30 Days Wild – Day 7 – Blue out of the Grey

Not perhaps the best day to be wild, but after a long dry spell much of our wildlife will be welcoming the rain. Birds like song thrush and blackbird need worms to rear their young. The snails will welcome some rain as it will deflect the thrush from eating them and enable them to get out and eat my vegetable plants!

However it did not rain all day and in a brief sunny interlude I found a blue butterfly in my mini-meadow and not just any blue, but a male silver-studded blue.

silver-studded blue 4x3

silver-studded blue (male)

To record an odd individual might not seem a great surprise, but I have seen them every year and sometimes several individuals of both sexes. This is a heathland species, renowned for having colonies that are very localised. In fact research has shown that most travel no more than 50m from where they hatch and many only up to 20m. Their flight is quite weak and usually low to the ground, in short they don’t get out much!

When I see them in the garden they are in the mini-meadow, a tiny grassland about 4m x 5m, otherwise the garden has a small lawn and flower borders with a small vegetable patch, no heath at all. What is more I live in the midst of ordinary suburban gardens, across two roads there is the New Forest, but even then it is short turf and conifer plantation. The nearest silver-studded blue colony is relatively close at 750m away, but it seems that this is something like 15 times as far as even an fairly intrepid silver-studded blue would go in a lifetime. To cover this distance would also involve not crossing open heath, but a large conifer plantation, two roads with hedges and a further line of trees. Even stranger the butterflies I see are, like today’s, not well travelled, worn, veterans but freshly emerged and pristine.

Silver-studded blue have remarkable lifestyles, their association with ants is only matched by the large blue. The newly hatched larvae are taken into the nests of one of two species of black ant and only venture out at night to feed on a variety of plants, but on heaths, usually heather or gorse seedlings. The caterpillars secrete a sweet substance beloved by ants, in fact it seems they suffer when it is not removed by ants.

The mystery of why I see them regularly in my garden remains, maybe they do breed in my meadow, but if so they are feeding on bird’s foot trefoil, something the heathland variety does not usually do, although they do so in limestone areas such as on the Great Ormes Head. It would also need there to be the right ants present, something I cannot confirm and it would be in a very atypical habitat, so seems very unlikely.

silver-studded blue closed

Settling before the next rain shower.

If anyone can shed any light on this mystery I would be delighted to hear, I am at a loss to explain why they appear so often so far from their nearest colony.

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30 Days Wild – Day 5 – A Smashing Time in the Garden

By way of contrast with my wanderings yesterday, today I was mainly in my garden. The highlight of the day was a summer generation small tortoiseshell, my first and I think a rather early date for one. Small tortoiseshell hibernate as adults like peacock butterflies, both emerge in spring, mate and lay eggs. The small tortoiseshell develop quickly and a new generation of adults hatch in summer to lay more eggs which will result in adults that emerge in early autumn and then hibernate until the following spring. Peacock, by contrast have just one generation and when the new adults emerge in July they will survive all the way until the following spring, occasionally some of the over-wintering generation are still on the wing when the first of the new generation emerge. The comma has a similar strategy to the small tortoiseshell. It should also be added that this story only holds in southern Britain, head up to Scotland and both small tortoiseshell and peacock are single brooded.

I totally failed to get any pictures of the butterfly but I did manage to get one of a soldierfly in the mini-meadow. It was the common Chloromyia formosa, a shining green species that can be seen sitting around, sunning itself on leaves in grassy areas.

Chloromyia formosa

Chloromyia formosa

Something of a feature today was the frequent tapping sound of a song thrush smashing snails against various hard surfaces in the garden. The recent dry weather has made finding their preferred earthworms very difficult, so they eat snails, but there is the problem of getting them out of their shell. Beating them against a rock or the wooden edge of the raised vegetable bed.

snail shell smashed

Garden snail shell broken open by a song thrush

29th Dec – Sightings

No pictures today as my camera has died on me. Opening the hides first thing there was a water pipit at Tern hide (later I also had singles at both Goosander and Lapwing hides as well), also from there a new high count of linnet 108, and a chiffchaff beside the hide. At Ivy North hide the bittern was standing high in the reedmace giving great views. At the Woodland hide the reed bunting count had risen to 7 along with all the usual woodland birds.

Walking round the reserve the number of species singing was notable, I heard mistle thrush, song thrush, great tit, treecreeper, robin and Cetti’s warbler between the Centre and Ivy South hide.

In the afternoon a first winter Caspian gull was showing well swimming among the larger gulls from at least 2 o’clock. Despite searches by a few people no other notable gulls were found apart from rather more yellow-legged gull than recently seen, with perhaps 10 or more.

Towards dusk a green sandpiper was at Goosander hide, a great white egret flew over heading south, I assumed the egret was heading to roost in the trees at Ivy Lake, but when I got there none were to be seen. A small starling roost gathered over the north end of Ibsley Water, maybe 1000 or so birds, being chased by a peregrine. The peregrine them forced low over the water, so low that many wings broke the surface and produced a sudden flash of spray.

 

Taking Stock

Things have been relatively quiet at Blashford recently, although also very busy! Quiet in that we are in a time when the breeding season is more or less over and the migration season has hardly started.

Overall the bird nesting season was a mixed story. Resident birds mostly started late, the snow in March set them back. The migrants were mostly late arriving, with some in lower numbers than usual. It seemed that migrants that come from the SE were much as usual but those that take the West African route were down. Having arrived most small birds relished the warm weather with lots of insects to feed their young and seem to have done well. Resident species have had a more mixed time, single brooded species such as blue tits have done well, multi-brooded worm feeders like blackbird and song thrush have had a harder time.

Overall it has been a bumper season for insects, in the main they all do well in a hot summer a hot summer, although those that use shallow wetlands are probably finding things difficult.

six-spot burnet

six-spot burnet moth

As the breeding season ends we are starting to see some migration, swift are leaving as are the young of the first brood of sand martin and adult cuckoo have all gone. The first waders are coming back from the north, green sand piper and a number of common sandpiper have been seen on the reserve.

Yesterday a party of 7 black-tailed godwit flew south over Ibsley Water, they were in full breeding plumage and showed no sign of moult, so I would guess they were newly arrived from Iceland. If conditions are good they will make the flight in one go, arriving at a favoured moult site such as one of the harbours on the south coast. Once they get here wing moult starts almost straight away.

Further signs of approaching autumn are rather larger, at Fishlake Meadows 2 osprey have recently been seen perched up in the dead trees, one carries a blue ring, apparently ringed as a nestling in Scotland.

The prolonged hot weather is taking a toll, a lot of trees are losing their leaves in an attempt to reduce water loss, some will lose branches and as the ground dries one or two are falling. Perhaps surprisingly it is often trees growing on usually damp sites that are suffering the most. Easily accessible water in typical times mean they have not developed such large or deep root systems and are more vulnerable in drought conditions.

30 Days Wild – Day 27

Up and out early today to do my final breeding bird survey of the year, in fact not quite as early as I had hoped as it was rather drizzly at dawn, but still in the field by 05:40. I am surveying a site about 40 minutes from home so there is always a risk that conditions are okay at home but not at the site.  As it is now quite late in the season a lot of birds have stopped singing and some have completely finished nesting and are wandering around in flocks. In this regard the rather wet conditions of late are an advantage as this enables many resident species to have an extra brood, species like song thrush and blackbird, will give up in June in a dry season but can often have an extra brood if worms are still easy to come by in a wet season.

I did have quite a few singing thrushes and also a lot of wren and the summer visitors are still mostly singing so chiffchaff and blackcap were in good numbers. I also had several young birds, some being fed by their parents, confirming breeding. The survey involves mapping the location of every bird seen or heard on eight to twelve visits. This can then be analysed to give a fair estimate of the number of territories of each species present. All I have to do now is transfer all the data to species maps and work out how many territories of each species I have found, it could take a while!

For almost the whole of my four hours on site it was grey with low cloud, but just as I finished the sun came out and with it lots of insects. I saw meadow brown, marbled white, large skipper and small tortoiseshell in just a couple of minutes.

small tortoiseshell

small tortoiseshell

Almost next to the butterfly on the same bramble there was a very smart longhorn beetle, with a very long-winded name, it is the golden-bloomed grey longhorn beetle Agapanthia villosoviridescens.

golden-bloomed grey longhorn beetle (Agapanthia villosoviridescens)

golden-bloomed grey longhorn beetle (Agapanthia villosoviridescens)

My afternoon was spent in a meeting at County Hall, Chichester, a pretty wildlife free zone, but as I left the building it was great to hear the cries of the peregrine on the cathedral, probably the young ones after food from their parents. It is amazing to think that about forty years ago these birds were restricted to western cliffs and that they were plagued by the twin ills of egg collectors and pesticides to the point where it seemed we might lose them altogether.

 

Swallows and More

I was out early doing a breeding bird survey off-site this morning and when I arrived at Blashford it was to be told that I had just missed a red-rumped swallow. This Mediterranean nesting cousin of our familiar swallow occurs as a regular, but still rare, migrant at this time of year, some of them migrate north with a bit too much vigour and over-shoot their intended destinations. They usually turn up in flocks of swallows and martins at places like Ibsley Water, so it was something of a surprise that we had not got a reserve record before now. It was reported again about an hour later and I did see a bird that was supposed to be it, but I could not convince myself that it was and before I could get a better look it flew off. One that got away!

However there were lots of other birds, at least 850 mixed swallows and martins, I estimated about 400 sand martin, 250 swallow and 200 house martin. There were also at least 6 swift, although I was told there were many more. Scanning around I also saw a red kite, 2 raven, at least 8 little ringed plover in an aerial dash past the hide and lots of buzzard. On the ground I saw my first common sandpiper of the spring and a white wagtail.  In addition the first summer little gull was still there as were at least 6 common tern.

The main work recently seems to have been raft related. We are building a new set of tern rafts with money from a grant given by Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS). A few days ago we launched the prototype before we get on with building the new fleet.

tern raft

Although the common tern are starting to arrive they won’t be getting down to nesting for a little while yet unlike the resident birds. In the last few days I have found nests of both blackbird and song thrush. The pictures show the differences between the two, the eggs of song thrush are clear blue with black spots, clearly distinct from the more muted colours of the blackbird eggs. You can also see the difference in the nests themselves. Blackbirds have a lining of grass whereas song thrush have a smooth render of mud that dries to a hard shell and no lining at all.

blackbird nest

song thrush nest

Black, Blue and Violet

Heard my first blackcap of the year today. It was just ‘tuning-up’ its song, so a bit scratchy, whilst flitting through the trees near the Ivy North Hide and fortunately as there is very little leaf cover at the moment, I  managed to see it quite well.  Not the only warbler around, there are now plenty of chiffchaff singing all around, with lots of other song from, among others, great tit, dunnock, chaffinch, blackbird and song thrush.

A colourful  sighting was a group of teal, loafing on the island to the left of the Ivy North Hide. they seemed to be taking advantage of the early sun to warm them up.  I believe there is a colour referred to in the rag trade called ‘teal green’. I’ve never been clear whether this refers to the green on the head plumage or the green patch, speculum, in the wings. In the case of theses particular birds the normal green on the head was replaced with a purple-blue colour

Teal with the 'blues'

Teal with the ‘blues’

It’s a phenomenon caused by the interference of light that produces the normal green colour. Probably, many people may have seen on mallard, where the usual green colour appears to turn  blue, but I’d never noticed it quite as strikingly on teal before.

Its the time of year when we should be expecting some more colour in our hedgerows, so I was delighted to see some violets in flower alongside the path to Ivy South Hide.

First violets

First violets