The Blues

The last few days have seen warm sunshine by day but chilly nights, meaning it has been poor for moths but good for day-flying insects. Today at Blashford Lakes I saw my first scarce chaser and downy emerald of the year and there were other dragonflies about too with reports of emperor, broad-bodied chaser and hairy dragonfly.

Most of the butterflies that over winter by hibernation as adults are getting scarce now and spring species such as orange-tip are dropping in numbers. there are a few whites around with all three of the common species, but the highlight today was the emergence of  blues. The small meadow near Ivy North hide had six or more male common blue as I went to lock up and at least three brown argus as well, the argus is brown, but an honorary “blue” all the same..

common blue male

common blue (male), freshly emerged.

The brown argus look very like small female common blue, and the male common blues will get up to chase one if it flies by, however they quickly realise their mistake and give up. The first emergences are all males and the females will follow in a day or so. The reason for this is the same as that for male migrant bird arriving just ahead of the females. Evolution will push the males to be in place and ready for the first females to arrive, it does not pay to be late, so the pressure for males to be early is greater than that on females, who can afford to wait until they know there will be males to mate with.

The spring solitary bees are starting to disappear now, many species collect pollen from just a few plants and as these cease to flower they need to wrap up their breeding cycle. I did come across one interesting species today though, it was one of the nomad bees and the smallest species of them to be found in Britain, Nomada sheppardana.

Nomada sheppardana

Nomada sheppardana on forget-me-not

Visiting flowers is something many insects have to do to feed, it may sound an unproblematic things to do, the flowers want to offer a nectar reward, or perhaps bribe might be a better description, to the insects that will pollinate them. However it is not as safe as it might sound, flowers can hide predators, especially the camouflaged crab spider which match their colour to the flowers they sit on.

crab spider with hoverfly

crab spider with hoverfly prey

The crab spider here matched the hawthorn flowers so well that I missed it and initially set up to take a picture of the hoverfly, only then did I see the spider!

It has not been a good year for ground-nesting birds so far this spring, with most lapwing and little ringed plover losing their eggs to predators. I suspect mammals at night as the ones nesting on the islands are doing much better. Or at least they were, on Thursday might all the black-headed gull on Long Spit abandoned their nests. Although I don’t know for sure I suspect that something swam out there and ate their eggs, probably a fox or a badger. These mammals are usually not that keen on swimming, but if they are hungry they will go to great lengths to get the food they want, I think small mammals, which are their preferred prey, are in short supply this year, which might be why they are seeking birds eggs more actively.

Despite a bad time for some ground-nesters the pair of oystercatcher are still doing well, with their two chicks growing well. They hatched on Long Spit, moved off to the shore near Tern hide and have now returned to Long Spit, this meant they were not out there on the night of the predator raid. So far the main gull colony on Gull Island shows no sign of being attacked and neither do the tern rafts on Ivy Lake.

 

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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!

 

30 Days Wild – Day 1: Weird Stuff

Here we are again, another June and another 30 Days Wild, I will try to keep up this year and post something every day.

I was at Blashford today with the volunteers tidying up on the southern shore of Ivy Lake, clearing away some old tern rafts and doing a little Himalayan balsam pulling, actually the volunteers did these things, I cut a few brambles and set up the telescope to count the nesting common tern. I am pretty sure we now have 25 pairs on the rafts with nests and eggs, possibly 26 pairs. So with five pairs on the Pound we have reached thirty pairs for the first time! This has been a really successful project and almost entirely the work of our great volunteer team. Over the last ten years the Blashford terns have consistently produced more flying chicks per pair than any other local colony, with many pairs achieving the magical 100% success rate, laying three eggs and fledging three chicks. Over the last year we have made a whole set of new rafts funded by a grant from Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS) to a design refined and honed by our volunteer team.

During the course of the work we came across two grass snake, a nest of bank vole and a number of dragonflies including an emperor, scarce chaser and broad-bodies chaser.

The weirdest thing I saw today though was an old favourite of mine, a slime mould, these are strange organisms that usually live as single cells but aggregate to form sporangia and it is this stage that we can see on old wet logs. The one I found today near the Woodland hide was a Stemonitis, possibly Stemonitis axifera. They take less than a day to aggregate, develop and produce spores and then disappear.

Stemonitis axifera

Slime mould, probably Stemonitis axifera on a damp log near the Woodland hide.

Regulars will be pleased to hear that the two lapwing chicks and the two oystercatcher chicks are still doing well outside Tern hide, with an additional and larger, oystercatcher chick in the distance on Gull Island as well.

You can see various 30 Days Wild stuff on Twitter via #30DaysWild and probably lots of other places too and it is still not too late to join the over 45,000 people who have signed up to do something wild on 30 Days. Our environment is vital to our wellbeing, physical and mental health and it is where we live, despite this it is not getting much attention

A summer wildlife walk

A very pleasant morning leading a guided walk today, with plenty of all round interest!

Things got off to a good start this morning when I opened up Tern Hide, with a female kestrel being mobbed by a couple of jackdaws. She has been around all of this week, mostly over the old ConBloc site and car park area, but for some reason she had really put the jackdaws noses (beaks!) out of joint today. While we were watching she gave up and settled on a post, with the two jackdaws standing guard either side of her, both swift to take off and harass her again if ever she tried to take off. Eventually they got bored and she settled to preening her somewhat ruffled feathers.

The light trap was very productive last night with 23 species recorded in total, including some of the more popular regulars including a poplar hawk moth, elephant hawk moth,  couple of buff tips and the high light, a Scarce Merveille du Jour:

 

Scarce Merveille du Jour

Scarce Merveille du Jour

Also pictured is this very aptly named figure of 80 moth:

Figure 80

Figure of 80 (or 08 viewed from this angle!)

Having looked through the light trap we walked on via the Ivy North/Woodland/Ivy South Hide/Dockens Water loop where highlights included a plethora of peacock butterfly caterpillars on the stinging nettles outside Ivy North Hide, meadow brown, common blue butterflies and a female scarce chaser dragonfly in the sweep netting meadow, female emperor dragonfly outside Woodland Hide, the regular grass snake in front of Ivy South Hide, along with a painted lady butterfly and newly hatched coot chick on the nest with mum, and a  male emperor dragonfly hawking along the edge of the water skiers car park.

Lots of peacock caterpillars!

Lots of peacock caterpillars!

Just after turning the cover towards the bridge back over the river a couple more jackdaws caught my eye. They were perched either side of a large rot hole, flying up and around it and at first I thought they were maybe coaxing outside fledglings until I realised that there were bee’s flying in and out. In fact the jackdaws were snatching these apparently tasty morsels out of the air as they entered and exited their nest in the tree. Smart birds jackdaws!

We finished off with green woodpecker and a lovely male bullfinch on the lichen heath before finishing at the centre pond for a brief glimpse of another emperor dragonfly and several egg laying azure damselflies to compliment the common blue damselflies that had of course accompanied us throughout our walk.

Shortly after one of our regular visitors and accomplished photographers spotted what might have been a young raft spider on the pond – a closer look later revealed an additional two. They are still very young and are lacking the striking yellow stripes along the abdomen, but with their greenish legs I’m reasonably confident that they are raft spiders so should provide plenty of interest over the summer if the last raft spider residents of that pond, three or four years ago, are anything to go by!

 

 

 

 

Meet young Toby… the badger!

Many visitors to the Woodland Hide this afternoon were in for a real treat. Having said goodbye to the school group and finished tidying up I was settling down to go through some of the day-to-day office tasks when a young family came into the lobby and Mum told her daughters to tell me what they had seen – a badger apparently. At first assuming this was a picture they had seen on a poster I queried whether they had seen a real one and they confirmed that they had. I obviously looked like I still didn’t believe them so Mum reassured me that they had and so I left them to it to confirm it with mine own eyes, and sure enough there she/he was!

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140606Blashford6 by J Day_resize

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140606Blashford7 by J Day_resize

Clearly one of this years cubs by its diminutive size, it spent at least a good hour grubbing around in the leaf litter right in front of the hide! Why Toby? Because I reckon that s/he is an impatient early riser, just like my eldest, who had given up on Mum and Dad or siblings ever waking up and decided to go exploring by itself rather than wait until dark like he should do!

Another surprise was in store for the Reception Class from Queens Park Infant School today – after lunch I showed them the compost bins that there fruit peelings and cores went in and opened up the bottom of the bin so they could see the “minibeast manure” that the worms, slugs, snails and woodlice would make by eating the waste and pooing it out. Normally they are very excited by the heaving mass of woodlice in the compost but today the excitement was heightened somewhat when a reasonably large grass snake leapt out of the bin (yes, I know grass snakes shouldn’t be able to leap, but I swear this one did, though not as much as some of the watching teachers and teaching assistants!) and slithered at quite a rate of knots into an adjacent nettle patch (fortunately. At one point it looked like it might head towards the children and I’m not sure it would have survived the stampede that may have resulted!).

At least 5 grass snakes are now regularly basking on the alder logs and stumps outside Ivy South Hide at the moment (even in the rain as reported earlier in the week). There were already 2 in place when I opened up before 9am this morning:

140606Blashford4 by J Day_resize

140606Blashford5 by J Day_resize

With more of the “Aaaah” factor than the “AAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHH” factor (!) are the lapwing chicks which continue to do well outside Ivy South Hide – managed to photograph this one this morning:

Lapwing chick today

Lapwing chick today

As summer approaches we can expect to see more and more dragonfly species on the wing – today I have seen my first Emperor and scarce chaser dragonflies of the year.

 

Damsels, Dragons, Millers, Footmen, Pebbles, Arches and an Elephant

It’s that time of year when, in the insect world, we would expect there to be an awful lot happening . So , as we have done for the last few years, we put on a dragonfly walk on the reserve. At the same time last year I actually ‘phoned around to the people who had booked, advising them that there was little to be seen.  If you remember last summer was a little short of sunshine and warmth.

This year’s walk  promised to be an entirely different affair. Indeed as we opened up the main car park near the Tern Hide there was a little blue gem of an insect by the gate.  It settled on a patch of gravel, darted of rapidly and returned to the same spot and repeated this activity several times, whilst I was trying to inset the key into the padlock. From its size, colour  and behaviour (settling on the ground) it was almost certainly a black-tailed skimmer, not a dragonfly I immediately associate with the reserve . Unfortunately with binoculars and camera in  our car boot and time pressure to open up the reserve and prepare for our visitors, I didn’t get a good view or a picture.  Things were, perhaps,  looking promising for the walk!

On the way round opening the other hides there were an enormous number of blue damselflies , mostly common blue damselfly. We extended our perambulations beyond  simply opening up the hides and were fortunate enough to see a couple of female broad-bodied chaser dragonflies.

We had a dozen participants for the walk.  The temperature was starting to rise so that we had,if anything, the reverse problem of last year.  so I planned a route that would start at the pond near the Education centre and then take us through some of the more shady parts of the reserve to the open, sunny glades where we had seen the damselflies and dragonflies earlier.

All worked fairly well and we had some views of common blue, large red, blue-tailed and emerald damselfly around the pond.   As we wandered further afield we were treated to little pockets of activity, where many common blue damselflies abounded, although we failed to find any azure damselfly which I had hoped would give us good comparison with the common blue. With the temperature climbing sightings of dragonflies were sparse and fleeting. A couple of Emperor dragonfly and distant brown hawker from the Ivy South Hide area and a brief view of  a broad-bodied chaser and another high-flying brown hawker, near the bridge over Dockens Water, were the best on offer.  Fortunately a quick stop at Ivy South Hide rewarded everyone with a clear view of a scarce chaser, perched on a branch over the water and periodically darting out and then back to its perch.

During the wind-up session, back at the pond,  a very obliging common darter (In best ‘Blue Peter’ tradition – ‘one I’d released earlier!!’) made a welcome appearance.

Sorry to say I don’t have any pictures to show you, most of them were moving too rapidly for me to get any decent shots, but I managed to capture an evocative image of some common blue damselflies.

Common blue damselflies

Common blue damselflies

But the heat that made the dragonflies so elusive was a positive help in encouraging  moths into activity and many were attracted to the light trap. With over 100 macro moths from 33 different species there were many attractive insects to catalogue.  In a strange echo of the somewhat mystic or medieval tag of ‘Damsels and Dragons’ which apply to the species mentioned above, many of the moth names have, for me, a resonance of earlier times.   Unlike the dragonflies these are most obliging and I love the myriad shapes and colours( I still don’t understand why are they so colourful when for the most part they are active at night???)  so I thought I’d share a few images with you:-

Miller

Miller

Rosy footman

Rosy footman

Pebble prominent

Pebble prominent

Buff-tip

Buff-tip

Buff Arches

Buff Arches

Elephant Hawkmoth

Elephant Hawkmoth

All the above were at Blashford, but if I may  I’d like to include one we caught at home Friday night – this wonderful Lime Hawkmoth ( a first for me!!)

Lime Hawkmoth

Lime Hawkmoth

As I said above, it’s a time for insects and other mini-beasts, not least of which at the moment are the huge numbers of harvestmen in, on and around all the hides. They are related to spiders, but with almost imposibly long legs.

Harvestman

Harvestman

But let’s not forget the animals that, perhaps, Blashford Lakes are most famous for, the birds.  In particular, the common tern where the tern rafts have, once again, proved very successful, despite earlier worries about the numbers of black-headed gulls that had also taken up residence. I’ll leave you with this image showing a couple of young birds with adults.

Common tern and young

Common tern and young

The drunken, merry god of the woodlands.

It now really seems as though summer has arrived.  The rise in temperature and bright sunlight are encouraging a bit more insect activity, although not yet as much as I would have hoped. On the butterfly front I’ve recently seen red admiral, meadow brown, speckled wood, small white and large white.

Three out of the first four visitors today were asking about dragonflies on the reserve. Good numbers of damselflies including azure damselfly, common blue damselfly, blue-tailed damselfly, red-eyed damselfly and large red damselfly are out at the moment.  Emperor dragonfly and scarce chaser have been seen and a female broad-bodied chaser was seen hanging up on vegetation around the small pond behind the education centre.

Female Broad-bodied Chaser

Female Broad-bodied Chaser

I always think of dragonflies as being superb aeronauts with almost magical powers of flight to hover, dart and even fly backwards or upside- down, so it was a bit of a shock to find a golden-ringed dragonfly floating in the water in a ditch, looking as though it had met its end. Rescuing it was relatively easy and it crawled off of my finger onto a tree stump,where it slowly dried out before flying off.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly  - drying out after being rescued from a puddle in a ditch

Golden-ringed Dragonfly – drying out after being rescued from a puddle in a ditch

The general consensus of opinion seems to be that the poor weather last year is responsible for the dearth of butterflies and moths, this year.  Whether (weather?) this is the case or not, there has been a decline in the numbers of moths coming to the light trap.  Last night there were some 24 individual moths representing 16 different species, not a large catch for what is probably the peak time for moths. Among the catch were a  privet hawkmoth and an eyed hawkmoth.

Privet Hawkmoth  - Sphinx ligustri

Privet Hawkmoth – Sphinx ligustri

Probably the most eye-catching of the rest was this buff ermine

Buff Ermine  Spilosoma luteum

Buff Ermine  – Spilosoma luteum

A constant fascination, to me, is the way that all animals and plants have an instinctive, in-built knowledge or awareness of the passage of time and the changing of the seasons. Only by this mechanism are they able to co-ordinate the synchronisation of, say, all plants of the same species  coming into flower together.   As I was wandering around earlier, opening up the hides, I chanced upon a fine display of flowers on several groups of sedges – I think!! ( Some of you will know that  my botanical knowledge is somewhat selective and when it comes to ‘grass-like’ stuff rather suspect!) Well whatever they are their flowers, although only yellow-green are really quite delightful in close-up.

sedge flower(?)

sedge flower(?)

Much of the vegetation on the reserve is of the green variety, so it’s always nice to see a splash of colour. Today one of the more obvious plants ‘on parade’ were the flowers of red campion, with their characteristic swellings behind the petals, they are almost unmistakable.  But, having been caught out recently on plant names, I thought I’d check. It’s only when you bother to look up some of these things that you find that even some of our common plants have interesting connections in folk-lore and fascinating biology. The scientific name for red campion is Silene dioica. Silene comes from Silenus, in Greek mythology,  who is the ‘drunken, merry god of woodlands’. The second part of the name dioica, refers to ‘two houses’  and refers to the fact that each plant has flowers of only one sex so that two plants are needed for pollination and seed production.

Red Campion - Silene dioica - the drunken, merry god of the woodands

Red Campion – Silene dioica – the drunken, merry god (goddess?) of the woodlands