30 Days Wild – Day 28

More rain! We had 30mm overnight, but at this time of year this means it is worth checking for migrating birds that might have been forced down by the rain. Believe it or not autumn migration has already started. Many cuckoos will have headed south and lots of high Arctic waders are on the move, These will be either birds that have failed in their breeding attempt and have no time to try again or species where only one parent rears the chicks. One of these is red-necked phalarope, the female can lay eggs in more than one nest and these are then incubated and the chicks reared entirely by the male. All the same finding a female red-necked phalarope on Ibsley Water when I opened up was a treat, sadly too far away for a picture and it seems it did not stay beyond mid-morning.

The moth trap had few moths of note but this little micro moth was rather smart. Unfortunately a lot of these tiny moths cannot be identified reliably to species without dissection, so Genus will have to do.

Sycopacma species

Also in the trap was a small and rather strange fly, I think some sort of midge, but I have no idea, it seemed almost translucent.

midge

The sun did come out for a while and I got out to do some fencing work, it was good to see a fair few butterflies, mainly meadow brown and marbled white but including a small tortoiseshell.

marbled white

Since I collected some eggs from a female that I reared form larvae I had last year, my emperor moth caterpillars have been growing. I have let most go , as I had hundreds at one point and now have about 15 or so. As they grow they change colour an dare now looking their best.

emperor moth caterpillar

30 Days Wild – Day 23

A day off so went out for a couple of short walks. The first was on the coast at an ex industrial site now long since colonised by nature and lots of it. There were meadow brown, marbled white and my fist small skipper of the year flying over a flowery grassland interspersed with belts of magnificent scrub. I failed to get any pictures of the butterflies but did manage this which is probably a heath sand wasp.

heath sand wasp

Later in the day I went out on the Forest walking round Shatterford area. Lots of stonechat, singing woodlark, one of my favourites, melodic and melancholy, and what may be my last cuckoo of the year. Coming back to the car as the sun was going down the cotton grass was looking very fine indeed.

cotton grass

Although it can get very busy at times the New Forest is a magnificent area, it is not so much that it gets too many visitors, that is a hard judgement to make, but it gets too many who perhaps don’t see it for the wonder it is. There are lots of competing claims of the Forest resources and everyone feels entitled to “Their share”. However I think this is to look at things the wrong way, the Forest is not something to portion out and consume, we should not be using it up. Everyone who uses the Forest has an impact upon it, we all need recognise this and try to make it as small as possible, ideally so small it cannot be noticed, access with responsibility. Obviously the same goes for all our countryside and in fact everywhere we share, but somehow these issues become more obvious in a National Park setting.

30 Days Wild – Day 15

Another warm day spent mostly applying wood treatment to the bird hides, not the most pleasant of jobs, but we need to eke out as many years as possible from the hides. Most are in their mid-teens now and will not last forever and whilst funds for capital projects like initially installing a hide can be obtained, with a bit of luck, replacing them tends to be a lot more difficult. We tried to stay out of the full sun as much as possible and so retreated from Lapwing Hide, which is very exposed, at lunchtime and went to Woodland Hide, which is more shady for the afternoon. The sun did bring out the first marbled white and meadow brown of the year on the reserve, the latter decidedly later than normal.

On our way back for lunch we passed through the still inaccessible path through the old concrete plant. We have overseen the restoration of this area with the view of getting it added to the reserve, but it has been difficult as the “soil” is mostly crushed concrete and hardcore stone. At least it is not nutrient rich, which in the long run should mean we get a much more diverse flora, but it makes establishment a slow process. We have done some seeding and a little planting, some of which has been protected from deer by fencing, the effect is dramatic.

The sun had brought out the dragon and damselflies again and the pond by the Centre was alive with egg-laying groups of azure damselflies.

egg-laying azure damselflies

It has been a good year for four-spotted chasers on the reserve, this is a common species in pools on the New Forest but often scarce on the reserve, so it is good to see them regularly.

four-spotted chaser

I posted a scarce blue-tailed damselfly the other day, so here is its common counterpart found on the reserve today.

common blue-tailed damselfly

All the dragon and damselflies have aquatic larvae, their nymphs having to avoid getting eaten by other larger nymphs, water beetles and fish for about a year or more if they are ever to fly. to survive many will need to find lots of dense water plants to hide out in. The silt pond on the way to Ivy South Hide is ideal and it has a large population of the semi-emergent water plant, water soldier. It has arrived here, probably from a garden pond, as it is not native in this part of the country, although it is a native plant in the UK.

water soldier

I will end Day 15 with one of the most spectacular plants of the season, the foxglove, this one was beside the path toward Ivy South Hide.

foxglove

30 Days Wild – Day 17 – Up on the Down

I had a day off and the weather was okay so I headed out for a visit to Broughton Down, a real gem of a reserve, a steep chalk down with a surprising variety of habitat, even the grazed down varies in character as you move around the site. I started at the furthest end of the reserve where the turf is short and covered in an abundance of fragrant orchids.

orchid bank

orchid bank

These come in various shades from quite dark to almost white.fragrant orchid

Although the fragrant orchids were the most abundant there were patches of common spotted orchid, especially in the shade or where the soil was probably a bit deeper or less dry.common spotted orchid

There are other species on site but the only other orchid I was were a few pyramidal.

pyramidal orchid

pyramidal orchid

The other thing that immediately struck me was the super abundance of dark green fritillary, there must have been hundreds, they far outstripped all other species present and I have never seen so many anywhere before.

dark green fritillary

dark green fritillary

Downland is not just about orchids, there are lots of other plants to enjoy, such as greater knapweed, fairy flax, thyme and squinacywort.

sqinancywort

squinancywort

The grassland has a good few anthills and the difference in the flora on these is very obvious, they tend to have thyme and often speedwell too, no doubt they benefit from the deeper soil and good drainage.

anthill

anthill

Thyme is a great nectar source an dis visited by lots of bees and a real favourite for a lot of butterflies too. It can be a good plant to grow if you have a very sunny dry area in the garden and of course it is a culinary herb.

thyme

thyme

The grassland on an unimproved down is the richest in terms of species that you can find anywhere in the UK and I could fill several blogs with flowers from this one visit. Even the plantains, usually a rather drab group of plants, look better on downland.

hoary plantain

hoary plantain

The tall white stems of common valerian stand out well above the generally short vegetation.

common valerian

common valerian

One of the shortest of all the plants is milkwort, common on downland, but also found in lots of other short grasslands, there are several species and forms found in different habitats.

milkwort

milkwort

All these flowers feed lots of insects, including lots of butterflies apart from the fritillaries, one of the other common species was marbled white.

marbled white

marbled white

A question I am sometime asked is what is the difference between butterflies and moths and the answer is that there is no clear answer! Butterflies fly in the daytime, but so do some moths. Although we recognise the general shape of a butterfly, there are moths with the same overall appearance. In fact what we conventionally call butterflies are actually just six of the families of Lepidoptera that we have chose to call butterflies, the rest we call moths.

I did see a few day-flying moths as well as butterflies, the best was a six-belted clearwing a moth that looks like a wasp.

six-belted clearwing

six-belted clearwing

Lots of insects can feed lots of insect predators, some of them also insects, like this robberfly, a chalk downland species in S. England, but with an odd distribution nationally and elsewhere in quite different habitats.

Leptarthrus brevirostris 4x3

Leptarthrus brevirostris with prey

On the way home we stopped to look at a field of poppies and looking at the hedgerow I spotted several tiny soldierflies walking about on the hazel leaves. I decided to try and get some pictures, not easy as they were very small and constantly on the move, but here are my best efforts.

Pachygaster atra

Pachygaster atra

Pachygaster leachii

Pachygaster leachii

Both are common species, but very easily overlooked!

 

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 16

More than half of the 30 Days gone now, I think more people have taken part this year than ever before, perhaps we are starting to value our environment more in these strange times. I certainly think we have learnt to value greenspace close to home more than perhaps was the case. As you will have seen from Tracy’s post Blashford Lakes is opening in a limited way today. Our paths are quiet narrow so we are asking people to walk following a one-way system and keeping to the paths and using the passing places I have cut out. The hides, Centre and toilets remain closed and there is no immediate prospect of education groups returning. Hopefully if you visit you will see lots to keep you interested, at this time of year most of the wildlife is around the path rather than from the hides anyway.

Yesterday there were two grass snake on the dead hedge right next to the path on the way towards Ivy South, they stayed there even when I had to go passed on the quad bike!

grass snake

grass snake

With the warm weather insects are very much to the fore, I saw my first four-banded longhorn beetle very close to the snake, but on the other side of the path.

longhorn beetle

four-banded longhorn beetle

Dragonflies and damselflies are everywhere with more species emerging all the time. Butterfly numbers are increasing too with the “Browns” coming out now, lots of meadow brown and quite a few marbled white on the wing now and the first gatekeeper cannot be far off. Moth numbers are also increasing, one of the smartest of last night’s catch was a micro-moth Catriopa pinella.

Catriopa pinella

Catriopa pinella

30 Days Wild – Day 8

My day started with a rare sight from my kitchen window, a pheasant walking across the lawn.

pheasant

cock pheasant

Pheasants are not native to the UK and owe their existence here to birds released by shoots. Millions are released in early autumn each year, most will die, either shot, starved, predated or in accidents, but perhaps 3 million will survive. They would probably die out within a few years without the constant introductions.

I was at Fishlake Meadows to help Jo with a few fallen trees over the fences before the cattle arrive next week. I know how much Jo likes her “Things on fence posts” so here is my contribution, a lesser stag beetle.

lesser stag beetle

lesser stag beetle

I also saw a very smart five-spot burnet moth in Ashley Meadow.

five-spot burnet

five-spot burnet

Later at Blashford I had the butterfly transects to do, probably for the last time this year as the volunteers will be taking over again next. Still rather few butterflies, but I did see my first marbled white of the year. It was good fro longhorn beetles though.

black-and-yellow longhorn

black-and-yellow longhorn

It has been noticeable that rabbit numbers are increasing again, after several years of scarcity. I saw this one, very alert, as befits the times, on the Lichen Heath.

alert rabbit

alert rabbit

Rabbits are another introduced species in the UK and were carefully looked after in special Warrens, but as they “breed like rabbits” over time they adapted to our landscape and became better at surviving here without help.

I ended my day back in the garden, this time seeing the first field scabious flower of the year open in the mini-meadow, a favourite with lots of insects.

field scabious

field scabious

30 Days Wild – Day 21

I contrived to have the longest day off this year, the first day of my weekend, so I suppose it will also be the longest weekend, at least for daylight. Remarkably it was not raining so I took the opportunity to visit Broughton Down again, a gem of a site and for most of the time we had it to ourselves. It is proper downland as you imaging it should be, or at least some sections are, some still suffer from scrub encroachment, but a long term program of control is taking effect.

The top of the Down is especially good for fragrant orchid, of which there are literally thousands.

fragrant orchid 2

fragrant orchid

They come in varying shades.

fragrant orchid white

very pale fragrant orchid

Usually as single flowering spikes, but sometimes in groups.

fragrant orchids

fragrant orchids

And to cap it all they are really fragrant too.

There were some other orchids, in the hollows especially, there were common spotted orchid.

spotted orchid

common spotted orchid

And thinly scattered through the fragrant orchid were pyramidal orchid.

pyramidal orchid with hoverfly

pyramidal orchid with hoverfly

There were good numbers of butterflies, perhaps commonest were small heath, impressive as they are seriously reduced in numbers at most sites. Perhaps next most frequent was dark green fritillary, then brimstone, meadow brown, marbled white and common blue. None of which I got pictures of, although as I staked out a group of large scabious flowers I did get a Conopid fly, probably Sicus ferrugineus.

Sicus ferrugineus

Sicus ferrugineus (probably)

My other insect highlight remains unidentified, but is very smart, if anyone recognises it I would love to know.

beetle

Unidentified beetle

Back home in the garden I did manage to get a picture of a meadow brown, one of at least three in our mini-meadow.

meadow brown

meadow brown

I also got a shot of a leafcutter bee on a geranium.

Willughby's Leafcutter Bee

Willughby’s Leafcutter Bee

30 Days Wild – Day 18

Not an inspiring day, although not as wet as predicted, which meant that working with the volunteers we continued with work on a new raft design. Although it rained a little for most of the time it was warm enough that meadow brown butterflies and my first marbled white of the year were flying. Brown butterflies will often fly in dull or rainy weather so log as it is warm, most other species usually need some sun to get active. Marbled white, despite their name, are actually part of the brown family.

My only picture of the day was of the coot family on Ivy Silt Pond, now down to just the single chick, although it has grown well. Coot will actually kill their chicks to reduce brood size if food gets hard to come by, so as to improve the chance of survival of those that remain. I don’t know what has happened to the lost chicks, but they may have been indirect casualties of the recent poor weather, if their parents felt unable to rear all of the brood.

Coot and chick

The coot pair now have just one chick

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 24 – Up on the Downs and Down by the Sea

We travelled up to Martin Down in the morning, specifically Kitts Grave the part of the reserve that belongs to the Wildlife Trust. This area of the reserve is a patchwork of chalk grassland and scrub, this type of diverse, herb rich habitat with lots of shelter is preferred by lots of insects, it offers lots of possibilities.

musk thistle with marbled white 2

musk thistle and marbled white

Plants like thistles and knapweeds are very good nectar sources used by lots of insects.

greater knapweed

greater knapweed

The scrub offers both shelter and an additional variety of flowers, bramble being very important and popular. I found the large hoverfly Volucella inflata feeding on a bramble flower.

Volucella inflata

Volucella inflata (female)

As I was photographing it a male flew in and mating took place.

Volucella inflata pair mating

Volucella inflata pair mating

A few years ago when at Old Winchester Hill I found a rare bee-fly, the downland villa Villa cingulata , at the time it was only the second Hampshire record in recent times. It appears it has been spreading as I found several, easily five or more, egg-laying females at Kitts Grave, I am not sure if they are recorded from there before.

Downland Villa

Downland Villa Villa cingulata

We saw a good range of butterflies including very recently emerged silver-washed fritillary and white admiral.

We retired home during the heat of the afternoon so I was briefly in the garden….

What’s in My Meadow Today?

One plant I was keen to establish was lady’s bedstraw, it has tiny yellow flowers unlike most of our bedstraws which have white flowers. It grows on dry chalk soils mainly but also turns up on dry sandy areas even in acid areas.

lady's bedstraw

lady’s bedstraw

I seem to have only got one plant to establish but it is spreading to form quiet a significant patch.

Once the day started to cool we ventured down to the coast to Lepe Country Park. Years ago I established another meadow area at this site, although in this case it was from a deep ploughed cereal field, it is now a SINC (Site of Importance for Nature Conservation) for its wildflower community. Creating grasslands of real wildlife value is relatively easy and gets quick results, helping to redress the massive loss of these habitats. Planting trees is much more popular, despite the fact that it will probably take hundreds of years for them to achieve significant value for wildlife. As anyone who manages open habitat will know trees will colonise and grow quite happily without encouragement. In fact colonising trees are one of the threats to herb-rich grasslands.

However we were on the beach, looking at beach species. Stabilised sand and shingle has its own specialist plants, one of which is sea spurge.

sea spurge

sea spurge

Rather more attractive is the yellow-horned poppy.

yellow-horned poppy

yellow-horned poppy

The long pods which give this poppy its name can be seen in this shot.

It was getting late and there were lots of small moths flying about, in the end I managed to get a picture of one, it was a Pyralid moth, quite a common one found in a variety of dry habitats, called Homoeosoma sinuella.

Homoeosoma sinuella

Homoeosoma sinuella

Off the beach an adult gannet was flying about, quite a regular sight in The Solent these days.