From pond to meadow

At the beginning of June we re-started our Wildlife Tots sessions, discovering the weedy depths of the Blashford Pond. 

Our morning session started with a rescue, with Isabelle fishing this Emperor dragonfly out of the pond. It was quite happy to be handled, or relieved to be rescued, so we were all able to take a really good look.

I then relocated it to a safer spot, where it could finish drying off. It was still there when we met the afternoon group, so they were able to take a look at it too before it flew off. 

Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly

Newly emerged adult dragonflies are known as tenerals. They are weaker in flight and paler in colour. As the body and wings harden off they begin hunting for food, spending about a week feeding away from water and gradually acquiring their adult colouration. They are then ready to return to the pond to mate. 

It was a good day to look for dragonflies, we found lots of exuvia on the vegetation around the edge of the pond and found another newly emerged Emperor dragonfly along with a newly emerged Broad-bodied chaser.

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

Emperor dragonfly (4)

Emperor dragonfly

Broad bodied chaser

Broad-bodied chaser

From the pond itself we caught dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, newts and a caseless caddisfly nymph, amongst others: 

It was also nice to see the other insects enjoying the vegetation around the edge of the pond, like this honeybee, large red damselfly and figwort sawfly:

Honeybee

Honeybee

 

Large red damselfly

Large red damselfly

Figwort sawfly

Figwort sawfly

At the end of the day I was lucky enough to spot another dragonfly emerge, this time it was a Black-tailed skimmer:

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So it was a very good day for dragonflies!

At the beginning of July we headed to the meadow. On the edge of the lichen heath we spotted this small tortoiseshell butterfly:

Small tortoiseshell

Small tortoiseshell

As we went in to the meadow we disturbed this grass snake, and we watched it slither up the hill to the birch trees at the top.  

Grass snake

Grass snake

We then sat quietly and did a still hunt, looking closely at the miniature world of the meadow around us before using sweep nets to catch grasshoppers, spiders, beetles, true bugs and more.

Meadow sweeping

Meadow sweeping

We also saw a solitary bee, small skipper butterfly, ruby-tailed wasp and marmalade hoverfly:

Solitary bee

Solitary bee

Small skipper

Small skipper

Ruby-tailed wasp

Ruby-tailed wasp

Marmalade hoverfly

Marmalade hoverfly

My highlight from the meadow though was this solitary wasp, the Bee-wolf. The females prey on honeybees, paralysing them with a sting and carrying them back to their sandy burrow. Up to six paralysed honeybees are placed in each chamber within the burrow, then a single egg is laid and the chamber is sealed with sand. After hatching, the larva feed on the honeybees before spinning a cocoon to hibernate in through the winter and emerging the following spring.

Bee wolf

Bee-wolf

Bee wolf

Bee wolf

Our Wildlife Tots group offers fun outdoor play and wildlife discovery activities for pre-school aged children and their parents or carers once a month, usually (but not always!) on the first Monday. After a break in August, we will be meeting again in September, and details will be available on the events page of our website soon. 

Small copper

Small copper

White-tailed surprise

Spring is definitely here. On Ibsley Water the wildfowl have made way for the noisy black-headed and Mediterranean gulls which can be heard calling noisily overhead. Although a few ducks remain, including goldeneye, shoveler, goosander and gadwall, the majority have now departed. 

This afternoon a pair of redshank were feeding along the shoreline in front of Tern Hide whilst a pair of oystercatcher were on the island.

Black-tailed godwit numbers have decreased and a black swan seems to be favouring the north-western corner of the lake. Although I’m still waiting for my first swallow, sand martin numbers have increased hugely and watching them does not disappoint. I popped into Goosander Hide yesterday to see if any were investigating the sand martin bank and they most certainly are:

Although the hides remain closed and we have no plans to open them at present, it’s nice to know the martins are back and hopefully, if the next few months go to plan, it may be possible for visitors to catch the end of this year’s nesting season later on in the summer. We will be keeping our fingers crossed!

Reed buntings have been singing high from the willows on the edge of the main car park recently, and yesterday after leaving Goosander Hide I spotted this one sitting pretty in the top of a silver birch:

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Reed bunting

The highlight of yesterday’s walk (and something that definitely made working Easter Sunday worth it) was this sighting of one of the white-tailed eagles, high in the sky over Ibsley Water. They can cover such a huge area, you definitely need to be in the right place at the right time and have luck on your side, this was my first sighting of one of the (I’m assuming) Isle of Wight birds. Not the best photos, but they’re definitely good enough to tell what it is:

After getting mobbed by some gulls, which pushed it closer to where I was standing, it flew in the direction of Ibsley Common and the forest beyond.

Staying on the northern side of the reserve, the warmer weather has bought out the reptiles, with both adder and grass snake enjoying the sunshine. I’m still waiting for a grass snake photo opportunity, the adders have been more obliging:

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Adder

Although there is some just outside the Education Centre, the edges of the footpaths past Lapwing Hide and the boardwalk are good places to keep an eye out for colt’s-foot. Local names of this flower include foal’s foot and ass’ foot, clatterclogs, horse hoof and son afore the father, with the latter name referring to the fact that the flowers appear before the leaves. 

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Colt’s-foot

Wherever you walk at the moment it’s impossible not to hear the unmistakeable call of the chiffchaff, and with their numbers swelling on the reserve their call is turning into the back-drop of spring, along with Cetti’s warbler and blackcap.

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Chiffchaff

I have managed a half-decent photo of a blackcap but will keep trying, as Steve Farmer very kindly shared his beautiful images – thank you Steve!

blackcap6-2021 copy

Blackcap by Steve Farmer

blackcap5-2021 copy

Blackcap by Steve Farmer

As well as the spring birds, it’s been lovey to see so many insects, with brimstone, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, speckled wood and peacock all on the wing. The brimstones have even posed for photographs:

The bees are also buzzing, with honeybees, bumblebees including the common carder bee and a number of different solitary bees active.

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Honeybee on a gorse flower

I’ve seen both tawny and ashy mining bees as well as this little one:

Smaller and less striking or noticable than the vibrant female, I think it could be a male tawny mining bee, but am not completely sure.

There are also lots of dark-edged bee-flies about. This bee mimic has a long straight proboscis that it uses to feed on spring flowers like primroses and violets. Their larvae are nest parasites of ground-nesting and solitary bees, feeding on the bee grubs. The female bee-fly flicks her eggs towards the entrance holes of solitary bee nests to allow the larvae to hatch in the right place. Once a bee-fly egg hatches, the larva crawls into the underground nest cell of a host bee where, once large enough, it attaches itself and starts to suck out the body fluids of the host species…

Elsewhere in the woodland the wild daffodils are fading and making way for carpets of lesser celandine, with ground ivy and dog violets adding purple to the bright yellow. As Jim mentioned, the tiny and easily overlooked moschatel, or town-hall clock, is also flowering, although you have to look closely to see it!

 

Although the past couple of nights have been cold, resulting in a slightly less exciting catch in the moth trap, moth species have been picking up and there has at times been a very nice variety to look at and photograph. I think the oak beauty may be my favourite, so far…

So there is plenty to see and hear on the reserve at present, and as well as making the most of what spring has to offer it has been really nice to see some of our regular visitors and volunteers who live a little further afield venturing back to enjoy the insect and bird life and a walk in a slightly different location. With pond dipping events planned and hopefully an onsite Young Naturalists meeting at the end of the month, it feels as though things may be going in the right direction… 

Autumn’s nibbled tresses

The weather certainly feels as though it is heading for autumn, although the recent (and current!) rainfall has certainly improved the look of our original dipping pond which with a tear in the liner had definitely suffered during the rather long hot dry spell.

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Our dipping pond, looking much happier and healthier than it did a few weeks ago

Thankfully we have had the second pond to use for our dipping sessions and yesterday saw another four very happy family groups delving into its depths to see what they could catch.

The highlight for me this time were the few alderfly larvae we caught in the morning:

alderfly larvae

Alderfly larvae

Whilst out by the pond we also had great views of a number of dragonflies, with a common darter perching close by on the boardwalk, a pair of common darters mating in the wheel position and resting on nearby vegetation, and in the afternoon a female southern hawker getting very close to us and egg lay into the grooves in the wooden boardwalk.

common darter

Common darter

Mating common darters

Pair of Common darters mating

Female southern hawker

Female Southern hawker

Female southern hawker 2

Female Southern hawker

I have seen dragonflies egg laying straight into the water and pond vegetation many times before but hadn’t realised some species prefer to lay their eggs into wood on the pond margin and will happily use a newish boardwalk rather than an older rotting stick.

Whilst dipping a Common carder bee flew onto one of the children, who was not worried at all, but in brushing it off her leg it fell into the pond where she was so close to it. It was quickly rescued and relocated onto some of the flowering water mint to recover:

 

August is the time of year to look for the last of our flowering orchids, Autumn Lady’s-tresses, which can be found on grassland and heathland. Here it grows in places on the lichen heath, if it is given the chance!

It is a very delicate looking orchid with white individual flowers that spiral round the short stem. I have been on the lookout for them since the start of the month, when they first started popping up on social media, but had no success. Although they can be very hard to spot I put their absence in part down to the very dry spell we had over the spring and summer. Jim though did manage to spy a small group of them on the lichen heath and Bob, in checking for them again came to the conclusion the increasing numbers of rabbits on the reserve have in fact merrily munched their way through the ones that have flowered.

Not expecting much, I decided to have one last try this morning before the rain arrived and was rewarded with one flower, admittedly slightly past its best, in amongst a clump of I think St John’s Wort (I say I think as that was also going over) which clearly kept it safe from the rabbits. Nearby I also spied a second stem, with the flower bitten clean off:

Autumn lady's-tresses

Autumn Lady’s-tresses

nibbled autumn lady's-tresses

Autumn Lady’s-tresses nibbled stem

If anyone would like to try and find some, I think Wilverly Plain in the forest will be a better place to look!

It is probably time for me to relocate everything from the Welcome Hut (a much nicer spot to work from even in the pouring rain!) back to the centre, so I will finish with a few photos taken a week or so go that I didn’t quite get round to sharing: a bee-wolf and another heather colletes bee enjoying the heather in bloom in the meadow and a solitary bee on the Inula hookeri outside the front of the Centre.

So many insects, and a baby toad

Last Thursday I was passing the marjoram in the planter outside the front of the Education Centre when I noticed a bee I had not seen before. It was quite large and very striking, with a strong pattern on the underside of the abdomen. I managed to take a couple of photos and after a bit of research decided it was one of the sharp-tailed bees and probably the large sharped-tail bee, Coelioxys conoidea. Since Thursday it has been a fairly regular visitor to the marjoram and has been seen and photographed by a number of visitors, and Bob also confirmed it was a large sharp-tailed bee.

coelioxys conoidea (2)

Large sharp-tailed bee, Coelioxys conoidea

Sharp-tailed bees are cuckoo bees, laying their eggs in the nests of megachile (leaf-cutter bees) or anthophora (flower bees) species. Only the females have the pointed abdomen which is used to cut a slit in the partition of the host’s cell so the egg can be placed inside. The coelioxys species hatches first, with the grub devouring the host egg and its food source.

This particular species favours the coast leaf-cutter bee, Megachile maritima. As the name suggests, they have a strong liking for the coast but can be found inland in areas of the New Forest. On Monday I noticed a leaf-cutter bee enjoying the Inula hookeri which is now flowering outside the Centre. The plant has large flower heads which the bee was meticulously working its way round before flying off to the next, so I was able to watch it for some time. Although not completely sure it was a coast leaf-cutter bee, they must be onsite somewhere if the large sharp-tailed bees are present.

Leaf-cutter bee

Leaf-cutter bee enjoying the Inula hookeri, possibly Megachile maritima

Bob has been on a mission to fill the planters with plants that are good for pollinators but not liked by the deer, who have taken quite a liking to a number of them. The Inula hookeri however is not to their taste and the large yellow flowers are providing a brilliant nectar source for insects and its been great to watch the butterflies and bees visiting.

Brimstone (2)

Brimstone enjoying the Inula hookeri

Whilst watching the brimstone enjoying the flowers I noticed a bright green and very smart leafhopper, Cicadella viridis:

Cicadella viridis

Leafhopper, Cicadella viridis

There are also still blue mason bees around, they quickly made use of the new bee block Bob added in to the end of the planter and can often be seen resting on the planter itself.

Blue mason bee

Blue mason bee

On Sunday I popped to the meadow in the hope of seeing another bee I haven’t seen before which this time favours heather. The heather is now in bloom, but seeing a heather colletes bee proved harder, or at least seeing one still for long enough to get a good look was quite a challenge. They whizz around even faster than the green-eyed flower bees do.

Eventually one settled long enough for me to get a look and half decent photo:

Colletes succinctus (2)

Heather colletes bee, Colletes succinctus

Whilst watching the bees whizzing around I noticed a bee-wolf fly straight towards me clutching a honeybee. It landed by my feet, I had obviously been right next to its burrow and had taken it slightly by surprise, but after sorting itself and its prey out it flew to its burrow and disappeared. It was fascinating to watch.

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Bee-wolf with honeybee prey

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Bee-wolf with honeybee prey

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Bee-wolf with honeybee prey

The light trap has revealed more than just moths over the past week. Last week we had a couple of visits form a rather large longhorn beetle, the tanner beetle, which is also attracted to light. They are a large beetle with a body length of 18-45mm and are broader than the other longhorn species.

Credit for this photo goes to regular visitor John 6×4, as I have been regularly working from the Welcome Hut since our wifi was improved and he bought the beetle over, on a log, for me to photograph. We were also able to show it to a passing family who were rather impressed!

Another beetle that found its way into the light trap was this species of dor beetle. It was very active so was a bit harder to photograph:

Dor beetle

Dor beetle

On the moth front the two traps have contained a good variety, although many are quick to fly first thing where it has been so warm. Highlights have included bloodvein, coxcomb prominent, light crimson underwing, pebble hook-tip and a stunning gold spot.

Bloodvein

Bloodvein

Coxcomb prominent

Coxcomb prominent

Light crimson underwing

Light crimson underwing, photographed in the trap, it instantly flew once I took the towel away properly

Pebble hook tip

Pebble hook-tip

Gold spot 2

Gold spot, the photo definitely doesn’t do this moth justice

We have also received some great photos this week from visitors. Jon Mitchell visited on Sunday for the first time since lockdown and was able to see and photograph both the large sharp-tailed bee and the heather colletes bee, along with damselflies, a gatekeeper and a couple of dragonfly exuvia by the pond. The second dragonfly nymph clearly thought the first had picked a good spot when it crawled out of the pond.

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Sam has visited a number of times recently and asked his mum to share photos she took of the toadlet and alder beetle larvae he found whilst exploring here on his last two visits:

Toadlet by Sam

Toadlet spotted by Sam

Alder beetle larvae by Sam

Alder beetle larvae spotted by Sam

We do enjoy seeing photos taken by visitors whilst out and about on the reserve so if anyone else has anything to share please email it to BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org, along with whether or not you are happy for us to share it wider via the blog.

Thank you very much to Jon and Sam for sharing your photos with us.

Moving in

Clearing the vegetation growing in front of the bug hotel a number of weeks ago has opened it up to a lot more sunlight, and as a result I noticed this week that the leaf-cutter bees have been busy and used one of the blocks of wood:

Evidence of leaf cutter bees

Evidence of leaf-cutter bees

They will happily make their homes in solitary bee hotels positioned in a sunny spot, so our south facing bug hotel is ideal.

The females collect sections of leaf which they chew into a pulp and mix with saliva to create the walls of a cell for their offspring. Inside each cell she lays an egg and leaves it with a mixture of pollen and nectar on which to feed. The cells are then sealed up before she moves on to the next one, and finally she plugs the hole to the whole cavity with more leaf pulp. The young will develop over winter and emerge the following year.

I had a good look at the other blocks of wood the Young Naturalists had drilled holes in and added to the hotel and noticed another had four holes each with a solitary bee in it, the weather was not so nice so they were probably deciding whether or not to venture out. One did emerge from its hole, flew to a couple of bramble flowers then decided to fly back to the comfort of the wood.

As well as enjoying the comfort of the bug hotel the bees have been favouring the rather large thistle which has sprung up behind the Education Shelter.

Whilst by the bug hotel I spotted a couple of dark bush-crickets on the ground below:

Dark bush cricket

Dark bush-cricket

Bush-crickets have very long thread-like antennae, compared to grasshoppers which have much shorter antennae.

When the sunshine has been out female emperor dragonflies have been busy ovipositing or egg-laying in the newer of the two ponds by the Education Centre. They can lay hundreds of eggs over their adult lives, in batches over a few days or weeks. The eggs are elongated in shape and laid into plant material on or near the surface of the water using a scythe-like ovipositor.

Emperor dragonfly

Female Emperor dragonfly egg laying

Whilst having lunch earlier in the week I was joined by a red admiral, which seemed very happy to settle on the gravel and let me get very close for a photo:

Red admiral

Red admiral

I also managed to get my first ever photo of a ruby-tailed wasp… but they do not hang around for long so it is a bit of a distant photo!

Ruby tailed wasp

Ruby-tailed wasp

They are though very beautiful to look at, even if from a distance. Ruby-tailed wasps are also solitary, however instead of doing all the work themselves like the leaf-cutter bees mentioned above, the females lay their eggs in the nests of other solitary bees and wasps, favouring mason bees in particular. When the eggs hatch, they eat the larvae of the mason bees, giving the ruby-tailed wasp its other name of ‘Cuckoo Wasp’.

Parasitising other bees’ nests is risky, but the ruby-tailed wasp has a number of defences. It has a concave abdomen which allows it to curl up tightly into a ball and it has a hard body cuticle that protects it from the stings of the host species. They can sting themselves, but this sting is not venomous.

Recent highlights from the light trap have included this black arches and eyed hawk-moth:

The planters in front of the Centre are still attracting lots of bees including the green-eyed flower bees we have shared photos of in the past. Earlier in the week there was a tiny species of yellow-faced bee on the astrantia along with a sawfly of some description:

Yellow faced bee

Yellow-faced bee

Sawfly

Sawfly

The mini meadow by the Welcome Hut is still good for butterflies when the sun has been shining, with four skippers dancing round each other earlier in the week. There have also been ringlet in the area of long grass and bramble by the boat, along with comma and red admiral on the wing fairly regularly. The gatekeepers are also now flying, the adults emerge slightly later in the season and are also known as hedge browns.

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper

Still going wild

On Sunday we had another of our fortnightly Young Naturalist catch ups, and it was great to hear what the group have been getting up to. Will had been down to the Lymington and Keyhaven Marshes and shared some photos from his walk, including one of an avocet with chick.

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Thomas and Alex had been for a walk at Iping Common, a Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve, and had seen Silver-studded blue butterflies, a glow worm larva, a bloody-nosed beetle and a pill millipede.

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Harry talked to us about the bug hotel in his garden which he built six years ago and is very popular with the spiders and Poppy had also sent me a photo during the week of the female broad-bordered yellow underwing moth which had emerged from a pupa she had found in the garden. Last time we met online she had shown everyone the pupa wriggling and we had guessed at Large yellow underwing, so weren’t far off!

Sadly Saturday night was so windy we didn’t have a huge number of moths to look at, despite Bob running both light traps, but we did have a dozen or so to study under the digital microscope. The group are getting quite good at identifying a few we either catch more regularly or stand out, such as the Spectacle moth or Buff-tip. The most exciting was this lovey Purple thorn, which was very obliging and posed for some time for photos:

Purple thorn (2)

Purple thorn

Nigel had put together another quiz for the group, this time on butterflies, dragonflies, other insects and some spiders they are likely to see whilst out and about and we talked through a presentation on bees, the main reason for all the bee photos I’ve been taking recently!

The group have requested reptiles and amphibians as themes for the next couple of sessions and we will run another in a fortnights time. Grass snake photos will certainly be easy, I spotted one curled up in the vegetation by the Education Centre pond Sunday afternoon:

Grass snake (4)

Grass snake

When I arrived at Blashford yesterday a rather substantial branch had come down by the entrance so I decided to walk the closer footpaths to check everything else was as it should be.

I popped into Ivy South Hide to have a look at the tern rafts and could make out quite a few Common tern chicks, although they were difficult to count especially when an adult came back with food and they all dashed around. Closer to the hide there was a pair of Black-headed gull chicks on one of the life-ring rafts and I watched the smaller one bobbing around in the water before it climbed back on to the raft:

Black-headed gull chicks (2)

Black-headed gull chick

Walking back up the Dockens path I saw another grass snake, this time a young one, basking on the large fallen tree close to the mushroom sculpture. I managed a quick photo before it disappeared over the back of the trunk:

Grass snake (3)

Grass snake

Further along the path I spotted another plant I have not noticed before, identified by Bob today as Tutsan. Tutsan is a deciduous flowering shrub in the Hypericum or St John’s Wort family, and native to western and southern Europe. Its leaves were apparently gathered and burned to ward off evil spirits on the eve of St. John’s Day and it has also been used to treat wounds and inflammation. The name Tutsan comes from the French words “tout” (all) and “sain” (healthy), a reference to the plant’s healing capabilities.

Tutsan

Tutsan

From the river dipping bridge I decided to head over to Tern Hide to have a look at Ibsley Water and see if there were any Ringlets in the area of rough grass between the pedestrian gate and car park height barrier. There were a couple flying about and I also saw my first Gatekeeper of the year, although it did not settle for a photo.

Ringlet (2)

Ringlet

Whilst photographing the Ringlet I noticed a hoverfly, Volucella pellucens, on the bramble flowers. Also called the Pellucid fly or Large Pied-hoverfly, it is one of the largest flies in Britain and has a striking ivory-white band across its middle and large dark spots on its wings. The adults favour bramble flowers and umbellifers whilst the larvae live in the nests of social wasps and bumblebees, eating waste products and bee larvae.

Volucella pellucens

Volucella pellucens

On reaching Tern Hide a movement caught my eye and I noticed a large wasps nest under the roof and to the right of the right hand door. I spent some time watching them flying in and out. Bob did head over there yesterday too to take a look and shared a photo, but here’s another:

Wasps and wasp nest

Wasps and wasp nest

Although we’re not going over there as regularly as we would have done under normal circumstances, I’m surprised neither of us had noticed it sooner given the size!

Yesterday afternoon we had a brief power outage whilst our supply was switched back from a generator to the mains, and as the sun was shining I took the opportunity to linger by the planters outside the Centre, chat to the few visitors that were passing and see which insects were visiting the flowers. Although we’ve shared a few Green-eyed flower bee photos before, they are so smart I couldn’t resist taking a few more photos of them when they either rested on the planter edge or paused for long enough on the vervain.

I also spotted an Alder beetle on the lavender, a bee enjoying the astrantia, a Large white butterfly on the verbena and a mint moth.

The mini meadow by the Welcome Hut is also still really good for insects, with Thick-legged flower beetles, hoverflies and Small skippers enjoying the remaining ox-eye daisies, yarrow and ragged robin. The hoverfly could I think be a male Long hoverfly,  Sphaerophoria scripta, with its narrow body noticeably longer than its wings. The female of this species is broader.

Today has been decidedly soggier, but I did watch a butterfly fly past in the rain and there are plenty of soggy looking damselflies trying to find shelter on the plant stems:

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly funded by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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It’s the little things…

Whilst Bob has been doing a brilliant job of blogging his 30 Days Wild antics, this week is also National Insect Week. Organised by the Royal Entomological Society, it encourages everyone to appreciate and learn more about the ‘little things that run the world’.

Insects are by far the most diverse and ecologically important group of animals on land and there are over 24,000 known species in the United Kingdom alone, with hundreds of species to be found in almost every garden and green space. With so many to study they are grouped into orders, for example the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), Hymenoptera (bees, ants and wasps), Orthoptera (grasshoppers and crickets) and Coleoptera (beetles) to name a few.

Insects have a huge role to play and without them our lives would be very different: they pollinate fruit, flowers and vegetables; they are food for amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals; and they feed on lots of living and dead things themselves, breaking down waste and helping to keep the balance of nature. You can find out more about National Insect Week on their website.

So here’s a very mini Blashford insect safari, using photos I’ve taken over the past few days, covering a very meagre 23 species and spanning five orders – I have quite a few more to track down!

The moth trap has revealed some spectacular moths over the past few days, including some very smart Privet and Elephant hawk-moths:

There was also another Scarce merveille du jour, with its lichen coloured forewings which provide it with brilliant camouflage:

Other species included a swallow-tailed moth, peppered moth, pebble prominent, lobster moth, large emerald, iron prominent, buff tip and barred straw:

The raised planters outside the front of the Centre are still a good place to look for insects, with plenty of bees, ladybirds, and butterflies making the most of the flowers:

There has also been a red admiral regularly resting on the fence posts and gravel outside the front of the Centre…

red admiral

Red admiral

…and I also found this Figwort sawfly on the mullein by the corner of the building:

sawfly

Figwort sawfly, Tenthredo scrophulariae

I’m not sure I’ve seen the sawfly before, or if I have I don’t think I’ve had the time to photograph and identify it, so it was nice to find a different species. Its striking yellow and black bands mimic a wasp and whilst the adults will sometimes nectar on flowers as this one was doing, they will often eat other insects. The larvae feed on either mullein or figwort.

Where we have not been using the grassy area by the side of the Centre for school lunches and Wild Days Out free play, the grass has been able to grow nice and tall and a few other plants have sprung up, particularly around the tunnel. One plant in particular seemed popular with the bees and volunteer Phil tested out his plant finder app on it for me on Tuesday as I had been trying to identify it without much success. It reminded me a bit of dead nettle.

Known as Black horehound (Ballota nigra), it grows along hedgerows, road side verges and on waste ground and belongs to the mint and dead nettle family, Lamiaceae. When the leaves are crushed it gives off a pungent rotten smell to deter herbivores (perhaps we need to relocate some into the planter by the Centre which has been targeted by the deer) which has given it the local name of ‘stinking Roger’ in some places. It also has a long tradition in herbal medicine and has been used to treat a range of issues from respiratory problems to travel sickness and depression to gout.

carder bee on black horehound

Carder bee on black horehound

There have been a number of emperor dragonflies hawking over the Centre and ponds and yesterday I spent some time sat by the pond watching a male fly overhead, occasionally dive bombing me. Every so often he would return to one particular iris to perch, either on or above the exuvia that was still clinging on, so I guess this could have been where he emerged:

emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly

This damselfly was not quite as fortunate as I found it in the firm grasp of a zebra spider who was doing an excellent job of carrying it around the post to devour in peace:

zebra spider and damselfly

Zebra spider, Salticus scenicus, and damselfly

In venturing further from the Centre to check the reserve, I had a brief glimpse of a fritillary along the Dockens path and managed a quick photo. I think it’s a Silver-washed fritillary:

fritillary

Silver-washed fritillary

In studying all the mullein I came across in the hope of stumbling across a mullein moth caterpillar, I had to settle for this grasshopper instead, although it did pose very obligingly for a photo:

grasshopper

Grasshopper

Now is definitely a good time to find and watch insects, and you don’t need to venture far to track them down as even the smallest garden or green space can provide a home for this incredibly diverse group of animals. So if you get the chance head outside and see what you can find!

Moving away from the insects, I ventured into our woodland log circle area on Sunday and it has certainly enjoyed the lack of bug hunting children, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so green and grassy. On a number of logs I found the fruiting bodies of the slime mould Lycogala epidendrum, also known as wolf’s milk or groening’s slime. If the outer wall of the fruiting body is broken before maturity they excrete a pink paste.

slime mould

Slime mold, Lycogala epidendrum or wolf’s milk

Finally, although they have been disappearing very quickly with the warmer weather, the grass snakes by Ivy Silt Pond have been very obliging, with two often on the stretch of hedge immediately behind the temporary sign:

grass snakes 2

Grass snakes on the dead hedge by Ivy Silt Pond

A clear surprise

This week I have been putting out a number of temporary signs to highlight some of the wildflowers currently in bloom on the reserve, including herb robert, red campion, foxglove and hedge woundwort.

All are brightening up the woodland at the moment, but I particularly like the hedge woundwort with its hooded magenta-pink flowers. It is known more for having a particularly unpleasant smell, which from getting close to it to photograph the flowers and put the sign in I have to agree it does! As its name suggests, it was in the past used as a herbal remedy with its bruised leaves said to alleviate bleeding.

hedge woundwort 2

Hedge woundwort

Whilst walking round I noticed a couple of other plants growing I don’t remember noticing before, possibly because this time of year is usually our busiest for school visits and as such opportunities to stop, look, photograph and identify something different are usually few and far between. I spotted woody nightshade or bittersweet growing amongst the bramble in the hedge by Ivy Silt pond, and another one growing near the boardwalk past Ivy South hide. Belonging to the nightshade family it is toxic. The flowers appear from May to September and are followed by clusters of poisonous bright red berries. The leaves apparently smell of burnt rubber when crushed, although I didn’t crush them to test this out!

woody nightshade

Woody nightshade or bittersweet

Further along the Dockens path I found some stinking iris which has dull yellowy purple flowers. Also known as the roast beef plant, it gets its name from the smell of the leaves when crushed or bruised, which is said to resemble rotten raw beef. In the autumn its seed capsules will open to reveal striking red-orange berries, which do ring a bell.

stinking iris

Stinking iris

The moth trap has also revealed a number of different moths over the last few days. On Tuesday there was a peach blossom in the trap, which is definitely a favourite with its pretty pinkish spots on a brown backgound. There was another in the trap yesterday which looked fresher:

Other highlights included a cinnabar, buff tip, burnished brass and today an elephant hawk-moth.

Yesterday I walked a bit further up to Lapwing Hide to see what was about and saw mandarin duck and a pair of kingfisher on the Clearwater Pond. Closer to Lapwing Hide there was a little grebe feeding young on Ibsley Silt Pond. From the hide I was surprised by how many birds were on Ibsley Water, as it has been fairly quiet recently. Whilst watching the swallows, sand martins and house martins swooping over the lake I realised there were more swans on the water than I had seen before and in counting them reached a grand total of 99. There could have easily been over 100 as I couldn’t see into the bay by Goosander Hide or the other side of the spit island.

There were also at least 86 greylag geese and 40 Canada geese. They must have been disturbed off the river and decided Ibsley Water was a safer spot.

On walking round to Tern Hide I saw at least four meadow brown, the most butterflies I think I have seen at any one time this year so far. This one settled long enough for a photo:

meadow brown

Meadow brown

From Tern Hide I saw a distant little ringed plover, off to the right of the hide on the shingle and my first sighting of one this year. The biting stonecrop around the edges of the car park is flowering: it is also known as goldmoss because of its dense low growing nature and yellow star shaped flowers. The common centaury which can be seen in places off the edges of the footpaths and also on the lichen heath is beginning to flower. As with other members of the gentian family, its pink flowers close during the afternoon.

The planters outside the centre are still providing good views of insect life, despite the drop in temperature and absence some days of sun. I managed to get a photo of one of the dark bush crickets that have been hiding in amongst the Lamb’s ear and also spotted a ladybird larva which after a bit of research I think might be of the cream spot ladybird.

Today I popped briefly to the meadow which apart from the large numbers of damselfly was quite quiet. I saw one solitary bee enjoying the ox-eye daisies and also spied a female bee-wolf in her sandy burrow. I watched her for some time.

The damselflies have still been active on the wing despite the lack of sunshine and I managed to photograph an azure blue damselfly to the side of the path and a pair of I think common blues mating in the mini meadow by the welcome hut.

Today’s highlight though has to be bumping into a visitor, Dave Shute, who had come to Blashford in the hope of some bright weather and seeing a clearwing moth. He just about got away with it!

Clearwings are a group of day-flying moths that look a bit like wasps but are usually very rarely seen. As their name suggests, they differ from other moths in that their wings frequently lack scales and are instead transparent. As a result of them being hard to track down, pheromone lures have been developed to make finding them that little bit easier, and these are artificial chemicals that mimic those released by female moths to attract the males. Bob has put out lures here in the past, usually attracting red-tipped clearwing whose caterpillars favour willow, and last summer also found an orange-tailed clearwing which was attracted to a lure designed for both these and the yellow-legged clearwing.

I was lucky enough to see the orange-tailed clearwing last summer but don’t think I have seen a red-tipped clearwing before, and this was the lure Dave had bought. He had seen one come to the lure but disappear before I saw him, but whilst we were chatting another came and this time rested on a nearby bramble allowing us to photograph it, I think the sun disappearing at that moment helped!

red tipped clearwing

Red-tipped clearwing

The lures do not harm the moths, but they should only be used for a short period of time and it is best not to use individual species lures regularly at one site in one season so as not to disturb the insects too much.

It was great to see and a surprise for an otherwise rather grey and wet day, so thank you Dave!

Garden Safari

I stayed at home yesterday and went on safari in my garden. I have decided to see how many species I can record over the coming weeks when it is unwise to go out and, let’s face it soon we probably won’t be going out at all, if the events of the weekend continue.

I have started trying to identify slugs, which are relatively easy to find and don’t run away, but are pretty difficult to identify some of the time.

Ambigolimax nyctelius

Possibly a Balkan threeband slug

If my identification is correct it may be one of the few, perhaps even the first Hampshire record, however I am not getting too excited as identification is far from certain!

Where there are slugs there are also woodlice, I found two species of those, fortunately easier to identify.

Amadillidium vulgare

Amadillidium vulgare

Porcellio scaber

Porcellio scaber

The sunshine has brought out more insects and over the weekend I saw my first beeflies and quite a lot of bees.

bee 2-001

Possible Andrena scotica

This solitary bee was very sluggish and was probably subject to parasitism, the slightly swollen abdomen also hints at this.

There were also lots of the bee mimic hoverflies, especially Eristalis pertinax.

Eristalis pertinax 4x3

Eristalis pertinax

The other very prominent insects were ladybirds, I saw lots of individuals of three species, the most numerous being pine ladybirds, a small black species with red markings.

pine ladybird

pine ladybirds

At present Blashford Lakes is still open for walking, with limited parking in the entrance gateways, but car park closed to keep numbers low and please keep access to the gateways free. Remember as the paths are relatively narrow you will need to consider stepping aside to allow someone to pass in order to keep the 2m distancing, another reason why it is not appropriate to have large numbers of people on site. Also please do not travel long distances to the reserve, make the most of places more local to home, investigate your garden if you have one, there is nature almost everywhere.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 16

Since Thursday evening something dramatic has happened to the breeding gulls on Ibsley Water, they have completely abandoned their nesting island. I know there were lots of large chicks still on there, so I can only assume that a ground predator reached the island and predated a lot of them. Perhaps most likely is that a fox swam out there and spent some time wandering about killing chicks, but it could have been an otter or mink. Luckily some of the chicks had already flown, so this was not a complete colony loss.

The moth trap overnight caught rather little, unsurprisingly as it was again very windy, with a few showers. There was one notable species though, a lunar yellow underwing, this is a species of very dry grassland and regularly found at only two sites in Hampshire. Curiously I have several times caught them on nights that would generally be thought of as poor for moths, I once caught three in a night of high winds and rain when the total catch was only twelve moths.

lunar yellow underwing

lunar yellow underwing

Wet and windy weather is not good for insects, unsurprising really as they mostly like warm sunshine! I found one casualty in the new Centre pond yesterday.

Emperor dead

Dead emperor dragonfly

The rain and wind has brought down a few trees, a combination of wet ground and a heavy weight of leaves making them much more unstable. In the afternoon we suffered a power cut when a tree fell on the overhead power lines, hopefully to be restored by the start of the new working week. All trees will fall eventually and most will go onto have a value for wildlife, either by continuing to grow or by providing a deadwood resource. One group that uses deadwood are the slime moulds and I found what I think was one on a dead willow stump.

slime mould possibly

A slime mould (possibly)

The patchy sunshine brought out good numbers of insects and other warmth loving species, after a few days in hiding they were keen to get active if they could.

grass snake

grass snake on the stump at Ivy South Hide

 

I saw three different large female grass snake during the day, no doubt tempted out by the sunny spells, but not so warmed up that they were really active.

Other insects out and about included this distinctive click beetle.

Agrypnus murinus

Agrypnus murinus

There were also quiet a lot of solitary bees about, including this yellow-face bee.

yellow faced bee

yellow-face bee (not sure which species)