It’s the little things…

Whilst Bob has been doing a brilliant job of blogging his 30 Days Wild antics, this week is also National Insect Week. Organised by the Royal Entomological Society, it encourages everyone to appreciate and learn more about the ‘little things that run the world’.

Insects are by far the most diverse and ecologically important group of animals on land and there are over 24,000 known species in the United Kingdom alone, with hundreds of species to be found in almost every garden and green space. With so many to study they are grouped into orders, for example the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), Hymenoptera (bees, ants and wasps), Orthoptera (grasshoppers and crickets) and Coleoptera (beetles) to name a few.

Insects have a huge role to play and without them our lives would be very different: they pollinate fruit, flowers and vegetables; they are food for amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals; and they feed on lots of living and dead things themselves, breaking down waste and helping to keep the balance of nature. You can find out more about National Insect Week on their website.

So here’s a very mini Blashford insect safari, using photos I’ve taken over the past few days, covering a very meagre 23 species and spanning five orders – I have quite a few more to track down!

The moth trap has revealed some spectacular moths over the past few days, including some very smart Privet and Elephant hawk-moths:

There was also another Scarce merveille du jour, with its lichen coloured forewings which provide it with brilliant camouflage:

Other species included a swallow-tailed moth, peppered moth, pebble prominent, lobster moth, large emerald, iron prominent, buff tip and barred straw:

The raised planters outside the front of the Centre are still a good place to look for insects, with plenty of bees, ladybirds, and butterflies making the most of the flowers:

There has also been a red admiral regularly resting on the fence posts and gravel outside the front of the Centre…

red admiral

Red admiral

…and I also found this Figwort sawfly on the mullein by the corner of the building:

sawfly

Figwort sawfly, Tenthredo scrophulariae

I’m not sure I’ve seen the sawfly before, or if I have I don’t think I’ve had the time to photograph and identify it, so it was nice to find a different species. Its striking yellow and black bands mimic a wasp and whilst the adults will sometimes nectar on flowers as this one was doing, they will often eat other insects. The larvae feed on either mullein or figwort.

Where we have not been using the grassy area by the side of the Centre for school lunches and Wild Days Out free play, the grass has been able to grow nice and tall and a few other plants have sprung up, particularly around the tunnel. One plant in particular seemed popular with the bees and volunteer Phil tested out his plant finder app on it for me on Tuesday as I had been trying to identify it without much success. It reminded me a bit of dead nettle.

Known as Black horehound (Ballota nigra), it grows along hedgerows, road side verges and on waste ground and belongs to the mint and dead nettle family, Lamiaceae. When the leaves are crushed it gives off a pungent rotten smell to deter herbivores (perhaps we need to relocate some into the planter by the Centre which has been targeted by the deer) which has given it the local name of ‘stinking Roger’ in some places. It also has a long tradition in herbal medicine and has been used to treat a range of issues from respiratory problems to travel sickness and depression to gout.

carder bee on black horehound

Carder bee on black horehound

There have been a number of emperor dragonflies hawking over the Centre and ponds and yesterday I spent some time sat by the pond watching a male fly overhead, occasionally dive bombing me. Every so often he would return to one particular iris to perch, either on or above the exuvia that was still clinging on, so I guess this could have been where he emerged:

emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly

This damselfly was not quite as fortunate as I found it in the firm grasp of a zebra spider who was doing an excellent job of carrying it around the post to devour in peace:

zebra spider and damselfly

Zebra spider, Salticus scenicus, and damselfly

In venturing further from the Centre to check the reserve, I had a brief glimpse of a fritillary along the Dockens path and managed a quick photo. I think it’s a Silver-washed fritillary:

fritillary

Silver-washed fritillary

In studying all the mullein I came across in the hope of stumbling across a mullein moth caterpillar, I had to settle for this grasshopper instead, although it did pose very obligingly for a photo:

grasshopper

Grasshopper

Now is definitely a good time to find and watch insects, and you don’t need to venture far to track them down as even the smallest garden or green space can provide a home for this incredibly diverse group of animals. So if you get the chance head outside and see what you can find!

Moving away from the insects, I ventured into our woodland log circle area on Sunday and it has certainly enjoyed the lack of bug hunting children, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so green and grassy. On a number of logs I found the fruiting bodies of the slime mould Lycogala epidendrum, also known as wolf’s milk or groening’s slime. If the outer wall of the fruiting body is broken before maturity they excrete a pink paste.

slime mould

Slime mold, Lycogala epidendrum or wolf’s milk

Finally, although they have been disappearing very quickly with the warmer weather, the grass snakes by Ivy Silt Pond have been very obliging, with two often on the stretch of hedge immediately behind the temporary sign:

grass snakes 2

Grass snakes on the dead hedge by Ivy Silt Pond

Feather finds

Today’s wild highlight was finding and appreciating this beautiful jay feather, which I spotted on the gravel outside the back of the Education Centre this morning, close to the moth trap:

jay feather

Beautiful blue Jay feather

The moth trap was fuller today than it has been for some time, with a greater variety of species. The highlights (or the one’s that didn’t fly off instantly, it’s so warm first thing) were:

I also thought I’d share two that were in the trap last Thursday morning, as I didn’t get round to sharing them then and they are both too smart not to:

After looking at the moths I decided to clear in front of the bug hotel, before it got even hotter. Our Young Naturalists group made it last summer, using old pallets that had been left over from the improvement works here last Spring and anything else we could find. It sits behind the new pond, but was no longer visible from the decking.

bug hotel before

Spot the bug hotel

I only pulled up the garlic mustard, also known as ‘Jack-by-the-hedge’, which has gone over now and is present all round the back of the pond, and some stinging nettles that were right in front of the hotel, opening it up again to receive more sunlight. We couldn’t have cleared it much sooner as Bob had noticed the female mallard on the pond and was certain she was nesting directly behind the hotel, so we would have disturbed her.

bug hotel after

After!

I will have to keep an eye on the blocks of wood to see if any bees move in…

Whilst out by the pond I spotted lots of damselfly exuvia on the vegetation growing out of the water, which is not surprising given the amount of damselflies that are on the wing at present. These dried outer cases are left behind when damselflies (and dragonflies) finish the aquatic stage of their lifecycle and emerge as an adult.

damselfly exuvia

Damselfly exuvia

I also went over to the main car park in search of a couple of different orchids Bob had mentioned were flowering. There are two pyramidal orchids close to the footpath into the car park and a bee orchid to the left of the path that leads up to the viewing platform. I could only spot one bee orchid, and was there some time looking for it! If you venture up there, tread carefully…

bee orchid

Bee orchid

This afternoon I walked round the ‘Wild Walk’ sculpture trail route to see which flowers are now out and what I could ‘label’ with our temporary signs over the coming weeks. I took one with me to mark the best spot for looking for grass snakes, and whilst there met a family who had seen one a short while earlier. I am still waiting for my first grass snake spot of the year!

On my way back I spotted a white-tailed bumblebee enjoying the bramble flowers. The honeybees are also back in the cavity of the turkey oak which is at the top of the Dockens Water path, before you turn right to head towards the river dipping bridge. I watched them flying in and out, but they were too speedy for a photo!

white tailed bumble bee

White-tailed bumblebee, Bombus lucorum

30 days Wild – Day 10 –

I had the best moth catches of the year so far both at home, where the pick was a privet hawk-moth and at Blashford where honours were shared between a small elephant hawk-moth and a scarce merveille du jour.

scarce merveille du jour

scarce merveille du jour

The day was warm, although not always sunny, but it was warm enough for damselflies and dragonflies to be flying. The small blue damselflies so far have mostly been azure, but the numbers of common blue seem to be increasing and both can get very abundant at Blashford in good years.

common blue damselfly

common blue damselfly (male)

I had some mowing to do in the morning in an area where we are trying to establish a grassland and prevent the encroachment of bramble, we are getting there, but it takes time. Cutting at this time or year hits the bramble hard and although it does have an impact upon annual species perennials survive perfectly well and will benefit in the long run. I only cut a small part of the area at any one time, which also helps to minimise the impact. In one of the better areas which I was not cutting I found a single bee orchid.

bee orchid

bee orchid

The management of open areas does not just involve cutting, we also graze some areas and on the lichen heath we have been experimenting with stripping off the top few centimetres of vegetation. This gets us back to the mineral, sandy gravel to see if we can combat the increase in nutrients which is slowly turning it into dry acid grassland. Looking at one of the plots today I think we may have had some success as it was well colonised by one of the areas rarer plant species , slender bird’s-foot-trefoil,  a species that does not seem to like competition.

slender bird's-foot-trefoil

slender bird’s-foot-trefoil

Once again today I saw a painted lady, this one flying vigorously northwards, so no picture, I did get one of the other migrant butterfly I saw, a red admiral. It was perched on nettle, the foodplant so this one might have had more of a mind to breed than migrate.

red admiral

red admiral on nettle

The nearest thing to bird highlight on the reserve today was a bar-headed goose, as their native range is other side of the Himalayas I think we can be sure it is an escapee or the descendant of escapees.

I got home, with time to take a quick look in the meadow…………

What’s in My Meadow Today?

I mentioned meadow buttercup yesterday and today I spotted a small yellow and black hoverfly on one of the flowers. It is a common and distinctive species and one that is probably found in gardens all over the country.

Sphaerophoria scripta

Sphaerophoria scripta  (male) on meadow buttercup

My other find was a couple of ants on a flower of common vetch, they seemed to be feeding, at the base of the flower, possibly they had made a hole to get at the nectar flow without entering the flower, as bumblebees will do to runner bean flowers, effectively taking the nectar without doing the job of pollination.

common vetch and ant

common vetch and ant

30 Days Wild – Day 8

In the morning I was leading a guided walk at Blashford, the bird highlight of which was probably  a red kite which flew over Ibsley Water. It was a very tatty bird and as I was commenting on this one of its secondary feathers fell out, active moult in action!

We also looked in the moth trap where the pick was a scarce merveille du jour, a moth of old oak woodland and very attractive.

scarce merveille du jour

scarce merveille du jour

In the afternoon I was out on the water off Lymington looking at potential projects that might help nesting terns on the coast. With rising sea levels their favoured low shingle banks are being swamped ever more frequently and they have to compete for space with the many gulls that have been pushed off the saltmarshes for the same reason. Unless there is room for more habitat creation inland of the seawalls it is hard to see how they are going to survive for much longer. There are one or two opportunities provided by projects such as the creation of breakwaters, but these do not really substitute for what is being lost.

At home in the evening I checked through my moth trap ran last night and was delighted to find not one, but two stag beetle, always a treat to see and a real June speciality.

stag beetle

male stag beetle

Towards dusk I went for a short walk on the heath, it was very quite, but I did see some very fine crow footprints, the detail is fantastic because they have been made in exceedingly fine dust and the lack of wind had meant they had stayed perfect.

crow footprint

carrion crow footprint

I wonder if I will catch up before day 30???

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!

 

 

 

 

Dark, Eyed, Scarce, Green & White plus a charge of the Light Brocade

As all the serious players on the Trust payroll were at a staff meeting today, it was left to your’s truly to manage the reserve today.  Not a problem, but it’s a bit unusual for me to be here midweek.

A quiet sort of day with enough heat to keep a few insects active including good numbers of damselflies, mostly large red damselfly and azure damselfly, but all were a little too skittish for me to photograph.

Our recent resurrection of the light trap is starting to pay dividends as there was a range of interesting species last night so I’ll share a few pictures with you.

First a couple of moths whose markings are an intricate pattern of browns and cream colours, perhaps, somewhat understated…

Dark Arches

Dark Arches

Light Brocade

Next a couple of brightly coloured moths – why are they so colourful, given their nocturnal habits?

White Ermine

White Ermine

Green Carpet

Green Carpet

And a most spectacular looking species, who only normally reveal the reason for their name when they flash their hind wings to discourage predators……

Eyed Hawkmoth

Eyed Hawkmoth

Last, but by no means least, this rare and beautiful moth. The first one I’ve ever seen ….

Scarce Merveille du Jour

Scarce Merveille du Jour