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.

 

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Downy Day

Despite apparently good weather for migrants, with lots of terns being seen ont he coast today, there was not sign of any “action” at Blashford. The little gull was again reported, although I cannot see it for looking.

The volunteers were in today and we did the most glamorous of tasks, building a fox-proof (hopefully) box, to store our rubbish bags in when we put them out for collection.

Although there were no new birds, there were new insects. The Centre pond had seen an emergence of downy emerald dragonflies, although they may have regretted coming out into the rain this morning.

downy emerald

newly emerged downy emerald

This is one of the earliest dragonflies to emerge and perhaps it is downy to help it keep warm. It is usually associated with lakes and large ponds with trees surround the banks, but recently it has become one of the commonest species in the small Centre dipping pond.

As well as being downy they are also very green. Interestingly they assume pretty much their full colour in just a few hours, unlike the many blue species which take several days to develop their colouration.

downy emerald detail 2

downy emerald in close-up, showing how it gets the name.

 

Many Eyes

I was over at Blashford this afternoon, although I was mostly confined to the office, luckily there were people who were not. There was a school group in and they made a couple of good finds. Whilst pond dipping they found a downy emerald dragonfly that had fallen back into the water, they rescued it and put it to dry on plants beside the pond.

downy emerald drying

downy emerald drying

I took the opportunity to get a few really close up shots as well, like this head-shot, it really is “downy” and “emerald”!

downy emerald close up

downy emerald close up

The dragonfly was not their only find though, they also found a very fine ground beetle, Carabus granulatus.

Carabus granulatus

Carabus granulatus

Not only is it also a rather splendid metallic sheened insect but it also has wonderful sculpturing on the elytra (wing cases).

As I was outside to take the pictures and the sun was out I had a quick look around the pond area and found two Rhingia campestris, a common hoverfly with and extraordinary long “snout”.

Rhingia campestris male

Rhingia campestris male

The female was very fat, presumably full of eggs.

Rhingia campestris female

Rhingia campestris female

Birds reported today were at least 10 swift over Ibsley Water, 3 common sandpiper, over 30 common tern and 2 Arctic tern also on Ibsley Water.

 

Insects at Last

Bird News: Ibsley Waterperegrine 1, ringed plover 1. Centrehobby 1.

Once again there was very little bird news to report, a first year female peregrine disturbing the gulls on Ibsley Water and a dark ringed plover of one of the Arctic types were both of interest. A very brief view of a hobby over the Woodland hide area was about the only other bird of note. However the real wildlife news has been the final appearance of some insects. The Centre pond was visited by two species of dragonflies, a downy emerald and a four-spotted chaser as well as good numbers of damselflies. I failed to get pictures of the downy emerald as it never landed, the chaser did not stay long enough for me to get to the front of the queue of admirers. I did get a picture of a very smart male large red damselfly though. 

large red damselfly

Looking into the pond I saw a large water stick insect moving along just below the surface, they are not related the insects we mostly know as stick insects, but are true bugs and predators.

water stick insect

Although the day was very fine I was busy with various odd jobs and a meeting, so did not actually get out and about much. One striking thing was the amount of willow seeds everywhere, the water in some areas was covered such that it looked almost as if you could have walked on it!

willow seed on the water

As Jim mentioned here yesterday it has been a busy weekend. I wa sat the new Forest Bioblitz yesterday, which was very pleasant, I failed to find most of what I looked for but did come across two spiders which turned out to be of interest. Today was the Wood Fair at Roydon Woods, I attended last year, it rained from start to finish, Michelle went this year and the weather was a little better, I doubt they will ask me again.

A Gem and Sedges

Bird News: Ivy Lakepochard 1, common tern 16 pairs.

The warmer nights are starting to produce results in the moth trap. Last night we caught 3 poplar hawk-moths and a scatter of other species including muslin moth, light emerald, pale prominent and flame shoulder, a few more warm days and things might be heading back to something like normal catches for late May. The trap also held several caddisflies as few of which I think I have identified.

great red sedge

The common name great red sedge is actually applied to two different but closely related species and I am not certain which of the two this is, the names in common usage are those used by anglers.

yellow spotted sedge

The yellow spotted sedge is a much smaller species, but very attractive. Unfortunately they are very difficult to get onto more photogenic backgrounds as they fly very readily when disturbed.

As it was Thursday the volunteers were working on the reserve this morning, we carried on from last week and set out to put wood treatment on another hide, this time it was the long walk to the Lapwing hide. This hide is a good bit smaller than the Woodland hide we did last week and so I decided as we had over one and a half cans of preservative this would do since last week we used only just over one can. I was wrong, what I had not allowed for was the different wood used in the construction, it was much more absorbent and we were left about three-quarters through the job with supplies run dry.

I did add another species of Odonata to the reserve list for the year today, my first Blashford dragonfly of the spring and it is almost June! I even got a close up picture of it, although this was not the feat it might have been since the unfortunate insect was dead. I picked it up on the boardwalk south of the Ivy South hide, it was intact although clearly had been predated by something as there was some damage. It was a downy emerald, they are a wonderful bronze-green colour and, as the name suggests, have downy hairs, especially on the abdomen.

downy emerald