The Blues

The last few days have seen warm sunshine by day but chilly nights, meaning it has been poor for moths but good for day-flying insects. Today at Blashford Lakes I saw my first scarce chaser and downy emerald of the year and there were other dragonflies about too with reports of emperor, broad-bodied chaser and hairy dragonfly.

Most of the butterflies that over winter by hibernation as adults are getting scarce now and spring species such as orange-tip are dropping in numbers. there are a few whites around with all three of the common species, but the highlight today was the emergence of  blues. The small meadow near Ivy North hide had six or more male common blue as I went to lock up and at least three brown argus as well, the argus is brown, but an honorary “blue” all the same..

common blue male

common blue (male), freshly emerged.

The brown argus look very like small female common blue, and the male common blues will get up to chase one if it flies by, however they quickly realise their mistake and give up. The first emergences are all males and the females will follow in a day or so. The reason for this is the same as that for male migrant bird arriving just ahead of the females. Evolution will push the males to be in place and ready for the first females to arrive, it does not pay to be late, so the pressure for males to be early is greater than that on females, who can afford to wait until they know there will be males to mate with.

The spring solitary bees are starting to disappear now, many species collect pollen from just a few plants and as these cease to flower they need to wrap up their breeding cycle. I did come across one interesting species today though, it was one of the nomad bees and the smallest species of them to be found in Britain, Nomada sheppardana.

Nomada sheppardana

Nomada sheppardana on forget-me-not

Visiting flowers is something many insects have to do to feed, it may sound an unproblematic things to do, the flowers want to offer a nectar reward, or perhaps bribe might be a better description, to the insects that will pollinate them. However it is not as safe as it might sound, flowers can hide predators, especially the camouflaged crab spider which match their colour to the flowers they sit on.

crab spider with hoverfly

crab spider with hoverfly prey

The crab spider here matched the hawthorn flowers so well that I missed it and initially set up to take a picture of the hoverfly, only then did I see the spider!

It has not been a good year for ground-nesting birds so far this spring, with most lapwing and little ringed plover losing their eggs to predators. I suspect mammals at night as the ones nesting on the islands are doing much better. Or at least they were, on Thursday might all the black-headed gull on Long Spit abandoned their nests. Although I don’t know for sure I suspect that something swam out there and ate their eggs, probably a fox or a badger. These mammals are usually not that keen on swimming, but if they are hungry they will go to great lengths to get the food they want, I think small mammals, which are their preferred prey, are in short supply this year, which might be why they are seeking birds eggs more actively.

Despite a bad time for some ground-nesters the pair of oystercatcher are still doing well, with their two chicks growing well. They hatched on Long Spit, moved off to the shore near Tern hide and have now returned to Long Spit, this meant they were not out there on the night of the predator raid. So far the main gull colony on Gull Island shows no sign of being attacked and neither do the tern rafts on Ivy Lake.

 

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Dumping and Cutting, a Tale from the Roadside

There seems to be a lot going on at present. At Blashford we are resurfacing a lot of the paths, the entrance track and a few other improvements will follow.

We have also been putting out the tern rafts, so far the gulls have been taking most of the space but hopefully the terns will get their act together soon.

Out on Ibsley Water the lapwing have not been doing well, with most nests failing at the eggs stage, I suspect fox or badger, as the birds nesting on the islands seem unaffected.

I was at Fishlake briefly today and saw my first hairy dragonfly of the year, it was beautifully perched, but I did not have a camera with me!

Meanwhile back at Blashford we received an overnight donation of two large tractor tyres, several car tyres and the remains of a trailer. Not the kind of donation we want as it will cost a fair bit to dispose of. Fly tipping in the countryside is an increasing problem as the cost legitimate disposal increases.

Another increasing roadside problem is the decline in the the diversity of flora found on verges. I remember a series called “Wayside and Woodland” books, I always took the implication of the title was that much of the wildlife featured was to be found on waysides, that is path and road verges. The reason is the accumulation of nutrients, in fact this is probably one of the greatest threats to wildlife diversity in almost all habitats. It is no accident that habitats that are very poor in freely available nutrients are rich in species, they have to fight it out for resources and tiny differences in adaptations mean that one species will win over if even a very small change in the environment happens. Thus a thin chalk soil can produce an incredibly rich sward with huge species diversity. Where nutrients are easy to come by a few very vigorous specie swill overwhelm the competition and species diversity is low and growth vigorous.

Road verges suffer the twin threats of car exhausts, which are rich in nitrogen a key nutrient for vigorous plant growth. This growth then gets cut, often many times a year and the cutting left as a “mulch” further aiding the building up of nutrients. Cutting once  later in the year and removing the cuttings would reduce the nutrients, reduce the vigour of the growth and promote plant diversity. In fact Plantlife have just produced an excellent guide to managing road verges The Good Verge Guide

The Highways Agency also produced quiet good guidelines for highways managers, but these do not seem to have been widely taken up by the people that set the contracts for the work. A case in point is a very fine round about close to my home, this morning I admired the good show of ox-eye daisy and could make out the soon to be flowering stems of corky-fruited water dropwort as I waited at the traffic lights. On my way home tonight I see it has been mown and the cuttings left as a deep green mulch, it is large round about and easy to see across so there is little need for cutting for safety reasons. Slowly but surely this fine area of herb-rich, semi-natural grassland is being destroyed by the state, an act of causal degradation of our biodiversity in the midst of an extinction crisis.

I will end with a couple more moths form yesterday, the catch was small but included perhaps the smartest pebble prominent I have ever seen.

pebble prominent

pebble prominent

There were also three very fresh poplar hawk.

poplar hawk 2

poplar hawk

Insects on the Up?

The progress of the season has been rather erratic this year, with spells of very warm or even hot weather interspersed with much colder days. Overall I think that we are still a little behind the average of recent years, but it is a very mixed picture.

Sunday was a fine, warm, sunny day with little wind, ideal for insects and I saw my first beautiful demoiselle, broad-bodied chaser, four-spotted chaser and emperor dragonfly of the year. The four-spotted chaser had emerged from the Centre pond, I think th efirst time I have proved that they have done so there, although I have seen individuals there a number of times. Numbers of large red, common blue, azure and blue-tailed damselfly are also continuing to build.

I am trying to look more closely at the bees on the reserve this year, Blashford has a lot of dry ground with sandy slopes, ideal for solitary bees. In fact “brownfield sites” such as Blashford are particularly good for bees as they often have variations in soil type, slopes and banks ideal for nesting.

Andrena bicolor

Andrena bicolor

Gwynne’s mining bee, Andrena bicolor is one of our commonest spring mining bees and also has a summer brood, it is a close relative of the much rarer grey -backed mining bee, Andrena vaga which was found on the reserve for the first time a couple of weeks ago. The rarer species is still around, but not in the same numbers as a fortnight ago, some of them are getting worn now and so look rather like the much commoner ashy mining bee Andrena cineraria.

ashy mining bee excavating

ashy mining bee Andrena cineraria excavating a nest tunnel.

For several years now there has been increasing evidence of an overall decline in total insect abundance, it is very hard to prove absolutely but accounts of declining moth trap catches and a general scarcity of many insects is attested by many. Older people will remember that when travelling any distance by car in the summer it was necessary to clean many squashed insects off the windscreen. Of course more aerodynamic cars may be a factor too. Whatever the reason it has become much harder to find many insect species in the average summer these days. It was pleasing to see a fair few hoverflies out yesterday including a number of Cheilosia species, a rather difficult genus of mainly black species, the identification of the images below maybe open to revision!

Cheilosia bergenstammi male

Cheilosia bergenstammi (male)

Cheilosia impressa

Cheilosia impressa (female)

Despite the warmer days the nights are still quiet cool and so the moth trap has remained quiet. The pick of the catch was a chocolate-tip moth, it is evidently quiet a good year for therm as this was the third we have caught recently.

chocolate-tip

chocolate-tip

The only grasshoppers and crickets about at present are a few tiny nymphs, but this is the time for finding adult groundhoppers, although the only one I saw was a common groundhopper, but at least it posed for a picture.

common groundhopper

common groundhopper

It would be good to think that we are turning a corner in the insect decline, unfortunately I doubt it, I suspect the wider environment is continuing to become less insect friendly. Although some of this is down to the use of very effective insecticides and industrial mono-culture farming, it is also our overall failure to leave any space for them, even where it would be easy to do so.

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.

Being a Responsible Consumer

I visited Fishlake Meadows first thing this morning, the sedge and reed warblers were singing as were cuckoo, cetti’s warbler, blackcap and garden warbler along with much, much more. The sheer abundance of birdlife was wonderful to experience. I was delighted to meet a few others , also out to enjoy this wonderful site.

As many will know Fishlake has recently been added to the Wildlife Trust list of reserves following many years of abandonment, during which time the area changed from agricultural land into a fabulous wetland. It is probably fair to say that there was something of a free for all on the site for a few years with reports of shooting, unlicenced angling and various other activities. These all had an impact upon the wildlife that could use the area, meaning that some species stayed and others did not. One of the functions of the new nature reserve is to improve the access and opportunities to see wildlife, whilst also reducing disturbance.

Fishlake from canal path

A view across Fishlake Meadows from the Barge Canal path.

Being a formal reserve means that there is the chance to make improvements for visitors and manage the habitat so as to maintain the most interesting and rarest elements. This will inevitably lead to an increase in visitors and the need to control access, both for the sake of the wildlife and the visitors.

Access to nature is increasingly being recognised as of great value to human wellbeing, but we need to be aware that this access is not without cost to the nature. However careful we are every visit to see wildlife will have an impact, at this time of year we will not avoid disturbing nesting birds, even if briefly as we walk by and this is but one example. This applies at least as much to dedicated wildlife watchers as the general public. In fact keen watchers of wildlife can be the worst offenders, putting a desire to see or photograph something above its welfare. Worst of all the desire to get close often applies most to the rarest species, the very ones that should be given the greatest space.

Some bird species are afforded special protection (under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) when nesting or potentially nesting, meaning that it is actually an offence to disturb them or photograph them where they might be breeding. I have been asked a number of times recently where people can go to photograph kingfisher, my answer at present is probably nowhere. Kingfisher are one of these special protected species and photographing them near a nest without a licence is illegal, in fact it is a criminal offence. It is far better to wait until late summer when the young are independent. There are many such protected species, including some that might surprise a lot of people, such as Cetti’s warbler and barn owl. Many of us carry cameras now and the temptation to get a shot of one of these when we should not is great. There are lots of great pictures of them and our desire just puts the birds under stress and at increased risk, there is no right to get a picture, or even a “better” view. The Rare Bird Alert website has a very useful page on this subject photographing schedule 1 birds

Sadly recent incidents at several Trust reserves have seen people straying into protected areas or just too close to rare species to get that slightly better view or picture. Some birds that might have nested have left as a result and some other commoner species have suffered as “collateral damage” in this quest.

For wildlife to survive on our crowded island we need to learn to live alongside it, to give it necessary space and not to treat it as a consumable to be used up for our amusement. This is what those that go too close are doing, they are using up our wildlife for personal gratification. We cannot avoid having an impact, but we can make it as small as possible,  if we acknowledge this fact and take responsibility for it and we might have a a richer wildlife experience that everyone can all enjoy.

 

A Great Day

I arrived at the reserve in heavy rain, always promising at this time of year and looking out form Tern hide I saw 4 bar-tailed godwit, migrants headed north grounded by the weather. Otherwise things were pretty much as the day previous day, including two very smart black-necked grebe, always a massive treat in breeding plumage.

The night had been cold (again), but there were a few moths in the trap including two new for the year, an iron prominent.

iron prominent

iron prominent

And a great prominent.

great prominent

great prominent

The moth trap does not only catch moths and looking through pictures from a few days ago I noticed a small fly I had not yet identified. It turned out to be a Tephritid fly, more often called picture-winged flies. Most of these have larvae that eat plants, especially seedheads of composites such as thistles. I identified this one as Euphranta toxoneura as species that is a brood parasite or predator on sawflies of the genus Pontania which make leaf galls on willows. It appears to be quite a scarce species and certainly one I had not seen before and a new species for the reserve.

Euphranta toxoneura

Euphranta toxoneura

Around lunchtime,as the weather cleared, an osprey flew over, it headed off east and was maybe the one seen at Lower Test nature reserve later. Unfortunately I missed it, I think at least the third one to have flown over me so far this year without my seeing any of them. The only other birds of note today were 14 black-tailed godwit and a whimbrel, briefly with the bar-tailed godwit in flight over Ibsley Water, a common sandpiper and a screaming group of about 40 swift.

Skies Alive!

Today may have been the last day of April, but it felt more like the last day of January! a bitter north-east wind was blowing hard across Ibsley Water making it foolish to open the windows at the Tern hide. The cold had brought thousands of aerial feeders low in over the water in a desperate search for any sort of flying insects to eat. At first I though they were mostly swallow and sand martin, but it turned out things were a little more complicated.

Close to Tern hide there were  a lot of swallow, whilst further out over the water sand martin were the majority. Further away house martin dominated, especially close to the northern shore of the lake. All this made estimating numbers a bit tricky. In the end I “guestimated” around 4000 hirundines were present with slightly more than half being sand martin, perhaps 2000-2500, then house martin with around 1000 and then 500-700 swallow. All in all it was quite a sight, although one that featured birds that were not at all happy. Luckily the promised rain never arrived and it actually got a little brighter later on and many of the birds left to feed elsewhere. Perhaps oddly by the end of the day swift were  one of the more numerous species, maybe 500 were feeding over the water, many more than in the morning.

Other sightings today included a yellow wagtail and a white wagtail close to Tern hide, from where I also saw a single black-tailed godwit, 2 common sandpiper and 3 goosander. Elsewhere 2 drake pochard were notable as was a single whitethroat, an oddly scarce bird at Blashford and mainly seen in autumn.

The moth trap contained just 2 common Quaker, moths don’t like cold, windy nights, but then who does.

Birds a plenty!

The last week or so has seen many new arrivals to Fishlake Meadows. It seems that the better weather is encouraging lots of activity, although today is very chilly! Sedge Warblers have arrived in huge numbers and can be heard clearly from the barge canal path. Their song is quite distinctive, and energetic with varied mix of musical notes, it is very similar to the reed warbler who have also arrive in the last week. The reed warbler song is less energetic and a bit slower paced.

Sedge Warbler warbling

Sedge Warbler by James West

Lindisfarne

Reed Warbler by David Foker

Friday 20th April was the first day I saw large red damselflies emerging, and there seemed to be a huge numbers of them. On Sunday I had the first report of hobbies having arrived, 3 were spotted and have been seen regularly since. They have been busy feeding on damselflies and other large insects on the wing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Large red damselfly by Ed Merritt

RS1235_hobby in flight David Foker

Hobby by David Foker

A cuckoo has been heard regularly to the western end of the east/west path that crosses the middle of the site. Garden warbler and common whitethroat have also arrived in the last week or so. All these new arrivals are absolutely wonderful and are fabulous to hear singing away. It’s a true pleasure for me to see the different seasons go by on a new nature reserve and seeing what changes that brings.

RS1235_hobby in flight David Foker

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

Just an antenna above ground

pic 3

Taking a peek

pic 2

Yep, looks safe

pic 1

Above ground, but in need of a dust-off

 

Some light bedtime reading? Last years Annual Report

Every year we present a report to our Blashford Lakes Project partners, Bournemouth Water, New Forest District Council and Wessex Water, covering the period of September – August and including all aspects of our work at Blashford Lakes. It is no small undertaking and therefore following its approval by the partnership we endeavour to have it as widely read as possible!

Please do have a look at what we have been up to and, if you are one of the many visitors who has contributed to this through your donation towards this work in the box outside Tern Hide or in the Centre, thank you!

ONLINE Blashford Annual Report 2016-17 JD