Making hay

On Thursday I began cutting the mini meadow by the Welcome Hut to hopefully keep or increase the flower species present and keep the surrounding grasses under control. Without this the grasses can form an impenetrable thatch which which the wildflowers struggle to grow through.

This little patch of ground by the Welcome Hut was laid with wildflower turf last year and has looked fabulous this spring and summer, with ragged robin, marjoram, yarrow, clover, selfheal, wild carrot and bird’s foot trefoil flowering, to name just a few. The wild carrot may have been a later addition, planted by Bob, along with some scabious and I think he also added some yellow rattle seed…

Ragged robin

The meadow in May, full of ragged robin

Over the summer it has been alive with grasshoppers, crickets, butterflies, beetles, bees and more: 

P1180994

Skipper sp. resting on a blade of grass, taken in June


P1190089

Small copper, taken in July

Although many of the flowers and grasses have now died back, whilst cutting the vegetation I watched a number of spiders scurrying about and disturbed this very smart looking caterpillar:

Ruby tiger caterpillar

Ruby tiger caterpillar

At first the garden tiger moth sprang to mind, its caterpillars are also known as the woolly bear, but it didn’t look big enough or quite right, so after a bit of searching I think it is the fully grown caterpillar of the ruby tiger moth:

P1190646

Ruby tiger moth

The caterpillars feed on a variety of herbaceous plants including ragwort, plantain, dock and dandelion. This caterpillar is probably from a second brood and will overwinter as a caterpillar, emerging during early spring: I relocated it to a safer spot away from my shears. 

I have quite a bit more cutting to do, but it is good to cut a meadow in sections and to leave some sections untouched. I might wait for some nicer weather before carrying on!

Whilst outside the front of the Education Centre I also saw this common carder bee enjoying the Inula hookerii which is still flowering:

Common carder bee

Common carder bee

The light trap only contained two moths, the highlight for me being this frosted orange:

Frosted orange

Frosted orange

The last few days have not been so pleasant, although the original dipping pond I imagine is grateful for the rain. This morning I spied this very bedraggled looking bumblebee on one of the planters outside the front of the Centre. Despite looking very sorry for itself it was moving around, so I attempted to warm it up slightly, gave it some sugar water (which it literally lapped up) and released it somewhere hopefully more sheltered as it had become very active. My good deed for the day, fingers crossed it survives the night…

P1210363

Soggy bumblebee

 

Autumn Light

We seem to have gone through a very rapid transition from summer to autumn in the last few days, certainly in terms of temperature, I have gone from short sleeves to extra layers.

The moths had seen it coming though and the autumn species have been flying for a few weeks now. It has been my impression that many were flying earlier than usual, perhaps because their development had been accelerated by the warm summer. A lot of the autumn species feature yellow or orange tones, presumably as camouflage amongst autumn leaves.

pink-barred sallow
frosted orange

At this time I usually catch one or two Clifden nonpareil also known as blue underwing and they seem to have been having a good year, or at least they do everywhere else, so far I have not seen one! The Clifden nonpareil is one of our largest moths, but interest comes in all sizes, the other day I caught the attractive micro-moth Oncocera semirubella a species that seems to be increasing in recent years, but which remains largely a southern speciality.

Oncocera semirubella

Saved by the moths…

We have been running our fortnightly Young Naturalists catch-ups now since the the end of May and, seven catch-ups in, they are keeping me on my toes in terms of content. Although shorter than a normal on site meeting, making sure we have plenty to discuss for the whole two hours online has kept me busy, collating their photos so we can share them with everyone during the session, catching pond creatures beforehand so we can look at them under the digital microscope, and putting together presentations on other topics, chosen by them and generally not my area of expertise!

I have fallen behind with my Young Naturalist blogs but August’s sessions focused on dragonflies and damselflies (thankfully I now have a good number of photos of different species which made putting together a presentation quite easy)…

lifecycle

Life cycle of a dragonfly and damselfly

…and owls (thankfully the Trust’s image library has a number of fabulous photos of owls that have been taken by other members of staff or sent in by very generous photographers, along with their permission for us to use them)…

owls

Owl presentation

Other birds of prey have also been requested, so the image library will be coming in quite handy again at some point… 

It is always a bit nicer to look at something living though, so at every session we have had one if not two light traps to rummage through and volunteer Nigel has also run his trap at home to add to our moth chances. With the exception of a few cooler nights, we have had a great variety of moths to look at, they have become a regular feature! 

Here are the highlights from the last couple of sessions, plus possibly a few that were caught in between:

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Sticking with the moth theme, this morning there were a pair of Burnished brass in the trap, unmistakable with their brassy, metallic forewings. There are two forms of this moth, which differ in the brown central cross-band which is complete in f. aurea but separated into two blotches in f. juncta

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Burnished brass, f.juncta on the left and f. aurea on the right

We haven’t just been catching moths in the light trap, but also lots of caddisflies, shield bugs, beetles and this rather smart looking Eared leafhopper:

Eared leafhopper

Eared leafhopper

They can be found on lichen covered trees, in particular oaks, but are incredibly hard to spot due to their amazing camouflage.

Fingers crossed for some mild September nights so we have some nice autumnal moths to identify for a little longer, or we may have to get into caddisfly identification…

Elsewhere on the reserve the dragonflies continue to be very obliging, with common darter and southern and migrant hawkers perching on vegetation behind the centre to be photographed – the migrant hawker below was pointed out to me by regular visitor John:

Migrant hawker

Migrant hawker

Migrant hawker 2

Migrant hawker

This morning large numbers of house martin were gathering over the main car park by Tern Hide and Ibsley Water, in preparation for their incredible migration to Africa, whilst the shoreline has also become busier, with an increase in wagtails over the past few days.

Yellow wagtail

Yellow wagtail

Pied wagtail

Pied wagtail

Pied wagtail (2)

Juvenile Pied wagtail

Yellow wagtails are summer visitors and they too will head to Africa for the winter. Most Pied wagtails are residents however those that occupy northern upland areas will head south for the colder months, boosting the populations already found in the warmer valleys, floodplains and on the south coast. They can migrate as far as north Africa to escape the cold.

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

Moths and Birds and no Snowberry

Despite the autumnal weather the moth trap continues to catch a reasonable range of species, Friday’s catch included two of the bigger wainscots, the large wainscot,

large wainscot

large wainscot

and the bulrush wainscot.

Bulrush wainscot 2

bulrush wainscot

Neither of them particularly colourful species, unlike the frosted orange.

frosted orange

frosted orange

I know I have already posted this species a few times, but they are very fine and this one was very fresh. Autumn moths tend to be either bright yellow, orange or very dull indeed and the deep brown dart is certainly at the dull end, at least in terms of colour.

deep brown dart

deep brown dart

Despite the extremely dull weather today there were some birds to see, the ruff remains on Ibsley Water and there were also 2 green sandpiper and a common sandpiper there too. A sign of the changing season is the slowly increasing number of wigeon, I saw at least 25 today, but there were also something over 75 hirundines, mostly swallow but also a number of house martin and even a few sand martin.

Recently the Goosander hide has been attracting  allot of photographers trying to get shots of a fairly cooperative kingfisher. It also seems to be good for quiet a few other species too. I was especially pleased to see  the trees that we leaned into the lake there being well used as perches by a range of species, including today, Walter, our returning great white egret.

Walter

Walter, our returning great white egret, you can just make out some of his rings.

The perches near the Goosander hide are being used by lots of birds, the rails I put up  a few years ago were very popular with cormorant today.

cormorants

A “drying-off” of cormorant.

Large numbers of cormorant have been mass fishing in Ibsley Water recently, something they only do when there are very large shoals of fish, of just the right size, on offer. This year there seem to be large numbers of perch and rudd to be caught, to judge from the many pictures we have been sent of cormorant with fish recently.

These same rails are also popular with gulls and I saw three different yellow-legged gull on there this afternoon, including this first winter bird.

Yellow-legged gull 1st W

Yellow-egged gull, in first winter plumage (or if you prefer 1st cy)

It was the first Sunday of the month and despite unpromising weather four volunteers turned out for a task this morning. For several years I have been meaning to get around to removing a patch of snowberry near the Ivy North hide, it has not spread very far but is a garden plant that really should not be in a semi-natural woodland. Finally today we got rid of it, or at least of as much of it as we could dig up, next spring we will see how much we missed!

I will end with a sure sign of autumn, a fungus, the reserve has  a lot of fungi just now, I really struggle to identify them, but I think I know what this is, until someone puts me right, a fly agaric – this one complete with flies.

Fungus Gnat Agaric

fungus gnat agaric

 

A Black and Grey Day

That is black as in the tern, as there was another juvenile black tern today and even better, grey as in grey phalarope!

grey phalarope

Grey phalarope, juvenile

Yet another in a proud line of “record shots” of wildlife at Blashford, my excuse is that it was a long way off and I have to say to is much better than my efforts the last time we had a phalarope at Blashford. Of course it should not be here, it has been blown in by the north-westerly gales and Ibsley Water was just the nearest thing to the open sea that it could find.

Despite the phalarope and black tern and a supporting caste of 2 ruff, 2 dunlin a ringed plover and Walter the great white egret my personal show-stopping wildlife spectacle of the day was actually the house martins. Thousands and thousands of them, I think at least 8000, possibly even more than 10,000 at the start of the day. They swarmed over the water like gnats with a 1000 or so swallow a few hundred sand martin and still a single swift.

I had an autumn moth event this morning, I was a little concerned we might have no moths to look at after yesterday’s paltry two moths, luckily it was not quite that bad. The highlight were 2 feathered gothic, the first of the year, others included snout, pinion-streaked snout, frosted orange, canary shouldered thorn, square spot rusticautumnal rustic and a few micro-moths.

feathered gothic

Feathered gothic, male

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

A Touch of Frost

With three millimetres of rain and overnight temperature a low single figure, it certainly feels more like autumn now.

The final butterfly transects, we have been monitoring them now since early April, were completed this week. The surveyors haven’t been bothered by huge numbers of butterflies, although understand we still have quite a few speckled wood butterflies,

speckled wood

speckled wood

 

37 were seen on the north transect, plus a good number of comma (16) and five red admiral on the south section.

Other signs of autumn are the burgeoning numbers of fungi, like this troop, of I believe lycoperdon sp.(?),  I saw beside the path.

 

lycoperdon species?

lycoperdon species?

Whilst bird numbers aren’t particularly spectacular yet, the range of species is increasing slowly. One lucky couple saw what they are sure was a honey buzzard in the Ibsley Water area.  More prosaically I only managed a few of the more common species, like this lapwing

lapwing

lapwing

and a couple of young little grebe, or dabchick, with a coot.

coot and dabchick

coot and dabchick

 

A final flurry of, mostly fairly inconspicuous, flowers is providing a little colour around the place, but most are well past their best.

P1540544 geranium

cut-leaved geranium(?)

common storksbill

common storksbill

dark mullein

dark mullein

On the ‘light  trap’ front, we are still attracting hornets,

hornet

hornet

 

but a number of colourful moths as well.

pink-barred sallow

pink-barred sallow

 

frosted orange

frosted orange

angle shades

angle shades

Oranges and Lemons

After a three week break of duty, it made a pleasant change to be opening up the reserve and be greeted by a common sandpiper immediately outside the Tern Hide.  Ibsley Water bore  its usual compliment of waterfowl. Mute swans were much in evidence, not only as their physical presence, but from the large scale scattering of innumerable moulted white feathers floating across the lake.  Duck numbers are building up with representatives of several species including gadwall, tufted duck, wigeon,  mallard and shoveler. As usual at this time of year it can be quite difficult to sort many of them out as the usually distinctive drakes have moulted into a somewhat drab ‘eclipse’ plumage, similar to the females.  This is thought to be a survival mechanism, making them less conspicuous whilst they moult their flight feathers. Large numbers of lapwing are now making use of the shingle spit to the east of the tern hide and are accompanied by several (we counted fourteen) Egyptian geese.

Although we are still experiencing warm weather the numbers of insects have dropped dramatically since I was last here. A male Southern Hawker dragonfly was periodically patrolling the pond behind the Education Centre, but only a few large white butterflies and a red admiral were much in evidence.

The moth trap hasn’t been set out  much lately, but Jim kindly put it on for us last night.  Our reward was some seventeen species of moth, but the downside was  a fairly large number of wasps – sorry don’t know what species – plus a couple of LARGE hornets, which made emptying the trap somewhat challenging…

A rather sleepy hornet .

A rather sleepy hornet .

Other ‘interlopers’ were this rather nice shield bug,

Shieldbug

Shield bug

and a number of what , with their smooth outlines, look to me like water beetles

Water beetle?

Water beetle?

Not many of the moths were, to be frank, that dramatic or spectacular, although the rather ‘dead leaf’ looking angle shades is always good value

Angle shades

Angle shades

and also in among them this Frosted Orange

Frosted Orange

Frosted Orange

and a number of species with a distinct yellow (lemon?) hue, including this Canary-shouldered Thorn..

Canary-shouldered Thorn

Canary-shouldered Thorn