30 Days Wild – Day 6

Still catching up! Sunday was a much better day than I had expected and in the afternoon there were lots of damselflies out and I saw my first downy emerald dragonfly of the year. There are two very common blue damselflies at Blashford Lakes, one, aptly called the common blue damselfly has males with a black lollypop mark on the first abdominal segment.

common blue damselfly

The azure damselfly is as common but the males have a square “Y” on the first abdominal segment.

azure damselfly

There are several other damselfly species as well, the largest is the very distinctive beautiful demoiselle, which favours flowing water and streams with stony substrates.

beautiful demoiselle

With better weather the dragonflies are starting to emerge, although I have not seen many adults yet, but the pond near the Centre has lots of exuviae, the nymphal exoskeleton left behind when they emerge from the water. I counted at least 10 around the pond at the end of the day on Sunday. I think all were of emperor dragonflies.

emperor exuvia

We have had nesting mute swans on Ivy Lake this year and they have eventually hatched, but only one cygnet, perhaps they are a young pair, at least it should get lots of care.

mute swan family


Young Naturalists catch up

On Sunday we held our first online Young Naturalists meeting using Zoom. It was a great success with eleven young people joining us for two hours. We chatted about what everyone had been up to over the last couple of months, including their wildlife highlights and where they had been on their daily walks, how they had been finding homeschooling and projects they had been doing at home – a lot of lockdown ponds have been created which is lovely to hear!

We were joined by volunteer Nigel who pond dipped his garden pond and shared his catch with the group, shared some of the moths caught in his light trap the night before and talked about some of the butterflies out on the wing at present, using photos to help.

We also used the digital microscope to take a closer look at the moths caught overnight at Blashford. Sadly the trap included the remains of a privet hawk-moth, indicating a bird had managed to get in and have a feast, something that does unfortunately happen on occasion. An easy meal for the bird, not so good for the moths! We had a closer look at what had been left behind, its head and one wing. The head was still wriggling which was slightly disconcerting! By chance, Alex and Thomas who had also run their moth trap at home the night before had caught a privet hawk-moth too, which hadn’t fallen foul of an intruder in the trap, and we were able to have a look at a live one.

We had some great moths in the trap and looked up a couple we didn’t know online using the Hants Moths Flying Tonight webpage.

We also had a closer look at some dragonfly exuvia I had collected from around the pond:

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

The larger exuvia is from a emperor dragonfly whilst the smaller one is from a downy emerald. These exuvia are both larger and different in shape to the damselfly one I shared yesterday.

It was great to be able to catch up with the group and we are planning on running sessions fortnightly over the next couple of months. We will be making the most of the moth trap, looking at some of Blashford’s pond and river creatures using the digital microscope, using photos to improve insect identification, create a few quizzes to keep us going and continue to share wildlife sightings and experiences.

When I returned from furlough I got in touch with the group to see what they had all been up to and whether they had any wildlife highlights from their time in lockdown. I hadn’t got round to sharing them sooner, so these are there replies, hopefully a couple more will follow:

Kiera – from an email on the 20th May

Last week we went for a walk at Kings Hat near Beaulieu and we stumbled upon this lizard running through the grass. It’s the first one I have seen in the wild!


Common lizard by Keira

Amber – from an email on the 18th May

I have been lucky enough to have taken some great nature photos during lockdown. We have been very careful to only walk from home on our dog walks. I have a dachshund called Hagrid.

We’ve recently discovered lots of great walks around Hightown Lakes in Ringwood, some longer than others. In March we came across a mummy duck with absolutely loads of ducklings. Then just last week, we were on our way to the lakes and saw the most wonderful thing, a field of Canada geese, and about 30 gosling’s!! I have never seen so many, they were impossible to count.

The best picture I managed to take was a chicken having a paddle, I didn’t know chickens liked water.

Will A – from an email on 20th May

My dad has built a veggie planter in the front garden and another planter with a wildlife pond and seating area in the back garden. I enjoyed helping build the wildlife pond and have included some pictures of the garden.

Since we only live a ten minute walk away from Stanpit Marsh we have made an effort to get out for a walk most days and I am appreciating things a lot more. I have seen Stanpit spring into life since the end of February. I feel very lucky to have this on my doorstep especially when compared to others. I have also heard from a neighbour that seals have been seen on the beach at Highcliffe.

I’m looking forward to catching up with them again in a couple of weeks to see what else they have been up to.

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

30 Days Wild – Day 27

That unusual combination of hot and windy today, the breeze providing some, but not  a lot, of relief from the strong sunshine, although increasing the risk of getting unknowingly burnt. The volunteers were tidying up around the Centre and trimming and pulling nettles from the path edges.

The extra warmth is good for dragonflies, snakes and butterflies, although it makes them very active and so difficult to get close to. There are, at last, dragonflies to be seen in fair numbers, most though seem to be emperor or black-tailed skimmer. One species that I thought I might have missed was downy emerald, typically a late April dragonfly at Blashford, that you see through May and tails off in June. So I was pleasantly surprised to find a female beside Ivy North Hide as I locked up. It was also pleasing to get a picture as this is a species that does not often land within reach, often perching high up.

downy emerald female

downy emerald (female)

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.


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