All the small things

I spent some time in the meadow last Thursday and again yesterday, it feels as though it is going over more quickly than usual this year because it has been so dry so it was nice to take a closer look and see which insects are on the wing.

Last week I found a male and female bee-wolf, a solitary wasp that digs a nest in a sandy spot and hunts honey bees. The males gather together to form a lek, where each male defends a small territory and uses pheromones to attract a female. The females work a lot harder, digging a nesting burrow which can be up to one metre long and may have as many as 34 side burrows that end in brood chambers. Once excavation on the burrow has begun, the female will prey on honeybee workers, paralysing them with a sting and bringing them back to the burrow. Up to six paralysed bees can be placed into one chamber then a single egg is laid on one of the bees and chamber is sealed up with sand. After hatching, the larvae feed on the honeybees before spinning a cocoon to hibernate in throughout the winter, emerging in the spring.

I also found a number of different solitary bees enjoying the ox-eye daisies. I’ve been trying to learn a few more bees this year, but the solitary ones are quite hard. They were fun to photograph though!

I also spotted a ladybird larva, a female thick-legged flower beetle (the males have the thick back legs) and a pair of fairy-ring longhorn beetles.

The highlight yesterday was this small skipper, the only butterfly I saw in the meadow when I visited:

When I was there yesterday I had two great views of a fox cub, both sightings took me by surprise so there is no photo, but it first walked up the slope outside the meadow then a bit later came through the ox-eye daisies in the middle before disappearing through the fence. I’m assuming it was the same cub, but I suppose it could have been two different ones.

In the woodland there are lots of scorpion flies on the nettles and I also spotted a speckled bush cricket nymph. The dock are being devoured by the larvae of the green dock beetle, who have completely stripped the leaves from many. If you look closely you can see the larvae along with the occasional shiny green beetle.

I also had my first sightings of grass snake yesterday, although my first was actually this dead one on the path near the meadow, I’m assuming it was predated by a bird:

dead grass snake

Dead grass snake

Having a dead grass snake as my first for this year, I decided to go down towards Ivy South hide and see if I could spot a live one in the dead hedge and was rewarded with two:

There were two there again this morning.

Going back to the reserve’s insect life, the planters outside the front of the centre are still continuing to attract large numbers of bees, hoverflies, horseflies, shield bugs and damselflies and this morning I had glimpses of a dark bush cricket and a ruby tailed wasp. Sadly no photos of either, I will have to keep looking every time I walk past…

The moth trap numbers have decreased again with the drop in temperature, but last week there was a very smart eyed hawk-moth in the trap and yesterday there was a spectacle moth:

You can guess how the spectacle moth gets his name…

Yesterday I noticed a jay spending quite a bit of time on the ground outside the back of the Centre and I watched it for some time sunning itself, stretching its wings, shaking and preening. It could have been dust bathing, but the picnic bench was in the way to see properly. After a while I managed to get a few photos:

It was joined by a great spotted woodpecker, who spent some time hopping around on the ground, possibly looking for ants, before flying up to a tree.

The woodpecker was sat calling from the bench a short while ago, so it must be a favoured spot.

Beetles and Bugs

It is ages since I spent a Sunday at Blashford, but this weekend I got to fill in for the regulars as they were all occupied elsewhere. The day was a fair bit better than forecast and in the morning we enjoyed some warm sunshine which brought out a range of insects.

I have only seen a couple of dragonflies so far this year but I have seen thousands of damselflies. Two of the commonest are the very similar common blue damselfly and the azure damselfly. I managed to get a picture of a common blue today, although I could not get close enough to an azure.

common blue damselfly

common blue damselfly

The only other damselfly I got a picture of was a blue-tailed damselfly, one of the few species that can withstand slightly polluted or brackish water and so one of the most widespread species.

blue-tailed damselfly

blue-tailed damselfly

There is a very similar species that I would very much like to find at Blashford, the scarce blue-tailed damselfly, it is found in the New Forest and does wander so there is a chance it will turn up one day.

It was quite a days for beetles and I came across several including this brilliant red-headed cardinal beetle.

red-headed cardinal beetle

red-headed cardinal beetle

Whilst at lunchtime I spotted several figwort weevils including this pair.

figwort weevil pair

figwort weevil pair

Various other insects were out and about too including hoverflies like this Helophilus pendulus.

Helophilus pendulus

Helophilus pendulus

I also saw a lot of scorpion-flies today, these are not actually flies in the true sense. There are three very similar species and I don’t know which one the picture shows as I seem to remember that only the males are at all easy to identify and this one is a female.

scorpion-fly

scorpion-fly

Of course when there are lots of insects flying about there will be spiders catching them, one of the most distinctive and common is the very slender Tetragnatha extensa.

Tetragnatha extensa

Tetragnatha extensa

I spent the greater part of the day in the office, but when I did venture out it seemed that the day was quiet, at least for birds. Highlights were the drake pochard still on Ibsley Water, the lapwing chicks still surviving near the Tern hide and the oystercatcher pair having settled down on the small island close to the same hide.

Sparrows!

There is not much bird news as such at this time of year, migration is as near to being over as it ever is, there is always something on the move, the last of the high Arctic waders are still going north and the first returnees will only be days away. Of course I am wrong to say there is no news, the nesting season progresses, this morning I saw that the oystercatchers on the west shore of Ibsley water still have one chick growing well. Meanwhile on Ivy Lake the common terns are all sitting tight on there clutches, hopefully they will have another successful year. In fact when I opened the Ivy South hide I did make a very notable bird observation, there were 2 house sparrows on the trees in the water below the hide. Both were females and they were collecting newly emerged damselflies, they do this to feed their nestlings, but must have come some distance. These were only the second house sparrows I have seen on the reserve proper, they do breed around the boundary but records from the central area are very rare indeed.

house sparrow female

Not a great picture I know but I thought worth it for such a notable record.

The moth trap was busy again after another warm night, a good range of species but nothing rare. One of the commonest species at present is the treble lines, most of them look very similar to one another, but just one or two each year look so different that you would almost think they were another species. The picture shows a typical one on the right and the unusual dark form on the left.

treble lines, typical form on right, dark form on left.

The day started very cloudy but slowly brightened and was another good insect day in the end. As the sun came out I realised a lot of insects were basking on the nettles and brambles near the Centre, one of the most frequent was scorpion flies and they all seemed to be males. These are not flies or scorpions, they have four wings and get their name from the curved tip to the abdomen, it is not a sting however but the male’s sexual apparatus. There are three species in Britain and although the wing pattern looks distinctive to be certain of the species the genitalia need to be examined. This is probably Panorpa communis, the commonest species generally.

male scorpion fly, probably Panorpa communis

As the day warmed I was putting the moth trap in the shade when Jim came out of the Centre tp say a large grass snake had just swam past the pondcam, we looked on the log beside the pond and sure enough there wa sa large female grass snake. It quickly became apparent that it was not the one of the camera though, it was still in the pond and then started to skirt the edge in hunting mode.

grass snake hunting around the pond edge

It was Volunteer Thursday once again and fourteen people turned out despite having to walk over from the main car park due to the repairs to the entrance track. We did several tasks, path trimming, always vital at this time of the year, weeding brambles from the education meadows and laying a new cable from the Education Centre. During the afternoon the track repair really got going and by the end of the day most of the worst pot-holes were filled.

I am next in on Sunday when, if the forecast is to be believed it will be cold and wet, catching up on office work may become an attractive option.