30 Days Wild – Day 13: Gulls get Rings

Tuesday is one of our two regular volunteer days at Blashford Lakes, this week’s main task was further work to improve the grassland habitat along the western shore of Ibsley Water. We have had a long-term project to remove bramble, nettle and willow that has been threatening to take dominate. This shore was remodelled into a steep bank using the topsoil removed from the gravel pit surface when it was first dug, conditions ideal for the development of nettle beds and bramble thickets. To reverse this we have been mowing to allow grass and perennial herb species to get the upper-hand.  This has been targeted work aiming to take out only the least desirable species. Even the nettle beds have elements that we leave, such as any patches with nets of peacock and small tortoiseshell larvae.

peacock caterpillars

peacock caterpillars

Alongside the nutrient-rich soils there are poorer patches and these have a more interesting flora including a number of bee orchid.

bee orchid and mower

bee orchid

At the end of the day I went out to Gull Island in Ibsley Water with the bird-ringers to colour-ring a sample of the black-headed gull chicks. We have been doing this for a number of years to find out where the birds from this recently established colony go to and if the chicks reared here return to breed in later years. We managed to catch and ring thirty chicks during our short visit, a good sample.

209C gets ringed

209C gets a ring, where will it go and will it come back?

In the evening I came across a female stag beetle on the fence in the garden, the first female I have seen this year. The day ended on a fine calm note and so I decided to head out to listen to the nightjar again. One came and perched on a branch very close by and gave great views. I never tire of watching and listening to nightjar and to have the opportunity to do so just a few minutes walk from home is wonderful.


Island Life

I opened the Tern hide to be greeted by a swarm of geese on the shore just to the east of the hide, they were mostly greylags which come to the lake to moult, the numbers are slowly building at present but there are probably many more to come.

geese on Ibsley Water

It busy day today with the Lower Test volunteer team in for the morning to help me out by dealing with a difficult hanging tree that had resulted in the closure of the path between the Ivy North and Woodland hides. It took pretty much the whole morning to sort out, There were several stems to deal with and none of them fell straightforwardly to the ground requiring winching and rolling to get them down and safely cleared.There was a school in, so although the reserve was not busy there was lots of activity around the Centre.

Most fo the day was very grey and occasionally drizzly and I was concerned that our planned trip out to the island in Ibsley Water to ring some black-headed gull chicks might have to abandoned. Luckily at about four o’clock it cleared to a bright blue sky and the trip was on. We first put some rings on the chicks here last year, it will be interesting to see where they get to. This is a relatively new colony and it grew rapidly in the first two years but numbers seem to have stabilised somewhat now.

ringing a black-headed gull chick

Most of the chicks we saw were large, in fact two made short flights to avoid getting caught. There were also quite a few nests with eggs or very newly hatched chicks, so the nesting seems to have happened in two waves.

black-headed gull nest with eggs

black-headed gull nest with small chicks

The small chicks stay put on their nests, the larger ones seemed to have two strategies, either to run or swim for it or crouch down and not move. the latter makes them very hard to see, but easy to pick up when you do, running is great of they are fast enough to get away, but makes them easy to spot and catch if they are not. Some will always swim, which can be a problem if it is too windy or the wind is carrying them away from the nesting island, however this evening was ideal with a light south-east breeze, meaning they could swim away a bit, but would naturally be drifted back toward the island after we had gone. We probably caught about fifty, but missed many more, this is because lots were hiding in the deep nettles that cover much of the island.

Gull Island