Tigers, kittens and emperors

Emptying the moth trap this morning revealed a beautiful garden tiger moth, which was definitely a treat to see. When disturbed they display their orange hind wings with blue-black spots, the bright colours acting as a reminder to predators that they are unpalatable.

Garden tiger

Garden tiger moth

Garden tiger 2

Garden tiger moth

The larvae of the garden tiger moth are large, black and covered in long, dense, black and ginger hairs, giving them their name the ‘woolly bear’. They feed on stinging nettles, dock leaves and a variety of garden plants. They can be seen from August until the following June and are often seen moving rapidly across bare ground when fully grown so are a good caterpillar to keep an eye out for, although it is best to leave them to it if you do see one as the hairs can irritate.

When the sun is shining the pond is still a brilliant to spot to look for dragonflies, with common darters often resting up on a chosen spot and both brown hawkers and emperor dragonflies hawking overhead or egg laying:

Common darter

Common darter resting on a picnic bench

Emperor dragonfly

Male emperor dragonfly pausing briefly on vegetation

There are still plenty of damselflies around and I managed to photograph this pair of common blue damselflies mating. The male is blue and the female is a more camouflaged olive green colour:

Common blue damselflies

Common blue damselflies mating

The male dragonflies and damselflies have two pairs of hooks at the tip of the abdomen which they use to grasp either the neck (in damselflies) or head (in dragonflies) of the female. Pairs can often be seen flying together in tandem and shortly after capturing a female they will mate and form the ‘wheel position’ seen in the image above. Some species remain coupled for several hours amongst vegetation whilst others, like the chaser dragonflies, couple briefly for just a few seconds. Following mating the female is ready to lay eggs.

There are also still plenty of butterflies on the wing, including this common blue which was outside the front of the centre earlier today.

Common blue

Common blue

On Sunday we held another of our online Young Naturalist catch ups where we expanded on the last session delivered by Owain from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and discussed all six native reptiles. We were treated to some fantastic photos by Kimberley, taken on her phone, of a very friendly male sand lizard she had encountered whilst walking her dog at Dewlands Common in Verwood.

I used to visit Dewlands Common regularly when employed by East Dorset District Council so it is great to know they are still present on the site.

Will also shared some photos he had taken, including a lovely photo of a wool carder bee on lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina). We had been hoping the lamb’s ear in one of the planters outside the Education Centre would attract wool carder bees as they will scrape hairs from the leaves to line and seal the brood cells in their nests, but sadly there has been no sign of any.

Will also shared a photo of a small skipper butterfly which was taken up on the Laverstock Downs, a gatekeeper which he had photographed at Horatio’s Garden at Salisbury Hospital, and an abandoned robin’s nest in his bird box at home – the robin’s had for some reason moved elsewhere.

We also looked at the moths in the light trap, where the highlight was this very fresh looking Sallow kitten:

Sallow kitten

Sallow kitten

Finally regular visitor and volunteer Phil shared this photo with us of the Osprey which visited on the 16th July. It was only here on that day, but did spend quite some time sat on the perch out on Ibsley Water and Phil was able to get a photo from a distance. I was on leave that week so completely missed it!

Osprey by Phil West

Osprey by Phil West

Our Young Naturalists are kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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A Smaller World, but Limitless

Everyone’s world seems to have got smaller, we cannot travel around as we were used to doing, favourite places are denied to us. We have our homes and with luck a view of some sort, many will have a garden and how many of us will be appreciating this anew, not a chore to look after but haven. Then there is the daily walk, it may only be a mile or two but I’ll bet, like me, you will be seeing with new eyes what has been there all along, but previously overlooked.

It reminds me of childhood, in those days my world was the garden and a distance from home I could easily walk or later cycle. If you have a car you don’t really get to know your local area as you drive through it, only on foot do you see the details and appreciate the lay of the land.

What you soon begin to see is that this smaller world is still full of more things than you could know in a lifetime, the more detail you see the more there is to find. Lots of birdwatchers, confined to home have been scanning the skies and suddenly seeing bird flying over that they never imagined. I suspect Hampshire will see as many osprey reported this spring as in any year, despite almost nobody getting out to the “Hotspots” for this species. A remarkable feature has been the realisation that there are common scoter migrating overland night after night, if you go and stand in your garden you have a fair chance of hearing some flying over, eventually. I would add I would avoid standing in my garden, which has been a stubbornly scoter-free area! Who would have thought that you could get a sea duck on your garden bird list even if you live an hour or more drive from the sea.

A garden will have wildlife, you may need to look for it a bit but it will be there. The other day I noticed several tiny moths flying in the sunshine around my front door, they were a micro most called Esperia sulphurella, they were often landing on the wall of the house, so I went to get my camera. Just as I was lining up my shot, having got as close as I could I saw that several other pairs of eyes had also spotted the same target.

zebra spider with E sulphurella

zebra spider with Esperia sulphurella

I later realised that several of these zebra jumping spiders were patrolling the wall and more than one had caught the same prey as they warmed on the brickwork.

The sunshine has had lots of insects warming themselves on suitable surfaces, I have some large Echiums growing the garden and they seem especially popular with sunning solitary bees and ladybirds, such as this 7-spot ladybird.

7-spot ladybird

7-spot ladybird on Echium leaf.

The sun has meant that I have had the camera out, trying to get shots of some of the trickier species, the hoverers and the darters of this world, where a sharp picture is as much about luck as technique. I have been trying to get a flight shot of a bee-fly for ages, it requires a very fast shutter speed, actually faster than I can manage with my camera, and if I open the aperture the depth of field gets very small, still it can produce a result of sorts from time to time.

dark-bordered bee-fly

dark-bordered bee-fly, Bombylius major

I wonder if, when we are let out into the wider world again, we will see it with new eyes, perhaps seeing the myriad little pictures that go to make up the big picture, and appreciating all of it the more.

Recent Activity and a Little Wildlife

I am sorry for the lack of posts recently, I will try and get back to a couple a week again. Recent weeks have been busy both at Blashford and at Fishlake.

At Blashford the volunteers have been constructing an artificial badger sett.

badger sett construction

badger sett construction, the chamber.

Once the chamber had been made a roof was added along with an entrance tunnel.

P1110340

construction continues.

Yesterday we covered the whole structure with a layer of soil to bury, now all we have to do is wait and see if the badgers approve.

The ponies have now left Blashford as the grazing season draws to a close. Meanwhile at Fishlake the cattle have grazed in both Ashley Meadow and the North-west fen and done a great job. Reducing the tall herbage will take several seasons but we are now holding the succession into rank fen with increasing willow scrub and starting to reverse it.

P1110376

British white cattle, now back in Ashley Meadow.

The autumn has been relatively quite for birds, or at least for rarities at both sites. Fishlake has been visited by several osprey, but they have not stayed as long as in  previous years. There have been several great (white) egret as both sites and 2 cattle egret flew south over Ibsley Water at Blashford. Both sites are now starting to see increases in wildfowl, with small flocks of teal at Fishlake and wigeon at Blashford.

The warm summer saw a number of records of lesser emperor dragonfly, a migrant that is occurring in increasing numbers, this great picture of a hovering male was sent in by  Kevin Kearns.

lesser emperor Kevin Kearns

lesser emperor Kevin Kearns

Moths have been a little disappointing, with a couple of Clifden nonpareil and a few commoner migrants. We have caught a couple more of the non-native Australian Pyralid, Masotima nitidalis, introduced with tree ferns but now evidently eating our native ferns in the wild.

Masotima nitidalis

Masotima nitidalis

There is still time for some autumn excitement where migrant birds are concerned, although we will soon be entering the late autumn lull before the main arrival of wintering birds. Insects will be winding down for winter, but fungi are coming into their main season, so there is always something to look forward to.

P1110358

Fungus season is starting

Summer Passing

It seems that once the 30 Days Wild are over, the signs of passing summer become increasingly obvious. I heard my last singing cuckoo on 22nd June, we now know that many will have left the country southward by the end of June, thanks to the advent of tiny satellite trackers fitted to some birds by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), you can follow their progress via a link on their website.

At Blashford Lakes common sandpiper are returning and on Sunday there was a greenshank, returned from breeding, probably in Scandinavia. Lots of the swift have left already as have the first generation of young sand martin. Over at Fishlake Meadows an osprey is being seen regularly, with other sightings including up to six cattle egret.

Around the reserves we are now at the peak of butterfly numbers, with lots of “Browns” especially.

gatekeeper

gatekeeper

This week will probably see “Peak-gatekeeper” and we may have just passed peak-meadow brown. Speckled wood, by contrast are perhaps the only butterfly with a real chance of being seen throughout the 26 weeks of the butterfly recording season as it has continuously overlapping broods.

speckled wood

speckled wood

In places you may notice a few very dark, almost black, meadow brown, actually these may well be ringlet, with slightly rounder wings and multiple eye-spots.

ringlet

ringlet

Several species now have their summer broods emerging, this is true for common blue, brown argus, small copper and peacock.

peacock

peacock

The warm weather has been great for insects in general, there have been good numbers of dragonflies, including a single lesser emperor, a formerly very rare migrant species that seems to be getting ever more frequent.

 

Osprey!

Just when I thought that migration was almost over we get sent this splendid picture of an osprey flying over Goosander Hide last Sunday, thanks to Jon Mitchell for sending this into us.

osprey jon mitchell

Osprey by Jon Mitchell

My best bird sighting from yesterday was a couple of turnstone on Ibsley Water, it has been a very good spring for these high Arctic breeding waders, by contrast numbers of dunlin, usually one of the most common migrant waders, have been very low.

Numbers of moths have started to increase a bit, although the nights are still rather cool int he main. Sunday night yielded a few firsts for the year in the form of common swift, orange footman and cinnabar. I also saw my first buff-tip of the year, the last fell victim to a blue tit which got into the trap.

buff-tip

buff-tip

One of the regular surveys that happen on the reserve are the butterfly transects, typically May sees a big drop in numbers as the spring species season ends and we wait for the summer species to emerge. This drop in numbers has not been as noticeable as usual this year due to a very good early emergence of small copper and the blues, in our case common blue and brown argus (yes it is a “blue” really, just not a blue one!).

common blue

common blue

Although it has not been very warm, it has been sunny, which seems to be resulting in a good season for insects, or at least for some, I have noticed that dragonflies still seem to be very scarce, although damselfly numbers appear to be picking up. Looking around the Centre area at lunch yesterday I found a lacewing larva, it sticks the husks of its aphid victims to its back as a form of concealment, or at least to make it look unappetising.

lacewing larva

lacewing larva

Out in the meadow I noticed several common malachite beetle, usually on the yellow flowers, many insects favour particular types of flowers, but some also seem to pick particular colours.

common malachite beetle

common malachite beetle

As it was World Bee Day, I will end with a picture of a bee, nectaring at the flowers of green alkanet at the back of the Centre, these bees seem to favour flowers of this type, also commonly seen at forget-me-not.

solitary bee

bee at green alkanet flowers

 

Very Different Days

I was at Blashford again today after a couple of days off. I was last in on Thursday, when it rained all day and I left in a thunderstorm with hail and torrential rain. Today was quite different, warm, often sunny and altogether very pleasant. Both days produced notable migrants though, despite the very different conditions. On Thursday I arrived to find an osprey perched on the stick in Ibsley Water, the one that Ed Bennett and I put out there for the very purpose of giving an osprey somewhere to rest, it is always good when it works!

osprey in the rain

an osprey in the rain

Also in the rain a pair of Mandarin landed outside the new Tern Hide, they did not look much happier than the osprey.

mandarin

Mandarin in the rain

Today was more about butterflies, I saw good numbers of peacock, speckled wood, brimstone and orange-tip. But there were still migrant birds too, today’s highlight was a flock of 12 adult little gull, some in full breeding plumage and with a pink flush to their underparts, surely one of the best of all gulls in this plumage.

The other top birds today were the brambling, with 100 or more around the Centre and Woodland Hide area, many were feeding around the Woodland Hide giving great views, even I could get a half decent picture.

brambling male

male brambling

There are still small numbers of all the winter duck around, although numbers are declining day by day now. Today I saw nine goldeneye, although I am pretty sure there are still 11 around, there were also goosander, wigeon, teal and shoveler in small numbers. A few pairs of shoveler have been regularly in front of Tern Hide allowing the chance of a picture.

shoveler male

drake shoveler

Next week will see some further work at the Centre, with car park resurfacing and landscaping. There will also be some work at the Tern Hide at the end of the week, which is likely to mean that it will be closed for a day or so.

Also next week, In Focus will be doing optics sale in the Tern Hide on Tuesday.

Taking Stock

Things have been relatively quiet at Blashford recently, although also very busy! Quiet in that we are in a time when the breeding season is more or less over and the migration season has hardly started.

Overall the bird nesting season was a mixed story. Resident birds mostly started late, the snow in March set them back. The migrants were mostly late arriving, with some in lower numbers than usual. It seemed that migrants that come from the SE were much as usual but those that take the West African route were down. Having arrived most small birds relished the warm weather with lots of insects to feed their young and seem to have done well. Resident species have had a more mixed time, single brooded species such as blue tits have done well, multi-brooded worm feeders like blackbird and song thrush have had a harder time.

Overall it has been a bumper season for insects, in the main they all do well in a hot summer a hot summer, although those that use shallow wetlands are probably finding things difficult.

six-spot burnet

six-spot burnet moth

As the breeding season ends we are starting to see some migration, swift are leaving as are the young of the first brood of sand martin and adult cuckoo have all gone. The first waders are coming back from the north, green sand piper and a number of common sandpiper have been seen on the reserve.

Yesterday a party of 7 black-tailed godwit flew south over Ibsley Water, they were in full breeding plumage and showed no sign of moult, so I would guess they were newly arrived from Iceland. If conditions are good they will make the flight in one go, arriving at a favoured moult site such as one of the harbours on the south coast. Once they get here wing moult starts almost straight away.

Further signs of approaching autumn are rather larger, at Fishlake Meadows 2 osprey have recently been seen perched up in the dead trees, one carries a blue ring, apparently ringed as a nestling in Scotland.

The prolonged hot weather is taking a toll, a lot of trees are losing their leaves in an attempt to reduce water loss, some will lose branches and as the ground dries one or two are falling. Perhaps surprisingly it is often trees growing on usually damp sites that are suffering the most. Easily accessible water in typical times mean they have not developed such large or deep root systems and are more vulnerable in drought conditions.

A Great Day

I arrived at the reserve in heavy rain, always promising at this time of year and looking out form Tern hide I saw 4 bar-tailed godwit, migrants headed north grounded by the weather. Otherwise things were pretty much as the day previous day, including two very smart black-necked grebe, always a massive treat in breeding plumage.

The night had been cold (again), but there were a few moths in the trap including two new for the year, an iron prominent.

iron prominent

iron prominent

And a great prominent.

great prominent

great prominent

The moth trap does not only catch moths and looking through pictures from a few days ago I noticed a small fly I had not yet identified. It turned out to be a Tephritid fly, more often called picture-winged flies. Most of these have larvae that eat plants, especially seedheads of composites such as thistles. I identified this one as Euphranta toxoneura as species that is a brood parasite or predator on sawflies of the genus Pontania which make leaf galls on willows. It appears to be quite a scarce species and certainly one I had not seen before and a new species for the reserve.

Euphranta toxoneura

Euphranta toxoneura

Around lunchtime,as the weather cleared, an osprey flew over, it headed off east and was maybe the one seen at Lower Test nature reserve later. Unfortunately I missed it, I think at least the third one to have flown over me so far this year without my seeing any of them. The only other birds of note today were 14 black-tailed godwit and a whimbrel, briefly with the bar-tailed godwit in flight over Ibsley Water, a common sandpiper and a screaming group of about 40 swift.

Changeable

The last week or so has been very strange, with the arrival of several migrants and further snow.

gorse flower in snow 3

Spring!

On the migrant front there are now small numbers of sand martin hawking over several of the lakes, the most I have seen together is only six. On Ibsley Water there have been at least 2 little ringed plover, but be warned as there has also been a ringed plover. Other waders in the snow last weekend included a few dunlin and 3 golden plover. A single swallow has been recorded on several days and is perhaps the one reported in North Gorley as well. In the woodland small numbers of chiffchaff are singing and near Tern hide a pair of wheatear have been seen for the last four days. Perhaps the greatest excitement has been the sighting of 2 osprey passing singly overhead in the last week. typically for spring birds, they did not linger.

Other notable sightings have included up to 5 stonechat beside Ibsley Water, this is usually a very scarce species on the reserve, I suspect these are birds that had returned to the open Forest before snow and moved into the valley to escape the worst of the conditions. Two adult little gull have been over Ibsley Water where numbers of Mediterranean gull are increasing and the ring-billed gull is still being seen int he evening roost.

As thought to highlight the confusion of the seasons there have been birds starting to nest and the dawn chorus has gone up a gear. The picture below was taken through my kitchen window and shows blue tits investigating a nestbox in the snow.

blue tit pair at box in snow

The drive to start breeding is not stopped by changeable weather.

 

Blashford snow news update

All of the hides are open today but I have taken the decision NOT to open the centre or the main car park – the latter because the concrete surface is very treacherous in icy conditions, the former because it takes the pressure off closing at the end of the day.

Further to Bobs last post small numbers of migrants have continued to pass through the reserve – there have now been sightings of two little ringed plover, an osprey, and more sand martins including some heralding the snow yesterday morning! No more otters have been reported since I picked up a second road casualty, this time from the A338 near Ivy Lane last week, so I was relieved to see recent tracks in the fresh deposits of sand when setting up for river dipping post floods on Friday morning.