Young Naturalists in the picture

Our latest Young Naturalists session was all about photography.  We were hoping to be joined by Clare, a local landscape photographer, who unfortunately couldn’t make it, so we are hoping to get her to one of our sessions later in the year.  Meanwhile, we took out our phones and cameras and took lots of images of the wildlife.

We started with the moth trap, where we were joined by Simon, who is a moth expert, and who not only identified all the moths we found, but also gave good tips on getting the best photos.  After a warm night, there were loads of moths to choose from, so here’s a selection:

Willow Beauty, by Lucas, Blood-vein, by Arun

One of the most striking moths in the trap was an Elephant Hawk Moth, and Fletcher caught this spectacular front-on close up:

Elephant Hawk Moth, by Fletcher

Of all the moths which regularly turn up at Blashford, I think my favourite is the Buff-tip, which looks exactly like a broken birch twig:

Buff-tip, by James

We spent the rest of the morning in the wildflower meadow, where there were lots of insects to photograph, and we had sweep nets to catch and have a good close look at the different species.  I think Rosie’s ground-level photo of the meadow captures it perfectly:

The Wildflower meadow, by Rosie

The damselflies were everywhere around us, though they were difficult to photograph, as they don’t settle for long.  Here are a couple of shots:

Common Blue Damselfies, by Fletcher (left) and Rosie (right)

After lunch, we checked the hoverfly lagoons (no sign of hoverfly larvae yet), and had a go at clearing some of the slime off the pond, before heading down to Ivy Lake for a final try to capture more images of the day.  I finally got my camera out, and took a shot of one of the resident black-headed gulls (why isn’t it called a brown-headed gull?):

Black-headed gull, by Nigel

The Young Naturalists group is open to all 13 to 17 year-olds, and this month’s session gives you the chance to be a tree for the day.  Its on Sunday, 31st July, from 10am to 2:30pm, more details and to book a place, click here:

Blashford Lakes Young Naturalists: Tree Challenge Tickets, Sun 31 Jul 2022 at 10:00 | Eventbrite

Nigel Owen

Young Naturalists Leader

Hawks, Snakes and Terns


We had another successful Sunday with the Young Naturalists group recently, looking at three very different aspects of the wildlife at Blashford Lakes. First we unpacked the overnight light trap, which is mainly used to keep a record of the moths on site, but the first insect out of the trap wasn’t a moth at all, but a cockchafer beetle (or May Bug, if you prefer). These large and impressive beetles are only on the wing for a few weeks each Spring, and this one was sufficiently sleepy to allow us to pick it up, and feel it tickle the hand as it tried to cling on.


Thanks to Fletcher for the brilliant head‐on photo. Most impressive of the moths was a Poplar Hawk Moth, and this time Fletcher gave us a profile photo. We also managed to identify Light Emerald, Treble Bar, White Ermine, Scorched Wing, Clouded Border, Nut‐tree Tussock, May Highflyer, and a couple of what we think were Orange Footman.


The rest of the morning was spent searching for snakes. A team of Blashford volunteers has laid out a number of tin sheets and felt squares for snakes and other reptiles to use. They are tucked away well hidden around the reserve, and only checked once a fortnight to minimise the disturbance for any snakes which might use them as shelters and places to warm up. We had special permission to lift a few felts and look underneath, and we had also heard that a baby grass snake had been spotted underneath a log in the Badger Wood area, when a visiting school had been on a search for minibeasts. So we were delighted when we turned over a log, and there was a small grass snake curled up underneath. Again, Fletcher was quick enough to capture a photo before the snake wriggled away into cover.
The photo also shows the snake’s nictitating eye membrane, a translucent protective cover over its eye. We found another four grass snakes under another of the felts, all of which looked to be youngsters, but they didn’t hang around long enough for a photo.


After lunch we headed over to the north side of the reserve, to have a look at places where adders have been seen basking in sunny spots in the undergrowth. We didn’t see any adders, but while we were out we took a look at the tern rafts which have been moored in the lakes to attract breeding Common Terns. The terns don’t seem to be in charge of the rafts on Ibsley Water, where the Black‐headed Gulls have taken over, but back on Ivy Lake we counted between 8 and 10 terns which appeared to be sitting on nests on the rafts. We also checked the rafts out on Ellingham Pound, where again the Black‐headed Gulls were in charge. While we were looking at them, Geoff spotted a Hobby, hawking above the trees, and we watched as it appeared to eat a dragonfly on the wing.


This month the Young Naturalists are meeting on Sunday, 26th June, when we will be joined by Claire Sheppard, a local photographer, and we will be getting tips on improving our wildlife photography. For more details, see:
https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2022‐06‐26‐blashford‐lakes‐young‐naturalists‐picture


Nigel Owen – Young Naturalists Leader

30 Days Wild – Day 28

More rain! We had 30mm overnight, but at this time of year this means it is worth checking for migrating birds that might have been forced down by the rain. Believe it or not autumn migration has already started. Many cuckoos will have headed south and lots of high Arctic waders are on the move, These will be either birds that have failed in their breeding attempt and have no time to try again or species where only one parent rears the chicks. One of these is red-necked phalarope, the female can lay eggs in more than one nest and these are then incubated and the chicks reared entirely by the male. All the same finding a female red-necked phalarope on Ibsley Water when I opened up was a treat, sadly too far away for a picture and it seems it did not stay beyond mid-morning.

The moth trap had few moths of note but this little micro moth was rather smart. Unfortunately a lot of these tiny moths cannot be identified reliably to species without dissection, so Genus will have to do.

Sycopacma species

Also in the trap was a small and rather strange fly, I think some sort of midge, but I have no idea, it seemed almost translucent.

midge

The sun did come out for a while and I got out to do some fencing work, it was good to see a fair few butterflies, mainly meadow brown and marbled white but including a small tortoiseshell.

marbled white

Since I collected some eggs from a female that I reared form larvae I had last year, my emperor moth caterpillars have been growing. I have let most go , as I had hundreds at one point and now have about 15 or so. As they grow they change colour an dare now looking their best.

emperor moth caterpillar

30 Days Wild – Day 12

I had to wait in for a delivery today so made the most of the moth trapping by running two last night. Not a huge number of moths, but a good variety. The picture here has privet hawk-moth, a common chafer beetle and maiden’s blush.

I have a starling nest box on my house and they are currently feeding their second brood, which should fledge any day now.

Starling at nestbox

Sometimes they will fly directly to the box, at others they will stop on the fence on their way in or out on.

Adult starling with beetles

They return every minute or so and when they stop, if I am quick, I can see some of what they are bringing as food for the chicks. This beakful is beetles, I think a small species of dung beetle. Once or twice a fledged juvenile also came onto the fence, perhaps one of the first brood still around.

Juvenile starling

Although I have never seen them approach the nestbox, the bird that really seems to bother the starlings is magpie. Whenever they see one there is a lot of alarm calling and the adults will not come to the box. So when the magpies come to the pond for a drink there is a good bit of commotion.

Magpie feeling thirsty

One of the most frequent birds in my garden is the woodpigeon, I confess not a favourite of mine.

Woodpigeon

Although they are rather smart birds to look at and clearly very successful.

woodpigeon close-up

I did go out for a short walk later in the afternoon to visit an area of bog close to home that I check from time to time for dragonflies and other insects. I have often thought it looks just right for scarce blue-tailed damselfly, a species I have rarely seen in Britain, but until today I had never managed to find one there. It is similar to the common blue-tailed but the blue “tail-light” is one segment further toward the tail end.

scarce blue-tailed damselfly

In fact I saw only one damselfly and also just one dragonfly, that was a recently emerged keeled skimmer.

keeled skimmer

The bog has a good flora too, including a great population of bog asphodel, although it is only just starting to come into flower.

bog asphode

I will finish with some much maligned and often overlooked creatures, aphids. I found these on a wild rose in my front hedge, several different stages, I think all of the same species, although I don’t know which one!

They feed by sucking the plant with piercing mouthparts. The females can reproduce parthenogenically as well as sexually and the young are born rather than hatched from eggs like most insects. The males are winged and can fly huge distances once they get carried up high in the air. They form, a significant part of the aerial plankton fed on by swifts, swallows and martins.

Autumn vibes

The recent wet weather has resulted in an increase in fungi on the reserve and even on a short walk a really good variety can be found. Fly agarics, the stereotypical mushroom of fairy tales, have popped up in the sweep meadow near Ivy North hide:

This morning I spotted lots of purple jellydisc fungus, Ascocoryne sarcoides, just by the bridge by Ivy North hide, which looks rather brain-like and grows on the rotting wood of deciduous trees:

Purple jellydisc 2

Purple jellydisc

A little further along the path there was some white or crested coral fungus, Clavulina coralloides, growing out of the ground:

white coral fungus

White coral fungus

Quite close to the white coral fungus I spied some flat oysterlings, Crepidotus applanatus, growing out of dead wood set a bit back from the path. This kidney-shaped fungus attaches directly to the dead wood of deciduous broadleaf trees without a stem. 

flat oysterling

Flat oysterling mushroom

The edge of this path is always a good place to look for candlesnuff fungus, Xylaria hypoxylon, which also grows on deadwood. It is also known as stag’s horn fungus, candlestick fungus and carbon antlers:

candlesnuff fungus

Candlesnuff fungus

A bit further along the path I found the distinctive slime mould Wolf’s milk, Lycogala terrestre. It didn’t photograph particularly well in today’s poor light, but is pink-peach in colour and can be seen all year round on decaying wood. 

Wolf's milk slime mold

Wolf’s milk slime mold

Towards the end of this little loop there were common puffballs, Lycoperdon perlatum

Common puffballs

Common puffballs

…and the Deceiver, Laccaria laccata:

Deceiver

The Deceiver

 

Finally, just by the Welcome Hut, I noticed some small stagshorn, Calocera cornea, growing out of some dead wood. This jelly fungus rarely branches and again it really didn’t photograph well in todays rain. 

small stagshorn

Small stagshorn

This small loop revealed a really good variety, and those photographed above are the ones I was fairly confident in identifying, there were more I wasn’t as sure about!

We haven’t run the light trap this week, but last week and over last weekend it revealed a few nice species:

Lunar underwing

Lunar underwing


Chestnut

Chestnut


Green brindled crescent

Green brindled crescent


Pine carpet

Pine carpet

 

I will be running it tonight, so fingers crossed we will have something to look at during our online Young Naturalists session tomorrow. A Merveille du Jour or Clifden nonpareil would be very nice, but that might be wishful thinking! The photos below were taken a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t quite get round to sharing them at the time:

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The weather has been a bit bleak today, but it has been nice to get out on the reserve under slightly drier circumstances and enjoy what autumn has to offer:

Beech trees along the Dockens

Beech trees along the Dockens on Thursday when there was a bit more sunshine


Spindle

Spindle, by the badger sculpture

Greens

The cool autumn nights see rather few moths flying, but those that are around include some of the most attractive of the year. A personal favourite, as I have posted beforen (several times!), is the Merveille du jour, with its black, white and green colour scheme, there was one particularly fine one in the Blashford trap this morning.

merveille du jour

A lot of autumn moths are yellow or brown, presumably as camouflage as the leaves change colour, but there are also several with shades of green. The merveille du jour would be well hidden on a lichen covered tree, whereas the green brindled crescent might do better in the vegetation.

green brindled crescent

Although the moth traps with their ultra-violet light attract most of the moths it is also worth checking the security lights and today the one at the Centre door had attracted a micro moth Tinea semifulvella, a species with caterpillars that eat organic debris in places like old bird nests.

Tinea semifulvella

The trap attracts various other insect as well, most conspicuously caddisflies. Unfortunately these are harder to identify and I have never spent much time trying to name them, although I do have an identification key, but it takes time to get started on a new group and I never seem to have any of that to spare.

Halesus sp. caddisfly

At least I am pretty confident about the genus of the one above, I have not even got that far with the one below.

caddisfly

Over the last few years the alder trees that used to line the Ivy Silt Pond have been dying or otherwise have needed to be felled, gradually opening up the view from the footpath. The aim now is to try to open up the view along as much of the path’s length as possible. This does make it easier to see the birds on the pond but, more importantly, it makes it easy for the birds to see us. Wildfowl on water feel quite safe, even if there is a predator about, so long as they know where it is and know they can escape if they need to. In this case we are the potential threat, but if we can be seen and are a safe distance away that is probably okay. By cutting the bramble to about waist height they can easily see we are behind the hedge but can easily follow where we are as we go down the path. In this way they are likely to habituate to the presence of people, but it does take time.

Opened up view of Ivy Silt Pond

I was delighted this morning to see 24 mallard. 2 gadwall, 2 teal and a wigeon on this pond, what is more all, apart from the teal, stayed feeding quietly as I walked by. Habituation would be my preferred option throughout the reserve if it were possible, it offers more opportunity to see the wildlife, but it does depend upon the separation between people an wildlife to be very predictable. It works well on coastal sites with deep ditches or mudflats separating viewer from the wildlife, such as is found at Farlington Marshes or Lymington/Keyhaven Marshes. Contrary to what you often read walking on the skyline is actually a good thing on these sites as the birds can always see where the people are and know that if we are on the top of the seawall we are not a threat. Perhaps unsurprisingly wildlife likes to feel safe and avoids unpredictable situations. One way to accommodate more wildlife into our lives is to understand this and plan accordingly, we could have a lot more space for wildlife without actually needing more physical space, all we need to do is think about how we design and use the space we share.

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.

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.

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 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