Wee-welcome you!

You will hopefully be delighted to know toilet facilities are now available just outside the front of the Education Centre, following a delivery today of two porta-loos. 

We are asking visitors to wear a face mask when using them (unless of course they are exempt from wearing one) and to use the hand sanitiser provided – they do not have soap and water for hand washing, just hand sanitiser inside. We will be cleaning them twice a day…

We are requesting a donation for their use, which can be made either by cash in the little donation box on the fence by the toilets themselves or by card using the contactless donations point just outside the Welcome Hut. 

They are costing us £10 a day so all donations for their use will be greatly appreciated.  Whilst we do have toilet facilities in the Centre, we hope you appreciate entering the building comes with an increased risk of being in an enclosed space for both any visitors using the facilities and to our staff and any volunteers who are working out of the building. There is unfortunately no easy way to discover whether or not the Centre toilets are free to use without either someone constantly monitoring them or entering them first, porta-loos are a much more straightforward option.

We hope you appreciate them being here!

Porta-loos

Jim appreciating the new facilities!

The bird hides remain closed – when we have news on if and when any of the hides will be opening again we will of course let you all know.

Although the hides are closed there is still plenty to see. The feeder by the Welcome Hut is constantly busy with a variety of woodland birds including large numbers of goldfinch who can be seen flocking from tree top to tree top, nuthatch, greenfinch, wood pigeon, blue tit, great tit, chaffinch and great spotted woodpecker. Treecreepers are also regular visitors to the wooded area by the Welcome Hut and grey wagtail can often be seen on the boardwalk by the new dipping pond.

The ponds are also still great places to sit and watch dragonflies, where this golden-ringed dragonfly was spotted by regular visitors John and Steve yesterday:

The moths are now few and far between and definitely have a more autumnal feel, with dusky thorn and sallow being the recent highlights:

Dusky thorn

Sallow

Finally, I will finish with the rather spectacular cased caddisfly larva caught by Sam on Monday when pond dipping. I have only seen teeny tiny cased caddis so far this summer, so I think this magnificent insect might be my favourite thing from the pond so far:

Cased caddisfly

Cased caddisfly caught by Sam

They build a case to live in as they grow and develop out of whatever material they have available, including sand,stones, old snail shells or segments cut from vegetation. This case was made from vegetation and the caddisfly kept trying to cover itself over with more vegetation as we were watching it. It was fascinating!

Golden delight

Yesterday I accompanied Bob to the old Hanson concrete plant to see how the area was developing, what was growing and what insects were around. On our way we popped in to Tern Hide where there was a common sandpiper foraging on the shore of Ibsley Water:

Common sandpiper

Common sandpiper

The old Hanson plant, now named by Bob as ‘the empty quarter’, does look rather barren. Most of the area has crushed concrete underfoot, but plants including St John’s wort, ragwort and lots of common centaury are growing, alongside grasses and the pioneer tree species silver birch, which is quick to colonise new habitats following disturbance and will need managing to ensure the saplings do not take over.

Hanson site

The Empty Quarter

The sandy looking area in the photo above was probably the most interesting as here there was less crushed concrete and an abundance of holes in the softer ground, evidence the area is being used by solitary bees and wasps. There is obviously enough flowering on this part of the reserve and the surrounding banks for the green-eyed flower bee below:

Green eyed flower bee

Green-eyed flower bee

There were lots of dowdy plume moths (identified later by Bob, who also discovered one of their favourite larval food plants is common centaury) and we also saw a species of leaf-cutter bee and a six-spot burnet moth:

Leafcutter bee

Megachile sp

Six spot burnet

Six-spot burnet moth

I haven’t set foot on this part of the reserve before so it was nice to get the opportunity to have a look and see how it is developing. For those of you who are regular, long-standing readers of the blog, please don’t ask about the footpath, there is still no news…

Elsewhere on the reserve I have seen my first cinnabar moth caterpillars, with their distinctive black and yellow stripes. Their bright colours are a warning to predators not to eat them: as they merrily munch their way through common ragwort, the toxins present inside the plant build up inside them, making them unpalatable to predators.

Cinnabar caterpillar

Cinnabar caterpillar

There are also plenty of gatekeeper butterflies on the wing, like this one enjoying the common fleabane in the sweep meadow:

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper

When I emptied the moth traps this morning there were a couple of nice species inside, including a yellow-tail, coronet and a canary-shouldered thorn.

The highlight from the moth trap though was a hornet. Hornets are attracted to light, but are very docile first thing in the morning, taking a while to warm up and fly off. This one was quite content walking around the bench until it was ready to fly away, and it was nice to have a really good look at it up close:

Hornet

Hornet

Although hornets may get a bad press, they are much less aggressive than their smaller relative the common wasp and will only sting if attacked. They play an important role in pollination and are a gardener’s friend, helping control unwanted pests with their diet of insects.

Today has been a really good day for dragonflies, with common darter, emperor and brown hawker all on the wing over the ponds by the Education Centre. The common darters in particular have been posing nicely and letting you creep up quite close for a photo:

Common darter

Common darter

Today’s highlight though has to be the golden ringed dragonfly a visitor spotted over the ponds behind the Centre, with regular visitor John letting me know so I could take a photo:

Golden ringed dragonfly

Golden ringed dragonfly

This striking black dragonfly has yellow rings along the length of the abdomen, hence the name, and green eyes. The females are the longest dragonfly in the UK due to their long ovipositor which can reach 84mm in length. If they choose to rest they may stay in one place for some time and although present on the reserve (we sometimes catch their nymphs in the Dockens Water when river dipping, where they prefer flowing acidic water to still water) they are not quite as easy to see here as some of our other dragonfly species. It was a rather nice end to the day!

Spring Dipping for Lamprey

It was lovely to be back at Blashford on Sunday after a two week break, with the sun shining and chiffchaffs calling from what seemed like every other tree. It was time again for our monthly Young Naturalists meeting, and with the weather warming up we began with a rummage through the light trap. It revealed a number of Common and Small Quakers and Hebrew Characters along with this rather pale Brindled Beauty.

Brindled Beauty by Talia Felstead

Brindled Beauty by Talia Felstead

The light trap also contained a number of Clouded Drabs, with this one in particular making us take a closer look:

Clouded drab by Talia Felstead

Clouded Drab by Talia Falstead

We wondered if it could perhaps have been a Lead-coloured Drab instead, but couldn’t be sure. Having only a photo to show Bob today, we’ve decided it probably was a Clouded Drab, as their colours can be quite variable, but you never know, we might be wrong!

After carefully putting the moths back in the light trap to be released later in the day, we headed down to the Dockens Water in search of Brook Lamprey. Brook Lamprey can grow up to 15cm and can easily be confused with small eels, but they lack jaws, instead having a sucker disc with a mouth in the centre. They also lack scales, any paired fins and a gill cover, instead having a line of seven respiratory holes behind the eye. They are easily overlooked, burrowing down into sand, silt or mud before emerging in the Spring to spawn. They die soon after spawning, but their corpses are quickly devoured by fish and birds so often are not found.

Now was the time to go looking for them, and we knew a couple had been caught on a school visit the week before. We were in luck, catching nine in our usual river dipping spot and another two when we searched further downstream.

We also caught bullhead fish, mayfly nymphs, caddisfly larvae and pond skaters. On moving further downstream, we caught a large number of dragonfly nymphs, fourteen in total. We decided they were likely to be nymphs of the Golden-ringed dragonfly, a species that usually patrols upland and heathland streams. The nymphs often burrow down into the stream’s muddy or sandy bottom, leaving only their head and the tip of their abdomen exposed. They may remain in the same position for several weeks, waiting to ambush any prey that passes by.

With the Dockens starting its journey to the sea in the New Forest, it is not surprising the nymphs have found their way downstream to us, and whilst we don’t get many sightings of the adults on the reserve they are sometimes seen hawking low over the water.

It was great to see so many nymphs of all different sizes, we should have Golden-ringed dragonflies emerging from the Dockens for a good few years!

Whilst down by the river, we took some Elder cuttings from nearby trees for Bob. A small deciduous tree native to the UK, elder grows well on wasteland, as well as in woodland, scrub and hedgerows. As they do so well on disturbed ground, they will be planted by the volunteers on the Hanson site where hopefully if they root well their flowers will be an important nectar source for a variety of insects whilst their berries will be a great food source for mammals and Autumn migrants.

After lunch we were joined by Corinne from the Cameron Bespolka Trust, who came with us for a spot of nettle pulling alongside a stretch of path in the woodland. Whilst nettles are fantastic for wildlife, we have plenty on the reserve and clearing some areas gives other flora the chance to thrive. We’re hoping to see increased amounts of ground ivy and hopefully twayblades, a medium sized orchid that can be easily overlooked, so keep your eyes peeled!

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

The drunken, merry god of the woodlands.

It now really seems as though summer has arrived.  The rise in temperature and bright sunlight are encouraging a bit more insect activity, although not yet as much as I would have hoped. On the butterfly front I’ve recently seen red admiral, meadow brown, speckled wood, small white and large white.

Three out of the first four visitors today were asking about dragonflies on the reserve. Good numbers of damselflies including azure damselfly, common blue damselfly, blue-tailed damselfly, red-eyed damselfly and large red damselfly are out at the moment.  Emperor dragonfly and scarce chaser have been seen and a female broad-bodied chaser was seen hanging up on vegetation around the small pond behind the education centre.

Female Broad-bodied Chaser

Female Broad-bodied Chaser

I always think of dragonflies as being superb aeronauts with almost magical powers of flight to hover, dart and even fly backwards or upside- down, so it was a bit of a shock to find a golden-ringed dragonfly floating in the water in a ditch, looking as though it had met its end. Rescuing it was relatively easy and it crawled off of my finger onto a tree stump,where it slowly dried out before flying off.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly  - drying out after being rescued from a puddle in a ditch

Golden-ringed Dragonfly – drying out after being rescued from a puddle in a ditch

The general consensus of opinion seems to be that the poor weather last year is responsible for the dearth of butterflies and moths, this year.  Whether (weather?) this is the case or not, there has been a decline in the numbers of moths coming to the light trap.  Last night there were some 24 individual moths representing 16 different species, not a large catch for what is probably the peak time for moths. Among the catch were a  privet hawkmoth and an eyed hawkmoth.

Privet Hawkmoth  - Sphinx ligustri

Privet Hawkmoth – Sphinx ligustri

Probably the most eye-catching of the rest was this buff ermine

Buff Ermine  Spilosoma luteum

Buff Ermine  – Spilosoma luteum

A constant fascination, to me, is the way that all animals and plants have an instinctive, in-built knowledge or awareness of the passage of time and the changing of the seasons. Only by this mechanism are they able to co-ordinate the synchronisation of, say, all plants of the same species  coming into flower together.   As I was wandering around earlier, opening up the hides, I chanced upon a fine display of flowers on several groups of sedges – I think!! ( Some of you will know that  my botanical knowledge is somewhat selective and when it comes to ‘grass-like’ stuff rather suspect!) Well whatever they are their flowers, although only yellow-green are really quite delightful in close-up.

sedge flower(?)

sedge flower(?)

Much of the vegetation on the reserve is of the green variety, so it’s always nice to see a splash of colour. Today one of the more obvious plants ‘on parade’ were the flowers of red campion, with their characteristic swellings behind the petals, they are almost unmistakable.  But, having been caught out recently on plant names, I thought I’d check. It’s only when you bother to look up some of these things that you find that even some of our common plants have interesting connections in folk-lore and fascinating biology. The scientific name for red campion is Silene dioica. Silene comes from Silenus, in Greek mythology,  who is the ‘drunken, merry god of woodlands’. The second part of the name dioica, refers to ‘two houses’  and refers to the fact that each plant has flowers of only one sex so that two plants are needed for pollination and seed production.

Red Campion - Silene dioica - the drunken, merry god of the woodands

Red Campion – Silene dioica – the drunken, merry god (goddess?) of the woodlands

Of Mice and Wren

With a calm, overcast night last night I was hoping for a reasonable range of moth species in the light trap. One of  my first activities on arriving is to disconnect the light and cover up the trap before going round to open up the hides, Today, however, there was what I can only describe as a ‘scuttling’ sound as I moved the light – our resourceful, moth eating wren was back.  Scrambling to free the bird, I lost a few of the moths as the wren retreated deeper under the egg boxes before eventually flying out into the nearby bushes. From the few loose moth wings and bird poo in the trap, I think a few moths had succumbed to the wrens appetite, but nevertheless there were still  over forty moths representing fifteen species.

I know Jim had a couple of Sallow moths yesterday, so I thought I’d add a picture of their cousin – Barred Sallow

Rather well-marked Barred Sallow

and a fine example of a rather richly marked Common Marbled Carpet

Common Marbled Carpet

Light traps are a little indiscriminate in what they attract and as well as moths there are usually huge numbers of midges and often some beetles. Today’s prize for the most colourful one goes to this Sexton Beetle.

Sexton or burying beetle

I very gingerly tapped this out from the egg box in which it was nestling  as previous experience has taught me that heavy handling of these beetles makes them exude the most disgusting odour – similar to that of the corpses that they locate, by smell, and then bury. I think they either eat the corpse or use it to provide food for their offspring, by laying their eggs on them.

Other insects were ‘out and about’, but the slightly lower temperature and lack of sun meant they weren’t quite so active. Fortunately this meant that those that were about would sometimes ‘hang-up’ conveniently to have their pictures taken, as was the case with this Golden-ringed Dragonfly, which was spotted by a visitor on a log at the side of the Centre car-park.  (N.B. the dragonfly, not the visitor, was on the log ).

Golden-ringed Dragonfly on log by Centre car-park

Apart from the wren, another unwelcome ‘guest’ or guests are the mice that from time-to-time inhabit the loft space of the centre. As they might chew through wiring or otherwise damage items in store, we regularly set out a baited, humane trap so that they can be captured and released some distance away from the centre. This can be a fairly regular procedure , but whether it is the same few mice involved or a continuous stream of ‘new’ ones isn’t clear. If it’s the same ones I  wonder whether they have become habituated to being ‘transported’ in exchange for some easy pickings of food from the trap. This then starts to pose the question of whether the mice would be there if weren’t for the food in the trap to attract them – but we wouldn’t know they were there without the trap to catch them….and so on!!!…. Surely this way lies madness!

Several months ago I published an image of one mouse just before it was  ‘releasd back into the community’, with a fanciful caption indicating that it was apparently begging for its freedom. Today’s mouse looked rather plaintive as well!!! 

Another pleading mouse

Bird interest is starting to pick up after the usual late summer downturn. Plenty of hirundine (swallow and house martin) activity over Ivy Lake as I opened up. Numbers of duck are increasing as gadwall start to return, I also caught a grey heron, in reflective mood, behaving more like a wader- up to its thighs in water.

Grey heron – in reflective mood.

On Tuesday I’ll be standing in to lead a walk called ‘ Going for Gold’ with the subtitle ‘a 50 bird challenge’. So tomorrow I think I might just do a recce to check where we might find them all — watch this space for news.