Trying to Spring

Spring has stuttered somewhat this week, with the return of night frosts and a chilly northerly wind. With continuing sunny days this has not had too much effect on many species but the cold nights have really hit the moths. Recent days have been seeing just a handful of moths in the trap at most. Some of the highlights have been a couple of great prominent.

great prominent

great prominent

The first pale prominent of the year.

pale prominent

pale prominent

And, yesterday a spectacle.



One hazard that we have to watch very closely when checking the moth trap is our resident robin, it has got very tame and will dive in and grab a moth if given the smallest chance.

The sunny days are still good for butterflies and other insects and this spring has been one of the best in recent years to spring insects. One of the typical spring hoverflies, Epistrophe eligans is quite frequent along the wooded paths now.

Epistrophe eligans

Epistrophe eligans (male)

There are also good numbers of green tiger beetle in the sandier areas of the reserve, these are very active, running fast and flying very readily, a proper challenge to photograph!

green tiger beetle

green tiger beetle

On the bird front yesterday saw our first black tern of the year over Ibsley Water, along with the Bonaparte’s gull, little gull and the return of the male ruff first seen on Sunday, but apparently not on Monday.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not obviously spectacular

Not obviously spectacular

but quite understandable when viewed head on –

The name 'Spectacle' seems more obvious now.

The name ‘Spectacle’ seems more obvious now.

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

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

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

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

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

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

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

The wonderfully lustrous sheen of the Mother of Pearl

The wonderfully lustrous sheen of the Mother of Pearl

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

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

Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawker

On Not Making a Splash

Bird News: Ibsley Waterblack tern 1, black-tailed godwit 36, dunlin 2, bar-tailed godwit 1, swallow c250, house martin c100, cuckoo 1.

A rather grey start to the day, but as is often the case with such weather at this time of year there were some migrants associated with it. Another black tern was good, they are always a treat in spring and a flock of 36 black-tailed godwit is the most I have seen at Blashford this year, although they looked more like first summer birds than adults and may just have been visiting from the coast to feed in the flooded fields of the valley, first summer birds do not usually return to the breeding grounds in Iceland. There were also two dunlin and later, a single bar-tailed godwit. First thing in the morning there were a good few swallows, martins and swifts over the lake, the numbers built during the day and by the end there were at least 250 swallows, the most I have seen this spring.

The milder and drier nights have made it worthwhile to run the moth trap again. A fair few new species for the year have turned up as a result including spectacle, poplar hawk-moth, muslin moth, sharp angled peacock and brindled beauty.

brindled beauty

There were also a few other insects including water beetles, a carrion beetle and a mottled sedge caddisfly, Glyphotaelius pellucidus.

Glyphotaelius pellucidus

As it was Thursday the volunteers were working today and the turn out was impressive for such a dismal day. We planted some donated willows around the main car park, normally I would regard this as a pretty crazy thing to do in May, but it has been so wet that I think they have a good chance of survival. This only involved a few of us though, the rest made a circuit of the main paths dealing with the many trees and branches that have drooped over the paths during the recent wet and windy weather, we also dealt with a good few dead branches and general obstructions.

After this a few accompanied me to Ivy Lake to try to get the last of the tern rafts put in place. This required that a mooring weight was put in place first.

Taking out mooring weight

I am please it was almost calm as even the light northerly wind was enough to make getting the weight placed correctly proved quite difficult, every time I got to the right spot the breeze blew me off station before I could deploy it. I got there in the end and then it was just a matter of getting the raft out.

towing the raft out

Obviously I was pleased that so many of the volunteers stayed to assist me with this task and watched as I put out the mooring and tied the raft in place, but the keenness to ensure that they had cameras with them did make me wonder if there was also at least a sneaking hope of my falling in at some point! I am delighted to say I disappointed them all, I did not even so much as top up my boots. The common terns, of which there were at least twenty today, certainly seemed pleased with the return of their nesting sites for another season.