30 Days Wild – Day 15

The summer is moving on and I am delighted to say that I have seen the first common tern chicks of the year, under a month from the day the rafts went out. They will usually lay three eggs on consecutive days and then incubate them for about 21 days. They have had 28 days since the rafts went out so they got down to nesting very quickly! Some have not yet hatched and the off-duty birds can still be seen taking it easy before the real work of feeding the chicks starts.

common tern - Copy

common tern having a good preen whilst there it still has some “Me time”

The black-headed gulls are much more advanced and a few chicks are flying now, with a lot more to come.

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Gulls on a raft with lots of chicks

There have been a lot of mallard broods about for a while, but I saw my first brood of gadwall yesterday, although they were already fairly well grown. They breed much later than mallard and prefer a warm dry summer, so this should be a good year for them.


gadwall and brood, there were actually 8 ducklings in all.

Grasses don’t get much attention, but Blashford does have a large population of one particularly distinctive species, the annual beard grass, it normally grows near the coast but finds conditions on the reserve quite suitable, despite being inland.

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annual beard grass



30 Days Wild – Day 23: Priorities

Finally a day when it was cool enough to get out on site with some machinery to get some of the paths trimmed. This is not the most glamorous of reserve management tasks but it has to be done. Managing a nature reserve is full of conflicting demands and dilemmas. No management is without impact and what is positive for one group of species will be negative for others. Trimming the paths often means cutting back nettles, as most will know these are the food plant of peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies, so I try to avoid cutting the patches in full sun which they prefer and to do larger scale cutting only after they caterpillars have finished feeding.


a fresh summer brood small tortoiseshell

The clearance of dense nettlebeds promotes patches of grassland and other herbage which is preferred by a wider range of species such as small skipper, which have just started to fly this year.


small skipper

Over the years I have managed many different sites used for various purposes, ranging from nature reserves, long distance paths, picnic sites and Country Parks and these dilemmas occur at all of them. In truth all land management involves conflicting interests and all land is in multiple use. On a nature reserve wildlife will take precedence over most of the site, but access and safety will be paramount in some areas. I do believe that whatever the land use, it is wrong to deny the multiple interests, land management is about balancing interests not ignoring some entirely. Above all management should be about maintaining and enhancing the possibilities that are available for the future, good management is about increasing potential not applying a full stop.

Following Day 22’s horsefly picture I got another, this time of a male Hybomitra species in flight. This one is Hybomitra distinguenda and they fly very fast indeed, the picture was taken at 1/4000 sec and the wings are still in motion.


Hybomitra distinguenda

It is reputed that a species of this genus, albeit a rather large one from Southern Africa is the fastest flying insect having allegedly been clocked at 90 mph!

I have noted before how Blashford has many species that have come in from elsewhere, often due to the somewhat chequered industrial history. We have a number of coastal species including a very large population of annual beard grass, perhaps the largest in    the county, the natural habitat for it is poached upper saltmarsh, such a scan be found at Farlington Marshes.


Mayweed flower in annual beard grass.




30 days Wild – Day 12: Dusk Excursion

It is always interesting to go to new places, but for lots of reasons not always possible to get to them. An alternative is to go to familiar places at different times. I quite often visit the area at the western side of the mouth of Southampton Water around Calshot and Fawley, but I don’t think I have been there at dusk in the summer before.

The area known as Tom Tiddler’s lies south of the now defunct Fawley Power Station and is reclaimed land that has lain unused for decades. In this time it has developed into a mosaic of scrub, rough grassland and reedbed habitats. It is home to lots of reed warbler, whitethroat, Cetti’s warbler and a few sedge warbler, it even has nightingale on occasion. All of these species were singing as they often do at dusk when the weather is fine.

However it was the many small moths that caught my eye, there were lots of them, but as I did not have a net with me I had to wait until they landed and creep up to get a look if I was going to see what species they were. Most turned out to be small “Grass moths” mainly Chrysoteuchia culmella and most of the rest were a small macro moth, the round-winged muslin.

round-winged muslin 2

round-winged muslin

As this was more of a dusk wander than a walk I also looked in a few places I had just gone never looked previously, particularly the small shingle ridges. I was surprised to find a number of plants of stabilised shingle, including annual beard grass, sea kale, sea sandwort and sea holly. This last was a particular surprise as I know it is quiet scarce plant in Hampshire and mainly found on Hayling Island.

30 Days Wild – Day 16

Thursday at Blashford Lakes is volunteer day and we spent the morning clearing nettles along the path edges and around the Woodland hide. As we worked at the Woodland hide we had fly over views of a hobby, but in general nettle pulling is not that compatible with seeing wildlife.

We got away without getting wet in the morning but the afternoon turned out to be one of steady rain, although we avoided the heavy thunder storms that rolled around us.

At each end of the day there were several Mediterranean gull outside the Tern hide, in the morning 3 adults and one first summer and in the afternoon 2 adults. There was also a single second summer yellow-legged gull.

My only picture today is of a scarce coastal grass and one of rather few that I can identify as it grew at Farlington Marshes where I worked for years. It is annual beard grass and is actually common in some areas at Blashford, where it probably arrived on the wheels of a gravel truck. It is very distinctive with large fluffy flower heads and in this shot they are covered in rain drops.

annual beard grass

annual beard grass (Polypogon monspeliensis)

I also rather like the Latin name.

One Wheel on my Wagon

Usually a warm night such as we had would have resulted in a bumper moth trap catch, a sit was the catch was good by this year’s standards, but not great. there were a few species that were new for the year including obscure wainscot and shoulder striped wainscot and a Pyralid moth Pempelia palumbella.

Pampelia palumbella

I have mentioned before that it is not only moths that get caught in the moth trap and one of the other things today was a horsefly, this one was one of the common species Tabanus bromius. All horseflies have patterned eyes, formed both by the colours and the different sizes of the eye facets.

Tabanus bromius

As it was Thursday the volunteers were out on the reserve today, this is not the best time of year in terms of the jobs that need doing, but despite this sixteen people turned out to pull ragwort along the shore of Ibsley Water. We did take a look at the sand martin bank on the way which is always good, not as busy as last year but still very good to watch. We did  find rather a lot of ragwort, but not nearly as much as last year. We did not get to clear the grassy spit of land between the Goosander and Lapwing hides as there was at least one lapwing chick there and we did not want to disturb it.

On our way back at the end of the task I noticed the annual beard grass int the area south of the Goosander hide was looking good. This grass is really a species of upper saltmarshes but somehow it got to Blashford and finds the poor silty soils, especially where they are wet in winter, very much suitable habitat.

annual beard grass

The plan was to go and ring some more black-headed gull chicks this evening, but before that could happen I had to fix the trailer wheel and bearing, luckily I had the parts and it proved an easy task. We went out to ring some chicks, but got only twelve. On my way back the bearing on the other trailer wheel failed! Luckily I had bought two, so it should be easy to sort it out, I guess they had both just reached the end of their working life.

There was rather little else to report, although at least two more common tern chicks had flown when I looked from the Ivy South hide this morning.