30 Days Wild – Day 22

A busy day of path cutting and planning for the “New normal”, more accurately looking at what we can safely do and exploring new possibilities for education when site visits are more difficult.

Access to the reserve is now improving, the car park on the south side of Ellingham Drove is now open during the normal hours 09:00-16:30, seven days a week. The Education Centre, bird hides and toilets remain closed. The circular routes have been laid out as one-way, with signage, this makes social distancing easier as do the step-asides, which will make it easier to pass people. Cycling is not permitted in any case, but I would also urge that running is not really appropriate as it does not make it easy to access the step-asides in time to avoid getting too close. These measures will remain in place even if the social distancing is reduced to 1m, a sour paths are typically only 1.5m wide at most.

Some paths, such as that between Ivy Lake and Rockford Lake are too narrow to allow more than one or two passing points along their entire length and I would urge that people consider carefully if they should be using these.

Most of my wildlife encounters happened once I had returned home. In the mini-meadow the crow garlic heads are opening.

crow garlic

crow garlic

They are remarkably similar, at a glance, to the unopened flower heads of wild carrot. There were a couple of meadow brown catching a few late rays of sunshine, as was this female, low down in the grass.

meadow brown

meadow brown (female)

During the spring I made a bee hotel with I hung on the front wall of the house. Although it has not attracted lots of bees, there has been a wide variety of species. The mason bees have mostly sealed their holes, but now there are leaf-cutter bees.

leaf-cutter bee (male)

leaf-cutter bee (male)

Where there are nests there are parasites, such as this rather intimidating looking wasp Gateruption jaculator.

Gasteruption jaculator

Gasteruption jaculator (female)

30 Days Wild – Day 1

It’s that time of year again! I have started the 30 Days with a day off, so I was out in the garden, thanks to a rather warm day there were lots of insects about. As ever my mini-meadow was the place to look.

common blue

common blue female

I have not been able to confirm if they are breeding in the meadow yet, but I have recently seen both males and females, so I am hopeful. The garden is also good for bees, lots of bumble bees of several species and solitary bees too, such as this mason bee, which I think is orange-vented mason bee.

mason bee

mason bee (I love those eyes!)

These bees seem to face a lot of problems, not least a lot of parasites, one of which maybe this wasp with an almost unbelievably long ovipositor, this one is  the rather splendidly named Gasteruption jaculator.

Gasteruption jaculator

Gasteruption jaculator

I also got out onto the New Forest for a bit, I called in at a site that is well known for its population of southern damselfly, and found lots of them!

southern damselfly 4x3

southern damselfly male

Nearby there were lots of heath spotted orchid, smaller than the common spotted orchid and with a more compact and shorter flower spike, they are common across a lot of the New Forest heaths.

heath spotted orchid 4x3

heath spotted orchid

Back at work tomorrow, so we will have to see what Blashford has in store.

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

 

From Lakes to Lake

Last Sunday I spent the day at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s new reserve at Fishlake Meadows on the edge of Romsey. The reserve is so new that we don’t yet have a reserves officer in post, but it is good to have some presence on site, so for the day I got to swap Blashford Lakes for Fishlake.

The site is around 60ha of abandoned farmland that has flooded to produce a mosaic of open water, reedbed and fen, wonderful habitat for a wide range of species. At present views across the site are limited by rapidly colonising willow and bramble, but tantalising glimpses can be had across the area from the old barge canal that runs north from the town.

The day was much finer than had been forecast and instead of dodging showers I got to enjoy a huge range of insects enjoying the flowery fen vegetation. One species that I was very pleased to see was the yellow loosestrife bee. This species is dependent upon the yellow loosestrife, not for nectar or even for pollen, but for its oil. Why would a bee need oil? That is the really clever part of the story, the bees collect the oil from the flowers on special hairs on their legs and use it to waterproof their nest chambers. This allows them to make their nests in areas that are prone to flooding, so they can nest close to the flower rich fen rather than having to nest elsewhere and waste energy flying in.

yellow loostrife bee

Yellow loosestrife bee, nectaring on creeping thistle.

The huge number of flowers attract lots of different bees and I saw many species, although identifying them is a bit of a challenge. I think this one is a patchwork leafcutter bee, but I could be wrong, also nectaring on a thistle, this time a spear thistle.

patchwork leafcutter bee female

Patchwork leafcutter bee

I also saw lot of wasps, these are even more of a challenge to identify and I have not even tried with this one.

parasitic wasp

parasitic wasp

There was an osprey on site when I was there but I managed very skilfully to miss it entirely.

30 Days Wild – Day 10

I often take Friday off if I am working at the weekend, so I spent the day catching up on work in the garden. I started by going through the moth trap, catches are increasing now with warmer weather and today’s highlight was a great oak beauty, another southern woodland specialist. This one is a male as you can see from the feathery antennae which it uses to “smell” the females and so find them in the dark.

great oak beauty

great oak beauty

It was a warm, rather than sunny day, so the insects in the garden were somewhat disappointing, I saw no butterflies the whole day! Lots of bees were out and about though and I managed to get a picture of this very colourful parasitic wasp.

parasitic wasp

parasitic wasp

I was mostly tidying up, not something I do too much of in the garden as the “untidy” bits are often where the wildlife is. One area that gets minimal attention is the tiny meadow area, it is only something like 20 square metres but attracts lost of insects and even after just two years looks quite the part. A key species that we introduced was yellow rattle. It is an annual that germinates in April and grows very rapidly, partly because it is semi-parasitic on other plants including grasses. This means the grass grows less vigorously allowing more space for herb species, the “flowers” to grow, increasing the number of species in the sward. The yellow rattle flowers themselves are very attractive to bees as well as adding colour to the meadow.

yellow rattle

yellow rattle

In agricultural terms a meadow full of yellow rattle was a bad thing though, as the rattle reduces the vigour of the grasses and if you are making hay, grasses are the crop.