Roasting and toasting

It was rather warm on Sunday for our August Young Naturalists gathering, so we decided to roast ourselves even more by spending time in the meadow, a habitat we haven’t really visited yet this year, followed by a bit of blackberry bread cooking over the campfire…

We began though with a look through the light trap which revealed at least 19 different species including a lovely Peach blossom, a Purple thorn, a Pebble hook tip and a Chinese character, amongst others.

We were then distracted by a Southern hawker flying over the pond, which Talia managed to photograph whilst it was busy hawking for insects:

Southern hawker by Talia Felstead

Southern hawker by Talia Felstead

After gathering up some sweep nets, identification sheets and bug pots we made our way over to the meadow in search of wasp spiders, grasshoppers and bush crickets and anything else we could find. It didn’t take us long to locate the wasp spider, just inside the gate on the left hand side.

Wasp spider by Talia Felstead

Wasp spider by Talia Felstead

I set the group a challenge to find a pink grasshopper and a Roesel’s bush cricket. I don’t think they believed me about the pink grasshopper, but once they’d spotted one they tried their best to catch it and find more, but without any success! So sadly no photo!

Most grasshopper species are a more sensible green-brown colour, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings, but some do carry genes that make them pink or purple-red. They just might not survive for long in the wild (or stay in one place long enough for a photo!), as they are more likely to be predated. The group did now believe there were pink grasshoppers though, and there were plenty more sensibly coloured ones around that didn’t move quite as fast for us to catch and look at closely.

As for the Roesel’s bush cricket, although we swept through the grass outside the meadow as well as in it, we couldn’t find one, so I will have to be content with the photo Bob put on the blog yesterday instead. We did though catch a very fine looking female long-winged conehead cricket instead:

Female bush cricket by Talia Felstead

Long-winged conehead by Talia Felstead

Bush cricket

Long-winged conehead, quite content on Megan’s hand

We also found a number of other spiders, including some brilliantly patterned orb web spiders and a wolf spider, alongside caterpillars, an orange swift moth, common blue damselflies, honey beesbaby toads and more.

After getting a bit hot in the meadow, we relocated momentarily to the shade and picked blackberries before heading to the campfire area to attempt a bit of bread making. Megan and Will H did a superb job of mixing us up some dough whilst Will S and Ben helped lay the fire which Ben then lit.

I offered the group blackberries, dried fruit, freshly picked marjoram and chocolate buttons for their ingredients, which seemed to cater for all tastes, and we had a mix of fillings and shapes on the grill – not everyone opted for chocolate! Everyone went back for seconds…

The group enjoyed bread making so much they requested more campfire cooking, so we agreed on a winter cookout towards the end of the year, the food list is already quite lengthy!

We also found time to hunt here for minibeasts, finding a flat backed millipede that managed to stay still long enough for Talia to take a photo and a ground beetle larvae.

Flat backed millipede by Talia Felstead

Flat backed millipede by Talia Felstead

Beetle larvae by Talia Felstead

Beetle larvae by Talia Felstead

Thanks to volunteers Geoff and Roma for their help on the day and to Talia for taking lots of great photos and sharing them with me for the blog.

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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Reserve Visiting

I have just returned from a holiday up north where I visited a few reserves myself, but the title here refers to a visitor we had at Blashford today, an avocet. Not perhaps quite the rarity they once were, but still very unusual, unfortunately I missed it. It flew in in the early afternoon and gave good views for  a short time from the Tern hide, I am told there are pictures too, so perhaps some will make it here. I then discovered that there had been an avocet at the Trust’s new Fishlake Meadows reserve in Romsey at about 11:30 and that it had flown off heading west, it seems highly probable that these two sightings relate to the same bird travelling between the two reserves.

The one problem with going away is the number of things that have to be caught up on when you get back and the dread emails kept me in the office for a fair bit of the day, which is not to say that I did not get out on the reserve as well. The sun had brought out a few butterflies, but numbers are on the decline now. I did find a very smart comma near the Goosander hide.

comma

comma

Not far away I also came across a female Roesel’s bush-cricket sitting on one of our benches.

Roesel's bush cricket female

Roesel’s bush-cricket

Looking from Tern hide I saw Walter the great white egret now looking very relaxed with a large group of grey heron. The herons seem not to take so much notice of him these days, at one time they would constantly be chasing him around, perhaps they have just got used to him. It is a curious thing that when little egret were first turning up they were often mobbed by gulls but now they are just ignored. Perhaps there is something about the unusual that elicits these responses and once something is regular they just become part of the scenery.

Locking up I was pleased to see that at least one of our wasp spiders is still going, I am not sure if something has predated the others or if they have laid their eggs. This one looks a though it will not be long before she lays her eggs and disappears.

wasp spider female

wasp spider, female

A wet and wild week

 

After a super busy summer term the holidays are here and we’re just as busy with our usual monthly events and our Wild Days Out programme of children’s holiday activities.

Our Young Naturalists met last Sunday for a beginners photography session led by local photographer Clifton Beard. Cliff was a brilliant tutor, keeping things simple and remembering the group would be taking photos with a variety of equipment from smart phones to point and shoot to digital SLRs.

Group in classroom resized

Cliff set us little tasks throughout the session, encouraging us to think more before merrily snapping away and ran through the importance of light, composition and moment. We looked for certain colours, lines, edges and lots more and tried focusing on macro subjects before having a mini photo competition with our best images of the day.

As we didn’t stray far from the building, it was really interesting to see what everyone managed to find close by. Cliff’s parting advice was that the best camera is the one you have on you, which really is true, if you don’t have it with you then you will miss the shot!

Thanks to Cliff for giving up his day to share his knowledge and expertise with the group and to Amy Hall and Corinne Bespolka from the Cameron Bespolka Trust for joining us too.

Wednesday was an entirely different affair, with a very wet and soggy Wild Day Out. Not to be deterred from our ‘Wildlife Safari’, we began the day dissecting some owl pellets, an activity the group thoroughly enjoyed. We had fun picking them apart with cocktail sticks and trying to decide which bits of small mammal we were looking at; a rib, or a shoulder blade, or a jaw bone or a skull. To tie in with this we also had lots of bones and other signs of wildlife to look at and hold.

After a short while we decided it was about time we braved the elements, pulled on our waterproofs and headed outside. Despite the rain, we soon spotted lots of cinnabar caterpillars on the ragwort on the lichen heath. As we looked closer we also disturbed a grasshopper and realised the wildlife was still all around us, just hunkering down low to avoid the wet weather. Probably a very sensible thing to be doing!

Our first sign of something ever so slightly bigger than our grasshopper was this pile of rabbit droppings:

Muddy ground is great for spotting tracks, however the first ones we noticed were not of the wildlife kind, or at least not the wildlife we were after:

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Vehicle tracks in the soft mud

We then headed towards the Dockens, taking the path towards the road crossing to Goosander hide and playing pooh sticks on the bridge over the river. Continuing along the path, we found a safe spot to get into the river then explored upstream, occasionally having to get back out again and walk along the bank when the pools became too deep. Whilst exploring the river we came across a number of deer tracks in the soft mud.

We were now quite wet, although some were wetter than others, and Isabelle and Millie had to empty their wellies after our river wanderings.

We picked blackberries on our way to Goosander hide, looking forward to a dry spot for lunch. We were stopped in our tracks by a scattering of feathers, trying to decide what had happened, who had been eaten (we decided a duck after studying the feathers) and by whom (we thought fox). A little further along the path we found the kill site, spotting a hollow off to the side of the path which contained the remains of two different birds. One of the skeletons was complete and as it was a bit on the large size for a duck we thought it could be a goose. The other we weren’t so sure!

We lunched in Goosander Hide, watching the rain get heavier and the sand martins and swallow flitting low over the water. Despite the weather we saw herons, cormorant, black headed gull, mute swans, little grebe and great crested grebe. The highlight though was the kingfisher, who didn’t seem put off by the rain or the bunch of 7-12 year olds picnicking in the hide and flew across in front of us a number of times, pausing for a while on one of the branches in the water.

We headed back to the Education Centre, dried off and warmed up with the help of a hot chocolate, happy in the knowledge that even in the pouring rain there were still plenty of signs of life and the wildlife itself to entertain us!

Thursday’s Wild Day Out was somewhat drier, a nice change to Wednesday! We were in search of dragons so headed to the pond to see what we could catch and keeping our fingers crossed the sun would put in an appearance and bring dragonflies hawking above the surface of the water.

By the time we had eaten, the weather had brightened up considerably and we headed over to the meadow, munching blackberries along the way. It was too wet to meadow sweep but we still embarked on a still hunt, finding a quiet spot in the meadow to just sit and look and watch the meadow world go by. We then had a go at stealthily catching some of the creatures we had been watching using bug pots. Slightly harder than using a sweep net, it certainly made us look closer.

We also managed to spot five wasp spiders in the meadow, making sure we left them safely in their webs:

wasp-spider

After discovering the miniature world of the meadow we headed to the Woodland Hide in search of birds then went on to Ivy South Hide, spotting a grass snake on the edge of Ivy Silt Pond.

We then returned to the Education Centre the long way (there were lots more blackberries to pick the long way back), seeing how many small children it takes to hug a rather large oak tree (I can’t remember the answer, but it was a fair few!) and playing pooh sticks on the bridge over the river.

Tree hugging

Tree hugging, with I think seven 5-8 year olds!

Pooh sticks

Pooh sticks on the Dockens Water, and looking for fish!

It’s been a rather wet and wild week!

We still have some spaces left on our upcoming Wild Days Out this summer, if you know of someone who might like to join us please visit the website for details and to book.

A Clear(er) View

On Thursday the volunteers cleared the annual vegetation from in front of the Tern hide, we do this each year for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is that it improves the view of the nearest shore from the hide. Another is that it clears the ground for the nesting lapwing and little ringed plover next spring. There are also always some seedling bramble, birch and willow that need pulling out before they get established.

before

The shore before we started

after

and after a couple of hours of hard weeding

Looking out from the hide today this did not make much difference as visibility was seriously reduced due to persistent heavy rain. Despite this there were some birds to see, including at least 800 sand martin, 3 swift, 2 dunlin, a little ringed plover, 3 common sandpiper, 33 mute swan and 3 pochard. Ivy Lake was quieter with just a few coot, gadwall and great crested grebe, there are also still two broods of two common tern chicks on the rafts.

Today was not a day for invertebrates, but I do have one more picture from Thursday, spotted in long grass as I went round locking up, a wasp spider, my first of the year.

wasp spider

Wasp spider female with prey.

 

Mothless, well Almost

Yesterday I ran a “Moth event” at Blashford, unfortunately I forgot to tell the moths and there were probably more human participants than moths! Usually late August is a good time for catching large numbers of moths, but big catches require warm, calm nights following warm settled days. What we had was a windy, mostly clear night following a rather stormy day.

Luckily the day got more settled as it went on, at least until late afternoon anyway. This brought out good numbers of insects, including as many dragonflies as I have seen this year. Around the reserve I saw several brown hawker, southern and migrant hawkers, an egg-laying emperor dragonfly and a fair few common darter. Damselflies included common blue, azure, red-eyed, small red-eyed and blue-tailed.

Butterflies were rather fewer, most that I saw were whites, with all three common species near the Centre. Out on the reserve a few meadow brown and gatekeeper are still flying and speckled wood are increasing again. Near the Lapwing hide I saw both red admiral and painted lady, perhaps indicating some continued arrival of passage insects.

The sunshine in the middle of the day brought out reptiles as well and I saw two grass snake and an adder. The adder was very fat and I suspect a female which will shortly be giving birth, since adders have live young rather than laying eggs as grass snakes do.

adder

adder

I have heard reports of wasp spider being seen around the reserve recently and today I finally saw one.

wasp spider

wasp spider

This is a female, the males are much, much smaller and wander about seeking the females.

I had hoped for a few different birds, following the rough weather, perhaps a few terns, but there was little change form the past week. A few extra waders were the best that could be found, 2 dunlin, 2 oystercatcher, 2 common sandpiper, 1 redshank and the pick of the day, 3 greenshank, although they only flew through. There are starting to be a few more ducks around, I saw 8 shoveler and 3 teal, but there are still no wigeon on the reserve, although they should not be far away. Away for the water looking up there were 2 raven, and single hobby and peregrine. Whilst low over the water before the day warmed there were 1000+ sand martin and c200 house martin.

Perhaps the sighting of the day for many visitors though was the female roe deer that spent part of the morning in front of the Woodland hide.

roe deer at Woodland hide 3

roe deer doe at the Woodland hide

 

Wildlife roundup

Very aware of the recent lack of postings – with Bob away the last couple of weeks and Tracy and I leading groups or events every day time has been a precious commodity!

Tracy is planning on writing a post summarising our summer holiday activities over the last few days on Monday so I won’t dwell on that other than to say what ever she writes about me when she does post, take with a pinch of salt!

😉

It does seem that after a coolish spell with a few short, sharp showers we might be getting a bit of a summer again. The insects are certainly benefitting from the better weather with more dragonflies, moth and butterflies on the wing across the reserve.

Brown hawkers are the dragonfly of the moment and are flying in good numbers. A tricky insect to photograph the damselflies are always much more obliging – thanks to Stephen Parris for sending in his picture of a common blue:

Common blue damselfly by Stephen Parris

Common blue damselfly by Stephen Parris

You won’t thank me for pointing it out, but in the light trap there was plenty of evidence of the season moving on – many autumnal moths are yellow, presumably an evolutionary trait that provides better camouflage amongst the woodland canopy as the leaves begin to turn. The attractive canary shouldered thorn is by far the most common moth in the trap this week:

IMG_20160806_094822

Canary shouldered thorn

IMG_20160806_095541

Scalloped oak

IMG_20160806_094521

Herald

On the spider front wasp spiders are becoming more visible – I saw my first about 3 weeks ago when one was caught by a group sweep netting in the meadow area by Ivy North Hide, but not seen any there since, but this week reports of small females are coming in from the usual spot in the rush on the approach to Goosander Hide. In addition regular visitor Garry Prescott spotted a couple of small raft spiders on the centre pond this morning.

The kingfishers will no doubt have had a good breeding year again this year and they are certainly much in evidence around the site and this years fledged youngsters from one of the families along the river is once more starting to make camp outside Goosander Hide this week. Saw two opening up this morning, one to the right of this picture below but much too small at that distance for me to get a picture of so settled for the grey heron instead!

IMG_20160806_091739

Ivy North Hide

Finally reptiles are much in evidence again with the better weather – grass snakes are still basking in front of Ivy South Hide, although not as frequently as they have done. Instead the best spot to check is the fallen alders over the Ivy Silt Pond on the approach to Ivy South Hide where at least one and often three can be seen basking on the tree trunks over the water. Adder are worth keeping an eye open for along the path edges on the approach to Lapwing Hide too! Thanks to Martin King for dropping off some great pictures of an Ivy South Hide grass snake, including this one, my particular favourite!

Grass Snake by Martin King (2)_resize

Grass Snake by Martin King

 

 

 

 

Gold ‘n Brown with an Imperial Finish

A really hot day today, and very humid with it. As often happens on such days the reserve was quiet as everybody headed for the coast. At first glance you could have been for given for thinking there was not a lot about at Blashford today. A look at Ibsley water revealed no passing black terns, not even a single wader. I did see a circling hobby, quite a scarce sight this summer and as I watched it I noticed a swift higher int he sky behind it. In some years this would be quite late for a swift and I had not seen one at Blashford for a few days. however I think there will be good numbers of late records this year with the rather delayed summer we have had.

Walking to open the Ivy South hide I caught the distinctive smell of a stink horn fungus, the foul smell attracts flies which spread the spores.

stink horn

It was really a day for insects, although the moth catch was rather poor considering the warm night we had, the pick of the bunch was another gold spot, always a fine species to see.

gold spot

When I went into the Centre I could hear a clattering sound and quickly discovered it was coming from a brown hawker that had got trapped inside overnight, luckily it had not set off the alarm! It took several attempts to catch it but eventually I succeeded and let it go, after I got a couple of pictures.

brown hawker

The Buddleia bushes have been alive with peacocks and red admirals for a few days now, today there was also a single small tortoiseshell, these have been very thin on the ground this year, a silver-washed fritillary was nice to see and a grayling a real surprise as I have not seen one on the reserve for two or three years.

grayling

I had a quick look ou ton the lichen heath on my way to Ellingham Pound. The sandy areas of the heath are very good places for solitary bees and wasps of various sorts and I saw a couple of bee wolves, a wasp that hunts and kills honey-bees. I also found the wasp in the picture, I don’t have any idea what it is but it was very smart.

wasp species

A couple of years ago there was a lesser emperor dragonfly on the Pound and it is also a very good place to see red-eyed and sometimes small red-eyed damselflies, so I had a good look when I saw an emperor dragonfly darting over the water. There were lots of red-eyed damselflies but no small ones that I could find. I was pleased to see a coot chick and even more so to see two great crested grebe chicks, now quite well-grown, the first time I have known them to breed on this water.

On my way back I looked in the grassland and came across a big female wasp spider. The webs are quite large and coarse and the aim is to catch grasshoppers, which they seem very good at doing. They always have a very obvious zig zag of silk, possibly to make it obvious to larger creatures so they avoid destroying it. The picture one below has a grasshopper trapped in the web just below the zig zag and the spider is eating another.

wasp spider

The real highlight of the day came right at the end. I went down to the Ivy South hide to lock up and there were several photographers who reported few birds but good value on dragonflies from the hide. As they talked I scanned the lake and noticed an odd emperor with a dark abdomen and very blue “saddle”, it looked like a lesser emperor but was too far away to make any certain claim. In the conversation mention was made of an emperor egg-laying on the fallen trees below the hide and how it as unusual to see the male in tandem when the female was egg-laying, I had never seen this and then a picture was shown and I suspected immediately that they were in fact lesser emperors although the small screen made detail hard to see. When I got home I checked and it is indeed the case that lesser emperors do remain in tandem when egg-laying, we had lesser emperor breeding in Ivy Lake! I think a first for Hampshire.