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.

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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.

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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.

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Bee-wolf with honeybee prey

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Bee-wolf with honeybee prey

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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.

A night on the reserve…

Last week a number of our Young Naturalists spent the night at Blashford, camping out under shelters they had made themselves, cooking dinner and breakfast over the camp fire and embarking on a night time adventure around the reserve.

The Young Naturalists project has been shortlisted for the Young People category of Hampshire’s 10th annual Countryside Awards, organised by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). With judging taking place over the summer, they began their camp out by hosting the judges and showing them some of the activities they enjoy taking part in and some of the areas they have worked in around the reserve. We went through the light trap, looking at and having a go at identifying the moths, then wowed our important visitors with the variety of life found in the pond. After pond dipping, we headed off to the woodland to show them the log circle the group had replaced last June and the Woodland Hide.

After the judges had left us, it was time to think about setting up camp and we selected our materials and headed over to our camp area. It had been incredibly hot during the day, but we were expecting rain overnight and possibly some rumbles of thunder, so all were keen to construct a good shelter and we had a nice variety of designs:

It was then time to think about food so we gathered firewood and got the fire going, prepared an extravagant dinner of jacket potatoes, fish and a vegetable bean chilli and began cooking once the fire had died down a little.

Whilst cooking and eating dinner, and pudding, we enjoyed a stunning sunset:

Stunning sky

It was then time to head off into the night in search of some wildlife! We had already set the light trap, set some mammal traps near the Centre and locked the Woodland and Ivy lake hides, so decided to venture over the road towards the Clear Water Pond and Goosander Hide. Armed with bat detectors, torches and Bob’s homemade moth gloop (a sticky concoction of unrefined sugar, treacle and half a bottle of bitter, designed hopefully to attract moths if painted liberally onto tree trunks), we headed off into the night.

Our bat detectors soon picked up the characteristic ‘wet slaps’ or ‘smacks’ of both Common and Soprano pipistrelles as we passed the lichen heath and paused near the bridge over the Dockens Water. As we followed the path along the Dockens we painted some of the trees with our moth gloop, in the hope that on our return a little later something may have been attracted to the sweet syrup:

Painting trees with moth gloop

After carefully crossing the road we followed the path around the Clear Water Pond towards Goosander Hide and were rewarded with a bat feeding frenzy, picking up Daubenton’s bat and more Pipistrelles. Whilst Daubenton’s bat are picked up on the bat detector at the same frequency as Common pipistrelle, they can be distinguished by a different call, a rapid series of regular ‘clicks’ which resemble rapid machine gun fire. We enjoyed listening to them and spent a while watching them dive low over the water and fly overhead.

It was then time to head back to the Education Centre and we had a lot of painted trees to check on the way. On our way back we spotted slugs, spiders, woodlice (the only thing really attracted to Bob’s moth gloop) and a toad.

After not a lot of sleep (we had rain and a couple of rumbles of thunder, but luckily, with the exception of volunteer Geoff’s, our tarp shelters stood up to the test) it was time to think about cooking breakfast. Geoff had been up bright and early and got the fire going again for us, after rather a soggy nights sleep (sorry Geoff!), so we cooked breakfast then headed off to open up the hides, top up the bird feeders and check the light trap.

You may have spotted the tent in the first picture, this was Jess and Maddy’s plan D, after seeing the forecast for the night and taking three attempts to make their shelter. They retreated here at about 3 o’clock in the morning, not beaten by the weather (their shelter was bone dry, Geoff would have loved it!) but by the slugs…

Our final task of the morning, aside from taking down our shelters and tidying camp, was to check the mammal traps we had put out the night before. We were rewarded with two bank voles and two wood mice, out of the ten we had set – not a bad catch!

Thank you all the Young Naturalists who joined us for a night on the reserve, and a really big thank you to volunteers Geoff, Nigel and Emily for giving up their time too!

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly funded by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

Seeing the Light

I frequently include moths in this blog and this is because we regularly run a moth trap at Blashford Lakes, but it is also an important part of the species recording program on the reserve. Over 2500 species of moths have been recorded in Britain and they occupy all terrestrial habitats and even a few aquatic ones. Many species occupy very specific habitats and they can be indicators of habitat health and help to identify key habitat elements for management. Moths are also attractive and, although common, rather rarely seen by most people, so we find them very useful for the education team as well.

The recent very warm nights have resulted in some much better catches and opening the trap on Thursday morning we found a good range of species including one rare New Forest speciality, the light crimson underwing.

light crimson underwing

light crimson underwing

It does have crimson hind-wings but at rest you cannot see them. It lives in old oak woods and over the years we have caught a few at Blashford, enough to suggest they breed on the reserve and this highlights the value of our old woodland along the Dockens Water.

One strange fact about moth trapping is that nobody really knows why moths are attracted to lights. There are theories of course, but none entirely stand up. We also know that different types of light attract more moths than others and even that some species don’t really come to light at all. Our light trap is one that produces a lot of light in the ultra-violet range, this is the part of the spectrum that attracts the greatest range of moths so most light trap use this type of bulb.

In contrast to moths we have very few species of butterflies in Britain, but they are generally much more familiar. Overall this summer has been a poor one for butterflies and moths, with most species being seen in relatively low numbers. I did come across one of Blashford’s scarcer species yesterday when I saw a brown argus nectaring on a small patch of heather.

brown argus

brown argus

Very few birds to report unfortunately, Wednesday’s first pintail of the autumn had moved on by Thursday. Other wildfowl of note were 14 shoveler and 7 pochard, but waders and other migrants are still scarce.