We’ve Got the Blues, Again

Tomorrow I have a moth event at Blashford, we will be opening two moth traps and looking through at the catch, identifying and photographing them. Over the last few days we have caught three Clifden nonpareil moths, also known as the blue underwing, this is a spectacular species and probably the UK moth with the largest wing area. In fact there was one yesterday and another today, obviously it would be great if there was one tomorrow, but things being what they are I suspect there won’t be! It is also still quite rare nationally, having only recently recolonized the UK, luckily for us the New Forest area is probably their stronghold.

Clifden nonpareil

Clifden nonpareil, or blue underwing.

The caterpillars feed on aspen and probably other poplar species, as it happens we have a number of aspen at Blashford Lakes, which is probably why they seem to be established on the reserve. Aspen is an interesting tree as is has quiet a lot of insect species associated with it. It is a tree that can grow very tall, but also produces lots of suckers, so there can be niches for species that prefer the canopy and shrub layer provided for by a single tree. It is very prone to being browsed and the suckers are often eaten off, increasing numbers of deer are probably one reason that aspen is in decline in many areas.

We may not see a Clifden nonpareil, but I hope we will see a good few moths and one thing that I am fairly sure about is that a number of them will be yellow or orange, autumn is the season for yellow moths, probably because it is the time for yellow leaves.

sallow and pink-barred sallow

pink-barred sallow and sallow

Although autumn is well underway now there at still quite a lot of insects about when the sun comes out, southern hawker, migrant hawker and common darter dragonflies are still around in fair numbers and butterflies include red admiral, comma and a lot of speckled wood. As I was eating lunch yesterday I noticed a fly on the picnic table next to me and realised it was one of the snail-killing flies.

Elgiva cucularia

Elgiva cucuaria a snail-killing fly.

It is the larvae that kill the snails, in the case of this species , aquatic snails, which is probably why it was close to the Education Centre pond.

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Mothless, well Almost

Yesterday I ran a “Moth event” at Blashford, unfortunately I forgot to tell the moths and there were probably more human participants than moths! Usually late August is a good time for catching large numbers of moths, but big catches require warm, calm nights following warm settled days. What we had was a windy, mostly clear night following a rather stormy day.

Luckily the day got more settled as it went on, at least until late afternoon anyway. This brought out good numbers of insects, including as many dragonflies as I have seen this year. Around the reserve I saw several brown hawker, southern and migrant hawkers, an egg-laying emperor dragonfly and a fair few common darter. Damselflies included common blue, azure, red-eyed, small red-eyed and blue-tailed.

Butterflies were rather fewer, most that I saw were whites, with all three common species near the Centre. Out on the reserve a few meadow brown and gatekeeper are still flying and speckled wood are increasing again. Near the Lapwing hide I saw both red admiral and painted lady, perhaps indicating some continued arrival of passage insects.

The sunshine in the middle of the day brought out reptiles as well and I saw two grass snake and an adder. The adder was very fat and I suspect a female which will shortly be giving birth, since adders have live young rather than laying eggs as grass snakes do.

adder

adder

I have heard reports of wasp spider being seen around the reserve recently and today I finally saw one.

wasp spider

wasp spider

This is a female, the males are much, much smaller and wander about seeking the females.

I had hoped for a few different birds, following the rough weather, perhaps a few terns, but there was little change form the past week. A few extra waders were the best that could be found, 2 dunlin, 2 oystercatcher, 2 common sandpiper, 1 redshank and the pick of the day, 3 greenshank, although they only flew through. There are starting to be a few more ducks around, I saw 8 shoveler and 3 teal, but there are still no wigeon on the reserve, although they should not be far away. Away for the water looking up there were 2 raven, and single hobby and peregrine. Whilst low over the water before the day warmed there were 1000+ sand martin and c200 house martin.

Perhaps the sighting of the day for many visitors though was the female roe deer that spent part of the morning in front of the Woodland hide.

roe deer at Woodland hide 3

roe deer doe at the Woodland hide

 

Bank Holiday blues

Welcome, from a soggy Blashford Lakes Reserve. As is customary we have another damp and dismal Bank Holiday Monday (10mm of rain overnight and it hasn’t stopped raining all day), but there are a few folk here making the most of the situation.

Not terribly inspiring for bird watching and most self respecting insects are keeping well out of sight today, so I’ll just share a few pictures, taken last Friday, when covering the Butterfly Survey transect on the south of the Reserve.

Green-veined white butterflies were the most common on the transect and arguably THE most common butterfly in the U.K. with a wide geographic range (absent only from Orkney and Shetland) and having two or even three broods (in good years).  An innocuous butterfly, its caterpillars don’t damage cultivated cabbages, unlike their close cousins the large white  and small white, but lay their eggs on wild relatives of these plants. An active butterfly its quite difficult to identify from small white when in flight, I’m guessing that many ‘non-butterfliers’  probably wouldn’t even have heard of them – I know I hadn’t before taking more interest in these insects.

Most common butterfly - Green-veined White

Most common butterfly – Green-veined White

Green-veined white butterflies are very much a species of damp and marshy places near hedgerows and woodland edges, so the Reserve is ideal habitat for them – especially today.

Overall the number of butterflies to be seen has dropped off lately as the temperature falls  and sunshine has decreased with only 21 butterflies of four/five species ( including ‘unknown’ White) seen last Friday, although I believe the transect on the north side of the Reserve was more productive. The brightest and  most colourful was this Comma.

Comma - so named from the tiny white 'comma shaped' mark on the underside of the hind wing

Comma – so named from the tiny white ‘comma shaped’ mark on the underside of the hind wing

The common name of this butterfly, and even the scientific name Polygonia c-album, refer to this tiny mark (if my rusty knowledge of Latin is correct c-album = ‘ white c’), but it’s really quite inconspicuous unless you know to look for it.  I guess the naming dates back to the time when collectors could study these things at their leisure as it was  ‘O.K.’ to catch these beautiful insects and handle them, before killing and mounting them in collections

In greater profusion than all the butterflies were common blue damselflies which were just about everywhere, gently skimming over the tops of shrubbery and settling, usually briefly, before being disturbed by another damselfly. The males were most conspicuous, with their electric blue colouration,  whilst the females were difficult to pick out, especially if motionless as they stayed perched up.  I’ll admit that I find it easier to identify the species of a male damselfly, like ducks as opposed to drakes, the females are more drably marked.

Dragonflies and damselflies are spectacularly visual insects, the relative size of their eyes is a bit of a give-a-way, so I’m guessing that males can easily identify their prospective mating partners from a mixed assortment of, to us, similar looking females of other species.  As a safeguard to prevent cross breeding  I understand that the claspers (anal appendages) on a male can only latch on successfully to the neck of a female of the same species to create the mating position called the ‘heart’ or ‘cartwheel’ position.  Whilst so engaged they are easier to photograph as they seem somewhat ‘distracted’ and less likely to fly off suddenly – can’t think why!

pair of common blue damselflies

pair of common blue damselflies in cartwheel position

Dragonflies were also out and about, hopeless trying to photograph them whilst flying (the dragonflies – not me!) with my little camera, but when they hang-up briefly there’s a chance of a quick shot.   Missed the southern hawker, but this migrant hawker was more obliging.

Migrant hawker

Migrant hawker

Common darter are living up to their name, by a) being quite common (20 plus seen easily – don’t know how many we missed) and  b) perching up and ‘darting’ out before returning to the same perch, making them relatively easy to photograph.

Common darter

Common darter

The butterfly transect should notionally take about an hour and a half, but we managed to stretch it to two hours, having been ‘distracted’ by some quite delicious blackberries along the way. Whilst engaged in this activity a strange bug hopped onto my hand and demanded to have it’s picture taken.

Dock bug?

Dock bug?

Searching the literature – and online – I think its a dock bug (Coreus marginatus) , though not a fully grown one, as these appear to have a more definite darker patch on their abdomen.  One of the family ‘Leatherbugs’ of which there are eleven species in the U.K. and five in the new Forest (Paul D. Brock : A photographic guide to Insects of the New Forest) this is apparently the most common and easily found.

I’ll close with an update from the rain gauge – 22mm (nearly an inch in real terms)  and rising!!

 

A Spectacle(ular), SilyerY Sunday and Migrant(ory) Monday

The numbers of human visitors to the reserve are often difficult to predict and Bank Holiday weekends are no exception.  Animal visitors, on the other hand, are almost impossible to predict as the flow of the seasons moves on.  For some it is late summer and to others its early autumn.

On the bird front there have been many sightings of kingfisher and the numbers of waterfowl are starting to build steadily, in number, if not in range of species.  Small numbers of migrant waders are starting to appear including common sandpiper and green sandpiper. Perhaps the most notable bird of the two days was/ has been a black tern, reported yesterday and which we saw, appropriately from the Tern Hide, as we closed the reserve. So far no reports today.

Jim had set up the light trap overnight on Saturday, but the slightly damp and cooler conditions didn’t produce  a huge range  of moths.  the most spectacular was a Red Underwing, which unfortunately took flight almost as soon as it was found – so no picture.  The most populous species in the trap were Silver Y (8) and Spectacle (7).  Later in the day one of the Silver Y moths, so named for the ‘y’ shaped marking,  settled on my car .

Silver Y moth on car - yes i kow it needs a wash!

Silver Y moth on car – yes i know it needs a wash!

The Spectacle moth’s name is less obvious when seen side on.

Not obviously spectacular

Not obviously spectacular

but quite understandable when viewed head on –

The name 'Spectacle' seems more obvious now.

The name ‘Spectacle’ seems more obvious now.

A number of times when I’ve been  going through, sorting out the various moths in the light trap, I’ve been asked about the differences between moths and butterflies. i don’t pretend to be an expert, but the following may help.

Butterflies and moths comprise the order lepidoptera (from the ancient Greek for  ‘scale’ and  wing’ ) and in the U.K. includes butterflies  ( 50 + species), macro moths (the larger ones 800+ species) and micro moths (several thousand species).  There is a tendency to think that day flying species are butterflies and nocturnal ones are moths, but there are a large number of moths species (more than all the butterflies) that fly during the day. Mostly they are micro moths and easily overlooked, but include some macro moths, like  Silver Y and Humming-bird Hawkmoth (see last week’s blog).  To add to the confusion some butterflies must be on the move overnight  as they are regularly caught in overnight  light traps, I’ve seen Peacock, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell.  I seem to remember that the strict technical definition of a butterfly is the possession of club-shaped antennae, as on this Red Admiral.

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

   whereas moths have feathery or straight antennae like this Small Phoenix.

Small Phoenix - note the straight antenae, typical of moth species

Small Phoenix – note the straight antennae, typical of moth species

The differentiation between macro and micro moths can be even more confusing as it ultimately seems to depend in which family group the moth belongs . Size isn’t everything, there are some quite small macro moths and some fairly large micro moths, like this Mother of Pearl – a micro moth – which is about the same size or larger than the Small Phoenix – a macro moth.

The wonderfully lustrous sheen of the Mother of Pearl

The wonderfully lustrous sheen of the Mother of Pearl

Incidently the Mother of Pearl illustrates quite clearly the facet of the ‘scaly wing’ nature of lepidoptera. Although the picture doesn’t show it too clearly, the subtle silvery iridescent, almost translucent, colouring on the wings is caused by interference patterns of the light on the tiny scales.  This gives them a shimmering effect as the colour changes depending on which angle you see them from. I’ve read somewhere that this effect was the inspiration behind the development of the compact disc (CD and presumably DVD’s) as it was realised that this could be used to store huge amounts of information in a small space and could be written to and read by laser light.  

The elevated temperatures have kept any dragonflies and damselflies quite mobile, but a Migrant Hawker was kind enough to perch up on the buddleia and stayed there long enough to have its  picture taken.

Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawker

Signs of Autumn

Bird News: Ibsley Watercommon sandpaper 1. Ivy Lakegreat white egret 1.

A few days since I have been able to post so a bit of a catch-up now. Yesterday I moved the lake camera to a new location which I thought might be better for birds this winter. I arrived this morning and turned on the tv in the lobby at the Education Centre and there just to the right of the centre of the picture was the great white egret, the first time I had “seen it” this autumn. I did see it in the flesh later, as it flew off towards Rockford Lake when I went to open the Ivy South hide. Opening the Tern hide there was a very smart juvenile common sandpiper on the shore near the hide, the picture does not do it justice.

common sandpiper

The moth trap was not busy but included a fine autumnal rustic.

autumnal rustic

There were also several very smart feathered gothic.

feathered gothic

And a single hedge rustic.

hedge rustic

It was my last Thursday Volunteer task today before I move off to pastures newish and old. Todays weather was a splendid as that for the Sunday volunteers the other day was dire. We were doing various tasks associated with this weekend’s events at Blashford, for which there are still places for anyone looking for something exciting to do with the family on Sunday. There will be pond dipping and a trail with loads of things to find, numbers are limited for come activities so booking is essential if you want to do some things (call 01425 472760).

The recent days have been very good for dragonflies and I have a few pictures. There have been lots of posing migrant hawkers.

migrant hawker

And common darter really do seem to be fairly common this year, although not as much so as they used to be a few years ago.

common darter

I hope to blog once or twice more before I sign off for good. In the meantime thanks to everyone who has made working at Blashford so enjoyable over the last six and a half years and to everyone who reads the blog and who have sent me comments, picture and information, please continue to do so as I’m sure Jim, Michelle and Steve will continue to post until my replacement arrives.