Reports and a Bit of Garden Wildlife

5th October reports from Blashford showed that all the main player are still present. On Ibsley Water the ferruginous duck was still around the north end of the Long Spit visible from either or both of Tern  and Goosander hides. The wood sandpiper seems to have relocated to the shore near Lapwing hide, with both common and green sandpipers also still present to “complete the set”. A few wigeon and a single pintail are mingling with the wildfowl and it is worth checking for the occasionally reported juvenile garganey. Both great white egret and several little egret were also about.

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Little egret with both great white egrets and “Walters” rings clearly showing – photographed yesterday from Goosander Hide and emailed in by Christine Whiffen.

Over on Ivy Lake the bittern was seen on the edge of the reeds near Ivy North hide, viewed from the screen along the path between Ivy Lake and Rockford Lake.

I was not at Blashford myself so my wildlife sightings were restricted to my garden and especially the moth trap, a mild, calm, damp night resulted in a good catch of autumnal species.

angle shades

angle shades

The angle shades is perhaps the moth most adapted to hiding in piles of dead leaves and a species that can be seen as an adult all through the year.

dark sword-grass

dark sword-grass

The dark sword-grass is a migrant and although they can turn up at almost anytime, they are mush more frequent in autumn.

deep-brown dart

deep-brown dart

Whilst some autumn moths are yellow to hide in autumn leaves, others just go down the very dull and unobtrusive route, the deep-brown dart is one such species.

feathered ranunculus

feathered ranunculus

Feathered ranunculus is an autumn species that lives mainly around the coasts on cliffs. It colonised the mainland coast of Hampshire in the late 1970s. I remember this well as I was working at Titchfield Haven at the time and caught a number of them, indicating that there were established on the mainland and not just wandering from the Isle of Wight.

southern chestnut

southern chestnut

The southern chestnut was first discovered in Britain in 1990 in Sussex. At the time it was considered that it had previously been overlooked, this may be so, but what is certain is that it has increased greatly since and is now quiet frequent across the New Forest heaths and in similar habitat elsewhere in southern England.

Other species in the trap included large yellow underwing, lesser yellow underwing, lunar underwing, willow beauty, shuttle-shaped dart, black rustic, turnip, sallow, pine carpet, spruce carpet, cypress carpet, square-spot rustic and broad-bordered yellow underwing.

I have recently found a new species in my garden, a most unusual plant, called yellow dodder. The dodders are parasitic plants that have roots only as small seedlings and once their tendrils have found a host the tap into the plant to gain all their nutrients and do away with their own roots. There are native species of dodder that can be seen on gorse and heather plants, especially in the New Forest, yellow dodder is not a native and comes from the Americas, almost certainly with bird seed and most likely in nyger seed and this plant was climbing up a self-seeded nyger plant, supporting this idea.

yellow dodder on nyger plant

yellow dodder on nyger plant

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A night on the reserve…

Last week a number of our Young Naturalists spent the night at Blashford, camping out under shelters they had made themselves, cooking dinner and breakfast over the camp fire and embarking on a night time adventure around the reserve.

The Young Naturalists project has been shortlisted for the Young People category of Hampshire’s 10th annual Countryside Awards, organised by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). With judging taking place over the summer, they began their camp out by hosting the judges and showing them some of the activities they enjoy taking part in and some of the areas they have worked in around the reserve. We went through the light trap, looking at and having a go at identifying the moths, then wowed our important visitors with the variety of life found in the pond. After pond dipping, we headed off to the woodland to show them the log circle the group had replaced last June and the Woodland Hide.

After the judges had left us, it was time to think about setting up camp and we selected our materials and headed over to our camp area. It had been incredibly hot during the day, but we were expecting rain overnight and possibly some rumbles of thunder, so all were keen to construct a good shelter and we had a nice variety of designs:

It was then time to think about food so we gathered firewood and got the fire going, prepared an extravagant dinner of jacket potatoes, fish and a vegetable bean chilli and began cooking once the fire had died down a little.

Whilst cooking and eating dinner, and pudding, we enjoyed a stunning sunset:

Stunning sky

It was then time to head off into the night in search of some wildlife! We had already set the light trap, set some mammal traps near the Centre and locked the Woodland and Ivy lake hides, so decided to venture over the road towards the Clear Water Pond and Goosander Hide. Armed with bat detectors, torches and Bob’s homemade moth gloop (a sticky concoction of unrefined sugar, treacle and half a bottle of bitter, designed hopefully to attract moths if painted liberally onto tree trunks), we headed off into the night.

Our bat detectors soon picked up the characteristic ‘wet slaps’ or ‘smacks’ of both Common and Soprano pipistrelles as we passed the lichen heath and paused near the bridge over the Dockens Water. As we followed the path along the Dockens we painted some of the trees with our moth gloop, in the hope that on our return a little later something may have been attracted to the sweet syrup:

Painting trees with moth gloop

After carefully crossing the road we followed the path around the Clear Water Pond towards Goosander Hide and were rewarded with a bat feeding frenzy, picking up Daubenton’s bat and more Pipistrelles. Whilst Daubenton’s bat are picked up on the bat detector at the same frequency as Common pipistrelle, they can be distinguished by a different call, a rapid series of regular ‘clicks’ which resemble rapid machine gun fire. We enjoyed listening to them and spent a while watching them dive low over the water and fly overhead.

It was then time to head back to the Education Centre and we had a lot of painted trees to check on the way. On our way back we spotted slugs, spiders, woodlice (the only thing really attracted to Bob’s moth gloop) and a toad.

After not a lot of sleep (we had rain and a couple of rumbles of thunder, but luckily, with the exception of volunteer Geoff’s, our tarp shelters stood up to the test) it was time to think about cooking breakfast. Geoff had been up bright and early and got the fire going again for us, after rather a soggy nights sleep (sorry Geoff!), so we cooked breakfast then headed off to open up the hides, top up the bird feeders and check the light trap.

You may have spotted the tent in the first picture, this was Jess and Maddy’s plan D, after seeing the forecast for the night and taking three attempts to make their shelter. They retreated here at about 3 o’clock in the morning, not beaten by the weather (their shelter was bone dry, Geoff would have loved it!) but by the slugs…

Our final task of the morning, aside from taking down our shelters and tidying camp, was to check the mammal traps we had put out the night before. We were rewarded with two bank voles and two wood mice, out of the ten we had set – not a bad catch!

Thank you all the Young Naturalists who joined us for a night on the reserve, and a really big thank you to volunteers Geoff, Nigel and Emily for giving up their time too!

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

Row, row, row your boat

As yesterday was so gloriously sunny, our Young Naturalists enjoyed a day exploring the further reaches of the reserve and finishing off a fun task started back in January at our volunteer get together.

We began the day though with our usual rummage through the light trap, where the group were thrilled with a good selection to identify, their best so far this year. Our haul included the following: white ermine, cinnabar, treble lines, poplar hawkmoth, common marbled carpet, marbled brown, orange footman, common white wave, angle shades, light brocade, brown silver lines, common pug and marbled minor. Here are a few photographs taken by Young Naturalist Talia Felstead:

Common marbled carpet

Common marbled carpet

Cinnabar

Cinnabar

Poplar hawkmoth

Poplar hawkmoth

Light brocade

Light brocade

Marbled brown

Marbled brown

White ermine

White ermine

IMG_1543

Angle shades

It was then time to undertake a practical task with a difference, the lining of the coracle made earlier in the year at our volunteer get together. Coracles are small oval shaped boats traditionally used in Wales, but also in parts of western and south western England, Ireland and Scotland. Designed for use in swiftly flowing streams they have been in use for centuries, primarily by fishermen.

The structure is usually made up of a framework of split and interwoven willow rods, a material which we have plenty of here on the reserve, so it seemed silly not to take the plunge (literally) and attempt our own Blashford coracle.

Coracle frame

Our willow framework and wooden seat

The group were up for the challenge of finishing it off, cutting a slightly less traditional liner out of some left over pond liner from Testwood Lakes – thank you Testwood! This outer layer would have originally been an animal skin, covered with a thin layer of tar to make it fully waterproof. Today this has been replaced with tarred calico or canvas, with the Blashford way being whatever we could lay our hands on. So pond liner it was!

We carefully cut the liner to size, before Bella came up with the idea of looping cord through slits cut in the liner and weaving it in and out of the liner and willow rods. It was then time to take it down to the river for the all important will it float test…funnily enough no one else was brave or silly enough to give it a go:

She floats

Looking slightly dubious

Looking concerned

Getting ready…

 

Excitingly, it floats rather well, I think to the disbelief of some of the Young Naturalists, and possibly volunteers! So now we can get cracking with the rest of the flotilla…with plans already in place for a coracle themed Wild Day Out for the older children in the summer holidays.

After lunch we headed over to the northern side of the reserve on a wildlife hunt. We quickly spotted large numbers of Common blue damselflies sunning themselves on the gravel, moving a little further ahead as we approached them:

Common blue 3

Common blue damselfly

We headed up to Lapwing hide where on entering we were greeted with this view of a Canada goose with seven goslings:

Canada goose goslings 2

Canada goose goslings

Canada goose goslings 3

Canada goose with goslings

We stayed for a while, spotting a couple of herons, a little grebe and watching a Common tern fishing over Ibsley Water before perching on one of the posts:

Common tern

Common tern

On our way back, Edie somehow spotted this Elephant hawkmoth in the long grass to the right of the path:

Elephant hawk moth

Elephant hawkmoth

Finally, our last wildlife spot was this Beautiful demoiselle, which perched beautifully for a photo:

Beautiful demoiselle 2

Beautiful demoiselle

Thanks Talia for taking the photos!

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

A Touch of Frost

With three millimetres of rain and overnight temperature a low single figure, it certainly feels more like autumn now.

The final butterfly transects, we have been monitoring them now since early April, were completed this week. The surveyors haven’t been bothered by huge numbers of butterflies, although understand we still have quite a few speckled wood butterflies,

speckled wood

speckled wood

 

37 were seen on the north transect, plus a good number of comma (16) and five red admiral on the south section.

Other signs of autumn are the burgeoning numbers of fungi, like this troop, of I believe lycoperdon sp.(?),  I saw beside the path.

 

lycoperdon species?

lycoperdon species?

Whilst bird numbers aren’t particularly spectacular yet, the range of species is increasing slowly. One lucky couple saw what they are sure was a honey buzzard in the Ibsley Water area.  More prosaically I only managed a few of the more common species, like this lapwing

lapwing

lapwing

and a couple of young little grebe, or dabchick, with a coot.

coot and dabchick

coot and dabchick

 

A final flurry of, mostly fairly inconspicuous, flowers is providing a little colour around the place, but most are well past their best.

P1540544 geranium

cut-leaved geranium(?)

common storksbill

common storksbill

dark mullein

dark mullein

On the ‘light  trap’ front, we are still attracting hornets,

hornet

hornet

 

but a number of colourful moths as well.

pink-barred sallow

pink-barred sallow

 

frosted orange

frosted orange

angle shades

angle shades

Oranges and Lemons

After a three week break of duty, it made a pleasant change to be opening up the reserve and be greeted by a common sandpiper immediately outside the Tern Hide.  Ibsley Water bore  its usual compliment of waterfowl. Mute swans were much in evidence, not only as their physical presence, but from the large scale scattering of innumerable moulted white feathers floating across the lake.  Duck numbers are building up with representatives of several species including gadwall, tufted duck, wigeon,  mallard and shoveler. As usual at this time of year it can be quite difficult to sort many of them out as the usually distinctive drakes have moulted into a somewhat drab ‘eclipse’ plumage, similar to the females.  This is thought to be a survival mechanism, making them less conspicuous whilst they moult their flight feathers. Large numbers of lapwing are now making use of the shingle spit to the east of the tern hide and are accompanied by several (we counted fourteen) Egyptian geese.

Although we are still experiencing warm weather the numbers of insects have dropped dramatically since I was last here. A male Southern Hawker dragonfly was periodically patrolling the pond behind the Education Centre, but only a few large white butterflies and a red admiral were much in evidence.

The moth trap hasn’t been set out  much lately, but Jim kindly put it on for us last night.  Our reward was some seventeen species of moth, but the downside was  a fairly large number of wasps – sorry don’t know what species – plus a couple of LARGE hornets, which made emptying the trap somewhat challenging…

A rather sleepy hornet .

A rather sleepy hornet .

Other ‘interlopers’ were this rather nice shield bug,

Shieldbug

Shield bug

and a number of what , with their smooth outlines, look to me like water beetles

Water beetle?

Water beetle?

Not many of the moths were, to be frank, that dramatic or spectacular, although the rather ‘dead leaf’ looking angle shades is always good value

Angle shades

Angle shades

and also in among them this Frosted Orange

Frosted Orange

Frosted Orange

and a number of species with a distinct yellow (lemon?) hue, including this Canary-shouldered Thorn..

Canary-shouldered Thorn

Canary-shouldered Thorn

Season of Mist and a Feeder Frenzy

The harsh sting of autumn, with forebodings of  winter, struck home this morning as I  scraped the frost from the car windscreen before setting off to get here. Such conditions can, however, have their compensations, imbuing  even some of the most familiar views with a  magical mystique as here, where the mist seems to be boiling off the lake.

Misty view over Ivy Lake

It also makes plain some of the activity of often overlooked wildlife with the drapery of icy droplets on  this spider’s web.

Spider’s web outside Ivy South Hide.

It’s also the season for fungi in abundance and we are not under-endowed here at Blashford,  just don’t ask me to name them all,. Here are a few that I’m prepared to stick my neck out on their names,  seen as we opened up the hides this morning.

Candle Snuff fungus

Lycoperdon species – I think

Fly Agaric

This last one is so distinctive as to be unmistakable, a much-loved fungus by the illustrators of children’s books.   These particular fungi do, however, have other connotations. Their common name refers to  use as an insecticide  to poison flies.   They grow in close association with birches and are, therefore, very common in the dense birch forests of northern Scandinavia.   The toxin, which is  presumably the agent that kills flies, is,  in small amounts, a psychoactive agent causing hallucinations (so I’m told!).  One version of  folklore (other versions are available) suggests that in the long dark and boring nights above the Arctic circle the fly agaric would be introduced into the food for the domesticated reindeer (they normally eat lichen and fungi anyway).  Drinking the fluid that the reindeer excreted would deliver a ‘safe’, diluted  dose of the toxin and give the drinker a ‘high’ including feelings of being able to fly.  So if we mix all these factors together, something ( someone!)  red and white , reindeer and flying, in a land near the North Pole gives us —-well I’ll let you think it through, answers by Christmas.

The colder weather has increased the amount of bird activity around the feeders, especially the one close to the Centre. I mentioned, in Thursday’s posting, that we were in the process of adding some more feeders.   At the time we lacked the necessary low tensile wire on which to hang the feeders, but that has now been supplied, thanks to one of our volunteers, Rex, who, with Pete, put up the posts on Thursday. The result looks a lot like this :-

New feeding station by edge of Centre car park

Only two feeders at present, we’ll probably add more as the season progresses and the number of birds increases. Gratifyingly within a couple of hours there were several birds making use of the new facility, including a robin and this great tit.

Great tit investigating the new feeder

Even more satisfyingly, for the present at least, an inquisitive grey squirrel made an exploratory foray to try to get at the seeds, but failed.

In anticipation of a busy winter we used the opportunity of the warm sunshine to set-to and clean about a dozen feeders that had been put away over the summer, but which needed cleaning before being used again.  At the moment the usual collection of tits including a couple of very smart coal tits, together with nuthatch, greenfinch and a selection of siskin, goldfinch and the occasional redpoll with, I’m assured by at least two visitors, a brambling have been our guests at the  feeders.

Although cold overnight, this hasn’t deterred a few insects from strutting their stuff.  A slightly disappointing collection of only four moths in the light trap,  but two of these were rather smart Angle Shades

Angle Shades – one of only four moths in the light trap

Of the other insects, a pair of Southern Hawker dragonflies were seen by some visitors, but for me this  Common Darter seems epitomise the innate optimism of an evolutionary process that pushes to the boundary the idea of a sensible time to shift from a growing phase  to a  reproductive stage in what is the fag-end of the warm season.

Common Darter – resting up whilst its wings harden

Our attention was drawn to this insect  by the brightly glistening wings, which I’ve always taken as a sign that it’s not long emerged. There is also a definite red colour to the veins in the wings, but I don’t think it’s a Red-veined Darter –or is it??

Closing down tonight was a delight. The last duty is to close the Tern Hide and we spent about 20 minutes enjoying good views of the, mostly, Black-backed gulls coming to roost, a number of waterfowl  including good numbers of coot, tufted duck, shoveler, a few wigeon and teal and a single female goosander,  shades of things to come.  A buzzard, sitting on the recently cleared peninsular to the right of the hide, mysteriously disappeared when we took our eyes off it for a few seconds, but a couple of Egyptian geese hauled themselves out in much the same area that the buzzard had been. Could they have frightened him off????

Migrants and a Tipster

Bird News: Ibsley Watercommon tern 7, common sandpiper 1+, goldeneye 2, little ringed plover 2+, house martin 2, swallow 2+, sand martin 40+. Lichen Heath wheatear 2. Ivy Lakewillow warbler 2+, reed warbler 1.

Although there have been a few reports in recent days, I had not seen a common sandpiper this spring until the one on the shore outside the Tern hide this morning.  There was also a pair of little ringed plover displaying and two pairs of lapwing both competing for the shingle area in front of the hide. The lapwing dispute got quite heated but when it quietened down the female of the resident pair settle to preen in the sunshine.

female lapwing

Crossing to Ivy Lake to open the hides I saw a female wheatear on the Lichen Heath, my first at Blashford this spring, it remained all day and when I went to lock up had been joined by a fine male. It was evident that there had been an arrival of migrants overnight as there were 2 or more willow warbler singing and int he Ivy Silt Pond a singing reed warbler, another first for the year.

The night had been quite cold so I was not expecting much from the moth trap and the catch was small, but included an angle shades.

angle shades

It was a very fine morning and so we went for a short walk on the reserve before doing the work rota for the next few months. It was the first time I had seen the sand martins actually over the nesting bank this year, although there are still not many around, whilst at the Goosander hide we saw 7 common tern over Ibsley Water, although they seemed to have gone by the time I locked up so perhaps they were not our nesting birds. There was also a pair of goldeneye, seemingly the last ones left over from the winter. On the way back to the Centre we passed a male orange-tip, that for once was not resting with wings closed and I managed to get a picture that shows the “orange-tips”.

male orange-tip

The woods on the reserve are very noisy with bird song just now. I was standing briefly just south of the Woodland hide on my way around to lock up at the end of the day and I could hear garden, reed and Cetti’s warblers, blackcap, wren, robin, song thrush and dunnock all at once.