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.

Spring has definitely sprung

Yesterday I was keeping an eye on things at Blashford and after a bit of time finishing things off in the office (the last couple of days have been filled with emails, creating signs and cancelling events and school visits) I had lunch outside the back of the centre with one of our very friendly robins for company and decided to make the most of the glorious weather and venture out onto the reserve.

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Lunchtime company

Being at Blashford with the car park empty and the sun shining did remind me of the very quiet days we have on the reserve in the summer, when you know everyone has headed to the beach and the coast to stay cool. The main reminder of spring was the increase in birdsong, it was lovely to hear chiffchaff calling, and also the new growth on the trees.

willow leaves

New growth on the willow 

willow catkins

Willow catkins

Nearing the entrances however it was apparent people were very much still out and about and there were a fair few cars parked up. Fortunately most people were respecting social distancing, however I did have to stand in vegetation at one point to allow a group to pass who were quite happy to walk, albeit in single file, down the middle of the footpath. Out footpaths are not that wide… so please do take care out there and give people space!

Keeping the car parks closed does encourage fewer people to visit the reserve, which gives everyone a chance to keep their distance, but it does also reduce the risk of fly tipping on the site. Between me leaving on Friday and arriving back on Sunday a large amount of rubbish, including a couple of single mattresses, had been dumped in the first lay by on Ellingham Drove, if coming from the A338, and although this may have happened over night we have in the past had fly tipping occur during day inside our gates on the approach to Tern Hide and also on the nature reserve itself, near the water treatment works. Although those who fly tip will always sadly find somewhere for it to go, at least having the reserve secure at all times will reduce the opportunities available for fly tipping on the reserve itself, where the site is now generally quieter and our staff presence lower. Unfortunately with quieter roads this issue is something that may sadly increase over the next few weeks and months.

My real reason though for venturing close to the entrance was to stare at the very fine display of moss growing on the top of the wooden fence by our gate. I had been waiting for a sunny day to photograph it and usually when I am passing I am driving, either having just arrived or heading home. After a bit of searching, I think it is capillary thread moss, but am happy to be corrected if wrong!

capillary thread moss

Capillary thread moss

The hazel trees near the entrance are also displaying fresh bright green leaves and lesser celandine carpets the woodland floor below them.

hazel leaves

Hazel leaves

lesser celandine

Lesser celandine

I followed the path along the Dockens Water, spotting a brimstone butterfly but it did not settle for a photo. On my way up to Lapwing Hide I saw great tit and blue tit feeding amongst the willows and nearer to the hide itself chiffchaff, Cetti’s warbler, water rail and little grebe were all calling and I saw a reed bunting in the trees.

I also spied my first adder of the year, something I wasn’t necessarily expecting as it was now mid afternoon and had warmed up considerably.

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Adder in amongst dead wood

On the edges of the paths colt’s-foot is flowering. It looks like a short dandelion but has a much rounder middle. Flowering early in spring, the flowers appear before the leaves do which has led to the plant getting the name ‘Son-before-father’.

coltsfoot

Colt’s-foot

Blackthorn is also blossoming and looking very pretty against a bright blue sky:

blackthorn blossom

Blackthorn blossom

After walking round to Goosander Hide I cut back across to Tern Hide via the closed Hanson path and saw my first peacock butterfly of the year, which was more obliging than the brimstone and paused just long enough for a photo.

peacock

Peacock

I popped in to Tern Hide to check all was well and see if there were any little ringed plover yet on the shore line. I couldn’t see any, or the common sandpiper which had been quite frequent, but did see teal, wigeon, tufted duck, goldeneye, shovelar, goosander and good numbers of pintail out on the water.

ibsley water and tern hide

Tern Hide and Ibsley Water from the viewing platform

On heading back to the Centre I decided to keep following the path along the Dockens Water to see if there were any signs of flowers on the bluebells (not yet, but it won’t be long!) and also to check the boardwalk was still taped off at either end where it is currently closed.

The hawthorn along the path is another tree coming into leaf. Its flowers are similar to blackthorn, however hawthorn comes into leaf first, and will not flower until May, whereas the flowers of blackthorn appear before the leaves, as seen in the photo above.

hawthorn

Hawthorn leaves

All in all it was a very nice wander around the reserve in the sunshine. I am working from home today, listening to the chaffinch and dunnock singing outside, and will be doing so more over the coming weeks and months so it was good to get out on the reserve while I still could. I will be spending more time in my little garden and walking my dog down to the closest stretch of the River Bourne in Laverstock, or possibly up to the Laverstock Downs themselves if they remain quiet. So I will finish this blog with a photo of a primrose, as there are still plenty flowering on the reserve:

primrose

Primrose

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.

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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.

 

Covid-19 Update

Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust Update

Our response to the Coronavirus

The Trust has been assessing the Covid-19 situation daily and constantly reviewing all of its planned events, taking sensible steps to protect the health and safety of staff, volunteers and members of the public.

As of tomorrow, the Education Centre and bird hides here at Blashford will remain closed until further notice, however you will still be able to use the footpaths to walk around the reserve. We recognise how important nature is for our wellbeing, so are planning on keeping our nature reserves open for the foreseeable future, but ask visitors to heed the advice given and not travel some distance to reach us.

We are also currently in the process of cancelling all our upcoming events until further notice.

Please be patient if you try to get in touch with any enquiries, we will still have a staff presence on the reserve but this may be reduced or limited at times and as such it may take a little longer than usual for us to get back to you, and we will continue to keep in touch via the blog.

We are thinking of all our lovely members, visitors and supporters at this time, and hope you all stay safe and continue to enjoy the wildlife and nature around you.

Hope to see you at Blashford in the not-to-distant future,

Tracy, Jim and Bob

 

Willow, wildflowers… and bittern!!

Yesterday we ran another willow weaving event, this time making living willow structures which were created straight into a pot filled with compost. If kept wet so they are able to root, the willow will continue to grow and once established they could be potted up or planted out into the garden.

We used common osier from our main willow bed alongside the colourful willows Megan and I harvested up near Lapwing Hide last week. Ten sets of two willow rods were pushed into the compost, with five sets angled to the right and five angled to the left, so when they were woven around each other they created a diamond pattern. The rods were then bound at the top to keep them in place. The finished structures looked great!

Willow sculptures

Fingers crossed they all grow well!

Now that the reserve is coming back to life after what feels like a very long, if mild, winter, we have been using our temporary signs to label some of the different plants and flowers that are adding welcome colour to the woodland floor, so do keep an eye out for them when you visit:

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Moschatel, or Town-Hall-Clock as it is also known, is flowering in a number of places along the edges of the footpath in the woodland. It is easy to miss, as it is low growing and the delicate flowers themselves are very small, growing up on a tall stalk, but they do look lovely. It is the unusual arrangement of the flower head that gives it the common name of Town-Hall-Clock, as each flower head comprises of five flowers, four of which face outwards at ninety degrees to each other to resemble a clock face. The fifth sits on top facing upwards.

Moschatel has a number of other common names, including five-faced bishop, hollowroot, tuberous crowfoot and muskroot. The latter apparently refers to the faint musk-like smell given off by the flowers as evening approaches. It is a delightful flower to find and worth keeping an eye out for, there is a label by an oak tree along the connecting path between Ivy North Hide and the path that runs down to the Woodland Hide and Ivy South, where it is carpeting the ground.

Moschatel

Moschatel flower

Yesterday, and again just now, we have had sightings of a bittern at Ivy North Hide, so if you visit this week it is well worth spending a bit of time in there and scanning the reed bed just in case it stays with us for a few days before moving on elsewhere. A group in the hide yesterday saw it fly out of the reeds to the right of the hide before going back down into the reeds to the left, whilst it was showing nicely a short while ago for those lucky enough to be in the hide at the right time.

A couple of redpoll are still visiting the feeders at the Woodland Hide and marsh harrier, common sandpiper and Mediterranean gull were all recorded yesterday on Ibsley Water. The long-tailed duck is also still present on Ibsley Water, it was there yesterday and was showing well this morning, being closer to the hide than I have seen it previously, albeit still a fair way off! There are also still high numbers of pintail, seen out on the water but also on the bank by Goosander Hide.

Pintail

Pintail

Today’s sunshine has also bought out the butterflies, on swapping the seasonal sign in Tern Hide over this morning Megan and I saw a peacock and brimstone, and we were joined by another brimstone whilst having lunch outside the Centre by the pond. A little more of today’s weather (along with a view of a bittern) would be lovely!