A wet and wild week

 

After a super busy summer term the holidays are here and we’re just as busy with our usual monthly events and our Wild Days Out programme of children’s holiday activities.

Our Young Naturalists met last Sunday for a beginners photography session led by local photographer Clifton Beard. Cliff was a brilliant tutor, keeping things simple and remembering the group would be taking photos with a variety of equipment from smart phones to point and shoot to digital SLRs.

Group in classroom resized

Cliff set us little tasks throughout the session, encouraging us to think more before merrily snapping away and ran through the importance of light, composition and moment. We looked for certain colours, lines, edges and lots more and tried focusing on macro subjects before having a mini photo competition with our best images of the day.

As we didn’t stray far from the building, it was really interesting to see what everyone managed to find close by. Cliff’s parting advice was that the best camera is the one you have on you, which really is true, if you don’t have it with you then you will miss the shot!

Thanks to Cliff for giving up his day to share his knowledge and expertise with the group and to Amy Hall and Corinne Bespolka from the Cameron Bespolka Trust for joining us too.

Wednesday was an entirely different affair, with a very wet and soggy Wild Day Out. Not to be deterred from our ‘Wildlife Safari’, we began the day dissecting some owl pellets, an activity the group thoroughly enjoyed. We had fun picking them apart with cocktail sticks and trying to decide which bits of small mammal we were looking at; a rib, or a shoulder blade, or a jaw bone or a skull. To tie in with this we also had lots of bones and other signs of wildlife to look at and hold.

After a short while we decided it was about time we braved the elements, pulled on our waterproofs and headed outside. Despite the rain, we soon spotted lots of cinnabar caterpillars on the ragwort on the lichen heath. As we looked closer we also disturbed a grasshopper and realised the wildlife was still all around us, just hunkering down low to avoid the wet weather. Probably a very sensible thing to be doing!

Our first sign of something ever so slightly bigger than our grasshopper was this pile of rabbit droppings:

Muddy ground is great for spotting tracks, however the first ones we noticed were not of the wildlife kind, or at least not the wildlife we were after:

IMG_0552

Vehicle tracks in the soft mud

We then headed towards the Dockens, taking the path towards the road crossing to Goosander hide and playing pooh sticks on the bridge over the river. Continuing along the path, we found a safe spot to get into the river then explored upstream, occasionally having to get back out again and walk along the bank when the pools became too deep. Whilst exploring the river we came across a number of deer tracks in the soft mud.

We were now quite wet, although some were wetter than others, and Isabelle and Millie had to empty their wellies after our river wanderings.

We picked blackberries on our way to Goosander hide, looking forward to a dry spot for lunch. We were stopped in our tracks by a scattering of feathers, trying to decide what had happened, who had been eaten (we decided a duck after studying the feathers) and by whom (we thought fox). A little further along the path we found the kill site, spotting a hollow off to the side of the path which contained the remains of two different birds. One of the skeletons was complete and as it was a bit on the large size for a duck we thought it could be a goose. The other we weren’t so sure!

We lunched in Goosander Hide, watching the rain get heavier and the sand martins and swallow flitting low over the water. Despite the weather we saw herons, cormorant, black headed gull, mute swans, little grebe and great crested grebe. The highlight though was the kingfisher, who didn’t seem put off by the rain or the bunch of 7-12 year olds picnicking in the hide and flew across in front of us a number of times, pausing for a while on one of the branches in the water.

We headed back to the Education Centre, dried off and warmed up with the help of a hot chocolate, happy in the knowledge that even in the pouring rain there were still plenty of signs of life and the wildlife itself to entertain us!

Thursday’s Wild Day Out was somewhat drier, a nice change to Wednesday! We were in search of dragons so headed to the pond to see what we could catch and keeping our fingers crossed the sun would put in an appearance and bring dragonflies hawking above the surface of the water.

By the time we had eaten, the weather had brightened up considerably and we headed over to the meadow, munching blackberries along the way. It was too wet to meadow sweep but we still embarked on a still hunt, finding a quiet spot in the meadow to just sit and look and watch the meadow world go by. We then had a go at stealthily catching some of the creatures we had been watching using bug pots. Slightly harder than using a sweep net, it certainly made us look closer.

We also managed to spot five wasp spiders in the meadow, making sure we left them safely in their webs:

wasp-spider

After discovering the miniature world of the meadow we headed to the Woodland Hide in search of birds then went on to Ivy South Hide, spotting a grass snake on the edge of Ivy Silt Pond.

We then returned to the Education Centre the long way (there were lots more blackberries to pick the long way back), seeing how many small children it takes to hug a rather large oak tree (I can’t remember the answer, but it was a fair few!) and playing pooh sticks on the bridge over the river.

Tree hugging

Tree hugging, with I think seven 5-8 year olds!

Pooh sticks

Pooh sticks on the Dockens Water, and looking for fish!

It’s been a rather wet and wild week!

We still have some spaces left on our upcoming Wild Days Out this summer, if you know of someone who might like to join us please visit the website for details and to book.

30 Days Wild – Day 11: Various Insects

Still a windy day but none the less quite warm in the sun, so if you could find some shelter it was very pleasant. The kind of day to go looking for insects making the most of exactly such places. In the garden the moth trap had one new species for the year, a varied coronet.

varied coronet

varied coronet

This moth was known only as a scarce migrant until about 70 years ago when it started to breed in Kent, since when it has spread widely, although I don’t often catch it myself.

I found a number of insects around the garden warming themselves including a number of hoverflies.

Merodon equestris

Merodon equestris

This one looks like a bumblebee in an effort to be left alone by birds, it is also known as the greater bulb-fly as the larvae feed on bulbs, it is not a favourite with many gardeners.

By the pond I found an unfortunate broad-bodies chaser that had emerged but failed to get its wings properly expanded, it will never fly, after a year of development in the pond it had failed at the last hurdle.

unfortunate Libellula depressa

unfortunate dragonfly

In the afternoon I ventured out into the New Forest for a short walk. Again it was the sheltered clearings that harboured the most wildlife and in one patch of sunlight I spotted a humming-bird hawk-moth, luckily it landed allowing me to get a picture.

humming-bird hawk-moth

humming-bird hawk-moth

There were also hoverflies, although not so many as in the garden. On one sunny logs I found a specimen of Xylota abiens.

Xylota abiens
Xylota abiens

These hoverflies almost never visit flowers, but are often seen sunning themselves or moving over leaves, they may find the food they need from honeydew on leaves rather than nectar from flowers. This individual ahs picked up a hitch-hiker in the form of a tiny red mite which you can just make on the top of the thorax.

I also found one dragonfly, this time a recently emerged keeled skimmer.

keeled skimmer close up

keeled skimmer close-up

This close-up shows how the front legs are not used for standing, but held up behind the head ready to be used for manipulating prey to allow feeding in flight.

30 Days Wild – Day 19

Sunday and almost mid-summer and I was at Blashford where we were hosting Fordingbridge Astronomical Society’s Sun Day. They had telescopes set up so that the sun could be safely viewed and some of its usually hidden secrets seen. However, the clouds did not play along and the sun remained hidden resulting an early end to Sun Day.

However Sunday continued and in the afternoon I was leading a walk to look for dragonflies, damselflies and miscellaneous other bugs. Unfortunately the clouds had continued to gather and light rain started to fall, making insects hard to find.

wet damselfly

soggy damselfly

Despite the rain we did see four species of butterflies, an optimistic migrant red admiral at the Centre Pond, common blue and meadow brown hiding in the meadow and a hundred or more peacock caterpillars in front of the Ivy North hide.

In the morning it had been a little less wet and I had found a few more insects and other invertebrates out and about, including this snipefly, with huge eyes.

fly

snipefly

There are also a lot more siders about now.

spider

spider

Mid-summer is also a time for flowers, perhaps a surprise to some of our visitors, but Blashford is actually quite a good site for orchids, we have several species and sometime sin quite large numbers. This despite most of the being a “Brownfield” site, we tend to think of orchids as plants of ancient downland sites, but many will colonise freely if they get the chance. The bee orchids are at their best now and some can be seen on bank on the side of the main car park.

bee orchid flower

bee orchid flower

 

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.