30 Days Wild – Day 3 – A Herd of Elephants

I was at Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve today after a couple of days off. We had a volunteer work party in the morning but before we started I checked through the moth trap, although the catch was quiet good there was nothing too surprising, although I was pleased to see my first peach blossom of the year, no picture though as it flew off. There were several hawk-moths including a group of three elephant hawk-moth on one egg box.

a herd of elephant hawks

a herd of elephant hawk-moth

There were also a few species of prominents including a pale prominent, they all get their name from the small raised point on the folded wing, presumably an adaptation to break up their outline and make them look less like moths. For a moth, not looking like a moth is very useful as birds love to eat moths, so lots of moths either hide away or just try to look not like moths. The pale prominent does this rather well.

pale prominent

pale prominent looking like a dead bit of plant stem

Our volunteer tasks were giving the outside of the Education Centre a was down and having a clear-out of the tool store, both much needed tasks, if not exactly conservation work. At least we should be able to find most of the tools and equipment now and the building does look a lot smarter for a wash.

I checked the hemlock water dropwort around the centre pond at lunchtime for visiting insects, the flowers are a very good nectar source. There were lots of hoverflies and a few beetles including a wasp beetle, a yellow-and-black longhorn beetle and a red-headed cardinal beetle.

red-headed cardinal beetle

red-headed cardinal beetle

What’s in My Meadow Today?

By the time I got home most of the meadow in my garden was in shade, but it was still making its presence felt. The grasses are flowering and their pollen is blowing in the wind as every hayfever sufferer will know. Grasses do not rely on insects to carry their pollen from one flower to another to achieve fertilisation, they just release huge clouds of pollen into the air to be carried to another flower. This saves on the need to produce nectar as an inducement to insects, but does mean that a lot of pollen has to be produced.

flowering grasses

flowering grasses – much of it Yorkshire fog

Many trees use the same method, resulting in allergic reactions for many in spring.  Pollen deposited in peat and similar wet habitats has allowed us to look back in time and work out what the dominant vegetation cover was in the distant past. It turns out that although there was rapid colonisation of the UK by tree after the end of the last Ice Age the nature of the cover changed over time. One tree now generally rare, the small-leaved lime, was abundant at one time and it turns out that elm have seen several rises and falls in abundance, perhaps indicating previous outbreaks of “Dutch” elm disease.

The tiny garden pond does not have many plants, but one it does have is lesser reedmace and it is now flowering and also sheds pollen into the wind, the pollen is produced by the male part of the plant, which here is the upper part of the flowering stem.

lesser reedmace flower

lesser reedmace flower

Beetles and Bugs

It is ages since I spent a Sunday at Blashford, but this weekend I got to fill in for the regulars as they were all occupied elsewhere. The day was a fair bit better than forecast and in the morning we enjoyed some warm sunshine which brought out a range of insects.

I have only seen a couple of dragonflies so far this year but I have seen thousands of damselflies. Two of the commonest are the very similar common blue damselfly and the azure damselfly. I managed to get a picture of a common blue today, although I could not get close enough to an azure.

common blue damselfly

common blue damselfly

The only other damselfly I got a picture of was a blue-tailed damselfly, one of the few species that can withstand slightly polluted or brackish water and so one of the most widespread species.

blue-tailed damselfly

blue-tailed damselfly

There is a very similar species that I would very much like to find at Blashford, the scarce blue-tailed damselfly, it is found in the New Forest and does wander so there is a chance it will turn up one day.

It was quite a days for beetles and I came across several including this brilliant red-headed cardinal beetle.

red-headed cardinal beetle

red-headed cardinal beetle

Whilst at lunchtime I spotted several figwort weevils including this pair.

figwort weevil pair

figwort weevil pair

Various other insects were out and about too including hoverflies like this Helophilus pendulus.

Helophilus pendulus

Helophilus pendulus

I also saw a lot of scorpion-flies today, these are not actually flies in the true sense. There are three very similar species and I don’t know which one the picture shows as I seem to remember that only the males are at all easy to identify and this one is a female.

scorpion-fly

scorpion-fly

Of course when there are lots of insects flying about there will be spiders catching them, one of the most distinctive and common is the very slender Tetragnatha extensa.

Tetragnatha extensa

Tetragnatha extensa

I spent the greater part of the day in the office, but when I did venture out it seemed that the day was quiet, at least for birds. Highlights were the drake pochard still on Ibsley Water, the lapwing chicks still surviving near the Tern hide and the oystercatcher pair having settled down on the small island close to the same hide.