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 25!

The moth trap was surprisingly quite for such a muggy night, perhaps the recent poor weather means there are just not many moths flying. I posted a plume moth the other day and mentioned their odd wings, although the one I showed had wings folded, here is a white plume moth showing the wing structure.

white plume moth

A new moth for the year was a festoon, a moth of oak woods that is surprisingly scarce at Blashford.

festoon “moth on a stick”

After drizzle early the day brightened and the dragonflies came out, this male scarce chaser was by the Education Centre pond at lunchtime.

scarce chaser “dragonfly on a stick”

It was a day of odd jobs either in the office or out on the reserve and after a bit of path trimming and making a new Hampshire gate, I was off to Fishlake Meadows for the first time in a while. This is a fabulous site, a wetland that has established itself on former arable farmland when the pumps which kept it dry were turned off. Not only is it an amazing bit of habitat but it is more or less in the town of Romsey, or at least a short walk for most of the town’s residents. It has an osprey more or less resident for the summer, marsh harrier, hobby and red kite regularly flying over and warblers in abundance.

blackcap one of several “birds on sticks”

I saw juvenile warblers all over the place with blackcap, whitethroat, sedge and reed warbler and lots of Cetti’s warbler.

Cetti’s warbler juvenile

There has also been a pair of stonechat breeding this year and I found one of the juveniles preening in a small bush beside the path.

stonechat juvenile

The real joy of the place is the extensive shallow water and fen vegetation it has developed, this is what supports all the insects that in turn support many of the birds. Lots of teh marsh and fen plants have “frothy” flowers and none more so than meadow sweet.

meadow sweet

Running it pretty close though is meadow-rue, something of a specialist in more alkaline wet areas than the less fussy meadow sweet.

meadow-rue

Lots of flowers attract lost of insects and I found another chafer beetle, I think my third species of the #30DaysWild this year.

garden chafer

When I got home the sun was still out and I took a quick look in the garden mini-meadow and found a meadow brown, I like to think it was born and bred in our meadow, but even if it has flown in, it is making a home in our meadow.

meadow brown

Rather rarer in gardens, although not in ours as we have a colony close by, is silver-studded blue, this was the first in the garden this year and unlikely to have been reared here.

silver-studded blue

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 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 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 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.

 

 

A clear surprise

This week I have been putting out a number of temporary signs to highlight some of the wildflowers currently in bloom on the reserve, including herb robert, red campion, foxglove and hedge woundwort.

All are brightening up the woodland at the moment, but I particularly like the hedge woundwort with its hooded magenta-pink flowers. It is known more for having a particularly unpleasant smell, which from getting close to it to photograph the flowers and put the sign in I have to agree it does! As its name suggests, it was in the past used as a herbal remedy with its bruised leaves said to alleviate bleeding.

hedge woundwort 2

Hedge woundwort

Whilst walking round I noticed a couple of other plants growing I don’t remember noticing before, possibly because this time of year is usually our busiest for school visits and as such opportunities to stop, look, photograph and identify something different are usually few and far between. I spotted woody nightshade or bittersweet growing amongst the bramble in the hedge by Ivy Silt pond, and another one growing near the boardwalk past Ivy South hide. Belonging to the nightshade family it is toxic. The flowers appear from May to September and are followed by clusters of poisonous bright red berries. The leaves apparently smell of burnt rubber when crushed, although I didn’t crush them to test this out!

woody nightshade

Woody nightshade or bittersweet

Further along the Dockens path I found some stinking iris which has dull yellowy purple flowers. Also known as the roast beef plant, it gets its name from the smell of the leaves when crushed or bruised, which is said to resemble rotten raw beef. In the autumn its seed capsules will open to reveal striking red-orange berries, which do ring a bell.

stinking iris

Stinking iris

The moth trap has also revealed a number of different moths over the last few days. On Tuesday there was a peach blossom in the trap, which is definitely a favourite with its pretty pinkish spots on a brown backgound. There was another in the trap yesterday which looked fresher:

Other highlights included a cinnabar, buff tip, burnished brass and today an elephant hawk-moth.

Yesterday I walked a bit further up to Lapwing Hide to see what was about and saw mandarin duck and a pair of kingfisher on the Clearwater Pond. Closer to Lapwing Hide there was a little grebe feeding young on Ibsley Silt Pond. From the hide I was surprised by how many birds were on Ibsley Water, as it has been fairly quiet recently. Whilst watching the swallows, sand martins and house martins swooping over the lake I realised there were more swans on the water than I had seen before and in counting them reached a grand total of 99. There could have easily been over 100 as I couldn’t see into the bay by Goosander Hide or the other side of the spit island.

There were also at least 86 greylag geese and 40 Canada geese. They must have been disturbed off the river and decided Ibsley Water was a safer spot.

On walking round to Tern Hide I saw at least four meadow brown, the most butterflies I think I have seen at any one time this year so far. This one settled long enough for a photo:

meadow brown

Meadow brown

From Tern Hide I saw a distant little ringed plover, off to the right of the hide on the shingle and my first sighting of one this year. The biting stonecrop around the edges of the car park is flowering: it is also known as goldmoss because of its dense low growing nature and yellow star shaped flowers. The common centaury which can be seen in places off the edges of the footpaths and also on the lichen heath is beginning to flower. As with other members of the gentian family, its pink flowers close during the afternoon.

The planters outside the centre are still providing good views of insect life, despite the drop in temperature and absence some days of sun. I managed to get a photo of one of the dark bush crickets that have been hiding in amongst the Lamb’s ear and also spotted a ladybird larva which after a bit of research I think might be of the cream spot ladybird.

Today I popped briefly to the meadow which apart from the large numbers of damselfly was quite quiet. I saw one solitary bee enjoying the ox-eye daisies and also spied a female bee-wolf in her sandy burrow. I watched her for some time.

The damselflies have still been active on the wing despite the lack of sunshine and I managed to photograph an azure blue damselfly to the side of the path and a pair of I think common blues mating in the mini meadow by the welcome hut.

Today’s highlight though has to be bumping into a visitor, Dave Shute, who had come to Blashford in the hope of some bright weather and seeing a clearwing moth. He just about got away with it!

Clearwings are a group of day-flying moths that look a bit like wasps but are usually very rarely seen. As their name suggests, they differ from other moths in that their wings frequently lack scales and are instead transparent. As a result of them being hard to track down, pheromone lures have been developed to make finding them that little bit easier, and these are artificial chemicals that mimic those released by female moths to attract the males. Bob has put out lures here in the past, usually attracting red-tipped clearwing whose caterpillars favour willow, and last summer also found an orange-tailed clearwing which was attracted to a lure designed for both these and the yellow-legged clearwing.

I was lucky enough to see the orange-tailed clearwing last summer but don’t think I have seen a red-tipped clearwing before, and this was the lure Dave had bought. He had seen one come to the lure but disappear before I saw him, but whilst we were chatting another came and this time rested on a nearby bramble allowing us to photograph it, I think the sun disappearing at that moment helped!

red tipped clearwing

Red-tipped clearwing

The lures do not harm the moths, but they should only be used for a short period of time and it is best not to use individual species lures regularly at one site in one season so as not to disturb the insects too much.

It was great to see and a surprise for an otherwise rather grey and wet day, so thank you Dave!

30 Days Wild – Day 7

At home today and started with a short walk out onto the heath before breakfast and found several silver-studded blue taking advantage of the early sunshine. They seem to use two strategies to warm themselves. The first is to sit with wings closed turned an dangled to offer the greatest area facing towards the sun.

silver-studded blue male on cross-leaved heath

silver-studded blue male on cross-leaved heath

The other is to turn, head-down and three quarters open their wings to form a “dish” turned toward the sun.

silver-studded blue m 4x3

basking silver-studded blue (male)

I spent a short time in the garden before I had to go out and in a few minutes saw four species of butterflies, as many as I saw in nearly two hours of butterfly survey last week! These were a fly through red admiral, probably a migrant, but could have been locally reared from an earlier arrival. Then the first two meadow brown of the year in our mini-meadow.

meadow brown 4x3

meadow brown

Next I spotted a female silver-studded blue, not a typical garden butterfly, but this is the fifth year we have seen them here, in fact it was soon apparent there were two.

silver-studded blue f 4x3

silver-studded blue (female)

Then the excitement really kicked in, when a green hairstreak as found on an Allium, a completely new species for the garden and not a butterfly I see anywhere very often.

green hairstreak 4x3

green hairstreak

All in all a very splendid butterfly day! I can’t wait to see what Day 8 brings, actually I start every day with the hope of seeing something exciting and I am often not disappointed.

Nature and wildlife on my doorstep

Young Naturalist Izzy Fry has written a blog for us to share about her experiences during lockdown, along with some fabulous photos. Whilst off she also began writing her own blog, titled My Nature and Photography, and you can find it here.

Enjoy!

Red admiral by Izzy Fry

Red admiral by Izzy Fry

 

Despite the current circumstances, Summer is just round the corner. The weather is warming; young hares begin to bound around the meadows and migratory birds have returned. Bees are busy collecting pollen, wildflowers are in full bloom, and butterflies begin to lay their eggs.

Hare by Izzy Fry

Brown hare by Izzy Fry

 

Although many of us are contained to our homes and gardens, there is still so much to explore! I am lucky enough to live on a farm surrounded by woodland and fields which is a haven for wildlife. From Rabbits and Pied Wagtails on the farmland to Spotted Flycatchers and Muntjacs in the woods.

I absolutely love photography, and it has massively helped me to get through these past months. One of my favourite things to photograph is the birds and squirrels in my garden!

Grey squirrel by Izzy Fry 2

Grey squirrel by Izzy Fry

I have made my own woodland table to get photos of my garden wildlife on natural objects. I get four Grey squirrels which spend hours munching on the loose food on the table as well as providing lots of different bird foods, to attract different species!
For example, peanuts for tit species and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, nyger seed for Gold and Greenfinches, fat balls for Robins and Long‐tailed tits and seeds for Nuthatches and Sparrows!

To give me a project during quarantine, I have also made my own nature and photography blog where I post about my photos and nature experiences. Nearly a year ago I made an Instagram account ‐ @focus.photograph.y – and I loved sharing my photos with people! I also have a big interest in journalism and so decided to make a blog to present my photos and journalism at the same time! This is the link to it – https://mynatureandphotographyblog.wordpress.com/

Blog

Homepage of Izzy’s blog

My family owns two hives full of honeybees which we collected from swarms in people’s gardens! I have been out learning more about them with my mum who is
a beekeeper. We have been looking at the three different types of bees – the drones, workers and queen! The drone honeybees have a bigger abdomen and their job is to care for the eggs and larvae! The worker’s job is to collect pollen and make the honey and the queen is the most important bee of all! The queen’s only job is to reproduce – she is the mother to every single bee (around 15,000!) in the hive!


I was walking back home one day from my daily exercise, when I heard a loud cheeping noise coming from a hole in a tree. At first, I thought it was a Nuthatch nest as they usually nest in small cavities in trees, but after sitting close by for a while, I noticed a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers flying around in the trees nearby. After a bit longer, I saw them go in to feed their chicks! It was amazing to watch – unfortunately, I did not get any photos as I didn’t want to spook the parents by moving the camera around! But I plan to go back soon and see if I can get some shots!

To keep ourselves occupied during lockdown, my family decided to install a pond in our garden in the hope to attract more wildlife! After digging a big hole and placing the pond liner inside, we filled it with pond water from a nearby pond. We also had a mini pond inside full of tadpoles which had hatched from toad spawn which we put in too as well as 3 newts we caught and a caddis fly larvae!

Very close to my house, we have a small orchard where I saw a big group of juvenile blue tits! For the last couple of days, I have sat for ages photographing them in the trees and being fed by their parents. Did you know that even after having fledged, blue tit chicks will still rely on their parents for food for a while after leaving the nest!


Even though we are limited to a small space at the moment, there are still lots of activities that you can do to stay connected to nature! For example: make a bird feeder, build a bug house, watch a wildlife webcam.

Blue tit on feeder by Izzy Fry

Blue tit on homemade bird feeder by Izzy Fry

Currently we all have a lot of free time, and so it is the perfect time to explore!

Meadow brown by Izzy Fry

Meadow brown by Izzy Fry