Butterflies

As lots of you will know this year has been tipped to be a once in a decade one for an invasion of painted lady butterflies. There have been huge numbers arriving on the east coast, but locally it has seemed pretty unremarkable so far. Or at least it had, until this afternoon when I suddenly saw 19 in a small area just south of Goosander Hide along with several red admiral and peacock.

painted lady

One of at least six painted lady on one clump of fleabane near Goosander Hide

A a rule such an arrival of painted lady would have been the stand-out butterfly event of the day, but no so this time. That accolade goes, by some margin, to an extraordinary and most unexpected sighting of a male chalkhill blue. This is a chalk downland butterfly that has caterpillars that feed on horse-shoe vetch, quite what it was doing beside an old gravel pit on the edge of the New Forest is beyond me. The nearest colony must be several miles away on the chalk north of Fordingbridge I would guess.

chalkhill blue 4x3

chalkhill blue (male) – not the greatest shot but a really good reserve record.

Woodwork and wandering

The weather last week resulted in two very different Wild Days Out, with Tuesday very wet and soggy and not the best conditions for wildlife watching although we did still manage a trip to the hides and a walk in search of wasp spiders, and the Wednesday much warmer and brighter.

On Tuesday we swapped wildlife watching for some making, made possible with a small group and limited only by the children’s imagination, the materials we could lay our hands on and the woodwork skills of volunteers Chris and Lucy and myself. The group did keep us on our toes! But the focus and determination that went into the making was fabulous, we started with a bit of wand making then this progressed into making paints from blackberries, charcoal and clay, bug homes, a willow snail and a sword and a shield.

And there was definitely time to play at the end, especially when they found a toad!

Playing

With very different weather on the Wednesday, we headed off to the lichen heath in search of wasp spiders, munched a few wild strawberries and blackberries then made our way to Goosander Hide to see what we could spot.

Unfortunately we didn’t manage to spot any adders, but on our way back we did see a number of butterflies enjoying the sunnier weather:

There were also plenty of butterflies and other insects enjoying the flowers by the pond at lunchtime:

We also spent a bit of time enjoying the new sand pit, tunnel and stepping stones:

After lunch we rummaged through the moth trap, with the highlights including a stunning Elephant hawk-moth, a Poplar hawk-moth and a Canary-shouldered thorn:

We then headed off on the ‘Wild Walk‘, keeping our fingers crossed for grass snakes and we were not disappointed, spotting six altogether either on the branches in Ivy Silt Pond or outside the front of Ivy South Hide: 

We carried on along the sculpture trail then headed down to the river to finish with a paddle and some rush boat racing:

We still have some spaces available on our summer Wild Days Out and details on how to book can be found on our website.

30 Days Wild – Day 17 – Butterflies and More

We have been doing butterfly transects at Blashford Lakes for some years now, I say “We”, what I really mean is that the volunteers have been doing them. I used to do transects myself on previous sites I have managed and thoroughly enjoyed doing them, an opportunity to go out on site for the main purpose of looking for wildlife, something I actually get to do rather rarely! In theory I have always been on the rota to help with the transects at Blashford, but as a stand-in, if someone else is unavailable. Well this week I have been called upon and as it was warm and reasonably sunny this afternoon I headed out.

It was not a classic butterfly day but I did see 26 butterflies of four species. Most notable were the five red admiral, I suspect they are new migrants as the weather is set fair for an arrival of migrants over the next day or so. Locally bred were meadow brown, common blue and speckled wood.

speckled wood

speckled wood

Whilst looking for butterflies it is inevitable that you will see other invertebrates, I saw six species of dragonflies and damselflies, several yellow-and-black longhorn beetle and lots of the larger summer hoverflies, especially Volucella bombylans and Volucella pellucens. 

Vollucella pellucens

Vollucella pellucens

Not all of the invertebrates were adult, I found a vapourer caterpillar feeding in the open, something they can afford to do, as they are protected by a dense coat of hairs which most birds will avoid.

vapourer caterpillar

vapourer caterpillar

Some things I cannot identify, or at least not accurately, one such is this digger wasp, I am pretty sure it is one of them, but which one?

digger wasp

digger wasp spp.

Some of the invertebrates were not insects at all, I came across a loose bit of bark on the ground and under it were several slugs, the familiar leopard slugLimax maximus.

leopard slug

leopard slug

This is the common native large slug in woods and gardens. However it is increasingly being overtaken in abundance by the green cellar slug, Limax maculatus. This is a species native to wood in the Caucasus area that was accidentally introduced some fifty years or so ago and is now spreading rapidly.

I

yellow slug

green cellar slug Limax maculatus

One plant that is oddly scarce at Blashford is honeysuckle, so I was pleased to see one of the few plants we do have growing well in magnificent, full flower.

honeysuckle

honeysuckle

Lastly a picture of a rare plant in Hampshire, but one that is quite common at Blashford, slender bird’s-foot trefoil, it is flowering abundantly just now.

slender bird's-foot trefoil

slender bird’s-foot trefoil

Quiet a “Wild Day” considering I was stuck in the office wrestling with report writing for quiet a good part of the day and also out doing path clearing for part of the day.

30 days Wild – Day 10 –

I had the best moth catches of the year so far both at home, where the pick was a privet hawk-moth and at Blashford where honours were shared between a small elephant hawk-moth and a scarce merveille du jour.

scarce merveille du jour

scarce merveille du jour

The day was warm, although not always sunny, but it was warm enough for damselflies and dragonflies to be flying. The small blue damselflies so far have mostly been azure, but the numbers of common blue seem to be increasing and both can get very abundant at Blashford in good years.

common blue damselfly

common blue damselfly (male)

I had some mowing to do in the morning in an area where we are trying to establish a grassland and prevent the encroachment of bramble, we are getting there, but it takes time. Cutting at this time or year hits the bramble hard and although it does have an impact upon annual species perennials survive perfectly well and will benefit in the long run. I only cut a small part of the area at any one time, which also helps to minimise the impact. In one of the better areas which I was not cutting I found a single bee orchid.

bee orchid

bee orchid

The management of open areas does not just involve cutting, we also graze some areas and on the lichen heath we have been experimenting with stripping off the top few centimetres of vegetation. This gets us back to the mineral, sandy gravel to see if we can combat the increase in nutrients which is slowly turning it into dry acid grassland. Looking at one of the plots today I think we may have had some success as it was well colonised by one of the areas rarer plant species , slender bird’s-foot-trefoil,  a species that does not seem to like competition.

slender bird's-foot-trefoil

slender bird’s-foot-trefoil

Once again today I saw a painted lady, this one flying vigorously northwards, so no picture, I did get one of the other migrant butterfly I saw, a red admiral. It was perched on nettle, the foodplant so this one might have had more of a mind to breed than migrate.

red admiral

red admiral on nettle

The nearest thing to bird highlight on the reserve today was a bar-headed goose, as their native range is other side of the Himalayas I think we can be sure it is an escapee or the descendant of escapees.

I got home, with time to take a quick look in the meadow…………

What’s in My Meadow Today?

I mentioned meadow buttercup yesterday and today I spotted a small yellow and black hoverfly on one of the flowers. It is a common and distinctive species and one that is probably found in gardens all over the country.

Sphaerophoria scripta

Sphaerophoria scripta  (male) on meadow buttercup

My other find was a couple of ants on a flower of common vetch, they seemed to be feeding, at the base of the flower, possibly they had made a hole to get at the nectar flow without entering the flower, as bumblebees will do to runner bean flowers, effectively taking the nectar without doing the job of pollination.

common vetch and ant

common vetch and ant

30 Days Wild – Day 9 – A Migrant Arrival

Another day spent largely in the garden doing various odd jobs. Just being outside means you cannot avoid wildlife, it was not particularly sunny, but warm enough to bring out lots of bees. I have some purple toadflax in the border and it is a great favourite as a nectar source for wool carder bee.

wool carder bee

wool carder bee (male)

This is the only species of this genus, Anthidium, in the UK, they are very distinctive and quite common in gardens. They get their name because the females make the nest cells by collecting fibres from woolly leaved plants such as lamb’s ear.

I grow a lot of plants because they are good nectar sources for insects and one of the best is Cephalaria gigantea a type of giant pale yellow scabious that can get up to 2m tall. Today these flowers scored with a painted lady, judging by the battered wings a migrant, probably hatched in the Mediterranean area somewhere.

painted lady

painted lady

They will breed here with the larvae feeding on thistles and emerging as adults in early autumn, these will then make a return migration southwards. This southward autumn movement had been speculated about, but unlike red admirals which can be seen heading south in late summer, painted ladies just seemed to disappear. It turns out they do head south, but mostly at high altitude, which is why we don’t see them.

Heading back inside I found a robberfly on the back door of the conservatory, I liberated it but managed to get one picture just before it flew off.

robberfly

Dioctria baumhaueri, A robberfly

They are predators, catching other flies and even small wasps in flight. They have large eyes to spot their prey and typically sit on exposed open perches, waiting to dart out and catch any suitable passing insect.

At this time of year conservatories can catch huge numbers insects, they act very like interception traps, especially with the doors open. I always leave several high windows open to give them the maximum chance of escape, ideally open rooflights if you have them.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Perhaps unsurprisingly meadow buttercup, which really is the typical buttercup found in meadows. It has much taller flower stems than the more familiar creeping buttercup and more finely divided leaves.

meadow buttercup

meadow buttercup

I found I had one plant in my first year of managing the lawn as a meadow, but a single cut a year seems to really favour it and now there are a good few plants. In the picture you can see the brilliant yellow flowers and the extra shiny area towards the centre which acts as a mini solar reflector and increases the temperature of the flower’s centre. On the right you can see a seed head, a mass of seeds each with a tiny hook.

Back at Blashford Lakes tomorrow, I suspect I will be cutting path edges for at least part of the day, I hope it is not too warm.

30 Days Wild – Day 8 – An Early Start

I was out early doing a farmland bird survey up on the Hampshire chalk, it was calm, which is good for surveying. The low cloud got lower and lower as I was surveying and just as I was finishing it started to rain. I like surveying in a very different area from my usual haunts as it means I see species I don’t normally encounter. Visiting chalk farmland meant that yellowhammer was frequent, a bird I very rarely see these days. My previous visit had also produced corn bunting and grey partridge, missing today, although I did add red kite this time.

At this time of year an early survey means that I can get home in time for breakfast, which I did today. I was having a day off, so most of the rest of my wildlife for the day was seen in the garden.

I started with the moth trap, the pick of the day was a very fresh beautiful yellow underwing. These tiny moths regularly fly by day as well as at night and so often fly from the trap as it is opened, luckily for me this one stayed put for a picture.

beautiful yellow underwing 2

beautiful yellow underwing

It does have yellow underwings, but they are covered by the upper-wings, however the upper-wings are beautifully marked.

The spring solitary bees have mostly finished now but the summer ones are just starting, one of these is, if I have identified it correctly, Willughby’s leafcutter bee. These bees collect pollen on brushes of hairs underneath their abdomen rather than on their legs as many species do. It is on the orange hawkweed often known as fox-and-cubs here.

Willughby's leafcutter bee

Willughby’s leafcutter bee

During the day I saw single green-veined white, red admiral and painted lady butterflies the latter two indicating migrant arrivals.

I came across a couple of new species for the garden today, a mullein moth caterpillar that I spotted from indoors when I was washing my hands after being in the garden and, rather less welcome, a forest fly which chased my around.

mullein moth caterpillar

mullein moth caterpillar

As the name suggests mullein moth caterpillars usually feed on mullein, however they sometimes eat other related plants such as figwort, which is what it is eating in my garden. It is another species with bad tasting larvae, which is why they can afford to perch in the open and be brightly coloured. Despite running a moth trap I have never caught the adult moth in the garden, but this is one moth species that very rarely comes to light.

The forest fly is a biting species that mostly feeds on ponies and deer, it is one of the flat-flies, which scuttle over their hosts and are very resistant to being swatted.

forest fly

forest fly

What’s in My Meadow Today?

For the first time thus year I have bird’s-foot-trefoil flowering in the meadow this year, for some reason it has taken some time to get established, but hopefully is now in place to stay.

bird's-foot-trefoil

bird’s-foot-trefoil

A feature of the meadow from the first year has been a large population of lesser stitchwort, focus down through the grass stems and there are masses of tiny white star-like flowers.

lesser stitchwort

lesser stitchwort

Finally I also found a further new species for the garden in the meadow, it was a small species of chafer beetle, if I am correct it is Welsh chafer Hoplia philanthus , despite the name it is not confined to Wales having a rather scattered distribution across the southern half of the UK.

Welsh chafer maybe

Welsh chafer beetle (I think)

  

First Migrants

For the last few days it has been feeling distinctly spring-like and I have been expecting the first sand martin, little ringed plover and singing chiffchaff of the spring. So far I have been disappointed, but yesterday visitors to the reserve were reporting chiffchaff singing near Ivy North hide and a little ringed plover on Ibsley Water. Chiffchaff will over-winter on the reserve, although this year none were seen after the New Year so I don’t think there is any real doubt this was a new arrival.

As the summer visitors start arriving many of the winter visitors are leaving, this is especially noticeable on Ivy Lake where there were around a thousand wildfowl only a couple of weeks or so ago, now there are little more than a hundred. Some winter visitors are still with us though, brambling can be seen regularly around the feeders and at the last ringing session four were caught.

brambling male in the hand

Male brambling in the hand

One of the most obvious signs of spring is the changes in plants. Bluebell laves are now well up and wild daffodil are in full bloom.

P1100207

Wild daffodil

Often one of the very first flowers of many years is colt’s foot, although this year it has only started flowering in the last week or so.

colt's foot

colt’s foot

Yesterday while out working with the volunteers they spotted a brimstone butterfly, often the first butterfly of spring, although these days red admiral usually beats them due to their rather shallow hibernation.

The change in the season means the end of the winter work and the last couple of weeks has been busy with tidying up around areas we have been working in during the winter. Our next big task will be preparing the tern rafts so they can go out when the common tern arrive sometime in mid April.

I will end with a mystery, or at least something that is a mystery to me, I am hoping someone will be able to help me identify it. On Sunday I was looking at a clonal patch of young aspen trees and noticed small clusters of something I took to be lichen on the lower stems of several very small suckers. This was surprising as the trees were just a hand full of years old, rather a short time for lichens to get going. Looking closer I don’t think it is lichen, but I don’t know what it is, does anyone have any idea?

lower stem of aspen

Lower stem of aspen, about 10cm above ground – but what is it?

Some Seasonal Firsts!

Things are getting increasingly wintery, there was a frost on the grass this morning, 2 brambling were visiting the feeder by the car park and the Pop-up Café returned! Although the brambling have been around for a few day today was the first time that I had seen them, in fact I saw a few things for the first time this season today, I caught up with the pink-footed goose and saw a very smart first winter Caspian gull at dusk. Other firsts were mostly cake!

P1090028

The first marbled chocolate cake of the winter.

Others were personal firsts and very tasty too.

P1090026

Apricot, lemon and pistachio cake – a “tick” for me.

The Pop-up Café is once again being operated by Walking Picnics, just a sit was last winter and will be at Blashford on the first and third Sunday of each month and New Years Day.

P1090027

The Walking Picniceers and happy customers.

There was no sign of the lesser scaup today as far as I know, possibly put off by fireworks last night but the ferruginous duck was spotted, distantly by the northern shore of Ibsley Water, somehow I avoided it when I counted the pochard flock in that very area, there were 66 by the way, quite  a lot by the standard of recent years.

Elsewhere a couple of chiffchaff and a raven flying over and a few goldeneye and goosander on Ibsley Water were the best I could find. The sun did tempt out a few red admiral butterflies but I saw no dragonflies, which surprised me, as the sun was quiet warm.

All of the above actually happened in the afternoon as my morning was spent with the first Sunday of the month volunteers widening the margins of the path beside Ellingham Lake to provide more sheltered areas for insects and, hopefully reduce the tendency for brambles to overhang the path next summer. Increasing the area of transition between the path and the scrub by having  a margin of grass and herb species should provide habitat for butterflies and other insect next year, in effect we have made a miniature woodland ride. As ever the team did a load of work even though we only worked for a couple of hours or so.

 

A Lull

The last few days have been quiet, we are in an interim period, almost all the summer visitors and migrants have gone, but as yet, most of the wintering birds have yet to arrive. This reflected in this week’s sightings, a few chiffchaff remain, especially around the main car park. A juvenile ruff dropped into Ibsley Water for a day, but there are still only a few tens of wigeon around.

This does not mean there has been nothing to see though. Opening up Tern hide this week I have twice seen an adult peregrine perched on the small shingle island near the hide.

peregrine

adult peregrine

peregrine stretch

peregrine, stretching before heading off

During the day on Friday the two New Forest National Park apprentices paid us a visit, they will be working at Blashford for three months from November. As it was their first visit we took a look around the reserve to see some of the areas they will be working in. The sun was out and it was remarkably warm, along the way we saw lots of butterflies, at one spot on the Dockens Water path we could see 4 red admiral, 5 speckled wood and a comma and we saw many more elsewhere along with a single peacock. There were also a few reptiles, including this very small adder, proof that they have bred successfully on the reserve again this year.

young adder

“adderling”

Our best sighting though was when we visited the Tern hide, there was very little to see as all there attested and the lake looked at best sparsely dotted with birds. However I glanced at the shingle just in front of the hide and realised that with the couple of meadow pipit strolling around was a woodlark, my best views ever of this species.

I will end with a plea, at this time of year rats will be spreading out looking for a good place to winter, something we do not want them to do on the reserve if we can avoid it. To this end we try not to have food lying on the ground during the autumn, we only ground feed in the late winter. Recently I have found a number of piles of bird food on logs and seats, or just on the ground as I have been going to lock up at the end of the day. This shows that the birds are not eating it, so it will be consumed by rodents overnight, potentially by rats. If any rats find enough food for them to decide to settle with us we will be unable to ground feed in the late winter when the finches are at their best. So my plea is for visitors to please not leave bird food around the reserve where rats and rodents can get to it.

 

We’ve Got the Blues, Again

Tomorrow I have a moth event at Blashford, we will be opening two moth traps and looking through at the catch, identifying and photographing them. Over the last few days we have caught three Clifden nonpareil moths, also known as the blue underwing, this is a spectacular species and probably the UK moth with the largest wing area. In fact there was one yesterday and another today, obviously it would be great if there was one tomorrow, but things being what they are I suspect there won’t be! It is also still quite rare nationally, having only recently recolonized the UK, luckily for us the New Forest area is probably their stronghold.

Clifden nonpareil

Clifden nonpareil, or blue underwing.

The caterpillars feed on aspen and probably other poplar species, as it happens we have a number of aspen at Blashford Lakes, which is probably why they seem to be established on the reserve. Aspen is an interesting tree as is has quiet a lot of insect species associated with it. It is a tree that can grow very tall, but also produces lots of suckers, so there can be niches for species that prefer the canopy and shrub layer provided for by a single tree. It is very prone to being browsed and the suckers are often eaten off, increasing numbers of deer are probably one reason that aspen is in decline in many areas.

We may not see a Clifden nonpareil, but I hope we will see a good few moths and one thing that I am fairly sure about is that a number of them will be yellow or orange, autumn is the season for yellow moths, probably because it is the time for yellow leaves.

sallow and pink-barred sallow

pink-barred sallow and sallow

Although autumn is well underway now there at still quite a lot of insects about when the sun comes out, southern hawker, migrant hawker and common darter dragonflies are still around in fair numbers and butterflies include red admiral, comma and a lot of speckled wood. As I was eating lunch yesterday I noticed a fly on the picnic table next to me and realised it was one of the snail-killing flies.

Elgiva cucularia

Elgiva cucuaria a snail-killing fly.

It is the larvae that kill the snails, in the case of this species , aquatic snails, which is probably why it was close to the Education Centre pond.