Bug-ingham Palace

Last Sunday our Young Naturalists made a rather magnificent bug hotel in a sunny spot close to the new dipping pond. The improvement works here on the reserve resulted in a rather large number of pallets accumulating, so it was great to be able to put some of them to good use.

Bug hotel

Positioning the bug hotel

We stacked the pallets one at a time, packing them with various different materials to create lots of different nooks and crannies, including bark, sticks, pine cones, old roof tiles, bamboo, off-cuts of roof from the old Tern Hide, pebbles and sawdust. We also drilled different sized holes in some of the bits of wood.

We still have a few more gaps to fill with more pine cones, dried plant and reed stems and dry grass and I’m hoping we can add a green roof to finish it off, but we were pretty pleased with our efforts:

To make a sign, Torey and Sophie carefully broke up a pallet with Geoff’s help and some of the group had a go with a pyrography pen to burn writing and pictures onto the wood.

Sign

We didn’t quite have time to finish the sign on Sunday, but volunteer Lucy made a brilliant job of finishing it off on Monday, the bugs should be impressed!

IMG_0886

We’re looking forward to seeing who moves in!

Finley and Percy had a go at using the various bits and pieces we had assembled to make a bird feeder:

Bird feeder

After lunch we headed off to do the Big Butterfly Count. We decided to do ours in the wild play area where we do our den building and campfire activities, as although we had seen a lot of butterflies that morning around the Centre we fancied a change of scenery to the area where we had been working. On route we spied this Brimstone:

Brimstone

Brimstone butterfly

With Nigel as our time keeper, we positioned ourselves in the long grass and counted the greatest number of different species seen at any one time in our 15 minute window. We managed five species in total and 15 butterflies altogether: four Meadow brown, three Brown argus, three Gatekeeper, three Common blue, one Red admiral and one Speckled wood.

The Big Butterfly Count runs until the 11th August so there’s still time to get involved – you just need to find a sunny spot (this could be your garden, a park or in a wood) and spot butterflies for 15 minutes then submit your sightings online.

We had a few minutes to spare before the end of the session so decided to head back to the Centre via the lichen heath in search of wasp spiders, which we’d heard were visible in the patches of bramble and taller grass and rush.

Finally, we spied some Cinnabar caterpillars munching on the ragwort:

Cinnabar caterpillar

Our Young Naturalists group is supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

 

 

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Summer Passing

It seems that once the 30 Days Wild are over, the signs of passing summer become increasingly obvious. I heard my last singing cuckoo on 22nd June, we now know that many will have left the country southward by the end of June, thanks to the advent of tiny satellite trackers fitted to some birds by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), you can follow their progress via a link on their website.

At Blashford Lakes common sandpiper are returning and on Sunday there was a greenshank, returned from breeding, probably in Scandinavia. Lots of the swift have left already as have the first generation of young sand martin. Over at Fishlake Meadows an osprey is being seen regularly, with other sightings including up to six cattle egret.

Around the reserves we are now at the peak of butterfly numbers, with lots of “Browns” especially.

gatekeeper

gatekeeper

This week will probably see “Peak-gatekeeper” and we may have just passed peak-meadow brown. Speckled wood, by contrast are perhaps the only butterfly with a real chance of being seen throughout the 26 weeks of the butterfly recording season as it has continuously overlapping broods.

speckled wood

speckled wood

In places you may notice a few very dark, almost black, meadow brown, actually these may well be ringlet, with slightly rounder wings and multiple eye-spots.

ringlet

ringlet

Several species now have their summer broods emerging, this is true for common blue, brown argus, small copper and peacock.

peacock

peacock

The warm weather has been great for insects in general, there have been good numbers of dragonflies, including a single lesser emperor, a formerly very rare migrant species that seems to be getting ever more frequent.

 

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 17 – Butterflies and More

We have been doing butterfly transects at Blashford Lakes for some years now, I say “We”, what I really mean is that the volunteers have been doing them. I used to do transects myself on previous sites I have managed and thoroughly enjoyed doing them, an opportunity to go out on site for the main purpose of looking for wildlife, something I actually get to do rather rarely! In theory I have always been on the rota to help with the transects at Blashford, but as a stand-in, if someone else is unavailable. Well this week I have been called upon and as it was warm and reasonably sunny this afternoon I headed out.

It was not a classic butterfly day but I did see 26 butterflies of four species. Most notable were the five red admiral, I suspect they are new migrants as the weather is set fair for an arrival of migrants over the next day or so. Locally bred were meadow brown, common blue and speckled wood.

speckled wood

speckled wood

Whilst looking for butterflies it is inevitable that you will see other invertebrates, I saw six species of dragonflies and damselflies, several yellow-and-black longhorn beetle and lots of the larger summer hoverflies, especially Volucella bombylans and Volucella pellucens. 

Vollucella pellucens

Vollucella pellucens

Not all of the invertebrates were adult, I found a vapourer caterpillar feeding in the open, something they can afford to do, as they are protected by a dense coat of hairs which most birds will avoid.

vapourer caterpillar

vapourer caterpillar

Some things I cannot identify, or at least not accurately, one such is this digger wasp, I am pretty sure it is one of them, but which one?

digger wasp

digger wasp spp.

Some of the invertebrates were not insects at all, I came across a loose bit of bark on the ground and under it were several slugs, the familiar leopard slugLimax maximus.

leopard slug

leopard slug

This is the common native large slug in woods and gardens. However it is increasingly being overtaken in abundance by the green cellar slug, Limax maculatus. This is a species native to wood in the Caucasus area that was accidentally introduced some fifty years or so ago and is now spreading rapidly.

I

yellow slug

green cellar slug Limax maculatus

One plant that is oddly scarce at Blashford is honeysuckle, so I was pleased to see one of the few plants we do have growing well in magnificent, full flower.

honeysuckle

honeysuckle

Lastly a picture of a rare plant in Hampshire, but one that is quite common at Blashford, slender bird’s-foot trefoil, it is flowering abundantly just now.

slender bird's-foot trefoil

slender bird’s-foot trefoil

Quiet a “Wild Day” considering I was stuck in the office wrestling with report writing for quiet a good part of the day and also out doing path clearing for part of the day.

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 9 – Fair Play

I was at Roydon’s Wood Fair for most of the day, so I was working, but it was a very enjoyable day and there were lots of people visiting. As usual there were lots of stalls with a general New Forest/Woodland craft theme, so anything from willow weaving to venison rolls via woodcarving and local honey and cider.

Setting up for th eWood Fair

Setting up at the Wood Fair

One of the activities I did was a guided walk, actually just a short stroll into one of the meadows beside the site. There were meadow brown and large skipper butterflies and a Mother Shipton moth, lots of common spotted orchid and, an all too brief flyover sighting of two hawfinch. 

Roydon is a remarkable site, a complex mix of unimproved, flower-rich, damp meadows, heathland and woodland. It also has the virtues we would seek in all conservation sites, large size and linkage to a wildlife-rich wider countryside in the New Forest.

Oak half alive

An oak tree, undoubtedly on its way out, but still wonderful wildlife habitat with deadwood and dense ivy cover.

I also did a session looking at the moth trap catches, despite the catches being rather low there were still crowd pleasers like privet hawk-moth, eyed hawk-moth and buff-tip. I also spotted a hobby flying over as we were looking at them.

It seemed that well over a thousand people came along to the event, in just about perfect weather, pleasantly warm, but not too hot, with a breeze but not too windy. Given the recent weather we have had and what is predicted for the coming week, this was a very good day to have chosen.

Busy in the Sunshine

Sorry for the lack of posts, we seem to have been very busy and by the end of the day exhaustion has taken over. It is the time of year when there is lots of growth to cut back, bramble regrowth to cut off and nettle to remove from potential grassland areas. Today I spent the morning removing ragwort from one of the areas due to be mowed later this month and the afternoon mowing bramble regrowth from a bank beside Ibsley Water where we are trying to establish grassland. Hot and heavy work, there are times when I think I am getting too old for it! Being out in the sun did mean I saw lots of butterflies, meadow brown and gatekeeper are probably the most abundant now.

gatekeeper

gatekeper

There are also a number of summer broods out, I saw peacock, small tortoiseshell, common blue, brown argus and small copper. Possibly a side effect of the hot weather is the number of common blue that are unusually small, some as small or smaller than brown argus. I think this happens because the food quality of the plant the caterpillar was on was not good enough or in sufficient quantity for it to grow to full size.

When I had lunch I took a look at the Centre pond and there were dozens of pairs of azure damselfly pairs, egg-laying in tandem. They do this so that the male can be sure that the eggs being laid are the ones that he has fertilised. Some dragonflies do the same and others will stay hovering close tot eh female whilst she lays.

azure damselfly pairs

azure damselfly pairs

I know that I was only doing “What’s in My Meadow Today” during 30 Days Wild, but I will end with a picture from there anyway. One thing that is very noticeable as the grass has gone brown and then yellow is that some plants remain green, field scabious is one of these, which is not just green but flowering well.

small skipper on field scabious

small skipper on field scabious

30 Days Wild – Day 30 – Things Ain’t Always What They Seem

Yet another hot day and another spent mostly at home, I am working tomorrow at Blashford when we have a volunteer task, although what we will do in this heat I am not sure just yet. The day started with a check thought the moth trap, it had caught 26 species including a few first for the year, these were buff footman, grey/dark dagger (another species pair that cannot be separated on sight alone), bird’s wing and a waved black.

waved black

waved black

The waved black is a relatively scarce and rather strange Noctuid moth, it looks like a Geometrid, sitting with wings flat and out to the sides. The larvae eat damp fungi and even lichens and slime moulds.

The hot sun meant the garden was full of insects throughout the day, generally we do not associate moths with hot sunny days but there is one group that only seem to fly in such conditions, the clearwings. The day was ideal for them and I managed to find one species new to the garden, the large red-belted clearwing.

large red-belted clearwing (male)

large red-belted clearwing (male)

Clearwings are very odd moths, they not only fly in bright sunshine, they don’t really look like moths with their largely scaleless wings and in flight they look more like wasps than moths. The larvae feed under the bark of coppiced birch and alder and pupate there also. At this stage I will confess that I did not just look for the moth, I used a pheromone lure. This is an artificially produced chemical that mimics that produced by the female moth to attract the males.

large red-belted clearwing coming to lure

large red-belted clearwing being lured in

To give an idea of the speed of flight the picture above was taken at 1/1250 sec. The moth flew in and circling the lure before landing.

large red-belted clearwing at lure

large red-belted clearwing at lure

After a couple of minutes the fact that there is no female present seems to sink in and they leave, I managed to attract at least three males in about 45 minutes. The lures are usually specific to certain species, I tried five different lures today and only this one attracted any moths. Without the use of lures I have seen only a handful of clearwings in forty years or so of looking for them, use a lure of the right sort on the right day and they just appear.

It was a good day for looking int he meadow so, for the last time….

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Butterflies were very much in evidence with, appropriately enough, meadow brown being one of the most abundant.

meadow brown

meadow brown on field scabious

Small white, large white and small skipper were also much in evidence and there were also a couple of large skipper, a species I have only very occasionally seen in the garden in previous years.

large skipper 2

large skipper on field scabious

Field scabious is a great nectar source for insects and a great plant for a back garden meadow, it has bright showy flowers and a very long flowering season too. The picture shows the incredibly long tongue of the large skipper really well too, their tongues are more feeding tubes really, they reach to the nectar source and suck up the energy rich sugars.

Another great nectar plant is knapweed and these were alive with bees today, including lots of green-eyed flower bee, a small dumpy species with a very high pitched “buzz” that never seems to sit still for a picture.

green-eyed flower bee

green-eyed flower bee on knapweed

Where there are bees there are their followers, one such is the Conopid fly, there are several species and they intercept bees in flight and lay an egg that hooks between the bees abdominal segments, eventually hatching into a parasitic larva, not a pleasant story but it is extraordinary. There are several common species and the one I found was Sicus ferrugineus.

Conopid

Sicus ferrugineus

Juts as there are moths that fly in the daytime and pretend to be wasps there are also flies that pretend to be bees and wasps, some more convincingly than others. Most of the hoverflies in the garden are the various dronefly species that are fairly general bee mimics, but I also spotted one that was definitely more of a wasp mimic.

Xanthogramma pedissequum

Xanthogramma pedissequum

So this is the end of the 30 Days for another year, although I try to get a bit of “Wild” everyday, I may not get around to blogging about it daily. Thanks for your comments and if you have a garden try a mini-meadow, they are great fun and pretty good for wildlife too. Whatever you do, try to have as many Wild Days as you can!

Exploring the downs

On Sunday we too were up on Martin Down with our Young Naturalists group. The reserve is home to a fantastic variety of plants and animals associated with chalk downland and scrub habitats so makes a nice change to Blashford and the New Forest. Unlike Bob, we avoided the nice shady part of the reserve at Kitt’s Grave and instead opted for the more open part of the site, parking at the end of Sillens Lane. It was rather hot!

Group at Martin Down 2

Young Naturalists at Martin Down

We had last visited Martin Down with the group at the end of May last year, a trip many of them could remember, so we took a different route this time and were interested to see what flora and fauna we would spot that little bit later in the year.

Will got our list of species off to a good start, spotting Bullfinch and Yellowhammer whilst waiting for us to arrive – we didn’t see any more Bullfinch but there were certainly plenty of Yellowhammer to hear and see and we also heard Chiffchaff calling. We were also lucky enough to hear the purring of Turtle doves at a couple of different spots.

The insects also did not disappoint and we soon saw Cinnabar moth (and later Cinnabar caterpillar) along with Meadow brown, Marbled white, Small skipper, Brimstone, Gatekeeper, Small heath, Holly blue, Ringlet, Small white and Small tortoiseshell butterflies.

The butterfly that delighted the group the most and kept them on their toes was the Dark green fritillary. There were a number flying low over the grass, giving the best opportunity for a photo when they landed on knapweed or a thistle.

We also spotted a Brown hare in a neighbouring field, which obliged us with glimpses when it crossed the gap in between taller vegetation and a couple of Roe deer. Sadly both were too distant for a photo. There were also lots of beefly and bees on the flowers, along with a five-spot burnet moth, soldier beetles and thick legged flower beetles.

The group were also intrigued by the tent webs made by the caterpillars of the Small eggar moth and there were a number to spot. After emerging from the egg, the caterpillars immediately construct tents out of silk either at their hatching site or nearby on the same bush. They live and develop in these tents as colonies, repairing and expanding the structure as they develop: the layers of silk fibres form air pockets which insulate the nest and provide resting spaces for the caterpillars inside. The tent is essential to the caterpillar’s survival and they do not abandon the structure until they are ready to pupate.

Whilst a number of the Common spotted orchids were now past their best, there were still plenty of Pyramidal orchids in flower.

We heard the croak of a Raven a few times and had a great view of a Linnet which perched nearby whilst we were eating lunch. Other birds included Buzzard, Skylark, Corn bunting, Stonechat and Swift.

Once back at the Education Centre we had time to look through the moth trap before the session ended, something the group really enjoy doing.

Our Young Naturalists group is supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.