30 Days Wild – Day 23

A day off to receive a delivery and get work done on my car, so spent at or within walking distance of home. I had planned to do some gardening, but it was too hot to do anything very strenuous, so most of the time was spent insect watching. The mini-meadow is still looking great with field scabious and knapweed now taking over as key nectar sources.

knapweed

knapweed

There are lots more “bit-part players” as well like the lady’s bedstraw, which are not very showy but add variety and support other species.

lady's bedstraw

lady’s bedstraw

The most obvious flowering plant now is the wild carrot, it attracts lots of species with an easy to land on flower head and a bit of easy food for a wide range of species.

lacewing

lacewing on wild carrot

With so many insects around at present it is unsurprising that there are predators, I came across my first robberfly in the garden this year.

robberfly

Tolmerus cingulatus

I had thought that I would not get free to do very much, but as it happened all my ties were dealt with by lunchtime, so I went onto the Heath for a short time in the early afternoon. It was very hot, this is usually a place I go at dusk, so It was great to see it int he heat of the day. The area is a conifer plantation that has been partly cleared and the rest thinned. I really wants to be heath and everywhere there is enough light getting to the ground is now covered in heather. I was amazed by the huge numbers of sliver-studded blue everywhere, in areas only cleared last year and even under the thinner areas of pines. Although it is often said they spread only very slowly, perhaps just a few tens of metres per year, where they get a new opportunity they can evidently spread much faster than that. There were also lots of wasps of many species, none of which I could identify and fabulous bog flora such as bog asphodel and sundews.

bog asphodel

bog asphodel

oblong-leaved sundew

oblong-leaved sundew

The heat made photographing insects difficult as they were so active, but at least the longhorn beetles were a bit easier.

yellow-and-black longhorn

yellow-and-black longhorn, seemingly being attacked by an ant.

30 Days Wild – Day 11

I started the day going through my garden moth trap, the highlight was a pine hawk-moth, a species that was rare in England before the large scale planting of conifers in the years after WW1. I often catch them as I have a large conifer plantation under 200m from the house. Although I see them frequently they are often very worn, so this very fresh one was a treat.

pine hawk 4x3

pine hawk-moth

The only native pine in the UK is the Scots pine and that is a true native only in Scotland and the very north-east of England. It used to grow across most of the country, colonising after the last Ice Age, but as deciduous trees took hold it was out competed and became extinct. The pine hawk-moth occurs only in the southern half of the UK outside the range of native pines, so it is here only thanks to the planting of pines by people.

I also caught a couple of species for the first time this year, one was the uncertain, a splendid name for a moth and one that has recently become even more apposite. The uncertain looks similar to another moth, the rustic, but regular moth trapper would usually be happy to say they could tell them apart reliably. However recently it has been realised that some uncertains look just like some rustics and the features thought to differentiate them are not entirely reliable, so they are in fact “uncertain”, unless dissected and I don’t want to go there. Having said all that I still think this one is an uncertain rather than a rustic.

uncertain

I am pretty sure this is an uncertain!

The other new one was a common Pyralid moth, Endotricha flammealis, I say it is common, but actually this is only the case in the south of England, although it is spreading northwards, probably helped by climate change.

Endotricha flammealis

Endotricha flammealis

The rain seems to have encouraged a few more plants to flower, it has certainly greened things up a bit and will no doubt result in a growth spurt in vegetation everywhere. In my mini-meadow the perforate St John’s wort is just starting to flower.

perforate St John's wort

perforate St John’s wort

I also saw my first knapweed flower today, these are a great nectar source for loads of insects and along with the field scabious the most popular flowers in the meadow in mid-summer.

knapweed

knapweed

Although I refer to this part of the garden as a mini-meadow this is wrong as a meadow is an area where grass is cut and taken away as a crop, this means cut in June or early July, so some species that don’t usually set seed before that time do not typically occur in them. What I have is more of a herb-rich permanent grassland, I cut most of it in the autumn, far too late for a hay cut and even then I cut it in patches so I don’t remove too much of the grass all at once. I also cut at different heights and dethatch some bits to increase the diversity within my small patch. I have to take care not to knock down any  anthills, of which there are now quite a few, as these increase the surface area and provide extra diversity.

30 Days Wild – Day 5

You may have got the impression from yesterday’s three pictures of Tortrix moths that they are all grey or at best black and white, but nothing could be further from the truth and to prove it here is a very different one.

Agapeta zoeganaAgapeta zoegana

This one was in my garden moth trap, the caterpillar eats the roots of knapweed and probably field scabious, both of which I have growing in my garden mini-meadow.

My journey to work takes me across the New Forest and from time to time I see interesting wildlife on my way. This morning’s top spot went to a hawfinch which flew low over the road in front of me.

By contrast things at Blashford were pretty quiet today, the patchy weather perhaps not helping, with several showers and the wind pretty strong at times too. One surprise though was a pair of gadwall on the Education Centre dipping pond when I was emptying the moth trap. I have often seen mallard on there, but gadwall I had not expected.

Towards the end of the afternoon I went down to Ivy South to check on the common terns nesting on the raft. With the iffy weather I knew all the birds with clutches would be sure to be sitting tight. In addition the wind meant the rafts were swinging a bit so I could see from slightly different angles, with luck I hoped to get a good count of the sitting birds.

terns on raft 4x3

Nesting terns on Ivy Lake raft

I concluded there are certainly 23 nests on this raft, probably 24, and possibly 25, there is also one gull nest. In addition there is another on the other raft along with several black-headed gull and an additional pair which don’t seem to have settled yet. So the total is a minimum of 25 pairs and perhaps up to 27. There also appears to be one pair still milling around on Ibsley Water. The density of nests on this raft is amazing, it is only 2.4m x 2.4m (8ft x 8ft) so the total area is 5.75 square metres, there are at least 24 nests which gives each pair just under a quarter of a square metre each (50cm x 50cm).

Although our tern colony is not large but it is important as over the years it has been one of the most productive in the country, sometimes fledging over two chick for each nesting pair, typically productivity is between 0.5-1.0 chicks per pair on average across a colony. So you could say it is as important as perhaps a 100 strong colony might be elsewhere. Terns live a long time, 20 years and more, so the chicks produced at Blashford over the years will probably be out there in colonies all over southern England. One thing that is certain is that few return to us, if they did our colony would be in the low hundreds of pairs by now!

Overall, so far at least, this seems to be a good breeding season for lots of species. The fine weather suited most of the small birds, with perhaps only the thrushes not liking the dry conditions, The coot and moorhen have done well, they will have benefited from the good weather but their success also suggests we do not have a significant issue with mink on the reserve just now.

young moorhen

young moorhen

A successful early brood is doubly important for moorhens, as once full grown the offspring of the first brood will help to rear the next. This helps the parents, meaning the second brood can be larger but it also means the young will have experience in what it takes to rear a brood, making them more likely to succeed when they first nest themselves next spring.

30 Days Wild – Day 30!

Another 30 Days over. I was at home doing various domestic tasks, but decided to do a home “Bioblitz” and managed to record just over 200 species, with one or two more yet to be identified. In many ways it was a disappointing day, despite sunshine and warmth, hoverflies were very few indeed, both in number and species, in fact insects generally were few.

I only included plants that are native or established in the wild and that are either in the garden without my assistance or if I have seeded them here they must be established and seeding themselves. This allows me to include the plants in the mini-meadow, such as knapweed, field scabious and ox-eye daisy, which we added by me.

I started with the moth trap, so twenty species to start with, not a great catch, but not bad for an actinic trap in a suburban garden.

Dioryctria abietella

Dioryctria abietella

Dioryctria abietella is a fairy common Pyralid moth, the larvae feeding on various conifers in gardens and plantations.

I did not stay at home all day though, I wen to the tip, now the traditional Sunday activity in suburbia, since the decline in home car washing. I also ventured out to Lepe Country Park., where there were a good range of butterflies including my first white admiral of the year. I did not manage a picture of that, but I did get a male green-eyed flower bee which had stopped for a brief spot of sun bathing.

green-eyed flower bee

green-eyed flower bee

So the end of another 30 Days Wild, hopefully lots of people have got involved this year, it seems to be a growing thing year on year. There is no doubt that concern for environmental issues had grown and it is even starting to pop up on the political agenda from time to time. I have worked in nature conservation for forty years and throughout this time the objective of the movement has been to try to save and enhance habitats whilst changing hearts and minds. The hope being that some of the best has been saved for the time when there is general agreement that we need to do thing differently and we learn to live with nature not compete with it.

So how far have we got in forty years? Honestly not far, awareness of the problems might have increased, but the problems have worsened dramatically. If we are to have much at all worth saving the next forty years are going to have to be very different, the pace needs to pick up dramatically. Even then the twin juggernauts of money and power are not going to give up their grip over the direction of travel easily, whilst there is profit to be made from “Dewilding” I suspect hopes significant of “Rewilding” are going to be unfulfilled.

We do know more now, we are better informed, but much of what is coming to the fore now has been around for the entirety of my working life without making much impact. The “Bigger and more Joined-up” ideal for conservation sites results from work done and published in the 1960’s – it just took forty years to catch on. Rewilding projects date back even longer, but are only now receiving much attention. Climate change and global warming warnings have likewise been around for longer than I have been working, the term “Global warming” in this context was coined in 1975.

So pretty much all that we have manged to get over into the wider public domain is what was already available when I started working. I like to remain positive, in fact there is nothing else to be, but we need the hearts and minds to be stirred to action if things are actually going to change meaningfully.

It is still possible to spend 30 Days Wild, but we need to looking to spend 30 Days not just Wild but Wilder, each and every year. So enjoy your local wildlife, try to make space for more of it in your life at every level, every tiny action that is positive for wildlife is  Rewilding, don’t leave it to the big landowners and conservation charities. It is only mass participation in action that will bring results, leaving to the well-meaning just is not  going to be enough.

sunset crows

the sun going down on 30 Days Wild

 

30 Days Wild – Day 29

A day off in the heat, I spent much of it in the garden, although staying largely to the shadier areas. I was going to have a look for insects, in the hope of adding new species to my garden list, but my willingness to stay out in the full sun for very long thwarted this. I did manage to record one new species though. I used the pheromone lures for clearwing moths again and this time attracted several male red-tipped clearwing moths, these are quite frequent at Blashford, but I had not recorded them at home previously. I did try to get some pictures but in the heat they were so active that this proved impossible.

The mini-meadow is looking great now, the ox-eye daisy and corky-fruited water-dropwort are just starting to go to seed but the field scabious, knapweed, wild carrot and bird’s-foot trefoil are just coming to their best.

field scabious

field scabious

knapweed

knapweed

Both the scabious and knapweed are particularly good nectar sources, being very well visited by bees and butterflies.

corky-fruited water-dropwort

corky-fruited water-dropwort

The smaller individual flowers that make up flowerheads of wild carrot and corky-fruited water-dropwort are less attractive to larger insects but will still have lots of insects, in this case pollen beetles.

30 Days Wild – Day 22

Away on a trip up to Salisbury Plain, specifically Fyfield Down, near Avebury. Fyfield is a National Nature Reserve and it is where the people at Avebury got the stones from, remarkable dry valleys filled with a dense scatter of large rocks.

Fyfield NNR

Fyfield Down NNR

The main wildlife interest is in the lichens on the rocks, but on the reserve and the walk up from Avebury there were lots of insects. Butterflies were unremarkable but I did see two painted lady, possibly a sign of a mass migrant arrival underway.

Mother Shipton 2

Mother Shipton

The picture shows a moth rather than a butterfly, it is a Mother Shipton, the pattern on    the upper-wing supposedly looking like the silhouette of a witch of that name, with eye, long nose, mouth and long pointed chin.

Most of the insects I saw were flies, nectaring, especially on hogweed. One was a species that was new to me, a fly with densely patterned wings called Platystoma seminationis.

Platystoma seminationis 4x3

Platystoma seminationis

Quite a few flies have patterned wings and use them to display by waving them around to attract a mate. Picture-winged flies are well known for doing this and I came across two males having a vigorous struggle for the right to a display point at the top of a musk thistle, possibly a mistake as the species breeds in the seedheads of knapweed.

Urophora jaceana 4x3

Urophora jaceana, two males fighting

There weer also lots of dung-flies.

dung fly

dung fly

It was not all flies though, there were also lots of garden chafer beetles, a species I don’t see very often.

garden chafer

garden chafer

 

30 Days Wild – Day 14 – It’s Not Just Grass!

A day off catching up with domestic tasks, so wildlife watching was largely restricted to the garden. The mini-meadow is looking very fine at present, it may only be 5m by 4m, but it is packed with flowers and has  a very good structure. The term “structure” in relations to grasslands means the variation in height and the layering of the vegetation. A well structured grassland will have vegetation at every level. In mine the lowest level is occupied by lesser stitchwort, mouse-eared hawkweed, cowslip, bugle, bird’s-foot trefoil and white clover. Slightly higher is the yellow rattle, creeping buttercup, dandelion, ribwort plantain, red clover and bloody cranesbill.  Higher still are the ox-eye daisy, hawkbits, field scabious, perforated St John’s wort, meadow buttercup and corky-fruited water-dropwort. The top layer is mostly taken by knapweed. There are several different grass species and a number of other herbs dotted about. 

This structure allows insects to move about all through the area at every level and light can get through to the ground. This is the opposite of an intensive grassland where the objective is a dense even grass sward, these may be fields, but they are really high yield grass crops, with high biomass and low biodiversity. Traditional forage crops were hay, and repeated cropping tended to increase biodiversity and and reduce the biomass. It is easy to see why farmers seeking lots of forage would move to an intensive model, but the result has been a 97% loss of herb rich grasslands in the UK in a lifetime.

“Views over green fields” might be trumpeted by estate agents or implicit in the idea of the “Green Belt”, but green fields are ones that have lost their biodiversity. Similarly green lawns, verges and civic areas are ones that have had their diversity and wildlife stripped away. It is easy to see why agricultural grasslands have been “improved” to increase their productivity, these are businesses seeking to make a profit. Despite this most of the best remaining herb-rich grasslands are on farms and farmers are at the forefront of improving the situation.

So why are local authorities and corporate owners of mown grasslands so set on removing their variety has always been a mystery to me. Many years ago I worked at a Country Park and took to leaving the banks and other areas not walked on to be cut just once a year, mowing the rest as paths and patches around picnic tables. Pretty soon we had meadow brown, common blue and marbled white flying between the picnic places. However I soon got complaints, not from the site users, but from councillors and others who declared it “untidy”, I did not give up but as soon as I moved on they restored the old regime.

P1050731

My mini-meadow, it really is not difficult to have diverse wildlife friendly spaces rather than dewilded grass.

Some land uses demand regular mowing, but it should not be the default approach, we should expect habitats to be managed to maximise their environmental value. Wildlife lives everywhere, given the chance and should do so, we should expect land managers to be properly discharging their responsibility for the land they manage and to be looking to increase biodiversity, not mowing, or worse still, spraying it to oblivion.

meadow brown

Meadow brown in the meadow, hiding from the wind

Bombus lucorum

Bombus lucorum, the white-tailed bumblebee on ox-eye daisy

30 Days Wild – Day 30 – Things Ain’t Always What They Seem

Yet another hot day and another spent mostly at home, I am working tomorrow at Blashford when we have a volunteer task, although what we will do in this heat I am not sure just yet. The day started with a check thought the moth trap, it had caught 26 species including a few first for the year, these were buff footman, grey/dark dagger (another species pair that cannot be separated on sight alone), bird’s wing and a waved black.

waved black

waved black

The waved black is a relatively scarce and rather strange Noctuid moth, it looks like a Geometrid, sitting with wings flat and out to the sides. The larvae eat damp fungi and even lichens and slime moulds.

The hot sun meant the garden was full of insects throughout the day, generally we do not associate moths with hot sunny days but there is one group that only seem to fly in such conditions, the clearwings. The day was ideal for them and I managed to find one species new to the garden, the large red-belted clearwing.

large red-belted clearwing (male)

large red-belted clearwing (male)

Clearwings are very odd moths, they not only fly in bright sunshine, they don’t really look like moths with their largely scaleless wings and in flight they look more like wasps than moths. The larvae feed under the bark of coppiced birch and alder and pupate there also. At this stage I will confess that I did not just look for the moth, I used a pheromone lure. This is an artificially produced chemical that mimics that produced by the female moth to attract the males.

large red-belted clearwing coming to lure

large red-belted clearwing being lured in

To give an idea of the speed of flight the picture above was taken at 1/1250 sec. The moth flew in and circling the lure before landing.

large red-belted clearwing at lure

large red-belted clearwing at lure

After a couple of minutes the fact that there is no female present seems to sink in and they leave, I managed to attract at least three males in about 45 minutes. The lures are usually specific to certain species, I tried five different lures today and only this one attracted any moths. Without the use of lures I have seen only a handful of clearwings in forty years or so of looking for them, use a lure of the right sort on the right day and they just appear.

It was a good day for looking int he meadow so, for the last time….

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Butterflies were very much in evidence with, appropriately enough, meadow brown being one of the most abundant.

meadow brown

meadow brown on field scabious

Small white, large white and small skipper were also much in evidence and there were also a couple of large skipper, a species I have only very occasionally seen in the garden in previous years.

large skipper 2

large skipper on field scabious

Field scabious is a great nectar source for insects and a great plant for a back garden meadow, it has bright showy flowers and a very long flowering season too. The picture shows the incredibly long tongue of the large skipper really well too, their tongues are more feeding tubes really, they reach to the nectar source and suck up the energy rich sugars.

Another great nectar plant is knapweed and these were alive with bees today, including lots of green-eyed flower bee, a small dumpy species with a very high pitched “buzz” that never seems to sit still for a picture.

green-eyed flower bee

green-eyed flower bee on knapweed

Where there are bees there are their followers, one such is the Conopid fly, there are several species and they intercept bees in flight and lay an egg that hooks between the bees abdominal segments, eventually hatching into a parasitic larva, not a pleasant story but it is extraordinary. There are several common species and the one I found was Sicus ferrugineus.

Conopid

Sicus ferrugineus

Juts as there are moths that fly in the daytime and pretend to be wasps there are also flies that pretend to be bees and wasps, some more convincingly than others. Most of the hoverflies in the garden are the various dronefly species that are fairly general bee mimics, but I also spotted one that was definitely more of a wasp mimic.

Xanthogramma pedissequum

Xanthogramma pedissequum

So this is the end of the 30 Days for another year, although I try to get a bit of “Wild” everyday, I may not get around to blogging about it daily. Thanks for your comments and if you have a garden try a mini-meadow, they are great fun and pretty good for wildlife too. Whatever you do, try to have as many Wild Days as you can!

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.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 2: In the Garden

My weekend started early and I was on a day off today, so I took the chance to do some work in the garden. Although not large and a pretty typical suburban garden it is now home to a good range of wildlife. When we moved in nearly three years ago we decided to leave part of the lawn and develop it as a small-scale meadow. It has come on well and looks the part quite convincingly now, with yellow rattle, field scabious, knapweed, ox-eye daisy and much more. It is perhaps more accurately a herb-rich grassland as some species are not entirely typical of true hay meadows, but it looks good and the wildlife seems to like it.

Ox-eye daisy

Ox-eye daisy

We do also have more conventional flower borders and here we have gone for plants that are good for nectar and pollen, such as geraniums, fleabanes and scabious species. Today I came across a brightly coloured fleabane tortoise beetle on an elecampane flower bud.

Fleabane tortoise beetle

Fleabane tortoise beetle

I did not manage to dig a pond in the first year so it was a bit of a late addition, but a very necessary one in any wildlife garden. A pond, even a small one such as our, does bring in so many more species, especially if you do not add fish.

pond skaters

Pond skaters feeding on a drowned bumblebee.

We even get a fair range of dragonflies and damselflies and today I found a pair of large red damselfly egg-laying.

Large red damselfly pair egg-laying

Large red damselfly pair egg-laying

The male remains attached to the female whilst she lays to ensure that the eggs he has fertilised get laid.

We also planted a few native shrubs, including an alder buckthorn, the food plant of the brimstone butterfly, this has almost worked too well and our tiny tree has more than ten caterpillars and almost every leaf has been nibbled!

Brimstone caterpillars

Brimstone butterfly caterpillars

I like the fact that I can be at home in the garden but still be surrounded by a bit of the wild. Gardens can be fantastic for wildlife, especially for insects such as bees and others that require nectar and pollen, growing good plants for these species also gives you a great flower filled garden so is a win all round.