A Misty Morning

A fine and frosty morning, perhaps the first that has felt properly wintry. Having scraped the frost from my windscreen I headed to Blashford across a New Forest washed with mist. I stopped briefly near our reserve at Linwood and took the picture below.

Lookinmg across Dockens Valley S of Linwood

The valley of the Dockens Water on a frosty morning

In the Avon Valley the mist was thicker and there was almost nothing within viewing range at the hides, but it still made for an atmospheric scene.

misty morning over Ivy Lake

The misty view from Ivy South hide

The mist soon cleared and the day was a fine one for working with the volunteers out on the reserve. Our team is somewhat larger than usual at present as we have two Apprentice Rangers from the New Forest National Park working on the reserve until early January. Today we were felling grey alder trees on the path towards Lapwing hide. These trees are similar to our native alder but tend to grow rather larger and faster and have a habit of spreading far and wide by seed. We are removing them to allow the native alder to grow unhindered and diversify the habitat along the path edges where more light will now get down to the ground layer.

felling grey alder

Felling grey alder beside the path to Lapwing hide

I took advantage of the fine evening to make a count of the goosander roost, I managed to see at least 118 gathered in two groups near the Goosander hide, there were at least 35 adult drakes, very close to the average of one third that I have recorded over many years. The rest were what are known as “redheads” that is birds with grey bodies and reddish-brown heads, these will include both adult females and immature birds of both sexes. Other bird in the bay were a single green sandpiper very close to the hide and at least 14 goldeneye.

Yesterday evening as I closed Ivy North hide I could clearly see 4 great white egret roosting in the dead alder trees. I have suspected there were more than the three that are often seen for sometime now but have been unable to prove it before. Generally yesterday was a better day for bird sightings despite the poorer weather, but then using a chainsaw all day is not particularly conducive to seeing birds! Other sightings yesterday included the black-necked grebe on Ibsey Water, along with at least 78 pochard, a good count these days and all the better as there were at least 73 on Ivy Lake as well. Ten or twenty years ago these figures would have been unremarkable, but these ducks are in decline all over Europe for a variety of reasons including lowered breed success due to a significant imbalance of the sexes.

Out on the reserve yesterday I flushed a woodcock between Goosander and Lapwing hides, my first of the winter, whilst in the same area 2 raven flew over and a chiffchaff was calling in the willows. At dusk I took a quick look at the gull roost, I could not find the ring-billed gull, but there were at least 11 yellow-legged gull, all adult and including the atypical adult bird with the heavily marked head. Yellow-legged gull adults usually have all white heads in winter, in contrast to most of the other large gulls, this well marked bird is similar to those of the race that is found on the Azores,  separated as the race “atlantis”. Gull watching came to an end when an adult female peregrine made several low passes over the roost, scattering it in all directions.

With more wintry weather it is perhaps unsurprising that the moth trap is getting quieter, despite this, but appropriate to the season recent catches have included Winter moth, December moth and mottled umber.

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Letting the Light in

For several weeks now there have been contractors working up at the Linwood reserve working to open up an areas of mire habitat that had become seriously shaded. This happens more or less imperceptibly, in this case it was easy to think the area had always been continuous woodland , but the flora told a different story. Many species present, although declining, were ones that do not tolerate being heavily shaded. In addition when the trees are looked at more closely it was obvious that many were no more than twenty or thirty years old. The Our Present, Our Future (OPOF) New Forest National Park project had a strand that was dedicated to helping to restore habitats such as this and it is this project that has enabled the heavy work to be done.

Linwood SSSI clearance works

Work to clear shading trees from Linwood mire habitats

The oak and beech trees have been left alone, the opening up has been achieved by felling birch and pollarding willow. Some trees have been ring-barked to leave them as valuable standing deadwood habitat. It will be interesting to see how species such as white sedge and bog myrtle respond to having access to more light in the years to come.

Last night was very mild and I was looking forward to seeing what the moth trap had caught. The trap was against the wall of the Centre and there were 45 “November” moth on the wall alone! November moths are hard to identify reliably as there are a few very similar species, so I lump them together when recording. Other moths included three merveille du jour.

Merveille du Jour

Merveille du Jour – I know I have used pictures of them many times, but they are one of my favourite moths!

There were also late large yellow underwing and shuttle-shaped dart as well as more seasonable black rustic, yellow-line Quaker, red-line Quaker, chestnut and dark chestnut.

dark chestnut 2

Dark chestnut, it is usually darker than the chestnut and has more pointed wing-tips.

In all there were 16 species and over 70 individual moths, other notable ones were a dark sword-grass and two grey shoulder-knot.

grey shoulder-knot

grey shoulder-knot

We have been doing a fair bit of work around the hides recently, mostly aimed at improving the views from them. Tomorrow it is the turn of Ivy North hide, so I expect there will not be much to be seen in the northern part of Ivy Lake during the day. With luck I will get some sight-lines cut through the reeds, so perhaps the bittern will get easier to see, if it is still around.

Arrivals and Sightings

A quick update on the last couple of days. Yesterday I was working with the volunteers near the Lapwing hide, on the way there I flushed two water pipit from the shore and later one was showing really well at Goosander hide. These birds like the exposed stony shore and the piles of washed up weed, so they should be very happy with things at present with the lake so low. They winter in small numbers in the UK, but breed in the Alps, a rather odd migration strategy on the face of it.

Colder weather has heralded the arrival of more winter wildfowl, in particular goldeneye, which first turned up last weekend and have risen in numbers daily since,  today I saw 14 birds, including four adult drakes. Goosander numbers have increased markedly too, and I counted 51 at roost yesterday. There are at least two great white egret still on the reserve and two marsh harrier were seen yesterday, with at least one again today.

The colder nights have significantly reduced the catches in the moth trap, but despite this the last two nights have produced “November” moths Epirrita spp. , grey shoulder-knot, yellow-line Quaker, brick, satellite and black rustic. 

Reports and a Bit of Garden Wildlife

5th October reports from Blashford showed that all the main player are still present. On Ibsley Water the ferruginous duck was still around the north end of the Long Spit visible from either or both of Tern  and Goosander hides. The wood sandpiper seems to have relocated to the shore near Lapwing hide, with both common and green sandpipers also still present to “complete the set”. A few wigeon and a single pintail are mingling with the wildfowl and it is worth checking for the occasionally reported juvenile garganey. Both great white egret and several little egret were also about.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Little egret with both great white egrets and “Walters” rings clearly showing – photographed yesterday from Goosander Hide and emailed in by Christine Whiffen.

Over on Ivy Lake the bittern was seen on the edge of the reeds near Ivy North hide, viewed from the screen along the path between Ivy Lake and Rockford Lake.

I was not at Blashford myself so my wildlife sightings were restricted to my garden and especially the moth trap, a mild, calm, damp night resulted in a good catch of autumnal species.

angle shades

angle shades

The angle shades is perhaps the moth most adapted to hiding in piles of dead leaves and a species that can be seen as an adult all through the year.

dark sword-grass

dark sword-grass

The dark sword-grass is a migrant and although they can turn up at almost anytime, they are mush more frequent in autumn.

deep-brown dart

deep-brown dart

Whilst some autumn moths are yellow to hide in autumn leaves, others just go down the very dull and unobtrusive route, the deep-brown dart is one such species.

feathered ranunculus

feathered ranunculus

Feathered ranunculus is an autumn species that lives mainly around the coasts on cliffs. It colonised the mainland coast of Hampshire in the late 1970s. I remember this well as I was working at Titchfield Haven at the time and caught a number of them, indicating that there were established on the mainland and not just wandering from the Isle of Wight.

southern chestnut

southern chestnut

The southern chestnut was first discovered in Britain in 1990 in Sussex. At the time it was considered that it had previously been overlooked, this may be so, but what is certain is that it has increased greatly since and is now quiet frequent across the New Forest heaths and in similar habitat elsewhere in southern England.

Other species in the trap included large yellow underwing, lesser yellow underwing, lunar underwing, willow beauty, shuttle-shaped dart, black rustic, turnip, sallow, pine carpet, spruce carpet, cypress carpet, square-spot rustic and broad-bordered yellow underwing.

I have recently found a new species in my garden, a most unusual plant, called yellow dodder. The dodders are parasitic plants that have roots only as small seedlings and once their tendrils have found a host the tap into the plant to gain all their nutrients and do away with their own roots. There are native species of dodder that can be seen on gorse and heather plants, especially in the New Forest, yellow dodder is not a native and comes from the Americas, almost certainly with bird seed and most likely in nyger seed and this plant was climbing up a self-seeded nyger plant, supporting this idea.

yellow dodder on nyger plant

yellow dodder on nyger plant

Camping out

At our last Young Naturalists session in July, we spent a night on the reserve, exploring Blashford and the surrounding area late in to the evening and early in the morning. It seems like a really long time ago now, but hopefully this blog is better late than never…

After arriving on the Saturday morning we got straight on with setting up our camp, using old army ponchos to make dens to sleep under and whittling pegs out of willow.

We then headed to the back of the Education Centre to sit by the pond and butterfly spot as part of the Big Butterfly Count. The Purple loosestrife proved to be very popular with the butterflies and we saw a large white, numerous small whites, a green-veined white and brimstones, along with a gatekeeper and painted lady by the bramble. We also watched the water for newts coming up to the surface and spotted a number of young frogs.

After lunch we headed up into the Forest, exploring the local Rockford and Ibsley Commons for a different view of the lakes. The bell heather was in flower and attracting lots of honey and bumble bees.

We paused for a while at the bridge over the Dockens Water, exploring this stretch of the river and taking a closer look at some of the plants before heading up on to the Common for another view of the reserve, this time Ibsley Water.

On arriving back at Moyles Court we paused by the ford for a paddle, although Jorge got wetter than most!

Walking back along the Dockens we spotted this fabulous Chicken of the Woods fungi growing on an old log:

Chicken in the woods

Chicken of the Woods

Arriving back at the Education Centre, it was time to empty the light trap from the night before so we could re-set it for the Saturday evening and we also set some mammal traps to see if we could catch any of our smaller resident mammals.

It was then time to think about food and the group did a great job of chopping the ingredients before tucking in to healthy wraps toasted over the fire followed by slightly less healthy popcorn and banana stuffed with chocolate and mini marshmallows…

Lysander had also very kindly bought some of his left over Cadet rations to share with the group, cooking them through using his stove. Whilst not all sampled his food, we were pleasantly surprised by how nice it tasted!

After eating we headed off on a night walk in search of bats, picking up pipistrelles on the bat detectors in the woodland and near Ivy South hide.

After convincing the group to get up bright and early on Sunday morning, we roused them at 5.30am and headed off up to Lapwing Hide for some early morning wildlife spotting.

It was lovely and peaceful to be out on the reserve so early, and whilst we didn’t spot anything out of the ordinary we had a good wander and worked up an appetite for breakfast which we cooked over the campfire.

Breakfast

Breakfast, looking slightly sleepy

It was then time to check the mammal traps we had put out the previous evening, but sadly although a couple had been sprung we were unsuccessful. The two light traps however gave us 31 different species off moth to identify, along with a Dark bush cricket and an Oak bush cricket:

After tidying away our camp and bringing everything back to the Centre it was time for the group to head off, a little sleepy but having spent a very enjoyable time overnight on the reserve.

Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly at the Education Centre Pond

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

A Couple of Tanners

Despite continued warm nights the number of moths coming to the trap are actually declining, I suspect it might have got too warm and especially dry for many moths to cope with. This does not mean the traps have been devoid of interest though, on two recent mornings the catch has included one of Britain’s largest beetles, the tanner beetle Prionus coriarius. 

tanner beetle

tanner beetle

This is something of a New Forest speciality, being quite frequent in the area and rather scarce across the rest of south-east England.

It will be interesting to see if the numbers pick up again now that it has rained and the weather settles down again, as it is supposed to do by the end of the week.

At Blashford things remain pretty quiet, there are unusual numbers of gadwall making the most of the weed in Ivy Lake, the peak count so far is 139. Numbers of coot, both there and on Ibsley Water are relatively high as well. There has been very little sign of migration so far, although there are several common sandpiper around and at least one green sandpiper. There has been some indication of small birds on the move, the ringers have caught whitethroat and grasshopper warbler and there are a few willow warbler and chiffchaff that seem to be passing through.

 

Garden Highlights

I seem to have been very busy recently, a couple of days away and evenings spent out surveying nightjar have left no time for blogging. The last few days have produced a few notable species in my garden which I will cover, a Blashford update will have to wait a bit longer I’m afraid.

The other day I recorded my first silver-washed fritillary in the garden, it was on a Buddleia, the “butterfly bush”, I do not grow the common davidii, which seeds freely and can be an invasive species in dry habitats. To avoid the seeding risk I grow a sterile hybrid known as Buddleia weyerianait may not be quiet as attractive to insects, but has the advantage of a much longer flowering season.

silver-washed fritillary

silver-washed fritillary

The moth trap has been productive as well, warm nights are always good for moths and we have had lots of those recently. The pick of the recent catches has been a very smart mocha, caught a couple of nights ago.

mocha

mocha

Followed last night by a Jersey tiger, this splendid looking moth used to be found only along the south coast of Devon, but in recent years has become established on the Isle of Wight and very recently along the southern edge of the New Forest too.

Jersey tiger

Jersey tiger

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!

30 Days Wild – Day 20 – A Leopard

Back at Blashford and checking the moth trap I found it contained a leopard moth, these strange moths have larvae that eat wood. They tunnel into the stems of living trees and shrubs, typically in branches and take two or three years to grow to sufficient size to pupate. The moth was rather battered, they are a moth which doe snot seem to stay in good condition for very long.

battered leopard moth

leopard moth

It seems I missed one in much better condition in the trap in Monday, although the books say they are quite common this is a species I do not see every year, so two in the week is good for Blashford.

There a a fair few other moths, but nothing of great note and the only other one that I had not seen so far this year was a tiny micro-moth.

Caloptilia populetorum

Caloptilia populetorum

I am not sure if I have seen this species before, it’s larvae eat birch so you might think is would be common and widespread, however it seems to be quite local. Clearly there are many other factors that influence their distribution.

After a morning at Blashford I had to go over to Fishlake at lunchtime. I was meeting with members of the Trust’s grazing team about getting some of their British White cattle onto the reserve to help preserve the varied fen vegetation. The fields look very attractive with purple loostrife, comfrey, meadow sweet, common meadow-rue and much more.

meadow rue with tree bumble-bee

common meadow-rue, with tree bumble-bee

If the meadows are so good you might ask why graze them? The answer is to keep them in this state. Years without grazing have seen them start to scrub over in places and become more dominated by very tall vigorous species, shading out the lower growing plants.

The tree bumble-bee hovering to the right of the picture is one of the more distinctive bumble-bees, with a brown thorax and black abdomen with a white tail end. This is a recent colonist of the UK arriving at the turn of the millennium and being first found in Southampton. As far as we know it crossed the channel unaided and has now travelled up the country as far as northern Scotland and west to Ireland.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

It was warm and sunny when I arrived home and a quick look in the meadow revealed lots of insects, best was a skipper butterfly, my first in the garden this year.

Essex skipper on wild carrot

Essex skipper on wild carrot

The Essex and small skipper are very similar, best separated by the black underside to the tip of the antennae. The picture seems to show they are present on this one making it an Essex skipper.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 18 – On the Road

I ran the moth trap at home overnight, the catch was modest and as follows: barred red 1, heart and dart 8, heart and club 3, Chrysoteuchia culmella 1, Crambus pascuella 1, buff-tip 1, elephant hawk-moth 1, marbled/tawny marbled minor 1, privet hawk-moth 1, willow beauty 1. The two with only Latin names are micro-moths or a type collectively known as “Grass moths” as they are often found in grasslands an sit head -down on grass stems. The “Marbled minor” is lumped with with tawny marbled minor as they cannot reliably be separated by just looking at them.

After this slightly wild start to the day I was off on the road, heading north. As a result wildlife was in relatively short supply but these days heading north from here will inevitably mean seeing red kite. The re-establishment of red kite has been one of the most remarkable changes of fortune of any of our wildlife. I remember seeing them in mid-Wales as a young birder in the 1960’s when they were very rare indeed, perhaps under 20 pairs in all when I saw them and not doing very well. Mid-Wales is relatively unproductive land and the weather can be poor in the mountains, even in summer and  in those days there were still numbers of active egg-collectors around as well.

Establishing a population in the more productive lowland farmland around Oxford quite quickly showed that this is a species that could do very well in UK conditions when it was allowed to live in more promising habitat. The UK is evidently very good habitat for red kite and their ability to spread and thrive across most of the country has been quiet extraordinary. During my birding lifetime they have gone from supper rarity to an everyday bird  for millions of people across the country, proving that not all conservation stories are one of gloom, doom and extinction.