A clear surprise

This week I have been putting out a number of temporary signs to highlight some of the wildflowers currently in bloom on the reserve, including herb robert, red campion, foxglove and hedge woundwort.

All are brightening up the woodland at the moment, but I particularly like the hedge woundwort with its hooded magenta-pink flowers. It is known more for having a particularly unpleasant smell, which from getting close to it to photograph the flowers and put the sign in I have to agree it does! As its name suggests, it was in the past used as a herbal remedy with its bruised leaves said to alleviate bleeding.

hedge woundwort 2

Hedge woundwort

Whilst walking round I noticed a couple of other plants growing I don’t remember noticing before, possibly because this time of year is usually our busiest for school visits and as such opportunities to stop, look, photograph and identify something different are usually few and far between. I spotted woody nightshade or bittersweet growing amongst the bramble in the hedge by Ivy Silt pond, and another one growing near the boardwalk past Ivy South hide. Belonging to the nightshade family it is toxic. The flowers appear from May to September and are followed by clusters of poisonous bright red berries. The leaves apparently smell of burnt rubber when crushed, although I didn’t crush them to test this out!

woody nightshade

Woody nightshade or bittersweet

Further along the Dockens path I found some stinking iris which has dull yellowy purple flowers. Also known as the roast beef plant, it gets its name from the smell of the leaves when crushed or bruised, which is said to resemble rotten raw beef. In the autumn its seed capsules will open to reveal striking red-orange berries, which do ring a bell.

stinking iris

Stinking iris

The moth trap has also revealed a number of different moths over the last few days. On Tuesday there was a peach blossom in the trap, which is definitely a favourite with its pretty pinkish spots on a brown backgound. There was another in the trap yesterday which looked fresher:

Other highlights included a cinnabar, buff tip, burnished brass and today an elephant hawk-moth.

Yesterday I walked a bit further up to Lapwing Hide to see what was about and saw mandarin duck and a pair of kingfisher on the Clearwater Pond. Closer to Lapwing Hide there was a little grebe feeding young on Ibsley Silt Pond. From the hide I was surprised by how many birds were on Ibsley Water, as it has been fairly quiet recently. Whilst watching the swallows, sand martins and house martins swooping over the lake I realised there were more swans on the water than I had seen before and in counting them reached a grand total of 99. There could have easily been over 100 as I couldn’t see into the bay by Goosander Hide or the other side of the spit island.

There were also at least 86 greylag geese and 40 Canada geese. They must have been disturbed off the river and decided Ibsley Water was a safer spot.

On walking round to Tern Hide I saw at least four meadow brown, the most butterflies I think I have seen at any one time this year so far. This one settled long enough for a photo:

meadow brown

Meadow brown

From Tern Hide I saw a distant little ringed plover, off to the right of the hide on the shingle and my first sighting of one this year. The biting stonecrop around the edges of the car park is flowering: it is also known as goldmoss because of its dense low growing nature and yellow star shaped flowers. The common centaury which can be seen in places off the edges of the footpaths and also on the lichen heath is beginning to flower. As with other members of the gentian family, its pink flowers close during the afternoon.

The planters outside the centre are still providing good views of insect life, despite the drop in temperature and absence some days of sun. I managed to get a photo of one of the dark bush crickets that have been hiding in amongst the Lamb’s ear and also spotted a ladybird larva which after a bit of research I think might be of the cream spot ladybird.

Today I popped briefly to the meadow which apart from the large numbers of damselfly was quite quiet. I saw one solitary bee enjoying the ox-eye daisies and also spied a female bee-wolf in her sandy burrow. I watched her for some time.

The damselflies have still been active on the wing despite the lack of sunshine and I managed to photograph an azure blue damselfly to the side of the path and a pair of I think common blues mating in the mini meadow by the welcome hut.

Today’s highlight though has to be bumping into a visitor, Dave Shute, who had come to Blashford in the hope of some bright weather and seeing a clearwing moth. He just about got away with it!

Clearwings are a group of day-flying moths that look a bit like wasps but are usually very rarely seen. As their name suggests, they differ from other moths in that their wings frequently lack scales and are instead transparent. As a result of them being hard to track down, pheromone lures have been developed to make finding them that little bit easier, and these are artificial chemicals that mimic those released by female moths to attract the males. Bob has put out lures here in the past, usually attracting red-tipped clearwing whose caterpillars favour willow, and last summer also found an orange-tailed clearwing which was attracted to a lure designed for both these and the yellow-legged clearwing.

I was lucky enough to see the orange-tailed clearwing last summer but don’t think I have seen a red-tipped clearwing before, and this was the lure Dave had bought. He had seen one come to the lure but disappear before I saw him, but whilst we were chatting another came and this time rested on a nearby bramble allowing us to photograph it, I think the sun disappearing at that moment helped!

red tipped clearwing

Red-tipped clearwing

The lures do not harm the moths, but they should only be used for a short period of time and it is best not to use individual species lures regularly at one site in one season so as not to disturb the insects too much.

It was great to see and a surprise for an otherwise rather grey and wet day, so thank you Dave!

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

A Few Pictures

Not much to report today, but I will share a few pictures that I got during the day. First, at lunchtime I tried, largely without success to get a picture of the ants that are farming aphids on docks by the pond, this was my best of many, many attempts.

ant and aphids

ant and aphids

I was on the edge of the lichen heath for a short time and was impressed by the quantity of hairy bird’s foot trefoil there this year.

hairy bird's foot trefoil

hairy bird’s foot trefoil

Finally as I locked up the hides I found a grey-haired mining bee nectaring on hemlock water dropwort, usually a plant covered in insects but today mostly attracting bees.

grey-haired mining bee

grey-haired mining bee

I also spotted a very fine stand of foxglove and had to try a picture of them as well.

foxglove

foxglove

Underwings, Grouse Wings and Foxgloves

Bird News: Ibsley Waterhouse martin 600+, swift 400+, peregrine 1. Ivy Lakehobby 1.

No time to post yesterday, so a double post tonight. It has been very quiet for birds but there have been a number of interesting insects. First of these was the capture yesterday of a lunar yellow underwing moth. This species has become very scarce in recent years and is now mainly found on the Brecklands of East Anglia. There are now three records from Blashford which indicates a local population. It is named for a black crescent mark in the yellow underwing, unfortunately they do not show their underwings when at rest.

lunar yellow underwing

I also came across a yellow and black bee, it is one of the Nomada bees which parasitize the nests of various species of solitary bees, I am working on the identity, but have not quite got there yet!

Nomada bee

Today saw slightly more in the way of birds. When I opened the Tern hide the wind was brisk and from the north-east, it was really quite cold and as a result there were lots of martins and swifts over Ibsley Water, I estimated very approximately 400 swifts and 600 house martins, but there were probably many more than this.

The moth trap did not contain any really notable moths today but there was a rather fine cranefly.

cranefly

There were also several caddisflies including several of a species known to anglers as the grouse wing.

grouse wing

It was generally a good day for insects and I got a few pictures. The first was of a large species of hoverfly which mimics a bumble bee, it is Criorhina floccosa.

Criorhina floccosa

I also finally got a picture of the soldierfly Odonomyia tigrina, or at least of one that was not being eaten by a spider.

Odontomyia tigrina

Some may remember a picture I posted last year of some amazing woolly looking larvae that were found beside the pond at The Centre on the leaves of a small alder plant. They proved to be of the alder sawfly and today I found an adult on the same plant, it is also a rather splendid insect.

alder sawfly

The reserve was very quiet today and I took the opportunity to do various odd jobs, including moving the “Rivercam” so that it is once again “Compostcam”. Although when I went to check the positioning was right by looking at the big screen int he lobby it was more like “Mousecam”.

“Mousecam”

I will end with a shot of a flower, just for a change, the foxgloves are looking very good just now so here is one.

foxglove