30 Days Wild – Day 17 – Knights In…

Moth of the day at Blashford was (and yes, you have probably already guessed it) a white satin.

white satin

white satin moth (male)

This is not a rare species, although not common and one I don’t see very often at all. On the face of it Blashford should be a good site as the larvae eat willow, poplar and aspen, all of which we have in some quantity.

Other moths today that I had not recorded so far this year were the delicate.

delicate

delicate

This is typically a migrant species, although it may be able to over-winter in some years. The other”new one” was a clouded brindle, a species that is pretty well camouflaged on the mossy bark, unlike the white satin.

clouded brindle

clouded brindle

After a morning cutting paths and bramble regrowth I had a look around near the Centre at lunchtime and found a batch of small cinnabar caterpillars tucking into the flower heads of a ragwort plant.

cinnabar caterpillars

young cinnabar moth caterpillars

Nearby I found a wasp beetle, this is one of the longhorn beetles with larvae that tunnel into wood.

wasp beetle

wasp beetle

It has similar black and yellow warning colouration to the cinnabar caterpillars, although I am not sure if it is actually poisonous like the caterpillars or just exploiting the fact that many birds will avoid any black and yellow insect as potentially unwise prey.

Although the reserve was pretty quiet today there are a few things to report. I saw my first fledged little ringed plover of the year, two juveniles on the Long Spit on Ibsley Water. There were also a number of flying black-headed gull juveniles too. Near Goosander hide a family of five small coot chicks were just below the sand martin wall. As the drizzle set in during the afternoon the numbers of swift and martin grew until there were at least 250 swift and several hundred martins. There was a report of 3 black-tailed godwit and I saw a redshank.  However the really big news, might actually be from last Friday, written in the Tern hide logbook was a report of a pratincole, with “collared?” written after it. Collared is the most likely, although even that is a very rare bird. Unfortunately the observer did not leave a name or any further details other than that it was on the Long Spit and flew away, not sure when it was seen, by whom or which way it went. If anyone can shed any light on this potentially very interesting record I would be delighted to know.

I returned home in persistent drizzle and took a quick look in the moth trap which I had not managed to do this morning. Three species of hawk-moth, elephant, pine and privet, matched the range,if not species, at Blashford but otherwise there was not much.

Which leaves….

What’s in My Meadow Today?

The yellow-rattle which I featured in flower at the start of the 30 Days, is now going to seed, as the stems dry the seeds will start to rattle in the swollen calyx when shaken.

yellow rattle seedpods

yellow-rattle with developing seed.

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30 Days Wild – Day 1

A day off and mostly at home, so a chance to see the garden during the day. As my garden will feature from time to time in the blog over the “30 Wild Days” I will provide a bit of background.

A bit of research shows that it is very close to being an average UK garden, apparently the average back garden is 190 square metres, I think mine is almost exactly this. Like about 3.5 million UK gardens it has a pond, even if a very small one. We have two trees over 3m tall and one just under so close to the 2.4 average number of trees. 7 million gardens have bird feeders, around 60% of all gardens, and 4 million have bird boxes and we have these too. It is located in suburbia, although close to open countryside and surrounded by housing.

There are ways in which it departs from the average though, about 50 square metres are left to grow as a mini-meadow. This area is in its fourth year of meadow management and it is starting to look quite good. It has developed by a combination of mowing once a year with the cuttings removed and some seeding. I have not entirely gone for local native species, but they are the main component.

meadow

Back garden meadow

I am going to do a little daily “feature” within the blog entitled…

What’s in my meadow today?

yellow rattle

yellow rattle

In the meadow picture you can probably make out some yellow flowers that are not buttercup, these are yellow rattle, it is both a traditional element in a hay meadow and one that was not desirable if you wanted a good crop of hay. It is an annual that has seeds contained within the inflated calyx and as they dry they rattle, hence the name. As the hay was raked up the seeds would fall out, scattered about as the hay was turned. It was undesirable because it is semi-parasitic on other plants and often on grasses, so lots of yellow rattle meant less grass and so a poorer hay crop. In a back garden meadow it is useful as it reduces the vigour of the grasses making them less competitive and allowing the flowery herb species to prosper. The rattle is also a good nectar source in its own right being popular with bees in particular.

It was not a very sunny day but fairly warm and there were a few insects about, one of the largest hoverflies in the garden was a Sericomyia silentis, it is also one of the more attractive species.

Sericomyia silentis

Sericomyia silentis

One of the species that probably occurs in every garden int he country, is the garden snail, whilst they can be a nuisance in the vegetable patch are rather attractive in their own way. They can live for five years or more and will both hibernate to avoid the cold in winter and aestivate to avoid drought in summer.

garden snail

garden snail Helix aspersa

Emerging

Looking in the sweep meadow I spotted a yellow rattle seedling just poking up form the surrounding vegetation. These grow very quickly at this time of year no doubt helped by the fact that they get energy both from photosynthesis in their green leaves and the parasitic tapping of the roots of neighbouring plants.

yellow rattle seedling

yellow rattle seedling

Their parasitic habit reduces growth in other plants allowing them and other plants that struggle to compete with vigorous species, to thrive. For this reason it is often added to wildflower mixes as it often parasites grasses. For the same reason it was hated in hayfields, where it greatly reduced the growth of the grass crop.

OI posted about the discovery of the grey-backed mining bee at Blashford the other day, this still very rare species in the UK depends upon willow pollen for food and suitable ground in which to dig a nest, Blashford has lots of both. The nest tunnel is more or less vertical  and, to judge by the amount of spoil, quite deep. I got this series of pictures of one emerging from a bit of excavating.

pic 4

Andrena vaga – Just an antenna above ground

pic 3

Andrena vaga – Taking a peek

pic 2

Andrena vaga – Yep, looks safe

pic 1

Andrena vaga – Above ground, but in need of a dust-off

 

30 Days Wild – Day 2: In the Garden

My weekend started early and I was on a day off today, so I took the chance to do some work in the garden. Although not large and a pretty typical suburban garden it is now home to a good range of wildlife. When we moved in nearly three years ago we decided to leave part of the lawn and develop it as a small-scale meadow. It has come on well and looks the part quite convincingly now, with yellow rattle, field scabious, knapweed, ox-eye daisy and much more. It is perhaps more accurately a herb-rich grassland as some species are not entirely typical of true hay meadows, but it looks good and the wildlife seems to like it.

Ox-eye daisy

Ox-eye daisy

We do also have more conventional flower borders and here we have gone for plants that are good for nectar and pollen, such as geraniums, fleabanes and scabious species. Today I came across a brightly coloured fleabane tortoise beetle on an elecampane flower bud.

Fleabane tortoise beetle

Fleabane tortoise beetle

I did not manage to dig a pond in the first year so it was a bit of a late addition, but a very necessary one in any wildlife garden. A pond, even a small one such as our, does bring in so many more species, especially if you do not add fish.

pond skaters

Pond skaters feeding on a drowned bumblebee.

We even get a fair range of dragonflies and damselflies and today I found a pair of large red damselfly egg-laying.

Large red damselfly pair egg-laying

Large red damselfly pair egg-laying

The male remains attached to the female whilst she lays to ensure that the eggs he has fertilised get laid.

We also planted a few native shrubs, including an alder buckthorn, the food plant of the brimstone butterfly, this has almost worked too well and our tiny tree has more than ten caterpillars and almost every leaf has been nibbled!

Brimstone caterpillars

Brimstone butterfly caterpillars

I like the fact that I can be at home in the garden but still be surrounded by a bit of the wild. Gardens can be fantastic for wildlife, especially for insects such as bees and others that require nectar and pollen, growing good plants for these species also gives you a great flower filled garden so is a win all round.

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.