Camping out

At our last Young Naturalists session in July, we spent a night on the reserve, exploring Blashford and the surrounding area late in to the evening and early in the morning. It seems like a really long time ago now, but hopefully this blog is better late than never…

After arriving on the Saturday morning we got straight on with setting up our camp, using old army ponchos to make dens to sleep under and whittling pegs out of willow.

We then headed to the back of the Education Centre to sit by the pond and butterfly spot as part of the Big Butterfly Count. The Purple loosestrife proved to be very popular with the butterflies and we saw a large white, numerous small whites, a green-veined white and brimstones, along with a gatekeeper and painted lady by the bramble. We also watched the water for newts coming up to the surface and spotted a number of young frogs.

After lunch we headed up into the Forest, exploring the local Rockford and Ibsley Commons for a different view of the lakes. The bell heather was in flower and attracting lots of honey and bumble bees.

We paused for a while at the bridge over the Dockens Water, exploring this stretch of the river and taking a closer look at some of the plants before heading up on to the Common for another view of the reserve, this time Ibsley Water.

On arriving back at Moyles Court we paused by the ford for a paddle, although Jorge got wetter than most!

Walking back along the Dockens we spotted this fabulous Chicken of the Woods fungi growing on an old log:

Chicken in the woods

Chicken of the Woods

Arriving back at the Education Centre, it was time to empty the light trap from the night before so we could re-set it for the Saturday evening and we also set some mammal traps to see if we could catch any of our smaller resident mammals.

It was then time to think about food and the group did a great job of chopping the ingredients before tucking in to healthy wraps toasted over the fire followed by slightly less healthy popcorn and banana stuffed with chocolate and mini marshmallows…

Lysander had also very kindly bought some of his left over Cadet rations to share with the group, cooking them through using his stove. Whilst not all sampled his food, we were pleasantly surprised by how nice it tasted!

After eating we headed off on a night walk in search of bats, picking up pipistrelles on the bat detectors in the woodland and near Ivy South hide.

After convincing the group to get up bright and early on Sunday morning, we roused them at 5.30am and headed off up to Lapwing Hide for some early morning wildlife spotting.

It was lovely and peaceful to be out on the reserve so early, and whilst we didn’t spot anything out of the ordinary we had a good wander and worked up an appetite for breakfast which we cooked over the campfire.

Breakfast

Breakfast, looking slightly sleepy

It was then time to check the mammal traps we had put out the previous evening, but sadly although a couple had been sprung we were unsuccessful. The two light traps however gave us 31 different species off moth to identify, along with a Dark bush cricket and an Oak bush cricket:

After tidying away our camp and bringing everything back to the Centre it was time for the group to head off, a little sleepy but having spent a very enjoyable time overnight on the reserve.

Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly at the Education Centre Pond

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

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30 Days Wild – Day 2 – Hawks and Dragons

Once again a day off at home trying to work in the garden, but the sun was a bit much so productivity was rather low!

However the day started with a look through the moth trap, most of the moths would have been attracted before midnight when it was warmer, but as the minimum was 14 degrees some will have been active throughout. The pick of the catch were a couple of hawk-moths.

lime hawkmoth

lime hawk-moth

Lime hawk caterpillars eat the leaves of lime trees, but also birch. Many hawk-moths are named after the larval foodplant, or at least one of them. The privet hawk-moth caterpillars eat privet, but also lilac and ash, it is our largest resident hawk-moth.

privet hawkmoth

privet hawk-moth

Other moths caught were buff-tip, heart and dart, treble lines, flame shoulder, light brocade and fox moth.

The sun brought a few butterflies out, I saw a male common blue and a female brimstone in the garden during the early afternoon.

brimstone female on storksbill

female brimstone nectaring on storksbill

The sun also encouraged a fair few hoverflies to feed on flowers in the borders.

dronefly on fox and cubs

Dronefly Eristalis horticola on fox and cubs

Eventually I gave up on the garden and went out for a walk in the New Forest, luckily I live close enough not to need to drive there. The recent wet weather has filled a lot of the small ponds and each one seemed to have a broad-bodied chaser or two.

broad-bodied chaser male

broad-bodied chaser male

There were also good numbers of emperor and four-spotted chaser too.

The New Forest is one of the largest areas of semi-natural open space in Southern England, although a “Forest” it has a lot of wide open treeless areas. This is because a forest in this context is a place where deer were hunted rather than, as we tend to think today, a place dominated by trees. To pick up on the theme of Jo’s post of the other day and also highlight a particular problem within the Forest, I did see a couple of invasive alien species on my short walk. Both were attractive escapes from cultivation and wetland species.

invasive iris

Iris laevigata growing in a New Forest mire

In the background of this shot is another invasive, the white water-lily.

white water-lily

white water-lily

Finally………..

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Although it is perhaps not really a meadow plant I do have a few wild carrot plants in the meadow, like all umbellifers they are very attractive to insects, so I allow them in. The flowers are only just opening and actually look rather interesting just before the flowers open with the head enclosed caged.

wild carrot

wild carrot flower head just about to open.

Two days gone, just another 28 to go!

Insects on the Up?

The progress of the season has been rather erratic this year, with spells of very warm or even hot weather interspersed with much colder days. Overall I think that we are still a little behind the average of recent years, but it is a very mixed picture.

Sunday was a fine, warm, sunny day with little wind, ideal for insects and I saw my first beautiful demoiselle, broad-bodied chaser, four-spotted chaser and emperor dragonfly of the year. The four-spotted chaser had emerged from the Centre pond, I think th efirst time I have proved that they have done so there, although I have seen individuals there a number of times. Numbers of large red, common blue, azure and blue-tailed damselfly are also continuing to build.

I am trying to look more closely at the bees on the reserve this year, Blashford has a lot of dry ground with sandy slopes, ideal for solitary bees. In fact “brownfield sites” such as Blashford are particularly good for bees as they often have variations in soil type, slopes and banks ideal for nesting.

Andrena bicolor

Andrena bicolor

Gwynne’s mining bee, Andrena bicolor is one of our commonest spring mining bees and also has a summer brood, it is a close relative of the much rarer grey -backed mining bee, Andrena vaga which was found on the reserve for the first time a couple of weeks ago. The rarer species is still around, but not in the same numbers as a fortnight ago, some of them are getting worn now and so look rather like the much commoner ashy mining bee Andrena cineraria.

ashy mining bee excavating

ashy mining bee Andrena cineraria excavating a nest tunnel.

For several years now there has been increasing evidence of an overall decline in total insect abundance, it is very hard to prove absolutely but accounts of declining moth trap catches and a general scarcity of many insects is attested by many. Older people will remember that when travelling any distance by car in the summer it was necessary to clean many squashed insects off the windscreen. Of course more aerodynamic cars may be a factor too. Whatever the reason it has become much harder to find many insect species in the average summer these days. It was pleasing to see a fair few hoverflies out yesterday including a number of Cheilosia species, a rather difficult genus of mainly black species, the identification of the images below maybe open to revision!

Cheilosia bergenstammi male

Cheilosia bergenstammi (male)

Cheilosia impressa

Cheilosia impressa (female)

Despite the warmer days the nights are still quiet cool and so the moth trap has remained quiet. The pick of the catch was a chocolate-tip moth, it is evidently quiet a good year for therm as this was the third we have caught recently.

chocolate-tip

chocolate-tip

The only grasshoppers and crickets about at present are a few tiny nymphs, but this is the time for finding adult groundhoppers, although the only one I saw was a common groundhopper, but at least it posed for a picture.

common groundhopper

common groundhopper

It would be good to think that we are turning a corner in the insect decline, unfortunately I doubt it, I suspect the wider environment is continuing to become less insect friendly. Although some of this is down to the use of very effective insecticides and industrial mono-culture farming, it is also our overall failure to leave any space for them, even where it would be easy to do so.

Emperors

Another very hot day and a good one for insects, hot conditions allow them to be especially active as they do not need to spend time sitting in the sun to warm up as they would on a more normal English summer’s day. I saw my first Blashford silver-washed fritillary of the year, they are regular in small numbers, but never common on the reserve.

silver-washed fritillary

silver-washed fritillary

Later I came across a pair of brown argus, these are the start of the second generation for this species this year.

brown argus pair

brown argus pair

Brown argus are one of the “Blues” but one that forgot this and so is not blue. The same area of grass was also hiding several stridulating Roesel’s bush-cricket, I am quite pleased that I can still hear these as they are quiet high frequency and so one of the species that slip away as we get older. If you do get to see one the pale line around the lower edge of the pronotum is an identifying character.

Roesel's bush-cricket

Roesel’s bush-cricket

However the highlight of the day was none of these fine insects. After lunch I went over to Ellingham Pound to check how the common tern chicks were doing, the answer was just fine and it looks as though all seven will be flown off very soon. It is a good place to see dragon and damselflies and one of the only regular places on the reserve for small red-eyed damselfly and a quick check found one floating on some algae. I then started to look at the dragonflies in the hope of finding a lesser emperor, as there have been quite  few in the country recently and one was reported from Ibsey Water a couple of days ago. After seeing a couple of emperor dragonfly, a distinctive male lesser emperor shot past, after many attempts I got a couple of shots, not great, but I only had a 60mm lens with me!

lesser emperor male

lesser emperor male

The mainly dark abdomen with pale blue “saddle” is what identifies it. As I waited for it to skim past again I inevitably snapped other dragonflies too, when I looked at these pictures later I think one of them shows a female lesser emperor.

lesser emperor female

female

The lesser emperor is a migrant from the south, it used to be regarded as very rare but is getting more common, especially in warm summers and certainly tries to breed here now. It seems it is another species that is trying to colonise thanks to warming temperatures. The Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) seem to be especially responsive to these changes with many species spreading across Europe dramatically in the last couple of decades.

Elsewhere on the reserve there were at least three common sandpiper on Ibsley Water where there was also a juvenile little egret and, at the end of the day, 3 adult yellow-legged gull. I also found that the pair of Mediterranean gull on Long Spit had managed to fledge a single chick, or at least I could only find one. Although they have nested with us before I cannot be completely certain they have raised a chick to flying on Ibsley Water previously.

Hopefully it will cool down a bit next week and I can get some of the paths trimmed, they certainly need it! I had intended to try today but it was just too hot.

30 Days Wild – Day 21: More Dragons than Game of Thrones

Although thankfully less death and destruction and all the dragons are dragonflies, they are really enjoying the hot weather. From a photography point of view the heat makes it very difficult to get close to them as they are extremely active. I saw lots of emperor dragonfly today, there have been a number of reports of  the migrant lesser emperor in recent days, although none from Blashford as yet. I did manage to get a picture of a male black-tailed skimmer today though, perched along the path to Ivy South hide as I went to lock up.

black-tailed skimmer

black-tailed skimmer male

The butterflies are also liking the conditions although avoiding the very hottest part of the day. I did see my first ringlet of the year, again on the path to Ivy South hide, they are usually most frequent on the northern side of the reserve, it was too active for me to get a picture this time.

In recent days I have noticed that there almost always seem to be stock dove on the lichen heath, yesterday there were at least eight there. They seem to be picking at the vegetation, or possibly seeds, often they don’t immediately notice me on the path allowing some good views until they suddenly realise I am there and race off with a clatter of wings. Otherwise it was generally quiet, from Tern hide it was good to see two little ringed plover chicks as I opened up along with the single oystercatcher chick.

30 Days Wild – Day 1: Weird Stuff

Here we are again, another June and another 30 Days Wild, I will try to keep up this year and post something every day.

I was at Blashford today with the volunteers tidying up on the southern shore of Ivy Lake, clearing away some old tern rafts and doing a little Himalayan balsam pulling, actually the volunteers did these things, I cut a few brambles and set up the telescope to count the nesting common tern. I am pretty sure we now have 25 pairs on the rafts with nests and eggs, possibly 26 pairs. So with five pairs on the Pound we have reached thirty pairs for the first time! This has been a really successful project and almost entirely the work of our great volunteer team. Over the last ten years the Blashford terns have consistently produced more flying chicks per pair than any other local colony, with many pairs achieving the magical 100% success rate, laying three eggs and fledging three chicks. Over the last year we have made a whole set of new rafts funded by a grant from Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS) to a design refined and honed by our volunteer team.

During the course of the work we came across two grass snake, a nest of bank vole and a number of dragonflies including an emperor, scarce chaser and broad-bodies chaser.

The weirdest thing I saw today though was an old favourite of mine, a slime mould, these are strange organisms that usually live as single cells but aggregate to form sporangia and it is this stage that we can see on old wet logs. The one I found today near the Woodland hide was a Stemonitis, possibly Stemonitis axifera. They take less than a day to aggregate, develop and produce spores and then disappear.

Stemonitis axifera

Slime mould, probably Stemonitis axifera on a damp log near the Woodland hide.

Regulars will be pleased to hear that the two lapwing chicks and the two oystercatcher chicks are still doing well outside Tern hide, with an additional and larger, oystercatcher chick in the distance on Gull Island as well.

You can see various 30 Days Wild stuff on Twitter via #30DaysWild and probably lots of other places too and it is still not too late to join the over 45,000 people who have signed up to do something wild on 30 Days. Our environment is vital to our wellbeing, physical and mental health and it is where we live, despite this it is not getting much attention

A summer wildlife walk

A very pleasant morning leading a guided walk today, with plenty of all round interest!

Things got off to a good start this morning when I opened up Tern Hide, with a female kestrel being mobbed by a couple of jackdaws. She has been around all of this week, mostly over the old ConBloc site and car park area, but for some reason she had really put the jackdaws noses (beaks!) out of joint today. While we were watching she gave up and settled on a post, with the two jackdaws standing guard either side of her, both swift to take off and harass her again if ever she tried to take off. Eventually they got bored and she settled to preening her somewhat ruffled feathers.

The light trap was very productive last night with 23 species recorded in total, including some of the more popular regulars including a poplar hawk moth, elephant hawk moth,  couple of buff tips and the high light, a Scarce Merveille du Jour:

 

Scarce Merveille du Jour

Scarce Merveille du Jour

Also pictured is this very aptly named figure of 80 moth:

Figure 80

Figure of 80 (or 08 viewed from this angle!)

Having looked through the light trap we walked on via the Ivy North/Woodland/Ivy South Hide/Dockens Water loop where highlights included a plethora of peacock butterfly caterpillars on the stinging nettles outside Ivy North Hide, meadow brown, common blue butterflies and a female scarce chaser dragonfly in the sweep netting meadow, female emperor dragonfly outside Woodland Hide, the regular grass snake in front of Ivy South Hide, along with a painted lady butterfly and newly hatched coot chick on the nest with mum, and a  male emperor dragonfly hawking along the edge of the water skiers car park.

Lots of peacock caterpillars!

Lots of peacock caterpillars!

Just after turning the cover towards the bridge back over the river a couple more jackdaws caught my eye. They were perched either side of a large rot hole, flying up and around it and at first I thought they were maybe coaxing outside fledglings until I realised that there were bee’s flying in and out. In fact the jackdaws were snatching these apparently tasty morsels out of the air as they entered and exited their nest in the tree. Smart birds jackdaws!

We finished off with green woodpecker and a lovely male bullfinch on the lichen heath before finishing at the centre pond for a brief glimpse of another emperor dragonfly and several egg laying azure damselflies to compliment the common blue damselflies that had of course accompanied us throughout our walk.

Shortly after one of our regular visitors and accomplished photographers spotted what might have been a young raft spider on the pond – a closer look later revealed an additional two. They are still very young and are lacking the striking yellow stripes along the abdomen, but with their greenish legs I’m reasonably confident that they are raft spiders so should provide plenty of interest over the summer if the last raft spider residents of that pond, three or four years ago, are anything to go by!

 

 

 

 

Meet young Toby… the badger!

Many visitors to the Woodland Hide this afternoon were in for a real treat. Having said goodbye to the school group and finished tidying up I was settling down to go through some of the day-to-day office tasks when a young family came into the lobby and Mum told her daughters to tell me what they had seen – a badger apparently. At first assuming this was a picture they had seen on a poster I queried whether they had seen a real one and they confirmed that they had. I obviously looked like I still didn’t believe them so Mum reassured me that they had and so I left them to it to confirm it with mine own eyes, and sure enough there she/he was!

140606Blashford3 by J Day_resize

140606Blashford6 by J Day_resize

140606Blashford8 by J Day_resize

140606Blashford7 by J Day_resize

Clearly one of this years cubs by its diminutive size, it spent at least a good hour grubbing around in the leaf litter right in front of the hide! Why Toby? Because I reckon that s/he is an impatient early riser, just like my eldest, who had given up on Mum and Dad or siblings ever waking up and decided to go exploring by itself rather than wait until dark like he should do!

Another surprise was in store for the Reception Class from Queens Park Infant School today – after lunch I showed them the compost bins that there fruit peelings and cores went in and opened up the bottom of the bin so they could see the “minibeast manure” that the worms, slugs, snails and woodlice would make by eating the waste and pooing it out. Normally they are very excited by the heaving mass of woodlice in the compost but today the excitement was heightened somewhat when a reasonably large grass snake leapt out of the bin (yes, I know grass snakes shouldn’t be able to leap, but I swear this one did, though not as much as some of the watching teachers and teaching assistants!) and slithered at quite a rate of knots into an adjacent nettle patch (fortunately. At one point it looked like it might head towards the children and I’m not sure it would have survived the stampede that may have resulted!).

At least 5 grass snakes are now regularly basking on the alder logs and stumps outside Ivy South Hide at the moment (even in the rain as reported earlier in the week). There were already 2 in place when I opened up before 9am this morning:

140606Blashford4 by J Day_resize

140606Blashford5 by J Day_resize

With more of the “Aaaah” factor than the “AAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHH” factor (!) are the lapwing chicks which continue to do well outside Ivy South Hide – managed to photograph this one this morning:

Lapwing chick today

Lapwing chick today

As summer approaches we can expect to see more and more dragonfly species on the wing – today I have seen my first Emperor and scarce chaser dragonflies of the year.

 

An Emperor and a Mullet Hawk

Lots of woodland birds about but mostly hidden in the dense foliage whilst they go about their breeding business.

Out on the water, the tern rafts are well occupied. I’m told, by those with sharper eyes than mine, that there are 15 pairs of common tern.  With luck this should ensure a reasonable breeding season, although many are sharing their rafts with black-headed gulls – not a recipe for raising small tern chicks successfully.

Tern raft with compliment of common terns and black-headed gulls

Tern raft with compliment of common terns and black-headed gulls

One of the perpetual mysteries, following  successful  common tern breeding in previous years, is the apparent lack of returning youngsters.  Admittedly its very difficult to be sure of the provenance of any of the terns which breed here. Given their location on the rafts, ringing the chicks would be quite  difficult and because of the mixed age of chicks from  different pairs, the optimum time for ringing some could well disturb others and cause them to abandon the rafts, with disastrous consequences.

A few fortunate visitors were lucky enough to see an osprey passing through, although I gather it was quite distant. A old local name for these birds is mullet hawk, presumably from their habit of catching such fish around the coast and within estuaries.

At least four different damselfly species are  on the wing, common blue, azure, blue tailed  and large red.   The warmer conditions are encouraging the emergence of other insects. Yesterday  a couple of visitors spotted  this emperor dragonfly hanging up in some nettles. The strong green colouring caused some confusion at first sight and downy emerald was suggested, but on closer inspection I’m fairly sure its a freshly emerged emperor dragonfly.

Freshly emerged emperor dragonfly

Freshly emerged emperor dragonfly

 

 

 

Phew!! What a scorcher. – now you know I’ve run out of ideas for titles!!!

In a somewhat ironic (or iconic) piece of fortune the first mini-beast of the day was a gatekeeper butterfly which buzzed me as I opened up the gate to the Tern Hide car-park.

Gatekeeper or Hedge brown - keeping an eye on our gate!!

Gatekeeper or Hedge brown – keeping an eye on our gate!!

Other butterflies are really making their presence felt – not before time, following the unusually cold ( do you remember that?) spring.  A red admiral has been floating around the Education Centre and without moving too far away it’s been possible to see both large white and small white, meadow brown, speckled wood, peacock, comma, brimstone and what was almost certainly a silver-washed fritillary scuttling through.  Many of them will have been looking for nectar sources, but the plants that always used to be cited as the ‘butterfly bush’ , buddleia , have yet to produce much in the way of flowers– possibly another effect of the cold spring.

A gentle stroll around the path between Ellingham Water and Dockens water, ostensibly to do a bit of trimming back of overhanging branches and invasive brambles, produced a few bonuses in terms of dragonflies and damselflies including a fine male emperor dragonfly, a couple of brown hawker and numerous common blue damselflies,and one beautiful demoiselle. Only a keeled skimmer stayed still long enough to have its picture taken and that was from some distance away.

Keeled skimmer

A more obvious pair of megafauna graced us with a fleeting glimpse, as a female roe deer and her fawn dashed across the lichen heath.

Along the path heading south towards the Iron Age hut there are a number of broad-leaved helleborine, which are only just starting to come into flower. Disappointingly a number of them have been decapitated, probably having been nibbled by deer.  There were, however, several intact specimens, which even before fully flowering have a delightfully sweeping architectural shape.

Broad-leaved Helleborine

Broad-leaved Helleborine

but only one that had started to bloom.

Broad-leaved helleborine

First flowering spike of broad-leaved helleborine

Helleborines are in the orchid family, a fascinating group of plants with more different members than any other family of vascular plants. Genetically they are rather complicated with more DNA than many more complex plants and animals including ourselves. As a group that is currently rapidly evolving many hybrids may be formed and for this reason may present  challenges to anyone wishing to identify the species. Given my track record on plant ID, I might be foolish, but I’m pretty sure these are broad-leaved helleborine…

As it’s the time of year for interesting insects I’ll finish, as usual, with a few moths.

Pinion

Pinion

Pale prominent

Pale prominent

Small scallop

Small scallop