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.

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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.

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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.

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Chrysops relictus female

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

 

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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.

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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.