So many insects, and a baby toad

Last Thursday I was passing the marjoram in the planter outside the front of the Education Centre when I noticed a bee I had not seen before. It was quite large and very striking, with a strong pattern on the underside of the abdomen. I managed to take a couple of photos and after a bit of research decided it was one of the sharp-tailed bees and probably the large sharped-tail bee, Coelioxys conoidea. Since Thursday it has been a fairly regular visitor to the marjoram and has been seen and photographed by a number of visitors, and Bob also confirmed it was a large sharp-tailed bee.

coelioxys conoidea (2)

Large sharp-tailed bee, Coelioxys conoidea

Sharp-tailed bees are cuckoo bees, laying their eggs in the nests of megachile (leaf-cutter bees) or anthophora (flower bees) species. Only the females have the pointed abdomen which is used to cut a slit in the partition of the host’s cell so the egg can be placed inside. The coelioxys species hatches first, with the grub devouring the host egg and its food source.

This particular species favours the coast leaf-cutter bee, Megachile maritima. As the name suggests, they have a strong liking for the coast but can be found inland in areas of the New Forest. On Monday I noticed a leaf-cutter bee enjoying the Inula hookeri which is now flowering outside the Centre. The plant has large flower heads which the bee was meticulously working its way round before flying off to the next, so I was able to watch it for some time. Although not completely sure it was a coast leaf-cutter bee, they must be onsite somewhere if the large sharp-tailed bees are present.

Leaf-cutter bee

Leaf-cutter bee enjoying the Inula hookeri, possibly Megachile maritima

Bob has been on a mission to fill the planters with plants that are good for pollinators but not liked by the deer, who have taken quite a liking to a number of them. The Inula hookeri however is not to their taste and the large yellow flowers are providing a brilliant nectar source for insects and its been great to watch the butterflies and bees visiting.

Brimstone (2)

Brimstone enjoying the Inula hookeri

Whilst watching the brimstone enjoying the flowers I noticed a bright green and very smart leafhopper, Cicadella viridis:

Cicadella viridis

Leafhopper, Cicadella viridis

There are also still blue mason bees around, they quickly made use of the new bee block Bob added in to the end of the planter and can often be seen resting on the planter itself.

Blue mason bee

Blue mason bee

On Sunday I popped to the meadow in the hope of seeing another bee I haven’t seen before which this time favours heather. The heather is now in bloom, but seeing a heather colletes bee proved harder, or at least seeing one still for long enough to get a good look was quite a challenge. They whizz around even faster than the green-eyed flower bees do.

Eventually one settled long enough for me to get a look and half decent photo:

Colletes succinctus (2)

Heather colletes bee, Colletes succinctus

Whilst watching the bees whizzing around I noticed a bee-wolf fly straight towards me clutching a honeybee. It landed by my feet, I had obviously been right next to its burrow and had taken it slightly by surprise, but after sorting itself and its prey out it flew to its burrow and disappeared. It was fascinating to watch.

P1200506 (2)

Bee-wolf with honeybee prey

P1200507 (2)

Bee-wolf with honeybee prey

P1200509 (2)

Bee-wolf with honeybee prey

The light trap has revealed more than just moths over the past week. Last week we had a couple of visits form a rather large longhorn beetle, the tanner beetle, which is also attracted to light. They are a large beetle with a body length of 18-45mm and are broader than the other longhorn species.

Credit for this photo goes to regular visitor John 6×4, as I have been regularly working from the Welcome Hut since our wifi was improved and he bought the beetle over, on a log, for me to photograph. We were also able to show it to a passing family who were rather impressed!

Another beetle that found its way into the light trap was this species of dor beetle. It was very active so was a bit harder to photograph:

Dor beetle

Dor beetle

On the moth front the two traps have contained a good variety, although many are quick to fly first thing where it has been so warm. Highlights have included bloodvein, coxcomb prominent, light crimson underwing, pebble hook-tip and a stunning gold spot.

Bloodvein

Bloodvein

Coxcomb prominent

Coxcomb prominent

Light crimson underwing

Light crimson underwing, photographed in the trap, it instantly flew once I took the towel away properly

Pebble hook tip

Pebble hook-tip

Gold spot 2

Gold spot, the photo definitely doesn’t do this moth justice

We have also received some great photos this week from visitors. Jon Mitchell visited on Sunday for the first time since lockdown and was able to see and photograph both the large sharp-tailed bee and the heather colletes bee, along with damselflies, a gatekeeper and a couple of dragonfly exuvia by the pond. The second dragonfly nymph clearly thought the first had picked a good spot when it crawled out of the pond.

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Sam has visited a number of times recently and asked his mum to share photos she took of the toadlet and alder beetle larvae he found whilst exploring here on his last two visits:

Toadlet by Sam

Toadlet spotted by Sam

Alder beetle larvae by Sam

Alder beetle larvae spotted by Sam

We do enjoy seeing photos taken by visitors whilst out and about on the reserve so if anyone else has anything to share please email it to BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org, along with whether or not you are happy for us to share it wider via the blog.

Thank you very much to Jon and Sam for sharing your photos with us.

Golden delight

Yesterday I accompanied Bob to the old Hanson concrete plant to see how the area was developing, what was growing and what insects were around. On our way we popped in to Tern Hide where there was a common sandpiper foraging on the shore of Ibsley Water:

Common sandpiper

Common sandpiper

The old Hanson plant, now named by Bob as ‘the empty quarter’, does look rather barren. Most of the area has crushed concrete underfoot, but plants including St John’s wort, ragwort and lots of common centaury are growing, alongside grasses and the pioneer tree species silver birch, which is quick to colonise new habitats following disturbance and will need managing to ensure the saplings do not take over.

Hanson site

The Empty Quarter

The sandy looking area in the photo above was probably the most interesting as here there was less crushed concrete and an abundance of holes in the softer ground, evidence the area is being used by solitary bees and wasps. There is obviously enough flowering on this part of the reserve and the surrounding banks for the green-eyed flower bee below:

Green eyed flower bee

Green-eyed flower bee

There were lots of dowdy plume moths (identified later by Bob, who also discovered one of their favourite larval food plants is common centaury) and we also saw a species of leaf-cutter bee and a six-spot burnet moth:

Leafcutter bee

Megachile sp

Six spot burnet

Six-spot burnet moth

I haven’t set foot on this part of the reserve before so it was nice to get the opportunity to have a look and see how it is developing. For those of you who are regular, long-standing readers of the blog, please don’t ask about the footpath, there is still no news…

Elsewhere on the reserve I have seen my first cinnabar moth caterpillars, with their distinctive black and yellow stripes. Their bright colours are a warning to predators not to eat them: as they merrily munch their way through common ragwort, the toxins present inside the plant build up inside them, making them unpalatable to predators.

Cinnabar caterpillar

Cinnabar caterpillar

There are also plenty of gatekeeper butterflies on the wing, like this one enjoying the common fleabane in the sweep meadow:

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper

When I emptied the moth traps this morning there were a couple of nice species inside, including a yellow-tail, coronet and a canary-shouldered thorn.

The highlight from the moth trap though was a hornet. Hornets are attracted to light, but are very docile first thing in the morning, taking a while to warm up and fly off. This one was quite content walking around the bench until it was ready to fly away, and it was nice to have a really good look at it up close:

Hornet

Hornet

Although hornets may get a bad press, they are much less aggressive than their smaller relative the common wasp and will only sting if attacked. They play an important role in pollination and are a gardener’s friend, helping control unwanted pests with their diet of insects.

Today has been a really good day for dragonflies, with common darter, emperor and brown hawker all on the wing over the ponds by the Education Centre. The common darters in particular have been posing nicely and letting you creep up quite close for a photo:

Common darter

Common darter

Today’s highlight though has to be the golden ringed dragonfly a visitor spotted over the ponds behind the Centre, with regular visitor John letting me know so I could take a photo:

Golden ringed dragonfly

Golden ringed dragonfly

This striking black dragonfly has yellow rings along the length of the abdomen, hence the name, and green eyes. The females are the longest dragonfly in the UK due to their long ovipositor which can reach 84mm in length. If they choose to rest they may stay in one place for some time and although present on the reserve (we sometimes catch their nymphs in the Dockens Water when river dipping, where they prefer flowing acidic water to still water) they are not quite as easy to see here as some of our other dragonfly species. It was a rather nice end to the day!

30 Days Wild – Day 22

A busy day of path cutting and planning for the “New normal”, more accurately looking at what we can safely do and exploring new possibilities for education when site visits are more difficult.

Access to the reserve is now improving, the car park on the south side of Ellingham Drove is now open during the normal hours 09:00-16:30, seven days a week. The Education Centre, bird hides and toilets remain closed. The circular routes have been laid out as one-way, with signage, this makes social distancing easier as do the step-asides, which will make it easier to pass people. Cycling is not permitted in any case, but I would also urge that running is not really appropriate as it does not make it easy to access the step-asides in time to avoid getting too close. These measures will remain in place even if the social distancing is reduced to 1m, a sour paths are typically only 1.5m wide at most.

Some paths, such as that between Ivy Lake and Rockford Lake are too narrow to allow more than one or two passing points along their entire length and I would urge that people consider carefully if they should be using these.

Most of my wildlife encounters happened once I had returned home. In the mini-meadow the crow garlic heads are opening.

crow garlic

crow garlic

They are remarkably similar, at a glance, to the unopened flower heads of wild carrot. There were a couple of meadow brown catching a few late rays of sunshine, as was this female, low down in the grass.

meadow brown

meadow brown (female)

During the spring I made a bee hotel with I hung on the front wall of the house. Although it has not attracted lots of bees, there has been a wide variety of species. The mason bees have mostly sealed their holes, but now there are leaf-cutter bees.

leaf-cutter bee (male)

leaf-cutter bee (male)

Where there are nests there are parasites, such as this rather intimidating looking wasp Gateruption jaculator.

Gasteruption jaculator

Gasteruption jaculator (female)

30 Days Wild – Day 14 – Garden Safari

I spent almost all of the day in the garden, working in bursts until I got too hot, then just sitting back and watching. There was a lot to see, twice groups of crossbill flew over, these birds breed very early in the year and then the families set out to look for ripening cones from which to prize the seeds. In some years, when the breeding season has been good but the cone crop is poor, birds will fly very long distances, hundreds or even thousands of miles. These are known as irruptions and are characteristic of species that exploit locally abundant, but unreliable food sources.

The main interest was the insects though, the pond continues to draw in dragonflies and this fine male broad-bodied chaser spent most of the day nearby.

broad-bodied chaser

broad-bodied chaser (male)

Whilst looking in the flower border at something else this recently emerged emperor dragonfly was spotted, not by me, although I was looking at something about 15cm away!

emperor

Emperor

As it was so close I got a few closer shots of the head and eyes. They have almost all-round vision with thousands of tiny facets to the eyes, which also have different coloured zones.

emperor head

emperor head

It was not just dragonflies though, there were meadow browns in the mini-meadow and a red admiral on privet flowers, a small white attempting to lay eggs on the cabbages was less welcome though. The wild carrot is now coming into bloom and attracts quite a few species, including a second garden record of the mottled bee-fly, first seen a few days ago.

heath beefly

mottled bee-fly

Beetle included a Welsh chafer on a pink bistort flowerhead.

Welsh chafer

Welsh chafer

Lots of bees mostly evaded my camera, but I did get this male leaf-cutter bee resting on the side of the bee hotel, I confess I totally failed to identify this and had to be put onto the right course, I still find bees difficult!

Hoplitis claviventris 4x3

leaf-cutter bee (male)

However prize of the day goes to an especially brilliant bug. I was working near the house when I was called to see “A red and black shieldbug” an exciting prospect as there is a recently colonising species spreading at present. However I was in the middle of  a task so had to wait a couple of minutes before going over, luckily the bug was still there and it was an ornate shieldbug.

ornate shieldbug

ornate shieldbug

A species which is slowly colonising the south coast, something to look out for on plants of the cabbage family, this one was on rocket in our salad patch. Unlike some other species people ask us to look out for this one is pretty much unmistakable and really stands out, although it does come in various colour forms, so they don’t all look like this one.

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 13 – The Eyes Have It

After the long sunny spell of lockdown we are now in a spell of old fashioned English summer weather, a bit of sunshine then a shower or even a thunderstorm.

silt pond

Approaching shower over the Ivy Silt Pond

When the sun comes out it is strong and very warm, these conditions are actually good for insect photography as the insects need to warm up after each cloudy spell meaning they are basking a lot more than in continuously sunny conditions. The timber of the planters outside the Centre make an idea spot to warm up and are being used by lots of species.

leaf cutter bee

leaf-cutter bee

I know Tracy has already posted some pictures of the green-eyed flower bee, but prepare yourselves for another, as they are very smart little insects.

green-eyed flower bee

green-eyed flower bee (male)

The eyes of many insects are very large and provide a huge field of view using an array of separate element arranged together in a compound eye. This is evidently very effective  enabling them to move at speed, through dense vegetation and often backwards or sideways. In some insects the eyes are patterned or coloured, the green-eyed flower bee is both as are the horseflies.

Tabanid

band-eyed brown horsefly Tabanus bromius (male)

This is a male horsefly and so it won’t bite, like a lot of male flies it has much larger eyes than the female providing very close to all-round vision. The size of the eye facets also varies across the eye surface, sometimes in ways that will identify the species. It seems that the larger facets give better acuity. Male horseflies feed at flowers, so not too difficult to find, the large eyes are for finding and  identifying females and avoiding predators as many are large and tempting prey for birds. Horseflies are also very fly fast and it seems they can process visual information much faster than we can allowing them to navigate between obstacles at high speed. The males of many species also perform dance flights, often in the very early mornings, long before the day has warmed up.

I made a site check walk around the reserve, which told me that the rain has produced a spurt of growth in brambles and next week I will need to get out and cut the path edges again. I also found a “new” pyramidal orchid, that is one somewhere I had not seen before and a very fine example it was.

pyramidal orchid

pyramidal orchid

The marsh thistle is just coming into flower, it comes in two colour forms, this being the pale one and is a plant I always associate with silver-washed fritillary, as they seem particularly fond of nectaring at the flowers.

marsh thistle

marsh thistle

Although I ran the moth trap there was not a great deal caught. In the great days of the Victorian moth collectors they did not have lamps to attract moths in any quantity and so found lots by looking for and then rearing larvae. I found this caterpillar on an oak branch, checking in the excellent and recently published Field Guide to Caterpillars by Barry Henwood and Phil Sterling, I concluded it was almost certainly a maiden’s blush.

maiden's blush

maiden’s blush (I think)

 

30 Days Wild – Day 23 – Skippers

Plans to go out came to nothing and various small tasks took over, still these were interspersed with looks around the garden, so all of today’s wildlife is back garden based.

The night was actually quiet cool and the moth catch was correspondingly modest but included one species new for the year, a burnished brass. There has been much discussion recently as to the possible existence of two species within what we have known as “burnished brass”. It seems likely that moths with the two brassy areas significantly joined to form an “H” shape are the “new” species being christened the cryptic burnished brass.

burnished brass

burnished brass

This one has got the two areas joined but not widely enough to be likely to be a candidate for the cryptic version.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

The day was warm, although not always sunny it was quiet warm enough for butterflies to be active the whole time. During the day in the meadow I saw several meadow brown, including egg-laying females, large skipper, small white and small skippers.

small skipper (male)

small skipper (male)

The ends of the antennae lack the black “full stop” of the Essex skipper and the dark line on the forewing, known as the “sex brand”, is longer and not as straight.

Large, small and Essex skippers, and come to that Lulworth and silver-spotted too, sit with their wings in this half open position, unless with wings fully closed.

small skipper (male) 2

small skipper (male)

Although they were perched for long periods on the wild carrot flowers they were not feeding, it appeared that they were using the flat, white surface of the flowers as a reflector.

Also visiting the wild carrot was a tiny bee, it is one of the yellow-face bees, these can usually be identified by the pattern of pale markings on the “face”, if I am correct this one is the white-jawed yellow-face bee Hylaeus confusus.

Hylaeus confusus crop

white-jawed yellow-face bee (female)

Having a range of flower types in the meadow attracts different species of bees and other insects, different species being adapted to feeding from different flowers. The leaf-cutter bees prefer larger flowers and especially like the trefoils.

bee on bird's-foot trefoil

leaf-cutter bee on bird’s-foot trefoil

The other day I featured Jack-go-to-bed-at -noon in flower, one of the alternative names for this plant is goat’s beard, now it has gone to seed it is easy to see why.

Jak-go-to-bed-at-noon seedhead

Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon seedhead

The seeds are quite large but the fluffy “parachute” they float on is very large and they can get carried considerable distances.