Autumn Flight

Definitely feeling autumnal now, with the evenings getting rapidly earlier and a generally cooler and windier feel to the weather. There are still signs of summer when the sun comes out, dragonflies such as migrant and southern hawker and common darter are still out and about as are a fair few butterflies. This peacock, looking so fresh that I wonder if it was a second generation individual, was feeding on Inula hookerii beside the Centre a couple of days ago.

A very fresh peacock

Peacock butterflies over-winter as adults and emerge in spring to mate and lay eggs, sometimes they survive well into mid-summer, the caterpillars then feed up and pupate and a new generations hatches from July and after feeding up hibernates. However in very warm years they sometimes lay eggs and produce a summer brood as small tortoiseshell and comma do.

There are also lots of speckled wood around at present, these follow a quite different strategy, having several broods from early spring until late autumn. They are one of the only butterflies that can be seen in every week from late March to the end of October as the generations overlap.

speckled wood

There are a fair few autumnal moth species, some of which also overwinter as adults, one of these is the brick.

brick

Some others fly only in the autumn and over-winter as eggs, one of these is the magnificent merveille du jour, one of my favourite moths, not rare, just very splendid.

Other autumn species include deep-brown dart,

deep brown dart

and brown-spot pinion.

brown-spot pinion

We are still waiting for a Clifden nonpareil, perhaps oddly we have yet to catch one this year, despite the fact that they seem to be having one of their best years in living memory, with individuals turning up widely across the country.

Autumn is in the air!

On returning to Blashford after some time off there is a definite feel autumn is in the air. There is still warmth when the sun is shining, encouraging butterflies (primarily speckled woods) dragonflies and other insects to venture out on the wing, with regular visitor David  being lucky enough to photograph a pair of migrant hawkers in the mating wheel position by the Education Centre pond:

D Fly3 David Cuddon

Mating migrant hawkers by David Cuddon

Numbers in the moth trap have however dwindled, yesterday it revealed only a handful of moths whilst this morning there was just one, not surprising given there was frost in places last night. Working out of the Welcome Hut is also a colder affair, and a shock to the system, but I have now found some warmer layers and turned the heater on!

Yesterday afternoon I managed a quick wander on the northern side of the reserve, and the reedbed up towards Lapwing Hide was looking glorious in the sunshine:

Reedbed

Reedbed

My real reason for heading out was to see what fungi I could spot and then label for visitors with our temporary signs, but although I could find some, mainly closer to the Centre, the ground is I think still too dry. Wetter weather is on the cards, so I will look again next week.

Beefsteak

Beefsteak fungus

Turkey tail

Turkey tail near the boardwalk past Ivy South Hide

Sulphur tuft

Sulphur tuft along the footpath to Ivy South Hide

The spindle is also beginning to come into its own, displaying its pretty pink fruits. Soon the leaves will turn more of a russet colour and the pink fruits will ripen to reveal the orange seeds inside. It is just behind the badger sculpture along the path to Ivy South Hide.

Sprindle

Pink fruits of the Spindle

I didn’t get a chance to look at Ibsley Water yesterday as my wander was a little late in the day, so headed over to Tern Hide this morning where I was greeting by hundreds of hirundines (swallows and martins) flying over the car park, hide and water. You definitely didn’t need to be in the hide to watch and appreciate them swooping overhead. After watching them from the car park I realised they were flocking over a silver birch tree on the other side of the overflow car park, with some birds (mainly the house martins) pausing briefly on the branches before flying up again:

 

 

Gathering hirundines

Gathering hirundines

 

 

Gathering hirundines (2)

Gathering hirundines

They were fantastic to watch. The photos above definitely don’t give an idea of the numbers present! Preparing to migrate, most hirundines will leave during September but some may stay into October before heading off to a warmer African winter. 

Finally, I will finish with a few more photographs David kindly sent in. The goldfinch, blue tit and grey wagtail were from a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t get round to sharing them before having some time off, and the greenfinch photo was taken yesterday:

Goldfinch David Cuddon

Goldfinch by David Cuddon

Blue-tit David Cuddon

Blue tit by David Cuddon

Greenfinch 2 David Cuddon

Green finch by David Cuddon

Grey Wag 2 David Cuddon

Grey Wagtail by David Cuddon

Grey Wag6 David Cuddon

Grey Wagtail by David Cuddon

Greywag3 David Cuddon

Grey wagtail by David Cuddon

 

 

Thank you very much David, the grey wagtail reflection photos are lovely!

Saved by the moths…

We have been running our fortnightly Young Naturalists catch-ups now since the the end of May and, seven catch-ups in, they are keeping me on my toes in terms of content. Although shorter than a normal on site meeting, making sure we have plenty to discuss for the whole two hours online has kept me busy, collating their photos so we can share them with everyone during the session, catching pond creatures beforehand so we can look at them under the digital microscope, and putting together presentations on other topics, chosen by them and generally not my area of expertise!

I have fallen behind with my Young Naturalist blogs but August’s sessions focused on dragonflies and damselflies (thankfully I now have a good number of photos of different species which made putting together a presentation quite easy)…

lifecycle

Life cycle of a dragonfly and damselfly

…and owls (thankfully the Trust’s image library has a number of fabulous photos of owls that have been taken by other members of staff or sent in by very generous photographers, along with their permission for us to use them)…

owls

Owl presentation

Other birds of prey have also been requested, so the image library will be coming in quite handy again at some point… 

It is always a bit nicer to look at something living though, so at every session we have had one if not two light traps to rummage through and volunteer Nigel has also run his trap at home to add to our moth chances. With the exception of a few cooler nights, we have had a great variety of moths to look at, they have become a regular feature! 

Here are the highlights from the last couple of sessions, plus possibly a few that were caught in between:

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Sticking with the moth theme, this morning there were a pair of Burnished brass in the trap, unmistakable with their brassy, metallic forewings. There are two forms of this moth, which differ in the brown central cross-band which is complete in f. aurea but separated into two blotches in f. juncta

P1200974 (2)

Burnished brass, f.juncta on the left and f. aurea on the right

We haven’t just been catching moths in the light trap, but also lots of caddisflies, shield bugs, beetles and this rather smart looking Eared leafhopper:

Eared leafhopper

Eared leafhopper

They can be found on lichen covered trees, in particular oaks, but are incredibly hard to spot due to their amazing camouflage.

Fingers crossed for some mild September nights so we have some nice autumnal moths to identify for a little longer, or we may have to get into caddisfly identification…

Elsewhere on the reserve the dragonflies continue to be very obliging, with common darter and southern and migrant hawkers perching on vegetation behind the centre to be photographed – the migrant hawker below was pointed out to me by regular visitor John:

Migrant hawker

Migrant hawker

Migrant hawker 2

Migrant hawker

This morning large numbers of house martin were gathering over the main car park by Tern Hide and Ibsley Water, in preparation for their incredible migration to Africa, whilst the shoreline has also become busier, with an increase in wagtails over the past few days.

Yellow wagtail

Yellow wagtail

Pied wagtail

Pied wagtail

Pied wagtail (2)

Juvenile Pied wagtail

Yellow wagtails are summer visitors and they too will head to Africa for the winter. Most Pied wagtails are residents however those that occupy northern upland areas will head south for the colder months, boosting the populations already found in the warmer valleys, floodplains and on the south coast. They can migrate as far as north Africa to escape the cold.

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

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.

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.