during the early afternoon.

brimstone female on storksbill

female brimstone nectaring on storksbill

The sun also encouraged a fair few hoverflies to feed on flowers in the borders.

dronefly on fox and cubs

Dronefly Eristalis horticola on fox and cubs

Eventually I gave up on the garden and went out for a walk in the New Forest, luckily I live close enough not to need to drive there. The recent wet weather has filled a lot of the small ponds and each one seemed to have a broad-bodied chaser or two.

broad-bodied chaser male

broad-bodied chaser male

There were also good numbers of emperor and four-spotted chaser too.

The New Forest is one of the largest areas of semi-natural open space in Southern England, although a “Forest” it has a lot of wide open treeless areas. This is because a forest in this context is a place where deer were hunted rather than, as we tend to think today, a place dominated by trees. To pick up on the theme of Jo’s post of the other day and also highlight a particular problem within the Forest, I did see a couple of invasive alien species on my short walk. Both were attractive escapes from cultivation and wetland species.

invasive iris

Iris laevigata growing in a New Forest mire

In the background of this shot is another invasive, the white water-lily.

white water-lily

white water-lily

Finally………..

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Although it is perhaps not really a meadow plant I do have a few wild carrot plants in the meadow, like all umbellifers they are very attractive to insects, so I allow them in. The flowers are only just opening and actually look rather interesting just before the flowers open with the head enclosed caged.

wild carrot

wild carrot flower head just about to open.

Two days gone, just another 28 to go!

The Blues

The last few days have seen warm sunshine by day but chilly nights, meaning it has been poor for moths but good for day-flying insects. Today at Blashford Lakes I saw my first scarce chaser and downy emerald of the year and there were other dragonflies about too with reports of emperor, broad-bodied chaser and hairy dragonfly.

Most of the butterflies that over winter by hibernation as adults are getting scarce now and spring species such as orange-tip are dropping in numbers. there are a few whites around with all three of the common species, but the highlight today was the emergence of  blues. The small meadow near Ivy North hide had six or more male common blue as I went to lock up and at least three brown argus as well, the argus is brown, but an honorary “blue” all the same..

common blue male

common blue (male), freshly emerged.

The brown argus look very like small female common blue, and the male common blues will get up to chase one if it flies by, however they quickly realise their mistake and give up. The first emergences are all males and the females will follow in a day or so. The reason for this is the same as that for male migrant bird arriving just ahead of the females. Evolution will push the males to be in place and ready for the first females to arrive, it does not pay to be late, so the pressure for males to be early is greater than that on females, who can afford to wait until they know there will be males to mate with.

The spring solitary bees are starting to disappear now, many species collect pollen from just a few plants and as these cease to flower they need to wrap up their breeding cycle. I did come across one interesting species today though, it was one of the nomad bees and the smallest species of them to be found in Britain, Nomada sheppardana.

Nomada sheppardana

Nomada sheppardana on forget-me-not

Visiting flowers is something many insects have to do to feed, it may sound an unproblematic things to do, the flowers want to offer a nectar reward, or perhaps bribe might be a better description, to the insects that will pollinate them. However it is not as safe as it might sound, flowers can hide predators, especially the camouflaged crab spider which match their colour to the flowers they sit on.

crab spider with hoverfly

crab spider with hoverfly prey

The crab spider here matched the hawthorn flowers so well that I missed it and initially set up to take a picture of the hoverfly, only then did I see the spider!

It has not been a good year for ground-nesting birds so far this spring, with most lapwing and little ringed plover losing their eggs to predators. I suspect mammals at night as the ones nesting on the islands are doing much better. Or at least they were, on Thursday might all the black-headed gull on Long Spit abandoned their nests. Although I don’t know for sure I suspect that something swam out there and ate their eggs, probably a fox or a badger. These mammals are usually not that keen on swimming, but if they are hungry they will go to great lengths to get the food they want, I think small mammals, which are their preferred prey, are in short supply this year, which might be why they are seeking birds eggs more actively.

Despite a bad time for some ground-nesters the pair of oystercatcher are still doing well, with their two chicks growing well. They hatched on Long Spit, moved off to the shore near Tern hide and have now returned to Long Spit, this meant they were not out there on the night of the predator raid. So far the main gull colony on Gull Island shows no sign of being attacked and neither do the tern rafts on Ivy Lake.