From pond to meadow

At the beginning of June we re-started our Wildlife Tots sessions, discovering the weedy depths of the Blashford Pond. 

Our morning session started with a rescue, with Isabelle fishing this Emperor dragonfly out of the pond. It was quite happy to be handled, or relieved to be rescued, so we were all able to take a really good look.

I then relocated it to a safer spot, where it could finish drying off. It was still there when we met the afternoon group, so they were able to take a look at it too before it flew off. 

Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly

Newly emerged adult dragonflies are known as tenerals. They are weaker in flight and paler in colour. As the body and wings harden off they begin hunting for food, spending about a week feeding away from water and gradually acquiring their adult colouration. They are then ready to return to the pond to mate. 

It was a good day to look for dragonflies, we found lots of exuvia on the vegetation around the edge of the pond and found another newly emerged Emperor dragonfly along with a newly emerged Broad-bodied chaser.

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

Emperor dragonfly (4)

Emperor dragonfly

Broad bodied chaser

Broad-bodied chaser

From the pond itself we caught dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, newts and a caseless caddisfly nymph, amongst others: 

It was also nice to see the other insects enjoying the vegetation around the edge of the pond, like this honeybee, large red damselfly and figwort sawfly:

Honeybee

Honeybee

 

Large red damselfly

Large red damselfly

Figwort sawfly

Figwort sawfly

At the end of the day I was lucky enough to spot another dragonfly emerge, this time it was a Black-tailed skimmer:

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So it was a very good day for dragonflies!

At the beginning of July we headed to the meadow. On the edge of the lichen heath we spotted this small tortoiseshell butterfly:

Small tortoiseshell

Small tortoiseshell

As we went in to the meadow we disturbed this grass snake, and we watched it slither up the hill to the birch trees at the top.  

Grass snake

Grass snake

We then sat quietly and did a still hunt, looking closely at the miniature world of the meadow around us before using sweep nets to catch grasshoppers, spiders, beetles, true bugs and more.

Meadow sweeping

Meadow sweeping

We also saw a solitary bee, small skipper butterfly, ruby-tailed wasp and marmalade hoverfly:

Solitary bee

Solitary bee

Small skipper

Small skipper

Ruby-tailed wasp

Ruby-tailed wasp

Marmalade hoverfly

Marmalade hoverfly

My highlight from the meadow though was this solitary wasp, the Bee-wolf. The females prey on honeybees, paralysing them with a sting and carrying them back to their sandy burrow. Up to six paralysed honeybees are placed in each chamber within the burrow, then a single egg is laid and the chamber is sealed with sand. After hatching, the larva feed on the honeybees before spinning a cocoon to hibernate in through the winter and emerging the following spring.

Bee wolf

Bee-wolf

Bee wolf

Bee wolf

Our Wildlife Tots group offers fun outdoor play and wildlife discovery activities for pre-school aged children and their parents or carers once a month, usually (but not always!) on the first Monday. After a break in August, we will be meeting again in September, and details will be available on the events page of our website soon. 

Small copper

Small copper

30 Days Wild – Day 8

The volunteers were in today and we spent the morning putting up some new fencing and the afternoon working on the hides to get them in shape for reopening. Along the way we saw a few butterflies and loads of damselflies, the first species of the year, sometimes appearing in late March, is the large red damselfly and there are still lots on the wing.

large red damselfly

A few warm days have made a real difference to the insects and there are a good few hoverflies out now, it has been a bit of a long wait for them this year. There are several wetland specialist species, one such is Anasimyia transfuga, seen today at the Centre pond.

Anasimyia transfuga

There are a lot of species of generally black hoverflies, almost all of them in the large genus Cheilosia, their similarity and number often make identification a bit time consuming, but I think this one, also on water dropwort, is Cheilosia variablis.

Cheilosia variablis

A lot of the insects around the pond can be seen on the hemlock water dropwort or yellow iris. The iris are especially favoured by the various species of reed beetles, all of which seem to look very similar, so I am not going to commit to which one these are.

reed beetles

Been away awhile, but it’s good to be back…

It’s been a long time since I posted to this blog, even longer than usual, and, like everyone else who enjoys these blogs, I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with all things Blashford, reading about what Tracy and Bob were up to on the reserve and finding out how the site and wildlife was faring from mid March as Spring shifted to Summer all the way through to the beginning of July as Summer begins transition to Autumn, effectrively missing a whole season in the process.

I think everyone has had very different experiences of lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic generally as everyone’s individual circumstances have been so different. For me I am pleased, and relieved, to say that for all that it was scary, disturbing and unsettling at times, it has actually been positive for us as a family on the whole and has left us stronger, wilder and greener.

Hopefully our economy can be too.

Until my return to Blashford on 2nd July the previous time my feet had graced its paths was 13th March – my daughter fell ill over that weekend with a sore throat, ears and high temperature. Although it was unlikely to be coronavirus, following the guidance at the time she stayed off school and I worked from home initially to look after her but then, following the then 7 days quarantine period just as we thought she was returning to school and I was returning to work the goal posts changed and a 7 day quarantine for the ill person changed to 14 days for the ill person and their family. She was gutted to not be going back to school – and even more so when, again, just as she thought she would be returning, lockdown kicked in, school and the Trust offices closed and we were all at home indefinitely!

So life for us as a family had changed massively, as it did for most people. Those first few weeks weren’t too bad as we were all at home, but I don’t mind admitting that it soon got much harder, partly managing the emotional well-being of the family and especially my daughter who felt so cheated of time with her friends, and partly adjusting to a new routine of “teaching” the children during the day and then logging onto the Trusts remote desktop to work at night and into the early hours of the morning while the children were asleep, only to start it all over again the next day. My wife, who is an infant school teacher, would have sailed through the children’s work with them, but she of course was soon back at work in the classroom with those children whose parents were key workers or vulnerable so our kids were stuck with me. Generally, although hard, it all went okay but there were the occasional memorable days or odd weeks when things really did not work out so well. Both my daughter and I will, I think, remember always some very heated conversations about fractions whilst we battled through some of her maths lessons together!

So, although very unsettling at the time when the proposal that the Trust education staff be furloughed was first made, the reality was that actually in many ways it was a huge relief and meant that I could concentrate on just looking after my family rather than trying to juggle them and work and failing to do as well at either as I would have liked.

I reckon that a couple of weeks before I returned to work we even, finally, had it cracked at last, with the sudden realisation from the younger two children that actually if they just knuckled down and got on with it in the morning we could do fun stuff all afternoon! Shame it took them so long, but hey-ho!

Apart from the never-ending school home learning (the routine of which actually, however other children/parents found it, was, I think, invaluable to helping us get through lockdown in one piece as a family) the other thing that kept us going was being outside.

There was not a day went by when we were not immensley thankful to live where we do – just a 20 minute brisk walk from the front door to a woodland or 15 minute brisk walk to heathland.

The “gorse walk” was awash with silver-studded blues on occasion this summer
The “secret path” through the wood. One of the pleasures of lockdown was discovering places we’d previously walked past rather than through and we really enjoyed exploring them. Even when it was wet!

Pretty much every day, without fail, after my wife had got back from work and we had had our tea we would all head out for our “exercise walk” and a recharge in nature that all of us needed and benefited from, even if, out of the five of us, it was only my wife and I that realised, or admitted to ourselves just how important to us it was! The children have always been reasonable walkers and always enjoyed exploring and creating mini-adventures on walks in the past, but, prior to lockdown, my wife and I would always first have to endure a barrage of moaning about it before and as we set out. During lockdown our evening walks just became part of what we did and no more did they moan. Within just a few weeks a walk that had taken us about an hour to complete was only taking about 45 minutes and we were able to lengthen the journey and venture a little further afield, discovering new walks and lots of lovely hidden gems of bog and ancient woodland hitherto unknown to us, and all right on our doorstep. As the lockdown restrictions eased and everyone else seemingly took back to their cars we continued (and still continue) to walk from home and are thoroughly enjoying doing so.

We are also very much blessed, unlike many, in so much that we have a garden, albeit a very small one. It was somewhere the children – and I – could escape to whenever we needed to. As weeks turned into months we were able to enjoy watching (and listening!) to the families of great tits and blue tits in the two bird boxes in our garden grow and fledge and, because we spent so much time outside, they and the other “resident” house sparrows, robins and blackbirds became very trusting of us and provided us all with an unparalleled closeness to wild birds that I think we are unlikely to experience again.

No fancy camera, just my phone (which is not at all fancy) and although its not going to win any prizes it does illustrate nicely just how close we were to the birds in our garden as we went about our day to day business and they went about theirs

At one time, before children, our little garden was an oasis for wildlife – with a small pond and mini bog, a couple of fruit tree’s, micro-meadow, log pile and a herb bed that would buzz with insects all summer. With the arrival of our eldest things changed quickly – initially with “just” the loss of our pond (one of the hardest things I’ve ever done was filling that in!) but soon, as he became more adventurous and needed extra play space and was joined by his sister, a lawn was needed for football and chasing around in and the herb bed later disappeared under an extension as we added to the ground floor of the house to give us a little extra space to accommodate child number 3.

So it was with delight that over lockdown the children (instigated by them but very much encouraged by me!) decided that their “playing garden” should have more space for wildlife in it, and so it has developed over the last few months, giving both them, and especially me, a lot of pleasure in the process. It would be true to say that the children still govern the lion-share of the space, but, in addition to the two bird boxes, it now boasts a micro-meadow again, complete with “good for pollinator” flowers, chirruping with grasshoppers and churring with crickets, a mini (washing up bowl) pond, complete with attendant male large red damselflies (I’ve yet to see a female there, but live in hope!), a bespoke mini-beast & bee “hotel” and a small log pile.

The new “wild patch” at the bottom of the garden

One of the highlights was going out at night after the kids were in bed to check on a botched together home-made light trap (it was useless as it happens and never caught a single insect, let alone moth!) only to be surprised by the sudden movement from a medium sized animal illuminated by the camping lantern that was supposed to be attracting insects. After the initial surprise I was thrilled to see that what I had at first taken to be a rat (there’s been a few of those around as well) was actually a hedgehog – the first I’d seen in the garden for years 🙂

The children have yet to see the hog, other than a photograph and short film of it, but they are delighted to know that the “sacrifices” they have made within the garden in the interests of wildlife conservation have paid off and are really keen to add a hedgehog house to the “wild patch”. After I’ve made them a “den” out of recycled pallets that is – yes, they still have their own interests and priorities for me to follow and willingly “allowed” me to mow some of “our” meadow in order to accommodate the groundworks for the new construction (don’t worry though. I cunningly managed to miss a different patch of lawn when I mowed last to mitigate for the recent depletion in garden grassland habitat!).

The den is being constructed, slowly. Following my return to work at the beginning of the month, progress has slowed somewhat, but it has not ground to a halt and the childrens interest in our wildlife visitors has not reduced as the restrictions of lockdown have eased, helped somewhat perhaps by the occasional new “resident” of our garden, like this rather fine male stag beetle who graced our front garden with his presence for several days recently.

Stag beetle scaling the wall at our front door

It was really very strange that first day back at Blashford – even just driving to work and joining the A31 at Picket Post Hill and accelerating to 70mph after nearly 4 months of not driving anywhere beyond a weekly food shop and not leaving the 40mph restricted roads of the New Forest, was quite a shock to the system.

It’s been great to finally see and catch up with Bob & Tracy, and, of course, re-discover Blashford Lakes in its limited, but still quite special, new post-lockdown guise.

Lots of work to be done now, both at work as well as at home in the garden wild patch – and all of it so much easier than lockdown fractions with my 8 year old!

Back to Blashford

Last Monday I helped Bob put a couple of tern rafts out on Ivy Lake, something he had been hoping to do for a while but needed someone on site whilst he went out on the water. So when I say ‘help’, I do mean it in the loosest sense of the word as I kept an eye on him from the comfort of Ivy South hide.

Ivy Lake 3

The view from Ivy South hide – the spiders have moved in and the vegetation is taking over!

Luckily, two of the rafts were still on the edges of the lake, so they just needed moving out into position in the middle and securing in place. By the end of the day there were six common terns interested in one of the rafts and this number has gradually increased over the course of the week. In wandering down there today there were at least twenty either on the raft itself or flying around overhead, with a few black-headed gulls. We would usually put out more rafts but without volunteer support to make them and move them (not a job that allows for social distancing) they will have to make do with these two instead.

Ivy Lake 2

A blurred Bob out on Ivy Lake with two tern rafts (I liked the foreground!)

Whilst waiting for Bob I listened to the reed warblers with their distinctive chatty song and watched a pair of great crested grebes out on the water. I also noticed lots of newly emerged damselflies, yet to develop their full colours and markings, on the stems growing outside the hide. It takes a few days for them to develop their colouring, a useful survival mechanism as at present they are not quite ready to fly so blend in rather well with the vegetation. Lower down you could make out the cast skins or exuvia clinging on to the vegetation following their final moult and emergence as an adult.

Bob has also been busy strimming step asides into the edges of some of the footpaths, where it has been possible to do so, to create areas for people to pass each other more easily and aid social distancing when walking around.

In addition we have been busy planning extra signage for some of the footpaths and will be making some routes one way, again to aid social distancing and enable people to visit safely. Crossing the stretches of boardwalk safely will be particularly difficult, so people will be directed over these a certain way. We hope to begin putting signage up this week, at the entrances to the reserve and also at path junctions, so if and when you do visit please keep an eye out for them. Hopefully we will have ironed out any snags by the time we are able to open a car park, which fingers crossed will not be too far off now, we will keep you all posted…

It has been nice to spend a bit of time out on the reserve – I was back just in time to experience the bluebells along the Dockens Water, although they are going over now, and also heard my first cuckoo of the year this week. I wasn’t sure I was going to hear one this spring. There is also still some greater stitchwort flowering along the Dockens path:

On Ibsley Water the large raft is mainly occupied by black-headed gulls, although there were a couple of common tern on there early last week. It’s lovely to see the common terns back again for another summer.

By the Centre there has been plenty of insect life around the pond, with beetles, bees, dragonflies and damselflies making the most of the sunshine:

On Wednesday Bob and I were sat having lunch when the female mallard he had noticed on the new Education Centre pond made an appearance, followed by 13 ducklings. We watched them topple off the boardwalk into the water, one or two at a time, and enjoyed their company whilst we finished eating. Later on that afternoon they moved over to the original centre pond but I haven’t seen them since, so I hope they are ok.

It has also been really nice to be able to rummage through the moth trap again, although with a few cold nights it has been quite quiet. Here are some moth highlights:

There have also been a number of cockchafers in the light trap. Also known as May bugs or doodlebugs these large brown beetles also fly around at dusk.

May bug

Cockchafer, May bug or doodlebug

On Thursday I found the exuvia or final moult of a hawker dragonfly in the pond and fished it out to take a closer look:

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

Leaving it out in a sunny spot to dry out I completely forgot about it, only remembering once I had driven home that evening. By this morning though it had found its way onto my desk, so Bob must have spotted it too!

I have also visited the meadow a couple times, the oxeye daisies are looking beautiful now they are coming into flower, rivalling the gorgeous pink display of ragged robin by the Welcome Hut which Jo shared a photo of last week. The common vetch and buttercups are also flowering and there are a few common blue butterflies on the wing.

The beautiful green beetle above has many names, it is known as the thick-legged flower beetle, false oil beetle and swollen-thighed beetle. Only the males have thickened hind legs, I might have to visit the meadow again in search of a female.

A Couple of Days in the Garden

I made the most of the weekend sunshine and spent some time in my garden, now with a refurbished pond. Refurbished in that it now actually holds water, it had been reduced to an ephemeral pond at best, an interesting habitat, but perhaps not the most appealing in a garden. On Sunday I decided to use the last of the rainwater stored in the water butt to top up the pond, trusting in the forecast rain to replenish the store. I was almost instantly rewarded with the appearance of a female broad-bodied chaser dragonfly, perching near the pond and then dipping her abdomen into the water as she laid some eggs.

broad-bordered chaser 4x3

broad-bodied chaser (female)

A little later there were two, chasing each other around between bouts of egg-laying and resting up in the sun. I also saw large red damselfly and common blue damselfly in the garden, making three Odonata in the garden before the end of April.

It was a weekend for egg-laying insects I watched, but failed to photograph successfully, an orange-tip laying on the garlic mustard and a holly blue laying on alder buckthorn.

holly blue 4x3

holly blue female

I had not known that holly blue would lay on alder buckthorn, although I did know they used a good deal more species than just the traditional holly and ivy. Laying on my rather small alder buckthorn also puts the caterpillars in direct competition with the brimstone caterpillars when they hatch in a few days after being laid last week.

brimstone egg-laying

brimstone egg-laying

The early rush of butterflies was dominated by brimstone and peacock especially, with fewer comma and small tortoiseshell. Perhaps because of the very good weather these species seem to have declined rapidly an dare now being replaced by the whites  and the first of the arriving red admiral. Small white and green-veined white are residents and typically pick up in numbers during April.

IMG_9640-002

green-veined white (male)

Large white are resident in rather small numbers but bolstered by, sometimes very large, arrivals of migrants.

large white

large white (female)

There is a bit of a race on at the moment to see who can add the next new butterfly species to the UK list. One thing is pretty certain it is going to happen and probably not very long away, in fact it may well already be here. The species is the southern small white, it has expanded from southern Europe over recent years all the way to the channel coast, under 30 miles away. The difficulty is that it is quiet similar to our regular small white, so if you want to make a name for yourself look up the differences, keep your camera handy in the garden and plant candytuft. Why candytuft? Because it is the preferred caterpillar foodplant of the southern small white. It could be you, especially if you live on the south coast, the Isle of Wight has to be a likely location, if someone in Kent does not get in first!

I will end on a picture of the most dramatic plant in my garden, the giant viper’s bugloss Echium pininana which as it starts to flower becomes a tower of bees as the flowers shoot 3 to 4m or more into the air.

Echium 4x3

giant viper’s bugloss

I have, of course been recording the species I have seen in the garden and uploading the data to the many citizen science recording schemes, something we can all do for everything from butterflies to earthworms.

 

Beeing in the Garden

Yesterday I spent much of the day beeing in the garden, by which I mean looking for and at the many types of bees that make their way into the garden. I do get a few honey-bees but not many and this is actually a good thing fro all the other species of bees, many of which can find themselves getting out-competed by large numbers of hive bees in some areas.

There a lot of solitary bees, something well over 200 species in the UK in fact  and spring is a good time to look for them. Although they are solitary, in that each female has her own nest, there can be lots of nests very close together, so you might find a nesting aggregation of hundreds of solitary bees, sometimes of several different species. Lots of them nest in tunnels in the ground, so a good place to look is where the ground is loose enough for a bee to dig a tunnel, old sand pits are a favourite. Several other species nest in hollow stems or old beetle tunnels in wood, so you can mimic this by drilling holes in a block of wood and making a “bee hotel”.

One of the common spring species is the tawny mining bee.

tawny mining bee

tawny mining bee

Some species are very, very small, in fact some are known as “mini-miners”. Others are tiny and brightly coloured like the “Blood bees” these are rather difficult to identify to species level.

blood bee 2

blood bee

Others are more familiar and much larger, the bumble bees, although there are rather few species they are not necessarily straightforward to identify. This is one of the easier ones, the garden bumble bee, appropriately enough as I found it in my garden.

garden bumble bee

garden bumble bee

Some of them would probably be passed over as wasps as they are mainly black and yellow, these are the Nomad bees and they are parasites of other solitary bees, often of just one species.

Nomada 5

Nomada goodeniana – Gooden’s nomad bee

Nomada 3

Nomada leucophthalma – the early nomad bee

Nomada 2

Nomad bee (I have not identified this one yet)

As you can see they are all similar, but slightly different.

Of course when you start looking for one thing you start seeing others. I can across several small spiders including these two jumping spiders.

Heliophanus flavipes

Heliophanus flavipes

They are fierce hunters for their size, creeping up on their prey and using their many eyes and excellent binocular vision to judge a jump to capture their prey. The one above is not rare, but not seen nearly as often as the zebra jumping spider, which often hunts on walls and fences as w ell as vegetation.

zebra spider with hoverfly prey

zebra spider with hoverfly prey

I also saw several large red damselfly, much earlier than last year when I barely saw one before May.

large red damselfly

large red damselfly

Site Checks in the Sunshine

I was over at Blashford again today, checking all was still well, which I am pleased to say it was. Incidental to my checks I came across a number of firsts for the year, for me at least. Speckled wood butterflies were frequent throughout the woodland areas, unfortunately we won’t know if they manage to follow up last years good showing at Blashford with another bumper year as the butterfly transects, like all our other surveys, have been suspended.

speckled wood

My first speckled wood of the year

I also saw my first large red damselfly, tree bumble bee and heard my first reed warbler.

There are especially large flocks of black-tailed godwit around in the Avon Valley at present, they seem to be feeding on the flooded fields and coming over to Ibsley Water to roost or when disturbed. I think there were as many as 2000 birds flying around at one point.

Black-tailed godwit flock

black-tailed godwit flock in flight

The cherry trees are in full flower now, looking splendid in the sunshine.

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

There have been several pheasant around the reserve recently, but until today I had only seen males, so a female was unusual.

female pheasant

female pheasant

A Constellation of Garlic

A fairly busy day on the reserve today with a steady stream of new visitors, it is always good to encounter people who are still just discovering us after all this time! I was out with the volunteers removing brambles from a warm south-facing bank which I hope will prove popular with insects and reptiles.

It seems odd to say there was not a lot of bird news when the Bonaparte’s gull was still present, but it has been here a while now and most who were keen to see it have done so by now. The first summer little gull is also still with us, otherwise migrants were a dunlin, a whimbrel and at least three common sandpiper. Numbers of swift have increased again I think, with at least 100 zooming noisily about this afternoon.

Out on the edge of the lichen heath I saw a small copper and a grey-patched mining bee.

grey-patched mining bee Andrena nitida

grey-patched mining bee Andrena nitida

I only saw my first damselfly of the year a couple of days ago, I don’t think I have ever waited until May before I saw my first of the year before. My first was, as expected, a large red damselfly and today I saw a single female common blue damselfly.

common blue damselfly

common blue damselfly (female)

As you can see it is not at all blue, but it has not long hatched out and has yet to acquire its colour, many females do not get all that blue anyway.

The wild daffodil have long since ceased flowering and the bluebell are starting to go over, but the reserve’s only patch of ramsons, also known as wild garlic, is looking very fine and in full, starry flower. Half close your eyes and it looks like a firework display  worthy of any New Year. I was hoping to find the hoverfly that feeds on it as it would be new for the reserve, but no such luck.

ramsons 2

ramsons

Although I had not luck with the hoverfly I did find a snail-killing fly near the Centre Pond, I think it is Tetanocera ferruginea.

snail-killing fly-001

Tetanocera ferruginea

Although it was a rather cool night the moth trap did catch a few species including my first pale pinion of this year, never an abundant species, I usually see only a few each year.

plae pinion

pale pinion

 

The Heat Continues

After a June and 30 Days Wild which was extremely hot and the met office now tells us was the driest on record we have now hit July and things are not changing. I did see some cloud on Sunday, but all it seemed to do was increase the humidity.

The heat is making it difficult to work, despite this on Sunday five volunteers turned out and we pulled Himalayan balsam for an hour and a half, a remarkable effort. On Monday I saw removing ragwort from the areas I plan to mow on the shore of Ibsley Water.

All this heat continues to be very good for insects, the moth catch overnight on Sunday/Monday was the highest I have ever had at Blashford, one trap caught 96 species! This included a lot of micro moths, many of these are quite spectacular looking, but it is hard to appreciate what they really look like as they are so small.

Mompha propinquella

Mompha propinquella

The one above is actually quiet common and I see it fairly regularly. I did catch a few new species for the reserve including a chalk grassland species that feeds on marjoram, a plant which does grow in the gravel near the building, so perhaps it was a local rather than a wanderer.

Acompsia schmidtiellus

Acompsia schmidtiellus a species that feeds on marjoram.

There are lots of butterflies and dragonflies around the reserve. Silver-washed fritillary are having a good year and gatekeeper are now emerging as are the summer broods of small copper and brown argus.

gatekeeper

gatekeeper

Brown hawker and southern hawker dragonflies are both already flying in some numbers, although common darter are still quiet few.

southern hawker

southern hawker

The picture above was my best of a few attempts at getting a flight shot over the Centre pond at Sunday lunchtime. At the same time I saw a large red damselfly that had fallen into the pond and been preyed upon by a water boatman.

water boatman with large red damselfly prey

water boatman with large red damselfly prey

When you are an insect there are many ways to die more or less everything is out to get you! There are predators and more gruesomely parasites almost everywhere. I found a parasitic wasp hunting for a beetle larva in which to lay its egg.

Ichneumonid wasp Ephilates manifestator

Ephilates manifestator probing for beetle larvae

The needle-like ovipositor can be pushed deep into the wood, when not in use it is protected by a sheath, in the picture you can see the ovipositor in use probing almost vertically downward.

The dry weather is stressing plants and some smaller trees are losing their leaves already. Most of the grass is now brown and many species rapidly going to seed. There are still flowers out there though and one such is creeping cinquefoil.

creeping cinquefoil

creeping cinquefoil

 

Insects on the Up?

The progress of the season has been rather erratic this year, with spells of very warm or even hot weather interspersed with much colder days. Overall I think that we are still a little behind the average of recent years, but it is a very mixed picture.

Sunday was a fine, warm, sunny day with little wind, ideal for insects and I saw my first beautiful demoiselle, broad-bodied chaser, four-spotted chaser and emperor dragonfly of the year. The four-spotted chaser had emerged from the Centre pond, I think th efirst time I have proved that they have done so there, although I have seen individuals there a number of times. Numbers of large red, common blue, azure and blue-tailed damselfly are also continuing to build.

I am trying to look more closely at the bees on the reserve this year, Blashford has a lot of dry ground with sandy slopes, ideal for solitary bees. In fact “brownfield sites” such as Blashford are particularly good for bees as they often have variations in soil type, slopes and banks ideal for nesting.

Andrena bicolor

Andrena bicolor

Gwynne’s mining bee, Andrena bicolor is one of our commonest spring mining bees and also has a summer brood, it is a close relative of the much rarer grey -backed mining bee, Andrena vaga which was found on the reserve for the first time a couple of weeks ago. The rarer species is still around, but not in the same numbers as a fortnight ago, some of them are getting worn now and so look rather like the much commoner ashy mining bee Andrena cineraria.

ashy mining bee excavating

ashy mining bee Andrena cineraria excavating a nest tunnel.

For several years now there has been increasing evidence of an overall decline in total insect abundance, it is very hard to prove absolutely but accounts of declining moth trap catches and a general scarcity of many insects is attested by many. Older people will remember that when travelling any distance by car in the summer it was necessary to clean many squashed insects off the windscreen. Of course more aerodynamic cars may be a factor too. Whatever the reason it has become much harder to find many insect species in the average summer these days. It was pleasing to see a fair few hoverflies out yesterday including a number of Cheilosia species, a rather difficult genus of mainly black species, the identification of the images below maybe open to revision!

Cheilosia bergenstammi male

Cheilosia bergenstammi (male)

Cheilosia impressa

Cheilosia impressa (female)

Despite the warmer days the nights are still quiet cool and so the moth trap has remained quiet. The pick of the catch was a chocolate-tip moth, it is evidently quiet a good year for therm as this was the third we have caught recently.

chocolate-tip

chocolate-tip

The only grasshoppers and crickets about at present are a few tiny nymphs, but this is the time for finding adult groundhoppers, although the only one I saw was a common groundhopper, but at least it posed for a picture.

common groundhopper

common groundhopper

It would be good to think that we are turning a corner in the insect decline, unfortunately I doubt it, I suspect the wider environment is continuing to become less insect friendly. Although some of this is down to the use of very effective insecticides and industrial mono-culture farming, it is also our overall failure to leave any space for them, even where it would be easy to do so.