A Smaller World, but Limitless

Everyone’s world seems to have got smaller, we cannot travel around as we were used to doing, favourite places are denied to us. We have our homes and with luck a view of some sort, many will have a garden and how many of us will be appreciating this anew, not a chore to look after but haven. Then there is the daily walk, it may only be a mile or two but I’ll bet, like me, you will be seeing with new eyes what has been there all along, but previously overlooked.

It reminds me of childhood, in those days my world was the garden and a distance from home I could easily walk or later cycle. If you have a car you don’t really get to know your local area as you drive through it, only on foot do you see the details and appreciate the lay of the land.

What you soon begin to see is that this smaller world is still full of more things than you could know in a lifetime, the more detail you see the more there is to find. Lots of birdwatchers, confined to home have been scanning the skies and suddenly seeing bird flying over that they never imagined. I suspect Hampshire will see as many osprey reported this spring as in any year, despite almost nobody getting out to the “Hotspots” for this species. A remarkable feature has been the realisation that there are common scoter migrating overland night after night, if you go and stand in your garden you have a fair chance of hearing some flying over, eventually. I would add I would avoid standing in my garden, which has been a stubbornly scoter-free area! Who would have thought that you could get a sea duck on your garden bird list even if you live an hour or more drive from the sea.

A garden will have wildlife, you may need to look for it a bit but it will be there. The other day I noticed several tiny moths flying in the sunshine around my front door, they were a micro most called Esperia sulphurella, they were often landing on the wall of the house, so I went to get my camera. Just as I was lining up my shot, having got as close as I could I saw that several other pairs of eyes had also spotted the same target.

zebra spider with E sulphurella

zebra spider with Esperia sulphurella

I later realised that several of these zebra jumping spiders were patrolling the wall and more than one had caught the same prey as they warmed on the brickwork.

The sunshine has had lots of insects warming themselves on suitable surfaces, I have some large Echiums growing the garden and they seem especially popular with sunning solitary bees and ladybirds, such as this 7-spot ladybird.

7-spot ladybird

7-spot ladybird on Echium leaf.

The sun has meant that I have had the camera out, trying to get shots of some of the trickier species, the hoverers and the darters of this world, where a sharp picture is as much about luck as technique. I have been trying to get a flight shot of a bee-fly for ages, it requires a very fast shutter speed, actually faster than I can manage with my camera, and if I open the aperture the depth of field gets very small, still it can produce a result of sorts from time to time.

dark-bordered bee-fly

dark-bordered bee-fly, Bombylius major

I wonder if, when we are let out into the wider world again, we will see it with new eyes, perhaps seeing the myriad little pictures that go to make up the big picture, and appreciating all of it the more.

A Late Surge

It was a generally grey, humid day with very little to report. A yellow wagtail and a spotted flycatcher seen at the Tern hide in the morning seemed like the best the day had to offer. Despite the warm night even the moth trap was not exactly exciting, the best being a large haul of largely unidentifiable (at least to me) caddisflies and a female bulrush wainscot.

small caddis

unidentified small caddis

bulrush wainscot

bulrush wainscot (female)

As usual the Tern hide was locked up last and Tracey came over to take a look , just in case there was anything to see. At first the best was a single common sandpiper, after a while we realised there were two, then I spotted a wader flying about over the water, at first I could not work out what it was then, the give away, it landed on the water – a grey phalarope. I have missed a couple at Blashford before so I was pleased to see this one, I tried to get a very distant picture and the result is probably the worst bird picture ever to grace this site, and that is saying something! If you use  a lot of imagination you might be able to see what it is.

grey phalarope

grey phalarope (honest)

Apart from this the lake was very quiet, even most of the tufted duck seem to have gone now. As I watched the phalarope it swam passed a sleeping duck and it dawned on me that it was a drake common scoter! I did try a picture but this one was so bad that I won’t distress you with it. Good things can come in threes, but despite looking hard we could find nothing else , apart from a third common sandpiper.

It just goes to show that just because there does not seem to be anything much around it is always worth taking a good look.

Staying Wild – Life Still Bee Hard

I had a couple of days off on Friday and Saturday but was back at Blashford on Sunday. Although it was raining at first by the end of the day it was actually feeling summery, with bees and butterflies.

Opening up I saw the common scoter was still on Ibsley Water, but apart from a single redshank, a pochard and 97 tufted duck I could see little else.

I was working with the volunteers during the morning, and attended to various odd jobs in the afternoon. As I said the sun came out and  along with it lots of insects. In the sweep meadow I found a very splendid bee basking on a fence post, I am pretty sure it is a coast leafcutter bee, as the name suggests usually found on the coast in sandy places, it presumably finds the sandy soil of the Lichen Heath to its liking.

coast leafcutter bee male

coast leafcutter bee (male)

At lunchtime the picnic tables were attracting lots of basking female horseflies, they all seemed to be Tabanus bromius. Luckily they seemed more interested in warming up than biting, at least for now.

Tabanus

Tabanus bromius female.

Towards the end of the afternoon I was at the sandy bank where I observed the Nomad bees several weeks ago as they tried to parasitize the yellow-legged bee colony. This time the solitary bees, I am not sure what species, were being attacked by hunting wasps.

bee hunting wasp

wasp hunting solitary bees

It was capturing the small bees in the same way that a bee wolf does honey bees, but it was a small wasp, hunting smaller bees. After stinging them it carried them to a nest hole and tried to get them underground. From what I could see the bee was not dead but incapacitated and certainly seemed unable to fight back

30 Days Wild – Day 25

Day 25 and I was in Portsmouth at the Lakeside North Harbour site doing a public event for National Insect Week. Looking at the pictures I have posted during 30 Days Wild it would seem I have been more or less doing 30 Days of Insects, but as they form so much of our wildlife I will make no apologies for doing so. The other reason is that I only have one decent lens for my camera and that is a macro lens! You can find out more about National Insect week at http://www.nationalinsectweek.co.uk. It is run every two years by the Royal Entomological Society with the assistance of lots of other organisations including the Wildlife Trusts.

The Lakeside site lies just beside the A27 and is a large area of offices in several blocks, perhaps it does not sound that promising for wildlife? But think again, it is constructed on chalk which was dumped onto marshes left isolated north of the road, so far so disastrous for wildlife, but the habitat that has developed is chalk grassland with lots of flowers including thousands of orchids. There is also some wetland and scrub, in short a varied and generally nutrient poor landscape, with a wide range of species, something of a biodiversity hotspot! The management has been enlightened enough not to “garden” too much of it, although the corporate love of grass like a carpet, lollipop trees and gob-stopper bushes is evident in parts. Anyone who visits a corporate HQ or similar office cannot help but be struck by how much they really baulk at the intrusion of the natural world, few tolerate any native flora and fauna and obviously spend lots of money keeping the areas around their buildings that way. An odd approach when most would say they are efficient and environmentally aware.

As I said lakeside is actually a very good wildlife site and shows what can be done, in addition the more natural areas are very popular with the staff, many of whom will walk around the grounds in their lunch break. A “Green break” is something that I am sure is good for their wellbeing and probably afternoon productivity.

The weather was not the best, my plan to run a moth trap overnight had failed as the trap had not turned on and half the people booked onto the walk did not show up, so not the best of starts. However the insects did not let us down and we were joined by as many people who had not booked as were on the original list, so we actually had more participants than  expected. Highlights were six-spot burnet, both as larvae and adult, with this one posing on a pyramidal orchid for photos.

six-spot burnet on pyramidal orchid

six-pot burnet on pyramidal orchid

We also saw several species of hoverflies, two soldierflies, robberflies, damselflies, lots and lots of true bugs, beetles and even a few butterflies. The weather was against us though and just as we were coming to the end of the event we all had to run for shelter  as the heavens opened and the thunder and lightening swept in.

the end of the insect walk

rain and lost of it!

In the afternoon I was back at Blashford, where the weather was much better, although I passed through some of the heaviest rain I have encountered in many years on the way. When you see the full force of a really torrential downpour like that it is interesting to imagine what the impact must be on creatures as small as insects, it must be significant.

Storms are local events so even if they could be devastating they should not impact whole populations. Spiders however are everywhere and the recent mass emergence of damselflies has given them more food that they can cope with, one web by the Centre pond contained three such victims. Shear numbers are what keep insects going, even if thousands die, enough can go on and each survivor can produce many offspring.

trapped damselfly

captured damselfly

As I locked up it was pleasing to see that there were still lapwing chicks on view near the Tern hide and that at least two of the little ringed plover chicks have fledged. I also spotted that the female common scoter I found with the tufted duck flock on Thursday was still there diving for food out in the middle of the lake.

3o Days Wild – Day 23

Another Thursday and we decided to tackle what is without doubt the volunteers least favourite task of the year, ragwort control around Ibsley Water. When I first started at the reserve ragwort was the dominant plant around large areas of the shore, often to the exclusion of all other plants. Over the years we have cut and pulled it to try and establish a more mixed and predominantly grassy sward. It has been back breaking work, but it finally seems to be paying off. Walking the eastern shore it is now no more that occasional and forms part of an increasingly varied sward including sedges, bee orchid and much more.

Ragwort is actually a valuable nectar source and present in small amounts in grassland that is not used for hay does not present any real risk to livestock. Although poisonous few animals will eat it when growing. Fortunately at Blashford the grassland has many other nectar sources so loss of some ragwort  probably has minimal impact upon nectaring insects. As we worked we saw a good range of butterflies, despite the overcast conditions including lots of meadow brown.

meadow brown pair

Meadow brown pair mating

I also saw my first small skipper of the year, although a few have been seen on the reserve by others.

small skipper

small skipper

The day was not entirely positive though. Arriving at the reserve and looking out onto Ibsley Water it was clear that the black-headed gull pairs with chicks and single common tern pair that had just started sitting on the small island neat Tern hide had been lost overnight, probably to a predatory mammal. Fox is probably likely, but they often get the blame when others are actually the culprit and I cannot rule out badger, mink or otter.

black-headed gulls

black-headed gull pair

I got a real surprise at the end of the day when I closed up the Tern hide I realised there was a female common scoter floating around with the tufted duck flock. There was also a black-necked grebe reported in the hide diary, although I could not find it.

 

 

A Purple Patch

The osprey returned again today, visiting the perch in Ibsley Water at least twice. It was out there as we were mowing on the western shore of Ibsley Water and the Gull Island, in fact Ed saw it fly more or less over my head as I was head down wrestling with the mower on the steep bank. Before we had finished cutting it was back, this time with a fish which it set to eating on the perch.

As it is not every day that you can see an osprey, after we got back and put the tools away we went over to take a closer look, by this time it was about 4 o’clock. We arrived just in time to see it flying off towards the river again, however our disappointment was tempered by noticing a first winter little gull flying close to the hide, it came into view just as the osprey was going behind the trees, they are always a treat to see and this was a very smart one.

As Ed tried to get some pictures of the gull I scanned around and there was an otter swimming up the centre of the lake. As it approached the northern shore it spooked a mixed group of tufted duck and coot which flew off in panic, any one of them would be a good meal for an otter. We watched it swim into the extreme north-western corner and just as it was lost to view I noticed a drake common scoter flying about the centre of the lake, eventually it settled with a small group of tufted duck.

A very hectic five minutes of Blashford wildlife! Hopefully Ed will be able to post some pictures later.