Fitting it all in…

At the end of April our Young Naturalists were joined by Paul from Strong Island Media, who had come along to take photos and film them during a session. As a result we managed to fit in a number of different activities to showcase what we get up to and enjoyed a very varied day!

Whilst Joel and Vaughan headed off to the Woodland Hide with Nigel to photograph birds the rest of the group opted to pond dip, something we hadn’t actually done in some time. We caught a number of dragonfly nymphs, water stick insects, some fabulous cased caddis fly larvae and a smooth newt. We also spotted a large red damselfly on the edge of the boardwalk, so moved it to a safer spot away from our tubs, nets and feet.

We then had a look through the light trap which we had begun to put out more regularly with the weather warming up. The trap unfortunately didn’t contain an awful lot as it had been cold the night before, but there were a couple of very smart nut tree tussocks along with two Hebrew characters and a common quaker.

Volunteer Geoff had very kindly made up some more bird box kits for the group to put together, so we tidied away the pond dipping equipment and they had a go at building the boxes:

Brenda has been keeping us posted on the activity going on in the nest boxes the group made in October and we put up in January, using them to replace some of the older boxes on the reserve. Out of the twelve boxes made, six are active with the others either containing a small amount of nesting material or nothing: Poppy’s box contains 11 warm eggs and the female is incubating them; Geoff’s box contains 7 hatched, naked and blind blue tit chicks along with 2 warm eggs hopefully to hatch; Ben’s contains 3 downy and blind great tit chicks which will hopefully be large enough to ring when Brenda next checks; Will H’s box contains 7 naked and blind great tit chicks and 2 warm eggs hopefully still to hatch; Megan’s box contains 7 downy and blind blue tit chicks and 1 warm egg which may not hatch and finally Thomas’ box contains 9 warm great tit eggs.

Brenda has also been taking photos of some of the boxes for us to share with the group:

Thank you Brenda for continuing to update us on the progress of our nest boxes, we look forward to the next one!

After lunch we headed down to the river to see what else we could catch. Again we haven’t done this in quite a while so it was nice for the group to get in and see what they could find. We caught a stone loach, a dragonfly nymph, a number of bullhead and a very smart demoiselle nymph:

Finally, those who joined us in February were delighted to see the willow dome is sprouting. As the shoots get longer we will be able to weave them into the structure, giving it more shape and support.

willow dome

Thanks to Geoff and Nigel for their help during the session and to Paul from Strong Island Media for joining us, we look forward to seeing his footage of the group and being able to share it to promote the group and our work.

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

30 Days Wild – Day 15

Up hideously early and out to do a breeding bird survey, luckily the weather was fine, although I could have done without it having rained overnight as the trees were dripping and the tall grass very wet. Still it was calm and sunny and, for mid June, a good few birds were singing. As well as the birds I saw my first meadow brown of the year, actually lots of them and also a few common spotted and southern marsh orchid and a single Mother Shipton moth. 

common spotted orchid or hybrid

common spotted orchid, or possibly a hybrid as the leaves were unspotted. (I have just spotted the 7-spot ladybird in this shot!)

I arrived at Blashford by ten o’clock and had a quick check of the moth trap, rather few moths but very fresh individuals of small angle shades and lime hawkmoth. However it was the trays of creatures laid out for the school pond-dipping session that caught my eye, in particular one containing a water stick insect nymph.

water stick insect nymph

water stick insect nymph

The sun came out briefly at lunchtime so I went out for a break from the desk and nectaring on a hemlock water-dropwort plant was a very fresh red admiral.

red admiral 2

red admiral

There are quite good numbers of migrant insects about just now, there have been modest arrivals of red admiral and painted lady butterflies and huge numbers of the tiny diamond-back moth, so many that they have made the national news and it is not often a micro-moth does that! There are also lots of the marmalade hoverfly and silver Y moths, if you have flowers out in the garden you will almost certainly be able to see them nectaring at dusk.

My afternoon was spent in a meeting, but as it was still sunny when I got home I took a look in the garden and found this swollen-thighed beetle (Oedemera nobilis) feeding on an ox-eye daisy in our mini-meadow.

beetle on ox eye daisy

male swollen-thighed beetle on ox-eye daisy

A Sticky Day

I had a public event to look at moths today, a pretty tricky thing to do as there were almost no moths in the trap! Luckily Jim had kept a few back in the fridge from yesterday. Still it was thin fare, as sometimes happens at this time of year when the nights can still be cold. Despite this by the time we had finished the sun was out strongly and there were lots of insects about, although few of them were moths.

Near the Centre pond there were a few hoverflies including the common marshland species Tropida scita.

Tropida scita

Tropida scita, male

Rather less common and possibly a new species for the reserve, but I will need to check the list, was Pipizella virens.

Pipizella virens

Pipizella virens, male

Just when I thought it was going to be a really good insect day, the rain arrived and when it rained it really poured! I retreated to the office, probably something I should have done anyway.

It did clear up somewhat later and a visitor called my attention to a water stick insect in  the Centre pond, it had pulled itself out of the water onto the top of a floating bit of plant stem. Close by were several two-pronged “things” sticking out of the stem, I had noticed these earlier and not known what they were. It slowly dawned that they were water stick insect eggs and this was a laying female inserting her eggs into the floating stem.

water stick insect egg-laying 2

water stick insect egg-laying

Each egg has two white “wires” sticking up from it, their function is apparently unknown, but could be a sort of breathing tube for the developing embryo. This female did not get to lay eggs for very long, before a male came along and disturbed her, as she tried to get away he grabbed her breathing tube with his front legs, he seemed very keen not to let her free.

stick insect pair

stick insect pair, although the female did not seem that interested.

I had never seen any of this behaviour before, although I have looked into this pond probably thousands of times, it just shows that you don’t need to go very far to see interesting and new things.

Apart from insects the day was quiet, certainly the birds seen were mostly unremarkable. There were about 300 swift over Ibsley Water during the lunchtime rain and 2 yellow-legged gull in the large group of, mostly immature, large gulls loafing around on the shingle spit and islands.

Water world

On Sunday our Young Naturalists joined us for a watery session, discovering the life lurking at Blashford in the pond and the Dockens Water.

We began the day though with a rummage through the moth trap, a task greatly enjoyed by the group last year so it was great to have the opportunity again now the weather has warmed up and there are more moths on the wing.

Emptying the light trap

Emptying the moth trap

Moth id

Moth identification

We only had five different species to identify so our task didn’t take too long, but there were plenty of moths in the trap: 25 Hebrew character, ten Common quaker, five Small quaker, 6 Clouded drab and one very smart Lunar marbled brown:

Lunar marbled brown resized

Lunar marbled brown

After carefully putting the moths back in the trap to be released at the end of the day, we spent the rest of the morning having a closer look at the life lurking in the Education Centre pond.

Pond dipping 2

Inspecting our catch2

pond dipping

Pond dipping

The pond has certainly sprung to life with the warmer weather and after a lot of dipping, it was time to take a closer look at our catch.

Inspecing our catch

Having a closer look

Having a closer look at some of our smallest finds

We were lucky enough to catch a number of newts, both adults and newt tadpoles, known as efts. The efts breathe through external feathery gills located just behind their heads, which really make them look like miniature dragons!

Adult newt and eft by Talia Felstead

Adult newt with eft by Talia Felstead

Male smooth newt

Male smooth newt, with its frilly crest extending from its head to the tip of its tail

Newt handling

Careful newt handling, with very wet hands!

We also caught a number of cased caddisfly larvae. Cased caddisfly are probably my favourite of all the pond (and river!) creatures as they construct the most amazing cases to live in, providing themselves with excellent camouflage. They use whatever materials they have available to them in the pond or river, which could be sand, tiny stones, segments cut from weed or other water plants, old snail shells, seed pods, the list is endless! They really are the ultimate swimming stick:

Cased caddis

Two cased caddisfly larvae by Talia Felstead, these two have used plant material to create their cases

One of the many different caddis

Another cased caddis, this one has used older pieces of plant matter and old seed pods

We also caught a number of water stick insects:

Water stick insect

Water stick insect

Finally, after exhausting the pond we headed down to the river in search of other aquatic life, including fish. We had to search a little harder, as the invertebrates in the river along with many of the fish will hide in amongst and under stones and rocks on the river bed to avoid being picked up by the current and taken downstream. We did though manage to catch a number of bullhead and brook lamprey:

Bullhead

Bullhead by Talia Felstead

Brook lamprey

Brook lamprey by Talia Felstead

The brook lamprey are often confused with small eels, but instead of having jaws they have a sucker disc with their mouth in the centre. Now is definitely the time of year to look for them as they spend most of their time buried in the sand or silt on the river bed, emerging in spring to spawn and dying soon after.

If you look closely in shallower stretches of the Dockens Water when passing, you might be lucky enough to spot some!

 

Insects at Last

Bird News: Ibsley Waterperegrine 1, ringed plover 1. Centrehobby 1.

Once again there was very little bird news to report, a first year female peregrine disturbing the gulls on Ibsley Water and a dark ringed plover of one of the Arctic types were both of interest. A very brief view of a hobby over the Woodland hide area was about the only other bird of note. However the real wildlife news has been the final appearance of some insects. The Centre pond was visited by two species of dragonflies, a downy emerald and a four-spotted chaser as well as good numbers of damselflies. I failed to get pictures of the downy emerald as it never landed, the chaser did not stay long enough for me to get to the front of the queue of admirers. I did get a picture of a very smart male large red damselfly though. 

large red damselfly

Looking into the pond I saw a large water stick insect moving along just below the surface, they are not related the insects we mostly know as stick insects, but are true bugs and predators.

water stick insect

Although the day was very fine I was busy with various odd jobs and a meeting, so did not actually get out and about much. One striking thing was the amount of willow seeds everywhere, the water in some areas was covered such that it looked almost as if you could have walked on it!

willow seed on the water

As Jim mentioned here yesterday it has been a busy weekend. I wa sat the new Forest Bioblitz yesterday, which was very pleasant, I failed to find most of what I looked for but did come across two spiders which turned out to be of interest. Today was the Wood Fair at Roydon Woods, I attended last year, it rained from start to finish, Michelle went this year and the weather was a little better, I doubt they will ask me again.