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 19

Another rainy day, all the trees dripping and overall just drab and damp. The mild night resulted in a few moths, a few new for the year; purple clay, elephant hawk-moth and blotched emerald.

It was not cold and I suppose this was why the grass snake were out on the tree stump at Ivy South Hide, two seemed to be there all day, both a good size, but one especially large one.

Poor weather is a signal to catch up on paperwork, or at least to try to. However too much paperwork is bad for the soul, so this afternoon we were out doing something I have never done before. Hanging woven willow sculptures in trees, specifically three each of dragonflies and wasps.

willow dragonfly 2

willow dragonfly

The dragonflies were made in workshops led by Kim Creswell as part of the Veolia Environmental Trust project  by our Young Naturalists Group and the wasps made by members of the local Home Educators community who have regular field visit meet ups here throughout the year. They have joined the various other sculptures on the circular walk from the Centre south via the boardwalk and back along the Dockens Water.

willow wasp

willow wasp

As well as doing the blog, more or less daily, look for tweets @30DaysWild from us and loads of other people, you can add your own and use #30DaysWild, if you tweet about Blashford use #BlashfordLakes too if you can.

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Willowing wasps

Last Wednesday a number of home educating families joined willow artist Kim Creswell to create three more sculptures for our ‘Wild Walk’, this time the subject was wasps!

Just like the dragonflies, the wasps were made in pieces and then put together at the end, so each young person had a body part to work on. We used a pairing weave to make sure our weaving was nice and secure and used a yellow and reddish willow for contrasting stripes (the red willow will go darker and blacker as it dries). Those making the abdomen had the most weaving to do:

The head was woven in a similar way, using shorter willow rods which were then bent over to create the face and allow eyes to be added:

After weaving the three body parts it was time to make the wings. These were made in the same way as the dragonfly wings, using twine to create a dream catcher effect within the willow wing framework. They did get good at blanket stitch!

With all the wings and body parts finished, it was time to put the wasps together. Firstly the thorax was attached to the abdomen, using a long willow rod to stitch the two together.

The head was attached in the same way and finally the wings were inserted and woven into place with willow.

The group worked really well to create the sculptures and were delighted with them. They are looking forward to seeing them up on the reserve as part of our ‘Wild Walk’. As mentioned in my last blog, the walk is the loop closest to the Education Centre that takes you past the Woodland Hide, Ivy South Hide, over the boardwalk and the bridge across the Dockens Water, then follows the path to the right, along the river and round to the larger bridge where we river dip with school groups and on family events.

Thanks again to the Veolia Environmental Trust for providing funding for the sculptures along the trail and the two workshops Kim has led for us.

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30 Days Wild – Day 10

I often take Friday off if I am working at the weekend, so I spent the day catching up on work in the garden. I started by going through the moth trap, catches are increasing now with warmer weather and today’s highlight was a great oak beauty, another southern woodland specialist. This one is a male as you can see from the feathery antennae which it uses to “smell” the females and so find them in the dark.

great oak beauty

great oak beauty

It was a warm, rather than sunny day, so the insects in the garden were somewhat disappointing, I saw no butterflies the whole day! Lots of bees were out and about though and I managed to get a picture of this very colourful parasitic wasp.

parasitic wasp

parasitic wasp

I was mostly tidying up, not something I do too much of in the garden as the “untidy” bits are often where the wildlife is. One area that gets minimal attention is the tiny meadow area, it is only something like 20 square metres but attracts lost of insects and even after just two years looks quite the part. A key species that we introduced was yellow rattle. It is an annual that germinates in April and grows very rapidly, partly because it is semi-parasitic on other plants including grasses. This means the grass grows less vigorously allowing more space for herb species, the “flowers” to grow, increasing the number of species in the sward. The yellow rattle flowers themselves are very attractive to bees as well as adding colour to the meadow.

yellow rattle

yellow rattle

In agricultural terms a meadow full of yellow rattle was a bad thing though, as the rattle reduces the vigour of the grasses and if you are making hay, grasses are the crop.

Oranges and Lemons

After a three week break of duty, it made a pleasant change to be opening up the reserve and be greeted by a common sandpiper immediately outside the Tern Hide.  Ibsley Water bore  its usual compliment of waterfowl. Mute swans were much in evidence, not only as their physical presence, but from the large scale scattering of innumerable moulted white feathers floating across the lake.  Duck numbers are building up with representatives of several species including gadwall, tufted duck, wigeon,  mallard and shoveler. As usual at this time of year it can be quite difficult to sort many of them out as the usually distinctive drakes have moulted into a somewhat drab ‘eclipse’ plumage, similar to the females.  This is thought to be a survival mechanism, making them less conspicuous whilst they moult their flight feathers. Large numbers of lapwing are now making use of the shingle spit to the east of the tern hide and are accompanied by several (we counted fourteen) Egyptian geese.

Although we are still experiencing warm weather the numbers of insects have dropped dramatically since I was last here. A male Southern Hawker dragonfly was periodically patrolling the pond behind the Education Centre, but only a few large white butterflies and a red admiral were much in evidence.

The moth trap hasn’t been set out  much lately, but Jim kindly put it on for us last night.  Our reward was some seventeen species of moth, but the downside was  a fairly large number of wasps – sorry don’t know what species – plus a couple of LARGE hornets, which made emptying the trap somewhat challenging…

A rather sleepy hornet .

A rather sleepy hornet .

Other ‘interlopers’ were this rather nice shield bug,

Shieldbug

Shield bug

and a number of what , with their smooth outlines, look to me like water beetles

Water beetle?

Water beetle?

Not many of the moths were, to be frank, that dramatic or spectacular, although the rather ‘dead leaf’ looking angle shades is always good value

Angle shades

Angle shades

and also in among them this Frosted Orange

Frosted Orange

Frosted Orange

and a number of species with a distinct yellow (lemon?) hue, including this Canary-shouldered Thorn..

Canary-shouldered Thorn

Canary-shouldered Thorn