About robertc2011

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

Home Delights

I had a long weekend, this time not due to the virus, but as I had some leave booked, the current situation ensured that I was at home rather than out and about, but there was still plenty to see.

It was rather cold with an, at times, strong east or north-east wind. In my mini-meadow the cowslip are just starting to flower coming to to replace the primrose scattered around under the hedge.

cowslip 4x3

cowslip

This is the fifth year of the meadow and it is really noticeable that lots of the plants are now self-seeding really well, including the cowslips.

My garden is not the greatest for birds, like a lot of people I have been keeping a list of all the species I can see or hear from the garden during the lockdown, so far, with just about one week down, I have reached a rather meagre 34 species, although today I did add red kite, when two flew low overhead. Like many gardens one of the commonest species and one that seems to be present all the time is woodpigeon. Not always a favourite and undoubtedly much more common that it was, they can be quiet entertaining, especially when you watch pairs engaged in their courtship, the males inflating their necks a bobbing up and down.

woodpigeon

woodpigeon

One of my highlights has been the brief appearance of first a male and then a pair of house sparrow a rare bird in the garden. I a desperate effort to get them to stay I hastily made and put up a semi-detached house sparrow box. Sadly they were not impressed and I have not seen or heard them since!

sparrow semi 4x3

House sparrow box, with room for two pairs (perhaps a little optimistic)

Close to Home

Very, very close, in the garden in fact, but still full of wildlife. I saw three species of butterfly, with brimstone and peacock leading the way, but with my first comma in the garden this year as well. A pair of peacock were courting by the fast declining pond, it has a leak! I took some video, but unfortunately I cannot upload that here, but it may turn up elsewhere.

My mini-meadow is starting to look good, not much flowering, but a few things nearly there, but lots of seedlings coming up. The yellow rattle seedlings that first showed last week are coming up thick and fast.

yellow rattle 4x3

yellow rattle

I did not get on very well with the camera or in finding many ants, these were my main objective today, strange how there are lots about until you start looking for them!

Other firsts for the year included a very smart gorse shieldbug, one of the more brightly coloured species and it can be found on a lot more plants than just gorse.

gorse shieldbug 4x3

gorse shieldbug

As a fully paid-up member of The Self-isolating Bird Club (thankfully it is free), I also recorded any birds I could. You can follow the SIBC on Twitter @SIBirdClub, I recorded all the birds I could see and hear whilst having lunch in the garden, 30 minutes and I recorded 15 species, 2 lesser black-backed gull were unusual, but I suspect they were a pair from nearby as they flew up to harass 4 passing buzzard. I will try again tomorrow, although it sounds rather cooler, so I may need extra layers.

Sunshine and Solitude

Another sunny, spring-like day and finally people seem to be getting the message as there were many fewer people about. Sadly the few who are out include a high number of people who are behaving very badly, often in restricted areas after climbing gates and fences and ignoring signs. I had thought that fewer people might at least mean that wildlife would get less disturbance, but the last couple of days suggest that it will actually suffer a great deal more.

As I knew I was coming in I ran the moth trap overnight and although the night was cold quite a few moths were attracted. New for the year was an early grey.

early grey

early grey

There were also several common and small quaker and clouded drab, which although grey and brown is not as dull as the name suggests.

clouded drab

clouded drab

The sunny days have really brought out the butterflies, my impression is that numbers of all the hibernating species are very good, perhaps at odds with the idea that they survive better in a cold winter. Unfortunately we will not know for sure if this is true as the long -running Butterfly Transect Survey, which monitors numbers, is understandably suspended. The same is true of all bird surveys, bumble-bee and dragonfly transects, in fact all the long-running datasets that tell us the impact of what is actually going on in our countryside.

peacock

peacock

I also spotted this caddisfly larva which I found oaring its way across the surface of the Centre Pond at lunchtime, it has a wonderful spiky case, if we had something similar but scaled up of course, the 2 metre zone would be easier to maintain!

caddis larva 4x3

caddis fly larva

I will end with a plea to anyone who is going out for their daily exercise on Trust reserves, or indeed anywhere else. I know usual viewing points are often closed, but please don’t get round this by wandering “off piste”. Although paths are open in most places, remember these are often narrow and will not allow you to keep 2 metres apart if you need to pass anyone, some very popular sites such as Fishlake Meadows are a particular problem in this regard. Going out in nature is so valuable to us all, but we need to consider the impacts carefully and do this safely and with minimum negative effects.

Strange Days

In fact probably the strangest we have ever known. We are now winding down to the minimum work aimed at maintaining health and safety and looking after livestock. The first remains important whilst there are still people allowed to walk around the sites and the latter is just essential. Luckily I have no livestock at Blashford, but we do still have a trickle of visitors. I would certainly not encourage anyone to visit but with paths that allow open access we will still have people on site, unless all going out is banned.

With spring now more or less sprung it is time once again to assess the state of our ash trees to see how ash die-back is hitting them. It is already apparent that some have completely died since the autumn and many others are in serious decline. In some areas it is possible that paths may not be able to reopen even if the Covid emergency passes, as there is likely to be a considerable amount of further felling needed and some roadside trees may need dealing with very soon. Luckily these assessments can be made by a single person so I can work and maintain isolation.

There are still surprisingly large numbers of wildfowl around, probably over 1500, a lot for the time of year. The water levels are dropping ever so slowly and I found a pair of pintail perched on a newly exposed wooded rail, alongside them was the long-tailed duck, without the long tail and perhaps envying the drake pintail his splendid feathers.

pintail and long-tail 4x3

pintail and long-tail

The sunshine has brought out butterflies in number and I have seen lots of brimstone and peacock, with a few comma and pleasingly several small tortoiseshell, maybe  a welcome return to their former status is in the offing. With all surveys now cancelled this year we will not have the butterfly transect data to know for sure.

small tortoiseshell pair

small tortoiseshell pair

I hope to continue blogging from the reserve for as long as I can, although I am conscious that this may just highlight what most people are missing. It is very odd to be out on such a sunny  day and see almost nobody, it makes me feel guilty with so many at home.

Garden Safari

I stayed at home yesterday and went on safari in my garden. I have decided to see how many species I can record over the coming weeks when it is unwise to go out and, let’s face it soon we probably won’t be going out at all, if the events of the weekend continue.

I have started trying to identify slugs, which are relatively easy to find and don’t run away, but are pretty difficult to identify some of the time.

Ambigolimax nyctelius

Possibly a Balkan threeband slug

If my identification is correct it may be one of the few, perhaps even the first Hampshire record, however I am not getting too excited as identification is far from certain!

Where there are slugs there are also woodlice, I found two species of those, fortunately easier to identify.

Amadillidium vulgare

Amadillidium vulgare

Porcellio scaber

Porcellio scaber

The sunshine has brought out more insects and over the weekend I saw my first beeflies and quite a lot of bees.

bee 2-001

Possible Andrena scotica

This solitary bee was very sluggish and was probably subject to parasitism, the slightly swollen abdomen also hints at this.

There were also lots of the bee mimic hoverflies, especially Eristalis pertinax.

Eristalis pertinax 4x3

Eristalis pertinax

The other very prominent insects were ladybirds, I saw lots of individuals of three species, the most numerous being pine ladybirds, a small black species with red markings.

pine ladybird

pine ladybirds

At present Blashford Lakes is still open for walking, with limited parking in the entrance gateways, but car park closed to keep numbers low and please keep access to the gateways free. Remember as the paths are relatively narrow you will need to consider stepping aside to allow someone to pass in order to keep the 2m distancing, another reason why it is not appropriate to have large numbers of people on site. Also please do not travel long distances to the reserve, make the most of places more local to home, investigate your garden if you have one, there is nature almost everywhere.

 

A Few Moths, Rather a Lot of Ducks and an Added Extra

A much less spring-like day on the reserve today, but even in the drizzle being out in the open air still raises the spirits. Although there was no obvious arrival of migrants I think there were one or two more blackcap and chiffchaff today.

We had a tree surgeon on site today to deal with a couple of fallen trees near Ivy South Hide, this did upset some of the duck and probably contributed to the high numbers on Ibsley Water, where I counted 248 shoveler along with about 300 pintail and at least 400 wigeon, still quite large numbers for mid March. Although the hides are closed the viewpoint behind Tern Hide still offers views over the water, and large enough for a small number of people whilst still maintaining a 2m safety zone.

The moth trap caught the best catch so far this year almost 40 moths of seven species, new for the year was a brindled beauty.

Brindled beauty

Brindled beauty

Emptying the trap at the end of the day I saw that the long-tailed tit nest nearby is more or less complete, I think they are busy adding the feather lining now. The nest is a wonderful ball construction made with moss and lichen bound together with spider’s web.

long-tailed tit nest

long-tailed tit nest

As there was a bit of a wildlife shortage today I will add a picture from Tuesday, when I saw a fine male adder, my first of the year.

P1070688

male adder

The World Still Turns and Birds and Bees are Still Doing What They do Best

Despite all that is going on in our world, the seasons are moving on, and today this was very noticeable with the first sand martin of the spring being seen on the reserve. There are also several chiffchaff singing and at least 2 blackcap. Long-tailed tit are building in lots of places, I don’t think I have ever known so many pairs, probably a result of a very mild winter.

I saw my first grey-backed mining bee a few days ago, as is typical they were all males, who emerge earlier than the females. Today I saw the first female, she had not long emerged but was already attracting the attention of several males.

Andrena vaga female

Grey-backed mining bee (female)

This bee has only recently recolonised the UK and so far has only a few sites, Blashford having one of the larger known colonies. It is one of the earliest solitary bee species to emerge and specialises in feeding on willow flowers, which are one of the very earliest sources of pollen and nectar.

Andrena vaga pair 2 5x8

Grey-backed mining bee female with attendant male

The males wait around the nesting banks for the first females to emerge and try to mate as soon as they come to the surface. Mating itself seems to be a swift affair from what I saw today.

Andrena vaga pair

Grey-backed mining bee mating pair

Over the next few weeks I will try to blog as regularly as I can, I am conscious that many people will not be able to get out and about, indeed it is quite possible these blogs may become about my garden or even just what I can see from the window before things are resolved. I will also be putting posts on Twitter, Bob Chapman @bobservablelife

Our human centred world may be tumbling about us as things we rely upon turn out to be nothing like as robust as we might have hoped. At the same time nature, much of which we have sacrificed in pursuit of growing what is now falling about us, will be carrying on, I will try to record some of that continuity as I come across it for as long as I can.

 

Birds, Birds, Birds

Blashford Lakes are a great place to see lots of birds. Both Ibsley Water and Ivy Lake have large numbers of duck at present with each often having over one thousand wigeon on most days recently.

wigeon

drake wigeon

There are also hundreds of pintail on Ibsley Water, they have been attracted up the Avon Valley along with a lot of the wigeon due to the flooding of the fields. These ducks tend to spend the day resting on the open water, only going out to feed in the valley after dark. By contrast most of the gadwall will be found feeding on the lakes during the day, with fewer flying out at dusk.

gadwall

drake gadwall

Ivy Lake is home to a large cormorant roost, these fly in at dusk to perch high in the trees around the lake shore, so far this winter I have managed to count only about 150 birds, but this roost can get to over 200.

cormorant roost

cormorant roost

For really large numbers of birds the time to visit is just before dusk, if you stand on the viewpoint at the back of the Main Car Park, from where you can see several thousand gulls fly in to roost on the water and tens of thousands of starling. Last evening the starling roosted in two locations, most to the north of the lake, but several thousand also to the west.

roosts-001

Starling murmuration

The birds were making impressive shapes in the air as they were being chased by at least one peregrine and we also saw a marsh harrier fly past. We could also see goosander flying in to roost on the lake and as it got dark a load of cackling greylag flew in to spend the night on the water.

The reserve is not all about birds though and as I locked up in the morning there were three roe deer feeding in the reeds just beside Ivy North Hide.

roe deer

Roe deer in the reeds

If you are visiting, I can now report that the Main Car park is open as usual as the flooding has now receded.

 

Wet and Wild

I think that about sums up the conditions at present, the rain seems to have been fairly continuous since September! The lakes have gone from almost the lowest I can remember to as high as I have ever seen.

flooded boardwalk

Flooding under the boardwalk south of Ivy South Hide

The flooding has been widespread and the Avon Valley is awash, this encourages wildfowl to come up from the coast to feed on the flooded fields. They mainly feed there at night spending the day on the lakes, but as they, which is why there are over 340 pintail regularly on Ibsley Water just now and today I counted 1470 wigeon on Ivy Lake alone!

The floods mean the gull roost has declined as many are now roosting in the valley rather than on Ibsley Water. But this does not mean there is no roost spectacle to be seen as there is a large starling roost just to the north which is best seen from the viewpoint at the rear of the Main Car Park. Although this at some distance from the roost it does give a full view of the whole gyrating flock once a real murmuration gets going as it frequently has with two or more peregrine trying to catch a late meal most evenings.

starlings 2

Starlings

starlings 1

More starlings

It is very difficult to guess at numbers, but I would say there are at least 25000.

The high water levels have meant we have seen very few snipe this winter, I think they have all gone off into the valley, although I did spot one the other morning from tern Hide.

snipe

common snipe, more or less hiding

The most regular wader this winter has been the unseasonal common sandpiper, these usually migrate well to the south for the winter and the few that do stay in the UK are almost all on the coast. It was around daily until around the New Year when it disappeared, I thought the chancy strategy of wintering so far north had caught up with it, but on Sunday it reappeared on the shore outside Tern Hide again.

common sandpiper

common sandpiper

A less welcome sight outside the same hide, and all along the southern shore were two dogs, it seems they stray from a garden nearly a mile away, bad for wildlife and a real risk to the dogs as they cross or run down the road on their way here.

dogs!

Dogs!

We also had an incident of people on the reserve with dogs in circumstances suggestive of attempted poaching, luckily they were seen by an eagle-eyed visitor and reported to us. If you are visiting and see anything that seems untoward, please let us know, if possible at the time, our numbers are posted in the hides. Whilst the reserve is well respected by almost everyone and this is key to its success there is always the chance that the actions of a few can spoil things for the many.

As you may know the reserve is dog-free apart from the public footpaths, so on most of the reserve the wildlife does not associate people with dogs. One consequence of this is that the roe deer are relatively approachable, often just spotting to look at you before wandering off rather than racing away in panic.

roe deer

Three roe on the path to Ivy North Hide on a gloomy morning

As we passed into 2020 I had to admit that we seem to have no bittern for the year-listers this winter as last autumn’s bird has not been seen for some time. We do still have Europe’s oldest great white egret though, “Walter” has made it into 2020 and now has just about four and a half months to his 17th birthday.

Walter

Walter, and gull – again in the gloom, the light has mostly been terrible for taking pictures!

Even though it has felt like it has rarely stopped raining and right now it is blowing a gale outside there has been some respite and even a bit of sunshine, as when this rainbow appeared over Ibsley Water on Sunday, when we were also visited by the ferruginous duck on a brief foray away from its hiding place on Kingfisher Lake.

rainbow over Ibsley Water

rainbow over Ibsley Water

 

Warning of Works Next Week

No doubt many of you will have heard about the ash die-back disease which is rather rapidly killing off our ash trees. Unfortunately where these trees are close to paths, roads or buildings we cannot safely leave them as standing deadwood habitat meaning that the trees need to be felled or reduced in size to remain safe. This winter we have started to fell some of the affected trees and on Monday and Tuesday next week (6th & 7th Jan) there will be major work going on around the Woodland Hide and the hide will be closed as will the paths between Ivy North Hide and Woodland Hide, the information Hut and Woodland Hide and between Ivy South Hide and Woodland Hide. It will mean a longer walk to Ivy South Hide via the path between the Dockens Water and Ellingham Lake, but please do not be tempted to try and take the shorter, closed route. The felling will involve some large timber falling directly onto the closed paths making them both dangerous and at times completely blocked. Hopefully things should be back to normal by Wednesday.