30 Days Wild – Day 22 – True Love

It seems we are having a very odd year, after a winter with some wintry weather we now have a summer with summery weather. I was late into Blashford as I had to attend a meeting off-site in the morning,  the moth catch was somewhat reduced after a rather cool night but did include a very fresh true lover’s knot. The name derives from the complex pattern, the name “true lover’s knot” has been associated with many actual knots, perhaps most often with one comprising two circular but interlocking knots that can move but not be pulled apart.

true lover's knot

true lover’s knot

The moth is common and although a heathland species feeding on heathers, will wander widely so is often caught well away from this habitat, they probably also feed on heathers in gardens.

I spent much of the afternoon mowing paths, a rather thankless task, as soon as I cut the strip beside the path the taller vegetation behind tends to fall, resulting in a path that is barely more passable than before.

Locking up at the end of the day I came across a pair of spiders, looking somewhat “loved-up”. I don’t think this species is one where the male is at great risk, but it probably still pays to go carefully when your partner is much larger and a fierce predator with a mean set of fangs! (or perhaps long-jaws).

pair of spiders

A pair of spiders – possibly the long-jawed orb weaver

Mating in spiders is achieved by the male passing a sperm packet, using his modified pedipalps and I think this maybe what is happening in this picture.

It was still very sunny and warm when I arrived home and took a look in the garden.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

The grass is really drying out now and flowering of many plants is accelerating. The knapweed is well out now, having gone from nothing to loads of flowers in just two or three days.

knapweed 2

common knapweed

Common knapweed is actually rather infrequent in true meadows, at least in southern England  as they would get cut before it goes to seed, it is more frequent in rough pasture or roadsides that are not excessively cut. It is a very good nectar source for lots of insects and so a couple of plants are a must for me.

It was a very fine evening and I realised I had not yet gone to look for the roosting silver-studded blue on the heath over the road form my house. These butterflies form small colonies usually on damp heathland and will roost in groups, typically on a slight slope that gets the last rays of the sun each evening. They make great subjects for photography, although the low light levels by this time of the day are always an issue.

silver-studded blue 5

roosting silver-studded blue (female)

silver-studded blue 2

roosting silver-studded blue (male)

The low light can offer the option of taking either with the light, as the top picture, or against, as in the lower.

Although the site is officially “wet heath” it is now bone dry and lots of the plants that should be surrounded by spongy bog are high and dry, which makes them much easier to photograph without getting wet knees. There were several bog asphodel plants in flower.

bog asphodel

bog asphodel

With the sun having set we were heading back when a cotton grass head standing out pure white in the gloom caught our eyes, in a typical year walking to a cotton grass plant could mean being up to your knees in a bog.

cotton grass

cotton grass seed head after sunset

Going out on the heath on a fine summer’s evening is magical and certainly something everyone should do if they can, ideally carry on well after sunset and go and listen for nightjar, woodcock and snipe, what could be better! Britain is home to a large part of the European lowland heath, valley mire and a lot of it’s upland counterpart too come to that, so it is a very British experience.

 

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30 Days Wild – Day 16 – Dealing with Uncertainty

After writing yesterday’s blog I was out at dusk surveying nightjar again. I did find some nightjar, I heard at least four churring males, but the highlights were actually a roding woodcock and drumming snipe. The churring of nightjar is an extraordinary sound, much more reminiscent of machinery than a bird. Woodcock make a strange squeaking call as they fly around their territory and, if they fly right overhead you will also hear a short croak between the toy-like squeaking. Snipe are closely related to woodcock and also fly around at night on display flights, they make a weird sound called “drumming”, this is not a call but a noise made by the bird diving at speed so that the air causes the outer tail-fathers to vibrate. A walk on a New Forest heath at night is a fabulous experience filled with strange sounds.

Day 16 started with a look at the moth trap, there were 2 privet hawk-moth, but the only new species for the year was an uncertain, or was it? It might have been a rustic, because these two species cannot reliably be distinguished and are best recorded as an aggregate.

uncertain

perhaps an uncertain and not certainly a rustic

What’s in My Meadow Today?

There are several dandelion like yellow flowers in my meadow, but a lot of them are not dandelion. The Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon is one as are the hawk’s-beards. The smallest is smooth hawk’s-beard.

smooth hawk's-beard

small bee on smooth hawk’s-beard

They are very attractive to nectaring bees and these small bees, which I have not identified so far, like them all and often move from the smooth hawk’s-beard to the other common species, beaked hawk’s-beard.

beaked hawk's-beard

beaked hawk’s-beard

Looking into the meadow is always worth a second and a third look. As though to confirm its status as a meadow I spotted two meadow bug Leptopterna dolbrata.

Meadow bug (Leptopterna dolabrata)

Meadow bug (Leptopterna dolabrata)

I think these are a pair, although the females typically have short wings and both of these are fully winged. I also found a brilliant green beetle on the wild carrot flower head, it was a rose chafer. This was at about five in the afternoon on Day 16, as I write this now, at just after seven in the morning on Day 17, looking out of the window I can see the beetle still on the same flower head.

rose chafer on wild carrot

rose chafer on wild carrot

30 Days Wild – Day 15 – Forest Visitors

I had most of the day off today and everything I have for the blog today comes under the  heading of……

What’s in My Meadow Today?

At first there did not seem to be much in the garden today, then I saw a dragonfly, at first I could not get to the right angle to see it through the grass, so I was not sure what is was. Eventually I could see it was a keeled skimmer, a species characteristic of the small boggy streams of the New Forest. When they first emerge dragonflies move away from water to feed up and mature. Once they are ready to mate they will return, where males will hold temporary territories and try to attract visiting females.

keeled skimmer

immature keeled skimmer

I have seen this species in the garden before in previous years,but this was my first this year.

Looking around a bit more I saw a blue butterfly, looking very fresh I thought it was unlikely to be a common blue, as these have been out for some time now and sure enough it was a silver-studded blue.

silver-studded blue

silver-studded blue (male)

These wander from the heaths of the New Forest, and occasionally we see several in the garden, but this was my first this year. The Forest is probably the best area in the whole country for these butterflies which are heathland specialists, their caterpillars feeding on heathers. Where they occur is not as simple as where their foodplant is though, the heather has to be quite short and they also need the right species of ant to be present. The larvae actually live in the nests of black ants during the day, only coming out at night to feed, apparently being protected by the ants. The adults when they hatch out of the pupa continue to get protection form ants as their wings harden, droplets left on the body as they hatch seem to attract the ants. Remarkable and very beautiful little butterflies and a joy to have visit the meadow.

I have included several references to wild carrot previously in this blog, one of the  reasons I have it in the meadow is that it is an attractive nectar source, especially for hoverflies. looking a the largest plant in the meadow I noticed a hoverfly feeding with others hovering above it. The feeding fly was a female and the others were males engaged in a competitive hovering, hoping to impress her with their skills and so their fitness as a partner.

hovering contest 3

hovering contest

They are one of the dronefly species, Eristalis nemorum (Thanks Russ). Although the picture was taken at over 1/1000 sec the wings of the hovering males are still a blur.

My back garden meadow may not be large but if I look closely there is a lot going on in it.

Weekend wanderings – part 1!

This weekend ten Young Naturalists joined us for our first weekend residential in the New Forest, staying from 7pm Friday night until 4pm Sunday afternoon at the Countryside Education Trust‘s Home Farm centre in Beaulieu.

From our base we explored a mixture of habitats including the local heathland, the traditionally managed broadleaf woodland at Pondhead, near Lyndhurst, the Needs Ore Marshes which form part of the North Solent National Nature Reserve, the farm at Home Farm and the shoreline at Lepe. We also had time for fascinating and informative falconry display by Amews Falconry, so all in all it was a fun, varied and packed weekend!

Here’s what we got up to…

After settling ourselves in at Home Farm, we headed out onto the heathland at Fawley Inclosure in search of churring nightjars, meeting up with Bob just after 8.30pm who was going to be our guide for the evening. We didn’t have to wait long! After walking a short distance down to the dip near Flash Pond we picked up their distinctive call, pausing to listen. We staying in this part of the Inclosure for a few minutes and were rewarded for our patience, with at least two different birds deciding to fly. One perched on the top of a gorse bush giving us great views of this secretive bird in the evening light.

I’m sure you can make out the nightjar shape in the photo below…thanks Nigel!

spot the nightjar Nigel Owen

Spot the nightjar… by Nigel Owen

We also spotted Stonechats and on turning on the bat detectors picked up both Common and Soprano pipistrelles. It was a great spot for Nightjar spotting so thank you Bob for sharing it with us.

On Saturday morning we headed over to Pondhead Inclosure, just outside Lyndhurst. The inclosure is a unique area of woodland in the Forest, being the only remaining area of hazel coppice with oak standards on the Crown land. In addition is has not been grazed by ponies and cattle for well over a century which has resulted in a rich variety of flora. Today the woodland is managed by the Pondhead Conservation Trust in partnership with the Forestry Commission.

Woodland walk at pondhead2

Walking through the woodland at Pondhead

Here we met Derek Tippetts who led us on an informative wander around the woodland, sharing his knowledge of the site’s history along with its current management, namely hazel coppicing and charcoal production. Charcoal burning is a historic New Forest industry which traditionally takes place during the summer months, thus complementing the winter coppice management. It also enables the Trust to manage the woodland in a self sustainable way through the sale of their New Forest charcoal to the local community.

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We were lucky to have caught the end of the bluebells which still carpeted the woodland floor, along with greater stitchwort and wood spurge. We also spotted herb Robert and bugle.

After being impressed by the craftsmanship that went into creating the Pondhead dragon, we made our way back to the minibus and thanked Derek for our brilliant guided tour (we had definitely lost our bearings by this point after venturing down some of the smaller paths and grassy rides!).

Pondhead dragon Nigel Owen

Pondhead dragon by Nigel Owen

From Pondhead we headed back towards Beaulieu, making our way down to Needs Ore Point for a picnic lunch. It was a lovely spot for a picnic, listening to the oystercatchers and redshank and watching the boats on the Beaulieu River.

IMG_0176

Our lunchtime view from Needs Ore Point

We explored the point, peeking into the old gull watching hut, spotting Sandwich terns as they flew past and watching the nesting oystercatchers.

We then made our way back along the track to the Needs Ore Marshes, which form part of Natural England’s North Solent National Nature Reserve. We spotted three distant spoonbills whilst crossing the field towards the hides and spent some time watching the birds on the Blackwater. We had heard a cuckoo calling throughout the afternoon, but the girls were lucky enough to spot one from one of the hides, which landed briefly on a tree in front of them before taking off again.

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We then walked further up the track, making our way towards Gravelly Marsh in search of a good view towards the Isle of Wight and to see what other bird life we could spot. We were stopped in our tracks however by two lapwing calling overhead. On close inspection of the ground below we spotted two lapwing chicks, camouflaged in amongst the soft rush and grass. We didn’t go any further and watched them for a few minutes before leaving them in peace.

On our way back to the track we were stopped again, but this time by the larvae of a great diving beetle, not something we expected to see wriggling its way with determination over the grass! We took a lot of photos before moving out of its way.

From here we got back on the minibus and made our way round to Park Lane, following the footpath down to Park Shore. We followed the shoreline back towards Gravelly Marsh to see if we could spot any nesting avocets on the nature reserve. We walked as close as we could and were able to spot a number in and on the edge of the pools on Great Marsh.

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Megan also found time for some sand art on the beach:

After a lot of bird spotting and making the most of the sunshine, we decided we had walked far enough for one day and headed wearily back to the minibus then back to the centre for dinner, cooked expertly by Emily and Harry.

Small copper Jackson Hellewell

Small copper by Jackson Hellewell

Thank you to Derek Tippetts for our excellent and informative tour of Pondhead and to Adam Wells, Reserves Officer, for his tips on where to go and what to look out for whilst on Needs Ore Point and Marshes and whilst exploring this fabulous part of the North Solent Natural Nature Reserve. Thanks too to Adam for sorting out our permissions for visiting both here and Park Shore with the Beaulieu Estate.

Thanks also to Geoff, Nigel, Jackson, Megan C and Megan Y for taking lots of fab photos during the day and for letting me pinch them in the evening for the blog.

Our wildlife sightings for Friday evening and day one (in no particular order!) were:

Stonechat, nightjar, soprano pipistrelle, common pipistrelle, Canada geese, greylag geese, cuckoo, linnet, chiff chaff, mistle thrush, spoonbill, lapwing, two lapwing chicks, reed bunting, reed warbler, black headed gulls, avocet, redshank, turnstone, mallard, blue tit, oystercatcher, ringed plover, Sandwich tern, common tern, cormorant, robin, red legged partridge, pheasant, gadwall, pied wagtail, mute swan, grey heron, Cetti’s warbler, wood pigeon, coot, crow, jackdaw, goldfinch, starling, little egret, swallow, blackbird, rook, shelduck, sparrow, kestrel, little grebe, house martin, pochard and skylark, along with great diving beetle larvae and a small copper butterfly.

To be continued…

30 Days Wild – Day 22

Lots of wildlife today, mostly after work. The sun was shining when I got home and int he garden I spotted the tell tale darting form of a hummingbird hawk moth. These are so difficult to photograph, but I did get one distant shot of this my first “Hummer” of the summer.

hummingbird hawkmoth

The first hummer of the summer!

I am lucky to live close enough New Forest to be able to get out onto the heath after supper and before it gets dark. It was a perfect evening, although with rumbles of thunder not too far away, so we went out in search of silver-studded blue butterflies, one of the delights of summer and we found some getting ready to roost.

silver-studded blue

silver-studded blue

We also found various other insects settling down for the night, including a male keeled skimmer dragonfly deep in the heather.

keeled skmmer

black-tailed skimmer, male

One of the most obvious things we saw out on the heath were water droplet bejewelled spider’s webs. I think it was just moisture from the air that had gathered on the fine webs, it was very humid. The result was webs with huge amounts of water scatter all over them, this did not seem to be inhibiting the spiders which were still lurking in their tunnels and darting out to investigate movements on their web.

spider

spider lurking in water bejewelled web