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)

 

Butterflies, Flowers and the Dead

Although today was another mainly dominated by rain and yet more rain, it was also Thursday and so the rain held off until after the volunteers had finished work, as is to be expected. The task was pulling ragwort, yet again, but we will probably only have one more week to go before it starts to seed. In fact when we started work the sun was almost out an there were butterflies flying between the flowers along the lakeshore, they were mostly meadow browns and marbled whites, two species that will fly in dull conditions so long as it is moderately warm.

marbled white

The moth trap was very quiet following a rather cool night and as I was not in yesterday I will report on Tuesday’s catch, which did not make it to the blog. A couple of new species for the year were included, these being barred straw.

barred straw

Barred straw rest with their wings curled at the edges, presumably to try to look less moth-like when amongst appropriately coloured leaves. There was also a very fresh slender brindle.

slender brindle

Normally this time of year is dominated by insects and as a result lots of plants that flower now are rich in nectar to attract them as pollinators. Moths visit lots of flowers and some like honeysuckle attract species such as the long-tongued hawk-moths, such as elephant hawk-moth and the migrant humming-bird hawk-moth.

honeysuckle

Thistles are also very good nectar sources with the tall marsh thistle being especially popular with silver-washed fritillaries.

marsh thistle

Perhaps one of the most visited plant types are the brambles, they provide a good source of food for insects and the many micro species flower at slightly different times meaning they are available for a very long season.

hoverfly on bramble flower

Ragwort is also a very good nectar source for lots of insects and this is always one of the conflicts we face when deciding to remove it. A site like Blashford will always have ragwort, a long history of ground disturbance and as a result a huge store of seed must now be in the soil. We will only ever keep the amount under a degree of control and reduce the risk of spread onto neighbouring land. It is poisonous to stock, although usually they will not eat it when it is growing and there is grass available, in hay it is a different matter. On the way to today’s task we came across a headless linnet lying beside the path, presumably killed by a bird of prey, probably a sparrowhawk, apart from the lack of a head it was in good condition.

headless linnet

The recent rain has resulted in very high flows in the Dockens Water and this has shifted shingle banks and made and damaged various log jams.  I was inspecting one of the log piles when I noticed the wet log on top was covered in black fungi, they were deadman’s fingers, the picture is not great both because it was raining quite hard and due to the very deep shade.

deadman’s fingers

There are still very few birds of note to report, today’s highlights included a duck pochard on Ivy Lake, where there were also at least 47 mute swans. At the end of the day an adult common sandpiper on the small section of cleared shore in front of the Tern hide was pleasing as we spent a couple of hours removing the vegetation there last week.