Moths Again

A combination of the need to do some repair work on the trap and a lot of very unfavourable weather has meant that it has been a good time since I have run a moth trap. Finally I have made some repairs and the conditions have picked up so the trap has gone out.

So far catches have been unremarkable and involve the typical early spring species such as the aptly named early thorn.

early thorn

early thorn

Although the early thorn does fly from March, early in the year, at least for moths, it also has a second brood which flies between July and September, when the name is not so appropriate.

A number of closely related species, mostly in the genus Orthosia and commonly known as “Quakers” fly at this time of the year, often the most frequent is the common Quaker, although it is often outnumbered by the small Quaker. One of the most distinctive of these is the twin-spotted Quaker, with its prominent “twin-spots”, although a few do not have them so prominent, just to keep me on my toes.

twin-spot quaker

twin-spotted Quaker

Although not called a Quaker the Hebrew character is in the same genus and easily identified by the prominent black markings on the fore-wings.

Hebrew character

Hebrew character

Other species are also now flying, the oak beauty is a close relative of the peppered moth, famous for having industrial melanism. The March moth, unsurprisingly flies now as does the yellow horned, which is widespread wherever there is birch growing.

yellow-horned

yellow horned

I might reasonably be asked “Why fly so early int he year?” it is rather cold and there are few flowers around to feed from. Equally there are not so many moth eating birds and bats about to hunt them when they are flying at night. Starting early in the year also means the caterpillars can get started eating the fresh, new growth. For species with more than one brood per year, such as the early thorn, it also allows time for the second brood to be reared, lay eggs and have the caterpillars pupate in time to over-winter ready to hatch in the next spring.

 

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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.

Some Moths and No Bins!

I ran the moth trap last night for the first time in a while and caught a dozen moths of five species, all typical early spring ones, but good to see for all that. The most frequent was common Quaker.common quaker

Next commonest was Hebrew character.hebrew character

Then small Quaker.small quaker

One thing that has not changed was the need to keep a close eye on the catch and keep it away from our resident robin.robin

There were also single clouded drab and early grey, but neither posed well for pictures.

Out on the reserve today the Woodland hide was busy with the usual good numbers of siskin, lesser redpoll, chaffinch and commoner woodland birds. When I was there I also saw 4 brambling and 7 reed bunting. It is always good to see the buntings as these are probably our nesting birds and feeding up well at this time of year has been shown to increase nesting success, important for a species that has been declining in recent years.

Out on the reserve reports received suggest that both of the black-necked grebe are still on Ibsley Water as was the Slavonian grebe. I saw a single adult Mediterranean gull, but I do not know if the ring-billed gull was seen today.

Near the Woodland hide there are quite  a lot of scarlet elf cup now, perhaps a little later than usual, but as bright as ever.scarlet elf cup

Although not as prominent as the many wild daffodil in the same area.wild daffodil

I spent the afternoon dealing with various odd jobs around the reserve. Although it was dry and quite pleasant the reserve was relatively quiet so I took the opportunity of the low traffic to fill in a few more of the pot holes in the entrance track, there are still quite a few but it is getting better.

Unfortunately towards the end of the day I realised that, at some point in the afternoon, I had put down my binoculars and as hard as I looked I could not find them anywhere. Although now rather battered I will be very sad if they do not turn up, they have been my constant companions for pretty much every day of the last twenty plus years, lots of birds seen through good times and bad. If you happen to see a lost looking pair of binoculars, please let me know!

Could you be a Wildlife Watch-er?

Pond dipping with Wildlife Watch at Blashford Lakes today

Pond dipping with Wildlife Watch at Blashford Lakes today

 

The Blashford Lakes Wildlife Watch group were in this morning – and following what has been a bit of a theme for the week so far, they were pond dipping!

140412BlashfordWildlifeWatch3 by J Day_resize

The children’s favourites were undoubtedly the large dragonfly nymphs in the catch, but mine was this intriguing sub-aqua caterpillar which I can only assume is some kind of caseless china mark moth, but more learned readers of this blog may be able to tell me otherwise or more precisely what it may be:

A china mark moth caterpillar?

A china mark moth caterpillar?

In no way connected to the pond dipping, or the suspected moth caterpillar, afterwards we had a look through the light trap. Surprisingly it wasn’t a great catch last night, (clouded drab, Hebrew character, common quaker, pale brindled beauty, herald and nut-tree tussock; pictured below), but the children (and accompanying parents!) enjoyed seeing them none-the-less:

Nut-tree tussock

Nut-tree tussock

Wildlife Watch is the junior branch of The Wildlife Trusts and the UK’s leading environmental action club for kids. If you care about nature and the environment and want to explore your local wildlife – this is the club for YOU!

There are 150,000 Wildlife Watch members around the UK (and the Isle of Man and Alderney too) and hundreds of local Watch groups where young people get stuck into environmental activities. Taking part in Wildlife Watch is an exciting way to explore your surroundings and get closer to the wildlife you share it with.

Watch groups are run by registered leaders who enjoy working with children and have an enthusiasm and concern for wildlife and the environment.

 There are five principles which underpin all Watch activity:  

 • increasing understanding of our whole environment
• fostering awareness and feeling for the world we live in
• encouraging a caring attitude towards wildlife and participation in conservation
• creating factual, informal, fun ways to investigate our surroundings
• ensuring that young people’s environmental concerns, ideas and opinions are recognised and developed, and opportunities are created to act upon them.

 Across the UK hundreds of adult volunteers are dedicated to running Wildlife Watch groups where children can meet and enjoy exploring their environment. Going regularly to a group, along with their peers, enables young people to have lots of fun and make new friends whilst they develop real understanding and commitment.

 Watch groups give children opportunities to discover local wildlife and get stuck into practical activities likely to encompass anything from environmental artwork and waste recycling, to barn owl surveys, pond dipping and wildflower fun days. All groups operate within a monitored framework of child welfare and safety and all Watch leaders undergo a thorough recruitment process to check their suitability to work with young people.

And why am I telling you all this? Because the popular and successful Blashford Lakes Wildlife Watch group needs more Leaders! The current leaders, Carol, Imogen and Jaime do a brilliant job (the group has even been “Wildlife Watch Group of the Year Regional Winner and even UK Runner Ups several times in recent years!), but at times they can be stretched, especially if someone is ill or on holiday and they are therefore looking for volunteers to join them as Group Leaders.

If you’ve read this blog this far then you’ve obviously got some interest  in wildlife and in helping children learn more about our natural world, so go on, take the next step and find out more about becoming a Wildlife Watch Leader!

For information about the Blashford Lakes group specifically e-mail Imogen (imogen_fidler@yahoo.co.uk) or if this blog has piqued your interest but you would like to find out if there is a Wildlife Watch group nearer to where you live (or even find out how to set one up if there isn’t!) contact Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trusts Wildlife Watch Co-ordinator, Dawn Morgan (dawn.morgan@hiwwt.org.uk). You won’t regret it!

Alternatively if you love the sound of Wildlife Watch for your own children you can be sure of a welcome at the Blashford Lakes group (and all of the others too I am sure!) – for details of the next group meeting see the website or get in touch with Imogen or Dawn!

 

Of Moths and Men(& Women) visitors

For the first time in a while I’ve just spent two consecutive days on duty here and they couldn’t have been more different.

Yesterday was fairly busy, the pleasant weather and sunshine enticed several tens of visitors, including a couple of organised group visits. Today, however, the promising start soon deteriorated and only a minority of the stalwarts stayed on much after lunch time.

Bird wise there have been the ‘usual suspects’, although the two mealy redpoll have been elusive and its looking increasingly likely that the great white egret has flown to pastures new (France?). The red-crested pochard is still hanging around and at least one black-necked grebe was on show from Lapwing Hide. One of our regular watchers reported, yesterday, that the osprey platform was being investigated as a possible nest site. Unfortunately the putative nest builders were a couple of Egyptian geese – so not such good news!!!

Today’s ‘best bird’ was a firecrest, spotted by Bob Chapman, in hanging ivy near the woodland hide.

Two different observers reported a strange continuous  ‘trilling’/ ‘warbling’ sound from low down in reed beds close to the Lapwing Hide. Trying to attribute this sound to any likely bird species proved impossible, but the suggestion it might be a frog species (Bull frog??) seemed to fit, but, as Patrick Moore used to say, ‘we just don’t know’.

The mild conditions and predicted overnight dry spell, encouraged me to put the light trap on for its first outing this year. Not surprisingly for the time of year there wasn’t a massive number of moths, only seven in total.

I’ll leave you with a few pictures of the moths…

P1470558 Oak beauty

P1470521 March Moth P1470551 hebrew Character P1470563 Chestnut

From top to bottom these are Oak Beauty, the rather seasonally named March Moth, Hebrew Character and Chestnut.

Common terns vs. blackheaded gulls – and other news

130518 Blashford by J Day (13)_resize

A beautiful morning this morning – the above picture of a mill pool calm Ibsley Water in  morning sunshine is not a view that we have been able to enjoy many of over the last year or so! A redshank was patroling along the shore when I opened up, but was quickly seen off by a territorial lapwing. A few minutes later the same lapwing put up this little ringed plover which conveniently flew closer to, rather than further away from, the hide:

 130518 Blashford by J Day (12)

Unfortunately there was no sign of the otter which someone has recorded as having seen from Lapwing Hide earlier in the week. I await my first view patiently!

The black headed gull colony seems to be doing very well – to the extent that, coupled with the unusually high water levels, nesting sites are at a premium and they are therefore seeking out new alternative sites both around Ibsley Water itself and elsewhere.

Unfortunately one of the “elsewheres” are the tern rafts deployed out on Ivy Lake. Two went out on Monday this week and the remainder on Thursday – on both occasions they were immediately descended upon by the common terns who have clearly been on the look out for them since they arrived and were no doubt perplexed by their absence before-hand. They are not made of as stern a stuff as in previous years though and on both occasions by the following morning they have been supplanted by the black headed gulls. However six plucky terns have stuck to their guns and so far are holding their own against a single pair of gulls on the left-most raft and this morning their were another 3 pairs of terns hanging around looking hopefull so with a bit of luck they’ll pluck up the courage to gang up and see off the interloping pair and perhaps even the rest that are currently monopolising the other rafts. At least one of the pairs of terns on the raft were mating this morning, so they mean business!

 

Common terns stand off against black headed gulls on Ivy Lake

Common terns stand off against black headed gulls on Ivy Lake

 

Other recent news on the bird front is an update from the BTO ringers running the CES site on the reserve who were pleased to ring their first willow warbler of the year (pictured below, thanks to Kevin Sayer):

Willow warbler

Willow warbler

Also caught and rung were: Reed Warbler 19, Reed Bunting 6, Garden Warbler  1, Great Tit 1, Blackbird 4, Long-tailed Tit 2, Blue Tit 1. Particularly exciting news from the ringing team were reports of what appeared to be a whitethroat territory, which if it was and they do nest, is possibly the first record of nesting whitethroat for the reserve.

I was out until dark digging over a much neglected allotment last night and being well and truly “midged” so I was  anticipating a bumper moth catch this morning – or at least more moths than there have been of late. I was therefore disapointed to find just two hebrew character, one flameshoulder, one common quaker and one lesser swallow prominent (flameshoulder and prominent pictured below):

130518 Blashford by J Day (19)_resize 130518 Blashford by J Day (2)_resize

Also in the trap, and the first of the year for me, if not the reserve, was a single May bug:

130518 Blashford by J Day (17)_resize

In the pond a lovely grass snake (other visitors photographed a grass snake eating a toad in the reed/scub between Lapwing and Goosander Hides today):

130518 Blashford by J Day (14)_resize

And the bluebells are looking (and smelling!) wonderful all along the Dockens Water:

The wonderful and uniquely British bluebell wood!

The wonderful and uniquely British bluebell wood!

There are lots of woods with more extravagant displays of bluebells than Blashford Lakes, but even so I look forward to seeing them every year. One of the best (if not the best!) places to enjoy bluebells locally is the Trusts Roydon Woods Nature Reserve between Lymington and Brockenhurst which I will be heading to soon with the family!

Sadly not everyone who visits our Nature Reserves do so with the same sense of awe, wonder and responsibility as we do. Ed and I had the unpleasant task of removing the fly-tipped waste (apparently the contents of a house clearance judging by the amount and type of assorted rubbish that had been dumped) left by one such visitor. No doubt tipped by a “business” involved in commercial removal of domestic waste for a ludicrously cheap price who avoids paying any waste trasfer duty (and no doubt saves a bit of diesel) by dumping in the nearest secluded green space – then to be removed at the expense of the landowner unfortunate enough to be the recipient of the rubbish, in this case us. Fortunately there were no farm animal carcasses or asbestos dumped this time, but sadly that is not an uncommon occurence either.

Here’s Ed with what was a very full trailer of rubbish at the end of the day yesterday (we were both as disgusted as he looks):

Fly tipped rubbish - not one of the more glamorous aspects of work at Blashford

Fly tipped rubbish – not one of the more glamorous aspects of work at Blashford

April showers…

Typical weather for the time of the year today… at last! Quite a cold wind made it feel a bit fresh even in the sunshine and though there was plenty of that there were some fairly dramatic showers too!

The following two pictures were taken of the north shore of Ivy Lake, the first from the southern screen along the Ivy/Rockford path and the second 5 minutes later from the northern screen on the same path:

130427Blashford3 by J Day_resize130427Blashford4 by J Day_resize

This same cooler weather meant that our moth light was not particularly successful – with just one hebrew character to show for it:

130427Blashford7 by J Day_resize

This morning I was busy leading the second part of a “Tracks, traps and signs” session which was begun last night with a short talk, bat walk, and setting and deployment of some Longworth small mammal traps. Somewhat surprisingly considering the coolness of the evening and lack of insects, we did record a small number of bats with the bat detectors – I’m not confident of what particular species they were but think that there were at least some pipistrelle, but suspect that there was at least one other species as well. It may be a sign of just how hungry they are in the unusually cold and late spring that they were out feeding at all in les than ideal conditions for them. Sarah Bignell, one of the Trusts ecologists is booked in to do 3 surveys this summer (when hopefully conditions will have improved!) and we look forward to finding out more about our bat population then. 

Nor were the mammal traps particularly successful: out of 16 traps (including two back up “fail safes” in the loft and one in the compost bin!) we only caught one small mammal, but one was better than none!

Preparing the trap:

130427Blashford1 by J Day_resize

One young female woodmouse (and proud captor Theo)!

130427Blashford5 by J Day_resize

The release!

130427Blashford6 by J Day_resize

Other news from the reserve include a sighting of a spotted redshank from Tern Hide on Thursday, at least a couple of whimbrel Thursday and Friday. Around the Woodland Hide and other feeders there are still siskin, redpoll (including some very handsome males now) and even the odd brambling still.

The most notable bird for me today however was willow warbler whose distinctive cascading song stood out from the rest of the bird song wherever I was on the reserve throughout the day, lovely!

More Warblers than in an Opera

The day started well with a fanfare of song from a chiffchaff as we unlocked the gates to the Reserve. On the way round to open up the hides there were quite a few more chiffchaff and several blackcap, busy carving out territories with their song. Near the Ivy North Hide and again near the settlement pond Cetti’s warbler were chanting their piercing call. Also by the settlement pond a few trills coming from the direction of the reeded area at first sounded like a reed warbler, but after a break in song the next twitterings were almost certainly those of a sedge warbler. As is usually the case,  getting sight of these birds is not so easy, even though the leaf cover is only just starting to appear, but I did manage to get a half-way reasonable image of a blackcap.

Male blackcap

Male blackcap

With the spell of warmer weather it’s about time for some of the invertebrate fauna to be putting in an appearance. With that in mind, Jim set up the light trap last night which  managed to attract 27  moths of seven different species.    Mostly Common Quaker (11) and Small Quaker (7) plus two Twin-spot Quaker there were also some nicely marked Hebrew Character (4) and   single Oak Beauty, Engrailed and a pug species which after some argument we eventually decided must have been a Brindled Pug. 

Hebrew Character

Hebrew Character

Engrailed

Engrailed

Oak Beauty

Oak Beauty – a well marked moth, but notice how well it blends into the background

Such a relative abundance of insect life, compared with the last few attempts at moth trapping this year, herald the start of a proper spring period.      Looking around elsewhere on the reserve it was appropriate to see, from the Tern Hide, a common tern hunting  over Ibsley water (sorry no picture – much too distant and mobile). Another first  for the year, and for me a real herald of Spring – this wheatear posing on the shingle out to the side of the Tern Hide.

Wheatear seen from Tern  Hide

Wheatear seen from Tern Hide

Moth-er’s Day

A two-in-one posting today, as I didn’t get round to one yesterday.

The diminished activity of bittern has been one feature of the last two days. Although there have been some good views of one,  seen regularly throughout the day from the Ivy North Hide, there is little evidence of more than one being around.   Having said that, to my certain knowledge there were at least four people who had their first ever views of bittern today and another visitor (from Kent , where they have breeding bittern!)  ventured to say that he’d had his best views ever and added that he’d had one of his most memorable days of birdwatching with  excellent views of brambling and  lesser redpoll  from the Woodland Hide, which he described as ‘magic’.

With the bittern, by way of diversion, there was a snipe, hunkered down in what remains of the now somewhat ragged and tatty remnants of reeds and reedmace. A kingfisher was also seen from Ivy North.

A range of waterfowl species are still present, but in smaller numbers.  Goosander have given a number of visitors a great deal of pleasure and many of the drake  goldeneye,  gadwall , wigeon, teal and even mallard are looking particularly smart at present.

Another  measure of the somewhat chaotic temperature regime of late was the presence of a singing chiffchaff close by the Lapwing Hide yesterday.

It’s also that time of year when amphibians and reptiles are desporting themselves in any available small bodies of water.  I always think it’s amazing that they are inspired to such ‘passion’  whan the prevailing temperature has many of us reaching for the thermal underwear. Even so there have been mixed ‘flocks’ of common toad and common frog spawning in some of the wet areas close to the Woodland Hide and yesterday it  was warm enough to tempt an adder out to bask on the path close to the Lapwing hide.

As most people cannot have failed to realise, given the commercial pressures these days, today is Mothering Sunday – or to give it its now more familiar North American epithet “Mother’s Day”.   As those of you who know me will testify, I have a tendency to  mis-interpret some words for comedic effect.  Prompted by this, and a request from ‘she who must be obeyed‘ , I set out the light trap overnight to see if we could capture a few nocturnal lepidoptera.  Unfortunately given the time of year and the cool conditions it wasn’t conducive to producing the most spectacular array of moth species, but Blashford is used to attracting some very different characters including this Hebrew Character, though I don’t think they come here from Israel!

Image

Hebrew Character – named, I believe, from the shape of the prominent dark markings on each wing.

The only other moth in the trap was a Small Brindled Beauty.    The female of this species doesn’t have wings and like many (all?)  moths attracts a mate by releasing pheromones which the male detects with its large feathery antennae visible here.

Image

SO not the most dramatic or impressive array of moths caught in our overnight trap, but it does give me the excuse for wishing you a happy Moth-er’s Day……