Rafts, Birds and Bees

It’s that time of year again, the tern rafts are going out and the migrant waders are on the move. On Tuesday the volunteers got two rafts out onto Ivy Lake, after wintering on the shore.

preparing tern raft for launch

Adding nesting substrate to the raft.

They were occupied by common tern within minutes, although black-headed gull also arrived in numbers and by the end of the day were the only species present. This highlights one of the big problems that terns have these days, as their nesting habitats reduce they are competing more and more with gulls and usually lose out to them.

tern raft with terns (and gulls)

two terns and two gulls on newly floated raft

Yesterday’s migrant birds were mainly waders heading to the high Arctic and included a common sandpiper, a bar-tailed godwit,

bar-tailed godwit

bar-tailed godwit

a very smart turnstone and two dunlin.


one of two dunlin

The waders that nest with us are all displaying but none seem to have really settled down yet. Little ringed plover are especially in evidence near Tern Hide.

little ringed plover

Little ringed plover, male

Although it has got cooler the spring insects are still in evidence and some of the earlier season species are beginning to disappear for another year. One such is the rare grey-backed mining bee Andrena vaga, there are only a few females to be found now, but as they feed on willow pollen their food will soon run out.

Andrena vaga

grey-backed mining bee female, one of only a few still flying

If you look at a solitary bee nesting bank there are usually lots of, what at first, look like wasps, but these are actually parasitic bees. Many are very specific as to their host species, I came across two species yesterday. I found what I think was Lathbury’s nomad bee, which uses grey-backed and  the commoner ashy mining bee as hosts.

Nomada lathburiana

Lathbury’s nomad bee Nomada lathburiana


I also found lots of painted nomad bee, which visits the nests of the common yellow-legged mining bee.

Nomada fucata

painted nomad bee Nomada fucata

Work continues on the parking area close to the Education Centre, which means that it will not be available for parking until after the weekend, please take note of any signs to keep safe on your visit whilst we have machinery working on site.


A Great Day

I arrived at the reserve in heavy rain, always promising at this time of year and looking out form Tern hide I saw 4 bar-tailed godwit, migrants headed north grounded by the weather. Otherwise things were pretty much as the day previous day, including two very smart black-necked grebe, always a massive treat in breeding plumage.

The night had been cold (again), but there were a few moths in the trap including two new for the year, an iron prominent.

iron prominent

iron prominent

And a great prominent.

great prominent

great prominent

The moth trap does not only catch moths and looking through pictures from a few days ago I noticed a small fly I had not yet identified. It turned out to be a Tephritid fly, more often called picture-winged flies. Most of these have larvae that eat plants, especially seedheads of composites such as thistles. I identified this one as Euphranta toxoneura as species that is a brood parasite or predator on sawflies of the genus Pontania which make leaf galls on willows. It appears to be quite a scarce species and certainly one I had not seen before and a new species for the reserve.

Euphranta toxoneura

Euphranta toxoneura

Around lunchtime,as the weather cleared, an osprey flew over, it headed off east and was maybe the one seen at Lower Test nature reserve later. Unfortunately I missed it, I think at least the third one to have flown over me so far this year without my seeing any of them. The only other birds of note today were 14 black-tailed godwit and a whimbrel, briefly with the bar-tailed godwit in flight over Ibsley Water, a common sandpiper and a screaming group of about 40 swift.

It’s Good to have a Hobby

And even better to have two! Which is what we saw today hunting insects over Ivy Lake when we went to put out another of the tern rafts. These sickle-winged falcons winter south of the Sahara and fly north to breed along with their favourite prey, swallows and martins. Watching them swooping to catch flying insects is a fantastic experience, you can only marvel at their mastery of the air, one of the great sights of summer.

The tern rafts are gradually being deployed, so far the terns have looked interested but failed to occupy any of the rafts before they have been dominated by pairs of  black-headed gull. It is always a problem getting the timing right and this is why I deploy the rafts one or two at a time, at some point the terns must surely be ready to take control of one.

preparing the tern raft

Preparing a tern raft

There have been at least 30 common tern around regularly and they have been doing courtship flights and bringing food, so I think they should be ready to settle soon. So far there has been little sign of much tern passage, apart from a few beautiful black tern, the biggest group so far being 5 on Sunday afternoon. Little gull are usually birds of passage that stay at most a day or so , which makes the fine adult that has been frequenting  Ibsley Water for several days something of an exception. It was there again today, although I don’t think anyone saw the Bonaparte’s gull. Other birds have included a few dunlin and common sandpiper and last week a bar-tailed godwit.


Bar-tailed godwit

In recent posts we have featured a number of pictures of lapwing chicks, sadly I don’t think any of them have survived. This season has been a good one for the number of pairs and in general hatching success has been quite good, but the chicks have been disappearing fast. I think a combination of dry weather and predators is the cause. Dry conditions mean the chicks get brought to the lakeshore to seek food, as all their favoured puddles are gone, unfortunately the shore is regularly patrolled by fox and other predators, as it regularly has washed up food in the shape of dead birds and fish. The foxes may not be actively seeking the chicks but they will not refuse one should they come across it. Sadly a similar lack of success is befalling the little ringed plover, but at least they will continue to try and may yet succeed before the summer is out.


Little ringed plover near Tern hide.

The cold winds are making moth trapping a slow business, with few species flying, although we have caught an eyed hawk-moth and a couple of poplar hawk-moth recently.

poplar hawk

Poplar hawk-moth

Hobby Display Team

A quick look out of the Tern hide first thing revealed that yesterday’s avocet was still present as were 2 greenshank and 2 dunlin. But as I was busy elsewhere today I could not linger, hopefully they would still be there at lunchtime.

Ed has been away this week so the first Sunday of the month volunteer task fell to me to lead. It has been a while since I have done one and there were a few new faces since my last foray with the team. Six of us set out to tackle some more Himalayan balsam, carrying on from where we left off on Thursday with the weekday volunteers. We ended up spending the whole two hours in the alder carr area where we found quite a lot of plants. Although they are still small it is easier to see them than it will be when the nettles get really tall later in the season. It was not all plants though, we found a starling’s nest in an old woodpecker hole and several common frog, the one below was caught on camera by Natasha.

a frog we came across as we were balsam pulling

a frog we came across as we were balsam pulling

After topping up the pond with the rainwater collected thanks to last night’s rain I set off for a look at the northern part of the reserve. Looking from the Tern hide I saw the avocet again as well as a sanderling, unlike last weeks breeding plumage bird this one was still looking very wintery. They was also a peregrine, several swift and 2 hobby. I then headed off to the Goosander and Lapwing hides.

It was a good while since I was up there and on the way I looked out for some of the orchids that grow in the old silt pond. I quickly found a good few twayblade, not in flower yet but actually not far off.



In an area that we have been cutting for some years to see what would come up I found a good few southern marsh orchids.

southern marsh orchid

southern marsh orchid

And a few with spotted leaves that were probably common spotted orchid.

common spotted orchid

common spotted orchid

Unfortunately many were already quite nibbled by deer and they may yet ensure that none of them get to flower. Deer are a particular and growing problem in this part of the reserve where  a lot of fallow lay up in the daytime and feed at night, they are having a heavy impact on the vegetation which gets worse and worse as their numbers continue to rise.

I then went up to the Lapwing hide, which, as it turned out, was where the action really was. On the way I had been impressed by 2 hobby swooping overhead, but from the hide there were five and they were coming very close to the hide, giving a fantastic display, the best I had seen in years.

I was also interested to see we still have 3 wigeon and a few teal, although I could find no sign of yesterday’s splendid drake garganey. There was a smart red bar-tailed godwit on the grass and a whimbrel flew in from the south, so there was a good tally of waders about today. May is always an exciting month and there may yet be more interesting visitors, perhaps a black tern or two?

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!



Terns Return

Bird News: Ibsley Waterbar-tailed godwit 2.

Not a lot to report today although I was a little surprised to see at least two of the bar-tailed godwit from yesterday still around, the black terns have departed though.

The morning was spent getting the rafts put out on Ivy Lake. Things went pretty well except that one of the mooring buoys had been lost which meant I could not find the rope, another mooring weight will have to be laid. Three of the four rafts did get out and by the time I had returned to the shore there were fourteen common terns in occupation. Although they had to wait this level of instant occupancy paid off as when a black headed gull tried to land it was instantly driven off, so I think there is little chance of them being taken over by gulls.

Hopefully I will have more to post tomorrow.

A Good Day Terned

Bird News: Ibsley Waterblack tern 3, bar-tailed godwit 3, black-tailed godwit 1, dunlin 1, swift c60, cuckoo 1.

After an iffy start the day turned out very fine indeed and the waterproofs could be put away for once. I was leading a walk of visitors from the Dorset Wildlife Trust today, which gave me an excuse to have a good look around the reserve. Although Ibsley Water provided the “best” birds of the day in the shape of three fine black terns, a small group of waders including 3 bar-tailed godwit, two of them red males, a dunlin in breeding finery and an elusive black-tailed godwit, there were other birds to enjoy elsewhere. The path between the Woodland hide and Ivy South hide is always a good area for warblers and today we could hear and usually see reed warbler, blackcap, garden warbler, Cetti’s warbler and chiffchaff as well as various resident singers. There was also a very smart male reed bunting singing in the reedbed of the Silt Pond.

We visited the Goosander hide where the sand martin colony is finally getting busy with lots of coming and going. At the Ivy North hide the highlight was an immaculate male grey wagtail, acid yellow contrasting with a jet black throat.

Finishing off at the Tern hide again we were lucky to have a few common tern come in to perch on the posts outside the hide. Initially just resting but as other birds flew in things got more animated until a bout of full display was initiated.

resting common tern

common tern calling

feeling the need to be impressive

and really going for it

In the afternoon I wasted most of the time tracking down some trespassers on Ibsley Water and Mockbeggar Lake that had also parked so that the access gates to the Goosander and Lapwing hide were blocked for disabled visitors and my quad bike. Turned out they were two guys I caught one day last week as well. They were just out for a walk and did not know where they were then as well, what are the chances?! Unfortunately these wanderers are not harmless, they lead to loss of ground nesting birds and general disturbance. Some at least are also the same people who return at night to fish, the prolonged stays on the bank lead to desertion of nests, especially of species like lapwing and little ringed plover. The lakes also suffer from illegal fish movements, these result in fish and potentially diseases being moved between lakes and sometimes alien species being introduced. In my efforts to find the wanderers I did at least finally hear my first cuckoo of the year, this is my latest ever date for my first by some margin, despite an arrival from mid-March!


A Gruesome Gift

Bird News: Ibsley Waterbar-tailed godwit 1, whimbrel 2, swift 60+, hobby 3, black tern 2, little gull 1, raven 1.

A much better day, but it could not have been much worse, the rain gave way to a mostly sunny day with butterflies and a variety of insects out and about. The winds were more less southerly and this raised the temperature and blew in a few birds, although they took a while to arrive.

A first look from the Tern hide yielded a single bar-tailed godwit, always a good wader inland and this one was being chased around by territorial lapwings, but seemed reluctant to leave. The only other bird of note was a raven doing rolling display flights just to the west of the Salisbury road.

Later in the day things started to pick up with the arrival of 2 black terns, a first summer little gull and two whimbrel, which joined the godwit. Swift numbers increased steadily through the day to about 60 or more by the time I left. The hide log recorded up to 3 hobby seen, although they still elude me.

None of the birds offered themselves for a picture, but various insects did. At lunchtime at the Centre I got a picture of a fine little bee, which I have so far been unable to put a name to.

unidentified bee

There was also an alderfly posing on a dead stem, they have excellent wings with very strong veins, almost like the leaded window.


I had to go across to the Goosander and lapwing hides in the afternoon to deal with a few fallen branches and put up a warning sign about path flooding. The sun was still out and I saw a few orange-tips and a male brimstone nectaring on ground-ivy. There were quite  a few hoverflies about too, although I only got a picture of one rather fresh Eristalis pertinax, one of the droneflies.

Eristalis pertinax

Rather more impressive was a pair of predatory flies, which I think were Empis stercorea. In this species the males catch a fly as a meal for the female while they mate. In the pictures the male is supporting the pair and prey by hanging from the stem by his front legs and holds the female with the other two pairs. The female is eating the meal he has given her whilst mating proceeds. i think the prey is a St Mark’s fly, or at least a Bibionid of some kind.

Empis stercorea pair with prey from front

I think they are worth two pictures, so here is another.

Empis stercorea pair with prey from rear

Things then went rather downhill as I got a report of two men on the shore of Ibsley Water with a dog, I eventually caught up with them standing on top of the sand martin bank, not doing much for the martins.