Back to some birds

I have been off for the week and today was my first day back. In my absence the reserve has turned green! Many of the trees have leaves bursting through and around the lakes emergent plants are doing what they do best and emerging.

The change of seasons is very apparent, with Ibsley Water having swallow, sand martin and a few house martin swooping over at least 47 wigeon and a goldeneye, reminders of winter. A fine adult little gull was hunting insects over the lake in the morning, but seemed to have gone in the afternoon. The rain of early afternoon brought in a flock of 25 Arctic tern, always a treat and at the end of the day some of them had joined the 4 common tern on the shingle near Tern hide giving a great comparison.

Migrants generally are still rather few apart from chiffchaff and blackcap, which are both around the reserve in good numbers. Today I found just singles of willow warbler and reed warbler, we usually have just one pair of willow warbler but there should be many more reed warbler to come.

Other more random sightings I had today included a red kite, a pair of mandarin duck, 4 goosander and 3 snipe. I also had reports of 2 white wagtail and a common sandpiper.

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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

Late Spring Colour

After a few days of properly sunny weather things are picking up on the reserve now, with more and more insects in evidence each day. There are lots of damselflies about and today I added azure damselfly to my species list for the year. I also saw my first Blashford holly blue and small copper today, often the spring brood of small copper can pass almost un-noticed, so maybe there will be really big numbers by the autumn, something to look forward to. The holly blue was near the Centre, first spotted flying round the tree tops but then it dropped down to drink from the damp ground beside the puddle outside the Centre entrance.

holly blue drinking

holly blue drinking

The recent southerly winds have also resulted in a modest arrival of large white and red admiral, fresh in from the south.

red damiral

red admiral

Other insects today included common malachite beetle, the more frequent cousin to the very rare and beautiful scarlet malachite beetle, which is actually found within just a couple of miles of the reserve.

common malachite beetle

common malachite beetle

The most notable insect of the day though was a rather rare and splendid hoverfly, a species associated with old woodland and no doubt on the reserve because of our direct link to the New Forest, it goes by the name Brachypalpoides lentus. It flies about through the vegetation like a parasitic wasp and even mimics their behaviour by trembling its body when at rest, just as the wasps do.

Brachypalpoides lentus

Brachypalpoides lentus

There are a lot more flowers coming out now, which probably pleases the insects, the hawthorn is in full bloom as is the broom, although I think our broom is actually a planted alien species called hairy-fruited broom rather than the native.

broom

broom in flower

The day was not wholly about insects though. On Ibsley Water the immature little gull is still to be seen, usually just to the east of Tern hide. A little further away on the longer shingle spit there was a very smart drake garganey this morning and as I locked up there was a single Arctic tern over the lake with the usual dozen or so common tern.

 

Bank Holiday Birds with a Twist

A rainy August Bank Holiday and unsurprisingly Blashford was not very busy with visitors, although there were quiet a few birds of interest. When I opened the hides the great white egret was perched in front of Ivy North and at Ivy South 3 wigeon hint at the winter to come. I had hoped for a few waders or terns to drop in, rain often forces them down from their high level flights overland, but all Ibsley Water had to offer were a couple of common sandpiper. The rain had forced in a huge flock of hirundines to feed low over the water though, I estimated at least a thousand, roughly 40% swallow, 40% house martin and 20% sand martin.

Having just returned from holiday I had a backlog of office work to deal with, being in the office was not so bad when the rain was pouring down outside. Still by lunchtime I had to get out for a bit and went over to the Tern hide to see if anything had changed, the answer was yes. There were terns, only three but they were 2 adult common tern and a  juvenile Arctic tern. There were also more waders, I counted at least 4 and probably 6 common sandpiper, also a dunlin, a little ringed plover and a juvenile little stint. In addition 14 shoveler were flushed by a grey heron and flew over to Mockbeggar Lake.

The rain continued and I returned to the office. Luckily by mid afternoon it stopped and so before doing the round for locking up I went for a quick look on the edge of the lichen heath, in search of Autumn lady’s-tresses, a small orchid that seems to be having a good year. As far as I know it has only been recorded once at Blashford and that some years ago. I looked pretty hard, even using binoculars and was about to give up when I found one, only one, but a good size for this usually small species.

Autumn lady's tresses

Autumn lady’s-tresses

Admittedly not as big as it looks in the picture, perhaps 12cm high. Their Latin name is Spiranthes spiralis and it is easy to see how it got the name from the way the flowers twist around the stem. The recent rain has greened up the heath and caused lots of the plants to flower again, the blue fleabane being especially abundant.

blue fleabane

blue fleabane

When I closed up the Tern hide all I could find of the earlier birds was the Arctic tern and a couple of common sandpiper, so perhaps the improvement in the weather had persuaded the rest to move on. Even the hirundines has mostly gone leaving more or less just sand martin, although I estimated there were now over 300 of them.

A Mighty Perch has Landed

I will try and make up for the lack of any posts over the last few days by doing a short run through recent times at Blashford. On Thursday the volunteers were again busy on the western shore of Ibsley Water, raking up the grass, nettles, thistles and brambles that Ed and I were cutting. The idea is to encourage grass growth for wintering wildfowl such as wigeon and for them to leave the grass short enough for it to be suitable for lapwing to nest on in the spring. It is  a lot  of work but we are progressing steadily and hopefully we will see the effects this coming winter. It was quite warm and as we worked there were lots of butterflies, especially marbled white, meadow brown and gatekeeper.

gatekeeper

gatekeeper

At the end of the day on Thursday Ed and I set out to complete a project that he had been planning for some time, this was to put up a tall perch well out in Ibsley Water. As Ibsley Water is mostly between four and seven metres deep this was going to be quite a task.

transporting the perch

transporting the perch

After a bit of searching around for the right spot and the application of specialist perch placing skill the job was done.

the perch in place

the perch in place

All we have to do now is wait for the first osprey to land on it! So far all I have seen are common terns.

terns on the perch

terns on the perch

It was my turn to man the reserve on Saturday and despite mostly attending to office work it was a surprisingly varied day. It started with seeing a very smart adult summer plumage turnstone in front of Tern hide.

turnstone - almost a good shot, I knew we should have weeded the shore!

turnstone – almost a good shot, I knew we should have weeded the shore!

It was around all day and I am sure there will have been many good pictures taken of it, but this was my best.

turnstone

turnstone

In recent days there have been several reports of an adult Arctic tern at the Tern hide, apparently it had a ring on one leg. I photographed this one which fitted the bill in that it has a ring and a, more or less, all red bill, however this is still a common tern.

common tern, ringed adult

common tern, ringed adult

At this time of year many adult common terns bills have reduced black tips, or even no black at all, so you need to check other characters as well. In this case these are easily seen as it is perched so close to the hide. The characters to look for are: dark, almost black outer primaries (the long pointed part of the wings), on a common tern these feathers are old and very worn by now, on an Arctic tern they would be much paler grey. The legs of common tern are also longer as is the bill, but these features are of less use unless you have seen lots of Arctic terns. Sadly this shot shows none of the letters or numbers on the ring, but if anyone else gets pictures of this bird it would be great to try and see if we can read the ring and find out where it has come from.

There were also several of the fledged juvenile common terns around as well, soon these will be leaving so it is good to enjoy them whilst they are still here.

common tern, juvenile

common tern, juvenile

As I said I spent much of the day in the office, but got out on various errands as well, one was to respond to a call to say there was a mute swan stuck on the path alongside Rockford Lake.

swan on the path

swan on the path

Swans that land on Ivy Lake get attacked by the resident pair and if they fail to fly off get pushed up the bank and end up on the path where they are unable to get into Rockford Lake due to the fences. After a brief bit of swan wrestling I got the better of it and was able to lift it over the fence to join the non-breeding flock on Rockford Lake.

It was a great day for insects with lots of butterflies, dragonflies and other creatures out and about. I briefly saw a clearwing most but frustratingly failed to either get a picture or identify it before it flew off. It had been nectaring on a burdock plant at the Centre, which also had lots of tiny picture-winged flies on the flower heads.

picture-winged flies

picture-winged flies

The butterflies included lots of comma and this silver-washed fritillary.

silver-washed fritillary

silver-washed fritillary

Dragonflies included brown hawker, common darter, emperor, a probable migrant hawker and this black-tailed skimmer, which I found eating a damselfly.

black-tailed skimmer

black-tailed skimmer, female

How long will it be before the first osprey lands on the new perch? I for one will be very disappointed if there has not been at least one by the end of August.

Other bird sightings during the day included the great white egret on Ivy Lake, a green sandpiper on Rockford Lake and common sandpiper, dunlin, juvenile redshank and a report of a wood sandpiper all on Ibsley Water. I would be keen to hear more about the last record as only one person seems to have seen it despite there being lots of people about all day, it would be good to know a few details as we don’t see many of them at Blashford.

Many Eyes

I was over at Blashford this afternoon, although I was mostly confined to the office, luckily there were people who were not. There was a school group in and they made a couple of good finds. Whilst pond dipping they found a downy emerald dragonfly that had fallen back into the water, they rescued it and put it to dry on plants beside the pond.

downy emerald drying

downy emerald drying

I took the opportunity to get a few really close up shots as well, like this head-shot, it really is “downy” and “emerald”!

downy emerald close up

downy emerald close up

The dragonfly was not their only find though, they also found a very fine ground beetle, Carabus granulatus.

Carabus granulatus

Carabus granulatus

Not only is it also a rather splendid metallic sheened insect but it also has wonderful sculpturing on the elytra (wing cases).

As I was outside to take the pictures and the sun was out I had a quick look around the pond area and found two Rhingia campestris, a common hoverfly with and extraordinary long “snout”.

Rhingia campestris male

Rhingia campestris male

The female was very fat, presumably full of eggs.

Rhingia campestris female

Rhingia campestris female

Birds reported today were at least 10 swift over Ibsley Water, 3 common sandpiper, over 30 common tern and 2 Arctic tern also on Ibsley Water.

 

White Water Rafting

I know I have left Blashford for the distant seaside world that is Farlington Marshes some time ago (incidentally there is a blog for there too “The 108ft blog” you can find it at http://solentreserves.wordpress.com/) , but today I was back to try to get the tern rafts on the water. I was also there to say a big welcome to the new reserves officer Ed, who will no doubt be posting in the near future.It was volunteer Thursday and we had intended to get the rafts onto the lake and in position but the high winds prevented us from doing that, so we contented ourselves with getting them prepared and on the water ready to put out when the wind drops. There were actually breaking waves on Ibsley Water today, definitely not a day to be towing tern rafts!

raft preparation

raft preparation

As we worked we saw several common tern flying overhead calling for us to get on with the job.

Having got all four rafts onto the water we headed back to the Centre for some lunch. There was a school group in doing some pond-dipping and they had caught some interesting beasties including several sub-aquatic caterpillars.

ringed china-mark larva

ringed china-mark larva

They all seem to have been larvae of the ringed china-mark moth, I know it seems an odd idea but they really do live underwater as caterpillars eating water plants. They also had some dragonfly larvae, after a false start identifying it I am now pretty sure it is the larva of a migrant hawker.

migrant hawker larva

migrant hawker larva

After lunch Ed and I went on a short tour of part of the reserve, it really is a great site, so much variety and always things of interest to see. I saw my first garden warbler of the year and with the common terns on Ibsley Water 2 Arctic tern were also my first. We checked under one of the tins and saw two grass snakes, this was the larger one.

grass snake

grass snake

Looking at Ibsley Water at the end of the day the 2 Arctic tern were still there along with at least 32 common tern, a bar-tailed godwit, 2 dunlin and hundreds of swallow, sand and house martin and swift. I also see there was a turnstone reported form near the Tern hide, but I missed that.

Although this might not quite be my last ever Blashford Blog post, the reserve is now well and truly in new hands, I hope Ed enjoys it as much as I did!