From pond to meadow

At the beginning of June we re-started our Wildlife Tots sessions, discovering the weedy depths of the Blashford Pond. 

Our morning session started with a rescue, with Isabelle fishing this Emperor dragonfly out of the pond. It was quite happy to be handled, or relieved to be rescued, so we were all able to take a really good look.

I then relocated it to a safer spot, where it could finish drying off. It was still there when we met the afternoon group, so they were able to take a look at it too before it flew off. 

Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly

Newly emerged adult dragonflies are known as tenerals. They are weaker in flight and paler in colour. As the body and wings harden off they begin hunting for food, spending about a week feeding away from water and gradually acquiring their adult colouration. They are then ready to return to the pond to mate. 

It was a good day to look for dragonflies, we found lots of exuvia on the vegetation around the edge of the pond and found another newly emerged Emperor dragonfly along with a newly emerged Broad-bodied chaser.

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

Emperor dragonfly (4)

Emperor dragonfly

Broad bodied chaser

Broad-bodied chaser

From the pond itself we caught dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, newts and a caseless caddisfly nymph, amongst others: 

It was also nice to see the other insects enjoying the vegetation around the edge of the pond, like this honeybee, large red damselfly and figwort sawfly:

Honeybee

Honeybee

 

Large red damselfly

Large red damselfly

Figwort sawfly

Figwort sawfly

At the end of the day I was lucky enough to spot another dragonfly emerge, this time it was a Black-tailed skimmer:

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So it was a very good day for dragonflies!

At the beginning of July we headed to the meadow. On the edge of the lichen heath we spotted this small tortoiseshell butterfly:

Small tortoiseshell

Small tortoiseshell

As we went in to the meadow we disturbed this grass snake, and we watched it slither up the hill to the birch trees at the top.  

Grass snake

Grass snake

We then sat quietly and did a still hunt, looking closely at the miniature world of the meadow around us before using sweep nets to catch grasshoppers, spiders, beetles, true bugs and more.

Meadow sweeping

Meadow sweeping

We also saw a solitary bee, small skipper butterfly, ruby-tailed wasp and marmalade hoverfly:

Solitary bee

Solitary bee

Small skipper

Small skipper

Ruby-tailed wasp

Ruby-tailed wasp

Marmalade hoverfly

Marmalade hoverfly

My highlight from the meadow though was this solitary wasp, the Bee-wolf. The females prey on honeybees, paralysing them with a sting and carrying them back to their sandy burrow. Up to six paralysed honeybees are placed in each chamber within the burrow, then a single egg is laid and the chamber is sealed with sand. After hatching, the larva feed on the honeybees before spinning a cocoon to hibernate in through the winter and emerging the following spring.

Bee wolf

Bee-wolf

Bee wolf

Bee wolf

Our Wildlife Tots group offers fun outdoor play and wildlife discovery activities for pre-school aged children and their parents or carers once a month, usually (but not always!) on the first Monday. After a break in August, we will be meeting again in September, and details will be available on the events page of our website soon. 

Small copper

Small copper

Moving in

Clearing the vegetation growing in front of the bug hotel a number of weeks ago has opened it up to a lot more sunlight, and as a result I noticed this week that the leaf-cutter bees have been busy and used one of the blocks of wood:

Evidence of leaf cutter bees

Evidence of leaf-cutter bees

They will happily make their homes in solitary bee hotels positioned in a sunny spot, so our south facing bug hotel is ideal.

The females collect sections of leaf which they chew into a pulp and mix with saliva to create the walls of a cell for their offspring. Inside each cell she lays an egg and leaves it with a mixture of pollen and nectar on which to feed. The cells are then sealed up before she moves on to the next one, and finally she plugs the hole to the whole cavity with more leaf pulp. The young will develop over winter and emerge the following year.

I had a good look at the other blocks of wood the Young Naturalists had drilled holes in and added to the hotel and noticed another had four holes each with a solitary bee in it, the weather was not so nice so they were probably deciding whether or not to venture out. One did emerge from its hole, flew to a couple of bramble flowers then decided to fly back to the comfort of the wood.

As well as enjoying the comfort of the bug hotel the bees have been favouring the rather large thistle which has sprung up behind the Education Shelter.

Whilst by the bug hotel I spotted a couple of dark bush-crickets on the ground below:

Dark bush cricket

Dark bush-cricket

Bush-crickets have very long thread-like antennae, compared to grasshoppers which have much shorter antennae.

When the sunshine has been out female emperor dragonflies have been busy ovipositing or egg-laying in the newer of the two ponds by the Education Centre. They can lay hundreds of eggs over their adult lives, in batches over a few days or weeks. The eggs are elongated in shape and laid into plant material on or near the surface of the water using a scythe-like ovipositor.

Emperor dragonfly

Female Emperor dragonfly egg laying

Whilst having lunch earlier in the week I was joined by a red admiral, which seemed very happy to settle on the gravel and let me get very close for a photo:

Red admiral

Red admiral

I also managed to get my first ever photo of a ruby-tailed wasp… but they do not hang around for long so it is a bit of a distant photo!

Ruby tailed wasp

Ruby-tailed wasp

They are though very beautiful to look at, even if from a distance. Ruby-tailed wasps are also solitary, however instead of doing all the work themselves like the leaf-cutter bees mentioned above, the females lay their eggs in the nests of other solitary bees and wasps, favouring mason bees in particular. When the eggs hatch, they eat the larvae of the mason bees, giving the ruby-tailed wasp its other name of ‘Cuckoo Wasp’.

Parasitising other bees’ nests is risky, but the ruby-tailed wasp has a number of defences. It has a concave abdomen which allows it to curl up tightly into a ball and it has a hard body cuticle that protects it from the stings of the host species. They can sting themselves, but this sting is not venomous.

Recent highlights from the light trap have included this black arches and eyed hawk-moth:

The planters in front of the Centre are still attracting lots of bees including the green-eyed flower bees we have shared photos of in the past. Earlier in the week there was a tiny species of yellow-faced bee on the astrantia along with a sawfly of some description:

Yellow faced bee

Yellow-faced bee

Sawfly

Sawfly

The mini meadow by the Welcome Hut is still good for butterflies when the sun has been shining, with four skippers dancing round each other earlier in the week. There have also been ringlet in the area of long grass and bramble by the boat, along with comma and red admiral on the wing fairly regularly. The gatekeepers are also now flying, the adults emerge slightly later in the season and are also known as hedge browns.

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper