Young Naturalists in the picture

Our latest Young Naturalists session was all about photography.  We were hoping to be joined by Clare, a local landscape photographer, who unfortunately couldn’t make it, so we are hoping to get her to one of our sessions later in the year.  Meanwhile, we took out our phones and cameras and took lots of images of the wildlife.

We started with the moth trap, where we were joined by Simon, who is a moth expert, and who not only identified all the moths we found, but also gave good tips on getting the best photos.  After a warm night, there were loads of moths to choose from, so here’s a selection:

Willow Beauty, by Lucas, Blood-vein, by Arun

One of the most striking moths in the trap was an Elephant Hawk Moth, and Fletcher caught this spectacular front-on close up:

Elephant Hawk Moth, by Fletcher

Of all the moths which regularly turn up at Blashford, I think my favourite is the Buff-tip, which looks exactly like a broken birch twig:

Buff-tip, by James

We spent the rest of the morning in the wildflower meadow, where there were lots of insects to photograph, and we had sweep nets to catch and have a good close look at the different species.  I think Rosie’s ground-level photo of the meadow captures it perfectly:

The Wildflower meadow, by Rosie

The damselflies were everywhere around us, though they were difficult to photograph, as they don’t settle for long.  Here are a couple of shots:

Common Blue Damselfies, by Fletcher (left) and Rosie (right)

After lunch, we checked the hoverfly lagoons (no sign of hoverfly larvae yet), and had a go at clearing some of the slime off the pond, before heading down to Ivy Lake for a final try to capture more images of the day.  I finally got my camera out, and took a shot of one of the resident black-headed gulls (why isn’t it called a brown-headed gull?):

Black-headed gull, by Nigel

The Young Naturalists group is open to all 13 to 17 year-olds, and this month’s session gives you the chance to be a tree for the day.  Its on Sunday, 31st July, from 10am to 2:30pm, more details and to book a place, click here:

Blashford Lakes Young Naturalists: Tree Challenge Tickets, Sun 31 Jul 2022 at 10:00 | Eventbrite

Nigel Owen

Young Naturalists Leader

Hawks, Snakes and Terns


We had another successful Sunday with the Young Naturalists group recently, looking at three very different aspects of the wildlife at Blashford Lakes. First we unpacked the overnight light trap, which is mainly used to keep a record of the moths on site, but the first insect out of the trap wasn’t a moth at all, but a cockchafer beetle (or May Bug, if you prefer). These large and impressive beetles are only on the wing for a few weeks each Spring, and this one was sufficiently sleepy to allow us to pick it up, and feel it tickle the hand as it tried to cling on.


Thanks to Fletcher for the brilliant head‐on photo. Most impressive of the moths was a Poplar Hawk Moth, and this time Fletcher gave us a profile photo. We also managed to identify Light Emerald, Treble Bar, White Ermine, Scorched Wing, Clouded Border, Nut‐tree Tussock, May Highflyer, and a couple of what we think were Orange Footman.


The rest of the morning was spent searching for snakes. A team of Blashford volunteers has laid out a number of tin sheets and felt squares for snakes and other reptiles to use. They are tucked away well hidden around the reserve, and only checked once a fortnight to minimise the disturbance for any snakes which might use them as shelters and places to warm up. We had special permission to lift a few felts and look underneath, and we had also heard that a baby grass snake had been spotted underneath a log in the Badger Wood area, when a visiting school had been on a search for minibeasts. So we were delighted when we turned over a log, and there was a small grass snake curled up underneath. Again, Fletcher was quick enough to capture a photo before the snake wriggled away into cover.
The photo also shows the snake’s nictitating eye membrane, a translucent protective cover over its eye. We found another four grass snakes under another of the felts, all of which looked to be youngsters, but they didn’t hang around long enough for a photo.


After lunch we headed over to the north side of the reserve, to have a look at places where adders have been seen basking in sunny spots in the undergrowth. We didn’t see any adders, but while we were out we took a look at the tern rafts which have been moored in the lakes to attract breeding Common Terns. The terns don’t seem to be in charge of the rafts on Ibsley Water, where the Black‐headed Gulls have taken over, but back on Ivy Lake we counted between 8 and 10 terns which appeared to be sitting on nests on the rafts. We also checked the rafts out on Ellingham Pound, where again the Black‐headed Gulls were in charge. While we were looking at them, Geoff spotted a Hobby, hawking above the trees, and we watched as it appeared to eat a dragonfly on the wing.


This month the Young Naturalists are meeting on Sunday, 26th June, when we will be joined by Claire Sheppard, a local photographer, and we will be getting tips on improving our wildlife photography. For more details, see:
https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2022‐06‐26‐blashford‐lakes‐young‐naturalists‐picture


Nigel Owen – Young Naturalists Leader

Young Naturalists in search of dragons

There were seven Young Naturalists for our end of April meeting, including one new member, Fletcher.  The theme this month was pond and river life, but first, as usual, we checked the overnight moth trap.  Despite a cold night, we did find a few moths in the trap, the best being a pair of Brindled Beauty, as well as a Sharp-angled Peacock. 

We headed to the pond for the rest of the morning, and our target was to find some dragonfly larvae, which we wanted to try and identify to species.  The pond produced loads of fine creatures, including five Smooth Newts (of whom three were males, showing very flashy crested tails). 

Male Smooth Newt

There was also a massive Great Diving Beetle, and lots of Water Hoglouse, Damselfly larvae and Whirligig Beetles, and we were delighted to catch a total of eight Dragonfly larvae.  We all agreed that they were all the same species, but it was difficult to know exactly which from our reference book, as several seemed quite similar.  On the day, we guessed that they might be Downy Emerald, but having done a little more research online, I think they were possibly Common Darter, with long, spidery legs, and a thick body, covered in fine hairs.

Dragonfly larva – possibly Common Darter

Over lunch, Fletcher had the opportunity to try out his macro photography skills, with a few close-up pictures of butterflies, including this nectaring Peacock.

Peacock butterfly, pictured by Fletcher

More of Fletcher’s photos can be seen on his Instagram:

https://instagram.com/fletcherfootsphotography?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=

Rosie and Lucas pond-dipping

While we were at the pond, a visitor reported that there was a hornet flying around in one of the bird hides, so we went to have a look.  Fortunately, by the time we arrived, the hornet had made its way out, so we headed to the river.

In the Dockens Water

It is always good just to walk down the river in welly boots, and feel the flow of the stream around you, but we all wanted to see what we could catch.  We were soon using nets and kick sampling to have a look at the river creatures, including several fish.  We caught two Bullhead, and several small fry which looked like young Brown Trout, as well as Minnows.  We also found some spectacular Cased Caddis Fly larvae, a Beautiful Demoiselle damselfly larva, and more dragonfly larvae, this time Golden-ringed Dragonfly.

Cased Caddisfly larva
Golden-ringed Dragonfly larva

After releasing the fish and the other creatures back into the river, and washing up the equipment, we still had time to head down to Ivy South hide, where we watched a Mute Swan chase off a Canada Goose.  On the way to Ivy South we had great views of a Kingfisher on the Ivy Silt Pond, which hovered and dived for a fish while we watched.

We’ll be doing more birdwatching next month, and also looking for reptiles. For more details, and to book onto next month:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/blashford-lakes-young-naturalists-reptile-surveying-and-birdwatching-tickets-333481170157

March Young Naturalists… on the search for elusive mice

What a weekend to run a Young Nats session! The weather was beautifully sunny and warm, a contrast to winter and a stark contrast to the cold snap we are having right now.

8 Young Nats arrived promptly at 10am, ready for the challenge of finding harvest mouse nests. Bob had kindly put the moth trap on the night before, so the Young Nats and Nigel set about checking the trap and identifying all the moths – I still have a lot to learn. I was very impressed with our Young Nats moth knowledge, and their eagerness to scrutinise the moth book when we found some we didn’t know straight away. We got a total of 11 species, including the Oak Beauty, and Hebrew Character.

Puzzling over moth ID

Having prepped some small mammal traps on Friday for Bob, the first thing I did after opening up in the morning was sneak around to see how many doors were closed.. quite a few! Once we were finished with moths we spoke about small mammal trapping and why you might do it (species diversity, species abundance if you were going to set out a grid and conduct a mark-recapture survey) and the requirements to ensure the animals’ welfare is catered to. These traps were set out close to the Education Centre, targeting voles and woodmouse/yellow necked mouse. We had more than half of the traps closed… but not all had occupants!

Some of our mice… especially our yellow necked mice have become rather crafty. They like to inhabit the loft in the winter, and become exceptionally adept at getting over the tripwire, eating the food, and out again. There were 5 traps during Young Nats that had tell-tale signs of mouse-habitation but open doors – I think the yellow necked mice we have released are playing tricks on us once more.

My focus for this trapping session was to have each Young Nat learn how to check a trap in a handling bag, and then to scruff the mouse/vole safely. The method is as follows – empty trap into bag, then remove trap and all bedding. Handling bags are large plastic bags with a seam along the bottom and two very useful corners. To keep the creature still you must wait until it is in a corner, and then bring a hand underneath the outside of the bag and around the animal to hold it snugly and firmly with its nose pointed into the corner. Then your other hand can enter the bag, and using thumb and forefinger you feel for the ‘scruff’ of the neck, focusing on feeling the shoulders and base of the back of the skull. Once you can feel these you take a pinch of skin and (if it’s enough skin and you’ve got an even amount from both sides) the animal will stay nice and still. This technique is used when surveying to sex the animal, place it in a bag for weighing, and to perform tasks like fur clipping safely if it’s a requirement of a survey.

I am very pleased to say that everybody managed to scruff a mouse or vole successfully, it does take a few tries to get it, and even though we had some apprehensive hands to start with everyone did well.

Fantastic scruffing of a woodmouse

After lunch we headed out to the north of the reserve, sticks and tape measures in hand to do a final search for harvest mice (winter surveying finished 31st March). I will do a separate blog about our winter harvest mouse surveys, to give final numbers etc soon.

In an attempt at a brief summary – we measured out two 10 x 20m squares to survey, in an area between Goosander and Lapwing Hides that isn’t accessible by the public. What does access it lots however.. is the deer. Frustrating though their numbers can be, they have made useful tracks so that we could navigate our way in and set up the survey.

Harvest mice build their nests around 30cm up in the grass, woven into little tennis ball sized spheres. They strip the grass into pieces and weave it while it is still attached, which means their nests stay suspended long after they leave. We were searching for 2021 breeding nests, which thankfully still persist in the grasses… but as the grass had been flattened by deer and wind we had to be very thorough.

Using gloves and sticks to help separate the grasses, we all begin a focused search for nests. Nigel, Geoff and I were assisting, and after about 15 minutes there was a yell of ‘I FOUND ONE’ from one of the girls, and excitement from the rest of that team. Once we knew they really were there, and we COULD find them… the focus turned into a forensic type search with some very careful searching and in total we found 4 nests. Absolutely brilliant work from everybody involved, and this adds to our previous finds from this winter’s surveying which is our first ever evidence of harvest mice in the northern part of the reserve. Well done Young Nats, and our volunteer surveyors this winter!

On the hunt for harvest mouse nests

What’s on at Blashford Lakes this half term?

Campfire “toffee apples”

Lots!

Starting with storytelling around the campfire during the afternoon of Saturday 23rd October, complimented by the wonderful seasonal campfire delicacy that is sugar coated apple baked on a stick. What’s not to like?!

See the website for more details and to book:

https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-10-23-go-wildcampfire-taleshttps://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-10-23-go-wildcampfire-tales

Woodmouse being released behind the Centre during a previous event

I’m delighted to say that we are also running Wild Day Out activity days for children again this half-term – and that bookings are going well.

The theme this half-term is mammals, tracks & signs. There are some places left, but they are limited, so book now if you want to avoid disappointment!

Tuesday 26th October, Traps, tracks & signs, is our Wild Day Out for 7-12 year old children: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-10-26-wild-day-out-traps-tracks-and-signs

And Wednesday 27th October, Animal Quest, is our Wild Day Out for 5-8 year old children: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-10-27-wild-day-out-animal-quest

And finally, being the last Sunday of the month, from 10am to 2.30pm on Sunday 31st October there will of course be our regular meeting of the Young Naturalists led by Tracy (our wildlife and conservation event for 13-17 year old young people) – details and booking information to follow shortly on the Events pages of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events

Bookings for all events must be made in advance online via the above webpage links, but if you have any queries you are very welcome to email us on BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk and we’ll get back to you 🙂

Of moths and other insects, and a bit more besides…

I’ve fallen behind with my Young Naturalists updates, but since meeting at the reserve for the first time in April, enjoying the bird song and river dipping, we’ve been out onsite enjoying all the reserve has to offer, looking for reptiles, improving our moth identification, pond dipping and enjoying the insect life in the meadow. We’ve also been campfire cooking and improving the biodiversity of one part of the reserve by spreading wildflower seed. 

At the end of May we went for a walk on the northern part of the reserve, in the hope of finding some reptiles. We saw chiff chaff, blackcap and reed bunting and enjoyed listening to the reed warblers and Cetti’s warblers calling in the reed bed. 

We headed off into the reedbed to check some of the reptile refugia or felts used by the volunteers when they survey the reptiles. Our first sighting however wasn’t of a reptile, instead we found this caterpillar of the Oak eggar moth on top of one of the felts:

oak eggar caterpillar

Oak eggar caterpillar

The hairy caterpillars feed on bramble, blackthorn, willow, hawthorn, hazel and other woody plants.

Under another refugia we were lucky enough to see our first reptiles, finding two adders. The first disappeared quickly into the vegetation, but the second stayed long enough for some of the group to get a good look and take some photos:

adder Daisy Meadowcroft

Adder by Daisy Meadowcroft

Adder by Daisy Meadowcroft

Adder by Daisy Meadowcroft

After leaving the reed bed we saw speckled woods enjoying the sunshine and watched the sand martins flying over Goosander Hide. We also saw a female adder basking on the bank by the hide.

After lunch we decided to pond dip, catching a very smart male smooth newt:

smooth newt

Smooth newt

We also caught an impressive Emperor dragonfly nymph, which given the number of exuvia around the edge of the pond was a bit of a surprise, there were still more lurking in there!

Emperor dragonfly nymph

Emperor dragonfly nymph

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia 2

Dragonfly exuvia

The larva’s final moult takes place out of the water. As the adult dragonfly emerges from its larval skin, the cast skin or exuvia is left behind. It’s always fun to carefully look for evidence of their metamorphosis amongst the vegetation (and man made structures!) in the pond margins and the group had a good hunt, photographing their finds.

In June I had planned to spend the session focusing on insects, but with the weather so changeable we ended up adding in some campfire cooking as well. We began by looking through the moth trap where the highlight was this Poplar hawk-moth:

Poplar hawk moth

Poplar hawk-moth

Alex with a Poplar hawk moth

Alex with the Poplar hawk-moth

We also had a Buff tip, with its amazing camouflage, a very smart Muslin moth and a Burnished brass:

Buff tip

Buff tip, doing its best broken silver birch twig impression

Muslin moth

Muslin moth

Burnished brass

Burnished brass

Rummaging through the moth trap didn’t take very long, and with the sun briefly making an appearance we hot footed it to the meadow before the showers came.

Meadow sweeping

Meadow sweeping

In the meadow we saw a small skipper butterfly, grasshoppers, a speckled bush cricket, a green leaf weevil and a green-eyed flower bee enjoying the selfheal.

We also saw a number of Thick-legged flower beetles, also known as swollen-thighed beetles and false oil beetles. They are often seen on the flowers of ox-eye daisies and other open-structured flowers and only the males have swollen thighs:

Thick legged flower beetle

Male Thick-legged flower beetle on Ox-eye Daisy

Female Thick-legged flower beetle

Female Thick-legged flower beetle on Perforate St John’s-wort

The meadow and the lichen heath are both covered in Perforate St John’s-wort at the moment, it is having a really good year. Traditionally it was used as a remedy for all kinds of ailments, including wounds and burns, and is still popular today for the treatment of mild depression. Research and opinions however differ on how effective the latter is.

It can be identified by its bright yellow star shaped flowers and the tiny ‘holes’ in its leaves. The holes are in fact colourless glands that apparently give off a foxy smell. If you hold a leaf up to the sun, the tiny holes are easy to see, but they’re definitely more obvious on a sunny day!

Perforate St John's Wort

Tiny ‘holes’ in the leaves of Perforate St John’s-wort on a sunnier day

After a short while in the meadow, we headed back to the Centre collecting nettle tops on the way to make some nettle soup. We also picked some mint and lemon balm from around the pond to make tea. After gathering the kit and our lunches, we headed to the campfire area.

Alex decided to toast his sandwich and after eating we boiled some water for the tea and made our soup. Both had mixed reactions, although to be fair some teas did contain nettle, mint and lemon balm and we possibly gave the wrong person the nettles to wash… so our soup did contain a number of less welcome additions!

July’s session was also influenced by the weather. I had planned to do the Big Butterfly Count with the group last Sunday, something we have participated in with them for the last few years. The UK wide survey is running until the 8th August, so there’s still time to take part if you would like to, you just need 15 minutes and a sunny spot…

Thankfully, moth trapping has improved over the past few weeks, with more species and numbers of moths coming to the traps, and we were able to spend the morning having a good look through and identifying most of what we found.

Daisy made a list of those we were able to identify (we lost a few on opening the traps and some of the micro moths did stump us) and we managed to record 70 moths of 39 species in the first trap and 63 moths of 28 species in the second trap. Both traps were close to the Centre, with one positioned out the front towards the mini meadow by the Welcome Hut and the other positioned out the back of the building.

Our grand total from the Saturday night was 133 moths of 52 species. Here are some of the highlights:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Large emerald in particular proved popular:

Large emerald 2

Large emerald

Rosie photographing the large emerald

Rosie photographing the large emerald

After lunch, we went back to the meadow to see if the Bird’s-foot trefoil had gone to seed. If it had, we were going to collect some to add to the other seed we had from Bob to sow, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite ready. We did see a Common blue butterfly resting on a seed head:

Common blue

Common blue

We then went looking for wasp spiders on the lichen heath, managing to find two in amongst the soft rush. Their colours mimic the common wasp, keeping them safe from predators.

Wasp spider

Wasp spider

Wasp spiders build large orb webs in grassland and heathland. Their webs are quite distinctive, with a wide white zig-zag running down the middle known as a stabilimentum.

After some impromptu boat making by Kimberley and Harry, we stopped off at the river to see whether or not their boats would sail:

We then began our seed sowing, adding Bluebell seed in amongst the hazels to the side of the path between the bridge over the Dockens Water and the road crossing to Tern Hide. We swept away the leaf litter and put the seed thinly on the soil surface, before brushing the leaves back over to cover them.

We then crossed over the road towards Tern Hide and went through the gate to the part of the site currently still closed to visitors. This was once a concrete plant, and when the plant was demolished we began restoring the area, including the old main entrance roadway. Although it has taken time, this spot is now well colonised by lots of plants and our addition of some extra seed will hopefully help improve it even more. 

We added Wild carrot to the driveway, scattering it thinly onto patches of bare ground, Devils-bit scabious up on the bank as it prefers a deeper soil and Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon on the same bank, poking each seed individually into the ground using a pencil (we also saved some of these for the mini meadow by the Welcome Hut). Finally we also added Yellow rattle seed and some assorted hawkbits and crow garlic.

Fingers crossed some of them come up!

Thank you to the Cameron Bespolka Trust for funding our purchase of tools and equipment for the group.  

Green-eyed flower bee

Green-eyed flower bee on Inula hookeri by the Education Centre

 

Our Young Naturalists are back onsite!

Since May 2020 we’ve managed to stay in touch with 17 of our Young Naturalists and gain one new member, through 13 online sessions and three onsite sessions (we managed to squeeze two short campfire sessions in during December and met up again onsite at the end of April).

Using zoom and aided by the digital microscope we’ve looked at pond and river life, moths, birds (less successfully online I have to admit…) and a variety of skulls. Aided by PowerPoint and a lot of photos we’ve also covered topics including insects (primarily bees, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies), reptiles, birds of prey and freshwater fish.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Their topic requests have at times kept me on my toes!

We were also joined online by Owain from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation back in the summer and Amy from the New Forest National Park Authority in October. Following on from our session with Amy, we were joined in November by a New Forest Commoner, Lyndsey Stride, who took us on an autumnal forest walk via zoom and talked about the key New Forest habitats, how her animals interacted with them and and the commoning year.

Rather than being attached to individuals, the common rights of the New Forest are attached to properties and land in the Forest, with the New Forest Commoners being those who occupy the land or property to which the privileges are attached. These privileges include the right to graze stock on the open forest and many commoners are descendants of families who have been commoning for many generations. Today commoning doesn’t generally provide a living, resulting in many commoners being employed elsewhere and it was really interesting to hear Lyndsey talking about her way of life.

At the end of April we were able to meet up properly on site, much to my relief as I had I think had my fill of zoom, and, being able to facilitate more young people than in December we also reverted back to our old meeting time of 10am until 2.30pm – it was great to have a bit more time to do things and a bit more time to catch up with the group.

With dawn chorus day (the first Sunday in May) fast approaching I thought it would be fun to make and try out parabolic reflectors, having seen some great do it yourself versions on social media. Using Sarah Dowling‘s fabulous art work as a guide, we had a go at making them using a plastic bowl and some wooden offcuts Geoff had kindly provided and prepped for us.

plant pot parabolic 4

Plant pot parabolic instructions by Sarah Dowling

We placed a piece of wood inside the bowl and put a couple of elastic bands around it, which would be used to keep the recording device in place, then screwed through this piece of wood (avoiding the elastic bands!), the bowl and into another piece of wood that would be used as the handle.

Once made, you could attach your recording device inside the bowl (in this case we used mobile phones) and either record the sound using a recording app or just via the video function on the phone. They worked brilliantly and I was impressed by how much bird song they picked up for something so simply made.

After testing our recording capabilities (the instructions suggested downloading either the ‘Rode Reporter’ app for IOS or the ‘RecForge II’ app for android) we went on a wander in search of bird song. Thankfully it was not hard to find!

plant pot parabolic 2

Using our plant pot parabolics

plant pot parabolic

Recording bird song

It was quite breezy so some of the recordings picked up a lot of background noise, but I was quite pleased with a couple that came out more clearly and you could make out blackcap, garden warbler, blackbird, robin, chiffchaff, and Cetti’s warbler singing, as well as a black-headed gull calling (or squawking) as it flew overhead. I’ll definitely be taking mine out again on a walk at some point!

After having lunch we headed down to the river, as having talked about freshwater fish during our last online session some river dipping seemed rather fitting.

Although Jim had been busy running river study sessions for small groups of home educated children, they had been exploring further down stream and as a result we caught a good number of bullheads and a stone loach in our usual river dipping spot. We also found a very nice demoiselle nymph.

Our next Young Naturalists session is on Sunday 30th May and if the weather is nice we will be heading off on a walk in search of reptiles. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

If you know of an enthusiastic Young Naturalist please do spread the word, we are always keen to welcome new members – booking is essential via either our website or Eventbrite and anyone joining us for the first time will need to have completed a parental consent form, which can be obtained by emailing us at BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk

Thank you to the Cameron Bespolka Trust for funding our purchase of tools and equipment for the group www.cameronbespolka.com

Saved by the moths…

We have been running our fortnightly Young Naturalists catch-ups now since the the end of May and, seven catch-ups in, they are keeping me on my toes in terms of content. Although shorter than a normal on site meeting, making sure we have plenty to discuss for the whole two hours online has kept me busy, collating their photos so we can share them with everyone during the session, catching pond creatures beforehand so we can look at them under the digital microscope, and putting together presentations on other topics, chosen by them and generally not my area of expertise!

I have fallen behind with my Young Naturalist blogs but August’s sessions focused on dragonflies and damselflies (thankfully I now have a good number of photos of different species which made putting together a presentation quite easy)…

lifecycle

Life cycle of a dragonfly and damselfly

…and owls (thankfully the Trust’s image library has a number of fabulous photos of owls that have been taken by other members of staff or sent in by very generous photographers, along with their permission for us to use them)…

owls

Owl presentation

Other birds of prey have also been requested, so the image library will be coming in quite handy again at some point… 

It is always a bit nicer to look at something living though, so at every session we have had one if not two light traps to rummage through and volunteer Nigel has also run his trap at home to add to our moth chances. With the exception of a few cooler nights, we have had a great variety of moths to look at, they have become a regular feature! 

Here are the highlights from the last couple of sessions, plus possibly a few that were caught in between:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sticking with the moth theme, this morning there were a pair of Burnished brass in the trap, unmistakable with their brassy, metallic forewings. There are two forms of this moth, which differ in the brown central cross-band which is complete in f. aurea but separated into two blotches in f. juncta

P1200974 (2)

Burnished brass, f.juncta on the left and f. aurea on the right

We haven’t just been catching moths in the light trap, but also lots of caddisflies, shield bugs, beetles and this rather smart looking Eared leafhopper:

Eared leafhopper

Eared leafhopper

They can be found on lichen covered trees, in particular oaks, but are incredibly hard to spot due to their amazing camouflage.

Fingers crossed for some mild September nights so we have some nice autumnal moths to identify for a little longer, or we may have to get into caddisfly identification…

Elsewhere on the reserve the dragonflies continue to be very obliging, with common darter and southern and migrant hawkers perching on vegetation behind the centre to be photographed – the migrant hawker below was pointed out to me by regular visitor John:

Migrant hawker

Migrant hawker

Migrant hawker 2

Migrant hawker

This morning large numbers of house martin were gathering over the main car park by Tern Hide and Ibsley Water, in preparation for their incredible migration to Africa, whilst the shoreline has also become busier, with an increase in wagtails over the past few days.

Yellow wagtail

Yellow wagtail

Pied wagtail

Pied wagtail

Pied wagtail (2)

Juvenile Pied wagtail

Yellow wagtails are summer visitors and they too will head to Africa for the winter. Most Pied wagtails are residents however those that occupy northern upland areas will head south for the colder months, boosting the populations already found in the warmer valleys, floodplains and on the south coast. They can migrate as far as north Africa to escape the cold.

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

Tigers, kittens and emperors

Emptying the moth trap this morning revealed a beautiful garden tiger moth, which was definitely a treat to see. When disturbed they display their orange hind wings with blue-black spots, the bright colours acting as a reminder to predators that they are unpalatable.

Garden tiger

Garden tiger moth

Garden tiger 2

Garden tiger moth

The larvae of the garden tiger moth are large, black and covered in long, dense, black and ginger hairs, giving them their name the ‘woolly bear’. They feed on stinging nettles, dock leaves and a variety of garden plants. They can be seen from August until the following June and are often seen moving rapidly across bare ground when fully grown so are a good caterpillar to keep an eye out for, although it is best to leave them to it if you do see one as the hairs can irritate.

When the sun is shining the pond is still a brilliant to spot to look for dragonflies, with common darters often resting up on a chosen spot and both brown hawkers and emperor dragonflies hawking overhead or egg laying:

Common darter

Common darter resting on a picnic bench

Emperor dragonfly

Male emperor dragonfly pausing briefly on vegetation

There are still plenty of damselflies around and I managed to photograph this pair of common blue damselflies mating. The male is blue and the female is a more camouflaged olive green colour:

Common blue damselflies

Common blue damselflies mating

The male dragonflies and damselflies have two pairs of hooks at the tip of the abdomen which they use to grasp either the neck (in damselflies) or head (in dragonflies) of the female. Pairs can often be seen flying together in tandem and shortly after capturing a female they will mate and form the ‘wheel position’ seen in the image above. Some species remain coupled for several hours amongst vegetation whilst others, like the chaser dragonflies, couple briefly for just a few seconds. Following mating the female is ready to lay eggs.

There are also still plenty of butterflies on the wing, including this common blue which was outside the front of the centre earlier today.

Common blue

Common blue

On Sunday we held another of our online Young Naturalist catch ups where we expanded on the last session delivered by Owain from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and discussed all six native reptiles. We were treated to some fantastic photos by Kimberley, taken on her phone, of a very friendly male sand lizard she had encountered whilst walking her dog at Dewlands Common in Verwood.

I used to visit Dewlands Common regularly when employed by East Dorset District Council so it is great to know they are still present on the site.

Will also shared some photos he had taken, including a lovely photo of a wool carder bee on lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina). We had been hoping the lamb’s ear in one of the planters outside the Education Centre would attract wool carder bees as they will scrape hairs from the leaves to line and seal the brood cells in their nests, but sadly there has been no sign of any.

Will also shared a photo of a small skipper butterfly which was taken up on the Laverstock Downs, a gatekeeper which he had photographed at Horatio’s Garden at Salisbury Hospital, and an abandoned robin’s nest in his bird box at home – the robin’s had for some reason moved elsewhere.

We also looked at the moths in the light trap, where the highlight was this very fresh looking Sallow kitten:

Sallow kitten

Sallow kitten

Finally regular visitor and volunteer Phil shared this photo with us of the Osprey which visited on the 16th July. It was only here on that day, but did spend quite some time sat on the perch out on Ibsley Water and Phil was able to get a photo from a distance. I was on leave that week so completely missed it!

Osprey by Phil West

Osprey by Phil West

Our Young Naturalists are kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

Print

The native and the more exotic…

This morning I was getting ready for our online Young Naturalists session when I spotted a Large skipper by the pond, the first one I’ve seen this year. It stayed there for some time although I couldn’t see it later on in the day, despite a bit of looking.

They have a pretty faint chequered pattern on the wings, so are easy to tell apart from the similar Small and Essex skippers which fly at the same time.

Large skipper

Large skipper

We have just had our Centre wifi improved enabling us to teach online whilst outside, which is great for our fortnightly Young Naturalists sessions and, although too late for this term, will also allow us to offer virtual sessions to schools as things slowly return to some kind of normal in the autumn.

I tested it out today, running our fortnightly session from the shelter behind the Centre, emptying the moth trap with the group (sadly there weren’t many moths) and showing them the evidence of leaf-cutter bees in the bug hotel.

outdoor classroom

All set up for today’s virtual Young Naturalists session

Whilst outside I also spotted a male blackbird sunbathing on the top of the bug hotel, and managed to take a couple of distant photos:

Blackbird

Blackbird 2

I then watched it bathing in the pond, but wasn’t quite in the right place to get a photo.

For our Young Naturalists session today we were joined by Owain Masters, Public Engagement and Education Officer for Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust’s Snakes in the Heather project. The project aims to raise public awareness of the conservation needs of our native reptiles andFinal heathland heritage, helping to promote a better understanding that will safeguard their future. In particular it focuses on the conservation of the smooth snake, Britain’s rarest reptile.

Although not present on the reserve, we are lucky to have them locally on the sandy heaths of Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey.

Owain shared his passion for snakes with the group, talked about the three species native to the UK and tested the group with a fun quiz, ‘snake or fake’, to see what information they had picked up whilst he had been talking. He had been due to join us onsite for a session so it was great he could join us online and hopefully we will be able to reschedule his site visit at some point in the future.

Given our session had a reptile theme, the group’s show and tell was also distinctly reptilian, with Thomas and Harry sharing photos of their pet geckos. Slightly more exotic than our native snakes! Apologies to Alex’s mum… a second gecko may now be on the cards…

The group also shared a few native reptile encounters, with Harry, Thomas and Alex talking about their adder encounters, Cameron and Torey sharing a photo their dad had taken of a grass snake outside the front of Ivy South Hide and Will sharing a photo of a common lizard:

Will also talked about seeing osprey at Fishlake Meadows and watching a collared dove from his bedroom window that was nesting in his garden. He had also seen a large white butterfly, red admiral, scarlet tiger moth and female stag beetle.

Finally, Cameron shared some really lovely landscape photos from a walk around Whitsbury, near Fordingbridge:

Next time we will be chatting a bit more about reptiles and looking at all six species naive to the UK and have our usual rummage through the light trap. It will be interesting to see what wildlife they have all encountered between now and then.

After the session was over I had another look by the pond for the large skipper but had to content myself with this lovely skipper instead, I think a small skipper rather than an Essex skipper.

Small skipper

Small skipper

Finally, towards the end of the day a very kind visitor pointed out a crab spider that was lurking in amongst the buddleia flowers by the pond. After a bit of searching, I think its a goldenrod or flower crab spider. Its pale colouring and purple stripes did help it blend in really well with the flowers, I have no idea how they spotted it!

Goldenrod or flower crab spider Misumena vatia

Goldenrod or flower crab spider, Misumena vatia

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

Print

Print