Some recent sightings.

Some interesting bird sightings this week, beginning with a Little Gull on Blashford Lake on Sunday (26th). On Tuesday the same lake had a pair of Oystercatchers with 3 chicks on the Island with the gull colony. Guestimates of around 600 House Martins, 100 Sand Martins, 100 Swallows and 200 swifts feeding in the rain low over Ibsley water on Tuesday evening was particularly impressive. Although the actual numbers of these bird is impossible to count as they were literally all over the place. I find it incredible that were actually finding insects to feed on in the heavy rain. Another or the same Little Gull was sat on an island in Ibsley water yesterday. But undoubted bird highlight of the week (so far anyway) was a Honey Buzzard that passed low over the Tern hide car park and Ellingham drove at 1720 while was I locking the car park gates. Definitely the best view of a Honey Buzzard I’ve ever had in Britain, I could see the yellow of it’s eye!

Moth trapping as remained incredible slow, with zero moths in the trap yesterday and just a green carpet, a white ermine, a shuttle-shaped dart and a nut-tree tussock today. Hopefully the epic haul of moths I have been hoping for will happen soon!

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Blashford Blooms

Today was a very soggy but exciting day as I accompanied a group of families from the local Children’s Centres down to the Docken’s Water for some river dipping and paper boat racing. We finished up building a dam right across the river, which we demolished on completion. unfortunately I didn’t get any photos however I did take the opportunity to go for a walk in the sunshine yesterday and captured some of the flowers that are now blooming across the reserve. 

Bluebells

Bluebells

The small carpets of bluebells along the Docken’s Water were glowing in the sunshine. Another blue glow is created by smaller patches of daintier speedwell flowers along the path edges.

Speedwell

Speedwell

One of my favourites is the welcoming sign of tiny fried egg flowers close to the ground; the wild strawberries that creep further along the paths each year.

Wild Strawberries

Wild Strawberries

On Monday afternoon a visitor delivered the sad news of a dead fox cub they’d found along the Docken’s Water path to Goosander Hide. There were no obvious signs of its cause of death.

Fox Cub

Fox Cub

Another visitor also captured this dramatic event as they walked back from Lapwing hide on Saturday 18th May.

Grass Snake and Common Toad photo by Andrew Britland

Grass Snake and Common Toad photo by Andrew Britland

Toads have an amazing ability to blow themselves up when they are in danger making themselves more difficult to swallow. The survival tactic worked this time as the grass snake eventually gave up and released the toad! Thanks to Andrew Britland for sending in this amazing photograph!

Meanwhile despite the rain today there was the usual massive flock of swifts and hirundines feeding over Ibsley again and the reed warbler was singing beautifully next to Ivy South Hide. One visitor commented that the warbler was almost too close to focus on! On Sunday there was a report of a little gull over Blashford Lake.

Nest box checks…

Today I was invited to check some nest boxes with Brenda, one was the local bird ringers. We checked several boxes and ringed a few broods of Blue Tits and Great Tits.

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A brood of Blue Tits.Image

Please note that Brenda is licensed by the British Trust for Ornithology to check nest boxes and ring birds.

Otherwise the reserve as been fairly quiet today, other than good numbers of large red, azure and blue tailed damselflies around the ponds.

Snap, crackle, pop…

130525 Popcorn maker 3 by J Day

Surprisingly (it surprised me anyway!) despite the strong winds last night, apart from lots of dead branches (admittedly some quite large) the only tree damage that the reserve seems to have suffered is that above – a snapped limb on the willow to the west of Ivy North Hide (SNAP).

Wildlife wise I don’t have a great deal to report other than to comment on the hundreds of swifts over Ibsley Water again this morning. Pretty much a daily occurrence at the moment, one can not get tired of the sight of their aerial stunt manuevers, nor the scream that accompanies their flight. The common tern continue to hold out against the black headed gulls on two of the “tern rafts” on Ivy Lake and large red damselflies were very noticeable mating and egg laying by the centre pond when ever the sun broke through the clouds to take the edge of the chilly bite to the wind.

My highlight of the day? The reed warblers to the left of Ivy South Hide – such a treat to hear and see them so close, almost oblivious of people watching them from within the hide:

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I actually spent much of the day offsite providing a support visit to the Testwood Lakes Wildlife Watch group and volunteer leaders, but did spend a very rewarding hour or so this morning making and testing a new piece of equipment for next weeks holiday activities – we’re always looking for new ideas of things we can do with the children, particularly those who do come back holiday after holiday, year after year and I had heard about this as an idea, but never actually seen it done or tried it myself. I was very pleased with the result and I think the kids will be too!

Step-by-step instructions below:

Take one sieve and lash it to a “green” wood pole using wire:

130525 Popcorn maker 4 by J Day

Attach a second sieve to the first via a wire “hinge”:

130525 Popcorn maker 5 by J Day

Fashion a “catch” out of more wire to secure the second sieve to the first:

130525 Popcorn maker 6 by J Day

Light  small campfire fire and allow to burn down to some embers (CRACKLE):

130525 Popcorn maker 8 by J Day

Add popcorn kernels to sieve, secure sieve catch and place over fire:

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After a minute or so gently agitate the kernels backwards and forwards as the kernels heat up…

And POP!

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Allow to cool, open popcorn maker and enjoy that smoked popcorn taste – no other flavourings necessary!

 130525 Popcorn maker 14 by J Day

Give it a go next time you have a barbecue or campfire – it tastes great and is worth doing if only to enjoy watching the popcorn explode!

Where are all the moths?

Aside

The last two nights have produced very little in the way of moths in the over night trap. Yesterday’s catch was just two moths and today had only four. We did get a nice light brocade, which is a new species for the year.

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The most interesting event of today was the finding of an injured green woodpecker on the lichen heath, it couldn’t seem to fly but could just hop extremely quickly! The bird was caught and taken to the local wildlife rescue centre, hopefully it will make a speedy recovery.

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This bird is a female as it has a black moustachial stripe as opposed to red one for a male.

The Ivy south hide can now be accessed by two doors instead of one as the steps now have anti-slip mesh on them and a new hand rail has been put in place.

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A Couple of Prominent Visitors

Following yesterday’s weather with pleasingly warm spells, which encouraged a few butterflies to grace us with their presence in the garden,  it was a disappointingly overcast scene here at Blashford today.  Birds, however, can’t afford to be put off by a little spell of cooler, damper conditions and the usual chorus of willow warbler, chiffchaff, sedge warbler, reed warbler, Cetti’s warbler, blackcap and garden warbler were all singing brightly whilst we opened the reserve.

Not to be outdone by this vocal opposition, our local cuckoo has continued to call out his name for most of the morning and at least two of out regular visitors caught sight of him and managed to get a few pictures.

Cuckoo - picture courtesy of Nigel and Mara Elliott

Cuckoo – picture courtesy of Nigel and Mara Elliott

Signs of breeding success in the form of a  mallard and five, very small ducklings were seen on the path between Ivy Lake and the settlement pond.

I suspect that the largely more overcast conditions last night might have been responsible for an increase, over yesterday,  in the number and range of moths and other insects, ‘visiting’ our light trap.

Among the other insects there were five of the beetles that Jim referred to yesterday as May bugs, but which I’ve always called cockchafer.  I don’t think I’d ever seen more than one or two of these insects before I started moth trapping, and these had been during camping holidays,often attracted to the lights by the toilet block.  Intrigued by the different naming (Jim’s and mine) I took a look at a well-known on-line encyclopaedia to find out a little more about them. It would seem that there are three different species and at least two of these occur in the U,K, , one common cockchafer associated with open areas and a forest cockchafer found in more wooded areas. I’m guessing it’s the forest type we get here.  Apparently they used to occur in huge numbers before the introduction of chemical pesticides and were a significant pest as their lava , who may spend five to seven years underground, munch their way through the roots of crops. Some years the adults emerged in their millions.

As I said there were a few more moths than on previous nights,   As if to prove that our weather has improved lately, the Dark Sword-grass is an immigrant species presumably taking advantage of southerly winds. Although they have been recorded in the U.K. throughout the year but most frequently from July to October, so the two we found were, perhaps, a little early.

Dark Sword-grass

Dark Sword-grass

Probably the most distinctive moth today was this Nut-tree Tussock, with its striking two-tone livery.

Nut-tree Tussock

Nut-tree Tussock

Not to be outdone were the two individuals who gave rise to the title of this post. Presumably not named for their importance or influence, but because they have raised tufts on their heads, were this Pebble Prominent and Great Prominent.

Pebble Prominent

Pebble Prominent

Great Prominent

Great Prominent

Common terns vs. blackheaded gulls – and other news

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A beautiful morning this morning – the above picture of a mill pool calm Ibsley Water in  morning sunshine is not a view that we have been able to enjoy many of over the last year or so! A redshank was patroling along the shore when I opened up, but was quickly seen off by a territorial lapwing. A few minutes later the same lapwing put up this little ringed plover which conveniently flew closer to, rather than further away from, the hide:

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Unfortunately there was no sign of the otter which someone has recorded as having seen from Lapwing Hide earlier in the week. I await my first view patiently!

The black headed gull colony seems to be doing very well – to the extent that, coupled with the unusually high water levels, nesting sites are at a premium and they are therefore seeking out new alternative sites both around Ibsley Water itself and elsewhere.

Unfortunately one of the “elsewheres” are the tern rafts deployed out on Ivy Lake. Two went out on Monday this week and the remainder on Thursday – on both occasions they were immediately descended upon by the common terns who have clearly been on the look out for them since they arrived and were no doubt perplexed by their absence before-hand. They are not made of as stern a stuff as in previous years though and on both occasions by the following morning they have been supplanted by the black headed gulls. However six plucky terns have stuck to their guns and so far are holding their own against a single pair of gulls on the left-most raft and this morning their were another 3 pairs of terns hanging around looking hopefull so with a bit of luck they’ll pluck up the courage to gang up and see off the interloping pair and perhaps even the rest that are currently monopolising the other rafts. At least one of the pairs of terns on the raft were mating this morning, so they mean business!

 

Common terns stand off against black headed gulls on Ivy Lake

Common terns stand off against black headed gulls on Ivy Lake

 

Other recent news on the bird front is an update from the BTO ringers running the CES site on the reserve who were pleased to ring their first willow warbler of the year (pictured below, thanks to Kevin Sayer):

Willow warbler

Willow warbler

Also caught and rung were: Reed Warbler 19, Reed Bunting 6, Garden Warbler  1, Great Tit 1, Blackbird 4, Long-tailed Tit 2, Blue Tit 1. Particularly exciting news from the ringing team were reports of what appeared to be a whitethroat territory, which if it was and they do nest, is possibly the first record of nesting whitethroat for the reserve.

I was out until dark digging over a much neglected allotment last night and being well and truly “midged” so I was  anticipating a bumper moth catch this morning – or at least more moths than there have been of late. I was therefore disapointed to find just two hebrew character, one flameshoulder, one common quaker and one lesser swallow prominent (flameshoulder and prominent pictured below):

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Also in the trap, and the first of the year for me, if not the reserve, was a single May bug:

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In the pond a lovely grass snake (other visitors photographed a grass snake eating a toad in the reed/scub between Lapwing and Goosander Hides today):

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And the bluebells are looking (and smelling!) wonderful all along the Dockens Water:

The wonderful and uniquely British bluebell wood!

The wonderful and uniquely British bluebell wood!

There are lots of woods with more extravagant displays of bluebells than Blashford Lakes, but even so I look forward to seeing them every year. One of the best (if not the best!) places to enjoy bluebells locally is the Trusts Roydon Woods Nature Reserve between Lymington and Brockenhurst which I will be heading to soon with the family!

Sadly not everyone who visits our Nature Reserves do so with the same sense of awe, wonder and responsibility as we do. Ed and I had the unpleasant task of removing the fly-tipped waste (apparently the contents of a house clearance judging by the amount and type of assorted rubbish that had been dumped) left by one such visitor. No doubt tipped by a “business” involved in commercial removal of domestic waste for a ludicrously cheap price who avoids paying any waste trasfer duty (and no doubt saves a bit of diesel) by dumping in the nearest secluded green space – then to be removed at the expense of the landowner unfortunate enough to be the recipient of the rubbish, in this case us. Fortunately there were no farm animal carcasses or asbestos dumped this time, but sadly that is not an uncommon occurence either.

Here’s Ed with what was a very full trailer of rubbish at the end of the day yesterday (we were both as disgusted as he looks):

Fly tipped rubbish - not one of the more glamorous aspects of work at Blashford

Fly tipped rubbish – not one of the more glamorous aspects of work at Blashford

A damp morning perambulation…

After the heavy wind and rain last night I decided to patrol the paths on the reserve and check for any fallen trees and branches that may have come down during the night. Surprisingly very little damage had been done. On the path past the woodland hide I turned over a piece of corrugated metal sheet to reveal a fantastic grass snake, judging by the size and head shape this individual is probably a female.

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Continuing along dockens water I heard several singing warblers including blackcap, garden warbler, willow warbler and chiffchaff. I also noticed a lot of himalayan balsam seedlings coming up amongst the ferns and nettles, we will have to return in a few weeks with the Blashford volunteers and pull up this invasive pest before it can seed and spread anymore.

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Just south of the balsam seedlings is one of Blashfords hidden mirco worlds, a tiny area of bog habitat, just north of Ivy silt pond, complete with spagnum mosses, bog myrtle and has even contained lesser marsh grasshopper in the past. I stopped for a while to record any birds present as part of the reserve breeding birds survey, 2 reed warblers, sedge warbler and reed bunting were all singing in the reeds around the edge of the pond. All in all a very enjoyable morning considering the wet start to the day.

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Bird Trail 2013

The annual Bird Trail organised by Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS), RSPB and HIWWT took place today at Blashford Lakes. Local children’s groups of the Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife Watch and the RSPB’s Wildlife Explorers visited the reserve for a morning of bird watching including other activities such as owl pellet dissections, bird quizzes and pond dipping. There was a competition for the group that saw the most number of species on their walk; congratulations to the Blashford Lakes Wildlife Watch group who came in 3rd place! But the winning group was led by none other than our very own Ed Bennett who was leading his Titchfield Haven Wildlife Explorer group – they spotted an impressive 58 species including 2 cuckoos and a kingfisher!  Chris Packham met with the groups and presented the certificates to the winning teams.

Groups also enjoyed the courtship displays of the great crested grebes throughout the morning. And at the pond we found our usual freshwater friends and caught an amazing total of 14 newts including both smooth newts and palmate newts.

Brenda was in this weekend too to check on the progress of the 25 nest boxes that she is currently monitoring. All these boxes either have nests almost completed or adults sitting on eggs and 3 have hatched. The ones that have hatched are 2 Great Tits and a Nuthatch; all pullui are very small and downy with their eyes shut, 1-2 days old.

A Robin has nested in a box with a very large hole (Great spotted woodpecker damage) and out of 5 eggs, 4 chicks have survived and were ringed today. These had Feathers Short(FS) which is when the wing feathers are less than 1/3 emerged from the sheath. See picture of Pullus and 4 chicks back in nest after ringing.

Robin Pullus

Robin Pullus

Robin Chicks

Robin Chicks

Hare today – Birdtrail tomorrow

Saturday isn’t my normal day to be here but with the Birdtrail event tomorrow Jim will be on duty, so I’m covering his normal Saturday shift.  As Jim mentioned in yesterday’s post, tomorrow morning  there will be a number of groups of young people, parents and volunteers visiting the Reserve for the Birdtrail.

Although most of the work on resurfacing the access road to the Education Centre has ben done, the rain has delayed some aspects and it will now be next week before it’s ready to take traffic

With the reduced parking , due to re-surfacing of the road, other visitors might wish to delay their arrival tomorrow until the afternoon.

The rejuvenated road surface

The rejuvenated road surface

Butterfly wise its just starting to ‘buzz’ (if that’s the right description??) with a number of white butterflies including orange-tip as well green-veined white. Personally I find brief views of white butterflies one of those things that test your identification skills, especially as they seem to be a group that are particularly active and flighty.   Another complicating aspect is the amount of grey/black on the wing tips and that early and later broods of the same species have variable markings. Having said this the male orange tip is unmistakable – with the orange tip to its forewing – but the female can look very similar to other whites.

Male orange-tip

Male orange-tip

Fortunately both male and female orange-tip butterflies have a  magnificent marbled green and white underwing, which marks them out from the rest.

Whilst we’re talking about lepidoptera, the light/moth trap only had one inhabitant present of the species Parus major, not a moth at all, but a great tit.  He/she  had apparently eaten all the moths, although we only found one set of detached wings, so there may not have been many moths anyway as the overnight rain may have deterred them from flying.

Undeterred from nocturnal, and diurnal, flying activity were a great number of small flying insect, which I tend to lump together as midges,  so as well as quite a few in the moth trap there was also a fair number of them bedecking a somewhat dilapidated spider’s web, close to where the light trap had been set-up.

Spiders web with midge decoration

Spiders web with midge decoration

Apart from our voracious great tit and the usual collection of  blue tit, coal tit , greenfinch, chaffinch and goldfinch around the feeders, other birds seen or heard around the reserve include swift and common tern cruising above the Tern Hide when we opened up this morning. Three  little ringed plover  and a pair of dunlin , in breeding plumage, were seen by a couple of visitors and a cuckoo was singing(?) somewhere not too far from the Education Centre.

It’s  the nesting season and although it’s not alway obvious with most of the smaller land based birds, where the nests are, some of our water birds are less than subtle in collecting the necessary material, as was this coot.

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Coot with nesting material

Some other aspects of bird behaviour can be fascinating as well, especially where it’s not entirely what’s expected, as with this jackdaw which has learned to exploit our seed feeders.  Not content with simply picking up the spillage that the smaller birds leave, it’s found that is can balance itself on the feeder, but being a highly intelligent and resourceful bird it checks out the area first from a suitable vantage point.

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A suitable vantage point

Here we go.....................!!

Here we go…………………!!

A safe and rewarding landing.

A safe and rewarding landing.

But it’s not only the jackdaw that was taking advantage of our signposts for human visitors…

Great spot for a great spot

Great spot for a great spot

On the mammal front there are plenty of rabbits around the reserve.  Jackie, who regularly assists on a Saturday, spent some time  today walking the paths and cutting back bramble that was threatening to snake across them, and was rewarded for her efforts when she saw a hare not far from the Lapwing Hide.

Although there wasn’t a huge influx of visitors today, none of those we spoke to were reporting much activity near the sand martin nests under the Goosander Hide. It was, therefore,  reassuring as we closed the Tern hide to have over fifty sand martins with a few house martins, swallows and swifts circling around over the car-park.