30 Days Wild – Day 30

The last of the 30 Days for this year, just 335 wild days to go until 30 Days 2021. It has been the oddest of months, despite a relaxation in lockdown, most people have not been venturing far, although this has been a limitation, it has also opened the eyes of many to what they have within walking distance of home. Perhaps more significant it has highlighted the importance of local informal spaces, we cannot rely on travelling to a greenspace far from home, we need it close at hand. Our wildlife needs this too, a few highly protected nature reserves just will not do we need space for wildlife everywhere. When I say “We” I mean everybody, not just wildlife enthusiasts, all of us feel better and live healthier lives with access to greenspace and especially diverse informal greenspace. Luckily for wildlife this is also exactly what it wants too, far from the needs of wildlife being at odds with the needs of people they are actually aligned, particularly when it comes to mental heath and well being.

Times remain uncertain, for all of us and for our wildlife, will our relationship actually been changed? Will the “New normal” actually be new and importantly better? Let’s hope that in our haste to leave this crisis behind we don’t sprint off looking back at it as we run headlong over the precipice of the next.

We entered the 30 Days in extreme heat and are leaving it with the cool, breezy damp of  the old fashioned English summers of my childhood, that is as they mostly were, rather than as we all remember them. It has been a month of heat and drought, of record moth catches, full of damselflies and beetles, I have seen a good few new species and missed some favourites.

Today’s highlight in the moth trap was a glow worm, a new species for the garden. The males fly, unlike the females, but do not glow, again unlike the females. I do not think they are very strong flyers so I assume it had not come far even though I have never seen glow worm locally when out looking and listening for nightjar.

glow worm

glow worm (male)

I ran two traps at Blashford, moths were rather few but did include a small scallop, unfortunately it had not inflated its wings properly, although it could obviously fly.

small scallop

small scallop

There was also a satin wave, not a rare moth but often they are rather worn, but not this one.

satin wave

satin wave

Anyone who has visited recently will have seen the tremendous growth of plants in Ivy Silt Pond, mostly water soldier, but also lots of others such as bur-reed.

patch of bur reed

patch of bur-reed

There are several species, I am fairly sure this one is unbranched bur-reed.

bur-reed

Unbranched bur-reed (I think)

I will end on a correction, the jewel wasp I posted a few days ago has been re-identified for me as Hedychrum nobile (many thanks to Paul Brock). This species is probably a recent colonist in the UK, it is not quite clear when it arrived, as it remained unidentified for some years. it is clear that it is spreading though from the original sites close to London.

Hedychrum nobile

Hedychrum nobile

I will not stop blogging, although the frequency will undoubtedly reduce. Thank you to everyone who reads, follows and comments. I hope you have had a great 30 Days Wild and done lots of your own wild things and that you keep on doing them.

30 Days Wild – Day 27

A very different day, windy and quite wet at times with heavy showers, especially in the morning,. Despite this the moth catch was still reasonable, although nothing like yesterday’s. There were several species caught for the first time this year such as slender brindle, dingy footman, black arches, blue-bordered carpet and European corn borer. There were also several extra micro moths such as pine shoot moth,

pine shoot moth

pine shoot moth

and Zeiraphera isertana.

Zeiraphera isertana

Zeiraphera isertana

However the top prize for “Catch of the Day” went to a soldierfly, Oxycera rara.

Oxycera rara 4x3

Oxycera rara

Perhaps blown in by the windy weather, a young, second calendar year little gull was over Ibsley Water. At the Centre a hobby flew over and there was a grey wagtail around the ponds. The common tern colony on the rafts on Ivy Lake is still going strong, with the chicks growing fast and lots of pairs with all three chick still surviving. The wind can be a problem for chicks when they are first trying to fly, lifting them off the rafts prematurely, luckily they are not that well grown yet. However strong winds can make it much harder for the adults to catch the fish they need to feed the chicks, resulting in poorer growth, or at worst, starvation. The next couple of weeks will see how they have fared.

30 Days Wild – Day 26 – So Many Moths

The night of 25th-26th June was one of the best for moths for many years, it was ideal, warm and calm. Moths fly for longer on warm nights, unlike day flying insects they cannot use the sun to warm up for flight, so are dependent upon the air temperature being high enough. This is why, on most nights the main flight will be at dusk and numbers decrease through until dawn.

I knew it would be good from the forecast and from the fact that sleep was difficult, one advantage of this was that I was awake at dawn so could go and close the trap before the birds could clear any moths that had not got inside. In my garden I run a small, low power actinic moth trap, the light is less bright and doe snot disturb neighbours, the lower light output means it catches fewer moths. I could see immediately that it was full of moths, the eventual tally was a remarkable 79 identified species, with one or two more unidentified.

Meanwhile at Blashford I had put out two traps in slightly different habitats, if my small trap had that many species how many would there be in the bigger traps? The answer turned out to be about the same, one around 75 species and the other just over 80. I suspect that some of the micro moths, which make up a lot of the catch on calm nights, get out of the trap if it is not covered and taken in soon after dawn.

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Many of the micro moths are stunning to look at, if you can see them well enough! This is where macro photography and especially digital photography comes in so handy, the images can be enlarged on the screen.

My home trap did yield one new species for the garden and not a micro moth either, it was a red-necked footman. These are curious moths, I will not see any for ages and then suddenly see a whole swarm of them, perhaps 100 or more flying together around a tree top in bright sunshine.

red-necked footman

red-necked footman

A number of the micro moths have similar patterns, even if they are not closely related, one recurrent pattern is white with dots, this is a common pattern in the Yponomeutidae, but then crops up again int he distantly related thistle ermine, which is a Pyralid and of course in the white ermine itself, which is one of the tiger moths.

Not everything that gets attracted into a moth trap is a moth, other night-flying insects also arrive. I was very interested to catch a fine beetle that I had not seen before and which I did not remember seeing illustrated.

Diaperis boleti 4x3

Diaperis boleti

When I first tried to identify it, thumbing through some general beetle books, I did eventually found it, the text said “rare in Britain”. Having identified it, at least tentatively, I looked it up on the web and found a rather more contemporary account of its status. I confirmed it was indeed Diaperis boleti, one of the darkling beetles that feed on bracket fungi, it used to be rare, but now it seems it has “become quite widespread and is locally frequent”. It is probably another species that is benefiting from a warmer climate, a reminder that there are winners and losers when things change.

At Blashford the micro moth theme continued, but with a mostly different caste, a few of which are below.

Out on the reserve the breeding season progresses, the common tern chicks are growing fast and a good few of the black-headed gull have fledged.

black-headed gull juv

black-headed gull (juvenile)

 

30 Days Wild – Day 21

Another day in the garden, I would have gone out into the Forest, but it was obviously packed, so contented myself with insect hunting on my own small patch. As ever I started with the moths in the garden trap, which included a new species for me, although it was not the most spectacular moth you will ever see. It was a brown scallop and if the name sounds underwhelming it at least is not overselling.

brown scallop 4x3

brown scallop

It is not an abundant species anywhere but it does occur regularly in Hampshire, although almost entirely on the chalk and seemingly not in the New Forest area. The food plant is buckthorn, but even then it is not found everywhere this plant grows. A little more impressive was a shark, the moth not an actual shark (which would have been well beyond impressive!). This is a moth I see in most years and has caterpillars that eat sow-thistle and hawkweed species.

shark

shark

Back in April I caught a female emperor moth, which laid some eggs. The eggs hatched and are now almost fully grown caterpillars, having fed on willow, they will actually eat all kinds of things. but I had willow easily to hand. The emperor moth is one of the species in which the female produces an especially far carrying pheromone. When she is newly emerged she just sits near the cocoon and waits for the males, which fly by day, to find her. After mating the female will then fly of at dusk before laying her eggs, so moth traps tend to catch females, as a general rule for most species many more males are caught than females as they fly around far more at night in search of a mate. The caterpillars are very smart and quite variable.

emperors

emperor moth caterpillars

The emperor is our only representative of the family Saturniidae, the family that includes the silk moths and the largest moths in the world, such as the atlas moth and lunar moths.

Although the day was mostly sunny and warm there were rather few butterflies in the garden, but these few did include another silver-studded blue, this time a male and a very fresh one too.

silver-studded blue male 4x3

silver-studded blue (male)

The blue was very bright and colourful, but was outdone by a wasp I found on the wild carrot, it was a cuckoo wasp, that is to say a nest parasite of another species of wasp. they are generally difficult to identify, but I am informed this one is likely to be Chrysis viridula.

cuckoo bee 4x3

Chrysis viridula

30 Days Wild – Day 20 – Playing Catch-up

Still trying to catch-up with the 30 Days, Day 21 and I am just writing Day 20! Day 20 was quiet a day, before I got to the reserve I got a call to say that two cars had left the road and were in the water, as the call came from South West Water it could only be Ibsley Water! Considering the distance from the road and the trees etc in the way I had visions of vehicles leaving the road at very high speed, so expected to find lots of emergency services and general mayhem. In fact I arrived to nothing of the sort, indeed to nothing going on at all. It turned out to be the major incident that never was. The two cars had left the road but not into a lake anywhere at Blashford, but a stream on the edge of Ringwood. Somehow, by the repetition of errors and misunderstandings it had got amplified to a different location and a whole different scale of incident.

After this the rest of the day was quiet, I checked the moth trap and trimmed some paths, the recent rain has sped up growth tremendously and I will have to get out again next week.

The moth trap included some notable species, best of all was a lunar yellow underwing, a very local species in the UK with the main population in the Suffolk Sandlings. Locally there is a population on Porton Down and a small one at Blashford Lakes, where I see one or two in most years.

lunar yellow underwing 4x3

lunar yellow underwing

There was also an Evergestis limbata a Pyralid moth that was first discovered in the UK in 1994 on the Isle of Wight. I have seen it a number of times at Blashford, perhaps because the larvae feed on garlic mustard, which is very common on the reserve.

Evergestis limbata

Evergestis limbata

Much more common, but very attractive were two small angle shades.

small angle shades

small angle shades

Later in the afternoon I made a quick visit to the sweep meadow where Tracy had seen several bee wolf the other day and I was not disappointed. This wasp hunts honey-bees to provision its nests. This one is a male, they do not enter the nest tunnels dug into the sand, but wait near them to see if they can find a female to mate with.

bee wolf (male)

bee wolf (male)

I will see if I can do Day 21 and 22 tomorrow and so catch up, just a week to go and another 30 Days will have flown by. Not that I restrict myself to only doing wildlife related things to the month of June, just in case you were wondering!

 

30 Days Wild – Day 19

A much better night for moths with 32 species, a long way short of our best but better than we have had for a while. A new one for the year was a dot moth, like a lot of largely black moths they wear very quickly, however this one was very, very fresh.

black rustic

dot moth

Calm conditions often result in more smaller moths, presumably because they find it easier to fly when it is less windy. A lot of the micro moths are Tortrix species, this is one I have not yet identified, I must get round to looking it up.

tortrix 1

Tortrix moth

I was busy in and around the office for a lot of the day, so did not get out as much as I would have liked. When I did it was pleasing to see that the oystercatcher pair still have at least one chick. I did not see it, but the adults flew up to mob a passing marsh harrier with such vigour that they must still have a chick somewhere nearby.

As I mentioned I was around the office for a lot of the day doing exciting things like seeing if we can get our wifi to work well enough to allow remote education work from as far away as the pond. Traditional education work will clearly be difficult or impossible for some considerable time, but hopefully we can continue via the internet. In many ways what we have is Blashford Lakes , but not exactly as we knew it.

30 Days Wild – Day 11

I started the day going through my garden moth trap, the highlight was a pine hawk-moth, a species that was rare in England before the large scale planting of conifers in the years after WW1. I often catch them as I have a large conifer plantation under 200m from the house. Although I see them frequently they are often very worn, so this very fresh one was a treat.

pine hawk 4x3

pine hawk-moth

The only native pine in the UK is the Scots pine and that is a true native only in Scotland and the very north-east of England. It used to grow across most of the country, colonising after the last Ice Age, but as deciduous trees took hold it was out competed and became extinct. The pine hawk-moth occurs only in the southern half of the UK outside the range of native pines, so it is here only thanks to the planting of pines by people.

I also caught a couple of species for the first time this year, one was the uncertain, a splendid name for a moth and one that has recently become even more apposite. The uncertain looks similar to another moth, the rustic, but regular moth trapper would usually be happy to say they could tell them apart reliably. However recently it has been realised that some uncertains look just like some rustics and the features thought to differentiate them are not entirely reliable, so they are in fact “uncertain”, unless dissected and I don’t want to go there. Having said all that I still think this one is an uncertain rather than a rustic.

uncertain

I am pretty sure this is an uncertain!

The other new one was a common Pyralid moth, Endotricha flammealis, I say it is common, but actually this is only the case in the south of England, although it is spreading northwards, probably helped by climate change.

Endotricha flammealis

Endotricha flammealis

The rain seems to have encouraged a few more plants to flower, it has certainly greened things up a bit and will no doubt result in a growth spurt in vegetation everywhere. In my mini-meadow the perforate St John’s wort is just starting to flower.

perforate St John's wort

perforate St John’s wort

I also saw my first knapweed flower today, these are a great nectar source for loads of insects and along with the field scabious the most popular flowers in the meadow in mid-summer.

knapweed

knapweed

Although I refer to this part of the garden as a mini-meadow this is wrong as a meadow is an area where grass is cut and taken away as a crop, this means cut in June or early July, so some species that don’t usually set seed before that time do not typically occur in them. What I have is more of a herb-rich permanent grassland, I cut most of it in the autumn, far too late for a hay cut and even then I cut it in patches so I don’t remove too much of the grass all at once. I also cut at different heights and dethatch some bits to increase the diversity within my small patch. I have to take care not to knock down any  anthills, of which there are now quite a few, as these increase the surface area and provide extra diversity.

30 Days Wild – Day 10

A third of the way through the 30 Days now and we continue to live in strange times in which many of us have changed somewhat our relationship with the local environment. Even people who were in the habit of walking out from home have found new places to go and in the process found lots of unnoticed doorstep wildlife. In particular the flowers growing on verges, greens and playing field edges have caught people’s eyes with lots of pictures in social media of bee orchids in new places. There was also “No Mow May”, this was promoting the idea of not mowing grass in the month of May and seeing what came up. Quiet a few people found that bee orchids were growing in their lawns all the time, and many realised just how important dandelions were for insects. It demonstrated that our gardens and maintained green spaces could be supporting a lot more wildlife and helping to address some of issues around the decline in pollinating insects.

Day 10 was rather damp at times, actually for quite a lot of the time where I was, but the moth trap can be relied on to deliver something of interest and this time it was a very beautiful small elephant hawk-moth. Perhaps because I don’t see them very often this is just about my favourite hawk-moth.

small elephant hawk-moth

small elephant hawk-moth

I took the afternoon off and made a short excursion to the coast, where it was rather grey and breezy, but I did manage to see my first little tern of the year. I tried to take a picture but it avoided me as soon as I raised my camera, in fact all the birds seemed very camera shy, even this black-headed gull did not want a picture taken.

camera shy black-headed gull

camera shy black-headed gull

 

30 Days Wild – Day 9

The moth trap at Blashford was run last night, in fact we run it almost every night and have done so for many years. The advantage of doing survey over long periods is that you get some idea of changes over time. Although one moth trap in one location is not a controlled dataset when the data from lots of traps run all across the country is combined a picture of change begins to emerge.

The longest running systematic survey data for moth comes from the Rothamsted traps, which have been run every night at locations all across the country since 1967. A summary of the results of this work was published (Macgregor, C.J., Williams, J.H., Bell, J.R. et al. Moth biomass increases and decreases over 50 years in Britain. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 1645–1649). The traps are of a standard design so the catches can be compared between sites and between years. It turns out that moth biomass, the total weight of moths of all types caught, actually increased between 1967 and 1982. Since then there has been a steady decline to the present. However there still seems to be almost twice the biomass of moths now that there was in 1967. Catches varied widely between years, with hot, dry years, such as 1976 resulting in large increases, so we might expect increases following the last two summers, time will tell.

Although the data does not go back before 1967 in such a systematic way, the evidence that is available suggests that the really big declines had already happened by 1967, following the large growth in pesticide use in the years following WW2. Comparing habitats the poorest are urban and arable areas, arable perhaps due to their uniformity and continuing pesticide use, urban areas although more diverse are still subject to light and chemical pollution, both of which probably have impacts. More natural habitats such as grassland and woodland have larger catches and might be expected to be more stable, but have actually suffered 18% and 15% decline respectively since 1983. Although numbers are lower, catches have been stable on arable land over the same period.

great oak beauty

great oak beauty – a moth of old woodland

It appears that the continuing declines are ongoing in the richest habitats but stable on the degraded ones, perhaps indicating that all habitats are declining towards an impoverished base level of bio-abundance, at least for moths. A similar pattern is suggested for other insects too and is supported to some degree by observations of long-term changes in bird populations across a range of habitats.

In recent years there has been a lot of enthusiasm for “Rewilding” and this does seem to be one way to start to reverse the wholesale declines impacting many species. It is certainly true that typically small, isolated nature reserves cannot maintain our biodiversity, but they do still have a vital role to play. They are biodiversity islands in a generally impoverished landscape. If the impoverishment can be reversed this biodiversity can start to spread out from the reserves and repopulate the wider countryside and urban areas. Nature reserves are not just slightly nicer bits of countryside, they are where we have effectively “Banked” much of our wildlife and so need special treatment if we are ever to rebuild wildlife richness across the country. Far from being irrelevant in a time of rewilding, nature reserves remain essential to rewidling achieving its full potential.

The breeding season seems to have been a good one for most bird species at Blashford Lakes. There are now well grown broods of little grebe, coot, moorhen and wildfowl all around the reserve.

coot family

coot family

One group that as fared less well are the ground nesters that use the lake shores and islands. Black-headed gulls are nesting only on the few available rafts, for the first time in over a decade none are using the islands. This may be due to predation last season, but in combination with no breeding around the lake shore by lapwing, I suspect that heavy disturbance, especially at night, is a very likely reason. Unfortunately lockdown started just as the breeding season got underway, which might seem a good thing, but it brought a huge increase in nighttime poaching activity on the reserve as people had more time on their hands and legitimate angling sites were closed.

gulls on a raft

Black-headed gulls are doing well on the rafts with lost of fast growing chicks

Luckily poaching activity has now declined again as angling lakes have reopened. Lockdown has seen lots more people out in the countryside and seemingly a much greater value being put on local greenspace, which is all positive. However, as has been widely seen in the media, it also seems to have resulted in a large increase in more careless use. Many reserves have suffered incidents, with fires being perhaps the worst in terms of wildlife impacts. It would perhaps be ironic if, just as more people have recognised the great value of greenspace, inconsiderate use resulted in some of its value being lost. If we value something we should be looking after it, ultimately nature reserve do not look after wildlife, we all do, we have banked some nature on our reserves, not so we can go in and burn a few pounds from time to time, but so we have seed capital to invest in a better future with wildlife across the whole landscape.

I will try and include more pictures and less verbiage in Day 10’s post!

 

30 Days Wild – Day 4

I started the day by emptying the moth trap at work and then at Blashford, between them there were three species of hawk-moth, privet, pine and eyed. The still conditions meant that there were  a few more micro moths than on some recent nights. A number were Tortrix moths.

Tortrix

Grey Tortrix species

There are several grey Tortrix moths a number of which cannot be identified with certainty without rather closer inspection than can be done in a photograph.

another Tortrix

Another grey Tortrix moth

Luckily some are rather easier, such as this one Apotomis turbidana.

Apotomis turbidana

Apotomis turbidana

Blashford has a lot of nectar sources for insects at the moment, one of the best in hemlock water dropwort.

hemlock water dropwort

hemlock water dropwort

In the shadier wooded areas there are stands of foxglove, not as accessible as the dropwort for many smaller insects, but still great for bumble bees.

foxglove

foxgloves

Back at home I was pleased to see the first wild carrot now in flower, like a lot of the Umbellifers it is a great nectar source for lots of smaller insects.

wild carrot

wild carrot

As the carrot is starting to flower the yellow rattle is coming to and end, with just a few still flowering.

yellow rattle

yellow rattle

I was going to feature my emperor moth caterpillars this evening, but then I came across a very fine mullein moth caterpillar eating figwort.

mullein moth caterpillar

mullein moth caterpillar

I also saw that one of the brimstone caterpillars on my alder buckthorn is now very well grown, hopefully they will get to pupate this year, last year they all got eaten just before they changed.

brimstone caterpillar

brimstone caterpillar