Counting butterflies and moths…

For the past few years we have taken part in Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count, usually incorporating it into our July Young Naturalists session. We’ve missed doing it as a group this year, for obvious reasons, although I have reminded the group about the survey and hopefully some of them will be able to take part before it finishes on Sunday 9th.

Given the sun has been shining today and you only need 15 minutes to spare, I thought I would spend a bit of time by the Education Centre ponds after lunch and see what I could spot. We have counted at this spot before, but last year we went to our wild play area where we do den building and campfire activities, so if I get the chance I might try there later on in the week.

There was an abundance of gatekeepers, I counted nine in the 15 minutes, but given they are the most abundant around the whole reserve at present that was not too surprising, and two small whites. Perhaps not the most exciting count, but all records are useful and help to build up a bigger picture. In comparison, albeit in a different location on the reserve, last year we managed 15 butterflies altogether and five species, compared to today’s 11 butterflies and two species.

I didn’t take any photos at the time, as I was obviously focused on spotting, counting and recording, but the survey does include some day flying moths and in looking closely at the wild marjoram in search of the mint moths you can quite often see, I spotted a clearwing moth. On closer inspection it was a red-tipped clearwing:

Red-tipped clearwing (4)

Red-tipped clearwing

Red-tipped clearwing (3)

Red-tipped clearwing

I have only ever seen clearwing moths attracted to pheromone lures before, so spotting one nectaring on the marjoram was very exciting (and a complete distraction from the butterfly counting) and although it didn’t stay still for long I was pleased to get a couple of photos.

I did also spot a couple of mint moths:

There is still time to sit back and count butterflies, all you need is 15 minutes and a sunny spot, so if you get the chance between now and Sunday 9th August it is well worth it, you never know what you might see. Details can be found on their website, along with a downloadable chart and you can also use smartphone apps which make recording your sightings even easier.

As well as watching the butterflies and moths, there were lots of bees enjoying the marjoram and I noticed a shield bug on the buddleia. After taking a photo and looking it up, it is I think a hairy shieldbug.

Hairy shieldbug (4)

Hairy shieldbug

Hairy shieldbug (3)

Hairy shieldbug

Yesterday morning I decided to check Goosander Hide was still secure, so headed over the road first thing. Calling in at Tern Hide, there was a lapwing on the shoreline and large numbers of Egyptian geese out on the water. Coot numbers on Ibsley water also seem to be increasing, and I saw a number of mute swans and grey herons. There were also pochard, cormorant, tufted duck and great crested grebe present.

Walking the closed footpath through the old Hanson concrete site I saw a grass snake basking on the path. I didn’t notice it until I was almost on top of it, so was too slow to get a photo as it disappeared quickly into the vegetation. A little further on I had my second grass snake sighting, this time of one swimming along the edge of the Clearwater Pond. Too distant for a photo, I watched it through my binoculars until it was out of sight.

From Goosander Hide I watched the remaining sand martins flying overhead, every so often swooping low over the water and into the nesting holes in the sand martin bank. After a few minutes a kingfisher appeared, first settling further away on the trees that have been felled into the lake, before flying closer and resting on a perch. Every so often it flew down in front of the bank, hovered in front of the holes as though it was investigating them, then returned to the perch. After doing this a few times it flew closer and perched just below the hide window, which took me by surprise and I managed to get a couple of closer photos:

Kingfisher

Kingfisher in front of Goosander Hide

Kingfisher (2)

Kingfisher in front of Goosander Hide

After visiting Goosander Hide I headed back to the Centre, feeling I had been out for long enough and we were potentially going to be busy, and the rest of the day was spent working from the Welcome Hut and chatting to visitors. A very nice office I have to say!

Given I hadn’t made it quite that far yesterday, I decided to head up to Lapwing Hide this morning as the reserve was very quiet first thing. At the hide I was greeted by a very smart red underwing moth, which was happily settled on the door. You can just see a hint of the red underwings that give this moth its name in the photo below:

Red underwing (2)

Red underwing

From the hide I saw Canada geese, three little grebe and a number of black-headed gulls. The reedbed just past the hide was looking lovely in the sunshine:

P1200095

Reedbed near Lapwing Hide

On my way back I followed a fox cub along the path; a really nice encounter, it would run ahead, round a corner, turn then on seeing me approach run off again. I thought it had left the path to the left, but on heading round to Goosander Hide I had a second fox cub encounter, spotting one off to the left of the path sunbathing under some branches. On spotting me it too didn’t hang around, but it was great to watch, albeit briefly.

I had a quick look out of Goosander Hide but didn’t linger, spotting two grey wagtails working their way along the shoreline and a moorhen, then headed back to the Centre again along the closed Hanson footpath.

Along the path I saw a brown argus enjoying the fleabane, the first one I have seen this year and a change to all the gatekeepers I had been spotting:

Brown argus

Brown argus

The moth trap has produced another couple of really nice species recently, including a very smart female oak eggar which was in the trap last Thursday morning, and a dusky thorn which was in there this morning:

Oak eggar

Female oak eggar

Oak eggar (2)

Female oak eggar

Dusky thorn (3)

Dusky thorn

By the new dipping pond this morning there was a pair of mating red-eyed damselflies. I watched them being hounded every time they settled by male common blues, but managed a couple of photos:

Red eyed damselflies (4)

Red-eyed damselflies

Red eyed damselflies (3)

Red-eyed damselflies mating

Finally, and last but not least, here’s a very smart species of digger wasp on one of the planters outside the front of the Centre.:

Digger wasp

Digger wasp sp.

 

A clear surprise

This week I have been putting out a number of temporary signs to highlight some of the wildflowers currently in bloom on the reserve, including herb robert, red campion, foxglove and hedge woundwort.

All are brightening up the woodland at the moment, but I particularly like the hedge woundwort with its hooded magenta-pink flowers. It is known more for having a particularly unpleasant smell, which from getting close to it to photograph the flowers and put the sign in I have to agree it does! As its name suggests, it was in the past used as a herbal remedy with its bruised leaves said to alleviate bleeding.

hedge woundwort 2

Hedge woundwort

Whilst walking round I noticed a couple of other plants growing I don’t remember noticing before, possibly because this time of year is usually our busiest for school visits and as such opportunities to stop, look, photograph and identify something different are usually few and far between. I spotted woody nightshade or bittersweet growing amongst the bramble in the hedge by Ivy Silt pond, and another one growing near the boardwalk past Ivy South hide. Belonging to the nightshade family it is toxic. The flowers appear from May to September and are followed by clusters of poisonous bright red berries. The leaves apparently smell of burnt rubber when crushed, although I didn’t crush them to test this out!

woody nightshade

Woody nightshade or bittersweet

Further along the Dockens path I found some stinking iris which has dull yellowy purple flowers. Also known as the roast beef plant, it gets its name from the smell of the leaves when crushed or bruised, which is said to resemble rotten raw beef. In the autumn its seed capsules will open to reveal striking red-orange berries, which do ring a bell.

stinking iris

Stinking iris

The moth trap has also revealed a number of different moths over the last few days. On Tuesday there was a peach blossom in the trap, which is definitely a favourite with its pretty pinkish spots on a brown backgound. There was another in the trap yesterday which looked fresher:

Other highlights included a cinnabar, buff tip, burnished brass and today an elephant hawk-moth.

Yesterday I walked a bit further up to Lapwing Hide to see what was about and saw mandarin duck and a pair of kingfisher on the Clearwater Pond. Closer to Lapwing Hide there was a little grebe feeding young on Ibsley Silt Pond. From the hide I was surprised by how many birds were on Ibsley Water, as it has been fairly quiet recently. Whilst watching the swallows, sand martins and house martins swooping over the lake I realised there were more swans on the water than I had seen before and in counting them reached a grand total of 99. There could have easily been over 100 as I couldn’t see into the bay by Goosander Hide or the other side of the spit island.

There were also at least 86 greylag geese and 40 Canada geese. They must have been disturbed off the river and decided Ibsley Water was a safer spot.

On walking round to Tern Hide I saw at least four meadow brown, the most butterflies I think I have seen at any one time this year so far. This one settled long enough for a photo:

meadow brown

Meadow brown

From Tern Hide I saw a distant little ringed plover, off to the right of the hide on the shingle and my first sighting of one this year. The biting stonecrop around the edges of the car park is flowering: it is also known as goldmoss because of its dense low growing nature and yellow star shaped flowers. The common centaury which can be seen in places off the edges of the footpaths and also on the lichen heath is beginning to flower. As with other members of the gentian family, its pink flowers close during the afternoon.

The planters outside the centre are still providing good views of insect life, despite the drop in temperature and absence some days of sun. I managed to get a photo of one of the dark bush crickets that have been hiding in amongst the Lamb’s ear and also spotted a ladybird larva which after a bit of research I think might be of the cream spot ladybird.

Today I popped briefly to the meadow which apart from the large numbers of damselfly was quite quiet. I saw one solitary bee enjoying the ox-eye daisies and also spied a female bee-wolf in her sandy burrow. I watched her for some time.

The damselflies have still been active on the wing despite the lack of sunshine and I managed to photograph an azure blue damselfly to the side of the path and a pair of I think common blues mating in the mini meadow by the welcome hut.

Today’s highlight though has to be bumping into a visitor, Dave Shute, who had come to Blashford in the hope of some bright weather and seeing a clearwing moth. He just about got away with it!

Clearwings are a group of day-flying moths that look a bit like wasps but are usually very rarely seen. As their name suggests, they differ from other moths in that their wings frequently lack scales and are instead transparent. As a result of them being hard to track down, pheromone lures have been developed to make finding them that little bit easier, and these are artificial chemicals that mimic those released by female moths to attract the males. Bob has put out lures here in the past, usually attracting red-tipped clearwing whose caterpillars favour willow, and last summer also found an orange-tailed clearwing which was attracted to a lure designed for both these and the yellow-legged clearwing.

I was lucky enough to see the orange-tailed clearwing last summer but don’t think I have seen a red-tipped clearwing before, and this was the lure Dave had bought. He had seen one come to the lure but disappear before I saw him, but whilst we were chatting another came and this time rested on a nearby bramble allowing us to photograph it, I think the sun disappearing at that moment helped!

red tipped clearwing

Red-tipped clearwing

The lures do not harm the moths, but they should only be used for a short period of time and it is best not to use individual species lures regularly at one site in one season so as not to disturb the insects too much.

It was great to see and a surprise for an otherwise rather grey and wet day, so thank you Dave!

30 Days Wild – Day 29

A day off in the heat, I spent much of it in the garden, although staying largely to the shadier areas. I was going to have a look for insects, in the hope of adding new species to my garden list, but my willingness to stay out in the full sun for very long thwarted this. I did manage to record one new species though. I used the pheromone lures for clearwing moths again and this time attracted several male red-tipped clearwing moths, these are quite frequent at Blashford, but I had not recorded them at home previously. I did try to get some pictures but in the heat they were so active that this proved impossible.

The mini-meadow is looking great now, the ox-eye daisy and corky-fruited water-dropwort are just starting to go to seed but the field scabious, knapweed, wild carrot and bird’s-foot trefoil are just coming to their best.

field scabious

field scabious

knapweed

knapweed

Both the scabious and knapweed are particularly good nectar sources, being very well visited by bees and butterflies.

corky-fruited water-dropwort

corky-fruited water-dropwort

The smaller individual flowers that make up flowerheads of wild carrot and corky-fruited water-dropwort are less attractive to larger insects but will still have lots of insects, in this case pollen beetles.

30 Days Wild – Day 23 – Unexpectedly Clear

They say “You should always expect the unexpected” and it seems I should. Today, at lunchtime I decided to deploy the pheromone lures for clearwing moths, these are artificial chemicals that mimic those released by female moths to attract the males. They have been synthesised for most of the clearwing moths, a strange group of day-flying moths that look like wasps and are usually very rarely seen. The use of pheromone lures has made finding them somewhat easier, but they are still not that readily seen.

At Blashford we could have several species of these moths, but I have only ever seen and attracted to a lure, the red-tipped clearwing. Today I tried four lures for a range of species including yellow-legged clearwing, whose larvae feed on oak, of which we have lots. I sat back an ate lunch whilst keeping an eye on the lures. I expected to see something at the red-tipped lure, but there was no luck. Then at the yellow-legged lure there was a moth, hovering continuously around the lure, I grabbed the camera and got the best flight shots I could at 1/1000th of a second.

orange-tailed clearwing 4x3 A

clearwing

However this was not the expected yellow-legged clearwing, but the other species that can come to the same lure, the orange-tipped clearwing, in Hampshire a moth of the chalk downs where the larvae feed on wayfaring-tree. Blashford is not on the downs and does not have wayfaring-tree, however we do have a few guelder-rose a less frequently used food-plant and I assume this must be what they are feeding on.

orange-tailed clearwing 4x3 B

orange-tailed clearwing

orange-tailed clearwing 4x3 C

orange-tailed clearwing coming to the lure

Unexpected Events

It has been a mixed few days, on Monday we briefly had only four of our six hides accessible, a fallen tree had blocked the route to Ivy North hide and Tern hide had been damaged. We are relatively lucky in that we have not had much vandalism at Blashford, but it does happen. In this case someone had been round onto the lakeshore in the evening and smashed three of the hide windows, luckily the breeding season has more or less finished so the damage was only to property. I know some of our visitors do walk the reserve in the evening and should anyone ever see anything suspicious please do let us know.

Surprises can be welcome as well though and there have been a couple of nice ones in the moth trap. It is not always moths that get caught, we get lots of caddisflies, but not many damselflies and when we do they are usually freshly emerged like this one.

common blue

freshly emerged common blue damselfly

The moth number shave been quiet good this year and have included a couple of new species for the reserve, yesterday there was a gothic, not a rare species, but one I have not seen before at Blashford.

gothic

Gothic

The generally warm weather has been good for insects as a while this summer and butterfly numbers at every good at the moment, with peacock and red admiral around in good numbers alongside the many browns.

red admiral

red admiral

The next generation of small copper and common blue are also out now.

common blue female

common blue, female

Earlier in the season I tried using some pheromone lures for clearwing moths, with some success. As a rule these moths don’t get seen without using these lures, but sometimes you can get lucky and after the Tuesday volunteer task we spotted a red-tipped clearwing nectaring at marjoram flower near the Education Centre.

red-tipped clearwing on marjoram

red-tipped clearwing

There have not been many birds of note recently, although there has been a great white egret seen a few times. As yet we do not know for sure if it is ringed, so it may, or may not be Walter, if it is he would now be over 14 years old!

30 Days Wild – Day 7: Top Tips

Up and out early, relatively early anyway, to do a bird survey at our Linwood reserve this morning. Many species now have fledged young so the trees were full of birds, the highlight was probably a redstart at a probable nest site on the reserve edge.

Then on to Blashford where I was pleased to see the three small lapwing chicks and at least one of the larger ones still surviving along with both oystercatcher youngsters, all from Tern hide. I had to remove a fallen branch from the roof of Ivy North hide, luckily it had not damaged the roof itself, I hope the winds have now abated and we won’t have any more down for a while.

I then went to do some nettle control on the shore of Ibsley Water, we are making great progress removing the large nettle beds and establishing a grassland sward with a good scatter of ox-eye daisy and other flowers. I did have to check first so as to avoid the patches with peacock and small tortoiseshell larvae. The western shore is usually well sheltered from the prevailing winds and so it was today. I saw a fair few meadow brown butterflies and a lot of damselflies and dragonflies including banded demoiselle and three species of chasers, four-spotted, broad-bodied and scarce, all making the most of the windbreak provided by the roadside trees. Scarce chaser used to be very rare but seems to have benefited from climate change and is now more widely seen, it has also   moved from breeding only in rivers and now uses lakes and gravel pits as well.

scarce chaser

scarce chaser

Both the females and recently emerged males look like the one above, but the males develop blue abdomens with age.

At lunchtime I tried out a lure for clearwing moths outside the Centre whilst I ate my lunch. These moths are rarely seen as they do not come to light and are very fast flying. The lures are artificial chemicals that mimic the pheromones produced by female moths. Each species has a unique chemical signal and I tried the one for red-tipped clearwing today and had immediate success!

red-tipped clearwing coming to lure

red-tipped clearwing attracted to a pheromone lure

In a short time I saw perhaps six individuals, with up to three at one time. The lure only attracted them for a few tens of seconds before they seemed to become aware they had been duped. They are very fast and even at a high shutter speed I could still not stop the wing beats. As you can see they do not really look like moths and it would be easy to pass it off as a wasp. Eventually one did land on a nearby bramble allowing me to get a somewhat better picture.

red-tipped clearwing

red-tipped clearwing

Red-tipped clearwing caterpillars feed on willows feeding on stems rather than leaves, most clearwings caterpillars feed by tunnelling into wood and roots, making them even harder to find that the adults. A great bit of “Wild” to go with my lunch!

 

Lots of Insects, Thankfully

A very hectic day started with the usual opening up and set up for the invertebrate course, all of which had to be done quickly as I was then off to the southern end of Ivy lake to meet a group from Ringwood School to do some birdwatching after their early morning Himalayan balsam pull. Being at the southern end of the lake gives a slightly better view of the common tern rafts and I am pretty sure there are twenty-one pairs there now, with at least nine pairs on the eastern raft.

common terns on raft

The reeds we planted along the southern shore of the lake a few years ago have done well and are now providing habitat for several pairs of reed warbler and reed bunting.

reed bunting male

I could not stay long with the school group though as the course started at 10 o’clock. I had intended to do an indoor introduction, but the weather was so good and a warm sunny day has been such a rarity this year that we just went out and looked for invertebrates. We were rewarded with what, for this year, was a really good day, lots of things seem to have been waiting for the sun to come out as much as we were. I saw more species of dragonflies than I have managed all year, five species in all: four-spotted chaser, scarce chaser, emperor, southern hawker and downy emerald. I also saw my first meadow brown butterflies of the year, I sometimes see them in May! We found adult mottled grasshoppers, although the field and meadow grasshoppers were all just large nymphs. Near the Centre someone spotted a four-banded longhorn beetle, then another one and another, they are not rare but I don’t remember seeing several in a small area before.

four-banded longhorn beetle

We were using several different techniques for finding invertebrates, we looked at moth trapping, sweep-netting, and just simply looking, but one of the more unusual was using pheromone lures. We put out several designed to attract clearwing moths, the lure is an artificial chemical synthesised to be similar to the natural attractant produced by the female moth. At first we did not have great success but then, moving to a new area attracted a magnificent male red-tipped clearing. All in all a good day and I was so pleased that the weather was with us as looking for insects int herain is both difficult and not my idea of fun at all.