Of moths and other insects, and a bit more besides…

I’ve fallen behind with my Young Naturalists updates, but since meeting at the reserve for the first time in April, enjoying the bird song and river dipping, we’ve been out onsite enjoying all the reserve has to offer, looking for reptiles, improving our moth identification, pond dipping and enjoying the insect life in the meadow. We’ve also been campfire cooking and improving the biodiversity of one part of the reserve by spreading wildflower seed. 

At the end of May we went for a walk on the northern part of the reserve, in the hope of finding some reptiles. We saw chiff chaff, blackcap and reed bunting and enjoyed listening to the reed warblers and Cetti’s warblers calling in the reed bed. 

We headed off into the reedbed to check some of the reptile refugia or felts used by the volunteers when they survey the reptiles. Our first sighting however wasn’t of a reptile, instead we found this caterpillar of the Oak eggar moth on top of one of the felts:

oak eggar caterpillar

Oak eggar caterpillar

The hairy caterpillars feed on bramble, blackthorn, willow, hawthorn, hazel and other woody plants.

Under another refugia we were lucky enough to see our first reptiles, finding two adders. The first disappeared quickly into the vegetation, but the second stayed long enough for some of the group to get a good look and take some photos:

adder Daisy Meadowcroft

Adder by Daisy Meadowcroft

Adder by Daisy Meadowcroft

Adder by Daisy Meadowcroft

After leaving the reed bed we saw speckled woods enjoying the sunshine and watched the sand martins flying over Goosander Hide. We also saw a female adder basking on the bank by the hide.

After lunch we decided to pond dip, catching a very smart male smooth newt:

smooth newt

Smooth newt

We also caught an impressive Emperor dragonfly nymph, which given the number of exuvia around the edge of the pond was a bit of a surprise, there were still more lurking in there!

Emperor dragonfly nymph

Emperor dragonfly nymph

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia 2

Dragonfly exuvia

The larva’s final moult takes place out of the water. As the adult dragonfly emerges from its larval skin, the cast skin or exuvia is left behind. It’s always fun to carefully look for evidence of their metamorphosis amongst the vegetation (and man made structures!) in the pond margins and the group had a good hunt, photographing their finds.

In June I had planned to spend the session focusing on insects, but with the weather so changeable we ended up adding in some campfire cooking as well. We began by looking through the moth trap where the highlight was this Poplar hawk-moth:

Poplar hawk moth

Poplar hawk-moth

Alex with a Poplar hawk moth

Alex with the Poplar hawk-moth

We also had a Buff tip, with its amazing camouflage, a very smart Muslin moth and a Burnished brass:

Buff tip

Buff tip, doing its best broken silver birch twig impression

Muslin moth

Muslin moth

Burnished brass

Burnished brass

Rummaging through the moth trap didn’t take very long, and with the sun briefly making an appearance we hot footed it to the meadow before the showers came.

Meadow sweeping

Meadow sweeping

In the meadow we saw a small skipper butterfly, grasshoppers, a speckled bush cricket, a green leaf weevil and a green-eyed flower bee enjoying the selfheal.

We also saw a number of Thick-legged flower beetles, also known as swollen-thighed beetles and false oil beetles. They are often seen on the flowers of ox-eye daisies and other open-structured flowers and only the males have swollen thighs:

Thick legged flower beetle

Male Thick-legged flower beetle on Ox-eye Daisy

Female Thick-legged flower beetle

Female Thick-legged flower beetle on Perforate St John’s-wort

The meadow and the lichen heath are both covered in Perforate St John’s-wort at the moment, it is having a really good year. Traditionally it was used as a remedy for all kinds of ailments, including wounds and burns, and is still popular today for the treatment of mild depression. Research and opinions however differ on how effective the latter is.

It can be identified by its bright yellow star shaped flowers and the tiny ‘holes’ in its leaves. The holes are in fact colourless glands that apparently give off a foxy smell. If you hold a leaf up to the sun, the tiny holes are easy to see, but they’re definitely more obvious on a sunny day!

Perforate St John's Wort

Tiny ‘holes’ in the leaves of Perforate St John’s-wort on a sunnier day

After a short while in the meadow, we headed back to the Centre collecting nettle tops on the way to make some nettle soup. We also picked some mint and lemon balm from around the pond to make tea. After gathering the kit and our lunches, we headed to the campfire area.

Alex decided to toast his sandwich and after eating we boiled some water for the tea and made our soup. Both had mixed reactions, although to be fair some teas did contain nettle, mint and lemon balm and we possibly gave the wrong person the nettles to wash… so our soup did contain a number of less welcome additions!

July’s session was also influenced by the weather. I had planned to do the Big Butterfly Count with the group last Sunday, something we have participated in with them for the last few years. The UK wide survey is running until the 8th August, so there’s still time to take part if you would like to, you just need 15 minutes and a sunny spot…

Thankfully, moth trapping has improved over the past few weeks, with more species and numbers of moths coming to the traps, and we were able to spend the morning having a good look through and identifying most of what we found.

Daisy made a list of those we were able to identify (we lost a few on opening the traps and some of the micro moths did stump us) and we managed to record 70 moths of 39 species in the first trap and 63 moths of 28 species in the second trap. Both traps were close to the Centre, with one positioned out the front towards the mini meadow by the Welcome Hut and the other positioned out the back of the building.

Our grand total from the Saturday night was 133 moths of 52 species. Here are some of the highlights:

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The Large emerald in particular proved popular:

Large emerald 2

Large emerald

Rosie photographing the large emerald

Rosie photographing the large emerald

After lunch, we went back to the meadow to see if the Bird’s-foot trefoil had gone to seed. If it had, we were going to collect some to add to the other seed we had from Bob to sow, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite ready. We did see a Common blue butterfly resting on a seed head:

Common blue

Common blue

We then went looking for wasp spiders on the lichen heath, managing to find two in amongst the soft rush. Their colours mimic the common wasp, keeping them safe from predators.

Wasp spider

Wasp spider

Wasp spiders build large orb webs in grassland and heathland. Their webs are quite distinctive, with a wide white zig-zag running down the middle known as a stabilimentum.

After some impromptu boat making by Kimberley and Harry, we stopped off at the river to see whether or not their boats would sail:

We then began our seed sowing, adding Bluebell seed in amongst the hazels to the side of the path between the bridge over the Dockens Water and the road crossing to Tern Hide. We swept away the leaf litter and put the seed thinly on the soil surface, before brushing the leaves back over to cover them.

We then crossed over the road towards Tern Hide and went through the gate to the part of the site currently still closed to visitors. This was once a concrete plant, and when the plant was demolished we began restoring the area, including the old main entrance roadway. Although it has taken time, this spot is now well colonised by lots of plants and our addition of some extra seed will hopefully help improve it even more. 

We added Wild carrot to the driveway, scattering it thinly onto patches of bare ground, Devils-bit scabious up on the bank as it prefers a deeper soil and Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon on the same bank, poking each seed individually into the ground using a pencil (we also saved some of these for the mini meadow by the Welcome Hut). Finally we also added Yellow rattle seed and some assorted hawkbits and crow garlic.

Fingers crossed some of them come up!

Thank you to the Cameron Bespolka Trust for funding our purchase of tools and equipment for the group.  

Green-eyed flower bee

Green-eyed flower bee on Inula hookeri by the Education Centre

 

It’s the little things…

Whilst Bob has been doing a brilliant job of blogging his 30 Days Wild antics, this week is also National Insect Week. Organised by the Royal Entomological Society, it encourages everyone to appreciate and learn more about the ‘little things that run the world’.

Insects are by far the most diverse and ecologically important group of animals on land and there are over 24,000 known species in the United Kingdom alone, with hundreds of species to be found in almost every garden and green space. With so many to study they are grouped into orders, for example the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), Hymenoptera (bees, ants and wasps), Orthoptera (grasshoppers and crickets) and Coleoptera (beetles) to name a few.

Insects have a huge role to play and without them our lives would be very different: they pollinate fruit, flowers and vegetables; they are food for amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals; and they feed on lots of living and dead things themselves, breaking down waste and helping to keep the balance of nature. You can find out more about National Insect Week on their website.

So here’s a very mini Blashford insect safari, using photos I’ve taken over the past few days, covering a very meagre 23 species and spanning five orders – I have quite a few more to track down!

The moth trap has revealed some spectacular moths over the past few days, including some very smart Privet and Elephant hawk-moths:

There was also another Scarce merveille du jour, with its lichen coloured forewings which provide it with brilliant camouflage:

Other species included a swallow-tailed moth, peppered moth, pebble prominent, lobster moth, large emerald, iron prominent, buff tip and barred straw:

The raised planters outside the front of the Centre are still a good place to look for insects, with plenty of bees, ladybirds, and butterflies making the most of the flowers:

There has also been a red admiral regularly resting on the fence posts and gravel outside the front of the Centre…

red admiral

Red admiral

…and I also found this Figwort sawfly on the mullein by the corner of the building:

sawfly

Figwort sawfly, Tenthredo scrophulariae

I’m not sure I’ve seen the sawfly before, or if I have I don’t think I’ve had the time to photograph and identify it, so it was nice to find a different species. Its striking yellow and black bands mimic a wasp and whilst the adults will sometimes nectar on flowers as this one was doing, they will often eat other insects. The larvae feed on either mullein or figwort.

Where we have not been using the grassy area by the side of the Centre for school lunches and Wild Days Out free play, the grass has been able to grow nice and tall and a few other plants have sprung up, particularly around the tunnel. One plant in particular seemed popular with the bees and volunteer Phil tested out his plant finder app on it for me on Tuesday as I had been trying to identify it without much success. It reminded me a bit of dead nettle.

Known as Black horehound (Ballota nigra), it grows along hedgerows, road side verges and on waste ground and belongs to the mint and dead nettle family, Lamiaceae. When the leaves are crushed it gives off a pungent rotten smell to deter herbivores (perhaps we need to relocate some into the planter by the Centre which has been targeted by the deer) which has given it the local name of ‘stinking Roger’ in some places. It also has a long tradition in herbal medicine and has been used to treat a range of issues from respiratory problems to travel sickness and depression to gout.

carder bee on black horehound

Carder bee on black horehound

There have been a number of emperor dragonflies hawking over the Centre and ponds and yesterday I spent some time sat by the pond watching a male fly overhead, occasionally dive bombing me. Every so often he would return to one particular iris to perch, either on or above the exuvia that was still clinging on, so I guess this could have been where he emerged:

emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly

This damselfly was not quite as fortunate as I found it in the firm grasp of a zebra spider who was doing an excellent job of carrying it around the post to devour in peace:

zebra spider and damselfly

Zebra spider, Salticus scenicus, and damselfly

In venturing further from the Centre to check the reserve, I had a brief glimpse of a fritillary along the Dockens path and managed a quick photo. I think it’s a Silver-washed fritillary:

fritillary

Silver-washed fritillary

In studying all the mullein I came across in the hope of stumbling across a mullein moth caterpillar, I had to settle for this grasshopper instead, although it did pose very obligingly for a photo:

grasshopper

Grasshopper

Now is definitely a good time to find and watch insects, and you don’t need to venture far to track them down as even the smallest garden or green space can provide a home for this incredibly diverse group of animals. So if you get the chance head outside and see what you can find!

Moving away from the insects, I ventured into our woodland log circle area on Sunday and it has certainly enjoyed the lack of bug hunting children, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so green and grassy. On a number of logs I found the fruiting bodies of the slime mould Lycogala epidendrum, also known as wolf’s milk or groening’s slime. If the outer wall of the fruiting body is broken before maturity they excrete a pink paste.

slime mould

Slime mold, Lycogala epidendrum or wolf’s milk

Finally, although they have been disappearing very quickly with the warmer weather, the grass snakes by Ivy Silt Pond have been very obliging, with two often on the stretch of hedge immediately behind the temporary sign:

grass snakes 2

Grass snakes on the dead hedge by Ivy Silt Pond

30 Days Wild – Day 8

A morning walk at Fishlake Meadows with a Wildlife Trust group got the day off to a good start, although rather windy and eventually curtailed by rain. We were looking at insects and flowers in Ashley Meadow, a part of the reserve that is not normally open to visitors. It has lush wet meadow and fen vegetation including a good population of southern marsh orchid.

Ashley Meadow flowers

Meadow vegetation with southern marsh orchids

Insects were rather few, but we did find larvae of the fleabane tortoise beetle, a few snail-killing flies and hoverflies, before the rain put an end to things. The canal was a little higher after the rain but the yellow water lily were keeping their heads above water well enough.

yellow lilies in Barge Canal

yellow water lily in the Barge Canal

Back at home by lunchtime today as the walk was a morning only event, th esun came out and a quick check soon found the silver-studded blue just about a metre from where I left it yesterday.

silver-studded blue

silver-studded blue

Something hopped onto the grass close by, a grasshopper nymph, the first I have seen in the garden this year, although it is already well grown, so I must have just missed it until now.

field grasshopper nymph

grasshopper nymph, I think of field grasshopper.

As it was World Oceans Day I thought I should go down to the sea, so made a quick trip to Lepe. A steady passage of common tern carrying fish suggests that breeding to the west is going well, so far, I just hope the storm has not flooded out too many nests.

Lepe

The Solent at Lepe

Even though it is June the last twenty-four hours have been decidedly wild, in not such a good way, with unseasonable wind and a fair bit of rain.

A different sort of wild tomorrow as it is the Wood Fair at Roydon Woods and I will be there doing some mini-beats walks and generally enjoying this fabulous site and of course all the exhibits and stalls.

Roasting and toasting

It was rather warm on Sunday for our August Young Naturalists gathering, so we decided to roast ourselves even more by spending time in the meadow, a habitat we haven’t really visited yet this year, followed by a bit of blackberry bread cooking over the campfire…

We began though with a look through the light trap which revealed at least 19 different species including a lovely Peach blossom, a Purple thorn, a Pebble hook tip and a Chinese character, amongst others.

We were then distracted by a Southern hawker flying over the pond, which Talia managed to photograph whilst it was busy hawking for insects:

Southern hawker by Talia Felstead

Southern hawker by Talia Felstead

After gathering up some sweep nets, identification sheets and bug pots we made our way over to the meadow in search of wasp spiders, grasshoppers and bush crickets and anything else we could find. It didn’t take us long to locate the wasp spider, just inside the gate on the left hand side.

Wasp spider by Talia Felstead

Wasp spider by Talia Felstead

I set the group a challenge to find a pink grasshopper and a Roesel’s bush cricket. I don’t think they believed me about the pink grasshopper, but once they’d spotted one they tried their best to catch it and find more, but without any success! So sadly no photo!

Most grasshopper species are a more sensible green-brown colour, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings, but some do carry genes that make them pink or purple-red. They just might not survive for long in the wild (or stay in one place long enough for a photo!), as they are more likely to be predated. The group did now believe there were pink grasshoppers though, and there were plenty more sensibly coloured ones around that didn’t move quite as fast for us to catch and look at closely.

As for the Roesel’s bush cricket, although we swept through the grass outside the meadow as well as in it, we couldn’t find one, so I will have to be content with the photo Bob put on the blog yesterday instead. We did though catch a very fine looking female long-winged conehead cricket instead:

Female bush cricket by Talia Felstead

Long-winged conehead by Talia Felstead

Bush cricket

Long-winged conehead, quite content on Megan’s hand

We also found a number of other spiders, including some brilliantly patterned orb web spiders and a wolf spider, alongside caterpillars, an orange swift moth, common blue damselflies, honey beesbaby toads and more.

After getting a bit hot in the meadow, we relocated momentarily to the shade and picked blackberries before heading to the campfire area to attempt a bit of bread making. Megan and Will H did a superb job of mixing us up some dough whilst Will S and Ben helped lay the fire which Ben then lit.

I offered the group blackberries, dried fruit, freshly picked marjoram and chocolate buttons for their ingredients, which seemed to cater for all tastes, and we had a mix of fillings and shapes on the grill – not everyone opted for chocolate! Everyone went back for seconds…

The group enjoyed bread making so much they requested more campfire cooking, so we agreed on a winter cookout towards the end of the year, the food list is already quite lengthy!

We also found time to hunt here for minibeasts, finding a flat backed millipede that managed to stay still long enough for Talia to take a photo and a ground beetle larvae.

Flat backed millipede by Talia Felstead

Flat backed millipede by Talia Felstead

Beetle larvae by Talia Felstead

Beetle larvae by Talia Felstead

Thanks to volunteers Geoff and Roma for their help on the day and to Talia for taking lots of great photos and sharing them with me for the blog.

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

A Risky Day to be a Fish

It was my turn to cover Sunday today and as a relief from the necessary deskwork I was determined to walk the reserve as it has been many weeks since I have done so. I decided also to keep a list of all the birds I recorded during the day, the result was a list of 65 species, not bad. My highlights were the osprey, which once again visited the perch in Ibsley Water and my first fieldfare of the season. The great white egret was reported but not seen by me.

Actually the most notable sighting in some ways was the weasel that ran across the entrance track as I opened the gate as I arrived, I have seen them only three or four times previously at Blashford. For those that saw it the otter that spent some time outside the Goosander hide will perhaps have been the most exciting record of the day. What with an otter and an osprey about it was not the best day to be a fish in Ibsley Water!

Out on the reserve, despite the recent dry weather, there are quite a good few fungi. A fair few brilliant red fly agaric are about now, a sure sign of autumn. I did find a reminder of summer in the shape of a field grasshopper.

field grasshopper

field grasshopper