Dine & discover…

Sometimes Blashford blog posts are a bit like buses – after a lull of a couple of weeks here’s your third in 2 days. Hope they’ve been worth the wait!

A  week ago, last Friday, saw me arriving at work later in the day and preparing for our evening “Dine & discover… Blashfords night life” event.

Dine & discover…” are a relatively new undertaking for us, but one that does seem to be gathering momentum gradually.

The first was trialled in the Spring with a stinging nettle theme – following some nettle sweep netting and ID-ing of the invertebrates caught, nettle tops were picked and the stems harvested. While the nettle soup simmered over the campfire our participants learnt how to prepare the nettle stems and made string from it. Since then we have run similar events learning about meadow invertebrates and freshwater invertebrates too.

“Dine and Discover…” is a monthly event for adults excited by nature and the outdoors at which we prepare and share a simple campfire meal before engaging in some kind of outdoor activity to discover and expand everyone’s knowledge and awareness of  wildlife. Septembers theme, as you may have already surmised from the title of the event, was nocturnal wildlife.

Last Friday our participants arrived as the last of our day time visitors and other staff left for the day.

After a quick welcome, a round of introductions and explanation of what they could expect, our first task was the collection and preparation of wood for the campfire.

Fire lit, we emptied the light trap and released the previous nights catch of moths, caddis flies and other insects, including the large yellow underwing pictured below:

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (2)

While the fire continued to build up heat everyone enjoyed a cuppa and fire-watching while one of the participants and I finished chopping the vegetables for our spicy chickpea and potato soup ready for it to go in the pot and on the fire.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (3)

While dinner bubbled we headed off with a jar of Bob’s moth “gloop” and a paint brush with which we daubed a number of fence posts and benches around the Centre.

Comprising a not-so-secret recipe of treacle, brown sugar, beer and rum, in theory the heavily scented sweet syrup is attractive to moths and was a common method of attracting moths in Victorian times when light traps were not an option. Although not as effective as a light trap, certainly in terms of the number of species which it attracts, “sugaring”, as the method is called, does attract a number of moths which do not normally come to light, including the Autumn flying copper underwing.

Unfortunately on this night it was not terribly successful, attracting just a few spiders a woodlouse and earwig, but, given the paucity of moths around the light trap both then and released from the trap the following day, this is probably due to the cold clear night reducing the number of insects on the wing as opposed to the quality of Bob’s brew!

Fence posts sugared, dinner was served.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (5)

It was a lot tastier than the above photo makes it  look – I certainly enjoyed it and as second and the odd third helping followed I think it is safe to assume that everyone else enjoyed it too!

As we finished our dinner darkness fell and our first bats were picked up on our bat detectors – soprano pipistrelle for certain and possibly some common pipistrelle too.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (4)

Pudding was toasted marshmallows accompanied by the staccato calls of the bats coming through on the bat detectors and punctuated by the call of at least a couple of tawny owls from nearby.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (7)

Joining in with a few “twooo’s” of my own owl call some of the group were treated to a fly past by one of the owls as curiosity (and territoriality!) drew it in to land in an adjacent oak tree. Not wanting to antagonise the bird, or cause it to waste time and energy on a nonexistent rival, I then kept stum and after a couple of minutes everyone had a great view of it flying back towards the alder carr over the pond, lit by the light of the light trap.

Definitely a highlight of the evening!

After putting the fire out we went for a short walk to Ivy Silt Pond & back, eyes adjusting to the dark and marveling at the number of stars in the clear night sky. Unfortunately although great for astronomy a clear sky at night means a cold night, a cold night means fewer insects – and fewer insects means fewer bats hunting them!

We did pick up the odd bat but it was bush crickets that we were picking up more than anything else  so, with the end of the evening drawing to a close, we returned to the Centre to finish our evening with the bats that were still flying around there, no doubt making the most of the few insects attracted to the light trap.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (1)

Thank you to David for sharing his pictures of the evening.

The next “Dine & discover…”, back in the day time, 11am – 3pm on Friday October 25th, will include a guided walk looking for Autumn fungi, birds and other wildlife – for details of this and how to book onto it and all our other events this Autumn and Winter have a look at our new “What’s on?” leaflet: 190927 BL WhatsOn Oct-Feb JD

Letting the Light in

For several weeks now there have been contractors working up at the Linwood reserve working to open up an areas of mire habitat that had become seriously shaded. This happens more or less imperceptibly, in this case it was easy to think the area had always been continuous woodland , but the flora told a different story. Many species present, although declining, were ones that do not tolerate being heavily shaded. In addition when the trees are looked at more closely it was obvious that many were no more than twenty or thirty years old. The Our Present, Our Future (OPOF) New Forest National Park project had a strand that was dedicated to helping to restore habitats such as this and it is this project that has enabled the heavy work to be done.

Linwood SSSI clearance works

Work to clear shading trees from Linwood mire habitats

The oak and beech trees have been left alone, the opening up has been achieved by felling birch and pollarding willow. Some trees have been ring-barked to leave them as valuable standing deadwood habitat. It will be interesting to see how species such as white sedge and bog myrtle respond to having access to more light in the years to come.

Last night was very mild and I was looking forward to seeing what the moth trap had caught. The trap was against the wall of the Centre and there were 45 “November” moth on the wall alone! November moths are hard to identify reliably as there are a few very similar species, so I lump them together when recording. Other moths included three merveille du jour.

Merveille du Jour

Merveille du Jour – I know I have used pictures of them many times, but they are one of my favourite moths!

There were also late large yellow underwing and shuttle-shaped dart as well as more seasonable black rustic, yellow-line Quaker, red-line Quaker, chestnut and dark chestnut.

dark chestnut 2

Dark chestnut, it is usually darker than the chestnut and has more pointed wing-tips.

In all there were 16 species and over 70 individual moths, other notable ones were a dark sword-grass and two grey shoulder-knot.

grey shoulder-knot

grey shoulder-knot

We have been doing a fair bit of work around the hides recently, mostly aimed at improving the views from them. Tomorrow it is the turn of Ivy North hide, so I expect there will not be much to be seen in the northern part of Ivy Lake during the day. With luck I will get some sight-lines cut through the reeds, so perhaps the bittern will get easier to see, if it is still around.

Reports and a Bit of Garden Wildlife

5th October reports from Blashford showed that all the main player are still present. On Ibsley Water the ferruginous duck was still around the north end of the Long Spit visible from either or both of Tern  and Goosander hides. The wood sandpiper seems to have relocated to the shore near Lapwing hide, with both common and green sandpipers also still present to “complete the set”. A few wigeon and a single pintail are mingling with the wildfowl and it is worth checking for the occasionally reported juvenile garganey. Both great white egret and several little egret were also about.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Little egret with both great white egrets and “Walters” rings clearly showing – photographed yesterday from Goosander Hide and emailed in by Christine Whiffen.

Over on Ivy Lake the bittern was seen on the edge of the reeds near Ivy North hide, viewed from the screen along the path between Ivy Lake and Rockford Lake.

I was not at Blashford myself so my wildlife sightings were restricted to my garden and especially the moth trap, a mild, calm, damp night resulted in a good catch of autumnal species.

angle shades

angle shades

The angle shades is perhaps the moth most adapted to hiding in piles of dead leaves and a species that can be seen as an adult all through the year.

dark sword-grass

dark sword-grass

The dark sword-grass is a migrant and although they can turn up at almost anytime, they are mush more frequent in autumn.

deep-brown dart

deep-brown dart

Whilst some autumn moths are yellow to hide in autumn leaves, others just go down the very dull and unobtrusive route, the deep-brown dart is one such species.

feathered ranunculus

feathered ranunculus

Feathered ranunculus is an autumn species that lives mainly around the coasts on cliffs. It colonised the mainland coast of Hampshire in the late 1970s. I remember this well as I was working at Titchfield Haven at the time and caught a number of them, indicating that there were established on the mainland and not just wandering from the Isle of Wight.

southern chestnut

southern chestnut

The southern chestnut was first discovered in Britain in 1990 in Sussex. At the time it was considered that it had previously been overlooked, this may be so, but what is certain is that it has increased greatly since and is now quiet frequent across the New Forest heaths and in similar habitat elsewhere in southern England.

Other species in the trap included large yellow underwing, lesser yellow underwing, lunar underwing, willow beauty, shuttle-shaped dart, black rustic, turnip, sallow, pine carpet, spruce carpet, cypress carpet, square-spot rustic and broad-bordered yellow underwing.

I have recently found a new species in my garden, a most unusual plant, called yellow dodder. The dodders are parasitic plants that have roots only as small seedlings and once their tendrils have found a host the tap into the plant to gain all their nutrients and do away with their own roots. There are native species of dodder that can be seen on gorse and heather plants, especially in the New Forest, yellow dodder is not a native and comes from the Americas, almost certainly with bird seed and most likely in nyger seed and this plant was climbing up a self-seeded nyger plant, supporting this idea.

yellow dodder on nyger plant

yellow dodder on nyger plant

Comings and Goings

It finally seems as though the grey phalarope has left us, I am  surprised that it has not gone before now, the nights have been fine and apparently idea for flying. The wood sandpiper remains though and turns up fairly regularly in front of the Tern hide giving very good views. They are one of the most attractive of all waders and this one has proved very popular with our photographers.

wood sandpiper

wood sandpiper, juvenile in front of Tern hide this afternoon

The phalarope may have left but Ibsley Water was playing host to a new scarcity today, perhaps not entirely unexpected but still good to see, the drake ferruginous duck has returned. At least it seems safe to assume that it is the same bird that has been coming since October 2010. It usually arrives in late September and is often on Ibsley Water for a day or two before going to the, difficult to see, Kingfisher Lake. I have no idea why it does not go straight to Kingfisher Lake or why it stays there so determinedly once it does get there.

In other news today the, or perhaps a, bittern was photographed flying across Ivy Lake again, I assume the same as in early September but who knows. As I was talking to a contractor outside the Education Centre I thought I heard the call of a white-fronted goose, I discounted this as a mishearing but then saw a small long-winged goose fly over, so I am pretty sure it was actually a white-fronted goose, but where it had come from or where it was going in anybody’s guess.

The moth trap is still attracting a fair few species, although nothing out of the ordinary, today’s catch included: large wainscot, black rustic, white-point, lunar underwing, large yellow underwing, sallow, barred sallow, pink-barred sallow, brimstone, snout, straw dot and lesser treble-bar. A lot of autumn species are yellow, no doubt helping them to hide amongst autumn leaves.

yellow moths

yellow moths: brimstone, sallow, pink-barred sallow and barred sallow

I also managed to record a moth as I was locking the gate this evening, or rather the caterpillar of a moth, as there was a grey dagger larva on the main gate catch. The adult moths are difficult to identify with certainty as they are very similar to the dark dagger, however the caterpillars are quiet different.

grey dagger caterpillar

grey dagger caterpillar

 

Going Underground

I think I have mentioned before that we have been rearing some lime hawk moth caterpillars on birch leaves, this week we noticed that they were changing colour and seemed uninterested in their food. This is a sure sign that they were ready to pupate, so I put about 10cm of sand in the bottom of their tank and put them back in. Before I got the second one back the first was already starting to bury itself.

lime hawk caterpillar going under

lime hawk caterpillar going underground

Generally this week has seen an upturn in insect numbers, with more moths in the trap and many more dragonflies and butterflies flying about by day.

large yellow underwing

large yellow underwing, one of the commonest Noctuid moths.

 

Brussels lace

Brussels lace

I have also blogged previously about the bee wolf wasps that frequent the edges of the Lichen Heath. They dig nests in the sand and provision them with honey bees which feed their larvae.

bee wolf

bee wolf

bee wolf with prey

bee wolf with captured honey bee

However it would seem that the bee wolves don’t get things all their own way, as I took the pictures above I noticed a small fly hanging around the nest hole entrance.

bee wolf defending nest hole

Fly at bee wolf nest entrance

The fly made several forays into the entrance, but it was blocked by the wasp with its formidable jaws. However the fly did not seem put off but just waited by the entrance. I suspect the fly was trying to lay its own eggs into the nest hole, probably to feed off the honey bee, but perhaps also the bee wolf larva. I had noticed that some of the nest holes are covered over by the bee wolf when they leave their nest, probably to stop these flies getting down when they are away.