First Fishlake winter work party 2018

On Wednesday 24th October we had our first work party of the winter at Fishlake Meadows. It was a wonderful sunny day and incredibly mild, so not very wintery at all! Eleven volunteers came out to give their time helping with management of Fishlake Meadows. They were all very excited to be helping out to be getting the work parties started for the winter.

View from right viewing screen

Lovely sunny day for scrub cutting

The task for the day was to improve the views at the viewing screens which are at the end of the newly laid and opened permissive path, and also to do some scrub cutting along the new permissive path. The wonderful volunteers managed to clear the willows from in front of the screen overlooking the reeds (photo of the view above). This has created a lovely view in to the reedbed and should allow the chance to see reed warbler, sedge warbler and reed bunting up close. Photos below show how the screens looked before and after, it turned out to be an awful lot of willow that needed to be cleared.

Reed and willow scrub screen

Right hand screen before scrub cutting

Willow cleared from right hand screen oct 18

Right hand screen now cleared

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In front of the screen overlooking the water we were able to cut the willow sapling and the reeds, this has made the view of the water much clearer and wider. Sightings from this screen include gadwall, kingfisher, great white egret, hobby and teal.

View from left viewing screen

Left hand screen with willow sapling blocking the view

Reeds cleared from left hand screen oct 18

Left hand screen once reeds and willow cut down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then moved on to thinning out some of the scrub along the permissive path. This allowed us to open up some views of the ponds along the path too. The scrub that was cut was used to build some dead hedges. As these rot down they create wonderful habitat for birds and invertebrates. The volunteers were very pleased with the results of their hard work and are looking forward to the next work parties.

volunteers scrub cutting oct 18

Volunteers working hard together to cut willow

scrub cutting along permissive path Oct 18

Pond now visible from the path between the willow scrub

If you would like to get involved with the work parties or other volunteering at Fishlake Meadows, please get in touch with me at jo.armson@hiwwt.org.uk.

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Whilst I was Away

A real frost this morning, the cold going well with the arrival of goldeneye and goosander on Ibsley Water. There were four goldeneye reported yesterday but today there were at least seven, including two adult drakes. The goosander required patience, as it was not until dusk that I got the full count, 20 were present around lunchtime, but at the end of the day I counted 51 gathered to roost.

Having not been on the reserve for a week, I was catching up on sightings whilst I was away. Without doubt the top spot goes to a report of a shore lark seen right in front of Tern hide at around 11:00 on 23rd October, a really good bird anywhere in Hampshire and probably the first ever inland record for the county. Other notable records have been of two marsh harrier seen on several days, including today, a little gull and a cattle egret seen yesterday, a water pipit reported a couple of times and the bittern, on one occasion seen on the Ivy Silt Pond at the same time as an otter. Great white egret are still being seen all around the lakes and there are clearly at least three around, including “Walter”.

How Long to a Wilder Britain?

Despite the various attempts of some of the more struthian* (Struthio camellus – the Ostrich) of our leaders to ignore or deny it, there can be no doubt that the world is getting a less inhabitable place. The climate has warmed, some may doubt that humans have been the cause, but this is the scientific age and the evidence is clear. We have undoubtedly modified, by direct action, a great part of the surface of our plant and indirectly damaged the rest through carelessness. What is more the rate of these changes has been remarkable, in under 10,000 years we have effectively left our mark across the whole planet, modified most habitats and caused the extinction on a scale achieved only five times previously in the geological record. So why don’t conservationists give up?

At our recent staff meeting the question was asked if we were individually pessimists or optimists about the future of our wildlife. I found this quite a difficult question, I am not optimistic, but I refuse to give up, so I concluded that I was probably an optimistic pessimist, or perhaps a pessimistic optimist. Things are unquestionably looking bleak for our wildlife, in my lifetime it seems likely that the amount of wildlife in the UK has more than halved, this is a loss of individuals. Lots of species that once were common are now rare, or just much less common than they once were. This is most obvious and well recorded for birds which have been well surveyed over a long period. I was used to yellowhammer and turtle dove as the sound of the summer hedgerows, they were common birds. Some that I now rarely see were literally “Common or garden” species, the spotted flycather is one such.

It has long been suspected that insects too have been declining, but hard evidence has been harder to come by, but now this is changing. I have mentioned a recent study done on nature reserves in Germany before but I will copy a link to a newspaper report on it again Insect decline on German nature reserves

Perhaps this decline is not so surprising in Europe where we have highly modified our environment, fragmented it and plied it with pollutants and the various after effects of intensive agriculture and a generally casual approach to resource use. However it now seems that these effects are happening in the biodiversity hotspots of the tropics too see Climate-driven declines in tropical arthropods

It seems that the cause here is probably climate change rather than pollutants or habitat fragmentation. In truth we all now know full well that climate change is not a good thing, either for wildlife or for humans. It seems overwhelmingly that human activity is the  driver and that without a change in our behaviour it will run away to the greater detriment of all of us.

Obviously we should all do what we can to reduce our impacts upon the climate and so our wildlife and our fellow humans. Only the most remarkable about face by governments and ourselves is likely to have any effect as it seems increasingly unlikely that a scientific “quick-fix” is going to bail us out. The future is undoubtedly looking less than rosy!

So in the face of these seemingly impossible odds why don’t we give up? The immediate answer is that we know wildlife is good for our health, humans do best in a green world, particularly our mental health is better for being out in “Nature”. The more that survives now, the more that will be able to spread out into the wider countryside when we finally wake up to what we are doing and take steps to turn things around. This is why nature reserves matter, they can act as short term refuges for wildlife so that it can recolonise wider areas once they become more hospitable again.

If you want a long-term (and I do mean long-term) answer, it is because we know from palaeontology that, however large the extinction event we are living through, life will continue. We cannot guess just what will survive and where evolution will take it, but the more that survives now the wider the pool of options for the future.

So I am a pessimist for the immediate decades but an optimist for the deep future, when there will be life as yet unimagined, but determined by what survives today. That said I would obviously like a Wilder Britain starting now, building upon what we have in our nature reserves and other biodiversity rich places, so don’t expect to see me giving in anytime soon.

*I know, not a real word, but I just coined it!

 

What a difference six months makes…

At the end of September we headed back to the Purbecks with our Young Naturalists to repeat March’s snowy residential, and the weather was glorious!

Staying once again at Brenscombe Activity Centre, just outside Corfe Castle, we headed over on the Friday evening to make the most of the weekend. On Saturday we once again visited Brownsea, with the weather a stark contrast to the freezing cold of our last visit.

Brownsea

Brownsea Island from the Studland to Bournemouth Ferry

We met up with Dorset Wildlife Trust staff member Nicki and volunteer Claire, who took us on a guided walk around the part of the Island managed by the Wildlife Trust.

Brownsea 2

Start of our guided walk

From Low Hide we had great views of the birds on the Lagoon, spotting Cormorant, Black-headed gull, Spotted redshank, Avocet, Common redshank, Spoonbill, Little egret, Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Grey heron, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Moorhen, Little ringed plover, Starling, Great black-backed gull and Dunlin.

We then headed further in to the reserve on our walk, past The Villa Wildlife Centre and through Venetia Park up to the viewpoint. This was the view we missed out on last time:

The view

On our way we spotted Wood pigeon, Magpie, Coal tit, Great tit, Chaffinch, Blue tit, Pheasant, Nuthatch, Buzzard, Canada goose and on stopping to break for lunch we had great views of a Sparrowhawk overhead. We were now on our way to the beach and on a part of the reserve not open to the public – it was great for red squirrel spotting and we saw a number up in the tree tops.

After exploring the old buildings we headed down to the beach. At first look it was fairly clear of litter, but on closer inspection we managed to collect a fair amount of rubbish from the shoreline and spotted a few natural finds too, including crab claws, oyster shells and pottery fragments. Given this part of the reserve is not open to visitors, all of the litter we collected had washed on to the beach from the harbour.

After carrying the litter closer to the path for Nicki and Claire to collect later, we carried on with our walk and headed back towards The Villa, again red squirrel spotting along the way. We also spied a female Common darter basking in the sunshine.

On reaching The Villa we thanked Nicki and Claire for their time and made our way to the area by the Church. This spot had given us some great close up views of red squirrels last time we were here and we had about 45 minutes to spare before having to catch the boat back. We were lucky enough to get quite close to a Sika deer that wasn’t at all worried by all the people around her as well as peacocks and red squirrels.

We were enjoying the weather so much we decided to spend some time on the beach at Shell Bay after leaving Brownsea, paddling in the sea, beach combing and having a wander along the shoreline.

On the Sunday we headed up onto the ridge above the activity centre and walked towards Corfe Castle.

We then headed back to the coast, this time heading over to Kimmeridge Bay for some fossil hunting and rock pooling. Before going down to the beach we visited Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Fine Foundation Wild Seas Centre. We loved the indoor rock pool and the centre is well worth the visit if you are ever in the area.

To give the tide more time to go out we then walked up to Clavell Tower, enjoying the view down to Kimmeridge Bay below.

After lunch on the beach we began fossil hunting for ammonites, something the group really enjoyed as they constantly tried to find an ammonite to better than the one they already had.

Finally we finished off with some rock pooling and a walk back along the beach, looking for shrimp, anemones, fish, shells and larger ammonites still under the water:

Admittedly it was a while ago now, but we had a fabulous time in the Purbecks and certainly enjoyed the sunshine on the Saturday. The group really enjoyed spending time on the coast, spotting red squirrels on Brownsea and the beach clean, an activity they are very good at!

Thank you to Nicki and Claire for showing us around Brownsea on the Saturday and to our brilliant volunteers Geoff, Nigel and Michelle for again giving up another weekend to join us, we certainly couldn’t run the weekends away without them!

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

Shell bay 3

Shell bay

 

Whittling wands…

If you have children or grand children you will be well aware that it’s half term holidays for Dorset and Hampshire children this week – and to be honest even if you haven’t by now you have probably worked out that it is given the increased number of children at the swimming pool/around town!

So that’s our excuse for the reduction in blog activity this week – I was off the first half of the week, Bob’s been off all week and Tracy has been holding the fort solo much of the week and dealing with everything that comes up on a daily basis and therefore not managed to find time to blog as well…

On the wildlife front the most remarkable thing really to happen this week so far is that as of the latter half of this week, and today in particular, Autumn really has settled in. I even put the heating back on in the Education Centre yesterday! That said earlier in the week we were still seeing common darter dragonflies and the odd peacock butterfly on the wing in the sunshine and there has been up to two swallows around Tern Hide most of the week as well. I didn’t see one this morning, but was welcomed by one huddled up on the hide roof yesterday. Bird wise there has been marsh harrier around on and off, including two individuals earlier in the week and we still have three great white egrets (including Walter of course…). Wildfowl numbers continue to creep up, most noticeably with an arrival of pochard and up to five goosander recorded in the Tern Hide sightings book too. Elsewhere there have been one off sightings of both bittern and otter in Ivy Silt Pond…

As usual half term holidays allow opportunity for Tracy and I to get out on site and play… this weeks “Wild Days Out” were themed “Wild Witches and Wizards” and we both had a lovely time – I’m reasonably confident that the children did too!

Beginning with an indoor craft activity whilst everyone arrived and was signed in origami bats, cobweb making and general colouring in were all well received. I was particularly impressed by the small group of boys who took the bat template and then diligently both up and down scaled it:

Then we headed out in search of magical ingredients for our cauldron… who would have thought that we might find troll fur, fairy goblets and goblin eyeballs on our walk, but we did! These were then supplemented with other special finds which Tracy had hidden earlier and marked on a map to test the children’s (and Tracy’s!) orienteering skills… ground unicorn horn, dragons blood, pixie juice, troll snot, charred bone and more all discovered all of the ingredients went into the cauldron and were stirred. All very exciting, but definitely time for lunch afterwards. Must have been the troll snot whetting our appetite…

Post lunch we turned our attention to wand whittling and broom making with one enterprising individual foregoing a broom in favour of a “Gandalf staff”, complete with clay and plant decorated head and ornamentation. Not sure he’s ever been so quiet and it has to be said the same was true of all the children while they carefully whittled their wands. Such concentration!

181025WDO_WildWitches by J Day (8)

Finally there was just time (okay, actually there wasn’t quite time but we did it anyway and over ran by a few minutes!) to light the fire to bake some campfire “toffee apples” to finish our day. They looked pretty awful but did taste delicious (trouble with running a bit late and trying to cook on the fire while it was still blazing rather than having died down to perfect cooking embers). Tracy and I were more than happy enough to polish off the spares anyway!

181025WDO_WildWitches by J Day (10)

No Wild Days Out over Christmas but they will be back at February half term with a bird theme… bookings will be taken online on the Trusts “shop” from mid January:  https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product-category/events/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last of Summer

Recently there have been a few late swallow around Ibsley Water, late migrants from further north. There has also been a pair of adults with one juvenile, often they have been sitting on the roof of Tern hide allowing very close approach. I suspect these were a local pair with their late fledged youngster, as they were very obviously together. As a rule adult swallow migrate earlier than the last raised brood of juveniles, which stay around to feed up before departure. This means that most late swallow that you see are juveniles, although I do remember once seeing an adult in December in North Wales against a backdrop of snow on the mountains!

Today the two adults were sitting just to the right of the door of the hide on the roof with wings dropped to maximise their surface area of dark feathering that was catching the sun. I am not sure where the juvenile has gone or how much longer these adults will stay around.

swallow

late staying adult swallow

It is easy to see that this is an adult bird by the very long thin tail streamers, those of the males are longest, although they have often abraded by this time of year.

If they come back next year, all being well they will find a new Tern hide, as we are hoping to  replace it before next spring. The existing hide has seen good service and the very exposed position means it is showing its age, there a few spit boards and the door is perennially sticking as the whole building expands and contracts. This is just a part of the constant effort to maintain and improve the reserve and its facilities. I will post more about this and other proposals over the next few weeks.

Great Expectations and Small Surprises

I was not at Blashford for most of yesterday, a site meeting at Fishlake to look at the upgrade work to the canal footpath, followed by a meeting about tern conservation meant that it was mid-afternoon before I arrived.

I was at Fishlake a little early so had a quick look over the reserve, the only bird of any note was a great white egret, although these are now more or less in the “expected” category these days.

The tern meeting was interesting, if a little depressing. Our terns are declining,  in almost every year for the last three decades or more they have failed to produce sufficient young to maintain the population. Problems are many, but sea level rise is major among them, there are fewer places to nest and these are being competed over by gulls, terns and shore nesting waders. Added to this, even some of the remaining areas that are available are visited too often by people for the bird to feel safe.

There are lots of local initiatives aimed at arresting the decline, involving building shingle banks, putting up electric fencing and wardening. But it is all small scale and local gains cannot address the overall decline. It epitomises the problem that those of us working in conservation have, however “successful” we are with nature reserves we are all too often not doing more than delaying the inevitable for many species. Reserves can act as refuges but unless the chance is there for species to spread out from them they will eventually be lost. A nature reserve is just to small, too isolated to be able to provide a genuinely viable home for most species in the long term.

When I did eventually get to Blashford and got over to Tern hide I was surprised to see an adult little gull, then even more surprised to see two, then three and finally four. They were sometimes dipping after insects on the lake’s surface right in front of the hide, a magical sight.

Recent night shave been especially mild and quite good for moths, combined with some southerly winds this is a recipe for catching migrants. There have been some rarities around but the best I have caught was a vestal on Sunday.

vestal

vestal

Today’s catch was pretty good as well and included sallow, pink-barred sallow, red-line Quaker, satellite, straw dot, white-point, chestnut, snout, large wainscot, beaded chestnut, barred sallow, canary-shouldered thorn, black rustic, lunar underwing, lesser yellow underwing, large yellow underwing, frosted orange, feathered thorn, several Epirrita (a group of hard to identify moths including autumnal moth, and the two November moths), Hysopygia glaucinalis (a Pyralid moth) and the pick of the bunch a Clifden nonpareil.

Clifden nonpareil

Clifden nonpareil, also known as blue underwing

The Clifden nonpareil used to be a rare migrant, but is evidently established locally in southern England now, as it used to be before it died out. It is a close relative of the more familiar red underwing, but is larger and with a blue and black hind wing. I did catch a red underwing the other night too.

red underwing

red underwing

And Then There Were Three

Great white egret that is, Walter now had two companions and all were joining in the fishing frenzy on Ibsley Water this morning. Later on they were separated and I saw one, unringed bird, close to Tern hide as I locked up this evening. The number of wigeon continues to increase slowly, I saw 14 on Ibsley Water and a few on Ivy Lake today,a long with one of the pintail.

Bird of the day was a “fly-over”, I was briefly in Goosander hide when I noticed the herons all looking up, a sure sign there was something they were a little worried about flying over. I went outside the hide and saw a common buzzard, but it was flying up and calling, a sign it too was reacting to something flying over. Eventually I saw the cause of all the interest, a honey-buzzard, the common buzzard allowed a really nice comparison. Although honey-buzzard do nest in the New Forest in very small numbers this bird was almost certainly a migrant, it was determinedly flying south at altitude. They are long distance migrants, wintering in sub-Saharan Africa, with tens of thousands crossing the Mediterranean, either via Italy or over Gibraltar, one of the great migration spectacles of the world.

The name honey-buzzard is a bit misleading though, the idea that they eat honey arises from their habit of digging out the nests of wasps, bees and hornets to eat the grubs. This food is available later in the summer but before this they will eat all kinds of insects, amphibians and even bird’s eggs.

A Marvellous Day

The first Sunday of the month is volunteer task day and this morning we were continuing work on the path between Goosander and Lapwing hide. The path is being trimmed back and the gravel surface cleaned of grass and other growth,. In addition we are opening up sheltered clearings along the path to increase interest. At one point we are making a solitary bee nesting bank, it is always worth making use of suitable ground for these kind of features which can be quiet rare.

Out on the reserve there were lots of visitors enjoying the cool sunshine. There were birds to see to, especially from Goosander hide where the feeding frenzy is still in full swing. There were 50 or more grey heron, several little egret, both great white egret and lots of cormorant, with gulls and grebes there to mop up the small fry.

The ferrunginous duck seems to have departed, probably for Kingfisher Lake and the wood sandpiper also appears to have left after a rather long stay. There was still a common sandpiper and at least 2 green sandpiper though and a rather unexpected redshank, not a bird we see much other than in spring and summer at Blashford.

Elsewhere there were 2 pintail on Ivy Lake along with 6 wigeon and I saw at least 300 coot on Rockford Lake. In the willows around the reserve there were good numbers of chiffchaff, but no other small migrants that I could locate. A few swallow were passing through, including at least one rather late adult, most at this time are juveniles. First thing this morning there were 60 or so house martin over Ibsley Water although I saw none later in the day.

Locking up there was a considerable gull roost developing and I noticed that there were a lot of very dark backed individuals amongst the lesser black-backed gull flock, a much higher percentage than we see in the winter, an indication of birds from further north and east in Europe passing through.

The sunshine brought out a few butterflies and I saw a good few speckled wood and several small copper around the reserve. The cool night was not the best for moths but the trap did contain one of my favourite species, a merveille du jour.

Merveille du Jour

merveille du jour

Other moths were red-line Quaker, large yellow underwing, lunar underwing, beaded chestnut, black rustic and deep-brown dart.

 

On the Fly

During the morning today, whilst the reserve was open to visitors, someone “lost” a load of garden waste on the access to the main car park. If anyone on the reserve either saw this happen or saw a vehicle nearby with a load of garden rubbish and might be able to help me return this lost property to its rightful owner please let me know.