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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30 Days Wild – Day 17 – Butterflies and More

We have been doing butterfly transects at Blashford Lakes for some years now, I say “We”, what I really mean is that the volunteers have been doing them. I used to do transects myself on previous sites I have managed and thoroughly enjoyed doing them, an opportunity to go out on site for the main purpose of looking for wildlife, something I actually get to do rather rarely! In theory I have always been on the rota to help with the transects at Blashford, but as a stand-in, if someone else is unavailable. Well this week I have been called upon and as it was warm and reasonably sunny this afternoon I headed out.

It was not a classic butterfly day but I did see 26 butterflies of four species. Most notable were the five red admiral, I suspect they are new migrants as the weather is set fair for an arrival of migrants over the next day or so. Locally bred were meadow brown, common blue and speckled wood.

speckled wood

speckled wood

Whilst looking for butterflies it is inevitable that you will see other invertebrates, I saw six species of dragonflies and damselflies, several yellow-and-black longhorn beetle and lots of the larger summer hoverflies, especially Volucella bombylans and Volucella pellucens. 

Vollucella pellucens

Vollucella pellucens

Not all of the invertebrates were adult, I found a vapourer caterpillar feeding in the open, something they can afford to do, as they are protected by a dense coat of hairs which most birds will avoid.

vapourer caterpillar

vapourer caterpillar

Some things I cannot identify, or at least not accurately, one such is this digger wasp, I am pretty sure it is one of them, but which one?

digger wasp

digger wasp spp.

Some of the invertebrates were not insects at all, I came across a loose bit of bark on the ground and under it were several slugs, the familiar leopard slugLimax maximus.

leopard slug

leopard slug

This is the common native large slug in woods and gardens. However it is increasingly being overtaken in abundance by the green cellar slug, Limax maculatus. This is a species native to wood in the Caucasus area that was accidentally introduced some fifty years or so ago and is now spreading rapidly.

I

yellow slug

green cellar slug Limax maculatus

One plant that is oddly scarce at Blashford is honeysuckle, so I was pleased to see one of the few plants we do have growing well in magnificent, full flower.

honeysuckle

honeysuckle

Lastly a picture of a rare plant in Hampshire, but one that is quite common at Blashford, slender bird’s-foot trefoil, it is flowering abundantly just now.

slender bird's-foot trefoil

slender bird’s-foot trefoil

Quiet a “Wild Day” considering I was stuck in the office wrestling with report writing for quiet a good part of the day and also out doing path clearing for part of the day.

Hover Bother and Getting a Goat (Monday)

After yesterday’s attempt at a picture of a flying hoverfly I had to have another go today and I got the chance on my way round to close up at the end of the day. Yesterday’s was a Syrphus species, today’s was Volucella pellucens.

Volucella pellucens

Volucella pellucens in flight

The warm nights are improving things in the moth trap with catches increasing in number and species diversity. The highlight overnight was a very fresh male goat moth.

goat moth

goat moth

These extraordinary moths have caterpillars that eat wood by tunnelling into live trees, especially willows. As wood is not very nutritious they take several years to grow to full size.

It is also proving a good year for butterflies, with most species well up on recent years on the transects. Just now the summer brood of comma are very obvious, nectaring on bramble and just perched out in the sunshine.

comma

Comma, this one has received some damage to the left wings.

Dragon and damselflies are also enjoying the warmer summer with good numbers of most species. The only ones that were scarce seem to have been the spring species, possibly because last year’s spring was so poor there were few to hatch this year even though the conditions were good. So far I have failed to add any new species to the reserve list, despite there being several that could wander here, especially from the New Forest. For instance there is the scarce blue-tailed damselfly, which could easily get blown in and is known to wander from breeding sites. It is rather similar to the much commoner blue-tailed damselfly, which may be one reason why we have so far failed to find one.

blue-tailed damselfly

blue-tailed damselfly (male)

 

An Unexpected Visitor

Another warm day on the reserve today, which is good at this time of year. Most insects prefer the warmth and there are good numbers of dragonflies out now along with hoards of damselflies and increasing numbers of butterflies. However my insect of the day was a tiny weevil I found on mullein at the back of the Centre at lunchtime, I think it is one called Cionus hortulanus.

weevil

weevil

I did also have a go at taking some flight shots, not of birds, but of a hoverfly, I think I have got some way to go before I can say I have mastered this particular type of photography! It is Volucella pellucens now sometimes called the great pied hoverfly.

Volucella pellucens in flight.

Volucella pellucens in flight.

Locking up at the end of the day the grass snakes were once again in front of the Ivy South hide and I got a shot of two coiled together that nicely filled the frame.

grass snakes coiled together

grass snakes coiled together

The big surprise of the day came at lunchtime, I went over to the Tern hide to check on the ponies grazing the shore of Ibsley Water and scanning the lake I spotted a most unseasonal visitor, a very fine adult drake goldeneye, goodness known what he is doing on the reserve in late June! Sadly he was much too far away for a picture though.

A Chick Against the Odds and One Lost

The big news today was that as I scanned up Ibsley Water first thing this morning I saw a large redshank chick on the shore, they do not breed successfully very often so this was a great sight in a year that has been very difficult for waders. It was close to where the oystercatcher pair had their large youngster. I also noticed that there was still one of the adult oystercatchers nearby and it really went for a jackdaw that landed on the bank. Possibly the oystercatchers have still not come to terms with the loss of their chick and are still defending the area, if they continue it cannot but be good for the redshank chick.

Parking beside the Centre I noticed that there seem to be even more scorpionflies than before on the nettles beside the car park, they are always quite common but do seem exceptionally so this year.

scorpionfly, male

At the Ivy North hide there were once again 2 grey squirrels on the tree to the right of the hide, mostly just grooming themselves in the morning sunshine.

grey squirrels

I had a day of doing lots of small tasks and so was left with the vague feeling of not having got anything of any substance done, such is the way I suppose. At least the weather was good by recent standards, it even felt warm in the sunshine at lunchtime and the warmth brought out some insects and I got another picture of the large hoverfly Volucella pellucens.

Volucella pellucens

I was briefly in the wet woodland just beside the Dockens Water in the afternoon where I came across what I think is yet another type of slime mold, although I am not certain as it is one I have never seen before, but that seems the most likely life form for it to be to my eyes. I will have to do a web search and see what I can find, unless of course someone reading this knows what it is. The picture is not great as it was in very deep shade and each was no more than about 7mm across at most.

slime mold, maybe

The common terns are still doing well although I see from the Ivy South logbook that one was taken by a large gull yesterday, although seems it dropped it under attack from the adult terns, unfortunately it was too small to fly and so got wet and drowned. The larger chicks often get lifted off the rafts when wing flapping but they are usually fine on our refuge rafts and usually fly well enough within a day to get back home. It is a perilous life as a small bird.

Stop press: It looks as though it is a slime mold and probably Lycogala epidendrum known as wolf’s milk slime mold.

Late Post

A late post from Saturday, somehow I did not get time earlier, for which apologies.

The day started quite grey, cool and windy and when I opened the Tern hide Ibsley Water was abuzz with low flying swifts and sand martins. A buzzard was causing consternation in the black-headed gull colony as it helped itself to another chick. I think it may also have been hunting further down the shore as well, the oystercatcher pair seem to have lost their one chick, a real shame as it was probably only a week or so from fledging. The oystercatchers on Ibsley water are usually very successful, but this year there will be no young raised at all now since the other pair also failed. There was also one other notable sighting, a pair of pochard, a fairly unusual sight at this time of year.

The moth trap was quiet, but it had attracted something interesting, a large female common toad was sitting beside it when I went to move it to look through the catch.

common toad

The day did warm later and tempted out a few insects, although not that many for mid-June. The hemlock water dropwort is a great lure for lots of insects including one of the first Volucella pellucens, one of the largest and most noticeable of all our hoverflies.

Volucella pellucens

Later in the day as I was locking the Ivy South hide it was good to see the common tern chick continuing to prosper, lots of pairs still seem to have three chicks, which is a full set as they will only have laid three eggs.

The best bird I heard of all day wa sa report of a red kite seen from the Goosander hide in the morning.