About robertc2011

Reserves Officer for Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve, mostly working at Blashford Lakes, Ringwood.

A New Pond

For the last few years the old Education Centre pond had been leaking and we wanted to reline it, but this would have meant there was no pond for pond-dipping. So as part of our update in 2019 we made a new pond, this was so that it could develop sufficiently that we could use it for dipping and set about relining the original pond. A lot has happened since then and not all of it to do with ponds. However last autumn we had an appeal to raise the money to clean out the old pond and reline it. In doing so we found out what the problem was, reed shoots which are very sharp indeed, had pushed their way through the liner making several holes.

The start of clearance work on the old pond

After removing all the vegetation to expose the old liner it was pulled out along with the underlay.

The old liner and underlay gone we next layered in some new sand

Although we were going to use an underlay a generous payer of soft sand is still a good idea, we were fortunate to get a load donated by Tarmac at Blashford, many thanks Tarmac! We also took the opportunity to level up the pond edges.

Blashford’s brilliant volunteers laying out the underlay

I confess the pond turned out to be rather larger and deeper than we had thought, initial measurements suggested a 10x10m liner would be enough, at the last minute I decided to play it safe and go for 12x12m and thank goodness I did as we needed just about every bit of it!

Liner in place and even a bit of water

We had been saving water so had some to start filling it right away. few days of moderate rain, so progress was pretty good.

The start of filling from the rainwater tank
Filling nicely
Three weeks or so later and with some work around the shore

It is now looking good, we still need a bit more rain to fill it right up and some growth around the shore to get it looking more natural, but I would say in another year it will be great and in maybe 18 months suitable for pond-dipping again. We have already seen beetles and a newt in it and there were a pair of Mallard on it the other day.

A big THANK YOU to everyone who donated to our appeal and to Tarmac for the sand. Hopefully it will give another few decades of service for thousands more children and adults to discover the wonders of pondlife.

Access Update – Slowly getting there!

The trees that were blocking the Ellingham circular path are now cleared, but the Dockens Water path to Goosander Hide remains blocked. There are two dangerously hanging branches over the path which will need a tree surgeon to make safe. The good news is that we have someone coming in on Tuesday next week, so hopefully by Wednesday access will all be restored.

A Wind in the Willows

And the Oaks and all the other trees come to that! The wind blew and sadly some of the trees fell, but we are clearing them away and now there is access to all the hides, although not all the paths are open yet. All hides and car parks are open as normal, however the path along the Dockens Water to Goosander and Lapwing hides is closed, this is due to a number of fallen trees and fallen overhead power lines lying across the path. The path around Ellingham Lake is also closed, a number of fallen and hanging trees are the problem here.

We will be clearing trees from the paths over the next few days and the power lines will be repaired, this work may mean some additional restrictions to access at times. Please take heed of any signs indicating closures or work in progress whilst we try and get the reserve fully up and running again.

We will only be clearing trees where they are a hazard and wherever possible the fallen wood will be left as habitat, more beetles, more fungi, generally more wildlife.

Storm Eunice

With an amber warning for wind tomorrow (Friday) and predictions of gusts to 80 or 90 mph perhaps even inland, we have decided that Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve will remain closed all day on Friday (18th Feb) and that opening will be delayed on Saturday (19th) until we have had time to check the site is safe to open. The car parks and hides will be closed and although the paths will remain open we strongly advise against visiting, even after the storm has abated and be aware there may well still be hazards on site. I will be on site on Saturday to deal with any issues and open up as soon as it is reasonable to do so, but local closures may continue into next week.

I hope everyone stays safe and we all avoid any major damage.

A Siberian Visitor

at Blashford Lakes a number of bird ringing projects are carried out by specially trained volunteers under the auspices of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). They have been overseeing bird ringing for over 100 years now and almost all that we know about the migration, longevity and survival of our birds has been found out using the results. These are all vital to understanding how we can look after the birds we have got and try to restore ones we are losing or have lost.

At the simplest an individually marked metal ring is attached to the leg of a caught bird, it is examined to establish species, age, sex and condition and then released. Most of these birds are never reported again, but with many thousands caught the percentage found was still enough to establish something of the remarkable journeys they undertake. We have probably all heard that our summering Swallow spend the winter in southern Africa, but who would have guessed that the Blackcap that winters in your garden is not the one that was there in the summer, they are down by the Mediterranean, instead it is perhaps from SE Germany.

Today it is possible to use additional techniques such as colour-rings, radio and satellite tags, but these are expensive especially for smaller birds as they need to be very light indeed. Some species are rare and hide very well, so it is difficult to catch them in the first place and if you do they are very unlikely to ever be seen again and small sample sizes mean you are always unsure how typical the data collected will be. To gain a fuller picture of their lives techniques such as stable isotope analysis and DNA sampling can assist, if you are interested do a search, there is a lot of fascinating information out there..

Despite all these high tech and sometimes very costly techniques coming into the picture much of what we are learning is still coming form the traditional ringing, largely thanks to the shear size of the samples it can achieve. The other important role of traditional ringing is to train new recruits, it takes typically a year or two to complete basic training and many more to become expert or specialise in particular techniques or species.

At Blashford Lakes we have a colour-ringing project for Black-headed Gulls, a nestbox project and a Constant Effort Site (CES) as well as some winter ringing with training opportunities. Recently one of the regular sessions turned up a rarer than usual visitor, a Siberian Chiffchaff. A lot of Common Chiffchaff pass through the UK in the autumn, some stay the winter, but many more head on down to the Mediterranean. Chiffchaff breed right across Europe and into Asia, although all the same species, the birds get paler and greyer the further east you go and these birds also call differently, and it was one of these eastern birds that turned up. The pictures below show the difference in appearance between a “typical” Chiffchaff and the Siberian visitor.

Common Chiffchaff (left), Siberian (right)
Siberian Chiffchaff (left), Common (right)
Common Chiffchaff
Siberian Chiffchaff

This autumn seems to have been a good one for reports of these Siberian Chiffchaffs, maybe just a chance increase in sightings or perhaps indications of a change in migration pattern as seems to be happening with a number of other Siberian nesting species. Only time will tell and who knows maybe this bird will be reported again and add to our understanding of how migration is changing, or not.

Tree works this week

Many of you will know there is a serious disease spreading through our ash tree population at present, unfortunately it is killing very large numbers of ash trees across the whole country and Blashford is not immune. Ash die-back can kill whole trees or parts of trees very quickly and, in the case of ash, the dead branches become brittle and prone to falling very quickly, meaning that trees identified as dying when they should have come into leaf in May cannot be left standing until the following winter, at least in high risk locations.

One such location is near the access to the Goosander and Lapwing Hide path where five ash trees have been identified as dying. This is a heavily used area and so these cannot wait until autumn to be made safe. They have been surveyed for nesting birds and bat roosts and we are satisfied that these are not present so felling is planned for the middle of this week. In addition two further at risk trees on the path toward Ivy North Hide are also to be felled as they risk falling onto the path.

The works will mean there will be some restrictions on access to some parts of the reserve at times on Wednesday and Thursday, if you are visiting please obey the signage, some of these are large trees and they will be felled onto the path, so the hazard is very real. If possible avoid visiting on these days if you wish to go around the whole reserve.

Felling is a last resort on the reserve and wherever possible we aim to retain standing deadwood as a habitat resource, but there are locations where this is not possible

Sadly almost all trees we are losing in this case are dying as a result of pathogens which arrived in Europe as a result of the international trade in trees. It seems likely that ash die-back originated in the Far East and the fungus that attacks alder trees may have arisen when two related fungus species came into contact and hybridised, possibly as a result of the international trade in trees and timber some of which will inevitably have travelled with their fungi.

30 Days Wild – Day 30

Another 30 Days come to an end, not that it is not possible to do wild things other than in the month of June. A lot of people have realised how much they value the wild, or at the very least green space, over the last year or so and especially the benefits of contact with nature close to home. We have never needed people to appreciate nature more, it is rapidly slipping away from us, something that is now widely recognised, but as yet which has not resulted in genuinely positive action.

I was at home for Day 30 so spent a little time in my garden and especially the mini-meadow, as usual I was amazed by just what there was to be found.

ornate digger wasp pair

Ornate digger wasps are quiet common in S. England, especially where there is sandy soil. They are regular in my garden, not because I have sandy soil but because I have lots of flowers for nectaring. The smartest sighting was of a cuckoo wasp, it was very difficult to photograph as it never stopped still and even when it slowed down the antennae were still twitching, this was the best picture I could get.

cuckoo wasp

In the evening I went down to Ashlett Creek on the shore of Southampton Water. There is extensive saltmarsh with lots of thrift and sea lavender on the upper shore, the thrift is mostly past flowering now but the sea lavender is looking good.

sea lavender

Lower down the shore, or where there are lower spots there are patches of glasswort.

glasswort

Saltmarsh is a very specialist habitat and almost entirely restricted to the coast, with a whole caste of specially adapted plants and the insects that live on them. The saltmarsh plume moth is one of these, a very distinctive moth and very common on saltmarshes, but nowhere else.

saltmarsh plume moth

I saw a fair few birds including a flock of oystercatcher, several curlew and a whimbrel. These are mostly likely to be failed breeders, although some of the oystercatcher could be young birds as they do not breed in their first few years. The curlew are likely to be birds that had attempted to breed on the New Forest. The Forest is one of the only remaining nesting areas in S. England, but nesting success in recent years has been very poor with almost no young being reared, despite increased efforts at conservation. Curlew are restricted to the bogs of the Forest in our area, however oystercatcher are less fussy, although most nest on coastal shingle, some nest inland on gravel pits as they do at Blashford Lakes and a few use flat roofed buildings. This may be why the one in the picture seemed quite happy perched alongside a couple of black-headed gull high on the ridge tiles of Ashlett Mill.

oystercatcher on the roof

30 Days Wild- Day 29

Out with the volunteers again today continuing with work to prepare the grassland around Ibsley Water for grazing again, we have replaced a few hundred metres of fence and tidied up some of the old fence lines. With no grazing possible last year and recent rain, the grass is as long as I have seen it, although this makes it very popular with marbled white, which like a longer sward than most other species. It was also interesting to revisit parts of the reserve I rarely get to. This may sound odd as I work on site, but some areas are very difficult to get to without causing a lot of disturbance to the wildlife so we only go there when there is work to be done. One such is towards the northern end of Ibsley Water where we did some work laying over willows last year to give more cover along the shore, it looks really good now.

Ibsley Water shore with willows forming a thicket habitat

The main wildlife excitement of the day came from the moth trap, which contained two species previously unrecorded on the reserve and both were new to me. One was tiny, so easily overlooked Cosmopterix scribaiella is a recent colonist of the UK and still quiet local, the larvae mine the leaves of common reed, so it has plenty of habitat.

Cosmopterix scribaiella

The other was not so easily overlooked as it was a “macro-moth”, an olive crescent. This was for many years a very rare species with perhaps just a couple of local colonies in the UK, however in the last few years it has increased and now seems to be locally established in oak woods in S. England, probably benefiting from climate change.

olive crescent

The 30Days almost over now, just one day to go.

30 Days Wild – Day 28

More rain! We had 30mm overnight, but at this time of year this means it is worth checking for migrating birds that might have been forced down by the rain. Believe it or not autumn migration has already started. Many cuckoos will have headed south and lots of high Arctic waders are on the move, These will be either birds that have failed in their breeding attempt and have no time to try again or species where only one parent rears the chicks. One of these is red-necked phalarope, the female can lay eggs in more than one nest and these are then incubated and the chicks reared entirely by the male. All the same finding a female red-necked phalarope on Ibsley Water when I opened up was a treat, sadly too far away for a picture and it seems it did not stay beyond mid-morning.

The moth trap had few moths of note but this little micro moth was rather smart. Unfortunately a lot of these tiny moths cannot be identified reliably to species without dissection, so Genus will have to do.

Sycopacma species

Also in the trap was a small and rather strange fly, I think some sort of midge, but I have no idea, it seemed almost translucent.

midge

The sun did come out for a while and I got out to do some fencing work, it was good to see a fair few butterflies, mainly meadow brown and marbled white but including a small tortoiseshell.

marbled white

Since I collected some eggs from a female that I reared form larvae I had last year, my emperor moth caterpillars have been growing. I have let most go , as I had hundreds at one point and now have about 15 or so. As they grow they change colour an dare now looking their best.

emperor moth caterpillar

30 Days Wild – Day 27

This does seem to have been a particularly rainy 30Days with some overnight and a lot more today, at least we had a little sunshine in the morning. I ran the moth trap at home and caught a few moths, a couple of small ones were new for the year, the first was the rather smart meal moth, which feeds on stored vegetable matter and perhaps garden waste.

meal moth

The other was Homoeosoma sinuella a heathland species locally and quite frequent on the New Forest.

Homoeosoma sinuella

With the weather being poor I only had a few minutes in the garden when the sun was out. The mini-meadow is looking good at the moment, I have got traditional borders planted with insect friendly plants but they don’t come anywhere near the sheer abundance of flowers in the meadow. The meadow has abundance, with multi-layered diversity, that I could never imagine getting in a border.

mini-meadow

This picture has ox-eye daisy, bloody cranesbill, cat’s ear, wild carrot, corky-fruited water dropwort, lesser stitchwort, two species of buttercup, field scabious, yellow rattle, bird’s foot trefoil and lady’s bedstraw all in flower now, it had cowslip, bugle, mouse-eared hawkweed, goat’s beard, grass vetchling and dandelion and will have knapweed, devil’s bit scabious and others that are still to flower. This is not a full list by any means and I am still finding new species that have arrived I know not how. One of these that I first saw today is musk mallow, with large pale pink flowers, not an easy one to miss.

musk mallow

All these flowers are great for insects of course and another first for the year in the garden today was small skipper.

small skipper

This meadow was established out of a traditional lawn, no turf stripping, just let it grow and add some seeds. I cut it once a year by hand, but that is just because I like to keep the anthills and I take away the cuttings, very simple. Most of it grows no more than 50cm tall and a lot of it less. It is so simple it seems remarkable that we cannot have our incidental grass areas, so often mown within an inch of their lives, managed like this and all be surrounded by flowery grasslands full of life. It would perhaps make only a small difference to the biodiversity crisis we are in but it would make a difference. The fact that it is not done suggests that for all the talk of reversing environmental collapse that might come from government, on the ground nothing changes because those that actually issue the contracts and do the work don’t get it. If we cannot even do the simple things what hope do we have for doing the difficult things that inevitably lie ahead?