30 Days Wild – Day 26 – Seeking the Sleepy

A very hot day, which caused me some problems when trying to choose a task for the Tuesday volunteers. We have a lot of mowing to do at this time of year, but working for long periods in such hot sunshine is not safe or sensible. What we did was spend a short session clearing nettle and bramble regrowth from the western shore of Ibsley Water, but with five people working we still got a good bit done.

The aim of this work is to establish grassland along this shore and in particular along the earth bank put up to screen the gravel digging and later lake from the busy A338 Salisbury road. The difficult with such earth banks is that they are deep soils with lots of nutrients they grow great crops of nutrient hungry “weedy” species, so this bank was initially dominated by a huge growth of ragwort. We got on top of that and then the area became dominated by nettles with bramble. Repeated mowing can get on top of this and eventually grasses will replace them but it is hard work and ideally the cuttings are raked up and removed. In fact what we are doing is trying to establish a herb-rich grassland by removing nutrients, exactly the principle of hayfield management.

We stopped for an early lunch and then headed for some shade to put up some dormouse boxes. We had a report of an animal seen in a small willow a few weeks ago which sounded quiet good for this species, but which we have not certainly recorded on the reserve. So we have put out five boxes in a suitable area and see if we can confirm them as present. Dormice will sleep during the peak of the summer so I don’t expect we will get any signs of occupancy for at least several months, possibly even until next year.

When I was locking up I saw my first common tern chick attempting to fly, it ended in a splash-down in the lake but this is not normally a problem for them unless they have been very prematurely forced from the raft. Tern chicks swim well and we have refuges for them to climb out onto. Also on Ivy Lake it was interesting to see two new coot nests, it seems very late for them to be starting here, but this has been an odd season for coot. In the spring all the coot left, just when they would normally have been starting to nest and they only really returned around six weeks ago and then seemed only interested in feeding.

At home my moth trap had caught another small elephant hawk-moth, a pine hawk-moth, buff arches and 2 festoon.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Although the grass is high one of the interesting elements to a hay meadow is that the mix herb species means that the structure is many layered. There are flowering plants with their head above the top of the grass stems, but also low down just a few centimetres above the ground level. One of the ground floor residents and a very good nectar source is selfheal, which is coming to the end of its flowering season now.

selfheal

selfheal

I confess I had never looked very closely at the flowers of this common plant before, so had never noticed the “spines” on the tops of the flowers. I do not know their purpose, but perhaps they are to encourage insects to use only the open “front door” to the flower, which is where they will pick up the pollen that the plants wants transporting to the next flower.

Not many of the  “30 Days” left now and day 27 will be spent in meeting, so wildlife might be in short supply!

Advertisements

30 Days Wild – Day 25 – The Heat is On

When I checked the moth trap in my garden I was surprised to find 2 leopard moth! In some years I don’t see any at all and this year we have had them a few times at Blashford and now two at home on the same day.

leopard moth male

leopard moth male

When they are disturbed they don’t fly, but adopt a strange curled posture, at the same time the abdomen is lengthened, the effect is rather odd. Although it does not look like  a wasp or anything obviously threatening it does look like something you would think twice about picking up, which I guess is the idea.

leopard mopth male curled

leopard moth male curled

I was at Fishlake for the morning waiting for a delivery meaning that I did not get to Blashford until the afternoon. It was very hot and lots of the insects had taken cover in the shade. Out on the hot shingle beside Ibsley Water I spotted two half grown little ringed plover chicks, running about very energetically, hopefully they will fledge and join the two others that have already become independent.

Out on Ivy Lake the common tern chicks were less keen on the heat and were standing around panting, however they are growing well and I expect the first ones will be flying in a few days.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

It is looking very dry now, much of the grass is yellow or pale brown, but most of the meadow perennials are deep rooted and still look more or less okay. A lot of the earlier flowering species are  going to seed now. Looked at closely the seeds of meadow buttercup look rather like a Medieval mace.

meadow buttercup seedhead

meadow buttercup seedhead

Although they do not look as though they would be very good at it, I assume the hooks aid dispersal by getting caught on animal fur, or maybe botanist’s socks.

A Clear(er) View

On Thursday the volunteers cleared the annual vegetation from in front of the Tern hide, we do this each year for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is that it improves the view of the nearest shore from the hide. Another is that it clears the ground for the nesting lapwing and little ringed plover next spring. There are also always some seedling bramble, birch and willow that need pulling out before they get established.

before

The shore before we started

after

and after a couple of hours of hard weeding

Looking out from the hide today this did not make much difference as visibility was seriously reduced due to persistent heavy rain. Despite this there were some birds to see, including at least 800 sand martin, 3 swift, 2 dunlin, a little ringed plover, 3 common sandpiper, 33 mute swan and 3 pochard. Ivy Lake was quieter with just a few coot, gadwall and great crested grebe, there are also still two broods of two common tern chicks on the rafts.

Today was not a day for invertebrates, but I do have one more picture from Thursday, spotted in long grass as I went round locking up, a wasp spider, my first of the year.

wasp spider

Wasp spider female with prey.

 

Still Wild After all These Days

Summer moves on, at Blashford on Sunday I saw my first gatekeeper of the year, oddly a little later than in some years, most other butterflies have been merging a little earlier than usual, so I am not sure why they alone are later.

gatekeeper

The first gatekeeper at the year

It was also the first day I had seen brown hawker dragonfly, although I would guess they have been flying for a couple of days. The first common tern chicks also flew, even if a little tentatively, hopefully we will see over seventy fledge this year. Another first for the year was Essex skipper, they at every like small skipper, but tend to fly a couple of weeks later.

Essex skipper on yellow rattle

Essex skipper on yellow rattle

At least I think it is an Essex skipper!

I had another go at getting a flight shot of a hoverfly, a very frustrating thing to try, this was my best attempt.

hoverfly

hoverfly

I went on a walk down the Dockens Water to check where we will need to go Himalayan balsam pulling and if we have missed any plants. I found a few, but also a number of native marshland plants.

marsh bedstraw

marsh bedstraw

water forget-me-not

water forget-me-not

Calling, Calling

Bird News: Ibsley Watercommon sandpiper 1, yellow-legged gull 1. Ivy Lakemute swan 21, common tern c15 flying juveniles.

As it was Sunday and the start of another month there was a volunteer task this morning, typically the Sunday tasks draw many fewer volunteers than those on a Thursday, so I was pleasantly surprised when seven people turned up. We set about tidying up the entrance areas either side of the road, improving visibility, cleaning the signs and generally sprucing things up a bit. I set about some fo the brambles with the hedge trimmer, unfortunately in the process I dropped my mobile phone. There was a time when I would not have had one even if I had been given it, let along thought it indispensible, however times change. We spent a while looking for it, phoning it and listening without success. After putting the tools away I decide  to have one last try, I called it as I retraced my steps, still no luck, then I spotted it lying on the grass verge. It is not a stylish phone, in fact it is old and battered, but I would not have wanted to have to replace it.

In the afternoon I was leading an “Insect Bioblitz”, basically a bug hunt. We started by looking through the moth trap, which was actually quite disappointing for the number and range of moths but was saved a very splendid privet hawk-moth. We then headed off into the meadow and fortunately the sun came out. We saw several butterflies, including marbled white, meadow brown, red admiral and small skipper. There were three species of grasshoppers now adult: meadow grasshopper, mottled grasshopper and field grasshopper, we also saw nymphs of speckled bush-cricket and long-winged conehead. On the way back to the Centre I caught a little micro moth, like a lot of them it had an almost metallic sheen, it was a common species, although you need to magnify it to  really appreciate it. The species is Argyresthia brockeella, the larvae eat birch and alder, both of which ar every common at Blashford.

Argyresthia brockeella

As I went about the Centre to lock up I came across a green lacewing on one of the windows of the building, the black of the window allowed the veins in the wings to show up really well and I got a picture I was rather pleased with.

lacewing, possibly Chrysopa carnea

I also spotted a zebra jumping spider with a caddisfly, I think one of the longhorn sedges on the sign board just outside the Centre, there were some depth of field problems getting a picture, especially with the “long horns”.

jumping spider with caddisfly

Locking up the hides I was pleased to see that there are about fifteen common tern chicks now flying around the rafts on Ivy Lake. There were also 21 mute swans, the most I have ever seen on this lake, the reason for this is that until this year the occupying pair were so vigorous in defense of the water that other swans rarely stayed more than a few minutes. The new pair, although they try just don’t have the same power to drive away intruders.

At the Tern hide I saw a common sandpiper and a second summer yellow-legged gull, the season is certainly turning now and we will start to see more and more birds heading back southwards over the next month. Our cuckoos have already departed, I have not heard one singing for about a fortnight and only expect to see juveniles now.