Autumn?

volunteers opening up a glade

volunteers opening up a glade in willow scrub.

Although the weather does not seem to know it we are firmly into autumn now, in fact our winter work program has now got underway. On Thursday the volunteers were clearing willow to create a glade between two existing areas of open ground to allow adders and other reptiles to move easily between the two. We have a good population of adders on the reserve but they favour open areas and the population can get subdivided as trees grow up.

The autumn is often a good time for moths, especially if the nights are warm, so it is no surprise that recent catches have been quiet good, here are a few recent highlights.

beaded chestnut

beaded chestnut

vapourer moth male

Male vapourer moth

Vapourer moth females are flightless and the males track them down using their feathery antennae to “smell” the air for the pheromone trail released by a female. They fly at night and in the day, accounting for some of the sightings of “small, orange butterflies” that get reported in the autumn.

green brindled crescent

green-brindled crescent

Lastly two of my favourite moths of the whole year, the four-spotted footman, this one a male and so without the four-spots, which only the females have.

four-spotted footman male 2

male four-spotted footman

And finally one that we have yet to catch at Blashford this season, although I have had a few in my trap at home, the very splendid merveille du jour.

merveille du jour 1

merveille du jour

 

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Moths and Birds and no Snowberry

Despite the autumnal weather the moth trap continues to catch a reasonable range of species, Friday’s catch included two of the bigger wainscots, the large wainscot,

large wainscot

large wainscot

and the bulrush wainscot.

Bulrush wainscot 2

bulrush wainscot

Neither of them particularly colourful species, unlike the frosted orange.

frosted orange

frosted orange

I know I have already posted this species a few times, but they are very fine and this one was very fresh. Autumn moths tend to be either bright yellow, orange or very dull indeed and the deep brown dart is certainly at the dull end, at least in terms of colour.

deep brown dart

deep brown dart

Despite the extremely dull weather today there were some birds to see, the ruff remains on Ibsley Water and there were also 2 green sandpiper and a common sandpiper there too. A sign of the changing season is the slowly increasing number of wigeon, I saw at least 25 today, but there were also something over 75 hirundines, mostly swallow but also a number of house martin and even a few sand martin.

Recently the Goosander hide has been attracting  allot of photographers trying to get shots of a fairly cooperative kingfisher. It also seems to be good for quiet a few other species too. I was especially pleased to see  the trees that we leaned into the lake there being well used as perches by a range of species, including today, Walter, our returning great white egret.

Walter

Walter, our returning great white egret, you can just make out some of his rings.

The perches near the Goosander hide are being used by lots of birds, the rails I put up  a few years ago were very popular with cormorant today.

cormorants

A “drying-off” of cormorant.

Large numbers of cormorant have been mass fishing in Ibsley Water recently, something they only do when there are very large shoals of fish, of just the right size, on offer. This year there seem to be large numbers of perch and rudd to be caught, to judge from the many pictures we have been sent of cormorant with fish recently.

These same rails are also popular with gulls and I saw three different yellow-legged gull on there this afternoon, including this first winter bird.

Yellow-legged gull 1st W

Yellow-egged gull, in first winter plumage (or if you prefer 1st cy)

It was the first Sunday of the month and despite unpromising weather four volunteers turned out for a task this morning. For several years I have been meaning to get around to removing a patch of snowberry near the Ivy North hide, it has not spread very far but is a garden plant that really should not be in a semi-natural woodland. Finally today we got rid of it, or at least of as much of it as we could dig up, next spring we will see how much we missed!

I will end with a sure sign of autumn, a fungus, the reserve has  a lot of fungi just now, I really struggle to identify them, but I think I know what this is, until someone puts me right, a fly agaric – this one complete with flies.

Fungus Gnat Agaric

fungus gnat agaric

 

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

So Close and Yet so Far

A rather better day today, sunshine in place of steady rain. My first sight upon looking across Ibsley Water was of a merlin sitting on the osprey perch out in the lake, not a bird I see at Blashford very often. I was also at the reserve to lock up yesterday when the bird of prey of the day was a marsh harrier feeding on something on the western shore of Ibsley Water. Also on Ibsley Water today were a black-tailed godwit, a curlew and 4 pintail. yesterday evening at dusk I counted 45 pochard and 22 goosander, so the waterfowl roosts are slowly increasing in numbers. In the same vein, tonight there were a few thousand starling gathering to the north of the reserve and the first indication of a greenfinch roost near the main car park, with perhaps thirty birds gathering.

With the day set fair I took the chance to clear some of the paths of leaves and do so cutting back. Despite the recent frosts there are still quite a few fungi about.

candle-snuff-fungus-2

candlesnuff fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon)

Candlesnuff is one fungus that can be seen all year round, but I rather liked this group with water droplets on them, they were beside the path between Ivy North and the Woodland hide.

Along the Dockens Water path I saw a firecrest in the holly and for a change it was not hidden in the shadows but out in the sun, looking very jewel-like. This path is looking really good at the moment with the trees in full colour.

dockens-path

Dockens Water path

Clearing leaves from the path towards Rockford Lake I found a raptor plucking post with the remains of a jay, it could have been taken by a female sparrowhawk although, these days, a goshawk might be just as likely.

plucking-post

remains of a jay at a plucking post

I had seen “Walter” the great white egret at Ivy North hide when I opened up and heard water rail and Cetti’s warbler there too, but the bird of the day from there was the ferruginous duck, which spent the afternoon in front of the hide. Unfortunately I missed it as by the time I heard about it it was more or less dark. This is no doubt the drake that has been returning to Blashford for some years, although it usually frequents one of the private lakes to the south of the reserve.

In the late afternoon I was at the Goosander hide hoping to see some colour-ringed gulls on the perching rails there. There were gulls, but none with rings.

gulls

Lesser black-backed gull, yellow -legged gull, herring gull and black-headed gulls.

Yellow-legged gull are slightly large and darker than herring gull and typically have whiter heads in winter, lacking the grey streaking of herring gull. The picture above shows a fairly dark lesser black-backed gull, with the yellow-legged gull in the centre and a typical herring gull on the right.

yellow-legged-gull

yellow-legged gull, adult.

As I went to lock up the Moon was just rising, close to the horizon it always look large and this evening it looked especially so. It has good reason though as apparently it is closer to us at present than it has been for 68 years, so I really never have seen the Moon look so big.

big-moon

A big Moon

moon-rise-ivy-south

Ivy Lake as I locked up after sunset.

 

It all Becomes Clear

A real misty autumn morning today, in fact so misty that I could only see a single mallard from the Ten hide first thing, it was the only bird near enough. Still as the mist thinned it did make for some very atmospheric scenes.

ivy-lake-misty-morning

A misty Ivy Lake

In fact the sun burnt through pretty quickly and just a couple of minutes after the shot above I took the one below on the walk to the Woodland hide.

misty-path

The sun breaking through

After several weeks of not working we got the television in the Centre back in action today and it is once again featuring “Pondcam”. When it first came on the picture was very blurred and I thought it was still not working, Jim was adamant it was just the lens that needed cleaning, I was not convinced, but went to clean it anyway,  Jim was right and we now have water beetles swimming around in the Centre lobby once more.

The reserve has fungi all over the place at present, I got pictures of a couple as I opened up the reserve, not identified as yet though.

fungus-1

A group on fungi on an alder stump

fungus-2

A couple from a large group growing near the yard.

As befits the date, the last two nights have seen large numbers of “November” moths attracted to the moth trap. The November is in quotation marks as I cannot identify these to species level, they are just Epirrita species or November moth aggregate. There are three similar species, the  November moth, pale November moth and autumnal moth, each one is variable and I strongly suspect we will get all three species at Blashford. I was also careful to say “attracted to” rather than in the moth trap as they majority of them are not in the trap but resting on the wall of the Centre, this morning there were at least 26 of them there.

This afternoon I spent a good while wading about in front of Ivy North hide cutting sight-lines through the reeds. When I locked up and had a good look from the hide it is clear that I have some more work to do, but at least there should be an improved chance of seeing the bittern now. We did not see any bittern but the great white egret was there, fishing just below the hide and we saw it catch a small perch. In one of the cut patches there was a water rail poking about and giving good views and all to the accompaniment of a singing Cetti’s warbler. In the Ivy Silt pond there was another singing Cetti’s warbler, perhaps they will stay the winter and remain to set up territories in the spring.

 

 

Autumn in Full Swing

Back from a short break over half-term and catching up with what has happened over the week. Most obviously the leaves have changed colour and started falling in quantity, especially annoying as the leaf-blower is still out of action. There are also masses of fungi all over the reserve, autumn is in full swing.

On Monday I had the October waterfowl count to do – just in time as it was the 31st. Numbers of wildfowl are still quite low generally, but perhaps they will pick up when the temperatures drop a bit. During the count I came across “Walter”, the great white egret on the shore of Rockford Lake. He was close to the path and quite relaxed. Almost immediately afterwards, looking across Ivy Lake from the screen, I saw the bittern sitting high in the reeds preening in the afternoon sunshine. I failed to see the goldeneye reported by several people on Ibsley Water -we usually see our first at the end of October, so it just made it.

bittern

A rather poor and distant shot of the bittern on Ivy lake.

I ended the day with a check on the roosting birds on Ibsley Water; the gull roost was large, although not as large as it can be. There were something like 6000 lesser black-backed gull and about 3500 black-headed gull. There were also a couple of thousand starling flying about, which appeared to drop into the reeds to the west of the Salisbury road. Not quite a murmuration yet but maybe in a week or two, who knows.

Today I was working with the ever busy Blashford volunteers, cutting and burning brambles from the lake shore adjacent to the old Hanson plant. The aim is to open up the shore to the newly cleared plant site, to maximise the area of habitat suitable for birds like nesting lapwing and little ringed plover. The open ground should eventually develop into grassland in parts and so provide habitat for a range of other species.

Unfortunately it is likely to take a good few years of hard work to get this old industrial site into a state where it can become a valuable and importantly, manageable habitat – but it will be interesting to see how it develops. These so called “Brownfield” sites can develop into very interesting habitats as they are often low in nutrients and have unusual characteristics such as variable pH and impeded drainage.

In addition it will provide an alternative route between the main car park and Goosander hide and create a circular walk around the reserve. Work on this is progressing well but it will be a while yet before it is completed.

Wild and Autumnal Days Out

The October Half Term has seen our Wild Days Out have a very Autumnal theme, as we headed onto the reserve to enjoy the seasonal changes, discover how nature responds to the cooler weather and spot fungi.

We began by challenging the older children to a game of human knot, with a mycelium twist, demonstrating the outward growth from a spore once it has germinated underground and begins to send out branches, or hypha. As the hyphae repeatedly branch out underground, they assume a larger circular form which is noticeable when the fruiting bodies, or fungi, appear above ground as a fairy ring.

They had to stand in a small circle and reach their right arm in to the centre, taking hold of someone else’s hand but making sure it was not that of the person right next to them. They then had to put their left arm in, taking someone else’s hand, before working together to untangle the human knot without letting go, ending up in a larger circle, or fairy ring.

After an entertaining attempt at the human knot, we explored the woodland along the Dockens Water in search of colourful Autumn leaves, seeds and fungi, with the most exciting find being these Dead Man’s Fingers fungus, Xylaria polymorpha:

dead-mans-fingers

Dead man’s fingers!

Whilst many leaves are falling and the Autumn colours are coming through, the beech trees were still very green and leafy, casting a dappled shade in the woodland:

beech-leaves

Beech leaves in the woodland alongside the Dockens Water

After a squirrel nut hunt (there were some very sneaky squirrels!) and a hedgehog hibernation challenge we finished by collecting some firewood and team laying a fire before cooking some toffee apples :

cooking-toffee-apples

Cooking toffee apples over the fire

 

With the younger children we headed straight to our camp fire area, making leaf crowns and collecting Autumnal leaves on the way which we were going to preserve with a wax coating and turn into Autumn mobiles. After getting the fire going and snapping lots of candles, removing the wick, we watched the candles melt before very carefully dunking our collected leaves into the wax.

It was a lot of fun and gave stunning results!

They too baked toffee apples, carefully whittling sticks to bake them on first:

After embarking on a squirrel nut hunt we finished with a game of apple bobbing which was enjoyed by all, some got wetter than others!

 

Otterly missed it again…

There was a very autumnal feel to this morning – as I drove to work through mist and foggy patches the diffuse light really reinforced and emphasised  the changing colour of the tree canopy across the forest and it is definitely a bit cooler in the mornings. Cool enough that a combination of that, the damp in the air and a stinking cold and tiredness from number 3 not sleeping because of his stinking cold, meant that today I even resorted to wearing trousers! For regular visitors to the reserve that is usually the first sign of winter drawing nearer…*

The fog (mist?) meant that the far side of Ibsley Water could not be seen first thing, but Walter (“our” great white egret) was very handily on the near shore just to the right of Tern Hide again this morning where he was somewhat disdainfully watching a couple of grey herons having a bit of a set too over a stretch of adjacent shore line.

The light trap did not hold a huge amount this morning – a dead minotaur beetle, a couple of large caddis flies and on the moth front, a chestnut, a couple of red-line quakers and common wainscots, a common marbled carpet and, keeping to the autumnal theme, a November moth:

november-moth-2

And finally, in keeping with true Blashford tradition, I narrowly missed out on seeing another otter this morning… approaching Ivy South Hide to open up, a visitor scanning Ivy Silt Pond mouthed “otter” as we got closer to him. He had just watched it chase and catch a large carp. We (volunteer Jacki and I) saw nothing! Having opened the hide we did give it a good 20 minutes or so but apart from hearing a (very large!) splash followed by the sight of a mini-tidal wave of ripples emanating from a different part from that which we were watching (of course!) which could have been otter, and a flurry of splashes from smaller fish jumping, we saw nothing… maybe next time?!

Still, nice to know it/they are still around, even if they continue to elude me.

*For non-regular visitors to the reserve I should perhaps point out that my resorting to trousers is in place of the shorts that I normally can be seen wearing throughout much of the rest of the year, not that I am wandering around the nature reserve a naturist mistaken for a naturalist!

A Risky Day to be a Fish

It was my turn to cover Sunday today and as a relief from the necessary deskwork I was determined to walk the reserve as it has been many weeks since I have done so. I decided also to keep a list of all the birds I recorded during the day, the result was a list of 65 species, not bad. My highlights were the osprey, which once again visited the perch in Ibsley Water and my first fieldfare of the season. The great white egret was reported but not seen by me.

Actually the most notable sighting in some ways was the weasel that ran across the entrance track as I opened the gate as I arrived, I have seen them only three or four times previously at Blashford. For those that saw it the otter that spent some time outside the Goosander hide will perhaps have been the most exciting record of the day. What with an otter and an osprey about it was not the best day to be a fish in Ibsley Water!

Out on the reserve, despite the recent dry weather, there are quite a good few fungi. A fair few brilliant red fly agaric are about now, a sure sign of autumn. I did find a reminder of summer in the shape of a field grasshopper.

field grasshopper

field grasshopper

Recent Reports and a Trip North

The last week has been very busy at Blashford Lakes, lots of work getting done around Ibsley Water, up the road at Linwood as well as several large education groups.

On the wildlife front the birds have been rather few, although reports of a brambling at the Woodland hide were interesting as I don’t think we have had one at the feeders in October before, perhaps we are in for  a “Finch Winter”. On this note there have been large flocks of siskin about with 70 or more around the Centre this week. On a slightly more mundane note 3 house sparrow by the Tern hide on Thursday were unusual as was a red-legged partridge there on Friday.

The wildlife highlight of the week, without doubt, has been the many sighting of otter in Ibsley Water, mainly from the Goosander hide, but also from Tern hide and from the descriptions it would have been visible from Lapwing hide several times too. There are pictures, but I don’t have any of them at present.

On Friday Ed and I had a trip north, well up to Winchester at least. WE went to look at the trust’s excellent Winnall Moors reserve and look at the grazing management for breeding waders and other species. It also enabled us to catch up with a little piece of Blashford.

The entrance to Winnall Moors made from a fallen Blashford oak.

The entrance to Winnall Moors made from a fallen Blashford oak.

The reserve is grazed by part of the herd of British White cattle that the Trust now uses to manage much of the grazing on our reserves. They do a wonderful job of grazing and browsing, produce very good beef and are easy to find, thanks to their white colour.

British White cattle on Winnall Moors

British White cattle on Winnall Moors

It was a beautiful, misty morning and as the mist burnt off it left droplets handing on every bit of vegetation and cobweb. Winnall Moors is a wetland site with many channels and lots of sluices that control the flow of water around the reserve.

Sluice at Winnall Moors

Sluice at Winnall Moors

As we walked round we were looking at how it might be possible to improve the habitat for nesting waders, such as lapwing and redshank. I suspect redshank may be gone for the foreseeable future as their fortunes, especially inland do not look good. Lapwing might be tempted back, but they often nest on spring ploughed arable land and to specially manage the herb rich wet grasslands at Winnall might result in more being lost than gained, so as with much land management balancing different interests will make for difficult decisions.

The afternoon saw us back at Blashford and making plans for more work on Ibsley Water, hopefully we will cut the main nesting island next week to stop trees and brambles growing on it and maybe prepare an extra area for terns to nest next year.

All in all a very fine autumn day, and as though to emphasise the season, I found this very smart fly agaric.

fly agaric

fly agaric