We’ve Got the Blues, Again

Tomorrow I have a moth event at Blashford, we will be opening two moth traps and looking through at the catch, identifying and photographing them. Over the last few days we have caught three Clifden nonpareil moths, also known as the blue underwing, this is a spectacular species and probably the UK moth with the largest wing area. In fact there was one yesterday and another today, obviously it would be great if there was one tomorrow, but things being what they are I suspect there won’t be! It is also still quite rare nationally, having only recently recolonized the UK, luckily for us the New Forest area is probably their stronghold.

Clifden nonpareil

Clifden nonpareil, or blue underwing.

The caterpillars feed on aspen and probably other poplar species, as it happens we have a number of aspen at Blashford Lakes, which is probably why they seem to be established on the reserve. Aspen is an interesting tree as is has quiet a lot of insect species associated with it. It is a tree that can grow very tall, but also produces lots of suckers, so there can be niches for species that prefer the canopy and shrub layer provided for by a single tree. It is very prone to being browsed and the suckers are often eaten off, increasing numbers of deer are probably one reason that aspen is in decline in many areas.

We may not see a Clifden nonpareil, but I hope we will see a good few moths and one thing that I am fairly sure about is that a number of them will be yellow or orange, autumn is the season for yellow moths, probably because it is the time for yellow leaves.

sallow and pink-barred sallow

pink-barred sallow and sallow

Although autumn is well underway now there at still quite a lot of insects about when the sun comes out, southern hawker, migrant hawker and common darter dragonflies are still around in fair numbers and butterflies include red admiral, comma and a lot of speckled wood. As I was eating lunch yesterday I noticed a fly on the picnic table next to me and realised it was one of the snail-killing flies.

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Elgiva cucuaria a snail-killing fly.

It is the larvae that kill the snails, in the case of this species , aquatic snails, which is probably why it was close to the Education Centre pond.

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Keep the Solent Wild and Wonderful…

Apologies for this non-Blashford related post, but I’d like to take a moment to promote the work of our colleagues seeking to protect the Solent’s marine wildlife who are trying something new for HIWWT and need our help to make it the success we would all like it to be… and actually with all of the bird movements that take place seasonally between the coast and Blashford Lakes, “our” wildlife on the nature reserve could very well benefit directly from this anyway!

Feisty green shore crab © Samuel Chamberlain

Feisty green shore crab © Samuel Chamberlain

We have an amazing opportunity right now to unlock vital funds to safeguard the Solent and its wildlife but we need your help.

Yesterday Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust launched our first ever crowdfunder appeal. It is in support of our marine project Secrets of the Solent and will be raising money that will help us unlock £640,300 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Crowdfunders work by creating a buzz online and through social media so please take a moment to have a look at our crowdfunding page, make a donation if inspiration takes you, but please share with your own friends through facebook, twitter or email to help us tell more people about this exciting new project.

Every £1 we raise gives us the chance to unlock an extra £9.85 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which will allow us to work with local people and partners to protect the Solent.

Over the next four years the project will connect local communities and sea users with the wildlife beneath the surface.  Although the Solent is incredibly busy, many people are not aware of the incredible seascapes and species just off shore.  Seagrass meadows, chalk reefs and rocky sponge gardens are home to seahorses and sea bass, seals, colourful anemone, sea squirts and cuttlefish.

We know that our marine environment is under huge pressure and that there has been a rapid decline in some important species and habitats in recent years.  We’ve reached a tipping point and need to mobilise people in support of the sea and encourage them to act in ways that protect our marine wildlife.  To do this, we have to ensure that more people understand and appreciate what’s really at stake.

The Secrets of the Solent project will:

  • Roll out citizen science programmes to gather data about what is on our shores and in our sea.  We can use this data to call for further marine protections and better management of designated areas.
  • We will recruit and train ‘marine champions’ – working with schools, local businesses and other organisations to build an army of volunteers who can help safeguard the Solent and share their passion with others.
  • We will work with fisheries and other partners to promote sustainable fish and seafood.
  • Finally, we will bring to the surface the incredible species and lives of the Solent through street art, photography and film and make sure as many people as possible get to know about the spectacular secrets of the Solent.

 

We’re really excited about this opportunity to help change the fortunes of our marine wildlife and ensure that the Solent stays wild and wonderful for generations to come.

More information can be found at https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/wildandwonderful

Please support our campaign if you can.

Harbour seal © Chas Spradbery

Harbour seal © Chas Spradbery

Goings on

This Sunday we are holding our annual Lymington and Keyhaven Nature Reserve Open Day. For details see: 2017 Keyhaven event flyer

It is a joint venture with the Hampshire County Council, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and the New Forest National Park to celebrate the wildlife of the marshes between Lymington and Keyhaven. There will be a range of local conservation groups present and a range of walks, bird ringing, a seashore search, birdwatching, activities, light refreshments and much more. If you have never been to the reserve or have but would like to find out more come along, all the details are in the link.

Talking of events I will also flag up that on the following Sunday, the 24th September we will be hosting the Bird Trail Event at Blashford. This is aimed at young birdwatchers and there will be a number of teams going around the reserve that day, so the hides will be very busy and I would suggest that regular visitors might like to give us a miss that day. The event is jointly organised between the Wildlife Trust and Hampshire Ornithological Society part of our goal of bringing on the next generation of wildlife enthusiasts. As well as using the hides the area around the Centre will be busy with other activities.

A Day Unparalleled

Although I failed to see it a when I opened up this morning, the grey phalarope remained on Ibsley Water as did a juvenile black tern and the two ruff. A feature of recent days on this lake has been the mass fishing events, when a flock of cormorant, sometimes a hundred or more will act together to drive  large shoal of small fish into a corner. This attracts grey heron, little egret and the great white egret, which patrol the shallows, everyone gets some fish, sometimes several, which shows just how big the shoal must be.

The swallow and martin flock was perhaps a little smaller today, but still ran to several thousand and once again included a single swift. However it was not the birds that made for an “Unparalleled” day, it was a moth, a Clifden nonpareil, or blue underwing.

Clifden Nonpareil

Clifden nonpareil in egg boxes from the moth trap.

These are very large and, until recently, very rare moths. Having become extinct in the UK they turned up only as rare migrants until recolonizing about ten years ago. The New Forest area seems to be their stronghold now and in the last few years we have seen one or two each year, but they at still a real treat. It is just a shame it did not turn up yesterday for the moth event.

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Clifden nonpareil close up.

We have been doing quite a lot of grass cutting recently, some areas we are managing like meadows to increase the variety of wild flowers and this means we have to cut and remove the bulk of the grass by the end of the growing season. Today we cut areas of the sweep meadow used by education groups near the Ivy North hide. In this areas we cut in alternate years to leave longer herbage for over-wintering insects. If we leave it uncut for too long bramble and small trees start to colonise and many of the grassland plants, upon which so many insects depend, disappear.

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A meadow area near Lapwing hide prior to cutting.

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Meadow area near Lapwing hide after cutting.

The grass is raked up and piled into a heap which should provide a good place for grass snakes to breed next year, especially if the heap is in a sunny spot.

A Black and Grey Day

That is black as in the tern, as there was another juvenile black tern today and even better, grey as in grey phalarope!

grey phalarope

Grey phalarope, juvenile

Yet another in a proud line of “record shots” of wildlife at Blashford, my excuse is that it was a long way off and I have to say to is much better than my efforts the last time we had a phalarope at Blashford. Of course it should not be here, it has been blown in by the north-westerly gales and Ibsley Water was just the nearest thing to the open sea that it could find.

Despite the phalarope and black tern and a supporting caste of 2 ruff, 2 dunlin a ringed plover and Walter the great white egret my personal show-stopping wildlife spectacle of the day was actually the house martins. Thousands and thousands of them, I think at least 8000, possibly even more than 10,000 at the start of the day. They swarmed over the water like gnats with a 1000 or so swallow a few hundred sand martin and still a single swift.

I had an autumn moth event this morning, I was a little concerned we might have no moths to look at after yesterday’s paltry two moths, luckily it was not quite that bad. The highlight were 2 feathered gothic, the first of the year, others included snout, pinion-streaked snout, frosted orange, canary shouldered thorn, square spot rusticautumnal rustic and a few micro-moths.

feathered gothic

Feathered gothic, male

A Full House

The poor weather over the last couple of days has brought in huge numbers of hirundines, that is swallows and martins, to Ibsley Water. there are especially very large numbers of house martin, they are impossible to count but I estimated at least 5000 today with probably 1000 swallow and at least 500 sand martin. Everywhere you looked over the water there were birds and then, scanning upward against the clouds there were many, many hundreds more. These higher birds are mostly house martin the swallow and sand martin tend to keep lower. They gather over water in an effort to find insects in weather when there are few flying elsewhere, often they pick prey directly from the surface of the lake.

The other aerial plankton feeder of summer is the swift, they mostly leave around the end of July, but a few can linger and searching through the hirundines can sometimes result in finding one and today was just such a time. Swift in September is a scarce bird, in fact in some years I don’t see one after mid August.

Other birds today included a hobby, lured in by the masses of martins as potential prey, although I did not see it catch one. The great white egret was around on and off, the ruff of the last few days was joined by another by the end of the day, when there were also 2 juvenile Arctic tern. A single black-tailed godwit dropped in for a while and there were 2 sanderling reported.

This is really not the weather for moths, so tomorrow’s planned “Moth Event” promises to be a bit of a damp squib. Today’s catch total a massive two moths! I suspect tonight may well be worse. The highlight was a fresh frosted orange, always a nice sight.

Frosted orange

Frosted orange

Several people mentioned the very good show of flower put on by our small patches of heather near Ivy North hide this year, in fact there at small patches of heather in several places across the lichen heath and I suspect these will expand in the coming years. All of this heather is the common ling, but we do have one plant of bell heather Erica cinerea on the reserve and this is in full flower now, somewhat after the ling has finished.

bell heather

bell heather

Although it is feeling very like autumn already there are still some reminders of summer out there, such as grasshoppers, I found this somewhat atypically coloured field grasshopper near the bell heather at the end of last week.

field grasshopper

field grasshopper

An Alien has Landed

We run a moth trap at Blashford on most nights of the year, we record the species and numbers. Some species are regular and others we see only once every few years and just occasionally we get a new species. When I opened up the trap yesterday morning there was a moth I had never seen before, small but quite distinctive.

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small moth

When  I looked in the book I could not find it, luckily the internet came to my rescue and I managed to identify it as a Pyralid moth, Musotima nitidalis a species native to Australia and New Zealand and first found in the UK in 2009 near Bournemouth.

So how did it get here? It appears it feeds on tree ferns and is likely to have been introduced with plants imported from Australia. It seems it will feed on some native fern species here, such as black spleenwort and bracken. Now it is here it will probably stay, perhaps as a scarce insect having little impact, or perhaps not. Once alien species establish the consequences will only become clear many years later and certainly there is nothing we can now do about this particular one but wait and see what happens.

Fishing in the Rain

The last two days have not been the best, I think it rained, even if only lightly, for the whole time I was at Blashford on Sunday. It did not put of the monthly volunteers, or at least not completely, four stalwarts came in and spent nearly two hours pulling nettles from along the paths and around the wild daffodil bank. The rain did stop everyone from coming to my planned “Late Summer Wildlife” walk though and so they all missed the two black tern that spent the afternoon over Ibsley Water and the thousand or two of house martin and swallow too.

Iblsey Water has had a lot of fish eating birds on it lately and Sunday was not exception with both grey heron and great crested grebe hunting close to Tern hide.

grey heron juv

Juvenile grey heron

There have been well over 70 grey heron on a number of days recently and my maximum count was late last week when I saw 153!

GCG in rain

Great crested grebe in the rain

I have also made some of my highest counts of grebes for  along time recently, today I saw at least 57 from Tern hide alone. There have also been at least 6 little egret, Walter the great white egret and as many as 193 cormorant, so life for smaller fish has been difficult, but equally there must be  a lot of them to have attracted the attention of so many predators.

Lightning bolts…

Regular visitors Dee and Stan Maddams have been even more regular than usual over recent weeks, staking out Goosander Hide for kingfishers alongside many other kindred spirits – it was Dee that emailed in that cracking picture of a honey buzzard she had taken from there a few days ago and which I posted in my blog last Saturday.

She has also sent in a few (of a great many!) of the kingfisher pictures she has taken for us to share. Blashford is a great place to see kingfisher throughout the year and Goosander Hide in late summer has been a reliable place to photograph them for a few years now so we have been lucky enough to see lots of kingfisher images taken on site. What makes these stand out from the cowd is that they include more than the “usual” shots of perched kingfisher (as lovely as they are too!):

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A rare shot of a kingfisher in flight by Dee Maddams

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Kingfisher by Dee Maddams

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Kingfisher coming up from a dive by Dee Maddams

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Kingfisher by Dee Maddams

Last night Stan e-mailed us with an update on their visit yesterday morning:

“My wife and I were in the Goosander hide again this morning and shortly after arriving we spotted one of the kingfishers hovering near the clump of trees/vegetation 30 or so metres in front of the hide, his or her partner was on a branch.

The hovering bird set off towards one of the perches in front of the hide when, out of nowhere, a bird of prey swooped down, grabbed the kingfisher and was gone. Happened so quickly and it was quite dark so we were unable to positively ID the raptor but it was possibly a sparrowhawk.

I would imagine the partner wanted to keep a low profile after, as during the next 4 hours there was only a single very brief sighting!”

Although the bird of prey could have been a peregrine or a hobby, both of which are regulars over Ibsley Water, sparrowhawk is the most likely suspect in this instance – the last time the sand martin wall was in use before this summer it/they were frequently being visited by a sparrowhawk who very successfully hunted there.

One of those moments in nature that can be hard to watch on the one hand, but on the other is always an exciting and rare privilege too.

Many thanks to Stan and Dee for sharing their pictures and observations with us.

An adventurous couple of days…

A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog (here) that included a brief description of my initial foray into the Dockens Water in preparation for our Wild days Out “Stream Snorkel Safari” and all of my reservations having braved the icy water… this week saw us leading 41 intrepid children aged 5-12 (not all at the same time!) into the Dockens Water to do just that and I am so glad that we did… it was brilliant!

The older children went first on Wednesday. Wednesday, you may remember, was grey, gloomy and COLD! Following the unusually glorious Bank Holiday weekend and highs of 29°C,  Wednesday saw the temperature plummet to a high of 14°C and a weather forecast dominated by heavy rain and jumping into the river was the last thing I really wanted to do!

Did it put us off? Well yes, of course it did!

Did it stop us? NO!

We split into three groups in the end – a large number of children had wetsuits so on the basis they would feel the cold the least, they went first – along with one or two other children who were just hard-core! Next we had those who did not have wetsuits but were up for the challenge, and finally, there was an opportunity for those who were really keen to give it a go but reluctant to venture too far, or for too long, to brave the small plunge pool at the end of our usual river dipping area:

Blashford Stream Snorkel_01

Getting “suited” up! (Gloves were a last-minute addition to the PPE requirements following my earlier recce when I realized that stream snorkeling involved more “crocodile crawling” than actual swimming!)

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On our way… not sure why they all have their hands up. Looks like we are forcing them into the river at gun point but I assure you we weren’t!

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Last minute briefing…

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Temperature acclimatization…!

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And we’re off! (It has to be said that some did more snorkeling than others! And that the boy took a great deal of delight in pouring the icy cold water out of his glove down my back. Again… and again… and again!)

Unlike my previous snorkel this time, despite having umpteen noisy, splashy, silt stirring children with us, there were times when we lay still and let the water clear around us that we could actually see under water:

And believe it or not we even saw fish! Nothing bigger than a few centimeters and nothing other than minnow or bullhead, but fish, in their natural environment, nonetheless. Very exciting… it made us squeal through our snorkels anyway!

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FISH! Minnows maybe?

While we were snorkeling Tracy Nigel and Yvette were getting on with the more usual business of river dipping, boat building and damming with everyone who had either snorkeled already or who were waiting to snorkel:

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Our usual version of river dipping!

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What have we got?

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Not the usual use of our nets!

In light of the temperature (as it was the forecast rain, thankfully, did not really come to anything in the end) we compressed the in-water river activities into the morning and warmed up with lots of hot blackcurrant drinks over lunch before setting out for a brisk walk to finish the day. Heading off in the direction of Ivy North Hide and the sweep netting meadow we had a good explore and, with reference back to Tracy’s last “Young Naturalists” blog from the weekend (here), this is the pink grasshopper that didn’t get away on this occasion!

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A PINK meadow grasshopper!

And then on Thursday we did it all over again with the 5-8 year olds:

You can’t tell from any of these pictures but I will confess that I bottled it and dug out my old wetsuit on day 2…  having shown solidarity with the children who did not own a wetsuit for my initial recce and on day 1, I decided that on the basis that I was spending much more time in the water than any of the children would be it was perfectly acceptable for me to do so. I have to say that , although no more or less enjoyable, it was by far a more pleasant experience with it on!

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Not what you usually expect to see heading off along the path into the woods!

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Acclimatization time again! Slowly does it!

And, for the less adventurous, or less well insulated but equally bonkers, the “plunge pool” beyond the river dipping area provided an unusual and equally exciting opportunity for discovering the river – including fantastic fish watching with a couple of very obliging (and no doubt confused!) bullhead:

It really was a wonderful, adventurous, “once in a life time” experience for everyone, staff and volunteers included  – but I can not begin to tell you just how cold it actually was, so hats off and respect to all of the children who literally jumped in at the deep end and went for it regardless! Especially those who did not have the benefit of wetsuits!

I had the day off to look after my own children yesterday while my wife was at work and I took them to the beach – we had a bit of a swim and I have to tell you that the sea temperature was like a bath tub compared to that of the river!

The summer holidays are now all but over and the stream snorkel was the grand finale of our Wild Days Out events – look out for the next during the October halfterm holiday:

https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product-category/events/