Accommodation Crisis

The common tern are back at Blashford Lakes, or at least the first few pairs are. It is always good to see them back and the reserve has proved very good for them. We do not have a large population, typically around 20 pairs, but they are very successful, sometimes rearing an average of more than two chicks per pair, an exceptional fledging rate.

common tern

common tern

Our terns nest on rafts that we put out for them, but this year we cannot mobilise the staff and volunteers to do this due to the impossibility of maintaining social distancing when doing the launching. We do have one raft out and there are some shingle patches on one or two islands, so we will have to hope these will be enough to allow them to nest.

I posted a picture of the camera view inside our tawny owl box the other day, full not of owlets, but grey squirrels. The young squirrels have now moved on and the box has immediately been occupied by a pair of stock dove, showing the premium there is on large tree cavities.

stock doves in owl box

stock doves in owl box

Other species are less constrained for nest sites and for them the breeding season moves on. Coot are nest building all around the lakes, or at least anywhere there is something to secure a nest to with some cover.

coot

coot

I have been going into work less frequently than usual and trying to work from home, however there is only so much paperwork a reserves officer can do and site tasks are starting to become more pressing. One in particular has become rather horrifyingly apparent as the spring has unfolded and that is the extent of progress made by ash die-back disease in the last few months. It is now obvious that large numbers of trees have died and will need to be removed. I will leave any that are away from paths as standing dead wood, but unfortunately this still leaves a lot that will need to be felled.

ash die-back

As the trees have come into leaf the full extent of ash die-back has become apparent

Strange Days

In fact probably the strangest we have ever known. We are now winding down to the minimum work aimed at maintaining health and safety and looking after livestock. The first remains important whilst there are still people allowed to walk around the sites and the latter is just essential. Luckily I have no livestock at Blashford, but we do still have a trickle of visitors. I would certainly not encourage anyone to visit but with paths that allow open access we will still have people on site, unless all going out is banned.

With spring now more or less sprung it is time once again to assess the state of our ash trees to see how ash die-back is hitting them. It is already apparent that some have completely died since the autumn and many others are in serious decline. In some areas it is possible that paths may not be able to reopen even if the Covid emergency passes, as there is likely to be a considerable amount of further felling needed and some roadside trees may need dealing with very soon. Luckily these assessments can be made by a single person so I can work and maintain isolation.

There are still surprisingly large numbers of wildfowl around, probably over 1500, a lot for the time of year. The water levels are dropping ever so slowly and I found a pair of pintail perched on a newly exposed wooded rail, alongside them was the long-tailed duck, without the long tail and perhaps envying the drake pintail his splendid feathers.

pintail and long-tail 4x3

pintail and long-tail

The sunshine has brought out butterflies in number and I have seen lots of brimstone and peacock, with a few comma and pleasingly several small tortoiseshell, maybe  a welcome return to their former status is in the offing. With all surveys now cancelled this year we will not have the butterfly transect data to know for sure.

small tortoiseshell pair

small tortoiseshell pair

I hope to continue blogging from the reserve for as long as I can, although I am conscious that this may just highlight what most people are missing. It is very odd to be out on such a sunny  day and see almost nobody, it makes me feel guilty with so many at home.

At Last, a Bit of Fine Weather

As December starts the winter has turned a little more like winter, with frost at night and finally a drier spell. This has allowed us to get a few outstanding tasks done, yesterday’s was clearing the vegetation in front of the Ivy North Hide and opening up the channels through the reedbed.

before

Looking out from Ivy North Hide before we started.

after

The main channel cleared

As we worked at least 2 Cetti’s warbler were moving about in the reeds and water rail were squealing frequently, although went typically unseen.

Other recent tasks have included laying some hedge lengths, clearing bramble from grassland areas and also making a start on removing some infected ash trees. The last will be a large task in the next couple of years. You may have heard about ash die-back, it is a fungal infection that kills ash trees and is expected to result in over 95% of our ash being lost. The disease originated in the Far East and probably arrived in Europe via the horticultural trade.

Where these trees are deep in the woods this will mean more standing deadwood habitat, so not an entirely bad thing. Where we have paths , hides, roads and car parks they will have to be felled before they fall. There is no doubt this is going to have a noticeable impact as ash is a frequent tree and it will impact upon species that depend upon this tree. It is also going to be a very expensive task for land managers, at Blashford we only have a couple of hundred, but still a lot of work. The one positive note is that work at Kew Gardens has revealed that some British ash trees show some immunity, so if these survive they will be available to provide a seed source to enable restocking. It will still be a long time before we get back to ash being once again a frequent tree in our landscape.

Out on the reserve things have also taken a more wintery turn, wildfowl numbers have picked up, although only on Ivy Lake is this very noticeable. The goosander roost on Ibsley Water is growing and has over 80 birds now. Also on Ibsley Water a long-tailed duck has been present for a while now and on Monday 3 black-necked grebe were present, but were perhaps only passing through as I don’t think they were seen yesterday. Less seasonal is the common sandpiper, these usually just pass through in autumn and only green sandpiper normally winter with us. The rain has resulted in a significant rise in water levels, the water pipits have become much less obvious following the rise, perhaps because the rise has covered a lot of the exposed weed along the shore.

We are hoping the dry weather will hang on for a day or two more so we can fill the pot-holes in the entrance track, with luck we will be doing this on Thursday, so access to the Centre car park will be somewhat restricted.

The Turn of the Season

As autumn slips into winter and the last of the leaves get blown from the trees we are seeing the wildlife of the reserve taking on a more wintry feel too. At the weekend the goosander roost passed 100 birds for the first time, whilst the gull roost is now well up into the thousands. A black-necked grebe has returned to Ibsley Water, although as is typical, it is frequenting the extreme northern shore of the lake. The startling roost in reeds just west of the A338 Salisbury Road, but best viewed from the main car park area or Lapwing hide, had built up and is now quite a sight in a fine evening.

IMG_9789 (2)[3497]

Starling murmuration by Jon Mitchell

At times this gathering is attracting various predators, over the last ten days or so I have seen peregrine, sparrowhawk, marsh harrier and goshawk all eyeing up the roost for a potential snack.

Green sandpiper and water pipit are still being regularly seen at various points around Ibsley Water, but Goosander hide seems to be the most frequent place for good views of both. At least 3 great white egret are wandering the reserve and out into the valley, I have not managed to see more than three at any one time, but I strongly suspect there are more, perhaps up to five?

Visitors to the reserve may find diversions or short path closures over the next few weeks as we are doing some tree thinning, it should be possible to access all the hides though. The trees we are removing are mainly planted aliens species such as grey and Italian alder or species such as sycamore and Scots pine that are crowding more desirable species oak, elm and ash. The objective is to thin areas that were planted too densely and promote native species over non-natives, this should benefit a range of wildlife in the long run. Where possible we will be leaving standing dead trees, or lying dead wood for beetles and other invertebrates.

30 Days Wild – Day 2 – Hawks and Dragons

Once again a day off at home trying to work in the garden, but the sun was a bit much so productivity was rather low!

However the day started with a look through the moth trap, most of the moths would have been attracted before midnight when it was warmer, but as the minimum was 14 degrees some will have been active throughout. The pick of the catch were a couple of hawk-moths.

lime hawkmoth

lime hawk-moth

Lime hawk caterpillars eat the leaves of lime trees, but also birch. Many hawk-moths are named after the larval foodplant, or at least one of them. The privet hawk-moth caterpillars eat privet, but also lilac and ash, it is our largest resident hawk-moth.

privet hawkmoth

privet hawk-moth

Other moths caught were buff-tip, heart and dart, treble lines, flame shoulder, light brocade and fox moth.

The sun brought a few butterflies out, I saw a male common blue and a female brimstone in the garden during the early afternoon.

brimstone female on storksbill

female brimstone nectaring on storksbill

The sun also encouraged a fair few hoverflies to feed on flowers in the borders.

dronefly on fox and cubs

Dronefly Eristalis horticola on fox and cubs

Eventually I gave up on the garden and went out for a walk in the New Forest, luckily I live close enough not to need to drive there. The recent wet weather has filled a lot of the small ponds and each one seemed to have a broad-bodied chaser or two.

broad-bodied chaser male

broad-bodied chaser male

There were also good numbers of emperor and four-spotted chaser too.

The New Forest is one of the largest areas of semi-natural open space in Southern England, although a “Forest” it has a lot of wide open treeless areas. This is because a forest in this context is a place where deer were hunted rather than, as we tend to think today, a place dominated by trees. To pick up on the theme of Jo’s post of the other day and also highlight a particular problem within the Forest, I did see a couple of invasive alien species on my short walk. Both were attractive escapes from cultivation and wetland species.

invasive iris

Iris laevigata growing in a New Forest mire

In the background of this shot is another invasive, the white water-lily.

white water-lily

white water-lily

Finally………..

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Although it is perhaps not really a meadow plant I do have a few wild carrot plants in the meadow, like all umbellifers they are very attractive to insects, so I allow them in. The flowers are only just opening and actually look rather interesting just before the flowers open with the head enclosed caged.

wild carrot

wild carrot flower head just about to open.

Two days gone, just another 28 to go!

Early Birds

I decided to get on site early on Sunday so that I could count the goosander as they left their roost on Ibsley Water. I managed to get my best count of the season so far, 72 birds. I also saw a group of 7 drake goldeneye, all displaying to a single female. Other species included 12 pintail and the usual range of ducks.

Walking back to the Centre I saw at least 3 chiffchaff, a firecrest and 2 hawfinch. The last are occasionally recorded at Blashford, almost always in ash and field maple trees close to Ellingham Drove, which is where these were. This winter has seen an unprecedented influx of this species, with flocks being seen in lots of places and will probably be my best chance to get them on my garden list. In fact overall it loos like  a good finch winter, with numbers of brambling and redpoll also in evidence.

I was working with volunteers clearing a ride along one of the butterfly transects and so saw rather few birds after my early excursion. The pink-footed goose was again in the greylag flock and a single dunlin was feeding out on the islands in Ibsley Water. At dusk I saw “Walter” the great white egret roosting in his favourite dead alder beside Ivy Lake.