Paths to Wildlife

A busy few days, either working with the volunteers or on a chainsaw course has meant that I have not really had time to look around the reserve or hear many reports from those that have. As it happens it seems there has been little change, the ferruginous duck is still present and frequenting the group of sticks at the end of Long Spit in Ibsley Water and when not there on the long Spit itself, although often only visible from Goosander hide. The wood sandpiper is also still around, although now often on the eastern shore of the lake between Goosander and Lapwing hides. There are still 2 green sandpiper a common sandpiper and a dozen or so wigeon and both great white egret remain. The only new bird that I was aware of today was a single black-tailed godwit on the western shore of Ibsley Water.

With the volunteers were have been cutting the shore west of Goosander hide and the site of the former concrete block works to keep the habitat suitable for nesting lapwing next spring. We have also been working on the paths between Goosander and Lapwing hides. In all we have something like 8 kilometres of paths on the reserve and keeping them in a reasonable state takes quiet a bit of time and effort. We also like to try to keep them interesting, not just routes from A to B, but ones on which you might come across things of interest. Today we were clearing the paths, but also opening up the edges to provide sheltered clearings and making a sand bank for solitary bees to nest.

I am keen to try and get the management of the reserve to always be maximising the opportunities for all kinds of wildlife, both because this makes it a more interesting place  to visit and because our beleaguered wildlife needs all the opportunities it can get.

 

 

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Dots of Green

The prolonged dry conditions have caused the grass to go brown almost everywhere you look at the moment. Grasses are a group of plants that are drought adapted and when it rains you can be confident that it will green up again quite rapidly. Other plants respond differently, most annuals are as crisp as the grass, often growing less than usual and seeding earlier before the lack of water kills them. What is obvious though is that even in the brownest grass there still dots of green, these are the deep rooted perennial plants. In my mini-meadow the field scabious in particular still has green leaves and is covered in flowers.

The plants that can keep growing in these conditions provide valuable nectar sources for insects. At Blashford Lakes one plant that just carries on is burdock and the plants near the Education Centre are a magnet for insects.

sil;ver-washed fritillarysilver-washed fritillary

Most butterflies have had a good season, numbers overall have been higher than in recent years, although many are not flying for very long. The species that over-winter by hibernation such as peacock and small tortoiseshell have disappeared, they will be hiding away in sheds and cellars, before they fly again in the early autumn.

One group of butterflies that don’t seem to mind the conditions are the whites, perhaps being white their colour reflects the heat better than the dark browns, which hide away in the shade during the hottest part of the day.

small white

small white

As well as butterflies the same flowers are attracting bees as well, at Blashford Lake, a swell as the bumble-bees, I have seen lots of green-eyed flower bee on the burdock flowers. These smallish, compact bees are very fast flyers and have a distinctive, high pitched buzz.

green-eyed flower bee

green-eyed flower bee

In general the reserve remains quite for birds. On Ivy Lake over a hundred gadwall is a good count for the time of year and on Ibsley Water there are good numbers of coot and tufted duck, although counting them is proving tricky. A few migrant waders are turning up, a common sandpiper or two and the occasional black-tailed godwit are witness to approaching autumn. The ringers have reported catching willow warbler, whitethroat and grasshopper warbler recently, almost certainly all migrants rather than local birds.

Taking Stock

Things have been relatively quiet at Blashford recently, although also very busy! Quiet in that we are in a time when the breeding season is more or less over and the migration season has hardly started.

Overall the bird nesting season was a mixed story. Resident birds mostly started late, the snow in March set them back. The migrants were mostly late arriving, with some in lower numbers than usual. It seemed that migrants that come from the SE were much as usual but those that take the West African route were down. Having arrived most small birds relished the warm weather with lots of insects to feed their young and seem to have done well. Resident species have had a more mixed time, single brooded species such as blue tits have done well, multi-brooded worm feeders like blackbird and song thrush have had a harder time.

Overall it has been a bumper season for insects, in the main they all do well in a hot summer a hot summer, although those that use shallow wetlands are probably finding things difficult.

six-spot burnet

six-spot burnet moth

As the breeding season ends we are starting to see some migration, swift are leaving as are the young of the first brood of sand martin and adult cuckoo have all gone. The first waders are coming back from the north, green sand piper and a number of common sandpiper have been seen on the reserve.

Yesterday a party of 7 black-tailed godwit flew south over Ibsley Water, they were in full breeding plumage and showed no sign of moult, so I would guess they were newly arrived from Iceland. If conditions are good they will make the flight in one go, arriving at a favoured moult site such as one of the harbours on the south coast. Once they get here wing moult starts almost straight away.

Further signs of approaching autumn are rather larger, at Fishlake Meadows 2 osprey have recently been seen perched up in the dead trees, one carries a blue ring, apparently ringed as a nestling in Scotland.

The prolonged hot weather is taking a toll, a lot of trees are losing their leaves in an attempt to reduce water loss, some will lose branches and as the ground dries one or two are falling. Perhaps surprisingly it is often trees growing on usually damp sites that are suffering the most. Easily accessible water in typical times mean they have not developed such large or deep root systems and are more vulnerable in drought conditions.

30 Days Wild – Day 17 – Knights In…

Moth of the day at Blashford was (and yes, you have probably already guessed it) a white satin.

white satin

white satin moth (male)

This is not a rare species, although not common and one I don’t see very often at all. On the face of it Blashford should be a good site as the larvae eat willow, poplar and aspen, all of which we have in some quantity.

Other moths today that I had not recorded so far this year were the delicate.

delicate

delicate

This is typically a migrant species, although it may be able to over-winter in some years. The other”new one” was a clouded brindle, a species that is pretty well camouflaged on the mossy bark, unlike the white satin.

clouded brindle

clouded brindle

After a morning cutting paths and bramble regrowth I had a look around near the Centre at lunchtime and found a batch of small cinnabar caterpillars tucking into the flower heads of a ragwort plant.

cinnabar caterpillars

young cinnabar moth caterpillars

Nearby I found a wasp beetle, this is one of the longhorn beetles with larvae that tunnel into wood.

wasp beetle

wasp beetle

It has similar black and yellow warning colouration to the cinnabar caterpillars, although I am not sure if it is actually poisonous like the caterpillars or just exploiting the fact that many birds will avoid any black and yellow insect as potentially unwise prey.

Although the reserve was pretty quiet today there are a few things to report. I saw my first fledged little ringed plover of the year, two juveniles on the Long Spit on Ibsley Water. There were also a number of flying black-headed gull juveniles too. Near Goosander hide a family of five small coot chicks were just below the sand martin wall. As the drizzle set in during the afternoon the numbers of swift and martin grew until there were at least 250 swift and several hundred martins. There was a report of 3 black-tailed godwit and I saw a redshank.  However the really big news, might actually be from last Friday, written in the Tern hide logbook was a report of a pratincole, with “collared?” written after it. Collared is the most likely, although even that is a very rare bird. Unfortunately the observer did not leave a name or any further details other than that it was on the Long Spit and flew away, not sure when it was seen, by whom or which way it went. If anyone can shed any light on this potentially very interesting record I would be delighted to know.

I returned home in persistent drizzle and took a quick look in the moth trap which I had not managed to do this morning. Three species of hawk-moth, elephant, pine and privet, matched the range,if not species, at Blashford but otherwise there was not much.

Which leaves….

What’s in My Meadow Today?

The yellow-rattle which I featured in flower at the start of the 30 Days, is now going to seed, as the stems dry the seeds will start to rattle in the swollen calyx when shaken.

yellow rattle seedpods

yellow-rattle with developing seed.

30 Days Wild – Day 7 – Go-to-Bed Waking Up

Today I will start with…………..

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Mainly because I started the day with a quick look around the meadow, where I found a plant that I had not previously seen flowering in the garden. It was Tragopogon pratensis commonly known as meadow goat’s beard, meadow salsify or Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon. The last name hints at why I had not previously seen it in flower, the flowers open for only a few hours each morning and are closed by midday, so I have usually left before they open and return too late.

Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon 2

Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon in flower and closed seed heads

It is a biennial so any seed that sets this year will not flower until 2020. Hopefully I will get some pictures of the seed heads later.

Quiet a lot of flowers close up for parts of the day, many bee pollinated species close at night and moth pollinated ones open then. Ragwort is one flower that closes at night and some small insects exploit this and let the flower close around them for protection. Ragwort is a much maligned plant, it is poisonous to livestock if they eat it, as are a good few other plants. Livestock generally avoid it as it tastes unpleasant, although if it is included in hay they will eat it and it remains toxic. It is a very valuable nectar source for a host of insects and as we know flowery places are fewer than they were. Buglife produced a very good information sheet on ragwort called Ragwort: noxious weed or precious wildflower?

Generally we do control where it is close to neighbouring land and especially if these are fields where horses are kept or that are cut for hay. It can be very dominant on some recently disturbed sites as the seed can persist for long periods coming up when bare ground is created. Generally closed sward grasslands have relatively little ragwort as there are no bare patches for the seed to germinate in.

One species that is dependant upon ragwort is the cinnabar moth, both the black and yellow caterpillars and the brightly coloured moth, which often flies by day, will be familiar to most  people.

cinnabar moth

cinnabar moth

Both the caterpillar and moth can afford to be brightly coloured as they are also poisonous, they sequester the alkaloid poisons from the plant when they eat it and incorporate them into their bodies.

The moth traps both at home and at Blashford were unremarkable in their catches, but as I was locking up the Education shutters I noticed a Brussels lace moth on the wall, rather an attractive specie sin an understated way.

Brussels lace

Brussels lace

Locking up the Tern hide it was pleasing to see that both oystercatcher chicks are now flying well and accompanying their parents on feeding trips hunting for worms. There was also a rather unseasonal black-tailed godwit, it was not in breeding plumage so was presumably a first year bird, as they do not return to the breeding grounds in Iceland in their first summer.

 

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.

Skies Alive!

Today may have been the last day of April, but it felt more like the last day of January! a bitter north-east wind was blowing hard across Ibsley Water making it foolish to open the windows at the Tern hide. The cold had brought thousands of aerial feeders low in over the water in a desperate search for any sort of flying insects to eat. At first I though they were mostly swallow and sand martin, but it turned out things were a little more complicated.

Close to Tern hide there were  a lot of swallow, whilst further out over the water sand martin were the majority. Further away house martin dominated, especially close to the northern shore of the lake. All this made estimating numbers a bit tricky. In the end I “guestimated” around 4000 hirundines were present with slightly more than half being sand martin, perhaps 2000-2500, then house martin with around 1000 and then 500-700 swallow. All in all it was quite a sight, although one that featured birds that were not at all happy. Luckily the promised rain never arrived and it actually got a little brighter later on and many of the birds left to feed elsewhere. Perhaps oddly by the end of the day swift were  one of the more numerous species, maybe 500 were feeding over the water, many more than in the morning.

Other sightings today included a yellow wagtail and a white wagtail close to Tern hide, from where I also saw a single black-tailed godwit, 2 common sandpiper and 3 goosander. Elsewhere 2 drake pochard were notable as was a single whitethroat, an oddly scarce bird at Blashford and mainly seen in autumn.

The moth trap contained just 2 common Quaker, moths don’t like cold, windy nights, but then who does.

Getting about

Sadly the title does not refer to me as I have been laid up for several days. Having done no more than look out of the window for three days, yesterday I ventured out to at least look from the car window at the fine sunny day.

I headed for the coast, feeling then need for a wide horizon. This also gave me the chance to see a little wildlife. I also came across a story of many years of wandering, that highlights the importance of the Solent coast. The carrier of this tale was a black-tailed godwit feeding beside the road at Milford-on-Sea.

Black-tailed godwit are medium sized (a bit smaller than an oystercatcher), long-legged, long-billed waders that breed on Iceland and return to the UK to moult in late summer and then to winter, staying on until they moult back into their red breeding plumage and return to Iceland, usually in late April. They feed on intertidal mudflats, pools and fields and will move between the coastal flats and flooded river valleys, avoiding the sandy shore favoured by their relative the bar-tailed godwit.

black-tailed godwit feeding

black-tailed godwit feeding

We actually know quite a lot about the lives of black-tailed godwits and they have been the subject of intense study for almost twenty years. They are attractive birds, quiet approachable and have long legs (that is important!). They are also the traditional bringer of spring in Iceland where they do not get the more familiar harbingers of most of the rest of Europe, the cuckoo and swallow.

Now for the legs! It is always important to have legs but if you are studying birds long legs allow the use of easily seen rings, which means you can individually mark birds and identify them in the field, with no need to catch them again. It was in this way that I came across a story of wanderings, thanks to RR-YX.

black-tailed godwit RR-YWx

colour-ringed black-tailed godwit RR-YX

I could see that this bird was an adult and the worn rings told of a few years, small size also hinted at it being a male. In these days of the internet it can be very quick to get information about colour-ringed birds and so it proved for this one. It turned out that it was ringed as an adult male on 18th April 2003 as a newly arrived migrant at Vogalækur, Mýrar, Mýrasýsla, Western Iceland. This was done as part of a long-running project to track the movements of Iceland’s waders co-ordinated by the University of Iceland. But this was just the start of the tale after a couple more sightings nearby in the next couple of days he then turned up at Keyhaven, Hampshire on 17th November 2003 and remained in the area until April 2004. What was pretty certain was that he would have left Iceland well before November, so was he in the Solent unseen?

The following autumn gave a clue to where he might have been, in August 2004 he was seen at  Killingholme, on the Humber in Lincolnshire before turning up again at Keyhaven in November and then staying until at least 13th April 2005, although there was a surprise, a brief trip to the Ouse Washes, Cambridgeshire in mid February. It was again at Killingholme in the autumn from July, staying at least a couple of months before again being seen at Keyhaven in November staying until late March. The autumn of 2006 saw him avoid the Humber as far as we know and appear in Keyhaven in October, after a trip to Newtown on the Isle of Wight in November he was not seen all winter until appearing at Titchfield Haven at the start of March 2007 and then on the River Avon at Ibsley on St Patrick’s Day.

The next few years saw the general pattern of autumn on the Humber, winter at Keyhaven continuing. Sightings became more interesting in 2013, with a trip to Coward’s Marsh, Christchurch Harbour in February, then the Ouse Washes on 1st April, Benbecula in the Western Isles on 23rd and then SW Iceland on the 25th. Not quite as good as a satellite tag, but you can still see get the picture and a lot cheaper and now ten years after he was ringed! Further sightings followed at favoured sites with another in Iceland in May 2015.

When I saw him yesterday he was over sixteen years old and back at an old haunt. Many people see colour-ringed birds and do not report them as “They will have been seen before” or someone else will report it. What his story shows is that all the records together produce a story of regular haunts on which he mostly relies of survival, but also of a knowledge of other key sites all around the country. His tale shows how our wildlife relies on a network of sites, regular returning shows how continuity of habitat is important, he knows where he is going and what to expect when he gets there. So we need to look after networks of sites across the whole of these islands and further still and we need to ensure that they persist, a new site will not automatically get added to the inventory as an immediate substitute for the loss of a traditional location.

Lastly his trip from Benbecula to Iceland in 2013 shows his speed of travel, in fact it will have taken him well under the two days to make the flight as he took the spring to Iceland with him after we looked after him for the winter.

Please do report any colour-ringed birds you see, there might not always be a long story but there just might be. You can report them via the BTO at  BTO Ringing Scheme and click on the “report a ringed bird” icon on the top left side (you can report all ringed birds you see or find here, not just colour-ringed ones). For some schemes you can track down the ringer which can get you the details much faster, but there are links as to how to do this there too. Not only is it fascinating but it provides invaluable data for nature conservation and gives insights as to how we might go about serving the needs of real birds.

For colour-ringed birds note which leg the colours are on, where they are in relation to the leg joint “knee” and where the metal ring was if it can be seen. By convention the combinations are quoted with the bird’s left leg first then the right, so this one was RR-YX.

colour ringed BW from rear

RR -YX

Just imagine looking at him from behind and you will get it right! Oh, and get a picture too if you can.

 

 

 

 

 

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

30 Days Wild – Day 28: Good for Snails?

This maybe the time of year when the sun is at its highest but it was hard to tell today as it never actually stopped raining, it eased to drizzle at times, but never stopped.  It seemed that the return of wet weather had every froglet, toadlet, slug and snail out and about in celebration of the end of the hot, dry days.

The night was damp but warm with the cloud overhead and the moth trap was quite busy again, I had only one out last night. Although it is a “Moth trap” it would be more correct to call it a nocturnal flying insect trap as it catches many other insects, in fact sometimes many more non-moths than moths. One of last night’s non-moths was a fly and one that probably also benefits from damp conditions as it was a snail-killing fly. It is actually the larvae that are the killers of snails and slugs. Considering I have so many slugs and snails in my garden it is surprising I have never found a snail-killing fly there, although the reason for this is that they do not generally prey on the common garden species.

snail killer

snail-killing fly

I also realised that yesterday’s moth catch included one that was new to the reserve, although all the books describe it as “common”, I had never seen one before. It was a green arches. Looking at the distribution map for Hampshire it is apparent that it avoids the New Forest area for some reason, despite being a moth of damp woodland, perhaps it does not like acid soils.

green arches

green arches

The heavy rain in the morning did present one surprise, as I opened up the Tern hide there was a flock of 20 black-tailed godwit flying around, eventually landing to the east of the hide. They were all in fine, red breeding plumage, these were Icelandic godwits returning to the south coast for the winter, or at least to moult. They had all their wing feathers too, which would indicate that they had probably arrived straight from Iceland and just been forced low by the rain. This early in the “autumn” they will be birds that have failed to breed successfully so head to the south coast of England to undergo their post-breeding moult. This will start only once they get here so they can make the journey fully feathered, having arrived they will start to moult their wing feathers almost immediately. Moulting is an energy intensive business, but there is lots of food in the mud at this time of year and not many waders around competing for it, so their strategy is a good one. A lot of godwits from this population have been given colour-rings, so when they landed I checked through the flock, but there were all unadorned.