Summer is here

I’ve not posted in a little while. A mixture of being very busy, very relaxed (on holiday) and more recently very hot. Working in thirty degree heat over the last couple of days has been somewhat taxing.

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It is starting to happen though. Invertebrate life is springing into action all over our reserves and as things quieten down with the bird life, we stop looking up and start staring intently into the long grass.  That isn’t to say that there aren’t any decent birds around.

Farlington Marshes nature reserve has had the usual, a mob of black-tailed godwits chattering away by the building or on the deeps. They were joined the other week by a stunning male ruff, in full breeding plumage. this chap has been frequenting various sites around the Solent for a few weeks now. There have also been a lot of bearded tits showing off in the reed bed.

The meadow browns have emerged en mass across most of our sites. Swanwick and Hookheath in particular. We have also seen silver washed fritillaries, white admirals and marbled whites, with at least one purple emperor reported as well.

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Swanwick Lakes nature reserve has also had its fair share of dragons. A walk through on Friday afternoon saw Emperor, black-tailed skimmer, red-eyed damselfly, golden-ringed, common blue, blue-tailed and small red damselfly. There have also been downy emeralds seen regularly, but not by me, despite a lot of trying.

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The orchids this year have been exceptional. North-east meadow at Swanwick Lakes nature reserve has had the most ever, as has Hookheath. Farlington has had a very good year, with common spotted and southern marsh orchids filling the top of the hay field and pyramidal orchids scattered along the path.

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All in all its been a good, yet warm, couple of weeks – and over the next couple, we should see a bigger emergence of species like marbled whites, gatekeepers and a few more silver washed.

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A Swanwick Cook-out

Back from my week of holiday in more or less sunny Devon and out to Swanwick today where both the local reserve and Beechcroft volunteers were working today. In fact I never got more than about 50m from the Centre, but I know they were all very busy. In the afternoon we had our 20th Birthday event for the volunteers, a less formal event than the earlier one and more of a “Thank you” for the twenty year of hard work that have made the reserve what it is today. We had a barbecue with loads of salad and more cake than anyone should realistically attempt.

the cooking crew (Jess and Rob)

the cooking crew (Jess and Rob)

The wild angelica near Centre Lake is flowering well now, it is a great plant for insects, like pretty much all the Umbellifers, apparently this is because their pollen in very protein-rich.

wild angelica

wild angelica

It grows amongst lots of fleabane, which is also very good for feeding insects, although in this case the main attraction is nectar I think..

On both plants most of the insects were bumble-bees, but there were also a good few others including lots of soldier beetles.

soldier beetle

soldier beetle

Looking a bit harder I realised that one of the bumble-bees was not what it seemed, rather it was a hoverfly dressed up to look like a bumble-bee.

Criorhina berberina

Criorhina berberina

Pretty convincing it was too, as you can judge for yourself. it looks like one of the brown-haired species, the commonest of which is the common carder bee. This is one of a number of similar hoverfly species, none of which are very common, but then they are easy to overlook where there are lots of bees. As I was taking the picture above with my camera in hand held very still to get close in, a common darter dragonfly landed on my hand. I very gently moved the camera to my left hand and got a picture of it too.

common darter on hand

common darter on hand

Out on the reserve another female purple emperor was seen today, this time nectaring on fleabane on New Hill. White admiral was also reported. Dragonflies included a common hawker which got trapped in the Centre, I have not seen one for some years as they are actually not at all common in Hampshire. On Centre Lake a brood of small little grebe chicks have appeared since my last visit.

As well as bringing along some excellent food contributions one of the volunteers arrived with a large caterpillar, it was an elephant hawk-moth, fully grown and wandering about looking for a good place to bury itself and pupate.

elephant hawk moth caterpillar

elephant hawk moth caterpillar

Off to Farlington tomorrow, with a range of task on the list, all being well we should get a few more jobs done.

 

A Tiger, an Admiral and an Emperor

I did not get to post last night so here are two days in one. Yesterday I was only out for a short while as I had several bits of office work to do, although the office is not necessarily a poor place for encountering wildlife. It was hot again and my quick visit to Farlington to check the cattle resulted in my seeing  a few black-tailed godwit and hearing bearded tit calling near the Building and seeing some very hot looking cattle. On leaving I noticed that the everlasting pea by the entrance gate was looking particularly good.

everlasting pea

everlasting pea

Back at the office I had a meeting to discuss artwork for Farlington, as it was so hot we held the meeting in the shade of a tree in the garden, near the pond. Just before we started a scarlet tiger moth flew into the long vegetation by the pond, a bit worn but always good to see even if the scarlet hind wings were hidden when it was perched.

scarlet tiger

scarlet tiger

The moth was not the last thing of interest though, a red kite flew overhead, always a good sight.

Today was another very hot day and we decided to cancel the work party as it was just too hot to do the planned task. WE decided to go out on site though to have a look at work done, plan things for the future and check the cattle. I had set up a moth trap at Swanwick yesterday and we checked through that first, there were a few interesting species including a lunar-spotted pinion. They were all very lively and getting pictures was difficult but I did manage a few including grey arches,

grey arches

grey arches

and one of a number of clouded brindle.

clouded brindle

clouded brindle

We then set off for a walk around the site hoping to see some butterflies, soon after we set off we saw white admiral, always good to see, but not quite the purple emperor that I was really hoping for. Then up to the north-east meadow to check the cattle, as we approached Rob spotted a butterfly landing on an oak trunk, and there it was a purple emperor, we walked towards it and found it was feeding from a sap-run and quite approachable, even allowing a picture.

purple emperor

purple emperor

This was just about the best view I have ever had of one and it is always great to see wildlife doing something interesting.

On something of a high after this encounter we set off for Farlington, where things were again quite and all the cattle seemed well. We checked out one of the populations of annual beard-grass and found it to be doing well, this is a species of coastal grazed marshes that, oddly is common around the old silt ponds at Blashford Lakes, where it was presumably accidentally introduced.

On our way back to the office we called in at Hookheath Meadow and completed our “big butterfly trio” with lots of silver-washed fritillary and more white admiral. It was almost too hot for lots of insects and many were hiding in the shade including a fine hoverfly with a golden-haired tip to the abdomen, Xylota sylvarum.

Xylota sylvarum

Xylota sylvarum

 

 

Of Emperors and Admirals

I was in the office for a good part of the day today, not generally my favourite place to be on a sunny day, but at least today it was cooler inside. However I had to go out first thing to deal with a snapped branch at Swanwick and meet up with Emma and the volunteers. Although it was rather hot for working it was brilliant for butterflies as it has been for the last few days. As though to confirm this Emma reported seeing a male purple emperor by Centre Lake at Swanwick on Saturday, a species I have not seen for many years.

I did get out in the afternoon and on my way over to check the cattle at Farlington I stopped off at Hookheath Meadows, which were alive with butterflies, including several white admiral and silver-washed fritillary, both looking immaculate having just emerged. The heat meant that they were all very active and evaded all attempts at getting pictures.

On to Farlington and the hunt for the cattle, I know it does not sound too much of a task to count cattle in a field, but it can be surprisingly difficult. They crowd together so it is hard to work out where one starts and another ends and they sit down on undulating ground in long grass adding to the problems and that is just in open fields, add in bushes and it gets almost impossible at times. Anyway I managed to find most of them with the aid of a telescope!

In the process I had to go onto the seawall at the viewpoint so I also counted the waders on the Lake at high tide these included 3 dunlin in fine summer plumage, 263 redshank, 249 oystercatcher and 80 black-tailed godwit, including many in fine red summer plumage, just back from Iceland.