Reserve Visiting

I have just returned from a holiday up north where I visited a few reserves myself, but the title here refers to a visitor we had at Blashford today, an avocet. Not perhaps quite the rarity they once were, but still very unusual, unfortunately I missed it. It flew in in the early afternoon and gave good views for  a short time from the Tern hide, I am told there are pictures too, so perhaps some will make it here. I then discovered that there had been an avocet at the Trust’s new Fishlake Meadows reserve in Romsey at about 11:30 and that it had flown off heading west, it seems highly probable that these two sightings relate to the same bird travelling between the two reserves.

The one problem with going away is the number of things that have to be caught up on when you get back and the dread emails kept me in the office for a fair bit of the day, which is not to say that I did not get out on the reserve as well. The sun had brought out a few butterflies, but numbers are on the decline now. I did find a very smart comma near the Goosander hide.

comma

comma

Not far away I also came across a female Roesel’s bush-cricket sitting on one of our benches.

Roesel's bush cricket female

Roesel’s bush-cricket

Looking from Tern hide I saw Walter the great white egret now looking very relaxed with a large group of grey heron. The herons seem not to take so much notice of him these days, at one time they would constantly be chasing him around, perhaps they have just got used to him. It is a curious thing that when little egret were first turning up they were often mobbed by gulls but now they are just ignored. Perhaps there is something about the unusual that elicits these responses and once something is regular they just become part of the scenery.

Locking up I was pleased to see that at least one of our wasp spiders is still going, I am not sure if something has predated the others or if they have laid their eggs. This one looks a though it will not be long before she lays her eggs and disappears.

wasp spider female

wasp spider, female

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Emperors

Another very hot day and a good one for insects, hot conditions allow them to be especially active as they do not need to spend time sitting in the sun to warm up as they would on a more normal English summer’s day. I saw my first Blashford silver-washed fritillary of the year, they are regular in small numbers, but never common on the reserve.

silver-washed fritillary

silver-washed fritillary

Later I came across a pair of brown argus, these are the start of the second generation for this species this year.

brown argus pair

brown argus pair

Brown argus are one of the “Blues” but one that forgot this and so is not blue. The same area of grass was also hiding several stridulating Roesel’s bush-cricket, I am quite pleased that I can still hear these as they are quiet high frequency and so one of the species that slip away as we get older. If you do get to see one the pale line around the lower edge of the pronotum is an identifying character.

Roesel's bush-cricket

Roesel’s bush-cricket

However the highlight of the day was none of these fine insects. After lunch I went over to Ellingham Pound to check how the common tern chicks were doing, the answer was just fine and it looks as though all seven will be flown off very soon. It is a good place to see dragon and damselflies and one of the only regular places on the reserve for small red-eyed damselfly and a quick check found one floating on some algae. I then started to look at the dragonflies in the hope of finding a lesser emperor, as there have been quite  few in the country recently and one was reported from Ibsey Water a couple of days ago. After seeing a couple of emperor dragonfly, a distinctive male lesser emperor shot past, after many attempts I got a couple of shots, not great, but I only had a 60mm lens with me!

lesser emperor male

lesser emperor male

The mainly dark abdomen with pale blue “saddle” is what identifies it. As I waited for it to skim past again I inevitably snapped other dragonflies too, when I looked at these pictures later I think one of them shows a female lesser emperor.

lesser emperor female

female

The lesser emperor is a migrant from the south, it used to be regarded as very rare but is getting more common, especially in warm summers and certainly tries to breed here now. It seems it is another species that is trying to colonise thanks to warming temperatures. The Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) seem to be especially responsive to these changes with many species spreading across Europe dramatically in the last couple of decades.

Elsewhere on the reserve there were at least three common sandpiper on Ibsley Water where there was also a juvenile little egret and, at the end of the day, 3 adult yellow-legged gull. I also found that the pair of Mediterranean gull on Long Spit had managed to fledge a single chick, or at least I could only find one. Although they have nested with us before I cannot be completely certain they have raised a chick to flying on Ibsley Water previously.

Hopefully it will cool down a bit next week and I can get some of the paths trimmed, they certainly need it! I had intended to try today but it was just too hot.

On the Hop

On Tuesday we were working on the western shore of Ibsley Water again with the volunteers. Over the years we have been controlling ragwort and nettle that used to be the dominant here to convert it to grassland, at last we are seeing some real results. Much of it is now mainly grass with a good range of herb species, especially bird’s-foot trefoil. We are also seeing a lot more butterflies and other insects, marbled white are especially frequent in the grass there now.

As we worked I heard a lot of Roesel’s bush-cricket and saw field grasshopper and meadow grasshopper. The grassy sward is not ideal for all species though, the mottled grasshopper likes grassland with lots of bare ground and very dry conditions, at Blashford they are mostly found on the lichen heath.

mottled grasshopper male 2

mottled grasshopper (male)

One distinctive thing about the males of this species is that the ends of the antennae are bent out and swollen, they are also our smallest grasshopper. The males were chirruping, or more correctly stridulating, the object of this is to attract a female and I found one that was evidently playing the right song.

grasshopper pair

mottled grasshopper pair

The females are quite a bit larger and have more conventional grasshopper antennae.

The Archers

The moth trapping has picked up a bit now and there have ben on or two new species in the trap, yesterday we caught two very fresh Archer’s dart, not a species I see very often at all.

archer's dart

Archer’s dart

Going away for a couple of weeks makes the changes on the reserve really noticeable, the lake levels have dropped a bit, all the nesting terns have left and there are lots of adult crickets and grasshoppers calling away. As the years advance I am pleased I can still (just) hear  Roesel’s bush cricket and long-winged conehead.

long-winged conehead

long-winged conehead female

After a day bramble cutting it was pleasant to walk round the hides at locking up time. Highlights were 43 gadwall on Ivy Lake and a sun bathing Neoitamus cyanurus,  a species of robberfly, on the wooden screen at the Woodland hide.

Neoitamus cyanurus male

Neoitamus cyanurus (male)

This is quite a common species in woodland and is identified by its bright orange legs.

 

A Leech You Would Not Want to Meet

A much better day at Blashford today, with no more than the lightest of rain for a few minutes and a fair bit of warm sunshine. I made the most of the conditions and got outside for part of the day. As ever being out does rather increase the chances of seeing interesting things and when I was over at the Tern hide I saw a very smart adult female honey buzzard, it was flying steadily westwards over the lake being chased by 2 common tern. I was looking at the potential route of the new path that will connect the main car park with the Goosander and Lapwing hides, a development that we hope to put in place in time for the coming winter.

I went round the path as far as the Lapwing hide to check for any trees or branches down as I never made it there yesterday. There were none but close to the Lapwing hide the show of hemp agrimony and fleabane is superb and attracting lots of insects.

fleabane and hemp agrimony

fleabane and hemp agrimony

There were several species of butterflies, including very fresh speckled wood.

speckled wood

speckled wood

And green-veined and small white.

small white

small white

Walking back I could hear several Roesel’s bush-cricket, although I find they are no where near so loud as once they were, a sign of advancing age I’m sorry to say, but at least I can still hear  them. I eventually found one rather worn male of the long-winged form.

Roesel's bush-cricket

Roesel’s bush-cricket

I took a look at some of the temporary ponds we made a few years ago and was delighted to see that where they were once infested with the invasive plant Crassula helmsii  this has now all but disappeared. I also found a lesser marsh grasshopper on the bare ground in one of the pools.

lesser marsh grasshopper

lesser marsh grasshopper

I then returned to my office work, but the interesting wildlife did not end there. Blashford was hosting a “Wild Day Out” today and this included pond-dipping during which one of the children caught  a largish leech.

leech

leech

Looking closely we could see that it seemed to have a “hairy” underside.

leech with "hairy" tummy!

leech with “hairy” tummy!

In fact these were tiny little leeches, the offspring of this adult leech. Now I confess that leech identification is well outside my usual area but I think it might be Protoclepsis tesselata which is a leech that lives in the nasal passages of wildfowl, surely an unpleasant lifestyle even for a leech!