Moving in

Clearing the vegetation growing in front of the bug hotel a number of weeks ago has opened it up to a lot more sunlight, and as a result I noticed this week that the leaf-cutter bees have been busy and used one of the blocks of wood:

Evidence of leaf cutter bees

Evidence of leaf-cutter bees

They will happily make their homes in solitary bee hotels positioned in a sunny spot, so our south facing bug hotel is ideal.

The females collect sections of leaf which they chew into a pulp and mix with saliva to create the walls of a cell for their offspring. Inside each cell she lays an egg and leaves it with a mixture of pollen and nectar on which to feed. The cells are then sealed up before she moves on to the next one, and finally she plugs the hole to the whole cavity with more leaf pulp. The young will develop over winter and emerge the following year.

I had a good look at the other blocks of wood the Young Naturalists had drilled holes in and added to the hotel and noticed another had four holes each with a solitary bee in it, the weather was not so nice so they were probably deciding whether or not to venture out. One did emerge from its hole, flew to a couple of bramble flowers then decided to fly back to the comfort of the wood.

As well as enjoying the comfort of the bug hotel the bees have been favouring the rather large thistle which has sprung up behind the Education Shelter.

Whilst by the bug hotel I spotted a couple of dark bush-crickets on the ground below:

Dark bush cricket

Dark bush-cricket

Bush-crickets have very long thread-like antennae, compared to grasshoppers which have much shorter antennae.

When the sunshine has been out female emperor dragonflies have been busy ovipositing or egg-laying in the newer of the two ponds by the Education Centre. They can lay hundreds of eggs over their adult lives, in batches over a few days or weeks. The eggs are elongated in shape and laid into plant material on or near the surface of the water using a scythe-like ovipositor.

Emperor dragonfly

Female Emperor dragonfly egg laying

Whilst having lunch earlier in the week I was joined by a red admiral, which seemed very happy to settle on the gravel and let me get very close for a photo:

Red admiral

Red admiral

I also managed to get my first ever photo of a ruby-tailed wasp… but they do not hang around for long so it is a bit of a distant photo!

Ruby tailed wasp

Ruby-tailed wasp

They are though very beautiful to look at, even if from a distance. Ruby-tailed wasps are also solitary, however instead of doing all the work themselves like the leaf-cutter bees mentioned above, the females lay their eggs in the nests of other solitary bees and wasps, favouring mason bees in particular. When the eggs hatch, they eat the larvae of the mason bees, giving the ruby-tailed wasp its other name of ‘Cuckoo Wasp’.

Parasitising other bees’ nests is risky, but the ruby-tailed wasp has a number of defences. It has a concave abdomen which allows it to curl up tightly into a ball and it has a hard body cuticle that protects it from the stings of the host species. They can sting themselves, but this sting is not venomous.

Recent highlights from the light trap have included this black arches and eyed hawk-moth:

The planters in front of the Centre are still attracting lots of bees including the green-eyed flower bees we have shared photos of in the past. Earlier in the week there was a tiny species of yellow-faced bee on the astrantia along with a sawfly of some description:

Yellow faced bee

Yellow-faced bee

Sawfly

Sawfly

The mini meadow by the Welcome Hut is still good for butterflies when the sun has been shining, with four skippers dancing round each other earlier in the week. There have also been ringlet in the area of long grass and bramble by the boat, along with comma and red admiral on the wing fairly regularly. The gatekeepers are also now flying, the adults emerge slightly later in the season and are also known as hedge browns.

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper

All the small things

I spent some time in the meadow last Thursday and again yesterday, it feels as though it is going over more quickly than usual this year because it has been so dry so it was nice to take a closer look and see which insects are on the wing.

Last week I found a male and female bee-wolf, a solitary wasp that digs a nest in a sandy spot and hunts honey bees. The males gather together to form a lek, where each male defends a small territory and uses pheromones to attract a female. The females work a lot harder, digging a nesting burrow which can be up to one metre long and may have as many as 34 side burrows that end in brood chambers. Once excavation on the burrow has begun, the female will prey on honeybee workers, paralysing them with a sting and bringing them back to the burrow. Up to six paralysed bees can be placed into one chamber then a single egg is laid on one of the bees and chamber is sealed up with sand. After hatching, the larvae feed on the honeybees before spinning a cocoon to hibernate in throughout the winter, emerging in the spring.

I also found a number of different solitary bees enjoying the ox-eye daisies. I’ve been trying to learn a few more bees this year, but the solitary ones are quite hard. They were fun to photograph though!

I also spotted a ladybird larva, a female thick-legged flower beetle (the males have the thick back legs) and a pair of fairy-ring longhorn beetles.

The highlight yesterday was this small skipper, the only butterfly I saw in the meadow when I visited:

When I was there yesterday I had two great views of a fox cub, both sightings took me by surprise so there is no photo, but it first walked up the slope outside the meadow then a bit later came through the ox-eye daisies in the middle before disappearing through the fence. I’m assuming it was the same cub, but I suppose it could have been two different ones.

In the woodland there are lots of scorpion flies on the nettles and I also spotted a speckled bush cricket nymph. The dock are being devoured by the larvae of the green dock beetle, who have completely stripped the leaves from many. If you look closely you can see the larvae along with the occasional shiny green beetle.

I also had my first sightings of grass snake yesterday, although my first was actually this dead one on the path near the meadow, I’m assuming it was predated by a bird:

dead grass snake

Dead grass snake

Having a dead grass snake as my first for this year, I decided to go down towards Ivy South hide and see if I could spot a live one in the dead hedge and was rewarded with two:

There were two there again this morning.

Going back to the reserve’s insect life, the planters outside the front of the centre are still continuing to attract large numbers of bees, hoverflies, horseflies, shield bugs and damselflies and this morning I had glimpses of a dark bush cricket and a ruby tailed wasp. Sadly no photos of either, I will have to keep looking every time I walk past…

The moth trap numbers have decreased again with the drop in temperature, but last week there was a very smart eyed hawk-moth in the trap and yesterday there was a spectacle moth:

You can guess how the spectacle moth gets his name…

Yesterday I noticed a jay spending quite a bit of time on the ground outside the back of the Centre and I watched it for some time sunning itself, stretching its wings, shaking and preening. It could have been dust bathing, but the picnic bench was in the way to see properly. After a while I managed to get a few photos:

It was joined by a great spotted woodpecker, who spent some time hopping around on the ground, possibly looking for ants, before flying up to a tree.

The woodpecker was sat calling from the bench a short while ago, so it must be a favoured spot.

30 Days Wild – Day 4

I started the day by emptying the moth trap at work and then at Blashford, between them there were three species of hawk-moth, privet, pine and eyed. The still conditions meant that there were  a few more micro moths than on some recent nights. A number were Tortrix moths.

Tortrix

Grey Tortrix species

There are several grey Tortrix moths a number of which cannot be identified with certainty without rather closer inspection than can be done in a photograph.

another Tortrix

Another grey Tortrix moth

Luckily some are rather easier, such as this one Apotomis turbidana.

Apotomis turbidana

Apotomis turbidana

Blashford has a lot of nectar sources for insects at the moment, one of the best in hemlock water dropwort.

hemlock water dropwort

hemlock water dropwort

In the shadier wooded areas there are stands of foxglove, not as accessible as the dropwort for many smaller insects, but still great for bumble bees.

foxglove

foxgloves

Back at home I was pleased to see the first wild carrot now in flower, like a lot of the Umbellifers it is a great nectar source for lots of smaller insects.

wild carrot

wild carrot

As the carrot is starting to flower the yellow rattle is coming to and end, with just a few still flowering.

yellow rattle

yellow rattle

I was going to feature my emperor moth caterpillars this evening, but then I came across a very fine mullein moth caterpillar eating figwort.

mullein moth caterpillar

mullein moth caterpillar

I also saw that one of the brimstone caterpillars on my alder buckthorn is now very well grown, hopefully they will get to pupate this year, last year they all got eaten just before they changed.

brimstone caterpillar

brimstone caterpillar

30 Days Wild – Day 9 – Fair Play

I was at Roydon’s Wood Fair for most of the day, so I was working, but it was a very enjoyable day and there were lots of people visiting. As usual there were lots of stalls with a general New Forest/Woodland craft theme, so anything from willow weaving to venison rolls via woodcarving and local honey and cider.

Setting up for th eWood Fair

Setting up at the Wood Fair

One of the activities I did was a guided walk, actually just a short stroll into one of the meadows beside the site. There were meadow brown and large skipper butterflies and a Mother Shipton moth, lots of common spotted orchid and, an all too brief flyover sighting of two hawfinch. 

Roydon is a remarkable site, a complex mix of unimproved, flower-rich, damp meadows, heathland and woodland. It also has the virtues we would seek in all conservation sites, large size and linkage to a wildlife-rich wider countryside in the New Forest.

Oak half alive

An oak tree, undoubtedly on its way out, but still wonderful wildlife habitat with deadwood and dense ivy cover.

I also did a session looking at the moth trap catches, despite the catches being rather low there were still crowd pleasers like privet hawk-moth, eyed hawk-moth and buff-tip. I also spotted a hobby flying over as we were looking at them.

It seemed that well over a thousand people came along to the event, in just about perfect weather, pleasantly warm, but not too hot, with a breeze but not too windy. Given the recent weather we have had and what is predicted for the coming week, this was a very good day to have chosen.

30 Days Wild – Day 22: Punctuated

It was thankfully cooler today which allowed us to do some work along the open western shore of Ibsley Water. As it was Thursday the “us” was the famous Blashford volunteer team. We were trimming brambles and pulling ragwort. I know ragwort is a great nectar source, but in this case we are trying to establish grassland where there has been bramble, willow and nettlebeds, this means mowing, but as we have ponies on site we need to remove the ragwort first. Ponies will rarely eat growing ragwort, but if cut and mixed in grass they will and so can get poisoned.

This shore was dominated by huge beds of ragwort and nettles but years of cutting and light grazing are taking effect and we now have mostly grassland with patches of ox-eye daisy, bird’s foot trefoil and other more desirable species. In turn this is attracting insects such as long-winged conehead.

IMG_1898

long-winged conehead, female nymph

We saw a good few butterflies including good numbers of comma. It seems they are having a very good year and the fresh summer brood emerging now is particularly strong. This generation will breed and produce another generation of adult in the autumn which will them hibernate.

IMG_1916

comma

They get their name from the white comma-shaped marking on the under-wing, which is not visible in this shot. Their ragged wing outline makes them less butterfly-shaped and so harder for predators to find, this is especially so when the wings are closed.

I ran two moth traps last night, only about 50m apart, but one under trees and the other in the open. An illustration of what a difference location makes is seen from the number of hawk-moths caught. The one in the open contained 8 elephant hawk-moth, a pine hawk-moth and 2 poplar hawk-moth, whereas the one under the trees contained just one eyed hawk-moth.

As you will have gathered from this blog, I am a fan of insects in general, even horseflies, although I am less keen on them when they come into the office as this one did today.

IMG_1922

Chrysops relictus female

It is the females that bite, so it would be better if this one went outside again.

 

It’s Good to have a Hobby

And even better to have two! Which is what we saw today hunting insects over Ivy Lake when we went to put out another of the tern rafts. These sickle-winged falcons winter south of the Sahara and fly north to breed along with their favourite prey, swallows and martins. Watching them swooping to catch flying insects is a fantastic experience, you can only marvel at their mastery of the air, one of the great sights of summer.

The tern rafts are gradually being deployed, so far the terns have looked interested but failed to occupy any of the rafts before they have been dominated by pairs of  black-headed gull. It is always a problem getting the timing right and this is why I deploy the rafts one or two at a time, at some point the terns must surely be ready to take control of one.

preparing the tern raft

Preparing a tern raft

There have been at least 30 common tern around regularly and they have been doing courtship flights and bringing food, so I think they should be ready to settle soon. So far there has been little sign of much tern passage, apart from a few beautiful black tern, the biggest group so far being 5 on Sunday afternoon. Little gull are usually birds of passage that stay at most a day or so , which makes the fine adult that has been frequenting  Ibsley Water for several days something of an exception. It was there again today, although I don’t think anyone saw the Bonaparte’s gull. Other birds have included a few dunlin and common sandpiper and last week a bar-tailed godwit.

Barwit

Bar-tailed godwit

In recent posts we have featured a number of pictures of lapwing chicks, sadly I don’t think any of them have survived. This season has been a good one for the number of pairs and in general hatching success has been quite good, but the chicks have been disappearing fast. I think a combination of dry weather and predators is the cause. Dry conditions mean the chicks get brought to the lakeshore to seek food, as all their favoured puddles are gone, unfortunately the shore is regularly patrolled by fox and other predators, as it regularly has washed up food in the shape of dead birds and fish. The foxes may not be actively seeking the chicks but they will not refuse one should they come across it. Sadly a similar lack of success is befalling the little ringed plover, but at least they will continue to try and may yet succeed before the summer is out.

LRP

Little ringed plover near Tern hide.

The cold winds are making moth trapping a slow business, with few species flying, although we have caught an eyed hawk-moth and a couple of poplar hawk-moth recently.

poplar hawk

Poplar hawk-moth

Hawks and Colour Rings

By the standards of this summer today was a good day, it hardly rained and certainly not enough tot prevent working outside all day. The night was also dry and this resulted in a fair catch of moths including a couple of hawk-moths.

elephant hawk-moth

They are both common species but always a treat to see.

eyed hawk-moth

There were also lots of less flashy species, including a bloodvein.

bloodvein

And  a few are downright tiny.

Caleophora albitarsella

This is one of the most distinctive of a large group of very small moths that make a leaf case to live in as caterpillars, they then move around rather like a snail. The shape of the leaf case is often the easiest way to identify the species as the adult moths look very similar to one another.

We spent the morning path cutting on the far side of Ellingham Lake, I say “we” as I have the assistance of a school student on placement. The chance to get outdoor work done without getting soaked was too good to miss so in the afternoon we weeded a section of the shore in front of the Tern hide to improve the view and see off some of the perennial weeds and small trees that have seeded in there. It was even warm enough for us to see a few butterflies and other insects including this pair of beetles, sometimes known as blood-suckers.

Rhagonycha fulva

The count of mute swan on Ivy Lake continues to rise and I counted at least 42 this evening. On Iblsey Water from the Tern hide as I locked up I saw 2 common sandpiper, a dunlin in very fine summer plumage and a colour-ringed cormorant, I have yet to establish exactly which scheme it is from, but I think it is one from France, hopefully more to follow on this. The combination seems to be blue above white on the right leg and orange over green on the left.

cormorant with colour rings

Good News for Drivers

The day dawned misty and atmospheric, as I opened up the hides the sun was just starting to burn through as you can see from the picture of Ivy lake from the Ivy South hide.

Ivy Lake from Ivy South hide

The night was mild again and as a result the number of moths in the trap continue to rise, nothing really interesting but several species that are always a pleasure to see. As I was lifting out the egg boxes I disturbed an eyed hawk-moth and it spread the forewings to reveal the eyes.

eyed hawk moth disturbed

There were also 2 scorched wings, not unusual but very splendid, although difficult to get to settle on an interesting background.

scorched wing

For regular visitors, or indeed anyone who has tried driving down the track to the Education Centre in recent weeks, I have good news. Tomorrow the pot-holes are going to be filled in! This does mean that it will not be possible to drive to the Centre whilst the work is in progress, but a slightly longer walk is a small price to pay for not getting your car shaken to bits. Hopefully it will only take a few hours and should make things much better until such time as we can secure funding to get a tarmac surface laid. If you are intending to visit tomorrow the only parking will be in the Main Car Park on the north side of Ellingham Drove beside the Tern hide.