Autumn?

volunteers opening up a glade

volunteers opening up a glade in willow scrub.

Although the weather does not seem to know it we are firmly into autumn now, in fact our winter work program has now got underway. On Thursday the volunteers were clearing willow to create a glade between two existing areas of open ground to allow adders and other reptiles to move easily between the two. We have a good population of adders on the reserve but they favour open areas and the population can get subdivided as trees grow up.

The autumn is often a good time for moths, especially if the nights are warm, so it is no surprise that recent catches have been quiet good, here are a few recent highlights.

beaded chestnut

beaded chestnut

vapourer moth male

Male vapourer moth

Vapourer moth females are flightless and the males track them down using their feathery antennae to “smell” the air for the pheromone trail released by a female. They fly at night and in the day, accounting for some of the sightings of “small, orange butterflies” that get reported in the autumn.

green brindled crescent

green-brindled crescent

Lastly two of my favourite moths of the whole year, the four-spotted footman, this one a male and so without the four-spots, which only the females have.

four-spotted footman male 2

male four-spotted footman

And finally one that we have yet to catch at Blashford this season, although I have had a few in my trap at home, the very splendid merveille du jour.

merveille du jour 1

merveille du jour

 

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Moths and Birds and no Snowberry

Despite the autumnal weather the moth trap continues to catch a reasonable range of species, Friday’s catch included two of the bigger wainscots, the large wainscot,

large wainscot

large wainscot

and the bulrush wainscot.

Bulrush wainscot 2

bulrush wainscot

Neither of them particularly colourful species, unlike the frosted orange.

frosted orange

frosted orange

I know I have already posted this species a few times, but they are very fine and this one was very fresh. Autumn moths tend to be either bright yellow, orange or very dull indeed and the deep brown dart is certainly at the dull end, at least in terms of colour.

deep brown dart

deep brown dart

Despite the extremely dull weather today there were some birds to see, the ruff remains on Ibsley Water and there were also 2 green sandpiper and a common sandpiper there too. A sign of the changing season is the slowly increasing number of wigeon, I saw at least 25 today, but there were also something over 75 hirundines, mostly swallow but also a number of house martin and even a few sand martin.

Recently the Goosander hide has been attracting  allot of photographers trying to get shots of a fairly cooperative kingfisher. It also seems to be good for quiet a few other species too. I was especially pleased to see  the trees that we leaned into the lake there being well used as perches by a range of species, including today, Walter, our returning great white egret.

Walter

Walter, our returning great white egret, you can just make out some of his rings.

The perches near the Goosander hide are being used by lots of birds, the rails I put up  a few years ago were very popular with cormorant today.

cormorants

A “drying-off” of cormorant.

Large numbers of cormorant have been mass fishing in Ibsley Water recently, something they only do when there are very large shoals of fish, of just the right size, on offer. This year there seem to be large numbers of perch and rudd to be caught, to judge from the many pictures we have been sent of cormorant with fish recently.

These same rails are also popular with gulls and I saw three different yellow-legged gull on there this afternoon, including this first winter bird.

Yellow-legged gull 1st W

Yellow-egged gull, in first winter plumage (or if you prefer 1st cy)

It was the first Sunday of the month and despite unpromising weather four volunteers turned out for a task this morning. For several years I have been meaning to get around to removing a patch of snowberry near the Ivy North hide, it has not spread very far but is a garden plant that really should not be in a semi-natural woodland. Finally today we got rid of it, or at least of as much of it as we could dig up, next spring we will see how much we missed!

I will end with a sure sign of autumn, a fungus, the reserve has  a lot of fungi just now, I really struggle to identify them, but I think I know what this is, until someone puts me right, a fly agaric – this one complete with flies.

Fungus Gnat Agaric

fungus gnat agaric

 

Black & Blue

Thursday saw another black tern swooping over Ibsley Water along with a ruff, I think a new bird as the long-stayer had not been seen for several days, and at least one great white egret. Other birds included at least 2 common sandpiper, a green sandpiper and a small group of wigeon.

The good showing of blue underwing moths, or as I prefer, Clifden nonpareil continues with our fifth of the year. A slightly damaged individual, although the forewing damage does allow the blue hindwing to be seen.

Clifden Nonpareil

Clifden nonpareil

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.

A Full House

The poor weather over the last couple of days has brought in huge numbers of hirundines, that is swallows and martins, to Ibsley Water. there are especially very large numbers of house martin, they are impossible to count but I estimated at least 5000 today with probably 1000 swallow and at least 500 sand martin. Everywhere you looked over the water there were birds and then, scanning upward against the clouds there were many, many hundreds more. These higher birds are mostly house martin the swallow and sand martin tend to keep lower. They gather over water in an effort to find insects in weather when there are few flying elsewhere, often they pick prey directly from the surface of the lake.

The other aerial plankton feeder of summer is the swift, they mostly leave around the end of July, but a few can linger and searching through the hirundines can sometimes result in finding one and today was just such a time. Swift in September is a scarce bird, in fact in some years I don’t see one after mid August.

Other birds today included a hobby, lured in by the masses of martins as potential prey, although I did not see it catch one. The great white egret was around on and off, the ruff of the last few days was joined by another by the end of the day, when there were also 2 juvenile Arctic tern. A single black-tailed godwit dropped in for a while and there were 2 sanderling reported.

This is really not the weather for moths, so tomorrow’s planned “Moth Event” promises to be a bit of a damp squib. Today’s catch total a massive two moths! I suspect tonight may well be worse. The highlight was a fresh frosted orange, always a nice sight.

Frosted orange

Frosted orange

Several people mentioned the very good show of flower put on by our small patches of heather near Ivy North hide this year, in fact there at small patches of heather in several places across the lichen heath and I suspect these will expand in the coming years. All of this heather is the common ling, but we do have one plant of bell heather Erica cinerea on the reserve and this is in full flower now, somewhat after the ling has finished.

bell heather

bell heather

Although it is feeling very like autumn already there are still some reminders of summer out there, such as grasshoppers, I found this somewhat atypically coloured field grasshopper near the bell heather at the end of last week.

field grasshopper

field grasshopper

An Alien has Landed

We run a moth trap at Blashford on most nights of the year, we record the species and numbers. Some species are regular and others we see only once every few years and just occasionally we get a new species. When I opened up the trap yesterday morning there was a moth I had never seen before, small but quite distinctive.

IMG_8172

small moth

When  I looked in the book I could not find it, luckily the internet came to my rescue and I managed to identify it as a Pyralid moth, Musotima nitidalis a species native to Australia and New Zealand and first found in the UK in 2009 near Bournemouth.

So how did it get here? It appears it feeds on tree ferns and is likely to have been introduced with plants imported from Australia. It seems it will feed on some native fern species here, such as black spleenwort and bracken. Now it is here it will probably stay, perhaps as a scarce insect having little impact, or perhaps not. Once alien species establish the consequences will only become clear many years later and certainly there is nothing we can now do about this particular one but wait and see what happens.

Unexpected Events

It has been a mixed few days, on Monday we briefly had only four of our six hides accessible, a fallen tree had blocked the route to Ivy North hide and Tern hide had been damaged. We are relatively lucky in that we have not had much vandalism at Blashford, but it does happen. In this case someone had been round onto the lakeshore in the evening and smashed three of the hide windows, luckily the breeding season has more or less finished so the damage was only to property. I know some of our visitors do walk the reserve in the evening and should anyone ever see anything suspicious please do let us know.

Surprises can be welcome as well though and there have been a couple of nice ones in the moth trap. It is not always moths that get caught, we get lots of caddisflies, but not many damselflies and when we do they are usually freshly emerged like this one.

common blue

freshly emerged common blue damselfly

The moth number shave been quiet good this year and have included a couple of new species for the reserve, yesterday there was a gothic, not a rare species, but one I have not seen before at Blashford.

gothic

Gothic

The generally warm weather has been good for insects as a while this summer and butterfly numbers at every good at the moment, with peacock and red admiral around in good numbers alongside the many browns.

red admiral

red admiral

The next generation of small copper and common blue are also out now.

common blue female

common blue, female

Earlier in the season I tried using some pheromone lures for clearwing moths, with some success. As a rule these moths don’t get seen without using these lures, but sometimes you can get lucky and after the Tuesday volunteer task we spotted a red-tipped clearwing nectaring at marjoram flower near the Education Centre.

red-tipped clearwing on marjoram

red-tipped clearwing

There have not been many birds of note recently, although there has been a great white egret seen a few times. As yet we do not know for sure if it is ringed, so it may, or may not be Walter, if it is he would now be over 14 years old!

Notable Mochas

A wet day on Tuesday limited activity on the reserve, but the moth traps run overnight had made some interesting, indeed “Notable” captures, specifically two species of mocha moths. The first is the mocha Cyclophora annularia, an attractive species that is classified as “Notable – nationally scarce”.

mocha

mocha

The larvae feed on field maple, a tree that grows on the reserve both as young planted trees as in many areas but we also have a few mature trees that predate the gravel extraction.

The second species of mocha was even more notable, in fact it is listed in the Red Data Book of rare species. It was a dingy mocha Cyclophora pendularia, whore larvae feed on smaller leaved willow species, usually growing on heathland. Although nationally rare it is known to be present in the Ringwood area, so perhaps finding one at Blashford is not so remarkable.

dingy mocha

dingy mocha

Neither picture is great thanks to the poor light, but two good species of moths recorded for the reserve.

30 Days Wild – Day 28: Good for Snails?

This maybe the time of year when the sun is at its highest but it was hard to tell today as it never actually stopped raining, it eased to drizzle at times, but never stopped.  It seemed that the return of wet weather had every froglet, toadlet, slug and snail out and about in celebration of the end of the hot, dry days.

The night was damp but warm with the cloud overhead and the moth trap was quite busy again, I had only one out last night. Although it is a “Moth trap” it would be more correct to call it a nocturnal flying insect trap as it catches many other insects, in fact sometimes many more non-moths than moths. One of last night’s non-moths was a fly and one that probably also benefits from damp conditions as it was a snail-killing fly. It is actually the larvae that are the killers of snails and slugs. Considering I have so many slugs and snails in my garden it is surprising I have never found a snail-killing fly there, although the reason for this is that they do not generally prey on the common garden species.

snail killer

snail-killing fly

I also realised that yesterday’s moth catch included one that was new to the reserve, although all the books describe it as “common”, I had never seen one before. It was a green arches. Looking at the distribution map for Hampshire it is apparent that it avoids the New Forest area for some reason, despite being a moth of damp woodland, perhaps it does not like acid soils.

green arches

green arches

The heavy rain in the morning did present one surprise, as I opened up the Tern hide there was a flock of 20 black-tailed godwit flying around, eventually landing to the east of the hide. They were all in fine, red breeding plumage, these were Icelandic godwits returning to the south coast for the winter, or at least to moult. They had all their wing feathers too, which would indicate that they had probably arrived straight from Iceland and just been forced low by the rain. This early in the “autumn” they will be birds that have failed to breed successfully so head to the south coast of England to undergo their post-breeding moult. This will start only once they get here so they can make the journey fully feathered, having arrived they will start to moult their wing feathers almost immediately. Moulting is an energy intensive business, but there is lots of food in the mud at this time of year and not many waders around competing for it, so their strategy is a good one. A lot of godwits from this population have been given colour-rings, so when they landed I checked through the flock, but there were all unadorned.

30 Days Wild – Day 27: Location, Location, Location

After several days of the forecast promising rain in a couple of days, it finally arrived, although not yet in great quantity it is none the less welcome, so long as it does not get out of hand.

I have been running two moth traps at Blashford on several recent nights and it is remarkable how different the catches are. On trap is on the open ground beside the Centre and the other about 50m away under some trees. One of the most immediate differences that I notice when opening the traps is that the one close to the Centre has hawk-moths in it, that under the trees does not. Clearly the hawk-moths favour flying over open ground, perhaps their fast flight is just not suited to confined spaces, like trying to drag race around the streets of Fordingbridge. Under the trees there are many more smaller moths, is seems probably that they are actively avoiding the open spaces where their weak flight may mean they lose control over where they are going.  It has certainly been a lesson in importance of exact location in determining what is caught.

As a further illustration of the difference that location made is that the trap in the open caught 34 species, whilst the one under the trees 40 species, but there were only 18 species that were caught in both traps. Both have been run for the same time each night, coming on and going off at the same time, the effect would seem to be due to where they have been running. Open sites might be expected to catch less on windy nights but last night was not windy so this is unlikely to have been a factor and both sites are shaded from the morning sun, which might otherwise warm the moths and means some fly out of the trap, so lost moths can probably be discounted too. Clearly I will need to give more consideration to precisely where I put the trap in future as it would seem to be a very important factor determining what gets caught.