Great Expectations and Small Surprises

I was not at Blashford for most of yesterday, a site meeting at Fishlake to look at the upgrade work to the canal footpath, followed by a meeting about tern conservation meant that it was mid-afternoon before I arrived.

I was at Fishlake a little early so had a quick look over the reserve, the only bird of any note was a great white egret, although these are now more or less in the “expected” category these days.

The tern meeting was interesting, if a little depressing. Our terns are declining,  in almost every year for the last three decades or more they have failed to produce sufficient young to maintain the population. Problems are many, but sea level rise is major among them, there are fewer places to nest and these are being competed over by gulls, terns and shore nesting waders. Added to this, even some of the remaining areas that are available are visited too often by people for the bird to feel safe.

There are lots of local initiatives aimed at arresting the decline, involving building shingle banks, putting up electric fencing and wardening. But it is all small scale and local gains cannot address the overall decline. It epitomises the problem that those of us working in conservation have, however “successful” we are with nature reserves we are all too often not doing more than delaying the inevitable for many species. Reserves can act as refuges but unless the chance is there for species to spread out from them they will eventually be lost. A nature reserve is just to small, too isolated to be able to provide a genuinely viable home for most species in the long term.

When I did eventually get to Blashford and got over to Tern hide I was surprised to see an adult little gull, then even more surprised to see two, then three and finally four. They were sometimes dipping after insects on the lake’s surface right in front of the hide, a magical sight.

Recent night shave been especially mild and quite good for moths, combined with some southerly winds this is a recipe for catching migrants. There have been some rarities around but the best I have caught was a vestal on Sunday.

vestal

vestal

Today’s catch was pretty good as well and included sallow, pink-barred sallow, red-line Quaker, satellite, straw dot, white-point, chestnut, snout, large wainscot, beaded chestnut, barred sallow, canary-shouldered thorn, black rustic, lunar underwing, lesser yellow underwing, large yellow underwing, frosted orange, feathered thorn, several Epirrita (a group of hard to identify moths including autumnal moth, and the two November moths), Hysopygia glaucinalis (a Pyralid moth) and the pick of the bunch a Clifden nonpareil.

Clifden nonpareil

Clifden nonpareil, also known as blue underwing

The Clifden nonpareil used to be a rare migrant, but is evidently established locally in southern England now, as it used to be before it died out. It is a close relative of the more familiar red underwing, but is larger and with a blue and black hind wing. I did catch a red underwing the other night too.

red underwing

red underwing

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Comings and Goings

It finally seems as though the grey phalarope has left us, I am  surprised that it has not gone before now, the nights have been fine and apparently idea for flying. The wood sandpiper remains though and turns up fairly regularly in front of the Tern hide giving very good views. They are one of the most attractive of all waders and this one has proved very popular with our photographers.

wood sandpiper

wood sandpiper, juvenile in front of Tern hide this afternoon

The phalarope may have left but Ibsley Water was playing host to a new scarcity today, perhaps not entirely unexpected but still good to see, the drake ferruginous duck has returned. At least it seems safe to assume that it is the same bird that has been coming since October 2010. It usually arrives in late September and is often on Ibsley Water for a day or two before going to the, difficult to see, Kingfisher Lake. I have no idea why it does not go straight to Kingfisher Lake or why it stays there so determinedly once it does get there.

In other news today the, or perhaps a, bittern was photographed flying across Ivy Lake again, I assume the same as in early September but who knows. As I was talking to a contractor outside the Education Centre I thought I heard the call of a white-fronted goose, I discounted this as a mishearing but then saw a small long-winged goose fly over, so I am pretty sure it was actually a white-fronted goose, but where it had come from or where it was going in anybody’s guess.

The moth trap is still attracting a fair few species, although nothing out of the ordinary, today’s catch included: large wainscot, black rustic, white-point, lunar underwing, large yellow underwing, sallow, barred sallow, pink-barred sallow, brimstone, snout, straw dot and lesser treble-bar. A lot of autumn species are yellow, no doubt helping them to hide amongst autumn leaves.

yellow moths

yellow moths: brimstone, sallow, pink-barred sallow and barred sallow

I also managed to record a moth as I was locking the gate this evening, or rather the caterpillar of a moth, as there was a grey dagger larva on the main gate catch. The adult moths are difficult to identify with certainty as they are very similar to the dark dagger, however the caterpillars are quiet different.

grey dagger caterpillar

grey dagger caterpillar

 

Arrivals

Although there has not been much sign of migrating birds at Blashford Lakes so far, there have been some insect arrivals. The birds at this time of the year are returning from breeding to the north, the insects, by contrast, are arriving from the south. It seems likely that there will be many more in the days to come as the high pressure builds back and temperatures rise again.

So far we have recorded a couple of lesser emperor dragonflies, but no southern migrant hawker as yet, but I am hopeful that someone will spot one somewhere on the reserve soon. The other migrant so far have all been moths. This morning the traps had silver Y, rush veneer, diamond-backed moth, dark sword-grass, Cydia amplana and Yponomeuta sedella, all probably freshly arrived from the south.

Cydia amplana

Cydia amplana, a migrant Tortrix moth that seems to be getting more frequently recorded each year.

Yponomeuta sedella

Yponomeuta sedella, this could be a migrant or a scarce local resident, it feeds on Sedum species, mainly the larger ones such as orpine, which does not grow at Blashford.

Perhaps oddly there have been very few migrant butterflies this summer, just a few painted lady and those several weeks ago now. It has also been a very lean year for humming-bird hawk-moth and convolvulus hawk-moth so far, but maybe numbers will pick up.

Just as I wrote the above I heard a buzzing sound at the window, only to find a humming-bird hawk-moth trapped inside the house!!! I have just successfully released it into the great outdoors to continue heading north.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring…………

 

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

The Heat Continues

After a June and 30 Days Wild which was extremely hot and the met office now tells us was the driest on record we have now hit July and things are not changing. I did see some cloud on Sunday, but all it seemed to do was increase the humidity.

The heat is making it difficult to work, despite this on Sunday five volunteers turned out and we pulled Himalayan balsam for an hour and a half, a remarkable effort. On Monday I saw removing ragwort from the areas I plan to mow on the shore of Ibsley Water.

All this heat continues to be very good for insects, the moth catch overnight on Sunday/Monday was the highest I have ever had at Blashford, one trap caught 96 species! This included a lot of micro moths, many of these are quite spectacular looking, but it is hard to appreciate what they really look like as they are so small.

Mompha propinquella

Mompha propinquella

The one above is actually quiet common and I see it fairly regularly. I did catch a few new species for the reserve including a chalk grassland species that feeds on marjoram, a plant which does grow in the gravel near the building, so perhaps it was a local rather than a wanderer.

Acompsia schmidtiellus

Acompsia schmidtiellus a species that feeds on marjoram.

There are lots of butterflies and dragonflies around the reserve. Silver-washed fritillary are having a good year and gatekeeper are now emerging as are the summer broods of small copper and brown argus.

gatekeeper

gatekeeper

Brown hawker and southern hawker dragonflies are both already flying in some numbers, although common darter are still quiet few.

southern hawker

southern hawker

The picture above was my best of a few attempts at getting a flight shot over the Centre pond at Sunday lunchtime. At the same time I saw a large red damselfly that had fallen into the pond and been preyed upon by a water boatman.

water boatman with large red damselfly prey

water boatman with large red damselfly prey

When you are an insect there are many ways to die more or less everything is out to get you! There are predators and more gruesomely parasites almost everywhere. I found a parasitic wasp hunting for a beetle larva in which to lay its egg.

Ichneumonid wasp Ephilates manifestator

Ephilates manifestator probing for beetle larvae

The needle-like ovipositor can be pushed deep into the wood, when not in use it is protected by a sheath, in the picture you can see the ovipositor in use probing almost vertically downward.

The dry weather is stressing plants and some smaller trees are losing their leaves already. Most of the grass is now brown and many species rapidly going to seed. There are still flowers out there though and one such is creeping cinquefoil.

creeping cinquefoil

creeping cinquefoil

 

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 23 – Skippers

Plans to go out came to nothing and various small tasks took over, still these were interspersed with looks around the garden, so all of today’s wildlife is back garden based.

The night was actually quiet cool and the moth catch was correspondingly modest but included one species new for the year, a burnished brass. There has been much discussion recently as to the possible existence of two species within what we have known as “burnished brass”. It seems likely that moths with the two brassy areas significantly joined to form an “H” shape are the “new” species being christened the cryptic burnished brass.

burnished brass

burnished brass

This one has got the two areas joined but not widely enough to be likely to be a candidate for the cryptic version.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

The day was warm, although not always sunny it was quiet warm enough for butterflies to be active the whole time. During the day in the meadow I saw several meadow brown, including egg-laying females, large skipper, small white and small skippers.

small skipper (male)

small skipper (male)

The ends of the antennae lack the black “full stop” of the Essex skipper and the dark line on the forewing, known as the “sex brand”, is longer and not as straight.

Large, small and Essex skippers, and come to that Lulworth and silver-spotted too, sit with their wings in this half open position, unless with wings fully closed.

small skipper (male) 2

small skipper (male)

Although they were perched for long periods on the wild carrot flowers they were not feeding, it appeared that they were using the flat, white surface of the flowers as a reflector.

Also visiting the wild carrot was a tiny bee, it is one of the yellow-face bees, these can usually be identified by the pattern of pale markings on the “face”, if I am correct this one is the white-jawed yellow-face bee Hylaeus confusus.

Hylaeus confusus crop

white-jawed yellow-face bee (female)

Having a range of flower types in the meadow attracts different species of bees and other insects, different species being adapted to feeding from different flowers. The leaf-cutter bees prefer larger flowers and especially like the trefoils.

bee on bird's-foot trefoil

leaf-cutter bee on bird’s-foot trefoil

The other day I featured Jack-go-to-bed-at -noon in flower, one of the alternative names for this plant is goat’s beard, now it has gone to seed it is easy to see why.

Jak-go-to-bed-at-noon seedhead

Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon seedhead

The seeds are quite large but the fluffy “parachute” they float on is very large and they can get carried considerable distances.

 

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.

30 Days Wild – Day 17 – Knights In…

Moth of the day at Blashford was (and yes, you have probably already guessed it) a white satin.

white satin

white satin moth (male)

This is not a rare species, although not common and one I don’t see very often at all. On the face of it Blashford should be a good site as the larvae eat willow, poplar and aspen, all of which we have in some quantity.

Other moths today that I had not recorded so far this year were the delicate.

delicate

delicate

This is typically a migrant species, although it may be able to over-winter in some years. The other”new one” was a clouded brindle, a species that is pretty well camouflaged on the mossy bark, unlike the white satin.

clouded brindle

clouded brindle

After a morning cutting paths and bramble regrowth I had a look around near the Centre at lunchtime and found a batch of small cinnabar caterpillars tucking into the flower heads of a ragwort plant.

cinnabar caterpillars

young cinnabar moth caterpillars

Nearby I found a wasp beetle, this is one of the longhorn beetles with larvae that tunnel into wood.

wasp beetle

wasp beetle

It has similar black and yellow warning colouration to the cinnabar caterpillars, although I am not sure if it is actually poisonous like the caterpillars or just exploiting the fact that many birds will avoid any black and yellow insect as potentially unwise prey.

Although the reserve was pretty quiet today there are a few things to report. I saw my first fledged little ringed plover of the year, two juveniles on the Long Spit on Ibsley Water. There were also a number of flying black-headed gull juveniles too. Near Goosander hide a family of five small coot chicks were just below the sand martin wall. As the drizzle set in during the afternoon the numbers of swift and martin grew until there were at least 250 swift and several hundred martins. There was a report of 3 black-tailed godwit and I saw a redshank.  However the really big news, might actually be from last Friday, written in the Tern hide logbook was a report of a pratincole, with “collared?” written after it. Collared is the most likely, although even that is a very rare bird. Unfortunately the observer did not leave a name or any further details other than that it was on the Long Spit and flew away, not sure when it was seen, by whom or which way it went. If anyone can shed any light on this potentially very interesting record I would be delighted to know.

I returned home in persistent drizzle and took a quick look in the moth trap which I had not managed to do this morning. Three species of hawk-moth, elephant, pine and privet, matched the range,if not species, at Blashford but otherwise there was not much.

Which leaves….

What’s in My Meadow Today?

The yellow-rattle which I featured in flower at the start of the 30 Days, is now going to seed, as the stems dry the seeds will start to rattle in the swollen calyx when shaken.

yellow rattle seedpods

yellow-rattle with developing seed.

30 Days Wild – Day 8 – An Early Start

I was out early doing a farmland bird survey up on the Hampshire chalk, it was calm, which is good for surveying. The low cloud got lower and lower as I was surveying and just as I was finishing it started to rain. I like surveying in a very different area from my usual haunts as it means I see species I don’t normally encounter. Visiting chalk farmland meant that yellowhammer was frequent, a bird I very rarely see these days. My previous visit had also produced corn bunting and grey partridge, missing today, although I did add red kite this time.

At this time of year an early survey means that I can get home in time for breakfast, which I did today. I was having a day off, so most of the rest of my wildlife for the day was seen in the garden.

I started with the moth trap, the pick of the day was a very fresh beautiful yellow underwing. These tiny moths regularly fly by day as well as at night and so often fly from the trap as it is opened, luckily for me this one stayed put for a picture.

beautiful yellow underwing 2

beautiful yellow underwing

It does have yellow underwings, but they are covered by the upper-wings, however the upper-wings are beautifully marked.

The spring solitary bees have mostly finished now but the summer ones are just starting, one of these is, if I have identified it correctly, Willughby’s leafcutter bee. These bees collect pollen on brushes of hairs underneath their abdomen rather than on their legs as many species do. It is on the orange hawkweed often known as fox-and-cubs here.

Willughby's leafcutter bee

Willughby’s leafcutter bee

During the day I saw single green-veined white, red admiral and painted lady butterflies the latter two indicating migrant arrivals.

I came across a couple of new species for the garden today, a mullein moth caterpillar that I spotted from indoors when I was washing my hands after being in the garden and, rather less welcome, a forest fly which chased my around.

mullein moth caterpillar

mullein moth caterpillar

As the name suggests mullein moth caterpillars usually feed on mullein, however they sometimes eat other related plants such as figwort, which is what it is eating in my garden. It is another species with bad tasting larvae, which is why they can afford to perch in the open and be brightly coloured. Despite running a moth trap I have never caught the adult moth in the garden, but this is one moth species that very rarely comes to light.

The forest fly is a biting species that mostly feeds on ponies and deer, it is one of the flat-flies, which scuttle over their hosts and are very resistant to being swatted.

forest fly

forest fly

What’s in My Meadow Today?

For the first time thus year I have bird’s-foot-trefoil flowering in the meadow this year, for some reason it has taken some time to get established, but hopefully is now in place to stay.

bird's-foot-trefoil

bird’s-foot-trefoil

A feature of the meadow from the first year has been a large population of lesser stitchwort, focus down through the grass stems and there are masses of tiny white star-like flowers.

lesser stitchwort

lesser stitchwort

Finally I also found a further new species for the garden in the meadow, it was a small species of chafer beetle, if I am correct it is Welsh chafer Hoplia philanthus , despite the name it is not confined to Wales having a rather scattered distribution across the southern half of the UK.

Welsh chafer maybe

Welsh chafer beetle (I think)