30 Days Wild – Day 15 – Half Way Day in the Garden (weather permitting)

Another day off today, I would have spent much of it in the garden but the rain had other ideas. However I did get out between the showers and even had some sun at times.

The moth trap was not busy being mostly filled with the really common species like heart and dart, Vine’s rusticwillow beauty and treble lines. One of the very common species for much of the season is shuttle-shaped dart, a moth that is so common as to be largely ignored and not helped by a rather drab colour scheme. However the detail of the wing patterning is exceedingly intricate.

shuttle-shaped dart

shuttle-shaped dart

At this time of year I am always drawn to the mini-meadow, it attracts so much insect life and today was no exception. There were an array of bees, hoverflies, beetles and bugs, including the grass bug Notostira elongata, this one is a male, with a much stronger, more contrasting, pattern than the female

Notostira elongata male

Notostira elongata male

I had not recorded this species in the garden before that I could remember. Another “First” was the hoverfly Scaeva selenitica, a species of pine woodland, so I expect it had wandered off the New Forest to visit some good nectar sources.

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Scaeva selenitica (male)

You can tell that this one is a male as the eyes meet on the top of the head to give it the maximum possible all-round view of the world. This difference in eye size between the sexes is common amongst flies and is probably to help them, spot females.

Caught up again! Just fifteen more days to go.

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30 Days Wild – Day 14 – It’s Not Just Grass!

A day off catching up with domestic tasks, so wildlife watching was largely restricted to the garden. The mini-meadow is looking very fine at present, it may only be 5m by 4m, but it is packed with flowers and has  a very good structure. The term “structure” in relations to grasslands means the variation in height and the layering of the vegetation. A well structured grassland will have vegetation at every level. In mine the lowest level is occupied by lesser stitchwort, mouse-eared hawkweed, cowslip, bugle, bird’s-foot trefoil and white clover. Slightly higher is the yellow rattle, creeping buttercup, dandelion, ribwort plantain, red clover and bloody cranesbill.  Higher still are the ox-eye daisy, hawkbits, field scabious, perforated St John’s wort, meadow buttercup and corky-fruited water-dropwort. The top layer is mostly taken by knapweed. There are several different grass species and a number of other herbs dotted about. 

This structure allows insects to move about all through the area at every level and light can get through to the ground. This is the opposite of an intensive grassland where the objective is a dense even grass sward, these may be fields, but they are really high yield grass crops, with high biomass and low biodiversity. Traditional forage crops were hay, and repeated cropping tended to increase biodiversity and and reduce the biomass. It is easy to see why farmers seeking lots of forage would move to an intensive model, but the result has been a 97% loss of herb rich grasslands in the UK in a lifetime.

“Views over green fields” might be trumpeted by estate agents or implicit in the idea of the “Green Belt”, but green fields are ones that have lost their biodiversity. Similarly green lawns, verges and civic areas are ones that have had their diversity and wildlife stripped away. It is easy to see why agricultural grasslands have been “improved” to increase their productivity, these are businesses seeking to make a profit. Despite this most of the best remaining herb-rich grasslands are on farms and farmers are at the forefront of improving the situation.

So why are local authorities and corporate owners of mown grasslands so set on removing their variety has always been a mystery to me. Many years ago I worked at a Country Park and took to leaving the banks and other areas not walked on to be cut just once a year, mowing the rest as paths and patches around picnic tables. Pretty soon we had meadow brown, common blue and marbled white flying between the picnic places. However I soon got complaints, not from the site users, but from councillors and others who declared it “untidy”, I did not give up but as soon as I moved on they restored the old regime.

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My mini-meadow, it really is not difficult to have diverse wildlife friendly spaces rather than dewilded grass.

Some land uses demand regular mowing, but it should not be the default approach, we should expect habitats to be managed to maximise their environmental value. Wildlife lives everywhere, given the chance and should do so, we should expect land managers to be properly discharging their responsibility for the land they manage and to be looking to increase biodiversity, not mowing, or worse still, spraying it to oblivion.

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Meadow brown in the meadow, hiding from the wind

Bombus lucorum

Bombus lucorum, the white-tailed bumblebee on ox-eye daisy

The one that DIDN’T get away!

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Anyone that follows this blog can’t have failed to notice that it is 30 days wild time of year again with Bob going the extra mile to blog his wildlife encounters at work and at home on a daily basis. Midway through June thus weekend is the Trusts “BIG Wild Weekend” with lots of events held across the UK.

At Blashford we joined in with a river dipping event this morning where we caught mayfly, stonefly, beautiful demoiselle and golden-ringed dragonfly nymphs, freshwater shrimp, cased caddisfly and blackfly larvae, leeches and, on the fish front, bullhead and young brown trout.

However by far the best catch of the day (and indeed the best catch of all of my previous 17 years working here and countless river dipping sessions with both young and old!) was John’s brown trout which filled the tank at a whopping 11 inches in length! Well done John!

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(and, just for the record, the fish was released – unharmed – back into the river after taking a few quick photo’s!)

30 Days Wild – Day 13

As I was wondering if I should put on a fleece under my jacket in an effort to keep both dry and warm, it was good to think back to those balmy days of short-sleeves in February and know that it would be warm again, sometime. Needless to say, despite it being mid-June, it was not a day for insects, or much else.

The stalwarts of Blashford’s Brilliant Volunteers worked through it all though and we made a good job of finally clearing the yard of scrap metal and old tyres. Sadly we are “donated” rather a lot of rubbish, not generally by our visitors, but in the form of fly-tipping. I suppose it is something we should feel “Wild” about, but after years of working in the countryside it, sadly, has becomes an expected part of the job.

Although I have said our reserve visitors are generally very good alt not leaving litter, there have been a few incidents recently of mess being left at the Goosander Hide, probably int he evenings. There is some indication of a degree of general anti-social behaviour as well. If anyone is on the reserve at any time and sees such things going on it is very useful to have such details as it is easy to get. These issues are difficult to tackle so any information is useful, an email to the Blashford Lakes email or if ongoing int he daytime a call to the office or one of our mobiles is very helpful, the contact details are posted in the hides.

One sign of summer at Blashford was in evidence though, although it was necessary to peer through the drizzle to see it, the ponies are back grazing the shore of Ibsley Water.

pony in the mist

Pony in the mist

The weather has been a problem in lots of ways, one of them is that it is preventing us from colour-ringing our usual sample of young black-headed gull. It seems likely that most will have fledged before we get the weather to go and ring them.

black-headed gull juv

juvenile black-headed gull

Let’s hope for some more summery conditions next week.

30 Days Wild – Day 12 – Here be Bees

Another mostly dull day, although dry, conditions that may seem not so good for finding insects, which is true, but if you find them they are much less active and so easier to see well.

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hoverfly, Platycheirus albimanus (I think)

On such days insects will often be found sitting in the open in the hope that the sun will come out and enable them to warm up enough to become active. Predatory species, if they can get active can then easily catch prey that has not warmed up so much. Robberflies are one such predator and several species are on the wing now.

robberfly

robberfly

Many insects will vibrate their wing muscles to increase their core temperature, bees have an added advantage of being furry which will help to reduce heat loss.

solitary bee

solitary bee

The cooler weather did encourage me to do some control of the bramble regrowth in the grassland in the former Hanson plant entrance, this area gets very hot in the sun, which should make it good for insects. The soil, if it can be called that is very poor, an advantage for establishing a non-grassy sward, but here it is so poor, that in places almost nothing will grow. This is in contrast to the bank of deeper soil just to the south where there are probably too many nutrients.

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Grassy bank on former Hanson entrance

Despite having only been seeded three years ago and on soil spread from the old concrete block plant site it already has some quiet surprising species.

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bee orchid on line of old tarmac roadway

I assume the bee orchids must have been already in the soil, surely three years is too short a time for them to have grown from seed? There were only  a few but one was one of the variants, I think “Belgarum”.

bee orchid flowert variant

bee orchid variant

Summer Wild Days Out

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We are now accepting bookings onto our Wild Days Out activity days this summer! 
Wild Days Out are outdoor play, exploration, adventure and wildlife discovery sessions held during the school holidays. Our varied activities are inspired by the changing seasons and have included everything from campfire cooking and den building, to pond dipping and bird watching to river snorkelling and boat building!

Please follow the hyperlinks below for more information and to book your chosen activities (and if you don’t have children / grandchildren who might be interested you may just wish to make a note of the dates so you know which days to avoid!): 

Sessions for 7-12 year olds: 

30th July – Wild Wander I (7-12s) https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/wild-days-out-wild-wander-i-tickets-63108827201  

6th Aug – Big Blashford Bioblitz (7-12s) https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/wild-days-out-big-blashford-bioblitz-tickets-63111999690  

13th Aug – Big Campfire Challenge (7-12s) https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/wild-days-out-big-campfire-challenge-tickets-63113220341  

21st Aug – Wild Challenge! (7-12s) https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/wild-days-out-wild-challenge-tickets-63113599475                         

Sessions for 5-8 year olds: 

31st July – Wild Wander II (5-8s) https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/wild-days-out-wild-wander-ii-tickets-63111675721  

7th Aug – Little Blashford Bioblitz (5-8s) https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/wild-days-out-little-blashford-bioblitz-tickets-63112241413 

14th Aug – Little Campfire Challenge (5-8s) https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/wild-days-out-little-campfire-challenge-tickets-63113403890  

22nd Aug – Wild Play! (5-8s)  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/wild-days-out-wild-play-tickets-63113850225

Advanced notice of Autumn Wild Days Out: we will not be accepting bookings until after the summer holidays, but, so you can make a note in your diary, we will be running the 7-12 year old session on Tuesday 29th October and the 5-8 year old session on Thursday 31st October.

If you have any queries about any of the above please contact us at BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk. Alternatively call the Blashford Lakes Education Centre on 01425 472760, but either way please be patient with us as we are generally out on the reserve leading school or uniformed groups most of the day, every day, during the summer term and are not in the office very much!

 

30 Days Wild – Day 11

Following the recent and unseasonable wet and windy weather the volunteer task on Tuesday was first to walk all the paths and check for fallen branches and other hazards. With five miles of paths this takes a while, especially when there is clearance to be done, not exciting work but very necessary.

This same weather has been having quite an impact on nesting birds, it makes food harder to find for some, although rain makes worms easier to find. Open nests can get wet and wet chicks can chill very quickly. Some species with young that leave the nest soon after hatching are especially vulnerable. However many are still doing well, I came across this brood of coot on the Ivy Lake Silt Pond as I was locking  up on Day 11.

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Adult coot and cootlets.

Some of the black-headed gull juveniles have fledged, but many are still wandering around their island or on the rafts, they are mostly quite large so should cope with getting wet reasonably well.

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black-headed gull adult on watch near a nest

The nesting terns are due to start hatching soon, I do worry that very small chick will be at great risk if this period of cool wet weather continues. Very small chicks have fluffy down and a very high surface area to weight ratio. This means if they get wet, the down holds onto the water and they can chill very fast and die. In addition wet, windy conditions make it harder for the adults to find and catch food. Crossed fingers everyone, let’s hope the rain eases and the wind drops soon.

30 days wild so far

We are now over a week in to the wildlife trusts 30 days wild month, where we try and do one random act of wildness every day of the month of June. I have so far managed mainly a tweet a day! A couple of busy weekends have meant I’ve had a couple of gaps though, I have tried to make up for these as much as possible.

I started on day 3 by getting out to do some work at Fishlake Meadows, the north section of the canal path was becoming quite overgrown and needed strimming. To help keep things wild and to support invertebrates I only strim one side of the path at a time. This leaves one side taller and with plants still in flower with nectar and pollen sources still available. By the time I then strim the other side the vegetation that was cut first usually has some flowers again.

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North section of the canal path with one side of the vegetation strimmed

Once I had finished strimming the paths I walked down to the viewing screens, either side of the path has lots of different wildflowers and lots of insects. I spent some time taking photos and videos, and while recording an azure blue damselfly a common soldier beetle flew in to shot and landed.

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Azure blue damselfly with common soldier beetle about to land on the right.

On day 4 I was at Blashford Lakes helping Bob with the Tuesday volunteer group, where we spent some time getting the newly built tern rafts ready, which should be launched soon. There are lots of tern rafts that go out on the lakes around the reserve, and the volunteers really enjoy building the rafts and getting them ready. It was a very warm day and we enjoyed having a look at the wildflowers and insects. One of my favourite flowers, scarlet pimpernel was out in flower and I saw a painted lady butterfly! My first of the year.

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Volunteers and Bob getting the new tern rafts ready.

On Wednesday it was time to carry out this years habitat condition assessment through the meadows and fens of Fishlake Meadows. This simple survey is designed as a quick and easy way to get a feel for how the habitat is doing. In randomly selected 1 metre quadrats we look for a set list of plant species that are considered positive indicators for the habitat. We also record how much scrub is present and negative indicators such as nettle and thistle cover and leaf litter. Quite a few volunteers were able to help with the survey, making the spotting of flowers much easier.

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Bob Page and volunteers assisting with the condition habitat assessment.

Day 6 and back at Blashford Lakes with the Thursday volunteers, we were continuing with searching for and pulling Himalayan balsam. Whilst working through a particularly nettley section of the reserve we then emerged at an area filled with flowering foxgloves. It looked beautiful and several of us took a moment to just enjoy looking at them.

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Beautiful foxgloves flowering in a clearing near the silt pond.

On Friday the 7th, in the afternoon I led a guided walk for the Fareham Local Group at Fishlake Meadows. Fortunately we were very lucky and just missed the worst of the downpours. We had a lovely walk and were treated to the sound of cuckoos, reed warblers, whitethroats, stonechats, cetti’s warblers and many more. We also had lovely views of house martins, swifts and reed buntings as we walked down the permissive path. Once we made it to the screens we could see 2 great white egrets, one wading through the water, where it caught a huge fish! We could see the fish slowly moving down its long, thin neck, which looked quite uncomfortable to us. A hobby was making the most of the break in the rain, swooping over the water right in front of the screen and then landing on one of the dead trees, giving us a great view of it. I wasn’t able to get a photo of the egret or hobby, so instead posted a photo of a lovely yellow flag iris which are in flower all over the reserve.

Yellow flag iris

Yellow flag iris

I had quite a busy weekend so only managed to send a tweet for both days on Monday. Saturday morning Bob and myself led a guided walk for Romsey Local Group in to Ashley Meadow. As Bob has said in his blog recently, this area isn’t open to the public, so the group enjoyed getting to have a closer look through the meadow. There are many lovely wild flowers through the meadow, including southern marsh orchids, some particularly bright. Whilst looking through the meadows I was able to net an azure blue damselfly and a common blue butterfly for people to get a closer look.

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Very bright southern marsh orchid

On Sunday I was off work but very busy, whilst heading out I noticed in the front garden that there was a poppy in flower again. I have had them flowering in the front garden a couple of years ago but they were absent last year, so I was very pleased to see one back again.

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Beautiful poppy in my front garden

This week looks a bit miserable weather wise, but I will still be getting out and about lots and should hopefully have more wildlife delights to share.

30 Days Wild – Day 10 – Damp(ish)

Most of my “Wildness” involved being indoors looking out, although it was not too bad at the beginning and end of the day. The office window at Blashford looks out over the picnic tables and the small pond used by education groups for pond-dipping. It was a movement on the pond-dipping boardwalk that attracted my attention as I was using the photocopier.

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Roe deer eating hemlock water-dropwort

It seemed to be eating mainly the flowers, but the books will tell you that every part of the plant is highly poisonous. I have previously noticed that cattle seem very partial to eating this plant, apparently without obvious harm.

I ventured out at lunchtime, but only as far as the Tern Hide, but I was rewarded with an adult lapwing accompanied by a juvenile with several colour-rings. I do not know for sure yet, but I am pretty certain it is one ringed by the Waders for Real project in the Avon Valley. Given the poor success of our own birds this year I was just pleased to see a fledged juvenile.

colour-ringed juv lapwing

colour-ringed juv lapwing

Although the juvenile was running around feeding well and could fly very well it was still being defended vigorously by the adult, which spent sometime dive-bombing a family party of Canada geese.

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A rather damp adult lapwing, still watching over the youngster despite having left home.

Other birds around were two wigeon, a drake and a duck, but not together, a black swan, hundreds of swift, similar numbers of house martin (in both cases over 350). The highlight though was a marsh harrier, hunched down in the shelter of the vegetation on one of the islands, looking rather miserable.

30 Days Wild – Day 9 – Fair Play

I was at Roydon’s Wood Fair for most of the day, so I was working, but it was a very enjoyable day and there were lots of people visiting. As usual there were lots of stalls with a general New Forest/Woodland craft theme, so anything from willow weaving to venison rolls via woodcarving and local honey and cider.

Setting up for th eWood Fair

Setting up at the Wood Fair

One of the activities I did was a guided walk, actually just a short stroll into one of the meadows beside the site. There were meadow brown and large skipper butterflies and a Mother Shipton moth, lots of common spotted orchid and, an all too brief flyover sighting of two hawfinch. 

Roydon is a remarkable site, a complex mix of unimproved, flower-rich, damp meadows, heathland and woodland. It also has the virtues we would seek in all conservation sites, large size and linkage to a wildlife-rich wider countryside in the New Forest.

Oak half alive

An oak tree, undoubtedly on its way out, but still wonderful wildlife habitat with deadwood and dense ivy cover.

I also did a session looking at the moth trap catches, despite the catches being rather low there were still crowd pleasers like privet hawk-moth, eyed hawk-moth and buff-tip. I also spotted a hobby flying over as we were looking at them.

It seemed that well over a thousand people came along to the event, in just about perfect weather, pleasantly warm, but not too hot, with a breeze but not too windy. Given the recent weather we have had and what is predicted for the coming week, this was a very good day to have chosen.