Weather warning news and a general catch up

Have been planning on writing a blog for a while as it has been far too long since the last post, but a yellow weather warning for wind and particularly strong winds forecast for overnight has finally prompted me to post!

If the weather is as unpleasant tomorrow as the forecast predicts it will be we don’t anticipate the reserve being particularly busy tomorrow (we’re aware of only two visitors so far today and they weren’t here long!).

If you are planning a visit here tomorrow (Thursday 11th March) do check here on the blog for site opening updates first, and do not plan to arrive first thing as even if the site does open tomorrow we will certainly be doing a site check when we arrive to ascertain that it is safe to open to visitors before opening the gates to the car park a little later than normal, assuming they open at all.

Todays weather is a far cry from that of the last few days which have been really very pleasant out of the wind in the sunshine. Nature has certainly been responding to the increase in temperatures and daylight length.

Bob reported seeing his first grass snake on Wednesday last week and indeed Tracy and I have both also seen the same snake basking in the same location on several occasions since. Adders have also now emerged and can be seen basking from the shelter of the dead-hedges along the footpath through the reedbed between Lapwing and Goosander Hide.

A beautiful and most welcome sight of Spring! One of several females seen on Monday – you can tell she is female due to the bronze colouration, males being silver.

Other animals who are stirring or making their presence felt this Spring include black-tailed godwit who have been present around Ibsley Water in significant numbers of up to 2,000 or more last week and really putting on quite spectacular flight displays at times. Although staff have yet to see one, sand martins have also been reported flying around Ibsley Water over the last few days. Green woodpecker, noticeable by their absence the last couple of years have been “yaffling” fairly consistently and the great spotted woodpeckers have also been drumming of course too. Nest boxes and natural cavities are all being investigated for their potential as nest sites by any number of birds, most conspicuous of which have been the nuthatches who have been very busy in numerous locations as they inspect the “real estate”.

Drier nights (tonight and last night being the exceptions!) have also led to our running the light trap more regularly for moths and although not teeming with moths in the morning, the rewards have generally been worth the effort of putting it out:

Yellow horned moth (is it just me or is it doing rather a good impression of a cat?!)
Oak beauty

On the mammal front the badgers, whose sett is in the vicinity of Woodland Hide, seem to have made a massive comeback – they all but disappeared from this location a few years ago for reasons unknown, but were clearly back last year and this Spring are incredibly active with any number of fresh diggings, latrines and piles of discarded bedding materialising!

One of the new (or newly “renovated” at least) sett entrances, with the old discarded bedding turfed out and visible on top of the spoil to the left of the picture.
Signs of so much badger activity!

The first of the wild daffodils started flowering 2-3 weeks ago but have only started to come into their best over the last few days:

Wild daffodils adjacent to Woodland Hide
In my opinion at least, one of our loveliest of Spring sights

Other wildflowers that have been becoming more prominent in recent days include coltsfoot, lesser celandine, primroses and willow catkins:

Coltsfoot
Beautiful lesser celandines
“Pussy” willow catkins, just now beginning to open and reveal their pollen riches.

I’ve often pondered the “yellow-ness” of Spring – certainly not all of our Spring flowers are yellow, but it is true that a great many are, as illustrated above, so I did a bit of research on this phenomena a couple of weeks ago and the general belief seems to be that this colour must be the most obvious to insects throughout the relatively low hours of daylight early in the year. Whatever the actual reason, all of these bright, colourful, flowers are a most welcome burst of colour after the greyness of winter! Another such welcome splash of colour is the vivid red of the scarlet elf cups which thrive on the decaying wood in the damp and shady areas of Blashford woodland, although having been fruiting for several months they are now starting to lose some of their vibrancy and will not be with us for very much longer:

Scarlet elf cup fungi

Other welcome signs of Spring include the slow but steady greening up of our tree’s and hedgerows, with the leaf buds of both elder and hawthorn now swelling and opening:

Elder
Hawthorn. This in the planted “lazily laid” hawthorn hedge that Bob has been working on in sections with the volunteers along the A338 for the last few years: reaping the rewards of all their hard work, it is becoming quite a fine dense hedgerow which, although not as pretty as a traditionally laid and woven hedge, is far easier to produce and at least as good for wildlife!

A less welcome sign of better weather is an increase in the number of “rogue” visitors accessing the site. Although by far the majority of visitors visit, use and respect the nature reserve as we intend a small minority do not. Illegal fishing and poaching activity has noticeably increased on the nature reserve, particularly on Ellingham Lake where it is less of a wildlife conservation issue, but also on Ibsley Water where it does pose significant risks to the ground nesting birds who nest around it and who are so readily disturbed by trespassers, be they anglers, birders or walkers who “just want to look at the lake”. Fly-tipping and of course littering, the latter of which is not usually an issue at Blashford Lakes fortunately, has also increased, and I was very saddened to see that most awful and unnecessary of modern British countryside sights for the first time at Blashford Lakes just a couple of weeks ago: that of a plastic bag of dog mess swinging from the branches of a tree along the Ivy Lake/Rockford permissive footpath ūüė¶ .

Readers of this blog are, I am sure, all respectful of our wildlife generally and of our nature reserve particularly, so please do let us know if you witness anyone behaving inappropriately. There often is no one in the office to pick up the phone but you are welcome to call 01425 472760 and leave a message, or alternatively email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk – if you could include a date, time, place and brief description of the wrong-doer and wrong-doing it would be very helpful, particularly as at least some of the inappropriate activity is undertaken on a fairly routine basis by the same individuals.

Please do not however attempt to challenge anyone directly as we would not want a more significant incident to deal with!

Sadly, like elsewhere in the County and across the country, we are seeing a small increase in antisocial behaviour at Blashford Lakes ūüė¶

With this Monday seeing us, as a nation, begin our journey out of lockdown with the children returning to school, the Trust is reviewing how we manage our work and sites alongside the easing of restrictions.

Some of our volunteer wardens will return this week adding to eyes and ears “on the ground” which will no doubt help with some of the aftermath of less welcome visitors and all being well our Welcome Volunteers will return at the end of the month and it is at the end of the month that we will review making the portable toilets available to visitors as well. For the time-being the guidance from the Government is to “stay local” and we are operating our sites under that premis.

Look forward to welcoming everyone back soon! In the meantime, stay safe.

Autumn well underway

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There has been a very autumnal feel to this week with hundreds of martins gathering over Ibsley Water each morning and today I was there as they continued with their migration southward – one moment they were all zipping around just above the lake surface and in the blink of an eye, at some signal unseen by me, they launched their way skywards in a fairly close spiral and very quickly were lost to sight.

There’s plenty of other signs of the changing season too – including the fact that this morning I chose to wear a jumper AND jacket into work!

The grasslands have been looking lovely first thing each day as well, festooned with their dew-laden cobwebs as they have been, and everywhere you go (there, the woodland, and even the car parks and outside the Centre) the ground is liberally covered with badger droppings whose diet has now very clearly moved on from plum to blackberry!

It’s still very dry so the fungi have not yet fruited in earnest but there are still some to be found, including this newly erect (there’s no other word for it really!) stinkhorn photographed near Woodland Hide this morning.

I’ve smelt it coming for a few days now, but not managed to see it, presumably because it was still in its “egg” form as opposed to my just being unobservant as it was particularly fresh looking this morning. They don’t tend to last overly long, but this one will soon be replaced by another marked by a new “egg” bottom left of the photograph. Weird things these eggs, and far more easily overlooked than the mature fungus (which, lets face it, is also pretty weird!) as they often form just below the ground, so nice to see and get a photo of¬†it today.

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You can just see a fly coming in in the top left corner of the picture. Attracted by the rotten/sweet small of the fungus it will become coated with the sticky jelly carrying spores and so assist the fungi in its dispersal as it flies away on whatever business flies get up to when not lured by stinkhorns.

Kingfishers have continued to oblige this summer, to an extent at Goosander Hide, but in recent weeks at Ivy South Hide in particular.

There are still at least two great white egrets around, debatably 3, one of which is “Walter” and yesterday afternoon they have been joined by another of our seasonal herons, with a bittern seen in flight by half-a-dozen visitors as it flew over the reed/reedmace bed, from left to right, in front of Ivy North Hide, giving all a fantastic view.

It will probably be a while before the next sighting, and even longer before anyone gets a picture as the reeds are all so tall and dense still at this time of year, but good to know that there is at least one around so keep your eyes peeled on your next visit and you never know!

 

The Blues

The last few days have seen warm sunshine by day but chilly nights, meaning it has been poor for moths but good for day-flying insects. Today at Blashford Lakes I saw my first scarce chaser and downy emerald of the year and there were other dragonflies about too with reports of emperor, broad-bodied chaser and hairy dragonfly.

Most of the butterflies that over winter by hibernation as adults are getting scarce now and spring species such as orange-tip are dropping in numbers. there are a few whites around with all three of the common species, but the highlight today was the emergence of¬† blues. The small meadow near Ivy North hide had six or more male common blue as I went to lock up and at least three brown argus as well, the argus is brown, but an honorary “blue” all the same..

common blue male

common blue (male), freshly emerged.

The brown argus look very like small female common blue, and the male common blues will get up to chase one if it flies by, however they quickly realise their mistake and give up. The first emergences are all males and the females will follow in a day or so. The reason for this is the same as that for male migrant bird arriving just ahead of the females. Evolution will push the males to be in place and ready for the first females to arrive, it does not pay to be late, so the pressure for males to be early is greater than that on females, who can afford to wait until they know there will be males to mate with.

The spring solitary bees are starting to disappear now, many species collect pollen from just a few plants and as these cease to flower they need to wrap up their breeding cycle. I did come across one interesting species today though, it was one of the nomad bees and the smallest species of them to be found in Britain, Nomada sheppardana.

Nomada sheppardana

Nomada sheppardana on forget-me-not

Visiting flowers is something many insects have to do to feed, it may sound an unproblematic things to do, the flowers want to offer a nectar reward, or perhaps bribe might be a better description, to the insects that will pollinate them. However it is not as safe as it might sound, flowers can hide predators, especially the camouflaged crab spider which match their colour to the flowers they sit on.

crab spider with hoverfly

crab spider with hoverfly prey

The crab spider here matched the hawthorn flowers so well that I missed it and initially set up to take a picture of the hoverfly, only then did I see the spider!

It has not been a good year for ground-nesting birds so far this spring, with most lapwing and little ringed plover losing their eggs to predators. I suspect mammals at night as the ones nesting on the islands are doing much better. Or at least they were, on Thursday might all the black-headed gull on Long Spit abandoned their nests. Although I don’t know for sure I suspect that something swam out there and ate their eggs, probably a fox or a badger.¬†These mammals are usually not that keen on swimming, but if they are hungry they will go to great lengths to get the food they want, I think small mammals, which are their preferred prey, are in short supply this year, which might be why they are seeking birds eggs more actively.

Despite a bad time for some ground-nesters the pair of oystercatcher are still doing well, with their two chicks growing well. They hatched on Long Spit, moved off to the shore near Tern hide and have now returned to Long Spit, this meant they were not out there on the night of the predator raid. So far the main gull colony on Gull Island shows no sign of being attacked and neither do the tern rafts on Ivy Lake.

 

Dumping and Cutting, a Tale from the Roadside

There seems to be a lot going on at present. At Blashford we are resurfacing a lot of the paths, the entrance track and a few other improvements will follow.

We have also been putting out the tern rafts, so far the gulls have been taking most of the space but hopefully the terns will get their act together soon.

Out on Ibsley Water the lapwing have not been doing well, with most nests failing at the eggs stage, I suspect fox or badger, as the birds nesting on the islands seem unaffected.

I was at Fishlake briefly today and saw my first hairy dragonfly of the year, it was beautifully perched, but I did not have a camera with me!

Meanwhile back at Blashford we received an overnight donation of two large tractor tyres, several car tyres and the remains of a trailer. Not the kind of donation we want as it will cost a fair bit to dispose of. Fly tipping in the countryside is an increasing problem as the cost legitimate disposal increases.

Another increasing roadside problem is the decline in the the diversity of flora found on verges. I remember a series called “Wayside and Woodland” books, I always took the implication of the title was that much of the wildlife featured was to be found on waysides, that is path and road verges. The reason is the accumulation of nutrients, in fact this is probably one of the greatest threats to wildlife diversity in almost all habitats. It is no accident that habitats that are very poor in freely available nutrients are rich in species, they have to fight it out for resources and tiny differences in adaptations mean that one species will win over if even a very small change in the environment happens. Thus a thin chalk soil can produce an incredibly rich sward with huge species diversity. Where nutrients are easy to come by a few very vigorous specie swill overwhelm the competition and species diversity is low and growth vigorous.

Road verges suffer the twin threats of car exhausts, which are rich in nitrogen a key nutrient for vigorous plant growth. This growth then gets cut, often many times a year and the cutting left as a “mulch” further aiding the building up of nutrients. Cutting once¬† later in the year and removing the cuttings would reduce the nutrients, reduce the vigour of the growth and promote plant diversity. In fact Plantlife have just produced an excellent guide to managing road verges¬†The Good Verge Guide

The Highways Agency also produced quiet good guidelines for highways managers, but these do not seem to have been widely taken up by the people that set the contracts for the work. A case in point is a very fine round about close to my home, this morning I admired the good show of ox-eye daisy and could make out the soon to be flowering stems of corky-fruited water dropwort as I waited at the traffic lights. On my way home tonight I see it has been mown and the cuttings left as a deep green mulch, it is large round about and easy to see across so there is little need for cutting for safety reasons. Slowly but surely this fine area of herb-rich, semi-natural grassland is being destroyed by the state, an act of causal degradation of our biodiversity in the midst of an extinction crisis.

I will end with a couple more moths form yesterday, the catch was small but included perhaps the smartest pebble prominent I have ever seen.

pebble prominent

pebble prominent

There were also three very fresh poplar hawk.

poplar hawk 2

poplar hawk

Oh Deer!

Recently we have been donated some fallen apples and I have been putting them out at the Woodland hide, where they often disappear within a couple of days. It is obvious that they are not being eaten by birds, but what is eating them? There is a badger sett nearby, so perhaps they like apples, the way to answer this was to deploy a trailcam, so I did. Here are some of the results:

fallow eating apple

Fallow deer eating apples

But it was not just fallow deer,

roe and fawn by day

Roe deer with fawn

It also turned out they were coming at all hours.

roe and fawn at night 2

Roe deer, doe and fawn visiting after dark.

At least one of the fallow had a fawn accompanying it, so the love of apples is getting passed on down the generations. Fallow deer have a single fawn, but roe almost invariably have twins, the doe visiting the apples had only one, so I suspect something had happened to the other twin. Both deer species will rut in the autumn and have their fawns in the spring so you might think that both species have a similar gestation period. In fact roe deer, being much smaller have a shorter gestation, but rather than having their fawns in the winter egg implantation is delayed to make sure they are born in the better spring conditions.

Early birds…

Over the weekend ten super keen Young Naturalists enjoyed a night on the reserve in order to appreciate the dawn chorus at it’s best.

To avoid any ridiculously early drop offs by parents, we met at the Education Centre at 7pm on Saturday night then headed straight over to Tern Hide in the hope of a glimpse of the lapwing chick before it got too dark. We had to wait a while but got lucky!

Lapwing chick by Talia Felstead resized

Lapwing chick by Talia Felstead

In the fading light, we also spotted Lapwing, Greylag geese with three goslings, Redshank and a Pied wagtail.

We then headed up to Goosander and Lapwing hides in search of deer, getting out the bat detectors for the walk back and picking up lots of Soprano and Common pipistrelles. The bats put on a great show!

It was then time to head back to the Centre for a drink and a snack and to make ourselves comfortable for the night, picking our spots on the Education Centre floor. Whilst getting ready for a night in the classroom, we looked at the footage picked up on the trail cam we had put out at last month’s Young Naturalists session in the hope of a glimpse of some of the reserve’s more secretive wildlife.

Rather excitingly the trail cam revealed images of badgers and deer along with videos of badgers, deer and a fox.

Badger 1

Badger!

deer 1

Deer

After setting the alarm for 4am, we attempted to get some sleep!

In the morning we were joined incredibly bright and early at 4.30am by Bob and volunteer Liz, who had declined the offer to join us overnight but were still happy to be here super early. After a cup of tea and a snack we headed outside at about 4.45am to enjoy the dawn chorus at its best.

Our early bird of the morning was the robin, who we heard just outside the Centre. We then headed towards Ivy North hide before following the path round to the Woodland hide then Ivy South hide, crossing the river and following the path along the Dockens to our river dipping bridge then back to the Centre. Unfortunately it was a bit windy but we still heard¬†19 species of bird, with Bob’s expert help, and the crescendo of bird song was fabulous.

Our¬†19 species of bird were heard in the following order: robin, wood pigeon, blackbird, Canada goose, song thrush, wren, blackcap, reed warbler, garden warbler, Cetti’s warbler, chiffchaff, black-headed gull, Egyptian goose, mallard, blue tit, great tit, chaffinch, jackdaw and goldcrest.

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A very early dawn chorus walk! We are excited, just a little sleepy…

We then had a look in the light trap which revealed two May highflyers, a Great prominent, a Sharp angled peacock, two Hebrew characters, three Flame shoulders, a Pale tussock and a Common quaker. We also saw a Brimstone moth fly past.

It was then time for second breakfast, so we got the fire going and tucked into our sausage and bacon rolls.

After tidying away from breakfast we headed back over to Tern hide to see if we could spot the Lapwing chick in a better light. Unfortunately luck was not on our side this time, but we did see a black tern, bar tailed godwit, ringed plover, little ringed plover, redshank, black-headed gull, Egyptian geese, greylag geese, tufted duck, coot, pied wagtail, common tern, lapwing, swallows, cormorant and both house and sand martins.

Whilst waiting for the parents to arrive we had time to pond dip at the Centre, catching a newt (the kingfisher hasn’t eaten all of them!) and a brilliant great diving beetle:

Thank you to volunteers Geoff, Emily and Harry for joining us for a night on the Education Centre floor in preparation for our brilliant dawn chorus experience, to Liz for joining us in the morning and to Bob for coming in to lead the walk with his wealth of bird song knowledge.

Thanks too to the Young Naturalists eager for such an early start – Lysander, Megan C, Megan Y, Talia, James, Cameron, Poppy, Ben, Will H and Jodie, we hope you all enjoyed it and have managed to catch up on some sleep…

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

Busy Badgers and Disgruntled Wasps

Every day seems very busy at the moment at Blashford, not necessarily with lots of visitors, just a very great number of things going on. Today I had the Lower Test volunteer team clearing willow regrowth on the western shore of Ibsley Water,  the contractor working in the old concrete plant, a visit from the two Apprentice Rangers who will be working with us in the New Year as well as all the usual coming and goings. There were also quiet a few birds of note to be seen and a moderate number of visitors seeing them.

When I opened up the hides I came across a scatter of wasp nest debris on the path just before the Ivy South hide.

wasp-nest-debris

wasp nest debris

A sure sign that a badger had been at work, badgers love eating wasp grubs and will dig out the nests to get at them, the wasps are not so keen, but badgers have thick skins and seem to be able to put up with mass attacks. The nest is now open to the elements but still quite full of wasps, one good rain shower may well destroy now though.

wasp-nest-opened-up-by-badger

Opened up wasp nest, complete with rather discontented wasps.

Although wasps make similar hexagonal cells for their larvae to develop in they are made of paper rather than wax as the brood cells of honey-bees are. They make the paper by chewing up dead wood, summer visitors to the reserve will probably have heard them gnawing at the hides and I wouldn’t mind betting some of this nest was made from chewed up Ivy South hide.

During the day various wildlife reports came in. The osprey was seen again at Ivy Lake, this time perched outside Ivy North hide for about 10 minutes. I was shown some very good video of it by a visitor, it apparently flew in just after I had left the hide with the visiting apprentice rangers.¬†Also from Ivy North came reports of water rail and Cetti’s warbler. Meanwhile over on Ibsley Water the great white egret was on show and a black-necked grebe was seen, the latter a very clean bird, so probably an adult that has wintered with us before, if so it should stay around.¬†Other birds includes a few lingering swallow, a green sandpiper and, right at the end of the day, 2 rock pipit on the shore in front of Tern hide. I got a rather poor picture of one of them, my excuse is that the light was already going, at least you can tell it was a rock pipit.

rock-pipit

Rock pipit outside Tern hide

Although these pipits usually live on the seashore we have had one spend a fairly long stay with us before and I would guess these birds are most probably the same ones I saw the other day, when I could only be sure that one of them was actually a rock pipit. British rock pipits tend to stay close to home, particularly once they have a territory, youngsters move further but many of the birds that winter on our saltmarshes, where they do not breed, will be from Scandinavia. If I am right this looks like an adult, with very worn inner-tertials, the outer one looks to have been moulted, juveniles should be neater than this and with all these feather of the same age. As a British adult is unlikely to be migrating overland my guess is that this is probably a Scandinavian bird.

Meet young Toby… the badger!

Many visitors to the Woodland Hide this afternoon were in for a real treat. Having said goodbye to the school group and finished tidying up I was settling down to go through some of the day-to-day office tasks when a young family came into the lobby and Mum told her daughters to tell me what they had seen – a badger apparently. At first assuming this was a picture they had seen on a poster I queried whether they had seen a real one and they confirmed that they had. I obviously looked like I still didn’t believe them so Mum reassured me that they had and so I left them to it to confirm it with mine own eyes, and sure enough there she/he was!

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140606Blashford7 by J Day_resize

Clearly one of this years cubs by its diminutive size, it spent at least a good hour grubbing around in the leaf litter right in front of the hide! Why Toby? Because I reckon that s/he is an impatient early riser, just like my eldest, who had given up on Mum and Dad or siblings ever waking up and decided to go exploring by itself rather than wait until dark like he should do!

Another surprise was in store for the Reception Class from Queens Park Infant School today – after lunch I showed them the compost bins that there fruit peelings and cores went in and opened up the bottom of the bin so they could see the “minibeast manure” that the worms, slugs, snails and woodlice would make by eating the waste and pooing it out. Normally they are very excited by the heaving mass of woodlice in the compost but today the excitement was heightened somewhat when a reasonably large grass snake leapt out of the bin (yes, I know grass snakes shouldn’t be able to leap, but I swear this one did, though not as much as some of the watching teachers and teaching assistants!) and slithered at quite a rate of knots into an adjacent nettle patch (fortunately. At one point it looked like it might head towards the children and I’m not sure it would have survived the stampede that may have resulted!).

At least 5 grass snakes are now regularly basking on the alder logs and stumps outside Ivy South Hide at the moment (even in the rain as reported earlier in the week). There were already 2 in place when I opened up before 9am this morning:

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With more of the “Aaaah” factor than the “AAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHH” factor (!) are the lapwing chicks which continue to do well outside Ivy South Hide – managed to photograph this one this morning:

Lapwing chick today

Lapwing chick today

As summer approaches we can expect to see more and more dragonfly species on the wing – today I have seen my first Emperor and scarce chaser dragonflies of the year.