30 Days Wild – Day 11

I started the day going through my garden moth trap, the highlight was a pine hawk-moth, a species that was rare in England before the large scale planting of conifers in the years after WW1. I often catch them as I have a large conifer plantation under 200m from the house. Although I see them frequently they are often very worn, so this very fresh one was a treat.

pine hawk 4x3

pine hawk-moth

The only native pine in the UK is the Scots pine and that is a true native only in Scotland and the very north-east of England. It used to grow across most of the country, colonising after the last Ice Age, but as deciduous trees took hold it was out competed and became extinct. The pine hawk-moth occurs only in the southern half of the UK outside the range of native pines, so it is here only thanks to the planting of pines by people.

I also caught a couple of species for the first time this year, one was the uncertain, a splendid name for a moth and one that has recently become even more apposite. The uncertain looks similar to another moth, the rustic, but regular moth trapper would usually be happy to say they could tell them apart reliably. However recently it has been realised that some uncertains look just like some rustics and the features thought to differentiate them are not entirely reliable, so they are in fact “uncertain”, unless dissected and I don’t want to go there. Having said all that I still think this one is an uncertain rather than a rustic.

uncertain

I am pretty sure this is an uncertain!

The other new one was a common Pyralid moth, Endotricha flammealis, I say it is common, but actually this is only the case in the south of England, although it is spreading northwards, probably helped by climate change.

Endotricha flammealis

Endotricha flammealis

The rain seems to have encouraged a few more plants to flower, it has certainly greened things up a bit and will no doubt result in a growth spurt in vegetation everywhere. In my mini-meadow the perforate St John’s wort is just starting to flower.

perforate St John's wort

perforate St John’s wort

I also saw my first knapweed flower today, these are a great nectar source for loads of insects and along with the field scabious the most popular flowers in the meadow in mid-summer.

knapweed

knapweed

Although I refer to this part of the garden as a mini-meadow this is wrong as a meadow is an area where grass is cut and taken away as a crop, this means cut in June or early July, so some species that don’t usually set seed before that time do not typically occur in them. What I have is more of a herb-rich permanent grassland, I cut most of it in the autumn, far too late for a hay cut and even then I cut it in patches so I don’t remove too much of the grass all at once. I also cut at different heights and dethatch some bits to increase the diversity within my small patch. I have to take care not to knock down any  anthills, of which there are now quite a few, as these increase the surface area and provide extra diversity.

The Turn of the Season

As autumn slips into winter and the last of the leaves get blown from the trees we are seeing the wildlife of the reserve taking on a more wintry feel too. At the weekend the goosander roost passed 100 birds for the first time, whilst the gull roost is now well up into the thousands. A black-necked grebe has returned to Ibsley Water, although as is typical, it is frequenting the extreme northern shore of the lake. The startling roost in reeds just west of the A338 Salisbury Road, but best viewed from the main car park area or Lapwing hide, had built up and is now quite a sight in a fine evening.

IMG_9789 (2)[3497]

Starling murmuration by Jon Mitchell

At times this gathering is attracting various predators, over the last ten days or so I have seen peregrine, sparrowhawk, marsh harrier and goshawk all eyeing up the roost for a potential snack.

Green sandpiper and water pipit are still being regularly seen at various points around Ibsley Water, but Goosander hide seems to be the most frequent place for good views of both. At least 3 great white egret are wandering the reserve and out into the valley, I have not managed to see more than three at any one time, but I strongly suspect there are more, perhaps up to five?

Visitors to the reserve may find diversions or short path closures over the next few weeks as we are doing some tree thinning, it should be possible to access all the hides though. The trees we are removing are mainly planted aliens species such as grey and Italian alder or species such as sycamore and Scots pine that are crowding more desirable species oak, elm and ash. The objective is to thin areas that were planted too densely and promote native species over non-natives, this should benefit a range of wildlife in the long run. Where possible we will be leaving standing dead trees, or lying dead wood for beetles and other invertebrates.

Blashford’s Micro World – Taking a Closer Look

I opened up the hides at Blashford this morning in a fog that meant I could see only a few hazy birds looming in and out of the mist. The sun looked like it might break through, but in fact it took until nearly midday and then we had banks of cloud from time to time. The volunteers tried to do the butterfly transect and just about managed it, although butterflies were few in number.

When the sun did come out at lunchtime I took a walk by the lichen heath, this is a fascinating and very vulnerable bit of habitat, the lichens do not like being walked on, so I kept off the heath proper. The habitat owes its existence to the ultra-poor soil which has just enough nutrients for lichens and mosses and a few very, very small flowering plants. Amongst them two or more species of speedwells.

wall speedwell (I think)

wall speedwell (I think)

Most speedwells are small plants, this one, wall speedwell, is very small with flowers perhaps 2mm across. I also found a patch of blinks, I seem to remember being told that it was the UK’s smallest flowering plant.

blinks

blinks

There are also several forget-me-not species, two of which are especially small.

early forget-me-not

early forget-me-not

This one is early forget-me-not and has flowers about 2mm across, they are a traditional forget-me-not blue, as might be expected. The other tiny species is quite remarkable in that it cannot decide what colour the flowers should be, or rather it has flowers that change colour as the age, it is the aptly named changing forget-me-not.

changing forget-me-not

changing forget-me-not

The heath is also home to a wide range of small insects and other invertebrates, a surprising number of them seem to be either ants or spiders. I came across a number of small mounds of sand, well actually many were more like chimneys, made of sand grains pile dup and with a hole down the centre. They were evidently entrance ways into ant nests as there were ants clearly visible around the entrances. Although I describe them as entrances there did not seem to be many ants coming and going so perhaps, like termites they build them as part of an air circulation system.

ant chimney

ant chimney

My last find of interest out on the heath was a small moth, now I have had trouble identifying it with anything like certainty, I am pretty sure it is a Gelechid  of some sort, my best guess is Aroga velocella, which has larvae that eat sheep’s sorrel.

Gelechid moth

Gelechid moth

Walking round the edge of the heath I passed a Scots pine and noticed it was in flower, the male flowers release huge amounts of wind-blown pollen which fertilise the female comes, each tree is both male and female, as you can see from the picture, the large males flowers are above the smaller female cone.

flowering Scots pine

flowering Scots pine

Looking closely at the flowers I realised that many of them had a spider on them, the same species every time and seemingly only one on each flower cluster, they were also quite well camouflaged. I have failed to identify the species, if anyone can help I would be very pleased.

spider

spider

On my way back to the office I stopped by the handful of ramsons I found the other week, a plant I had not known even grew at Blashford. They are now in flower and I took a couple of pictures and in one I saw that the flowers were being visited by ants, presumably feeding on the nectar.

ants on ramsons flowers

ants on ramsons flowers

Although the sun was not out for long it did feel quite spring-like and warm, a calling cuckoo added to the feel as did 2 swifts which flew over. The 2 or 3 calling Mediterranean gull that circled over made for a rather more seaside feel, but all in all it was very pleasant.

Other birds about today were about 30 common tern, good news as we will be putting out some tern rafts tomorrow and I would like them to be fully occupied as soon as possible to stop the black-headed gulls taking over.