Although there has not been much sign of migrating birds at Blashford Lakes so far, there have been some insect arrivals. The birds at this time of the year are returning from breeding to the north, the insects, by contrast, are arriving from the south. It seems likely that there will be many more in the days to come as the high pressure builds back and temperatures rise again.

So far we have recorded a couple of lesser emperor dragonflies, but no southern migrant hawker as yet, but I am hopeful that someone will spot one somewhere on the reserve soon. The other migrant so far have all been moths. This morning the traps had silver Y, rush veneer, diamond-backed moth, dark sword-grass, Cydia amplana and Yponomeuta sedella, all probably freshly arrived from the south.

Cydia amplana

Cydia amplana, a migrant Tortrix moth that seems to be getting more frequently recorded each year.

Yponomeuta sedella

Yponomeuta sedella, this could be a migrant or a scarce local resident, it feeds on Sedum species, mainly the larger ones such as orpine, which does not grow at Blashford.

Perhaps oddly there have been very few migrant butterflies this summer, just a few painted lady and those several weeks ago now. It has also been a very lean year for humming-bird hawk-moth and convolvulus hawk-moth so far, but maybe numbers will pick up.

Just as I wrote the above I heard a buzzing sound at the window, only to find a humming-bird hawk-moth trapped inside the house!!! I have just successfully released it into the great outdoors to continue heading north.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring…………



A Wintery Feel

Not to the weather, but certainly to the birds, but more of that later. The day was pleasantly warm for the time of the year and I was busy with the volunteers and apprentices working on the eastern shore of Ibsley Water. We cut back the rushes on the shoreline to open up access for grazing wildfowl from the water and carried on with coppicing and pollarding in the reedbed. The brash is used to create a dead hedge as a habitat corridor.


Dead hedging

The willow we pollarded will come back with a dense growth of fresh shoots next year, they can grow as much as 2 or 3 metres in a season.

The wintery feel came in the form of brambling at the feeder on the car park near the centre, at least 5 goldeneye on Ibsley Water and at dusk 7000 or so gulls coming in to roost with 3000-5000 starling wheeling about behind them, hopefully the start of a significant roost for later in the winter.

The moth trap yielded rather little today with just red-line Quaker, yellow-line Quaker, chestnut, “November” moth and silver Y.













30 Days Wild – Day 15

Up hideously early and out to do a breeding bird survey, luckily the weather was fine, although I could have done without it having rained overnight as the trees were dripping and the tall grass very wet. Still it was calm and sunny and, for mid June, a good few birds were singing. As well as the birds I saw my first meadow brown of the year, actually lots of them and also a few common spotted and southern marsh orchid and a single Mother Shipton moth. 

common spotted orchid or hybrid

common spotted orchid, or possibly a hybrid as the leaves were unspotted. (I have just spotted the 7-spot ladybird in this shot!)

I arrived at Blashford by ten o’clock and had a quick check of the moth trap, rather few moths but very fresh individuals of small angle shades and lime hawkmoth. However it was the trays of creatures laid out for the school pond-dipping session that caught my eye, in particular one containing a water stick insect nymph.

water stick insect nymph

water stick insect nymph

The sun came out briefly at lunchtime so I went out for a break from the desk and nectaring on a hemlock water-dropwort plant was a very fresh red admiral.

red admiral 2

red admiral

There are quite good numbers of migrant insects about just now, there have been modest arrivals of red admiral and painted lady butterflies and huge numbers of the tiny diamond-back moth, so many that they have made the national news and it is not often a micro-moth does that! There are also lots of the marmalade hoverfly and silver Y moths, if you have flowers out in the garden you will almost certainly be able to see them nectaring at dusk.

My afternoon was spent in a meeting, but as it was still sunny when I got home I took a look in the garden and found this swollen-thighed beetle (Oedemera nobilis) feeding on an ox-eye daisy in our mini-meadow.

beetle on ox eye daisy

male swollen-thighed beetle on ox-eye daisy

A Spectacle(ular), SilyerY Sunday and Migrant(ory) Monday

The numbers of human visitors to the reserve are often difficult to predict and Bank Holiday weekends are no exception.  Animal visitors, on the other hand, are almost impossible to predict as the flow of the seasons moves on.  For some it is late summer and to others its early autumn.

On the bird front there have been many sightings of kingfisher and the numbers of waterfowl are starting to build steadily, in number, if not in range of species.  Small numbers of migrant waders are starting to appear including common sandpiper and green sandpiper. Perhaps the most notable bird of the two days was/ has been a black tern, reported yesterday and which we saw, appropriately from the Tern Hide, as we closed the reserve. So far no reports today.

Jim had set up the light trap overnight on Saturday, but the slightly damp and cooler conditions didn’t produce  a huge range  of moths.  the most spectacular was a Red Underwing, which unfortunately took flight almost as soon as it was found – so no picture.  The most populous species in the trap were Silver Y (8) and Spectacle (7).  Later in the day one of the Silver Y moths, so named for the ‘y’ shaped marking,  settled on my car .

Silver Y moth on car - yes i kow it needs a wash!

Silver Y moth on car – yes i know it needs a wash!

The Spectacle moth’s name is less obvious when seen side on.

Not obviously spectacular

Not obviously spectacular

but quite understandable when viewed head on –

The name 'Spectacle' seems more obvious now.

The name ‘Spectacle’ seems more obvious now.

A number of times when I’ve been  going through, sorting out the various moths in the light trap, I’ve been asked about the differences between moths and butterflies. i don’t pretend to be an expert, but the following may help.

Butterflies and moths comprise the order lepidoptera (from the ancient Greek for  ‘scale’ and  wing’ ) and in the U.K. includes butterflies  ( 50 + species), macro moths (the larger ones 800+ species) and micro moths (several thousand species).  There is a tendency to think that day flying species are butterflies and nocturnal ones are moths, but there are a large number of moths species (more than all the butterflies) that fly during the day. Mostly they are micro moths and easily overlooked, but include some macro moths, like  Silver Y and Humming-bird Hawkmoth (see last week’s blog).  To add to the confusion some butterflies must be on the move overnight  as they are regularly caught in overnight  light traps, I’ve seen Peacock, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell.  I seem to remember that the strict technical definition of a butterfly is the possession of club-shaped antennae, as on this Red Admiral.

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

   whereas moths have feathery or straight antennae like this Small Phoenix.

Small Phoenix - note the straight antenae, typical of moth species

Small Phoenix – note the straight antennae, typical of moth species

The differentiation between macro and micro moths can be even more confusing as it ultimately seems to depend in which family group the moth belongs . Size isn’t everything, there are some quite small macro moths and some fairly large micro moths, like this Mother of Pearl – a micro moth – which is about the same size or larger than the Small Phoenix – a macro moth.

The wonderfully lustrous sheen of the Mother of Pearl

The wonderfully lustrous sheen of the Mother of Pearl

Incidently the Mother of Pearl illustrates quite clearly the facet of the ‘scaly wing’ nature of lepidoptera. Although the picture doesn’t show it too clearly, the subtle silvery iridescent, almost translucent, colouring on the wings is caused by interference patterns of the light on the tiny scales.  This gives them a shimmering effect as the colour changes depending on which angle you see them from. I’ve read somewhere that this effect was the inspiration behind the development of the compact disc (CD and presumably DVD’s) as it was realised that this could be used to store huge amounts of information in a small space and could be written to and read by laser light.  

The elevated temperatures have kept any dragonflies and damselflies quite mobile, but a Migrant Hawker was kind enough to perch up on the buddleia and stayed there long enough to have its  picture taken.

Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawker

28 mm and rising – just another day at the Duck Pond

Once again the overnight and early morning rain has conspired to provide a wonderfully watery pond-scape to areas of the reserve normally considered to be part of the land!!   So much so that for the second time in a fortnight it wasn’t possible to open the Tern Hide car-park as it was underwater.  The rain gauge registering 28 mm ( that’s over an inch in ‘old money’) says it all!!!

Being a Sunday Conservation team day, we were blessed with dry weather for the morning period and managed to coppice and pollard a small area of willow that had become a little unkempt over the years.  Being quite close to the Centre was an advantage as although it stayed dry and at times even sunny, we weren’t sure it would remain like that, so it offered a chance for a quick retreat if necessary.

The overnight conditions, and the time of year, weren’t conducive to encouraging many moths to fly, but we did have four moths in or around the light trap, Mottled Umber, November Moth,  Silver Y and  this delightfully named Sprawler.

A Spawler – with a wonderfully relaxed name for a moth.

 There were various reports from visitors coming in during the day of the road outside the reserve being flooded to various degrees. It looks as though the Dockens Water is not able to cope with the sheer volume of water coming off the Forest and water, as it does, finds the path of least resistance which in places is along the road.

Neverthe less we still had a steady stream of visitors, some, no doubt, attacted by the reports of reasonably good views of bittern.  For my part I’d first heard of the bittern(s) a week ago last Thursday, but still hadn’t seen it. I believe I foolishly promised some pictures last week, so when opening up the hide this morning was half hoping to see it. They say patience is a virtue, so being particularly virtuous, I was rewarded with an exceptional opportinity to photograph the beast   – which I ‘snapped up’   

Just one of the two bittern to be seen here

A Sunny Start

A suitably bright morning as befits a Volunteer Thursday, in fact right at the start of the day it was actually sunny and warm, so much so that I came across a painted lady butterfly in the main car park as I opened up the Tern hide.

painted lady

This is the first painted lady I have seen for a couple of months and it is interesting to speculate if it is a new migrant or the offspring of an earlier arrival. The same can be asked fo the some of the red admirals that I have seen this week, although they have been of two distinct types, either very battered and faded, possibly after a long flight, or pristine as though just hatched. The only other potential migrants recently have been a few silver Y moths, all of which have been fresh looking, below is one from the trap yesterday.

silver Y

The volunteers finished clearing and stacking the brash from the tree we felled yesterday, dead hedging it beside the path. We also cut some sections of the trunk to make seats for the education team to use with visiting school groups. Meanwhile the rest of the group sorted out the bird feeders and continued installing cable ducting. As there was a little time left at the end of the task we went  to take a look at an area we had been working in last autumn near Ivy Lake, the habitat has developed really well and it was good for everyone to see the results of their labours.

Unfortunately the sunshine gave way to cloud during the morning and by mid afternoon showers had started as the next weather system started to assert itself. Overnight we are promised another burst of heavy rain and a wet weekend to follow, not the weather to help nesting waders and common terns. I hope the quality of our tern chick shelters will at least keep them dry, but they will not help the adults as they battle to catch enough small fish to keep the chicks fed.

Blashford Blues

Once again bird news was hard to come by today, a report of a hobby was about the best. The main event by far was that the temperature finally reached such dizzy heights as to exceed that achieved in late March! The reason was not hard to find, the sky was cloudless all day, I am not sure when I last failed to see a cloud for a whole day.

blue sky!

The sky was not the only blue thing today though, I still have not seen a dragonfly this year but I did finally catch up with some common blue damselflies, although none that had fully coloured-up yet.

common blue damselfly

Even this was not the last of the blues. I was looking at some of the oak trees with their fresh, bright green leaves, all perfection. Then I realised that of course they should not look perfect, this first flush of leaves is usually eaten away by winter moth caterpillars, the main food of great tit and blue tit nestlings. From the work being done on the nestlings in the boxes we have seen that many have not done at all well this year and Jim tells me that tree beating for caterpillars has been very hard work. It seems clear that the warm March followed by cold wet April have messed up the normal order of things and resulted in many fewer moth larvae than usual. Having had this thought I checked one of the nest boxes and was pleased to see that there were young blue tits inside, along with the adult male.

blue tit family

The breeze was filled with willow seeds as Steve observed the other day it looks very like snow as it drifts about. Even when it lands it will often get lifted again if the surface is dry, however wet ground or ponds will hold onto the seeds. This makes a lot of sense as these are just the places a young willow will grow well, it is not just that willows do well in damp locations, it is also where a disproportionate amount of the seed will end up. The ones that land on water will tend to get washed up on the shore, again just where they want to be.

willow seeds collected on the pond surface

In the afternoon I went for a brief look along the Dockens Water to assess the amount of Himalayan balsam that will need pulling, the answer seems to be rather little, despite my seeing a lot of newly germinated seedlings in late March. I think a combination of frosts and flooding have removed a lot fo them, for now most of the plants seem to be recent seedlings. I did come across a beetle, one of the burying beetles, but one that is a predator of snails. This i snot the greatest picture but it does show the elongated head that allows it to reach into snail shells to get at the occupant. This one is the commonest of a few similar species called Silpha atrata and I would think it must be a female with the abdomen extended by eggs.

Silpha atrata

The warmer night had led to hopes of more moths, but so far this has not really come to pass, I think we need a few more warm days. The nearest thing to a surprise int he trap was a silver Y, a migrant species. Many of the moths that should be flying now feed at flowers, a particular favourite with a lot of species are campions and the red campion is particularly obvious in lots of places at Blashford at the moment.

red campion flower