Seasonal Shift

Although the hides remain closed good views can be had of Ibsley Water from the viewpoint at the back of the main car park. Although views of most things on this large lake are distant at least from there you can see most of the lake. I have found one or two people wandering off the paths recently to try to get to the lakeshore, this is unacceptable which is highlighted by the fact that it has been the birds taking flight that has brought it to my attention. I also found someone standing on a badger sett the other day, also unacceptable. In each case the people concerned have failed to see much and caused any birds nearby to fly off.

From the viewpoint this morning I saw a merlin, a peregrine, over 50 wigeon, a few pintail (yesterday there were 8), 18 goosander, about 40 shoveler and over a 1000 house martin, not bad for a quick scan. The martins have been held up by the inclement weather and have been feeding over the lake for a few days, there have also been a few swallow and one or two sand martin. Later when I was checking the hide the peregrine was perched on a post near Tern Hide and I got the shot below. With that beak and those claws it is easy to see why this is such a feared predator.

I have yet to stay until dusk to check the gull roost, but numbers are building now, a quick look before leaving yesterday yielded 3 yellow-legged gull in the hundreds of lesser black-backed gull and a single first winter common gull in the black-headed gull part of the flock.

Elsewhere on the reserve there are good numbers of chiffchaff, so far no yellow-browed warbler, but I will keep looking. Two marsh tit have been visiting the feeders, the first for a few years. It looks like being a good winter for finches, with a steady movement of siskin and recently also redpoll overhead on several days. The first redwing will be along any day now and maybe a brambling or tow passing through.

For all of the sings of approaching winter it is still quite warm by day and speckled wood remain flying in good numbers with a few whites and red admiral too. Most of the solitary bees have ended their season now but I did see this one today, I think an orange-footed furrow bee.

possibly orange-footed furrow bee

Likewise there are still some hoverflies on the wing, today’s brightest was this Sericomyia silentis.

Sericomyia silentis

I will end with a quick warning that tomorrow morning we will be working beside the path and boardwalk near Ivy South Hide, this will mean that the path may be closed for short periods.

Still going wild

On Sunday we had another of our fortnightly Young Naturalist catch ups, and it was great to hear what the group have been getting up to. Will had been down to the Lymington and Keyhaven Marshes and shared some photos from his walk, including one of an avocet with chick.

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Thomas and Alex had been for a walk at Iping Common, a Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve, and had seen Silver-studded blue butterflies, a glow worm larva, a bloody-nosed beetle and a pill millipede.

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Harry talked to us about the bug hotel in his garden which he built six years ago and is very popular with the spiders and Poppy had also sent me a photo during the week of the female broad-bordered yellow underwing moth which had emerged from a pupa she had found in the garden. Last time we met online she had shown everyone the pupa wriggling and we had guessed at Large yellow underwing, so weren’t far off!

Sadly Saturday night was so windy we didn’t have a huge number of moths to look at, despite Bob running both light traps, but we did have a dozen or so to study under the digital microscope. The group are getting quite good at identifying a few we either catch more regularly or stand out, such as the Spectacle moth or Buff-tip. The most exciting was this lovey Purple thorn, which was very obliging and posed for some time for photos:

Purple thorn (2)

Purple thorn

Nigel had put together another quiz for the group, this time on butterflies, dragonflies, other insects and some spiders they are likely to see whilst out and about and we talked through a presentation on bees, the main reason for all the bee photos I’ve been taking recently!

The group have requested reptiles and amphibians as themes for the next couple of sessions and we will run another in a fortnights time. Grass snake photos will certainly be easy, I spotted one curled up in the vegetation by the Education Centre pond Sunday afternoon:

Grass snake (4)

Grass snake

When I arrived at Blashford yesterday a rather substantial branch had come down by the entrance so I decided to walk the closer footpaths to check everything else was as it should be.

I popped into Ivy South Hide to have a look at the tern rafts and could make out quite a few Common tern chicks, although they were difficult to count especially when an adult came back with food and they all dashed around. Closer to the hide there was a pair of Black-headed gull chicks on one of the life-ring rafts and I watched the smaller one bobbing around in the water before it climbed back on to the raft:

Black-headed gull chicks (2)

Black-headed gull chick

Walking back up the Dockens path I saw another grass snake, this time a young one, basking on the large fallen tree close to the mushroom sculpture. I managed a quick photo before it disappeared over the back of the trunk:

Grass snake (3)

Grass snake

Further along the path I spotted another plant I have not noticed before, identified by Bob today as Tutsan. Tutsan is a deciduous flowering shrub in the Hypericum or St John’s Wort family, and native to western and southern Europe. Its leaves were apparently gathered and burned to ward off evil spirits on the eve of St. John’s Day and it has also been used to treat wounds and inflammation. The name Tutsan comes from the French words “tout” (all) and “sain” (healthy), a reference to the plant’s healing capabilities.

Tutsan

Tutsan

From the river dipping bridge I decided to head over to Tern Hide to have a look at Ibsley Water and see if there were any Ringlets in the area of rough grass between the pedestrian gate and car park height barrier. There were a couple flying about and I also saw my first Gatekeeper of the year, although it did not settle for a photo.

Ringlet (2)

Ringlet

Whilst photographing the Ringlet I noticed a hoverfly, Volucella pellucens, on the bramble flowers. Also called the Pellucid fly or Large Pied-hoverfly, it is one of the largest flies in Britain and has a striking ivory-white band across its middle and large dark spots on its wings. The adults favour bramble flowers and umbellifers whilst the larvae live in the nests of social wasps and bumblebees, eating waste products and bee larvae.

Volucella pellucens

Volucella pellucens

On reaching Tern Hide a movement caught my eye and I noticed a large wasps nest under the roof and to the right of the right hand door. I spent some time watching them flying in and out. Bob did head over there yesterday too to take a look and shared a photo, but here’s another:

Wasps and wasp nest

Wasps and wasp nest

Although we’re not going over there as regularly as we would have done under normal circumstances, I’m surprised neither of us had noticed it sooner given the size!

Yesterday afternoon we had a brief power outage whilst our supply was switched back from a generator to the mains, and as the sun was shining I took the opportunity to linger by the planters outside the Centre, chat to the few visitors that were passing and see which insects were visiting the flowers. Although we’ve shared a few Green-eyed flower bee photos before, they are so smart I couldn’t resist taking a few more photos of them when they either rested on the planter edge or paused for long enough on the vervain.

I also spotted an Alder beetle on the lavender, a bee enjoying the astrantia, a Large white butterfly on the verbena and a mint moth.

The mini meadow by the Welcome Hut is also still really good for insects, with Thick-legged flower beetles, hoverflies and Small skippers enjoying the remaining ox-eye daisies, yarrow and ragged robin. The hoverfly could I think be a male Long hoverfly,  Sphaerophoria scripta, with its narrow body noticeably longer than its wings. The female of this species is broader.

Today has been decidedly soggier, but I did watch a butterfly fly past in the rain and there are plenty of soggy looking damselflies trying to find shelter on the plant stems:

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

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30 Days Wild – Day 26 – So Many Moths

The night of 25th-26th June was one of the best for moths for many years, it was ideal, warm and calm. Moths fly for longer on warm nights, unlike day flying insects they cannot use the sun to warm up for flight, so are dependent upon the air temperature being high enough. This is why, on most nights the main flight will be at dusk and numbers decrease through until dawn.

I knew it would be good from the forecast and from the fact that sleep was difficult, one advantage of this was that I was awake at dawn so could go and close the trap before the birds could clear any moths that had not got inside. In my garden I run a small, low power actinic moth trap, the light is less bright and doe snot disturb neighbours, the lower light output means it catches fewer moths. I could see immediately that it was full of moths, the eventual tally was a remarkable 79 identified species, with one or two more unidentified.

Meanwhile at Blashford I had put out two traps in slightly different habitats, if my small trap had that many species how many would there be in the bigger traps? The answer turned out to be about the same, one around 75 species and the other just over 80. I suspect that some of the micro moths, which make up a lot of the catch on calm nights, get out of the trap if it is not covered and taken in soon after dawn.

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Many of the micro moths are stunning to look at, if you can see them well enough! This is where macro photography and especially digital photography comes in so handy, the images can be enlarged on the screen.

My home trap did yield one new species for the garden and not a micro moth either, it was a red-necked footman. These are curious moths, I will not see any for ages and then suddenly see a whole swarm of them, perhaps 100 or more flying together around a tree top in bright sunshine.

red-necked footman

red-necked footman

A number of the micro moths have similar patterns, even if they are not closely related, one recurrent pattern is white with dots, this is a common pattern in the Yponomeutidae, but then crops up again int he distantly related thistle ermine, which is a Pyralid and of course in the white ermine itself, which is one of the tiger moths.

Not everything that gets attracted into a moth trap is a moth, other night-flying insects also arrive. I was very interested to catch a fine beetle that I had not seen before and which I did not remember seeing illustrated.

Diaperis boleti 4x3

Diaperis boleti

When I first tried to identify it, thumbing through some general beetle books, I did eventually found it, the text said “rare in Britain”. Having identified it, at least tentatively, I looked it up on the web and found a rather more contemporary account of its status. I confirmed it was indeed Diaperis boleti, one of the darkling beetles that feed on bracket fungi, it used to be rare, but now it seems it has “become quite widespread and is locally frequent”. It is probably another species that is benefiting from a warmer climate, a reminder that there are winners and losers when things change.

At Blashford the micro moth theme continued, but with a mostly different caste, a few of which are below.

Out on the reserve the breeding season progresses, the common tern chicks are growing fast and a good few of the black-headed gull have fledged.

black-headed gull juv

black-headed gull (juvenile)

 

30 Days Wild – Day 10

A third of the way through the 30 Days now and we continue to live in strange times in which many of us have changed somewhat our relationship with the local environment. Even people who were in the habit of walking out from home have found new places to go and in the process found lots of unnoticed doorstep wildlife. In particular the flowers growing on verges, greens and playing field edges have caught people’s eyes with lots of pictures in social media of bee orchids in new places. There was also “No Mow May”, this was promoting the idea of not mowing grass in the month of May and seeing what came up. Quiet a few people found that bee orchids were growing in their lawns all the time, and many realised just how important dandelions were for insects. It demonstrated that our gardens and maintained green spaces could be supporting a lot more wildlife and helping to address some of issues around the decline in pollinating insects.

Day 10 was rather damp at times, actually for quite a lot of the time where I was, but the moth trap can be relied on to deliver something of interest and this time it was a very beautiful small elephant hawk-moth. Perhaps because I don’t see them very often this is just about my favourite hawk-moth.

small elephant hawk-moth

small elephant hawk-moth

I took the afternoon off and made a short excursion to the coast, where it was rather grey and breezy, but I did manage to see my first little tern of the year. I tried to take a picture but it avoided me as soon as I raised my camera, in fact all the birds seemed very camera shy, even this black-headed gull did not want a picture taken.

camera shy black-headed gull

camera shy black-headed gull

 

30 Days Wild – Day 9

The moth trap at Blashford was run last night, in fact we run it almost every night and have done so for many years. The advantage of doing survey over long periods is that you get some idea of changes over time. Although one moth trap in one location is not a controlled dataset when the data from lots of traps run all across the country is combined a picture of change begins to emerge.

The longest running systematic survey data for moth comes from the Rothamsted traps, which have been run every night at locations all across the country since 1967. A summary of the results of this work was published (Macgregor, C.J., Williams, J.H., Bell, J.R. et al. Moth biomass increases and decreases over 50 years in Britain. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 1645–1649). The traps are of a standard design so the catches can be compared between sites and between years. It turns out that moth biomass, the total weight of moths of all types caught, actually increased between 1967 and 1982. Since then there has been a steady decline to the present. However there still seems to be almost twice the biomass of moths now that there was in 1967. Catches varied widely between years, with hot, dry years, such as 1976 resulting in large increases, so we might expect increases following the last two summers, time will tell.

Although the data does not go back before 1967 in such a systematic way, the evidence that is available suggests that the really big declines had already happened by 1967, following the large growth in pesticide use in the years following WW2. Comparing habitats the poorest are urban and arable areas, arable perhaps due to their uniformity and continuing pesticide use, urban areas although more diverse are still subject to light and chemical pollution, both of which probably have impacts. More natural habitats such as grassland and woodland have larger catches and might be expected to be more stable, but have actually suffered 18% and 15% decline respectively since 1983. Although numbers are lower, catches have been stable on arable land over the same period.

great oak beauty

great oak beauty – a moth of old woodland

It appears that the continuing declines are ongoing in the richest habitats but stable on the degraded ones, perhaps indicating that all habitats are declining towards an impoverished base level of bio-abundance, at least for moths. A similar pattern is suggested for other insects too and is supported to some degree by observations of long-term changes in bird populations across a range of habitats.

In recent years there has been a lot of enthusiasm for “Rewilding” and this does seem to be one way to start to reverse the wholesale declines impacting many species. It is certainly true that typically small, isolated nature reserves cannot maintain our biodiversity, but they do still have a vital role to play. They are biodiversity islands in a generally impoverished landscape. If the impoverishment can be reversed this biodiversity can start to spread out from the reserves and repopulate the wider countryside and urban areas. Nature reserves are not just slightly nicer bits of countryside, they are where we have effectively “Banked” much of our wildlife and so need special treatment if we are ever to rebuild wildlife richness across the country. Far from being irrelevant in a time of rewilding, nature reserves remain essential to rewidling achieving its full potential.

The breeding season seems to have been a good one for most bird species at Blashford Lakes. There are now well grown broods of little grebe, coot, moorhen and wildfowl all around the reserve.

coot family

coot family

One group that as fared less well are the ground nesters that use the lake shores and islands. Black-headed gulls are nesting only on the few available rafts, for the first time in over a decade none are using the islands. This may be due to predation last season, but in combination with no breeding around the lake shore by lapwing, I suspect that heavy disturbance, especially at night, is a very likely reason. Unfortunately lockdown started just as the breeding season got underway, which might seem a good thing, but it brought a huge increase in nighttime poaching activity on the reserve as people had more time on their hands and legitimate angling sites were closed.

gulls on a raft

Black-headed gulls are doing well on the rafts with lost of fast growing chicks

Luckily poaching activity has now declined again as angling lakes have reopened. Lockdown has seen lots more people out in the countryside and seemingly a much greater value being put on local greenspace, which is all positive. However, as has been widely seen in the media, it also seems to have resulted in a large increase in more careless use. Many reserves have suffered incidents, with fires being perhaps the worst in terms of wildlife impacts. It would perhaps be ironic if, just as more people have recognised the great value of greenspace, inconsiderate use resulted in some of its value being lost. If we value something we should be looking after it, ultimately nature reserve do not look after wildlife, we all do, we have banked some nature on our reserves, not so we can go in and burn a few pounds from time to time, but so we have seed capital to invest in a better future with wildlife across the whole landscape.

I will try and include more pictures and less verbiage in Day 10’s post!

 

30 Days Wild – Day 6

A distinct chill in the air today, with a brisk north-west wind, such a contrast to just a week ago. The large raft we put out on Ibsley Water last year was taken over by black-headed gulls this year, I had hoped to cover it to encourage terns, but circumstances did not allow this. The gulls now have chicks and they seemed to be getting on okay despite the winds today.

black-headed gulls on raft

black-headed gulls on raft, with a few chicks just visible.

The cool conditions made for a poor day for insects, but one of the few I did see was a green-eyed flower bee resting on one of the Salvia flower heads in the planter outside the Education Centre. These bees are very fond of nectaring on the flowers and I suspect this one was feeding when it got  caught out when the brief sun went behind the clouds.

green-eyed flower bee male 4x3

green-eyed flower bee male

I spent a fair part of the driest bit of the day trimming path edges and passing places to enable people to walk round and maintain the required 2 metres social distancing. The car park is not yet open, but the paths are walkable, although we are asking people to follow the one-way signs we have put out to make distancing easier on narrow paths. The brambles are growing fast and I am now doing a light trim at least every fortnight, in amongst the brambles there are also other plants, including some roses such as this field rose.

field rose

field rose

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 5

You may have got the impression from yesterday’s three pictures of Tortrix moths that they are all grey or at best black and white, but nothing could be further from the truth and to prove it here is a very different one.

Agapeta zoeganaAgapeta zoegana

This one was in my garden moth trap, the caterpillar eats the roots of knapweed and probably field scabious, both of which I have growing in my garden mini-meadow.

My journey to work takes me across the New Forest and from time to time I see interesting wildlife on my way. This morning’s top spot went to a hawfinch which flew low over the road in front of me.

By contrast things at Blashford were pretty quiet today, the patchy weather perhaps not helping, with several showers and the wind pretty strong at times too. One surprise though was a pair of gadwall on the Education Centre dipping pond when I was emptying the moth trap. I have often seen mallard on there, but gadwall I had not expected.

Towards the end of the afternoon I went down to Ivy South to check on the common terns nesting on the raft. With the iffy weather I knew all the birds with clutches would be sure to be sitting tight. In addition the wind meant the rafts were swinging a bit so I could see from slightly different angles, with luck I hoped to get a good count of the sitting birds.

terns on raft 4x3

Nesting terns on Ivy Lake raft

I concluded there are certainly 23 nests on this raft, probably 24, and possibly 25, there is also one gull nest. In addition there is another on the other raft along with several black-headed gull and an additional pair which don’t seem to have settled yet. So the total is a minimum of 25 pairs and perhaps up to 27. There also appears to be one pair still milling around on Ibsley Water. The density of nests on this raft is amazing, it is only 2.4m x 2.4m (8ft x 8ft) so the total area is 5.75 square metres, there are at least 24 nests which gives each pair just under a quarter of a square metre each (50cm x 50cm).

Although our tern colony is not large but it is important as over the years it has been one of the most productive in the country, sometimes fledging over two chick for each nesting pair, typically productivity is between 0.5-1.0 chicks per pair on average across a colony. So you could say it is as important as perhaps a 100 strong colony might be elsewhere. Terns live a long time, 20 years and more, so the chicks produced at Blashford over the years will probably be out there in colonies all over southern England. One thing that is certain is that few return to us, if they did our colony would be in the low hundreds of pairs by now!

Overall, so far at least, this seems to be a good breeding season for lots of species. The fine weather suited most of the small birds, with perhaps only the thrushes not liking the dry conditions, The coot and moorhen have done well, they will have benefited from the good weather but their success also suggests we do not have a significant issue with mink on the reserve just now.

young moorhen

young moorhen

A successful early brood is doubly important for moorhens, as once full grown the offspring of the first brood will help to rear the next. This helps the parents, meaning the second brood can be larger but it also means the young will have experience in what it takes to rear a brood, making them more likely to succeed when they first nest themselves next spring.

Back to Blashford

Last Monday I helped Bob put a couple of tern rafts out on Ivy Lake, something he had been hoping to do for a while but needed someone on site whilst he went out on the water. So when I say ‘help’, I do mean it in the loosest sense of the word as I kept an eye on him from the comfort of Ivy South hide.

Ivy Lake 3

The view from Ivy South hide – the spiders have moved in and the vegetation is taking over!

Luckily, two of the rafts were still on the edges of the lake, so they just needed moving out into position in the middle and securing in place. By the end of the day there were six common terns interested in one of the rafts and this number has gradually increased over the course of the week. In wandering down there today there were at least twenty either on the raft itself or flying around overhead, with a few black-headed gulls. We would usually put out more rafts but without volunteer support to make them and move them (not a job that allows for social distancing) they will have to make do with these two instead.

Ivy Lake 2

A blurred Bob out on Ivy Lake with two tern rafts (I liked the foreground!)

Whilst waiting for Bob I listened to the reed warblers with their distinctive chatty song and watched a pair of great crested grebes out on the water. I also noticed lots of newly emerged damselflies, yet to develop their full colours and markings, on the stems growing outside the hide. It takes a few days for them to develop their colouring, a useful survival mechanism as at present they are not quite ready to fly so blend in rather well with the vegetation. Lower down you could make out the cast skins or exuvia clinging on to the vegetation following their final moult and emergence as an adult.

Bob has also been busy strimming step asides into the edges of some of the footpaths, where it has been possible to do so, to create areas for people to pass each other more easily and aid social distancing when walking around.

In addition we have been busy planning extra signage for some of the footpaths and will be making some routes one way, again to aid social distancing and enable people to visit safely. Crossing the stretches of boardwalk safely will be particularly difficult, so people will be directed over these a certain way. We hope to begin putting signage up this week, at the entrances to the reserve and also at path junctions, so if and when you do visit please keep an eye out for them. Hopefully we will have ironed out any snags by the time we are able to open a car park, which fingers crossed will not be too far off now, we will keep you all posted…

It has been nice to spend a bit of time out on the reserve – I was back just in time to experience the bluebells along the Dockens Water, although they are going over now, and also heard my first cuckoo of the year this week. I wasn’t sure I was going to hear one this spring. There is also still some greater stitchwort flowering along the Dockens path:

On Ibsley Water the large raft is mainly occupied by black-headed gulls, although there were a couple of common tern on there early last week. It’s lovely to see the common terns back again for another summer.

By the Centre there has been plenty of insect life around the pond, with beetles, bees, dragonflies and damselflies making the most of the sunshine:

On Wednesday Bob and I were sat having lunch when the female mallard he had noticed on the new Education Centre pond made an appearance, followed by 13 ducklings. We watched them topple off the boardwalk into the water, one or two at a time, and enjoyed their company whilst we finished eating. Later on that afternoon they moved over to the original centre pond but I haven’t seen them since, so I hope they are ok.

It has also been really nice to be able to rummage through the moth trap again, although with a few cold nights it has been quite quiet. Here are some moth highlights:

There have also been a number of cockchafers in the light trap. Also known as May bugs or doodlebugs these large brown beetles also fly around at dusk.

May bug

Cockchafer, May bug or doodlebug

On Thursday I found the exuvia or final moult of a hawker dragonfly in the pond and fished it out to take a closer look:

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

Leaving it out in a sunny spot to dry out I completely forgot about it, only remembering once I had driven home that evening. By this morning though it had found its way onto my desk, so Bob must have spotted it too!

I have also visited the meadow a couple times, the oxeye daisies are looking beautiful now they are coming into flower, rivalling the gorgeous pink display of ragged robin by the Welcome Hut which Jo shared a photo of last week. The common vetch and buttercups are also flowering and there are a few common blue butterflies on the wing.

The beautiful green beetle above has many names, it is known as the thick-legged flower beetle, false oil beetle and swollen-thighed beetle. Only the males have thickened hind legs, I might have to visit the meadow again in search of a female.

Lockdown Impacts on Wildlife

I was on site for checks again yesterday and a good thing as it turned out as a large oak bough had fallen across a path. Presumably in the wind on Monday a branch, with no obvious decay and just coming into leaf, was ripped off and fell 8m or so to the ground, luckily nobody was under it. Fortunately Jo was also doing checks not too far away at Fishlake and was able to come over to provide my first aid cover so I could use the chainsaw to clear the problem away.

Generally the reserve is quiet now with very few people continuing to drive out and so mainly only being visited by those within walking range. I had hoped that fewer people might mean some benefit for wildlife, especially more easily disturbed species that may avoid areas close to car parks and paths under normal circumstances. I think some of this may be happening, it appears that snakes are basking beside the paths a little more than usual, they undoubtedly do so anyway, but will move away each time someone passes. I spotted this very bright adder by a path edge yesterday.

adder 4x3

basking adder

Unfortunately I think the overall effect on wildlife will be very negative, what I have found, and this seems to be getting worse, is that the few people who are still driving out to the reserve are mostly wandering well off the paths. At least four of yesterdays eight vehicles parked near the reserve for long periods were definitely associated with anglers, either wandering with bait boxes to look at fish or actively fishing. As a result there is regular and at times persistent disturbance around most of the lake shores, in areas that would usually be quiet. It was noticeable that both pairs of oystercatcher seem to have gone and the three lapwing displaying last week were nowhere to be seen.

I did see my first common tern of the year yesterday, but with little chance of getting the rafts out they will have only the islands to nest on. The main island is usually full of gulls, but these are absent this year, which would give them a chance free from the usual competition. Unfortunately I suspect the gulls are not there because of the high level of disturbance from anglers on the nearest bank, which will also put off the terns. It is also likely that angling is even more common at night so my records probably underplay the impacts.

The day was bright and sunny and it was pleasant to be out, I heard my first singing garden warbler and was able to enjoy the crab apple in all its glory.

P1080329

crab apple in bloom

As a conservationist I am an optimist, it goes with the territory, even when the evidence is against us a belief that things can be improved is essential. In life though the actions of a few can undo the good intentions of the many, whether in wildlife conservation or, as we are all now finding, in the suppression of a viral pandemic.

Stay safe, really look at your bit of the world and the other life you share it with, enjoy it and think how it could be made better.

What a difference a day makes!

After a gorgeously sunny Christmas Day yesterday, today saw the return of the rain and I got soaked opening up the hides – needless to say the reserve has been very quiet today! Even the wildlife decided to stay in the warm and dry – we have been keeping an eye on the Tawny Owl box as something has definitely moved in and made itself a very dry and cosy home out of oak leaves and soft rush. Although not the owl we had been hoping for, it is still very nice to see a grey squirrel up close on camera, although you can’t see much when it hunkers down inside its nest:

IMG_2195

Squirrel making itself at home in the owl box

Last week we realised one had stashed food in the box as we noticed it rummaging through the wood chip that had been put in the bottom – clearly it decided with all the rain we’ve been having this was a good spot, came back and made some home improvements. This morning I watched it look out the hole a few times before it decided it was better off back in bed:

Wet grey days are definitely for catching up with the blog, and this one may turn out to be quite long as I am two Young Naturalists sessions behind, one of which was our November residential at the Countryside Education Trust’s Home Farm in Beaulieu…

Unfortunately the weather was not quite on our side then either, although we were able to dodge most of the showers. We began on the Friday night with an excellent talk by Steve Tonkin about the night sky – sadly it was too cloudy to head outside for any observing so we will have to invite Steve again another evening, but the group enjoyed the talk and asked some excellent questions that definitely kept Steve on his toes.

Astronomy 2

Astronomy talk

On Saturday morning we headed to Rans Wood, just outside Beaulieu, to meet Sally Mitchell from Wild Heritage for a fungi walk. We didn’t have to stray too far from the car park and were rewarded with over thirty species which was great for late Autumn. Before heading off Sally tested the group’s current fungi knowledge with an identification activity – they knew a few edible and inedible species and were also very good at erring on the side of caution with those they weren’t sure about.

Fungi foray

Testing our knowledge

Fungi is not my strong point so it was brilliant to go looking with someone able to identify what we saw and also be so enthusiastic about it. Sally also has permission from Forestry England to pick the fungi for identification purposes (not to eat as there is a no picking ban for this in the Forest), so we were able to study some close up and take a closer look at the gills or pores. We also used mirrors to look under some, including the Amethyst deceiver, so we could see underneath without picking.

We did quite a lot of sniffing! Here are some of the different species we found – I think my favourites were the Amethyst deceivers, the bright Yellow club and looking at the tubular pores inside the Beefsteak fungus:

We also paused to have a go at ‘creating’ a Fly agaric – sadly we were unable to find any – using a balloon and a tissue. The tissue was held over the balloon and sprayed with water to make it damp. When air was blown into the balloon, the balloon became larger and the tissue broke up into smaller pieces as this happened, to create the speckled effect of white spots seen on the Fly agaric fungus.

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Making a fly agaric 2

Making a Fly agaric

We also found a huge oak tree so decided to see how many Young Naturalists could fit around it:

Tree hugging

Hugging a very large oak tree!

After thanking Sally we headed to Hatchet Pond and had lunch with the Mute swans, Black-headed gulls and donkeys.

We then spent the afternoon at Roydon Woods, another Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust nature reserve, and tested the fungi identification skills learnt that morning, keeping our fingers crossed for a glimpse of a Goshawk whilst we wandered. We last visited the reserve in the Spring, when the woodland floor had been carpeted in bluebells and other Spring flowers, so it was nice to return in the Autumn.

Some of the group were also lucky enough to spot a Goshawk fly past, but only because we had stopped to wait for others to catch up and it flew past behind them. A lucky encounter!

On the Sunday the group enjoyed a farm feed session first thing with Education Officer Steve whilst Michelle and I tidied and cleaned Home Farm ready for our departure. They love doing this as they can get up close to many of the animals and help out with the feeding:

We then visited the New Forest Wildlife Park and were joined by another couple of the group who had been unable to stay for the weekend. We had arranged a guided tour with one of the park’s education team and Laila was brilliant – I think she enjoyed a slightly older audience to usual and the group were great at engaging in conversation about the wildlife and different conservation projects. I was impressed by how much they knew. We got caught in a couple of heavy showers whilst we were there which made taking photos a bit difficult, but here are a few, the harvest mice were popular…

We had a brilliant weekend so although it was a while ago now, would like to thank Steve for the astronomy session, Sally for her fungi knowledge, Steve for the farm feed session and Laila for the brilliant tour around the wildlife park. We also couldn’t run residentials without volunteer support so would like to say a huge thank you to Geoff, Nigel and Michelle for giving up their weekends to join us and help with all the cooking, cleaning, minibus driving and evening entertainment (we had a quiz Saturday night which was hilarious)…

Sticking with the Young Naturalists theme, on Saturday we ventured over to Poole for a boat trip with Birds of Poole Harbour. The group had been fortunate to win the boat trip as their prize for coming first in the bird trail here at Blashford back in May, and we were able to open it up to other group members who hadn’t been able to join us on the day and turn it into our December session.

It was rather cold and wet at times, and we saw a lot of rainbows whilst out in the harbour, but also managed at least 26 species of bird including Red-breasted merganser, Shag, Great black-backed gull, Great crested grebe, Great northern diver, Brent goose, Gadwall, Avocet, Shelduck, Teal, Shoveler, Cormorant, Black-tailed godwit, Grey heron, Oystercatcher, Grey plover, Dunlin, Knot, Little egret, Wood pigeon, Sandwich tern, Goldeneye, Starling, Carrion crow, Spoonbill (very distant!) and Curlew.

We had some nice views of Brownsea Island and the lagoon…

Brownsea

Brownsea Island

Brownsea lagoon

Lagoon at Brownsea

…and a very distant view of a rather grey Corfe Castle:

Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle

The rainbow photographing opportunities were numerous:

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

Thanks for reading! Here’s a sunnier photo taken just up the road at Ibsley when I was passing yesterday morning as a reward for getting to the end, hopefully it will stop raining again soon!

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View from Ibsley Bridge – the River Avon is just out of shot to the right