30 Days Wild – Day 20 – A Leopard

Back at Blashford and checking the moth trap I found it contained a leopard moth, these strange moths have larvae that eat wood. They tunnel into the stems of living trees and shrubs, typically in branches and take two or three years to grow to sufficient size to pupate. The moth was rather battered, they are a moth which doe snot seem to stay in good condition for very long.

battered leopard moth

leopard moth

It seems I missed one in much better condition in the trap in Monday, although the books say they are quite common this is a species I do not see every year, so two in the week is good for Blashford.

There a a fair few other moths, but nothing of great note and the only other one that I had not seen so far this year was a tiny micro-moth.

Caloptilia populetorum

Caloptilia populetorum

I am not sure if I have seen this species before, it’s larvae eat birch so you might think is would be common and widespread, however it seems to be quite local. Clearly there are many other factors that influence their distribution.

After a morning at Blashford I had to go over to Fishlake at lunchtime. I was meeting with members of the Trust’s grazing team about getting some of their British White cattle onto the reserve to help preserve the varied fen vegetation. The fields look very attractive with purple loostrife, comfrey, meadow sweet, common meadow-rue and much more.

meadow rue with tree bumble-bee

common meadow-rue, with tree bumble-bee

If the meadows are so good you might ask why graze them? The answer is to keep them in this state. Years without grazing have seen them start to scrub over in places and become more dominated by very tall vigorous species, shading out the lower growing plants.

The tree bumble-bee hovering to the right of the picture is one of the more distinctive bumble-bees, with a brown thorax and black abdomen with a white tail end. This is a recent colonist of the UK arriving at the turn of the millennium and being first found in Southampton. As far as we know it crossed the channel unaided and has now travelled up the country as far as northern Scotland and west to Ireland.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

It was warm and sunny when I arrived home and a quick look in the meadow revealed lots of insects, best was a skipper butterfly, my first in the garden this year.

Essex skipper on wild carrot

Essex skipper on wild carrot

The Essex and small skipper are very similar, best separated by the black underside to the tip of the antennae. The picture seems to show they are present on this one making it an Essex skipper.

 

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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

Of caterpillars and butterflies…

Nothing particularly of note to report from today, other than the fact that after a brief absence there was once more grass snakes on the logs in front of the Ivy South Hide today. I suspect that rather than basking to warm up in the current hot and muggy weather conditions they had sought out a waterside location to try and cool down! A good catch of invertebrates (and baby newts, or efts) was enjoyed by participants in the pond dipping for grown ups event this morning, but it was actually these very small cinnabar moth caterpillars feeding on ragwort by the pond that caught my eye:

Cinnabar moth caterpillars

Cinnabar moth caterpillars

A number of our volunteers have planned and been running a couple of butterfly transacts this summer, one taking in the north of the site, the second the south. Blashford has never really struck me as being a particularly good butterfly site in the past and certainly it isn’t the place to go for a likely encounter with a rarity, but actually the figures when looked at in black and white are leading me to reconsider my thoughts on this, and, as with so much at Blashford, the diversity of habitats within the reserve is reflected by an equally diverse butterfly population, though by far the most common, so far this year at least, is the meadow brown.

More on this (the transects) will follow in later blogs I know, but a chance encounter with one of our regular visitors, Sue Lambert, did educate me on the intricacies of identification between small and Essex skippers the other day. I had always assumed that the small skippers in and around the Ivy North Meadow were just that, small skippers, but it turns out that close inspection of the colour of the tips of the antennae has revealed the presence of both small and Essex skippers. Thanks to Sue for e-mailing the following pictures that illustrate the difference:

Essex skipper by Sue Lambert

Essex skipper by Sue Lambert

Small skipper by Sue Lambert

Small skipper by Sue Lambert