30 Days Wild – Day 25

As usual my day started with a check through my garden moth trap, the moth highlight was a lobster moth, which was not in the trap but on the house wall. As usual it was a male, I have always hoped to get a female one day so I could obtain some eggs and rear their extraordinary caterpillars, which I have never seen.

lobster moth

lobster moth (male)

Not all the insects attracted are moths and the other highlight was a cream-streaked ladybird.

cream-streaked ladybird

cream-streaked ladybird

Mid-summer is typically a time when very little changes when it comes to the birds on the reserve, there are ever more youngsters around as the breeding season progresses, but generally until autumn passage gets going not much change in the species present. So I got a bit of a surprise when I went over to check to on the Tern Hide, as I approached I heard a Mediterranean gull calling, not too surprising as we get them quite regularly, although they did not breed this year, but then I could also hear a common gull. Common gull typically breed on moorland lakes and I have never seen one at Blashford in mid-summer, what was more this was an adult bird, a younger one would at least have been more likely.

common gull

common gull (adult)

One regular change at this time is the arrival of lot so geese to moult, the local geese are greylag, Canada and Egyptian. With so many in one place we do get occasional visitors, such as a Ross’s goose the other day, an escapee from somewhere, but without rings. This time I saw a single barnacle goose, another species that is establishing a feral population.

barnacle goose

barnacle goose

The native range of both barnacle and Ross’s geese is the far Arctic north, at least barnacle gees do winter in the UK, but the Ross’s wintering areas are the Pacific coast of N. America. I had wondered if these two would stay to moult with the local geese, when they moult they are flightless for a period, which is why they choose to do so on the largest body of water they can find and why Ibsley Water attracts so many, however both seem to have been one day wonders.

Another fine evening meant another walk out onto the heath from home. There are still lots of silver-studded blue around and they were roosting in the tops of the heather as the sun went down.

silver-studded blue

silver-studded blue

I also found a tiny and very well marked micro moth called Aristotelia ericinella, which appropriately enough has caterpillars which eat heather.

Aristotelia ericinella

Aristotelia ericinella

This summer has been very good for grasshoppers and on the heaths there are lots of field grasshopper and at the margins if there is more grass, or it is a little damper there will be meadow grasshopper too. I was a little surprised to find a woodland grasshopper out in the open heather though, as they usually utilise grassy rides within woodland.

woodland grasshopper

woodland grasshopper

30 Days Wild – Day 24

Not a lot to report from Wednesday, I was busy with non-wildlife things and then it got so hot that I could not get out into the open for long, When it gets really hot a lot of insects will seek out shade and stop flying. The brown butterflies do this very readily , perhaps unsurprisingly ringlet, as the darkest, most frequently. Being dark allows better heat absorption in cooler days, but in really hot weather overheating becomes a real risk.

Some insects don’t seem to mind, wasps seem to keep going well, maybe not being hairy like bees makes them less prone to overheating. Another group that just carry on are the grasshoppers. I seem to remember reading somewhere that the pitch of their stridulations gets higher with temperature. I made a short walk onto the heath close to home and there were lots of wasps, all far too lively to get pictures of and many grasshoppers. The area has a dry bank running into a valley mire. The drier area has lots of field grasshopper, whilst the mire has a good population of the now nationally rare large marsh grasshopper. Although they are our largest grasshopper they do not have a loud stridulation, it actually sounds like a gently dripping tap. I could not find a large marsh grasshopper to photograph but did find a common green grasshopper.

common green grasshopper

common green grasshopper

In fact common green grasshoppers are not particularly common locally, they seem to become more so as you head north and west.

A Full House

The poor weather over the last couple of days has brought in huge numbers of hirundines, that is swallows and martins, to Ibsley Water. there are especially very large numbers of house martin, they are impossible to count but I estimated at least 5000 today with probably 1000 swallow and at least 500 sand martin. Everywhere you looked over the water there were birds and then, scanning upward against the clouds there were many, many hundreds more. These higher birds are mostly house martin the swallow and sand martin tend to keep lower. They gather over water in an effort to find insects in weather when there are few flying elsewhere, often they pick prey directly from the surface of the lake.

The other aerial plankton feeder of summer is the swift, they mostly leave around the end of July, but a few can linger and searching through the hirundines can sometimes result in finding one and today was just such a time. Swift in September is a scarce bird, in fact in some years I don’t see one after mid August.

Other birds today included a hobby, lured in by the masses of martins as potential prey, although I did not see it catch one. The great white egret was around on and off, the ruff of the last few days was joined by another by the end of the day, when there were also 2 juvenile Arctic tern. A single black-tailed godwit dropped in for a while and there were 2 sanderling reported.

This is really not the weather for moths, so tomorrow’s planned “Moth Event” promises to be a bit of a damp squib. Today’s catch total a massive two moths! I suspect tonight may well be worse. The highlight was a fresh frosted orange, always a nice sight.

Frosted orange

Frosted orange

Several people mentioned the very good show of flower put on by our small patches of heather near Ivy North hide this year, in fact there at small patches of heather in several places across the lichen heath and I suspect these will expand in the coming years. All of this heather is the common ling, but we do have one plant of bell heather Erica cinerea on the reserve and this is in full flower now, somewhat after the ling has finished.

bell heather

bell heather

Although it is feeling very like autumn already there are still some reminders of summer out there, such as grasshoppers, I found this somewhat atypically coloured field grasshopper near the bell heather at the end of last week.

field grasshopper

field grasshopper

On the Hop

On Tuesday we were working on the western shore of Ibsley Water again with the volunteers. Over the years we have been controlling ragwort and nettle that used to be the dominant here to convert it to grassland, at last we are seeing some real results. Much of it is now mainly grass with a good range of herb species, especially bird’s-foot trefoil. We are also seeing a lot more butterflies and other insects, marbled white are especially frequent in the grass there now.

As we worked I heard a lot of Roesel’s bush-cricket and saw field grasshopper and meadow grasshopper. The grassy sward is not ideal for all species though, the mottled grasshopper likes grassland with lots of bare ground and very dry conditions, at Blashford they are mostly found on the lichen heath.

mottled grasshopper male 2

mottled grasshopper (male)

One distinctive thing about the males of this species is that the ends of the antennae are bent out and swollen, they are also our smallest grasshopper. The males were chirruping, or more correctly stridulating, the object of this is to attract a female and I found one that was evidently playing the right song.

grasshopper pair

mottled grasshopper pair

The females are quite a bit larger and have more conventional grasshopper antennae.