30 Days Wild – Day 23

A day off to receive a delivery and get work done on my car, so spent at or within walking distance of home. I had planned to do some gardening, but it was too hot to do anything very strenuous, so most of the time was spent insect watching. The mini-meadow is still looking great with field scabious and knapweed now taking over as key nectar sources.

knapweed

knapweed

There are lots more “bit-part players” as well like the lady’s bedstraw, which are not very showy but add variety and support other species.

lady's bedstraw

lady’s bedstraw

The most obvious flowering plant now is the wild carrot, it attracts lots of species with an easy to land on flower head and a bit of easy food for a wide range of species.

lacewing

lacewing on wild carrot

With so many insects around at present it is unsurprising that there are predators, I came across my first robberfly in the garden this year.

robberfly

Tolmerus cingulatus

I had thought that I would not get free to do very much, but as it happened all my ties were dealt with by lunchtime, so I went onto the Heath for a short time in the early afternoon. It was very hot, this is usually a place I go at dusk, so It was great to see it int he heat of the day. The area is a conifer plantation that has been partly cleared and the rest thinned. I really wants to be heath and everywhere there is enough light getting to the ground is now covered in heather. I was amazed by the huge numbers of sliver-studded blue everywhere, in areas only cleared last year and even under the thinner areas of pines. Although it is often said they spread only very slowly, perhaps just a few tens of metres per year, where they get a new opportunity they can evidently spread much faster than that. There were also lots of wasps of many species, none of which I could identify and fabulous bog flora such as bog asphodel and sundews.

bog asphodel

bog asphodel

oblong-leaved sundew

oblong-leaved sundew

The heat made photographing insects difficult as they were so active, but at least the longhorn beetles were a bit easier.

yellow-and-black longhorn

yellow-and-black longhorn, seemingly being attacked by an ant.

30 Days Wild – Day 11

I started the day going through my garden moth trap, the highlight was a pine hawk-moth, a species that was rare in England before the large scale planting of conifers in the years after WW1. I often catch them as I have a large conifer plantation under 200m from the house. Although I see them frequently they are often very worn, so this very fresh one was a treat.

pine hawk 4x3

pine hawk-moth

The only native pine in the UK is the Scots pine and that is a true native only in Scotland and the very north-east of England. It used to grow across most of the country, colonising after the last Ice Age, but as deciduous trees took hold it was out competed and became extinct. The pine hawk-moth occurs only in the southern half of the UK outside the range of native pines, so it is here only thanks to the planting of pines by people.

I also caught a couple of species for the first time this year, one was the uncertain, a splendid name for a moth and one that has recently become even more apposite. The uncertain looks similar to another moth, the rustic, but regular moth trapper would usually be happy to say they could tell them apart reliably. However recently it has been realised that some uncertains look just like some rustics and the features thought to differentiate them are not entirely reliable, so they are in fact “uncertain”, unless dissected and I don’t want to go there. Having said all that I still think this one is an uncertain rather than a rustic.

uncertain

I am pretty sure this is an uncertain!

The other new one was a common Pyralid moth, Endotricha flammealis, I say it is common, but actually this is only the case in the south of England, although it is spreading northwards, probably helped by climate change.

Endotricha flammealis

Endotricha flammealis

The rain seems to have encouraged a few more plants to flower, it has certainly greened things up a bit and will no doubt result in a growth spurt in vegetation everywhere. In my mini-meadow the perforate St John’s wort is just starting to flower.

perforate St John's wort

perforate St John’s wort

I also saw my first knapweed flower today, these are a great nectar source for loads of insects and along with the field scabious the most popular flowers in the meadow in mid-summer.

knapweed

knapweed

Although I refer to this part of the garden as a mini-meadow this is wrong as a meadow is an area where grass is cut and taken away as a crop, this means cut in June or early July, so some species that don’t usually set seed before that time do not typically occur in them. What I have is more of a herb-rich permanent grassland, I cut most of it in the autumn, far too late for a hay cut and even then I cut it in patches so I don’t remove too much of the grass all at once. I also cut at different heights and dethatch some bits to increase the diversity within my small patch. I have to take care not to knock down any  anthills, of which there are now quite a few, as these increase the surface area and provide extra diversity.

30 Days Wild – Day 8

My day started with a rare sight from my kitchen window, a pheasant walking across the lawn.

pheasant

cock pheasant

Pheasants are not native to the UK and owe their existence here to birds released by shoots. Millions are released in early autumn each year, most will die, either shot, starved, predated or in accidents, but perhaps 3 million will survive. They would probably die out within a few years without the constant introductions.

I was at Fishlake Meadows to help Jo with a few fallen trees over the fences before the cattle arrive next week. I know how much Jo likes her “Things on fence posts” so here is my contribution, a lesser stag beetle.

lesser stag beetle

lesser stag beetle

I also saw a very smart five-spot burnet moth in Ashley Meadow.

five-spot burnet

five-spot burnet

Later at Blashford I had the butterfly transects to do, probably for the last time this year as the volunteers will be taking over again next. Still rather few butterflies, but I did see my first marbled white of the year. It was good fro longhorn beetles though.

black-and-yellow longhorn

black-and-yellow longhorn

It has been noticeable that rabbit numbers are increasing again, after several years of scarcity. I saw this one, very alert, as befits the times, on the Lichen Heath.

alert rabbit

alert rabbit

Rabbits are another introduced species in the UK and were carefully looked after in special Warrens, but as they “breed like rabbits” over time they adapted to our landscape and became better at surviving here without help.

I ended my day back in the garden, this time seeing the first field scabious flower of the year open in the mini-meadow, a favourite with lots of insects.

field scabious

field scabious

30 Days Wild – Day 5

You may have got the impression from yesterday’s three pictures of Tortrix moths that they are all grey or at best black and white, but nothing could be further from the truth and to prove it here is a very different one.

Agapeta zoeganaAgapeta zoegana

This one was in my garden moth trap, the caterpillar eats the roots of knapweed and probably field scabious, both of which I have growing in my garden mini-meadow.

My journey to work takes me across the New Forest and from time to time I see interesting wildlife on my way. This morning’s top spot went to a hawfinch which flew low over the road in front of me.

By contrast things at Blashford were pretty quiet today, the patchy weather perhaps not helping, with several showers and the wind pretty strong at times too. One surprise though was a pair of gadwall on the Education Centre dipping pond when I was emptying the moth trap. I have often seen mallard on there, but gadwall I had not expected.

Towards the end of the afternoon I went down to Ivy South to check on the common terns nesting on the raft. With the iffy weather I knew all the birds with clutches would be sure to be sitting tight. In addition the wind meant the rafts were swinging a bit so I could see from slightly different angles, with luck I hoped to get a good count of the sitting birds.

terns on raft 4x3

Nesting terns on Ivy Lake raft

I concluded there are certainly 23 nests on this raft, probably 24, and possibly 25, there is also one gull nest. In addition there is another on the other raft along with several black-headed gull and an additional pair which don’t seem to have settled yet. So the total is a minimum of 25 pairs and perhaps up to 27. There also appears to be one pair still milling around on Ibsley Water. The density of nests on this raft is amazing, it is only 2.4m x 2.4m (8ft x 8ft) so the total area is 5.75 square metres, there are at least 24 nests which gives each pair just under a quarter of a square metre each (50cm x 50cm).

Although our tern colony is not large but it is important as over the years it has been one of the most productive in the country, sometimes fledging over two chick for each nesting pair, typically productivity is between 0.5-1.0 chicks per pair on average across a colony. So you could say it is as important as perhaps a 100 strong colony might be elsewhere. Terns live a long time, 20 years and more, so the chicks produced at Blashford over the years will probably be out there in colonies all over southern England. One thing that is certain is that few return to us, if they did our colony would be in the low hundreds of pairs by now!

Overall, so far at least, this seems to be a good breeding season for lots of species. The fine weather suited most of the small birds, with perhaps only the thrushes not liking the dry conditions, The coot and moorhen have done well, they will have benefited from the good weather but their success also suggests we do not have a significant issue with mink on the reserve just now.

young moorhen

young moorhen

A successful early brood is doubly important for moorhens, as once full grown the offspring of the first brood will help to rear the next. This helps the parents, meaning the second brood can be larger but it also means the young will have experience in what it takes to rear a brood, making them more likely to succeed when they first nest themselves next spring.

30 Days Wild – Day 30!

Another 30 Days over. I was at home doing various domestic tasks, but decided to do a home “Bioblitz” and managed to record just over 200 species, with one or two more yet to be identified. In many ways it was a disappointing day, despite sunshine and warmth, hoverflies were very few indeed, both in number and species, in fact insects generally were few.

I only included plants that are native or established in the wild and that are either in the garden without my assistance or if I have seeded them here they must be established and seeding themselves. This allows me to include the plants in the mini-meadow, such as knapweed, field scabious and ox-eye daisy, which we added by me.

I started with the moth trap, so twenty species to start with, not a great catch, but not bad for an actinic trap in a suburban garden.

Dioryctria abietella

Dioryctria abietella

Dioryctria abietella is a fairy common Pyralid moth, the larvae feeding on various conifers in gardens and plantations.

I did not stay at home all day though, I wen to the tip, now the traditional Sunday activity in suburbia, since the decline in home car washing. I also ventured out to Lepe Country Park., where there were a good range of butterflies including my first white admiral of the year. I did not manage a picture of that, but I did get a male green-eyed flower bee which had stopped for a brief spot of sun bathing.

green-eyed flower bee

green-eyed flower bee

So the end of another 30 Days Wild, hopefully lots of people have got involved this year, it seems to be a growing thing year on year. There is no doubt that concern for environmental issues had grown and it is even starting to pop up on the political agenda from time to time. I have worked in nature conservation for forty years and throughout this time the objective of the movement has been to try to save and enhance habitats whilst changing hearts and minds. The hope being that some of the best has been saved for the time when there is general agreement that we need to do thing differently and we learn to live with nature not compete with it.

So how far have we got in forty years? Honestly not far, awareness of the problems might have increased, but the problems have worsened dramatically. If we are to have much at all worth saving the next forty years are going to have to be very different, the pace needs to pick up dramatically. Even then the twin juggernauts of money and power are not going to give up their grip over the direction of travel easily, whilst there is profit to be made from “Dewilding” I suspect hopes significant of “Rewilding” are going to be unfulfilled.

We do know more now, we are better informed, but much of what is coming to the fore now has been around for the entirety of my working life without making much impact. The “Bigger and more Joined-up” ideal for conservation sites results from work done and published in the 1960’s – it just took forty years to catch on. Rewilding projects date back even longer, but are only now receiving much attention. Climate change and global warming warnings have likewise been around for longer than I have been working, the term “Global warming” in this context was coined in 1975.

So pretty much all that we have manged to get over into the wider public domain is what was already available when I started working. I like to remain positive, in fact there is nothing else to be, but we need the hearts and minds to be stirred to action if things are actually going to change meaningfully.

It is still possible to spend 30 Days Wild, but we need to looking to spend 30 Days not just Wild but Wilder, each and every year. So enjoy your local wildlife, try to make space for more of it in your life at every level, every tiny action that is positive for wildlife is  Rewilding, don’t leave it to the big landowners and conservation charities. It is only mass participation in action that will bring results, leaving to the well-meaning just is not  going to be enough.

sunset crows

the sun going down on 30 Days Wild

 

30 Days Wild – Day 14 – It’s Not Just Grass!

A day off catching up with domestic tasks, so wildlife watching was largely restricted to the garden. The mini-meadow is looking very fine at present, it may only be 5m by 4m, but it is packed with flowers and has  a very good structure. The term “structure” in relations to grasslands means the variation in height and the layering of the vegetation. A well structured grassland will have vegetation at every level. In mine the lowest level is occupied by lesser stitchwort, mouse-eared hawkweed, cowslip, bugle, bird’s-foot trefoil and white clover. Slightly higher is the yellow rattle, creeping buttercup, dandelion, ribwort plantain, red clover and bloody cranesbill.  Higher still are the ox-eye daisy, hawkbits, field scabious, perforated St John’s wort, meadow buttercup and corky-fruited water-dropwort. The top layer is mostly taken by knapweed. There are several different grass species and a number of other herbs dotted about. 

This structure allows insects to move about all through the area at every level and light can get through to the ground. This is the opposite of an intensive grassland where the objective is a dense even grass sward, these may be fields, but they are really high yield grass crops, with high biomass and low biodiversity. Traditional forage crops were hay, and repeated cropping tended to increase biodiversity and and reduce the biomass. It is easy to see why farmers seeking lots of forage would move to an intensive model, but the result has been a 97% loss of herb rich grasslands in the UK in a lifetime.

“Views over green fields” might be trumpeted by estate agents or implicit in the idea of the “Green Belt”, but green fields are ones that have lost their biodiversity. Similarly green lawns, verges and civic areas are ones that have had their diversity and wildlife stripped away. It is easy to see why agricultural grasslands have been “improved” to increase their productivity, these are businesses seeking to make a profit. Despite this most of the best remaining herb-rich grasslands are on farms and farmers are at the forefront of improving the situation.

So why are local authorities and corporate owners of mown grasslands so set on removing their variety has always been a mystery to me. Many years ago I worked at a Country Park and took to leaving the banks and other areas not walked on to be cut just once a year, mowing the rest as paths and patches around picnic tables. Pretty soon we had meadow brown, common blue and marbled white flying between the picnic places. However I soon got complaints, not from the site users, but from councillors and others who declared it “untidy”, I did not give up but as soon as I moved on they restored the old regime.

P1050731

My mini-meadow, it really is not difficult to have diverse wildlife friendly spaces rather than dewilded grass.

Some land uses demand regular mowing, but it should not be the default approach, we should expect habitats to be managed to maximise their environmental value. Wildlife lives everywhere, given the chance and should do so, we should expect land managers to be properly discharging their responsibility for the land they manage and to be looking to increase biodiversity, not mowing, or worse still, spraying it to oblivion.

meadow brown

Meadow brown in the meadow, hiding from the wind

Bombus lucorum

Bombus lucorum, the white-tailed bumblebee on ox-eye daisy

Dots of Green

The prolonged dry conditions have caused the grass to go brown almost everywhere you look at the moment. Grasses are a group of plants that are drought adapted and when it rains you can be confident that it will green up again quite rapidly. Other plants respond differently, most annuals are as crisp as the grass, often growing less than usual and seeding earlier before the lack of water kills them. What is obvious though is that even in the brownest grass there still dots of green, these are the deep rooted perennial plants. In my mini-meadow the field scabious in particular still has green leaves and is covered in flowers.

The plants that can keep growing in these conditions provide valuable nectar sources for insects. At Blashford Lakes one plant that just carries on is burdock and the plants near the Education Centre are a magnet for insects.

sil;ver-washed fritillarysilver-washed fritillary

Most butterflies have had a good season, numbers overall have been higher than in recent years, although many are not flying for very long. The species that over-winter by hibernation such as peacock and small tortoiseshell have disappeared, they will be hiding away in sheds and cellars, before they fly again in the early autumn.

One group of butterflies that don’t seem to mind the conditions are the whites, perhaps being white their colour reflects the heat better than the dark browns, which hide away in the shade during the hottest part of the day.

small white

small white

As well as butterflies the same flowers are attracting bees as well, at Blashford Lake, a swell as the bumble-bees, I have seen lots of green-eyed flower bee on the burdock flowers. These smallish, compact bees are very fast flyers and have a distinctive, high pitched buzz.

green-eyed flower bee

green-eyed flower bee

In general the reserve remains quite for birds. On Ivy Lake over a hundred gadwall is a good count for the time of year and on Ibsley Water there are good numbers of coot and tufted duck, although counting them is proving tricky. A few migrant waders are turning up, a common sandpiper or two and the occasional black-tailed godwit are witness to approaching autumn. The ringers have reported catching willow warbler, whitethroat and grasshopper warbler recently, almost certainly all migrants rather than local birds.

Busy in the Sunshine

Sorry for the lack of posts, we seem to have been very busy and by the end of the day exhaustion has taken over. It is the time of year when there is lots of growth to cut back, bramble regrowth to cut off and nettle to remove from potential grassland areas. Today I spent the morning removing ragwort from one of the areas due to be mowed later this month and the afternoon mowing bramble regrowth from a bank beside Ibsley Water where we are trying to establish grassland. Hot and heavy work, there are times when I think I am getting too old for it! Being out in the sun did mean I saw lots of butterflies, meadow brown and gatekeeper are probably the most abundant now.

gatekeeper

gatekeper

There are also a number of summer broods out, I saw peacock, small tortoiseshell, common blue, brown argus and small copper. Possibly a side effect of the hot weather is the number of common blue that are unusually small, some as small or smaller than brown argus. I think this happens because the food quality of the plant the caterpillar was on was not good enough or in sufficient quantity for it to grow to full size.

When I had lunch I took a look at the Centre pond and there were dozens of pairs of azure damselfly pairs, egg-laying in tandem. They do this so that the male can be sure that the eggs being laid are the ones that he has fertilised. Some dragonflies do the same and others will stay hovering close tot eh female whilst she lays.

azure damselfly pairs

azure damselfly pairs

I know that I was only doing “What’s in My Meadow Today” during 30 Days Wild, but I will end with a picture from there anyway. One thing that is very noticeable as the grass has gone brown and then yellow is that some plants remain green, field scabious is one of these, which is not just green but flowering well.

small skipper on field scabious

small skipper on field scabious

30 Days Wild – Day 30 – Things Ain’t Always What They Seem

Yet another hot day and another spent mostly at home, I am working tomorrow at Blashford when we have a volunteer task, although what we will do in this heat I am not sure just yet. The day started with a check thought the moth trap, it had caught 26 species including a few first for the year, these were buff footman, grey/dark dagger (another species pair that cannot be separated on sight alone), bird’s wing and a waved black.

waved black

waved black

The waved black is a relatively scarce and rather strange Noctuid moth, it looks like a Geometrid, sitting with wings flat and out to the sides. The larvae eat damp fungi and even lichens and slime moulds.

The hot sun meant the garden was full of insects throughout the day, generally we do not associate moths with hot sunny days but there is one group that only seem to fly in such conditions, the clearwings. The day was ideal for them and I managed to find one species new to the garden, the large red-belted clearwing.

large red-belted clearwing (male)

large red-belted clearwing (male)

Clearwings are very odd moths, they not only fly in bright sunshine, they don’t really look like moths with their largely scaleless wings and in flight they look more like wasps than moths. The larvae feed under the bark of coppiced birch and alder and pupate there also. At this stage I will confess that I did not just look for the moth, I used a pheromone lure. This is an artificially produced chemical that mimics that produced by the female moth to attract the males.

large red-belted clearwing coming to lure

large red-belted clearwing being lured in

To give an idea of the speed of flight the picture above was taken at 1/1250 sec. The moth flew in and circling the lure before landing.

large red-belted clearwing at lure

large red-belted clearwing at lure

After a couple of minutes the fact that there is no female present seems to sink in and they leave, I managed to attract at least three males in about 45 minutes. The lures are usually specific to certain species, I tried five different lures today and only this one attracted any moths. Without the use of lures I have seen only a handful of clearwings in forty years or so of looking for them, use a lure of the right sort on the right day and they just appear.

It was a good day for looking int he meadow so, for the last time….

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Butterflies were very much in evidence with, appropriately enough, meadow brown being one of the most abundant.

meadow brown

meadow brown on field scabious

Small white, large white and small skipper were also much in evidence and there were also a couple of large skipper, a species I have only very occasionally seen in the garden in previous years.

large skipper 2

large skipper on field scabious

Field scabious is a great nectar source for insects and a great plant for a back garden meadow, it has bright showy flowers and a very long flowering season too. The picture shows the incredibly long tongue of the large skipper really well too, their tongues are more feeding tubes really, they reach to the nectar source and suck up the energy rich sugars.

Another great nectar plant is knapweed and these were alive with bees today, including lots of green-eyed flower bee, a small dumpy species with a very high pitched “buzz” that never seems to sit still for a picture.

green-eyed flower bee

green-eyed flower bee on knapweed

Where there are bees there are their followers, one such is the Conopid fly, there are several species and they intercept bees in flight and lay an egg that hooks between the bees abdominal segments, eventually hatching into a parasitic larva, not a pleasant story but it is extraordinary. There are several common species and the one I found was Sicus ferrugineus.

Conopid

Sicus ferrugineus

Juts as there are moths that fly in the daytime and pretend to be wasps there are also flies that pretend to be bees and wasps, some more convincingly than others. Most of the hoverflies in the garden are the various dronefly species that are fairly general bee mimics, but I also spotted one that was definitely more of a wasp mimic.

Xanthogramma pedissequum

Xanthogramma pedissequum

So this is the end of the 30 Days for another year, although I try to get a bit of “Wild” everyday, I may not get around to blogging about it daily. Thanks for your comments and if you have a garden try a mini-meadow, they are great fun and pretty good for wildlife too. Whatever you do, try to have as many Wild Days as you can!

30 Days Wild – Day 21 – The Longest Day

The longest Thursday in fact and so Blashford volunteers day. We were clearing bramble regrowth to help with grassland restoration around Ellingham Lake, on the way we went around Ellingham Pound where there was a redshank, a species I had never seen there before, all the ones I have seen previously on the reserve have been beside Ibsley Water. The single pair of common tern on the raft on the Pound are still present, I suspect they have small chicks, but we could not see them.

I was supposed to be doing an insect based wildlife walk int he afternoon, but there were no takers, which was a shame as there were lots of insects out and about today. The sunny weather is very popular with Odonata, dragonflies are very evident and there are lots of black-tailed skimmer basking along the paths.

black-tailed skimmer

black-tailed skimmer (male)

As I was not doing the walk I went path cutting on the northern part of the reserve instead, on the way I passed a large flowering patch of bramble. Bramble flower is often good for feeding insects and it did not disappoint, there was a very fresh and fine white admiral, a new species for me at Blashford. Unfortunately I did not have a camera with me so you will just have to imagine it! Whilst path cutting I also saw my first ringlet of the year, although I know the butterfly surveying volunteers have been seeing them for  a few days now.

At the end of the day going to lock up I noticed a patch of hart’s tongue fern in a patch of sunlight, they are typically in shady places and I would guess this patch is only in full sunlight for a very short time each day and perhaps only in mid-summer.

hart's tongue fern

hart’s tongue fern

Back home in the evening I had the moth trap to look at as I had not had time to go through it in the morning. There was nothing of great note until I found a small elephant hawk-moth, not rare but a favourite of mine.

small elephant hawk-moth 2

small elephant hawk-moth

Finally………..

What’s in My Meadow Today?

As summer moves on  anew range of plants are starting to flower and yesterday the first field scabious flower started opening. They will go on flowering well into the autumn and are very popular with bees, hoverflies and butterflies as well as looking great in the grass.

field scabious

field scabious

I established the original few plants from seed and planted them out as small plants, these have now grown very large and are producing seedlings of their own.