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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All the small things

I spent some time in the meadow last Thursday and again yesterday, it feels as though it is going over more quickly than usual this year because it has been so dry so it was nice to take a closer look and see which insects are on the wing.

Last week I found a male and female bee-wolf, a solitary wasp that digs a nest in a sandy spot and hunts honey bees. The males gather together to form a lek, where each male defends a small territory and uses pheromones to attract a female. The females work a lot harder, digging a nesting burrow which can be up to one metre long and may have as many as 34 side burrows that end in brood chambers. Once excavation on the burrow has begun, the female will prey on honeybee workers, paralysing them with a sting and bringing them back to the burrow. Up to six paralysed bees can be placed into one chamber then a single egg is laid on one of the bees and chamber is sealed up with sand. After hatching, the larvae feed on the honeybees before spinning a cocoon to hibernate in throughout the winter, emerging in the spring.

I also found a number of different solitary bees enjoying the ox-eye daisies. I’ve been trying to learn a few more bees this year, but the solitary ones are quite hard. They were fun to photograph though!

I also spotted a ladybird larva, a female thick-legged flower beetle (the males have the thick back legs) and a pair of fairy-ring longhorn beetles.

The highlight yesterday was this small skipper, the only butterfly I saw in the meadow when I visited:

When I was there yesterday I had two great views of a fox cub, both sightings took me by surprise so there is no photo, but it first walked up the slope outside the meadow then a bit later came through the ox-eye daisies in the middle before disappearing through the fence. I’m assuming it was the same cub, but I suppose it could have been two different ones.

In the woodland there are lots of scorpion flies on the nettles and I also spotted a speckled bush cricket nymph. The dock are being devoured by the larvae of the green dock beetle, who have completely stripped the leaves from many. If you look closely you can see the larvae along with the occasional shiny green beetle.

I also had my first sightings of grass snake yesterday, although my first was actually this dead one on the path near the meadow, I’m assuming it was predated by a bird:

dead grass snake

Dead grass snake

Having a dead grass snake as my first for this year, I decided to go down towards Ivy South hide and see if I could spot a live one in the dead hedge and was rewarded with two:

There were two there again this morning.

Going back to the reserve’s insect life, the planters outside the front of the centre are still continuing to attract large numbers of bees, hoverflies, horseflies, shield bugs and damselflies and this morning I had glimpses of a dark bush cricket and a ruby tailed wasp. Sadly no photos of either, I will have to keep looking every time I walk past…

The moth trap numbers have decreased again with the drop in temperature, but last week there was a very smart eyed hawk-moth in the trap and yesterday there was a spectacle moth:

You can guess how the spectacle moth gets his name…

Yesterday I noticed a jay spending quite a bit of time on the ground outside the back of the Centre and I watched it for some time sunning itself, stretching its wings, shaking and preening. It could have been dust bathing, but the picnic bench was in the way to see properly. After a while I managed to get a few photos:

It was joined by a great spotted woodpecker, who spent some time hopping around on the ground, possibly looking for ants, before flying up to a tree.

The woodpecker was sat calling from the bench a short while ago, so it must be a favoured spot.

Back to Blashford

Last Monday I helped Bob put a couple of tern rafts out on Ivy Lake, something he had been hoping to do for a while but needed someone on site whilst he went out on the water. So when I say ‘help’, I do mean it in the loosest sense of the word as I kept an eye on him from the comfort of Ivy South hide.

Ivy Lake 3

The view from Ivy South hide – the spiders have moved in and the vegetation is taking over!

Luckily, two of the rafts were still on the edges of the lake, so they just needed moving out into position in the middle and securing in place. By the end of the day there were six common terns interested in one of the rafts and this number has gradually increased over the course of the week. In wandering down there today there were at least twenty either on the raft itself or flying around overhead, with a few black-headed gulls. We would usually put out more rafts but without volunteer support to make them and move them (not a job that allows for social distancing) they will have to make do with these two instead.

Ivy Lake 2

A blurred Bob out on Ivy Lake with two tern rafts (I liked the foreground!)

Whilst waiting for Bob I listened to the reed warblers with their distinctive chatty song and watched a pair of great crested grebes out on the water. I also noticed lots of newly emerged damselflies, yet to develop their full colours and markings, on the stems growing outside the hide. It takes a few days for them to develop their colouring, a useful survival mechanism as at present they are not quite ready to fly so blend in rather well with the vegetation. Lower down you could make out the cast skins or exuvia clinging on to the vegetation following their final moult and emergence as an adult.

Bob has also been busy strimming step asides into the edges of some of the footpaths, where it has been possible to do so, to create areas for people to pass each other more easily and aid social distancing when walking around.

In addition we have been busy planning extra signage for some of the footpaths and will be making some routes one way, again to aid social distancing and enable people to visit safely. Crossing the stretches of boardwalk safely will be particularly difficult, so people will be directed over these a certain way. We hope to begin putting signage up this week, at the entrances to the reserve and also at path junctions, so if and when you do visit please keep an eye out for them. Hopefully we will have ironed out any snags by the time we are able to open a car park, which fingers crossed will not be too far off now, we will keep you all posted…

It has been nice to spend a bit of time out on the reserve – I was back just in time to experience the bluebells along the Dockens Water, although they are going over now, and also heard my first cuckoo of the year this week. I wasn’t sure I was going to hear one this spring. There is also still some greater stitchwort flowering along the Dockens path:

On Ibsley Water the large raft is mainly occupied by black-headed gulls, although there were a couple of common tern on there early last week. It’s lovely to see the common terns back again for another summer.

By the Centre there has been plenty of insect life around the pond, with beetles, bees, dragonflies and damselflies making the most of the sunshine:

On Wednesday Bob and I were sat having lunch when the female mallard he had noticed on the new Education Centre pond made an appearance, followed by 13 ducklings. We watched them topple off the boardwalk into the water, one or two at a time, and enjoyed their company whilst we finished eating. Later on that afternoon they moved over to the original centre pond but I haven’t seen them since, so I hope they are ok.

It has also been really nice to be able to rummage through the moth trap again, although with a few cold nights it has been quite quiet. Here are some moth highlights:

There have also been a number of cockchafers in the light trap. Also known as May bugs or doodlebugs these large brown beetles also fly around at dusk.

May bug

Cockchafer, May bug or doodlebug

On Thursday I found the exuvia or final moult of a hawker dragonfly in the pond and fished it out to take a closer look:

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

Leaving it out in a sunny spot to dry out I completely forgot about it, only remembering once I had driven home that evening. By this morning though it had found its way onto my desk, so Bob must have spotted it too!

I have also visited the meadow a couple times, the oxeye daisies are looking beautiful now they are coming into flower, rivalling the gorgeous pink display of ragged robin by the Welcome Hut which Jo shared a photo of last week. The common vetch and buttercups are also flowering and there are a few common blue butterflies on the wing.

The beautiful green beetle above has many names, it is known as the thick-legged flower beetle, false oil beetle and swollen-thighed beetle. Only the males have thickened hind legs, I might have to visit the meadow again in search of a female.