Bittern not Stung

I am fairly sure that the bittern that spent a good part of the winter showing off by Ivy North Hide left on the night of Sunday 17th March, conditions were perfect and there were no records in the next couple of days. However a couple of brief sightings in since suggested I was wrong. This evening I saw a bittern from the hide, but it was not the bird that wintered there, being somewhat duller and, I think, smaller. This may be the second bid seen during the winter but which was chased off by the regular one, now able to hunt in peace, or perhaps a migrant.

The sun was warm today, although the wind was a little chilly. In shelter there were lot of insects about, I saw peacock, brimstone and small tortoiseshell and probably thousands of solitary bees. I was able to identify a few species, the commonest was yellow-legged mining bee then the grey-backed mining bee, nationally a very rare species, but abundant locally at Blashford Lakes. The only other I certainly identified was red-girdled mining bee. It was pleasing to see lots of female grey-backed miners as I had been seeing what I was convinced were males for several days, but they are very similar to the males of a commoner species, the females are much more distinctive. My first female was sunning itself on the new screen I was building beside Goosander Hide.

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female grey-backed mining bee catching some rays

I later went to see if there were any around the sandy bank we dug for bees a couple of seasons ago and there were, loads and loads of them!

grey-backed mining bee blog1

grey-backed mining bee female checking out a likely site to dig a nest hole.

The sound of the masses of bees was amazing, there really was a “Buzz in the air”, although solitary bees can sting they do not often do so and the vast majority of the bees around the bank were males, which have no sting, so it is possible to enjoy the experience with little risk.

I had the first report of sand martin at the nesting bank today, hopefully we will have a good few nesting pairs again this year.

Elsewhere reports of a glossy ibis at Fishlake Meadows was impressive as was that of a white stork very close by at Squabb Wood, Romsey

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Super Volunteers!

This winter we have been able to get a huge amount of winter scrub cutting done, thanks to the tremendous efforts of our dedicated volunteers. Altogether the volunteers have clocked up 587.5 hours on winter work parties between the 24th October and the 27th February. One block of scrub has been completely cleared and a second is very nearly cleared. This has opened up views across the reserve beautifully, and looks wonderful.

View from canal where scrub cleared 2019 3

View across the reedbed now opened up and lovely large dead hedge.

You may have noticed that the stumps have been left quite high, there are several reasons for this;

  • it’s easier for staff and volunteers to cut the stumps a bit higher.
  • if the stumps do regrow vigorously, it gives us scope to cut the stumps down lower and then still be able to treat them with herbicide.
  • as the stumps die off there will be standing dead wood created.

We have created more dead hedges and increased the size of existing ones with the material extracted. This is great habitat for many birds to forage for insects, get shelter and to nest. Keep an eye out for wrens, blackcaps and dunnocks in these dead hedges.

Spring is now fully on its way, in the last few weeks I have spotted many lovely signs of spring. The catkins on the willows have been out for quite a while and look lovely. At Blashford male adders are beginning to emerge quite regularly to bask when the temperatures are high enough.

Lesser periwinkle is in flower near the old pond to the rear of the centre at Blashford. Periwinkle are lovely flowers with asymmetrical petals so they look like fan blades or a windmill.

lesser periwinkle blashford march 19

The weather is staying mild and doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of turning, so we could have a very early start to nesting and breeding season, and a very successful spring for wildlife. Although, this is an indication that climate change is having a real impact, I’m not sure our wildlife will cope very well if we have another summer as dry as last year.

Nearly Re-Terned and Last Pop-up

We are nearly there, the Tern Hide reconstruction is getting close to completion. The structure is up, although the roof still has to be finished, then there are the banks and screens to put up and various other finishing elements to do, but we are nearing the end now. The project has not just been about the Tern Hide though.

There is a great new viewing platform on the bank to the rear of the main car park, which gives a fantastic view, not just of Ibsley water but a panorama of the whole valley, it could become a great place to watch migration.

Over at the Education Centre we have a new information hut and a second education pond, this is will allow us to reline the existing one which leaks badly, without having any time without a pond. There are also various other improvements to the lay-out that should make it much easier and safer for education groups and visitors as a whole.

Further out on the reserve there will be new signage and one or too surprises too. If you have not visited for a while you may also notice that we have done some further tree felling, this has been targeted at invasive Turkey oak and grey alder, in both cases removing these will allow space for more native trees to grow. Although the landscape value of such non-native trees can be positive, they harbour markedly less wildlife.

deer

roe deer

Although we are approaching the end there are still some restrictions in places, most notably the car parking at the Centre, which is being re-levelled and surfaced, please take notice of signage and temporary fences whilst this work is going on.

This work has been made possible thanks to a grant from the Veolia Environmental Trust.

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Despite all this work we have remained open for business as close to normal as possible. The bittern has been parading about, although it seems likely it has now departed. The ring-billed gull has been roosting on Ibsley Water, where there has also been a very fine drake garganey. At Woodland Hide there have been small numbers of redpoll and brambling among the chaffinch, goldfinch and reed bunting. On top of all this there are migrants arriving in moderate numbers with at least 27 sand martin yesterday and also blackcap, chiffchaff and little ringed plover.

This weekend sees the last appearance for the season of the Pop-up cafe, so if you do not make it to the reserve you will have to wait until next autumn for some of the best cake around.

Spring is all around with insect numbers increasing, numbers of moths have been rising and last night we saw our first brindled beauty of the year, following on from our first streamer and engrailed earlier in the week.

brindled beauty

brindled beauty

Numbers of solitary bees have been increasing too, including lot of what I think are male grey-backed mining bee, this is a very rare bee and the males are very similar to the much common ashy mining bee.

male Andrena

male mining bee, I think grey backed (Andrena vaga)

 

Still bittern…

Hard to believe, but it is past mid-March and we still have a bittern and it is still incredibly obliging and, unusually, seemingly very much habituated to the toing and froing of large camera lenses through the window openers. I’m not sure if there is anyway of actually knowing whether this particular bittern is the most photographed individual ever, but if not ever it must surely be the most photographed in the UK this winter!

Many thanks to Richard Jacobs for emailing these fantastic shots to blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk this week:

Although redpoll remain in evidence, brambling have very much been noticeable by their absence this Spring and continue to be very occasional rarities. Bullfinch on the other hand are being seen relatively regularly and often, as they usually are at this time of the year, on the willow buds – many thanks to Lynda Miller for sharing this gorgeous picture with us!

ADVANCE WARNING OF WORKS NEXT WEEK

Work continues next week with contractors continuing with the installation of the new Tern Hide. More significant to visitors will be the closure of the Centre car park either in its entirety, or possibly on occasion just in part, for all of next week and probably some of the following week as well. Please use the larger main reserve car park north of Ellingham Drove. The car park closure is to allow for the re-surfacing of both the car park itself and some of the teaching area at the back of the centre as well.

We appreciate that this will be frustrating to some, but is unfortunately necessary in order to carry out the works. Do keep an eye on the blog for further updates about the work which has been made possible thanks to funds from the Veolia Environmental Trust.

And Wildlife Too

Although the week on the reserve was undeniably hectic with contractors working away all over the place, it was still a week of wonderful wildlife.

The early surge of migrants dropped off when the wind and weather changed, but as we get into mid-March migrants are arriving anyway. Chiffchaff are now singing at various locations, sand martin are being seen occasionally and a little ringed plover has been a fixture on Ibsley Water, although hard to find hunkered down out of the wind.

Perhaps the most surprising bird on the reserve has been the bittern, which seems not to want to leave and has been giving good views day after day from Ivy North hide.

bittern square

The bittern remains lurking and often not, near Ivy North Hide

The adult ring-billed gull seems again to have become a regular fixture in the gull roost on Ibsley Water each evening, after having gone off somewhere or the mid-winter period.

The early butterflies have retreated due to lack of sunshine, but the occasional adder is still being seen and mild nights have resulted in good moth catches. Common Quaker are most abundant, but Hebrew character, small Quaker, twin-spotted Quaker, clouded drab and oak beauty have all been regular. Although not warm enough for butterflies, bees are made of sterner stuff. Buff-tailed bumble-bee queens are buzzing around and investigating potential nest sites between bouts of feeding, sallow catkins being one of their favourites.

Bombus terrestris and sallow catkins

buff-tailed bumble-bee visiting sallow flowers

There are also some solitary bees flying, so far only males that I have seen, they tend to emerge earlier than the females. Yellow-legged mining bee being the most common, but I found a blacker bee this week, I suspect it of being the rare grey-backed mining bee. The female is very distinctive but the males look similar to the much commoner ashy mining bee.

Andrena bee male

a male mining bee, I suspect grey-backed mining bee

The wonderful thing about spring is that you can see the things moving on day by day, even when the weather is poor, the imperative to get on with life pulls wildlife along, or perhaps pushes it. The costs of being late are probably to miss out on breeding, so this encourages getting earlier to steal a march on rivals, but get it wrong and starting too early and all can be lost.

Climate change is an added complication at this time of year when timing is so important and the costs of getting things wrong so high. Many species respond to temperature, but others to day length, or other factors or combinations of them. Many species will be dependent upon on another, bees need flowers for food but the plants need bees to pollinate them, sometimes the relationships are complex and the interdependence critical to survival. If the relationship is broken completely extinction is likely for one or both partners, but even stretching it will result in declines.

There is no doubt that our management or mismanagement of land, use of chemicals and casual approach to waste have all taken a serious  toll, the much publicised insect decline being just one result. We are now recognising some of this and some things have been turned around, ozone in the atmosphere being a good example of effective action.

However the really big threat is climate change and it will not be so easy to reverse, in fact halting it looks way beyond us at present. So it was really refreshing to see so many young people getting involved in a call for real action, showing that there is perhaps a generation who are seeing the big picture. The lack of engagement by the young in politics is often decried but maybe they are seeing what others are missing, the real issue is way beyond politics and certainly our current politicians. The environment not as special interest, but a matter of life and death.

 

A New Tern Hide Rising

The new Tern Hide is going up, work started on Monday with the footings, Tuesday saw the framework go up.

Hide construction starting base steel

Framework going in

Hide construction base steel

Going up

hide building frame

Taking shape

As you can see this is a somewhat different structure to the old hide. It has a steel frame and is raised off the ground, the old hide suffered when the floor started rotting out, not helped by the odd flood when water was flowing under the hide base.

Hide building 2

By the end of the day the panels are starting to go up

It will take time to get all the sides up and roof on, and then there are the windows and internal fixings to do, but work is progressing well despite the windy conditions.

hide construction ongoing

Starting to look like a hide now

The hide will have some higher level windows to make it easier to stand up and use a telescope on a tripod, hopefully a boon when doing a winter gull watch. Although it may not look it, it is larger in every dimension so it should also not get quiet so much of a crush when we do get a crowd in.

We have also made a more defined and level view point on the bank at the rear of the car park, which will give a great overall view of the lake and valley as a whole. Hopefully much better viewing all round.

I still do not expect work to be completed before the end of the month, but as you can see progress is now good.

This project has been made possible thanks to funds from the Veolia Environmental Trust.

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Willowing wasps

Last Wednesday a number of home educating families joined willow artist Kim Creswell to create three more sculptures for our ‘Wild Walk’, this time the subject was wasps!

Just like the dragonflies, the wasps were made in pieces and then put together at the end, so each young person had a body part to work on. We used a pairing weave to make sure our weaving was nice and secure and used a yellow and reddish willow for contrasting stripes (the red willow will go darker and blacker as it dries). Those making the abdomen had the most weaving to do:

The head was woven in a similar way, using shorter willow rods which were then bent over to create the face and allow eyes to be added:

After weaving the three body parts it was time to make the wings. These were made in the same way as the dragonfly wings, using twine to create a dream catcher effect within the willow wing framework. They did get good at blanket stitch!

With all the wings and body parts finished, it was time to put the wasps together. Firstly the thorax was attached to the abdomen, using a long willow rod to stitch the two together.

The head was attached in the same way and finally the wings were inserted and woven into place with willow.

The group worked really well to create the sculptures and were delighted with them. They are looking forward to seeing them up on the reserve as part of our ‘Wild Walk’. As mentioned in my last blog, the walk is the loop closest to the Education Centre that takes you past the Woodland Hide, Ivy South Hide, over the boardwalk and the bridge across the Dockens Water, then follows the path to the right, along the river and round to the larger bridge where we river dip with school groups and on family events.

Thanks again to the Veolia Environmental Trust for providing funding for the sculptures along the trail and the two workshops Kim has led for us.

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Weaving dragonflies

At the end of February our Young Naturalists worked with willow artist Kim Creswell to create three dragonfly sculptures that will form part of our new ‘Wild Walk‘. To those familiar with the reserve, the walk is the loop closest to the Education Centre that takes you past the Woodland Hide, Ivy South Hide, over the boardwalk and the bridge across the river then follows the path to the right, along the river and round to the larger bridge where we river dip with school groups and on family events.

The sculptures along the trail have been funded by the Veolia Environmental Trust and include the four chainsaw carved sculptures by Simon Groves as well as a number of willow sculptures by Kim. Kim is back with us tomorrow to work with a small group of children and young people from our local Home Educators group who will be having a go at weaving wasps for the walk, and will also be bringing some willow deer with her which we are very much looking forward to seeing!

Kim began by sharing her plan of the dragonflies with the Young Naturalists, before dividing them up into three groups and giving each individual a body part to work on, either the head, thorax, abdomen or wings.

Dragonfly plan

Dragonfly plan

She then got them started with the willow, demonstrating how to create the basic shape of each body part before getting them started with the weaving.

It was then time to add a bit more detail by giving the dragonflies some eyes, Megan did a great job with hers, adding the willow until they became quite bulbous.

After creating between them three heads, three thorax’s, three abdomens and 12 wings, it was time to lie the parts out on a picnic bench and put them together.

The group were really pleased with their finished dragonflies and they did a great job weaving them. They looked great against a lovely blue sky!

Finished dragonfly

Group with their dragonflies

Whilst we were finishing off we also had time for a bit of wildlife watching, finding a number of Alder leaf beetles on one of the posts behind the new pond, along with a frog.

Alder beetle

Alder leaf beetle

Frog

Frog

Thanks to Kim for teaching the group how to weave a dragonfly from willow, we’re really looking forward to seeing them up along the trail. Hopefully some photos of willow wasps and deer will follow!

Thanks too to Veolia Environmental Trust for providing funding for the sculptures along our ‘Wild Walk‘, including the two workshops with Kim. I know they are already proving very popular with our younger visitors!vet-logo

A Pond (more or less)

One of the parts of the current improvement project on the reserve is the digging of  a new dipping pond behind the Education Centre. You may ask why we need a new one when we already have one. The answer is the old one has a leak and needs repair, but to do this it needs draining and so will mean we would have no pond for dipping for perhaps a year. The new pond will allow us to effect the repair and eventually to have two ponds, which will mean that neither gets too disturbed as we will be able to spread the dipping activity between them. Below are a series of shots showing the pond developing up to today, when it is about half full of water thanks to a bit of much needed rain.

 

Just starting

pond work starts

pond work

pond digging

The pond moving on

pond progress

pond filling

The project is funded by the Veolia Environmental Trust.

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Next week work should start on installation of the new Tern Hide, so watch this space for further updates.

I know I probably overdid the bittern pictures last night but here is one from this morning anyway!

bittern

Bittern in the sunshine

Some Things are Hard to Swallow

A rough day on the reserve today, but despite this there were reports of at least eight sand martin over Ibsley Water, so Spring migrants are still arriving. I missed seeing the martins but did see a little ringed plover. Other birds today were a small flock of black-tailed godwit which flew over, a single dunlin, the black-necked grebe, now in breeding plumage and a brambling. The bittern continues to be seen at Ivy North Hide, it is getting very late for it to still be here. At the end of the day it was sitting hunkered down in the reeds near the hide, looking miserable after a wet and windy day.

bittern 01

Miserable looking bittern

It did not look as though it was interested in anything other than keeping out of the wind and rain, however something caught its attention.

bittern 2

What was that?

It certainly seemed worth investigating.

bittern 3

Got to go and take a look

It certainly was!

bittern 4

Definitely worth taking a look

Having made the capture the next trick is was to manoeuvre it into a swallowable position.

bittern 5

sideways is no good

Turning a pike this big whilst it is still alive is no easy task.

bittern 6

Too good a meal to let go

Even when turned it was to wide to get down with mouth agape.

bittern 7

Eventually the head was in

Now it was only going to go one way.

bittern 8

Almost gone

It is a good thing they have expanding necks!

bittern 9

Gone

It then stalked off, passing close to the hide to spend the night digesting, I would guess it won’t be flying off tonight so should still be around for at least another day.

bittern 10

Heading off to do a little digesting

A cracking way to end the day!