Pictures from the Purple Patch

It’s often been said, ( although, probably only  by me!) that a lot of the conservation work at Blashford is  ‘ a bit like gardening, but on an industrial scale‘ .  Today I was doing what, to me,  is one of the more pleasant gardening tasks of dead heading the buddleia.   We don’t have much buddleia left on the reserve, it’s a terribly invasive non-native plant and as such doesn’t really belong here so it’s largely being eradicated from the more wild parts of the reserve, with only one plant left near the Centre.  It is, however, a great nectar source for insects and removing the seed heads encourages more flower to form.  So what could be finer on a pleasantly warm day than a little light pruning whilst seeped in a heady fragrance and being constantly visited by comma, small tortoiseshell, green-veined white, silver-washed fritillary and peacock butterflies and also this smart red admiral.


Red Admiral

Red Admiral

The rich lilac/purple flowers of the buddleia are mirrored by many other flowers at the moment – indeed the reserve is going through a ‘purple patch; as evidenced by the flower-heads of creeping thistle, teasel and marjoram

creeping thistle

creeping thistle







All of which were within about four metres of the buddleia.

In fact I didn’t really need to go more than a few paces to see …

Green-veined white butterflies on marjoram

Green-veined white butterflies on marjoram

Southern hawker dragonfly

Southern hawker dragonfly

Common Lizard playing 'peek-a-boo' on fencing around the pond

Common Lizard playing ‘peek-a-boo’ on fencing around the pond

and perhaps most unexpected this small furry mammal taking advantage of  the largess provided by some spikes of seeds ( sorrel I think) close by the pick-nick benches

mouse or vole


After my embarrassing faux-pas over the bee/hoverfly last week ( thanks to those who put me right) I’m reluctant to put a name to this  —  I just know there are really knowledgeable folks out there who can tell us.

And a final flourish was this rather posey small tortoiseshell who insisted on sharing a pick-nick bench with me.

Small tortoiseshell

Small tortoiseshell

As I say all this from, almost, a single position – can’t be bad…

Of Mice and Wren

With a calm, overcast night last night I was hoping for a reasonable range of moth species in the light trap. One of  my first activities on arriving is to disconnect the light and cover up the trap before going round to open up the hides, Today, however, there was what I can only describe as a ‘scuttling’ sound as I moved the light – our resourceful, moth eating wren was back.  Scrambling to free the bird, I lost a few of the moths as the wren retreated deeper under the egg boxes before eventually flying out into the nearby bushes. From the few loose moth wings and bird poo in the trap, I think a few moths had succumbed to the wrens appetite, but nevertheless there were still  over forty moths representing fifteen species.

I know Jim had a couple of Sallow moths yesterday, so I thought I’d add a picture of their cousin – Barred Sallow

Rather well-marked Barred Sallow

and a fine example of a rather richly marked Common Marbled Carpet

Common Marbled Carpet

Light traps are a little indiscriminate in what they attract and as well as moths there are usually huge numbers of midges and often some beetles. Today’s prize for the most colourful one goes to this Sexton Beetle.

Sexton or burying beetle

I very gingerly tapped this out from the egg box in which it was nestling  as previous experience has taught me that heavy handling of these beetles makes them exude the most disgusting odour – similar to that of the corpses that they locate, by smell, and then bury. I think they either eat the corpse or use it to provide food for their offspring, by laying their eggs on them.

Other insects were ‘out and about’, but the slightly lower temperature and lack of sun meant they weren’t quite so active. Fortunately this meant that those that were about would sometimes ‘hang-up’ conveniently to have their pictures taken, as was the case with this Golden-ringed Dragonfly, which was spotted by a visitor on a log at the side of the Centre car-park.  (N.B. the dragonfly, not the visitor, was on the log ).

Golden-ringed Dragonfly on log by Centre car-park

Apart from the wren, another unwelcome ‘guest’ or guests are the mice that from time-to-time inhabit the loft space of the centre. As they might chew through wiring or otherwise damage items in store, we regularly set out a baited, humane trap so that they can be captured and released some distance away from the centre. This can be a fairly regular procedure , but whether it is the same few mice involved or a continuous stream of ‘new’ ones isn’t clear. If it’s the same ones I  wonder whether they have become habituated to being ‘transported’ in exchange for some easy pickings of food from the trap. This then starts to pose the question of whether the mice would be there if weren’t for the food in the trap to attract them – but we wouldn’t know they were there without the trap to catch them….and so on!!!…. Surely this way lies madness!

Several months ago I published an image of one mouse just before it was  ‘releasd back into the community’, with a fanciful caption indicating that it was apparently begging for its freedom. Today’s mouse looked rather plaintive as well!!! 

Another pleading mouse

Bird interest is starting to pick up after the usual late summer downturn. Plenty of hirundine (swallow and house martin) activity over Ivy Lake as I opened up. Numbers of duck are increasing as gadwall start to return, I also caught a grey heron, in reflective mood, behaving more like a wader- up to its thighs in water.

Grey heron – in reflective mood.

On Tuesday I’ll be standing in to lead a walk called ‘ Going for Gold’ with the subtitle ‘a 50 bird challenge’. So tomorrow I think I might just do a recce to check where we might find them all — watch this space for news.

Elephant’s Trunk

 With promise of a rather damp day ahead it seemed unlikely that we would be inundated with visitors, so it was pleasant to meet a few hardy souls who had forgone the ‘pleasures’ of Jubilee celebrations to see what they could find around the reserve.  Not a lot to report on the bird front, although more than one visitor reported seeing Egyptian Geese with up to seven youngsters by the edge of Ibsley Water.

As befits a wildlife reserve it’s probably appropriate that we ‘suffer’ from the attention of small furry animals from time to time. It’s currently part of the regular regime each day to check the mouse trap in the loft of the education centre and return any mice that are caught back into the wild. Yet another of my ‘blank spots’ ( there are so many) is small mammal identification so I couldn’t tell you what was caught last night, save that it was a small, rich orange brown colour  with  probably white underparts, a long tail and a very pointed face, unlike the one I released on Saturday which was much darker.  Both shot out of the trap when opened, so photography was out of the question.

Bob’s recently commissioned ‘mousecam’ in the compost bin  has, however,  provided the opportunity to see some mice, doing what mice do best, ‘snapping up ill-considered trifles’ that we  have discarded.

Mouse in compost bin

The somewhat colourful, striped nature of the image is what results from taking pictures off of a  television screen, many of my other efforts were much worse.  This was a very brave/foolhardy mouse as a rather large  grass snake was seen in this compost bin about twenty minutes beforehand.

There’s an old riddle  ‘ What’s grey with a big trunk?’ ,  to which, unthinkingly, you might reply ‘elephant’, but to which the correct response is ‘ a mouse going on its holidays’ . The mice we release from our trap don’t have any baggage with them, even though I suppose they are on a sort of holiday.    The moth trap, on the other hand, did produce an elephant in the form of this rather handsome Elephant Hawkmoth

Elephant Hawkmoth

– so named, not because its large for a moth, which it is, but because the caterpillar has a ‘trunk’,

One moth that does have a sort of trunk, well a rather pointy front end anyway,  is this aptly named Snout


And while we’re on the subject of moth names I’ll finish with a couple of moths from last night’s trap, the very appropriately named Green  Carpet,

Green Carpet – slightly faded specimen

where even this slightly faded specimen shows the colour and the reason for its name. The colour can eventually fade completely, but the other markings make identification fairly easy.

The name of the Cinnabar is slightly less obvious, unless you know that cinnabar, the naturally occurring ore of the metal mercury, is bright red (scarlet) as shown on the moth.