30 Days Wild – Day 23: Priorities

Finally a day when it was cool enough to get out on site with some machinery to get some of the paths trimmed. This is not the most glamorous of reserve management tasks but it has to be done. Managing a nature reserve is full of conflicting demands and dilemmas. No management is without impact and what is positive for one group of species will be negative for others. Trimming the paths often means cutting back nettles, as most will know these are the food plant of peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies, so I try to avoid cutting the patches in full sun which they prefer and to do larger scale cutting only after they caterpillars have finished feeding.

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a fresh summer brood small tortoiseshell

The clearance of dense nettlebeds promotes patches of grassland and other herbage which is preferred by a wider range of species such as small skipper, which have just started to fly this year.

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small skipper

Over the years I have managed many different sites used for various purposes, ranging from nature reserves, long distance paths, picnic sites and Country Parks and these dilemmas occur at all of them. In truth all land management involves conflicting interests and all land is in multiple use. On a nature reserve wildlife will take precedence over most of the site, but access and safety will be paramount in some areas. I do believe that whatever the land use, it is wrong to deny the multiple interests, land management is about balancing interests not ignoring some entirely. Above all management should be about maintaining and enhancing the possibilities that are available for the future, good management is about increasing potential not applying a full stop.

Following Day 22’s horsefly picture I got another, this time of a male Hybomitra species in flight. This one is Hybomitra distinguenda and they fly very fast indeed, the picture was taken at 1/4000 sec and the wings are still in motion.

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Hybomitra distinguenda

It is reputed that a species of this genus, albeit a rather large one from Southern Africa is the fastest flying insect having allegedly been clocked at 90 mph!

I have noted before how Blashford has many species that have come in from elsewhere, often due to the somewhat chequered industrial history. We have a number of coastal species including a very large population of annual beard grass, perhaps the largest in    the county, the natural habitat for it is poached upper saltmarsh, such a scan be found at Farlington Marshes.

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Mayweed flower in annual beard grass.

 

 

 

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30 Days Wild – Day 22: Punctuated

It was thankfully cooler today which allowed us to do some work along the open western shore of Ibsley Water. As it was Thursday the “us” was the famous Blashford volunteer team. We were trimming brambles and pulling ragwort. I know ragwort is a great nectar source, but in this case we are trying to establish grassland where there has been bramble, willow and nettlebeds, this means mowing, but as we have ponies on site we need to remove the ragwort first. Ponies will rarely eat growing ragwort, but if cut and mixed in grass they will and so can get poisoned.

This shore was dominated by huge beds of ragwort and nettles but years of cutting and light grazing are taking effect and we now have mostly grassland with patches of ox-eye daisy, bird’s foot trefoil and other more desirable species. In turn this is attracting insects such as long-winged conehead.

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long-winged conehead, female nymph

We saw a good few butterflies including good numbers of comma. It seems they are having a very good year and the fresh summer brood emerging now is particularly strong. This generation will breed and produce another generation of adult in the autumn which will them hibernate.

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comma

They get their name from the white comma-shaped marking on the under-wing, which is not visible in this shot. Their ragged wing outline makes them less butterfly-shaped and so harder for predators to find, this is especially so when the wings are closed.

I ran two moth traps last night, only about 50m apart, but one under trees and the other in the open. An illustration of what a difference location makes is seen from the number of hawk-moths caught. The one in the open contained 8 elephant hawk-moth, a pine hawk-moth and 2 poplar hawk-moth, whereas the one under the trees contained just one eyed hawk-moth.

As you will have gathered from this blog, I am a fan of insects in general, even horseflies, although I am less keen on them when they come into the office as this one did today.

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Chrysops relictus female

It is the females that bite, so it would be better if this one went outside again.

 

Birthday Set-up Finds

We spent yesterday preparing for today’s Big Birthday Bash to celebrate 20 years of outdoor education at Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve. As Jim detailed in his last post everyone is welcome to come along and help us mark this milestone by having a go at an activity like pond dipping, river dipping or sweep netting, or just meeting the staff and some of our wonderful volunteers.

As often happens when we are working out on site interesting things were found and yesterday’s top find was probably a magnificent caterpillar.

alder moth caterpillar

alder moth caterpillar

They are very brightly coloured and it will come as no surprise that they are distasteful and avoided by predators. They also have long paddle ended setae, a type of modified “hairs”, which make them look quite strange.

alder moth caterpillar detail

paddle shaped seta detail on alder moth caterpillar

I had never seen one of these caterpillars before and although the moth is not uncommon the caterpillar is not often found, but I described it as only “probably” our top find of the day with reason.

At lunchtime a visitor came in with a “hornet” they had found in their camper van. It was actually not a hornet, but a horsefly, in fact one of the largest species there is.

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female Tabanus species

The common large horsefly is Tabanus sudeticus, however there is another, very, very rare species that looks similar and is recorded from the New Forest. Although it is difficult to be sure of the identification this one has a lots of the features of the rare Tabanus bovinus. It is quite pale, has large triangle marks and a generally brownish hue.

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large Tabanus species

It is also possible to see that the underside is mainly pale and the eyes distinctly green. Unfortunately as it flew into a camper van somewhere in the New Forest it would not constitute a Blashford record, but given how extremely rare the species is it would still be of great interest if it could be verified.

I hope to see you at Blashford later today!

 

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.

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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.

 

A New Species!

One of the things we do at Blashford is to record species that occur on the reserve, this builds up a picture of what species we have and what management we might need to do to encourage the ones that are either rare or particularly reliant upon the reserve. To this end one of the groups we record regularly are moths, having done so for many year snow new species are a rare occurrence nowadays, but yesterday we found one. Admittedly in this case I tis probably a migrant sop not on that will change our management in any way, but interesting all the same. It was a micro-moth and actually quite a rare one in Hampshire with never more than five recorded in any year and those usually on the coast. This distribution is a clue to the fact that they are probably all migrants arriving from the continent. This year has seen quite  arrange of migrants from the south, although we are still awaiting the really huge numbers of silver Ys that can occur in a migrant super-year. Although small the new species is rather smart.

Oncocera semirubella

Oncocera semirubella

We have been rather busy in the last couple of days so picture opportunities have been few, but I did get a close-up picture of the business end of a horsefly on one of the picnic tables as I had lunch yesterday.

Horsefly, business end

Horsefly, business end

Only the females bite, this one is a female and the apparatus below the head is the biting bit! They do have splendid eyes though.