Bee-flies, Butterflies and a Good Tern

Another very warm spring day at Blashford today and the air was full of all the sights and sounds of the season. There are now chiffchaff and blackcap singing in many parts of the  reserve and there were reports of a willow warbler singing near the Ivy North hide.

The volunteers were working near the main car park today, where we were buzzed by bees as butterflies floated by. As were headed back for cake, we also saw a bee-fly, it turned out not to be the usual Bombylius major or dark-edged bee-fly, but the much rarer Bombylius discolor  or dotted bee-fly, a new species for the reserve.

And so onto cake, cake is not a rarity at Blashford, less common than biscuits, but not rare. In this case it was to honour the departure of Katherine, an Apprentice Ranger with The New Forest National Park scheme run as part of the Our Past, Our Future Heritage Lottery Project. But it was not for this reason alone, but also to mark the last day of our own Volunteer Trainee, Emily, who also made the cakes, a valuable extra skill. Katherine had spent three months with us and Emily six, remarkable staying power by any standards. In fact Emily has volunteered to stay on, so is not going to be lost to the reserve yet. Katherine has moved on to spend a time with the Forestry Commission team locally.

After cake we headed out to look at the changes to the butterfly transect routes, it was a shame that it was still March, the transect counts don’t start until the 1st April and it is often hard to find many butterflies in the first few weeks. Today they were everywhere and altogether we saw seven species between us. There were lots of peacock, a few brimstone and at least 3 speckled wood, but also singles of comma, small tortoiseshell, red admiral and orange-tip.

red admiral

A rather battered red admiral, probably one that has hibernated here and so is perhaps five or six months old.

Of the seven species five are ones that hibernate as adults, just the speckled wood and orange-tip will have emerged from pupae this spring. There is a small chance that the red admiral was a recent immigrant as they do also arrive from the south each spring, although usually later than this.

A different sort of life form is also in evidence on the reserve at present and I do mean a very different life form, slime mould. These are a bit of a favourite of mine and the one on a log towards the Ivy South hide is certainly living up to the name and is now oozing slime.

slime mould

slime mould, with slime

Locking up at the end of the day there was one last surprise, looking over Ibsley Water I saw a tern amongst the many black-headed gull, not as I expected an early common tern but a very fine sandwich tern, something of a rarity away from the coast.

sandwich tern

Sandwich tern, an unexpected visitor.

 

Advertisement

30 Days Wild – Day 5

Continuing to catch-up. On day five I was back at work at Blashford Lakes and with the volunteers clearing around the main car park and path leading towards it. It was hot work and everyone was pleased when we called it a day and returned to the Centre for a drink and early lunch. As we were sitting at the picnic tables I noticed a large soldierfly nectaring on the hemlock water dropwort. It was a, ornate brigadier Odontomyia ornate, a species found in Hampshire only at Blashford Lakes and not seen for a couple of years.

odontomyia ornata male

the ornate brigadier

After lunch I went for a walk around the reserve to see what might need doing after being away for the week. On the way I came across a brood of newly fledged robin.

juvenile robin

fledgling robin

As I was locking up at the end of the day I found one of my favourite organisms, a slime mould, growing on a log under trees near the Woodland hide.

troll butter

troll butter slime mould

 

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? ( or Fungus?)

Those of a certain age may remember a TV programme , having (nearly) the same title as this posting, in which a panel of ‘experts’ were challenged to identify an object from a museum collection.   It sometimes feels like I’m on the panel when a visitor asks questions about something they have seen on the Reserve.  Fortunately, for the most part, I’m usually able to give a plausible (if not invariably correct) answer or direct them to somewhere or someone who can.  I don’t pretend to be an oracle and mis-identifications are always possible. (Thanks to those who pointed out that the long-tailed tit’s nest of last week is almost certainly that of a wren)

For the most part these questions concern the animal or vegetable (fauna and flora) on the reserve, not too many people are concerned with the minerals,  the extraction of which (sand and gravel) created what we have today.   One such question, from a conservation volunteer the other day, concerned a plant/fungus that he’d seen. From the description given both Jim and I concluded that he’d been looking at the young, emergent stage of the Horsetail or Marestail. Just like these on the reserve…

Horsetail - looking rather like an alien invader

Horsetail – looking rather like an alien invader

 I believe these are variously known as Common Horsetail, Giant Horsetail or Field Horsetail or sometimes Marestail – probably Equisetum arvense ( or perhaps you know different??).  More interesting than the name is that they are among the few remaining species of a genus which for more than 100 million years was the predominant type of land based plant life, some of which reached over 30 metres tall and eventually formed the coal measures.  So they certainly have ‘staying power’ which is probably why they are a persistent weed and are much un-loved by gardeners .

Talking of strange organisms, I’m sure many of you will have spotted strange excrescences, often white or yellow though sometimes pink, on logs and tree trunks in the woods. One such caught our eyes the other day and we went back to investigate, and take a picture of this rather magnificent slime mould   

Slime mould

Slime mould

Looking superficially like a fungal growth, I’d always bracketed them in with this group of organisms.  I did, however, know that the lump you see is really a sort of super ‘love-in’ where millions ( billions?) of single-celled organisms had grouped together to form this fruiting body.  They normally live thinly spread in the forest floor and at some signal migrate to one spot to swap DNA and reproduce via spores.  Quite how this is organised or triggered is still a bit of a mystery and the things themselves are, I believe, no longer classified as fungi – probably more like amoeba, feeding on algae and bacteria in the soil.   Also nearby was one of the resultant spore masses ….

Slimemould spore mass

Slime mould spore mass

Truly the more one sees the more mysterious are some of the things around us and just to round off this section I’ll include a picture of an outgrowth on the branches of a tree close to the small car-park near the entrance. I think they’re called ‘Witch’s Broom‘ and I believe they’re caused by insects or a virus – but perhaps someone out there knows better.

Witch's Broom - just one of many such clusters of tiny twigs growing on one tree

Witch’s Broom – just one of many such clusters of tiny twigs growing on one tree

 On a more prosaic level the warblers reported last week have been augmented by at least two garden warblers, one of which was bold enough to perch out on the side of  a bush, giving reasonable views and a so-so image was possible at extreme range..

Garden warbler

Garden warbler

Although not a spectacular breeding site for wading birds we do get our fair share through the winter and it’s always nice to see some at this time of year. From the Tern Hide there were little ringed plover, redshank common sandpiper,  lapwing  and  a snipe has been seen. 

Redshank on edge of Ibsley Water

Redshank on edge of Ibsley Water

As well as many black-headed gulls, tufted duck  and thirteen mute swan , Ibsley Water was hosting at least six common tern and little grebe nesting close by the Goosander Hide.   At the Woodland Hide a lone brambling (doesn;t he know it’s time to go?)  was still in evidence  and we still have some magnificent siskin on display.

Two fine male siskin - getting food for their mates?

Two fine male siskin – getting food for their mates?

A Chick Against the Odds and One Lost

The big news today was that as I scanned up Ibsley Water first thing this morning I saw a large redshank chick on the shore, they do not breed successfully very often so this was a great sight in a year that has been very difficult for waders. It was close to where the oystercatcher pair had their large youngster. I also noticed that there was still one of the adult oystercatchers nearby and it really went for a jackdaw that landed on the bank. Possibly the oystercatchers have still not come to terms with the loss of their chick and are still defending the area, if they continue it cannot but be good for the redshank chick.

Parking beside the Centre I noticed that there seem to be even more scorpionflies than before on the nettles beside the car park, they are always quite common but do seem exceptionally so this year.

scorpionfly, male

At the Ivy North hide there were once again 2 grey squirrels on the tree to the right of the hide, mostly just grooming themselves in the morning sunshine.

grey squirrels

I had a day of doing lots of small tasks and so was left with the vague feeling of not having got anything of any substance done, such is the way I suppose. At least the weather was good by recent standards, it even felt warm in the sunshine at lunchtime and the warmth brought out some insects and I got another picture of the large hoverfly Volucella pellucens.

Volucella pellucens

I was briefly in the wet woodland just beside the Dockens Water in the afternoon where I came across what I think is yet another type of slime mold, although I am not certain as it is one I have never seen before, but that seems the most likely life form for it to be to my eyes. I will have to do a web search and see what I can find, unless of course someone reading this knows what it is. The picture is not great as it was in very deep shade and each was no more than about 7mm across at most.

slime mold, maybe

The common terns are still doing well although I see from the Ivy South logbook that one was taken by a large gull yesterday, although seems it dropped it under attack from the adult terns, unfortunately it was too small to fly and so got wet and drowned. The larger chicks often get lifted off the rafts when wing flapping but they are usually fine on our refuge rafts and usually fly well enough within a day to get back home. It is a perilous life as a small bird.

Stop press: It looks as though it is a slime mold and probably Lycogala epidendrum known as wolf’s milk slime mold.