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

Open Again

The Tern Hide will be open again today, although there are still some access restrictions elsewhere on the reserve, where works continue, please take note of any signs as works are changing day by day as they are completed. That said all the hides are open, as is the Centre.

The last few days have been as hectic as have many over the last few weeks, although thankfully we are firmly on the home stretch now. Despite a degree of chaos spring is definitely moving along apace.

Chiffchaff and blackcap are now present in good numbers and we have also have the first reed warbler and willow warbler on the reserve. Over Ibsley Water large numbers of sand martin, house martin and swallow have been gathering and some sand martin are now visiting the nesting wall. There have also been migrants passing through, the week has been characterised by a significant movement of little gull, with up to 12 over Ibsley Water at times, on their way to breeding areas around the Baltic Sea.

little gull

one of the adult little gull over Ibsley Water

A proportion of the swallows and martins will be moving on as will be the splendid male yellow wagtail that was seen on Thursday.

Insect numbers are increasing also with many more butterflies around.

comma

comma, one of the species that over-winters as an adult

As well as the species that hibernate as adults there are also lots of spring hatching species too, particularly speckled wood and orange-tip.

orange-tip

male orange-tip

The nights, although rather cool have more moths now, on Friday morning the highlight in the moth trap was the first great prominent of the year.

great prominent

great prominent

Earlier in the week a red sword-grass was a notable capture, possibly a migrant but also perhaps from the nearby New Forest which is one of the few areas in southern England with a significant population.

red swordgrass

red sword-grass

I have also seem my first tree bumble-bee of the year, a queen searching for a nest site, this species only colonised the UK in the last 20 years, but is now common across large areas.

tree bumble bee

tree bumble-bee queen searching for a nest site

Of course all the while resident species are starting to nest, blue tit and great tit are starting to lay eggs and I have seen my first song thrush fledgling of the year. Out on Ibsley Water lapwing and little ringed plover are displaying, truly spring has arrived at Blashford Lakes.

lapwing male

male lapwing

30 Days Wild – Day 14

Some days are wilder than others, even when you work on a nature reserve. Today was not one of the wildest, the morning was spent in a meeting, where wildlife was a topic rather than present and the afternoon was largely taken up with trimming paths with the help of our volunteers. During path trimming we saw a few common spotted orchid and broad-leaved helleborine, I looked for twayblade and southern marsh orchid, both of which I have seen in the same area before but without success.

It was warming up as we finished and on the way back to the Centre we saw a red admiral and a male large white. Butterflies are very few and far between at present, but soon the browns will be out and this should change.

As I went to lock up the sun was almost out and near the Woodland hide the orange-tip caterpillars were doing their best to look like the garlic mustard seedpods upon which they feed.

orange tip caterpillar

orange-tip caterpillar

When I first saw these I discounted them as orange-tip, because they were not green, forgetting that they look quite different in their first few instars.

On the way down to the Ivy South hide is found a tree bumblebee sunning itself on a bramble leaf. This is a species that ha sonly colonised this country in this century, but is already common throughout most of England. It is similar to the common carder bee but the white tail gives it away.

tree bumblebee

tree bumblebee

Finally caught up, I just have to keep going to the end of the month now!

Mellow Yellow Day

It rained quite heavily overnight but was clearing as I arrived and I had a hope that it would, as we expect, clear in time for the volunteers work party. In fact it did and fifteen, more or less willing volunteers set off to start the annual task of controlling ragwort. On a site like Blashford on dry soils with a long history of disturbance total control will be impossible, the seed bank must be enormous and will last for tens if not hundreds of years. Despite this we do try to control growth along the boundaries where there is seen to be a problem with spread onto grazing land. Today we started on the western side of Ellingham Lake, the conditions were fine to start with but then deteriorated and suddenly the plants growing under the trees became the target of special effort. There was a short discussion about calling it a day, but Blashford volunteers are made of stern stuff and we carried on and then the rain stopped and we completed the whole length.

ragwort pulling in the rain

We walked back past Ellingham Inlet Pound, the very short vegetation around the eastern end has a lichen heath character, but includes some species not out on the main area of heath near Ivy Lake including one that was very striking in today’s dull light, the brilliant yellow biting stonecrop.

biting stonecrop

The rain returned for quite a bit off the afternoon and kept going right until the visiting school group left, when the sun came out! In the brief warm spell I noticed several tree bumblebee workers feeding at the flowers of the dark mullein near the Centre. The picture also highlights the amazing colour of the flowers.

tree bumblebee on dark mullein

The tree bumblebee is a recent colonist from the Continent and is now spreading rapidly northwards, last year we had a nest near the Centre in a bird box. On the same mullein plants there were also a few caterpillars of mullein moth, at this stage they seem to be eating the flowers rather than the leaves.

mullein moth caterpillar and honey bee

I had another good look at the common tern rafts again today and am now more or less certain that there are twenty-one pairs nesting now, sixteen with chicks and a further five late nesters on eggs. A good few of the chicks would be flying within a week, so it looks like it should be another good nesting season for them.