Quick post on bird and dragonfly photography

Firstly on bird photography: we are absolutely delighted and thrilled to have local wildlife photographer and lecturer John Combes back for the first time since the pandemic hit delivering his popular and brilliant photography courses.

Sadly the “Basics” day course, which should have run today, didn’t, and this is particularly sad as it is almost certainly simply because of the fact that with our current (temporary!) reduced staffing levels I have been too busy to advertise it as well as I should have done. So I am working at home late tonight to make sure that more people are aware of the follow up “Birds” photography course which is being held next Saturday, 2nd July. With some places sold already this course is definitely running – but we are keen to fill it if we can!

Please visit the website to find out more – and book!

https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2022-07-02-wildlife-photography-birds

Now onto dragonfly photography – I have a special request…

Nigel Kendall, a Blashford Lakes supporter, one of our Welcome Volunteers and a keen photographer himself, is working up a “Blashford Dragonflies” book which will be sold from the Welcome Hut with all proceeds to Blashford Lakes. The book will feature a small amount of information alongside images of all of the Odonata species currently known to frequent the nature reserve as well as a small number of other species not yet recorded which are likely to be at some point in the future (based on a list compiled by Bob Chapman).

Nigel has good quality images which he is happy to publish of the vast majority of dragonfly and damselfly species on the list, but is missing the following:

Willow Emerald Damsel
Scarce Blue-tailed Damsel
Green-eyed Hawker
Vagrant Emperor
Lesser Emperor
Yellow-winged Darter
Red-veined Darter

So, if you have images of any of the above you are willing to share for this publication, or can forward this blog post onto anyone who you think might be able to help, we would be very grateful. Could you please email us at BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk with your consent for me to forward your email on to Nigel, and I will do so so that he may correspond with you directly.

In return you will obviously be credited as you wish within the book and you will receive your very own copy of the book free of charge when it is published – and, as if it could get any better, you will also get to experience the wonderful, warm, glow of knowing that your image contribution is indirectly contributing to the ongoing support and management of the Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve & Education Centre!

We hope to hear from you!

Draft front cover of Blashford Lakes Dragonflies by Nigel Kendall

Sunshine, insects and the brambling are back

Yesterday’s sunny spells made a welcome change to the rather bleak, wet weather we have been having and the insects seemed to agree. Whilst walking the Ellingham Lake path yesterday morning to check all was ok after the strong winds on Sunday night I saw a brimstone butterfly and a little later spotted a peacock butterfly (I think, it was some distance away) fly down to bask on the gravel in the car park. 

Regular visitors John and David saw a very smart male southern hawker behind the Education Centre and on seeing it settle were able to get some very nice photos and alert me to its presence so I could photograph it too. Thank you very much to David who sent in this fantastic photo of it perched in the sunshine:

male southern hawker David Cuddon

Male southern hawker by David Cuddon

Whilst we were chatting we mentioned brambling had been spotted on the feeder by the Welcome Hut (I was yet to see my first this winter) and talked about how it is admittedly nicer to photograph a bird sat on something more natural. This morning when I arrived the male brambling was back (we think it is the same bird that is beginning to visit the feeder regularly) and I have watched it today on the feeder and on the ground in front of it. This afternoon it flew from the feeder to the neighbouring willow and I was able to take a couple of photos. 

So David, after our chat yesterday and knowing how the feeder is not your preferred backdrop, and to prove they will pose nicely in the trees nearby, this one’s for you…;)

P1170067

Brambling in the willow by the Welcome Hut

Joh and Sam also shared a photo from their visit yesterday, of a primrose flowering close to the Education Centre.

Primrose by Sam and Joh

Flowering Primrose by Sam and Joh

A very hardy wildflower, they can flower as early as December in mild years, appearing all the way through the spring until May. The beginning of November seems incredibly early! Thank you Sam and Joh for sharing your sighting.

It’s the little things…

Whilst Bob has been doing a brilliant job of blogging his 30 Days Wild antics, this week is also National Insect Week. Organised by the Royal Entomological Society, it encourages everyone to appreciate and learn more about the ‘little things that run the world’.

Insects are by far the most diverse and ecologically important group of animals on land and there are over 24,000 known species in the United Kingdom alone, with hundreds of species to be found in almost every garden and green space. With so many to study they are grouped into orders, for example the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), Hymenoptera (bees, ants and wasps), Orthoptera (grasshoppers and crickets) and Coleoptera (beetles) to name a few.

Insects have a huge role to play and without them our lives would be very different: they pollinate fruit, flowers and vegetables; they are food for amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals; and they feed on lots of living and dead things themselves, breaking down waste and helping to keep the balance of nature. You can find out more about National Insect Week on their website.

So here’s a very mini Blashford insect safari, using photos I’ve taken over the past few days, covering a very meagre 23 species and spanning five orders – I have quite a few more to track down!

The moth trap has revealed some spectacular moths over the past few days, including some very smart Privet and Elephant hawk-moths:

There was also another Scarce merveille du jour, with its lichen coloured forewings which provide it with brilliant camouflage:

Other species included a swallow-tailed moth, peppered moth, pebble prominent, lobster moth, large emerald, iron prominent, buff tip and barred straw:

The raised planters outside the front of the Centre are still a good place to look for insects, with plenty of bees, ladybirds, and butterflies making the most of the flowers:

There has also been a red admiral regularly resting on the fence posts and gravel outside the front of the Centre…

red admiral

Red admiral

…and I also found this Figwort sawfly on the mullein by the corner of the building:

sawfly

Figwort sawfly, Tenthredo scrophulariae

I’m not sure I’ve seen the sawfly before, or if I have I don’t think I’ve had the time to photograph and identify it, so it was nice to find a different species. Its striking yellow and black bands mimic a wasp and whilst the adults will sometimes nectar on flowers as this one was doing, they will often eat other insects. The larvae feed on either mullein or figwort.

Where we have not been using the grassy area by the side of the Centre for school lunches and Wild Days Out free play, the grass has been able to grow nice and tall and a few other plants have sprung up, particularly around the tunnel. One plant in particular seemed popular with the bees and volunteer Phil tested out his plant finder app on it for me on Tuesday as I had been trying to identify it without much success. It reminded me a bit of dead nettle.

Known as Black horehound (Ballota nigra), it grows along hedgerows, road side verges and on waste ground and belongs to the mint and dead nettle family, Lamiaceae. When the leaves are crushed it gives off a pungent rotten smell to deter herbivores (perhaps we need to relocate some into the planter by the Centre which has been targeted by the deer) which has given it the local name of ‘stinking Roger’ in some places. It also has a long tradition in herbal medicine and has been used to treat a range of issues from respiratory problems to travel sickness and depression to gout.

carder bee on black horehound

Carder bee on black horehound

There have been a number of emperor dragonflies hawking over the Centre and ponds and yesterday I spent some time sat by the pond watching a male fly overhead, occasionally dive bombing me. Every so often he would return to one particular iris to perch, either on or above the exuvia that was still clinging on, so I guess this could have been where he emerged:

emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly

This damselfly was not quite as fortunate as I found it in the firm grasp of a zebra spider who was doing an excellent job of carrying it around the post to devour in peace:

zebra spider and damselfly

Zebra spider, Salticus scenicus, and damselfly

In venturing further from the Centre to check the reserve, I had a brief glimpse of a fritillary along the Dockens path and managed a quick photo. I think it’s a Silver-washed fritillary:

fritillary

Silver-washed fritillary

In studying all the mullein I came across in the hope of stumbling across a mullein moth caterpillar, I had to settle for this grasshopper instead, although it did pose very obligingly for a photo:

grasshopper

Grasshopper

Now is definitely a good time to find and watch insects, and you don’t need to venture far to track them down as even the smallest garden or green space can provide a home for this incredibly diverse group of animals. So if you get the chance head outside and see what you can find!

Moving away from the insects, I ventured into our woodland log circle area on Sunday and it has certainly enjoyed the lack of bug hunting children, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so green and grassy. On a number of logs I found the fruiting bodies of the slime mould Lycogala epidendrum, also known as wolf’s milk or groening’s slime. If the outer wall of the fruiting body is broken before maturity they excrete a pink paste.

slime mould

Slime mold, Lycogala epidendrum or wolf’s milk

Finally, although they have been disappearing very quickly with the warmer weather, the grass snakes by Ivy Silt Pond have been very obliging, with two often on the stretch of hedge immediately behind the temporary sign:

grass snakes 2

Grass snakes on the dead hedge by Ivy Silt Pond

Emperors

Another very hot day and a good one for insects, hot conditions allow them to be especially active as they do not need to spend time sitting in the sun to warm up as they would on a more normal English summer’s day. I saw my first Blashford silver-washed fritillary of the year, they are regular in small numbers, but never common on the reserve.

silver-washed fritillary

silver-washed fritillary

Later I came across a pair of brown argus, these are the start of the second generation for this species this year.

brown argus pair

brown argus pair

Brown argus are one of the “Blues” but one that forgot this and so is not blue. The same area of grass was also hiding several stridulating Roesel’s bush-cricket, I am quite pleased that I can still hear these as they are quiet high frequency and so one of the species that slip away as we get older. If you do get to see one the pale line around the lower edge of the pronotum is an identifying character.

Roesel's bush-cricket

Roesel’s bush-cricket

However the highlight of the day was none of these fine insects. After lunch I went over to Ellingham Pound to check how the common tern chicks were doing, the answer was just fine and it looks as though all seven will be flown off very soon. It is a good place to see dragon and damselflies and one of the only regular places on the reserve for small red-eyed damselfly and a quick check found one floating on some algae. I then started to look at the dragonflies in the hope of finding a lesser emperor, as there have been quite  few in the country recently and one was reported from Ibsey Water a couple of days ago. After seeing a couple of emperor dragonfly, a distinctive male lesser emperor shot past, after many attempts I got a couple of shots, not great, but I only had a 60mm lens with me!

lesser emperor male

lesser emperor male

The mainly dark abdomen with pale blue “saddle” is what identifies it. As I waited for it to skim past again I inevitably snapped other dragonflies too, when I looked at these pictures later I think one of them shows a female lesser emperor.

lesser emperor female

female

The lesser emperor is a migrant from the south, it used to be regarded as very rare but is getting more common, especially in warm summers and certainly tries to breed here now. It seems it is another species that is trying to colonise thanks to warming temperatures. The Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) seem to be especially responsive to these changes with many species spreading across Europe dramatically in the last couple of decades.

Elsewhere on the reserve there were at least three common sandpiper on Ibsley Water where there was also a juvenile little egret and, at the end of the day, 3 adult yellow-legged gull. I also found that the pair of Mediterranean gull on Long Spit had managed to fledge a single chick, or at least I could only find one. Although they have nested with us before I cannot be completely certain they have raised a chick to flying on Ibsley Water previously.

Hopefully it will cool down a bit next week and I can get some of the paths trimmed, they certainly need it! I had intended to try today but it was just too hot.