30 Days Wild – Day 30 – Things Ain’t Always What They Seem

Yet another hot day and another spent mostly at home, I am working tomorrow at Blashford when we have a volunteer task, although what we will do in this heat I am not sure just yet. The day started with a check thought the moth trap, it had caught 26 species including a few first for the year, these were buff footman, grey/dark dagger (another species pair that cannot be separated on sight alone), bird’s wing and a waved black.

waved black

waved black

The waved black is a relatively scarce and rather strange Noctuid moth, it looks like a Geometrid, sitting with wings flat and out to the sides. The larvae eat damp fungi and even lichens and slime moulds.

The hot sun meant the garden was full of insects throughout the day, generally we do not associate moths with hot sunny days but there is one group that only seem to fly in such conditions, the clearwings. The day was ideal for them and I managed to find one species new to the garden, the large red-belted clearwing.

large red-belted clearwing (male)

large red-belted clearwing (male)

Clearwings are very odd moths, they not only fly in bright sunshine, they don’t really look like moths with their largely scaleless wings and in flight they look more like wasps than moths. The larvae feed under the bark of coppiced birch and alder and pupate there also. At this stage I will confess that I did not just look for the moth, I used a pheromone lure. This is an artificially produced chemical that mimics that produced by the female moth to attract the males.

large red-belted clearwing coming to lure

large red-belted clearwing being lured in

To give an idea of the speed of flight the picture above was taken at 1/1250 sec. The moth flew in and circling the lure before landing.

large red-belted clearwing at lure

large red-belted clearwing at lure

After a couple of minutes the fact that there is no female present seems to sink in and they leave, I managed to attract at least three males in about 45 minutes. The lures are usually specific to certain species, I tried five different lures today and only this one attracted any moths. Without the use of lures I have seen only a handful of clearwings in forty years or so of looking for them, use a lure of the right sort on the right day and they just appear.

It was a good day for looking int he meadow so, for the last time….

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Butterflies were very much in evidence with, appropriately enough, meadow brown being one of the most abundant.

meadow brown

meadow brown on field scabious

Small white, large white and small skipper were also much in evidence and there were also a couple of large skipper, a species I have only very occasionally seen in the garden in previous years.

large skipper 2

large skipper on field scabious

Field scabious is a great nectar source for insects and a great plant for a back garden meadow, it has bright showy flowers and a very long flowering season too. The picture shows the incredibly long tongue of the large skipper really well too, their tongues are more feeding tubes really, they reach to the nectar source and suck up the energy rich sugars.

Another great nectar plant is knapweed and these were alive with bees today, including lots of green-eyed flower bee, a small dumpy species with a very high pitched “buzz” that never seems to sit still for a picture.

green-eyed flower bee

green-eyed flower bee on knapweed

Where there are bees there are their followers, one such is the Conopid fly, there are several species and they intercept bees in flight and lay an egg that hooks between the bees abdominal segments, eventually hatching into a parasitic larva, not a pleasant story but it is extraordinary. There are several common species and the one I found was Sicus ferrugineus.

Conopid

Sicus ferrugineus

Juts as there are moths that fly in the daytime and pretend to be wasps there are also flies that pretend to be bees and wasps, some more convincingly than others. Most of the hoverflies in the garden are the various dronefly species that are fairly general bee mimics, but I also spotted one that was definitely more of a wasp mimic.

Xanthogramma pedissequum

Xanthogramma pedissequum

So this is the end of the 30 Days for another year, although I try to get a bit of “Wild” everyday, I may not get around to blogging about it daily. Thanks for your comments and if you have a garden try a mini-meadow, they are great fun and pretty good for wildlife too. Whatever you do, try to have as many Wild Days as you can!

Advertisements

30 Days Wild – Day 29 – One More Time Out with the Blues

Just two days to go before another 30 Days are over. I spent part of Day 29 in my garden mostly looking at the meadow.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

There continue to be a good few small skipper and today also one large skipper, although in the heat it was so active that, try as I might, I could not get a picture of it. The hot weather suits most insects very well, allowing them to be more active for longer periods of the day. This may well mean that many species will be around for a shorter period than we are used to as they will have managed to fulfil their destiny and breed successfully in less time than usual. So I anticipate that lots of butterflies will be recorded in high numbers but for a short season if this weather continues.

Many people will know the common chafer beetle, sometimes called a “May bug” which flies mainly in May, but the smaller summer chafer is less well known, although still common. It seems to be having a good season as I am seeing more than I can remember this year. I got a picture of one on top of a wild carrot flower head.

summer chafer catching evening sun

summer chafer catching evening sun

I have featured a number of species of bee in this blog but honey-bee does not often get  a look in. The honey-bee Apis mellifera also known as the western honey-bee is our familiar bee species for most people. Its population in the UK is probably dependent upon domestic, artificial hive based colonies and it is speculated that it arrived here with humans at some time in the distant past. That said the honey-bees in more northern areas are darker and better able to maintain colonies in cooler conditions and it has been suggested these are native populations, they certainly seem to be genetically distinct from the more familiar paler bees found in southern England. Although most honey-bees do live in colonies in man made hives wild colonies are not unusual and there was a colony in a large Turkey oak at Blashford Lakes for several years, although it now seems to have been abandoned.

honey bee on field scabious

honey-bee on field scabious

Although I did get out to take a look in the meadow most of the day was taken up with domestic activities. So as the evening was fine I took the chance to go out onto the nearby Forest to see the silver-studded blue once more. There were many groups roosting in the heather, often ten or more together and probably 80 or more roosting in no more than about 0.3ha.

silver-studded blue female

roosting silver-studded blue (female)

roosting silver-studded blue

roosting silver-studded blue

Just one more post to go in the “30 Days”.

30 Days Wild – Day 27 – On the Marsh

The majority of my day was spent at one of our occasional staff meetings, a chance to catch up with what other members of staff have been doing, learn about the projects and discuss future direction. Despite their undoubted value, it is often difficult to be sat indoors on a fine day, although on such a warm day being in the shade was not that unwelcome.

After the meeting I went down to as saltmarsh site beside Southampton Water to try to assist with a research project looking at the worrying rates of change along the eroding outer edged of the marshes. Large sections of The Solent coast has a margin of saltmarsh, this narrow strip of habitat has a whole suite of specialised species that live nowhere else. Unfortunately sea level rise and the lack of space for these habitats to migrate inland is meaning they are disappearing as they get squeezed out of existence.

The saltmarsh along Southampton Water is very diverse with lots of the characteristic species of these habitats. The outer edges have banks of shells known as cherniers which can smother the vegetation, if they kill leaving bare mud this can get more easily eroded although it can be recolonised by plants such as glasswort.

glasswort

glasswort colonising mud on the chernier edge

The lack of freshwater makes a saltmarsh somewhat similar to a very arid area and some of the adaptations are similar, for example fleshy and glaucous leaves.

sea purslane

sea purslane growing through the chernier bank

Inland from the shell banks the marshes are very flat, but still have variety in the form of creeks and subtle changes in elevation. These are enough to offer a variety of slightly different niches. In shorter areas sea-spurrey  can be common and its starry flowers are popular with the insects that also live out on the marshes.

sea spurrey

sea-spurrey flower

The higher areas of long-established marshes can have large areas of sea-lavender are very popular with insects and produce large swathes of colour.

sea lavender

sea-lavender in flower

Returning home I had time for a quick look at the meadow.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

There were several small skipper and a meadow brown or two in what is now a very dry meadow. Most of the grasses are brown or yellow, but the deeper rooted perennial herbs are still green and many in full flower. Wandering over the vegetation I found a 7-spot ladybird. This used to be our commonest larger ladybird, before the arrival of the harlequin ladybird from SE Asia, via the horticultural trade.

7 spot ladybird

7-spot ladybird

 

30 Days Wild – Day 23 – Skippers

Plans to go out came to nothing and various small tasks took over, still these were interspersed with looks around the garden, so all of today’s wildlife is back garden based.

The night was actually quiet cool and the moth catch was correspondingly modest but included one species new for the year, a burnished brass. There has been much discussion recently as to the possible existence of two species within what we have known as “burnished brass”. It seems likely that moths with the two brassy areas significantly joined to form an “H” shape are the “new” species being christened the cryptic burnished brass.

burnished brass

burnished brass

This one has got the two areas joined but not widely enough to be likely to be a candidate for the cryptic version.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

The day was warm, although not always sunny it was quiet warm enough for butterflies to be active the whole time. During the day in the meadow I saw several meadow brown, including egg-laying females, large skipper, small white and small skippers.

small skipper (male)

small skipper (male)

The ends of the antennae lack the black “full stop” of the Essex skipper and the dark line on the forewing, known as the “sex brand”, is longer and not as straight.

Large, small and Essex skippers, and come to that Lulworth and silver-spotted too, sit with their wings in this half open position, unless with wings fully closed.

small skipper (male) 2

small skipper (male)

Although they were perched for long periods on the wild carrot flowers they were not feeding, it appeared that they were using the flat, white surface of the flowers as a reflector.

Also visiting the wild carrot was a tiny bee, it is one of the yellow-face bees, these can usually be identified by the pattern of pale markings on the “face”, if I am correct this one is the white-jawed yellow-face bee Hylaeus confusus.

Hylaeus confusus crop

white-jawed yellow-face bee (female)

Having a range of flower types in the meadow attracts different species of bees and other insects, different species being adapted to feeding from different flowers. The leaf-cutter bees prefer larger flowers and especially like the trefoils.

bee on bird's-foot trefoil

leaf-cutter bee on bird’s-foot trefoil

The other day I featured Jack-go-to-bed-at -noon in flower, one of the alternative names for this plant is goat’s beard, now it has gone to seed it is easy to see why.

Jak-go-to-bed-at-noon seedhead

Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon seedhead

The seeds are quite large but the fluffy “parachute” they float on is very large and they can get carried considerable distances.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 20 – A Leopard

Back at Blashford and checking the moth trap I found it contained a leopard moth, these strange moths have larvae that eat wood. They tunnel into the stems of living trees and shrubs, typically in branches and take two or three years to grow to sufficient size to pupate. The moth was rather battered, they are a moth which doe snot seem to stay in good condition for very long.

battered leopard moth

leopard moth

It seems I missed one in much better condition in the trap in Monday, although the books say they are quite common this is a species I do not see every year, so two in the week is good for Blashford.

There a a fair few other moths, but nothing of great note and the only other one that I had not seen so far this year was a tiny micro-moth.

Caloptilia populetorum

Caloptilia populetorum

I am not sure if I have seen this species before, it’s larvae eat birch so you might think is would be common and widespread, however it seems to be quite local. Clearly there are many other factors that influence their distribution.

After a morning at Blashford I had to go over to Fishlake at lunchtime. I was meeting with members of the Trust’s grazing team about getting some of their British White cattle onto the reserve to help preserve the varied fen vegetation. The fields look very attractive with purple loostrife, comfrey, meadow sweet, common meadow-rue and much more.

meadow rue with tree bumble-bee

common meadow-rue, with tree bumble-bee

If the meadows are so good you might ask why graze them? The answer is to keep them in this state. Years without grazing have seen them start to scrub over in places and become more dominated by very tall vigorous species, shading out the lower growing plants.

The tree bumble-bee hovering to the right of the picture is one of the more distinctive bumble-bees, with a brown thorax and black abdomen with a white tail end. This is a recent colonist of the UK arriving at the turn of the millennium and being first found in Southampton. As far as we know it crossed the channel unaided and has now travelled up the country as far as northern Scotland and west to Ireland.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

It was warm and sunny when I arrived home and a quick look in the meadow revealed lots of insects, best was a skipper butterfly, my first in the garden this year.

Essex skipper on wild carrot

Essex skipper on wild carrot

The Essex and small skipper are very similar, best separated by the black underside to the tip of the antennae. The picture seems to show they are present on this one making it an Essex skipper.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 29: A Grave Day

Luckily not as bad as it sounds, in fact actually a “Jolly”. Each year the volunteer team have a day out at Kitt’s Grave, it is part of the Martin Down National Nature Reserve but belongs to the Wildlife Trust. Although it is managed by Natural England we usually go up top do a couple of tasks each winter, although we did not make it last season. We have been assisting in the clearance of scrub to open up glades and ultimately restore areas of chalk grassland. As we have been doing this for some years it is interesting to see how the habitat has been developing, I am pleased to say that the answer is well so far.

Our visits are usually a great chance to see lots of butterflies, but as we left the car park this morning we were wondering if we would see any at all. Luckily we had a good start in other ways, with a turtle dove purring away in the thorns. Crossing the road to Kitt’s Grave we heard a lesser whitethroat and heard and saw yellowhammer and corn bunting. Then a surprise, a ringlet, then more and marbled white, small skipper, meadow brown, small heath and even dark green fritillary. Although it was overcast it was warm enough for insects to be active, but not so warm that they were too flighty, this allowed a great chance to get really good views as they basked in an attempt to get warm.

ringlet

basking ringlet

Some of the butterflies were warm enough to get on with life.

ringlets

ringlet pair mating

The marbled white were especially numerous and lots of the females were egg-laying.

marbled white

marbled white male basking

I noticed one small skipper below a pyramidal orchid flower spike, at first I thought it was sheltering, but it did not look right, then I realised that it was actually in the jaws of a crab spider, ambushed as it was trying to get warm, or maybe feeding. Luckily not all of them had fallen victim to predators.

small skipper

small skipper on scabious

We also saw silver-washed fritillary, but the most surprising butterfly seen was a purple hairstreak, picked up off the path, but which flew off before a picture could be taken. Although we never saw the sun we did see a common lizard, sitting out in the hope of catching a few rays. As we always do and despite unpromising conditions we had a great time and saw a lot of wildlife. Martin Down is a magical place to go and a reminder of what large parts of the southern chalk must once have been like.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 23: Priorities

Finally a day when it was cool enough to get out on site with some machinery to get some of the paths trimmed. This is not the most glamorous of reserve management tasks but it has to be done. Managing a nature reserve is full of conflicting demands and dilemmas. No management is without impact and what is positive for one group of species will be negative for others. Trimming the paths often means cutting back nettles, as most will know these are the food plant of peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies, so I try to avoid cutting the patches in full sun which they prefer and to do larger scale cutting only after they caterpillars have finished feeding.

IMG_1968

a fresh summer brood small tortoiseshell

The clearance of dense nettlebeds promotes patches of grassland and other herbage which is preferred by a wider range of species such as small skipper, which have just started to fly this year.

IMG_1962

small skipper

Over the years I have managed many different sites used for various purposes, ranging from nature reserves, long distance paths, picnic sites and Country Parks and these dilemmas occur at all of them. In truth all land management involves conflicting interests and all land is in multiple use. On a nature reserve wildlife will take precedence over most of the site, but access and safety will be paramount in some areas. I do believe that whatever the land use, it is wrong to deny the multiple interests, land management is about balancing interests not ignoring some entirely. Above all management should be about maintaining and enhancing the possibilities that are available for the future, good management is about increasing potential not applying a full stop.

Following Day 22’s horsefly picture I got another, this time of a male Hybomitra species in flight. This one is Hybomitra distinguenda and they fly very fast indeed, the picture was taken at 1/4000 sec and the wings are still in motion.

IMG_1935

Hybomitra distinguenda

It is reputed that a species of this genus, albeit a rather large one from Southern Africa is the fastest flying insect having allegedly been clocked at 90 mph!

I have noted before how Blashford has many species that have come in from elsewhere, often due to the somewhat chequered industrial history. We have a number of coastal species including a very large population of annual beard grass, perhaps the largest in    the county, the natural habitat for it is poached upper saltmarsh, such a scan be found at Farlington Marshes.

IMG_1979

Mayweed flower in annual beard grass.

 

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 19: Too Hot for Walking

I was down to do a guided walk at Blashford in the morning, but it was so hot that two of the walkers cried off and all we managed was a short amble along the Dockens Water to Goosander hide. At least going through the trees by the river was a bit cooler and the Goosander hide was quite busy with a fair few sand martin coming into the nesting wall. There are also now hundreds of greylag and Canada geese on Ibsley Water, come to moult their flight feathers on the relative safety of the open water. Unlike ducks, geese become completely flightless for quite a while when they moult so they have to seek out somewhere safe, but also with accessible food.

On the way to the hide we saw a few bee orchid and several butterflies, including a couple of summer brood comma, my first small skipper of the year and a few marbled white. One of the participants on the walk told me that they are also known as “Half-mourning”, something I had not heard before.

marbled white

marbled white on ox-eye daisy

Sometime ago I posted that we had some puss moth caterpillars, they were quite small then, but now they have grown a lot and today I was dividing them up into three groups to make it easier to keep up with feeding them. They are very fine caterpillars and get ever more so with age.

puss moth caterpillar

puss moth caterpillar

 

3o Days Wild – Day 23

Another Thursday and we decided to tackle what is without doubt the volunteers least favourite task of the year, ragwort control around Ibsley Water. When I first started at the reserve ragwort was the dominant plant around large areas of the shore, often to the exclusion of all other plants. Over the years we have cut and pulled it to try and establish a more mixed and predominantly grassy sward. It has been back breaking work, but it finally seems to be paying off. Walking the eastern shore it is now no more that occasional and forms part of an increasingly varied sward including sedges, bee orchid and much more.

Ragwort is actually a valuable nectar source and present in small amounts in grassland that is not used for hay does not present any real risk to livestock. Although poisonous few animals will eat it when growing. Fortunately at Blashford the grassland has many other nectar sources so loss of some ragwort  probably has minimal impact upon nectaring insects. As we worked we saw a good range of butterflies, despite the overcast conditions including lots of meadow brown.

meadow brown pair

Meadow brown pair mating

I also saw my first small skipper of the year, although a few have been seen on the reserve by others.

small skipper

small skipper

The day was not entirely positive though. Arriving at the reserve and looking out onto Ibsley Water it was clear that the black-headed gull pairs with chicks and single common tern pair that had just started sitting on the small island neat Tern hide had been lost overnight, probably to a predatory mammal. Fox is probably likely, but they often get the blame when others are actually the culprit and I cannot rule out badger, mink or otter.

black-headed gulls

black-headed gull pair

I got a real surprise at the end of the day when I closed up the Tern hide I realised there was a female common scoter floating around with the tufted duck flock. There was also a black-necked grebe reported in the hide diary, although I could not find it.

 

 

Of caterpillars and butterflies…

Nothing particularly of note to report from today, other than the fact that after a brief absence there was once more grass snakes on the logs in front of the Ivy South Hide today. I suspect that rather than basking to warm up in the current hot and muggy weather conditions they had sought out a waterside location to try and cool down! A good catch of invertebrates (and baby newts, or efts) was enjoyed by participants in the pond dipping for grown ups event this morning, but it was actually these very small cinnabar moth caterpillars feeding on ragwort by the pond that caught my eye:

Cinnabar moth caterpillars

Cinnabar moth caterpillars

A number of our volunteers have planned and been running a couple of butterfly transacts this summer, one taking in the north of the site, the second the south. Blashford has never really struck me as being a particularly good butterfly site in the past and certainly it isn’t the place to go for a likely encounter with a rarity, but actually the figures when looked at in black and white are leading me to reconsider my thoughts on this, and, as with so much at Blashford, the diversity of habitats within the reserve is reflected by an equally diverse butterfly population, though by far the most common, so far this year at least, is the meadow brown.

More on this (the transects) will follow in later blogs I know, but a chance encounter with one of our regular visitors, Sue Lambert, did educate me on the intricacies of identification between small and Essex skippers the other day. I had always assumed that the small skippers in and around the Ivy North Meadow were just that, small skippers, but it turns out that close inspection of the colour of the tips of the antennae has revealed the presence of both small and Essex skippers. Thanks to Sue for e-mailing the following pictures that illustrate the difference:

Essex skipper by Sue Lambert

Essex skipper by Sue Lambert

Small skipper by Sue Lambert

Small skipper by Sue Lambert