30 Days Wild – Day 22

Away on a trip up to Salisbury Plain, specifically Fyfield Down, near Avebury. Fyfield is a National Nature Reserve and it is where the people at Avebury got the stones from, remarkable dry valleys filled with a dense scatter of large rocks.

Fyfield NNR

Fyfield Down NNR

The main wildlife interest is in the lichens on the rocks, but on the reserve and the walk up from Avebury there were lots of insects. Butterflies were unremarkable but I did see two painted lady, possibly a sign of a mass migrant arrival underway.

Mother Shipton 2

Mother Shipton

The picture shows a moth rather than a butterfly, it is a Mother Shipton, the pattern on    the upper-wing supposedly looking like the silhouette of a witch of that name, with eye, long nose, mouth and long pointed chin.

Most of the insects I saw were flies, nectaring, especially on hogweed. One was a species that was new to me, a fly with densely patterned wings called Platystoma seminationis.

Platystoma seminationis 4x3

Platystoma seminationis

Quite a few flies have patterned wings and use them to display by waving them around to attract a mate. Picture-winged flies are well known for doing this and I came across two males having a vigorous struggle for the right to a display point at the top of a musk thistle, possibly a mistake as the species breeds in the seedheads of knapweed.

Urophora jaceana 4x3

Urophora jaceana, two males fighting

There weer also lots of dung-flies.

dung fly

dung fly

It was not all flies though, there were also lots of garden chafer beetles, a species I don’t see very often.

garden chafer

garden chafer

 

30 Days Wild – Day 24 – Up on the Downs and Down by the Sea

We travelled up to Martin Down in the morning, specifically Kitts Grave the part of the reserve that belongs to the Wildlife Trust. This area of the reserve is a patchwork of chalk grassland and scrub, this type of diverse, herb rich habitat with lots of shelter is preferred by lots of insects, it offers lots of possibilities.

musk thistle with marbled white 2

musk thistle and marbled white

Plants like thistles and knapweeds are very good nectar sources used by lots of insects.

greater knapweed

greater knapweed

The scrub offers both shelter and an additional variety of flowers, bramble being very important and popular. I found the large hoverfly Volucella inflata feeding on a bramble flower.

Volucella inflata

Volucella inflata (female)

As I was photographing it a male flew in and mating took place.

Volucella inflata pair mating

Volucella inflata pair mating

A few years ago when at Old Winchester Hill I found a rare bee-fly, the downland villa Villa cingulata , at the time it was only the second Hampshire record in recent times. It appears it has been spreading as I found several, easily five or more, egg-laying females at Kitts Grave, I am not sure if they are recorded from there before.

Downland Villa

Downland Villa Villa cingulata

We saw a good range of butterflies including very recently emerged silver-washed fritillary and white admiral.

We retired home during the heat of the afternoon so I was briefly in the garden….

What’s in My Meadow Today?

One plant I was keen to establish was lady’s bedstraw, it has tiny yellow flowers unlike most of our bedstraws which have white flowers. It grows on dry chalk soils mainly but also turns up on dry sandy areas even in acid areas.

lady's bedstraw

lady’s bedstraw

I seem to have only got one plant to establish but it is spreading to form quiet a significant patch.

Once the day started to cool we ventured down to the coast to Lepe Country Park. Years ago I established another meadow area at this site, although in this case it was from a deep ploughed cereal field, it is now a SINC (Site of Importance for Nature Conservation) for its wildflower community. Creating grasslands of real wildlife value is relatively easy and gets quick results, helping to redress the massive loss of these habitats. Planting trees is much more popular, despite the fact that it will probably take hundreds of years for them to achieve significant value for wildlife. As anyone who manages open habitat will know trees will colonise and grow quite happily without encouragement. In fact colonising trees are one of the threats to herb-rich grasslands.

However we were on the beach, looking at beach species. Stabilised sand and shingle has its own specialist plants, one of which is sea spurge.

sea spurge

sea spurge

Rather more attractive is the yellow-horned poppy.

yellow-horned poppy

yellow-horned poppy

The long pods which give this poppy its name can be seen in this shot.

It was getting late and there were lots of small moths flying about, in the end I managed to get a picture of one, it was a Pyralid moth, quite a common one found in a variety of dry habitats, called Homoeosoma sinuella.

Homoeosoma sinuella

Homoeosoma sinuella

Off the beach an adult gannet was flying about, quite a regular sight in The Solent these days.

30 Days Wild – Day 8: Flowers in the Rain

Thursday is volunteer day at Blashford and it is well known that it does not rain when the Thursday volunteers are working, but today something went wrong and we got wet! We were continuing with our project to create a diverse new grassland along what used to be the entrance to the old concrete plant, we have spread seed and cleared brambles. Now we are going back to continue with cutting back the bramble regrowth and discourage nettles and some of the denser stands of creeping thistle.

A lot of the seed we spread has germinated but is has a lot that was already there lying dormant in the seedbank. This includes some with famously long-lived seed like poppies.

poppy

poppy

Poppies used to be a common “weed” of agricultural crops but these days are effectively controlled in most by herbicides. Another such agricultural weed was field pansy, which has also appeared.

field pansy
field pansy flower

Several species of thistles have grown up too, alongside the creeping and spear thistle there are a few musk thistle, not yet flowering, but the symmetry of their flower buds appealed to me.

Musk thistle bud

Musk thistle in bud

We also have a good showing of mullein plants with both dark mullein and great mullein, a few with mullein moth caterpillar on them. Both species have tall spires of yellow flowers, however the individual flowers are very attractive on their own.

dark mullein flower

dark mullein flower

I have high hopes for this area, it has many of the attributes you need for a herb rich grassland, a mostly poor, thin soil and a sunny aspect, if we can establish a tight sward it could become a real asset for to the reserve, good for plants, insects and close to the path and so easy to see.

My last shot of the day is also of a flower but in this case it is what was sitting upon it that was the main attraction. The flower is an ox-eye daisy and on it is a male red-eyed damselfly, I find this a difficult species to get a picture of, as they usually spend their time sitting on floating pond weed well out in the water, so one away from water was too good to miss.

red-eyed damselfly on ox-eye daisy

red-eyed damselfly on ox-eye daisy

This is what we should now call the large red-eyed damselfly, rather than the smaller newcomer to these shores, the small red-eyed damselfly, which tends to fly later in the season.

Although I did get wet, it was not cold and being out in a bit of weather from time to time has its own appeal, albeit in moderation. Let’s hope for a bit better tomorrow.

Terns Make a Splash

Bird News: Ibsley WaterMediterranean gull 2, common sandpiper 1.

When I opened the Tern hide this morning a large group of gulls were gathered on the islands along the western side of the lake, mostly black-headed gulls but including a second summer Mediterranean gull, looking very smart indeed, as I watched it I noticed a second bird, this time an adult. The pair of oystercatchers were still feeding their juvenile but were trying to get it to fly after them, which it did not seem keen to do.

At the Ivy South hide two of the common tern chicks had flown from the rafts, but ditched in the lake, they were fluttering clear of the water from time to time so I expected they would be fine and take more care next time they exercised their wing muscles.

I was taking a guided walk this morning, as I went over to the start I spotted a fine musk thistle just in flower.

musk thistle

I also noticed a spider that had captured a male damselfly and was gradually dragging it into a retreat within a curled bramble leaf.

spider with damselfly

At lunchtime I ate outside the Centre and the sunshine brought out a few insects including a particularly distinctive sawfly species, these insects are generally difficult to identify but this one is an exception, it is the figwort sawfly.

figwort sawfly

We have been removing small plants of the caper spurge from around the Centre gravel as they attract the attention of children and the sap is poisonous, however we had been looking down too much as today I found this huge one sticking up out of one of the brambles behind the pond.

caper spurge

The day did not go as well as I had hoped, when I went to take the quad bike and trailer out I found the trailer had a flat tyre, when I went to remove it the wheel bearing came away in bits, two problems for the price of one. So instead I went to see how the Japanese knotweed I sprayed last year was doing, it has been knocked back, but remains alive and will need spraying again if we ever get a day when I can be sure it will not rain. I also checked the cherry laurel that we treated with “Ecoplugs” back in the winter these  had worked well with lots of the stumps dead and a few with just very poor growth, not bad as digging them out is not really an option in the way it is for rhododendron.

treated laurel stump

At the end of the day I was pleased to see from the Ivy South hide, that all the tern chicks were back on their rafts.