Bug-ingham Palace

Last Sunday our Young Naturalists made a rather magnificent bug hotel in a sunny spot close to the new dipping pond. The improvement works here on the reserve resulted in a rather large number of pallets accumulating, so it was great to be able to put some of them to good use.

Bug hotel

Positioning the bug hotel

We stacked the pallets one at a time, packing them with various different materials to create lots of different nooks and crannies, including bark, sticks, pine cones, old roof tiles, bamboo, off-cuts of roof from the old Tern Hide, pebbles and sawdust. We also drilled different sized holes in some of the bits of wood.

We still have a few more gaps to fill with more pine cones, dried plant and reed stems and dry grass and I’m hoping we can add a green roof to finish it off, but we were pretty pleased with our efforts:

To make a sign, Torey and Sophie carefully broke up a pallet with Geoff’s help and some of the group had a go with a pyrography pen to burn writing and pictures onto the wood.

Sign

We didn’t quite have time to finish the sign on Sunday, but volunteer Lucy made a brilliant job of finishing it off on Monday, the bugs should be impressed!

IMG_0886

We’re looking forward to seeing who moves in!

Finley and Percy had a go at using the various bits and pieces we had assembled to make a bird feeder:

Bird feeder

After lunch we headed off to do the Big Butterfly Count. We decided to do ours in the wild play area where we do our den building and campfire activities, as although we had seen a lot of butterflies that morning around the Centre we fancied a change of scenery to the area where we had been working. On route we spied this Brimstone:

Brimstone

Brimstone butterfly

With Nigel as our time keeper, we positioned ourselves in the long grass and counted the greatest number of different species seen at any one time in our 15 minute window. We managed five species in total and 15 butterflies altogether: four Meadow brown, three Brown argus, three Gatekeeper, three Common blue, one Red admiral and one Speckled wood.

The Big Butterfly Count runs until the 11th August so there’s still time to get involved – you just need to find a sunny spot (this could be your garden, a park or in a wood) and spot butterflies for 15 minutes then submit your sightings online.

We had a few minutes to spare before the end of the session so decided to head back to the Centre via the lichen heath in search of wasp spiders, which we’d heard were visible in the patches of bramble and taller grass and rush.

Finally, we spied some Cinnabar caterpillars munching on the ragwort:

Cinnabar caterpillar

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

 

 

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Summer Passing

It seems that once the 30 Days Wild are over, the signs of passing summer become increasingly obvious. I heard my last singing cuckoo on 22nd June, we now know that many will have left the country southward by the end of June, thanks to the advent of tiny satellite trackers fitted to some birds by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), you can follow their progress via a link on their website.

At Blashford Lakes common sandpiper are returning and on Sunday there was a greenshank, returned from breeding, probably in Scandinavia. Lots of the swift have left already as have the first generation of young sand martin. Over at Fishlake Meadows an osprey is being seen regularly, with other sightings including up to six cattle egret.

Around the reserves we are now at the peak of butterfly numbers, with lots of “Browns” especially.

gatekeeper

gatekeeper

This week will probably see “Peak-gatekeeper” and we may have just passed peak-meadow brown. Speckled wood, by contrast are perhaps the only butterfly with a real chance of being seen throughout the 26 weeks of the butterfly recording season as it has continuously overlapping broods.

speckled wood

speckled wood

In places you may notice a few very dark, almost black, meadow brown, actually these may well be ringlet, with slightly rounder wings and multiple eye-spots.

ringlet

ringlet

Several species now have their summer broods emerging, this is true for common blue, brown argus, small copper and peacock.

peacock

peacock

The warm weather has been great for insects in general, there have been good numbers of dragonflies, including a single lesser emperor, a formerly very rare migrant species that seems to be getting ever more frequent.

 

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

The Heat Continues

After a June and 30 Days Wild which was extremely hot and the met office now tells us was the driest on record we have now hit July and things are not changing. I did see some cloud on Sunday, but all it seemed to do was increase the humidity.

The heat is making it difficult to work, despite this on Sunday five volunteers turned out and we pulled Himalayan balsam for an hour and a half, a remarkable effort. On Monday I saw removing ragwort from the areas I plan to mow on the shore of Ibsley Water.

All this heat continues to be very good for insects, the moth catch overnight on Sunday/Monday was the highest I have ever had at Blashford, one trap caught 96 species! This included a lot of micro moths, many of these are quite spectacular looking, but it is hard to appreciate what they really look like as they are so small.

Mompha propinquella

Mompha propinquella

The one above is actually quiet common and I see it fairly regularly. I did catch a few new species for the reserve including a chalk grassland species that feeds on marjoram, a plant which does grow in the gravel near the building, so perhaps it was a local rather than a wanderer.

Acompsia schmidtiellus

Acompsia schmidtiellus a species that feeds on marjoram.

There are lots of butterflies and dragonflies around the reserve. Silver-washed fritillary are having a good year and gatekeeper are now emerging as are the summer broods of small copper and brown argus.

gatekeeper

gatekeeper

Brown hawker and southern hawker dragonflies are both already flying in some numbers, although common darter are still quiet few.

southern hawker

southern hawker

The picture above was my best of a few attempts at getting a flight shot over the Centre pond at Sunday lunchtime. At the same time I saw a large red damselfly that had fallen into the pond and been preyed upon by a water boatman.

water boatman with large red damselfly prey

water boatman with large red damselfly prey

When you are an insect there are many ways to die more or less everything is out to get you! There are predators and more gruesomely parasites almost everywhere. I found a parasitic wasp hunting for a beetle larva in which to lay its egg.

Ichneumonid wasp Ephilates manifestator

Ephilates manifestator probing for beetle larvae

The needle-like ovipositor can be pushed deep into the wood, when not in use it is protected by a sheath, in the picture you can see the ovipositor in use probing almost vertically downward.

The dry weather is stressing plants and some smaller trees are losing their leaves already. Most of the grass is now brown and many species rapidly going to seed. There are still flowers out there though and one such is creeping cinquefoil.

creeping cinquefoil

creeping cinquefoil

 

Still Wild After all These Days

Summer moves on, at Blashford on Sunday I saw my first gatekeeper of the year, oddly a little later than in some years, most other butterflies have been merging a little earlier than usual, so I am not sure why they alone are later.

gatekeeper

The first gatekeeper at the year

It was also the first day I had seen brown hawker dragonfly, although I would guess they have been flying for a couple of days. The first common tern chicks also flew, even if a little tentatively, hopefully we will see over seventy fledge this year. Another first for the year was Essex skipper, they at every like small skipper, but tend to fly a couple of weeks later.

Essex skipper on yellow rattle

Essex skipper on yellow rattle

At least I think it is an Essex skipper!

I had another go at getting a flight shot of a hoverfly, a very frustrating thing to try, this was my best attempt.

hoverfly

hoverfly

I went on a walk down the Dockens Water to check where we will need to go Himalayan balsam pulling and if we have missed any plants. I found a few, but also a number of native marshland plants.

marsh bedstraw

marsh bedstraw

water forget-me-not

water forget-me-not

Mothless, well Almost

Yesterday I ran a “Moth event” at Blashford, unfortunately I forgot to tell the moths and there were probably more human participants than moths! Usually late August is a good time for catching large numbers of moths, but big catches require warm, calm nights following warm settled days. What we had was a windy, mostly clear night following a rather stormy day.

Luckily the day got more settled as it went on, at least until late afternoon anyway. This brought out good numbers of insects, including as many dragonflies as I have seen this year. Around the reserve I saw several brown hawker, southern and migrant hawkers, an egg-laying emperor dragonfly and a fair few common darter. Damselflies included common blue, azure, red-eyed, small red-eyed and blue-tailed.

Butterflies were rather fewer, most that I saw were whites, with all three common species near the Centre. Out on the reserve a few meadow brown and gatekeeper are still flying and speckled wood are increasing again. Near the Lapwing hide I saw both red admiral and painted lady, perhaps indicating some continued arrival of passage insects.

The sunshine in the middle of the day brought out reptiles as well and I saw two grass snake and an adder. The adder was very fat and I suspect a female which will shortly be giving birth, since adders have live young rather than laying eggs as grass snakes do.

adder

adder

I have heard reports of wasp spider being seen around the reserve recently and today I finally saw one.

wasp spider

wasp spider

This is a female, the males are much, much smaller and wander about seeking the females.

I had hoped for a few different birds, following the rough weather, perhaps a few terns, but there was little change form the past week. A few extra waders were the best that could be found, 2 dunlin, 2 oystercatcher, 2 common sandpiper, 1 redshank and the pick of the day, 3 greenshank, although they only flew through. There are starting to be a few more ducks around, I saw 8 shoveler and 3 teal, but there are still no wigeon on the reserve, although they should not be far away. Away for the water looking up there were 2 raven, and single hobby and peregrine. Whilst low over the water before the day warmed there were 1000+ sand martin and c200 house martin.

Perhaps the sighting of the day for many visitors though was the female roe deer that spent part of the morning in front of the Woodland hide.

roe deer at Woodland hide 3

roe deer doe at the Woodland hide

 

Remaining Wild

A bit of  a lull for a couple of days due to computer problems, perhaps now sorted? But only time will tell.

Over the last couple of days, and say this quietly, it has been rather more summery. Although it is clearly already moving into late summer as many migrant birds are on the move, starting their southward journeys. On Ibsley Water there are returning common sandpiper, at least two on recent days, also a fine male black-tailed godwit yesterday, returned from trying to breed in Iceland. There have also been large gatherings of sand martin stopping to feed on their was south to Africa for the winter, likewise I suspect that some of the swift are on the move too. The cuckoo have stopped “cuckooing” and most will be gone, just the juveniles left to give us records into autumn. Although the blackcap still sings it is now the late summer song, which is subtly different form their spring one, still recognisably blackcap, but with  a more melancholy sound.

It is not all downbeat though, lots of butterflies are coming out, “Brown season” is in full swing with loads of meadow brown and marbled white (they are browns really, honest) and the first gatekeeper too. It is also getting towards peak horsefly season, okay perhaps not such a cause for celebration, but most species do not bite humans. Today I came across one such species Hybromitra distinguenda, also known as the bright horsefly. It was also a male, so no risk at all of being bitten as it is only the females that bite. He was hovering at about 75cm, swinging from side to side and back and forth, above the track to Ivy South hide as I went to open up. I have seen other Hybomitra species doing this, sometimes as early as 06:00am and often in small groups, I assume it is some sort of display to attract passing females, but I have never seen a female fly in. Here are a couple of pictures I managed to grab.

Hybomitra distinguenda 2

bright horsefly male

Hybomitra distinguenda

bright horsefly male, front view

Horseflies are remarkable creatures, they are probably the fastest of all flies, capable of 30 or 40 kilometres per hour and incredibly manoeuvrable being able to make a 180 degree turn in just a few metres, even at that speed. They have huge eyes that give them close to a 360 degree view of the world and a visual processing speed that makes catching them fantastically difficult unless they are not paying attention.

 

Phew!! What a scorcher. – now you know I’ve run out of ideas for titles!!!

In a somewhat ironic (or iconic) piece of fortune the first mini-beast of the day was a gatekeeper butterfly which buzzed me as I opened up the gate to the Tern Hide car-park.

Gatekeeper or Hedge brown - keeping an eye on our gate!!

Gatekeeper or Hedge brown – keeping an eye on our gate!!

Other butterflies are really making their presence felt – not before time, following the unusually cold ( do you remember that?) spring.  A red admiral has been floating around the Education Centre and without moving too far away it’s been possible to see both large white and small white, meadow brown, speckled wood, peacock, comma, brimstone and what was almost certainly a silver-washed fritillary scuttling through.  Many of them will have been looking for nectar sources, but the plants that always used to be cited as the ‘butterfly bush’ , buddleia , have yet to produce much in the way of flowers– possibly another effect of the cold spring.

A gentle stroll around the path between Ellingham Water and Dockens water, ostensibly to do a bit of trimming back of overhanging branches and invasive brambles, produced a few bonuses in terms of dragonflies and damselflies including a fine male emperor dragonfly, a couple of brown hawker and numerous common blue damselflies,and one beautiful demoiselle. Only a keeled skimmer stayed still long enough to have its picture taken and that was from some distance away.

Keeled skimmer

A more obvious pair of megafauna graced us with a fleeting glimpse, as a female roe deer and her fawn dashed across the lichen heath.

Along the path heading south towards the Iron Age hut there are a number of broad-leaved helleborine, which are only just starting to come into flower. Disappointingly a number of them have been decapitated, probably having been nibbled by deer.  There were, however, several intact specimens, which even before fully flowering have a delightfully sweeping architectural shape.

Broad-leaved Helleborine

Broad-leaved Helleborine

but only one that had started to bloom.

Broad-leaved helleborine

First flowering spike of broad-leaved helleborine

Helleborines are in the orchid family, a fascinating group of plants with more different members than any other family of vascular plants. Genetically they are rather complicated with more DNA than many more complex plants and animals including ourselves. As a group that is currently rapidly evolving many hybrids may be formed and for this reason may present  challenges to anyone wishing to identify the species. Given my track record on plant ID, I might be foolish, but I’m pretty sure these are broad-leaved helleborine…

As it’s the time of year for interesting insects I’ll finish, as usual, with a few moths.

Pinion

Pinion

Pale prominent

Pale prominent

Small scallop

Small scallop

Sunshine, Sexy Snails and Skippers

A very different day and just perhaps a prelude to a better spell of weather, with warm sunshine for a good part of the time and only the very slightest few spots of rain in the late afternoon. The warm damp weather has resulted in an abundance of slugs and snails everywhere and I came across two garden snails on the side of the Centre ensuring this will continue. They are not  a pair in the conventional sense as they are hermaphrodites, each one is both male and female.

garden snails mating

The moth trap was not very busy, but included were several elephant hawk moths, a double kidney and 2 purple thorns, one of the hardest moths to photograph as they hold their wings so awkwardly.

purple thorn

The sunshine brought out a few dragonflies and more butterflies than I have seen in a long time, including two firsts for the year for me, a gatekeeper, which is a bit later than usual but reasonable. The other was a very fresh large skipper, in some years this would be about the latest I would see them and here was my first!

large skipper

I went to put some compostable waste into the bin and found a swarm of ants, just preparing to fly, possibly the extra warmth of the compost bin combined with the sunshine had triggered their flight, unusually there did not seem to be a mass flight so perhaps these had been fooled and got it wrong.

ant swarm

Other insects about today included several speckled bush cricket nymphs.

speckled bush cricket nymph

The sun also tempted out a few flies, although the recent cold and wet has severely depleted numbers, usually this is the peak time of year for many species, this robberfly was all I could get a picture of though.

robberfly

As we have an invertebrate study course at Blashford tomorrow I hope the weather remains favourable, we are supposed to be looking for dragonflies, damselflies and grasshoppers and crickets, at least in the main. A lot of species are so far behind their usual timetable that we will struggle to find a lot of them even if the weather is ok, still we may come across some other things along the way.