Laying around

Another busy day with lots of visitors, a volunteer work party and the Pop-up cafe. The bittern performed from time to time at Ivy North hide, including at dusk as I went to lock up. A water rail there was seen to catch and eat a small fish, which surprised some watching, in fact water rail are not fussy eaters and will happily eat vegetation, seed, and animal matter alive and dead. I have seen them eat fish and even small birds and they are a well known hazard when ringing birds in a reedbed, as they will try to pick birds from the nets given half a chance.

The volunteers worked laying another section of the hedge alongside the A338 on the western side of Ellingham Drove. This hedge was planted in 2005/06 winter and is being laid to thicken it up and make it more useful for wildlife and as a visual screen for the road.

hedge before laying

The hedge plants before work began

After the hedge laying you can see it is already much denser even though some of the side branches have been removed.

hedge after laying

hedge after laying

Those of you that are familiar with the traditional craft of hedge laying will immediately notice that this is not a craftsman’s job. The traditional craft produced a barrier that would keep livestock in before the days of barbed wire, it had a woven line of rods on top between stakes and much more of the twigs and branches were removed. This art is still practised and there are regular competitions, to make a good traditional hedge in this way takes great skill. However we are just trying to thicken up the hedge and retain as much of the potential for flowering and fruiting next year and for this purpose some reduction in the branches and a partial cut to lay the stem over will suffice.

Such hedges make good nesting places for many of our common birds like robin, dunnock and blackbird.

blackbird male

adult male blackbird at Woodland hide

This hedge is almost entirely made up of hawthorn, but we are trying to diversify it by adding extra species. One that we could add is hazel, normally we would plant these in the winter when the plants are dormant, but looking at the hazel around the reserve today they are anything but dormant.

hazel catkins

hazel catkins

The catkins are the familiar flowers of the hazel, but these just the male flowers which open to scatter their pollen, the female flowers are much smaller and easily overlooked. Each hazel will have flowers of both sexes, the catkins on the ends of the twigs and the female flowers a little further down.

hazel flower female

the female hazel flower

Although winter is natures “downtime” it is not so for all species and on the outside of the Education Centre door this morning there was a male winter moth.

winter moth

Winter moth (male)

When moth trapping you always catch many more males than females, probably because they fly around more seeking females, however in the case of the winter moth you will only ever catch males as the females are wingless. The larvae to these moths eat oak leaves are the main food collected by blue and great tit when feeding their young, one of the possible effects of climate change could be a disconnect between the timing of peak caterpillar numbers and hungry chicks. Only time and project s such as the one undertaken by Brenda at Blashford (see the last post) will show if this becomes a real problem for the birds.

I was trying out a new camera today, a replacement for my one that packed up the other day, it is a “bridge camera”, not something I have used before so I was keen to see what it could do. The light was not good today, but it seems as though it will be useful. I tried a range of pictures, standard shots a sat the top of the page, some macro and finally some using the full magnification, although not a great shot I quiet liked the one below of a group of pintail.

three pairs of pintail

three pairs of pintail up ending

Hopefully we will get some better light and I will get the chance to put it through its paces rather more fully.

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Caught on Camera

It has been a busy week at Blashford Lakes with volunteer work parties on four days, despite unpromising weather we actually got a lot done. On Sunday we repaired some damaged sections of the boardwalk, Tuesday saw us felling some non-native grey alder trees, Thursday’s task was scrub clearance to increase habitat connectivity for reptiles and today we were clearing the shore of Ibsley Water to improve habitat for nesting lapwing next spring.

About ten days ago the apprentices put out a trailcam and today we got it in to look at the images. There were not a great many but the range of species captured was impressive. There was one shot of a passing fox, several of fallow deer and grey squirrel. Bird were fewer with one shot each of blackbird and blue tit, but several of tawny owl and on more than one night too. The picture quality was not great but the owl was landing in front of the camera, possibly to take small invertebrate prey.

IMAG0005

tawny owl caught on trailcam

Throughout the week I have been checking the roosting great white egret on Ivy Lake when I go to lock up the hides, I suspect there are as many as five around but still have yet to see more than four together, this evening there were three.

The rain today caused the Dockens Water to flood into Ivy Lake and it is now filling at last, hopefully the reedbed in front of Ivy North hide will have enough water for the bittern to favour this area soon, one was seen from there on Wednesday.

A feature of this winter is the unusual number of pochard on the lakes, or at least unusual for recent years. This morning there were 109 on Ivy Lake and at dusk at least 150. It appears that they gather on Ivy Lake in the late afternoon before flying off at dusk in groups of ten to twenty, probably to feed. At the same time the tufted duck, which used to roost on Ivy Lake also leave, I am not sure where they go but I did notice a lot fly in just as it got dark when I was counting the goosander from Goosander hide on Tuesday, I suspect they go to roost there rather than to feed. Walking back from Ivy South hide after locking up usually happens more or less in the dark at this time of year and a feature has been the squeaking calls of mandarin duck gathered on the silt pond, in the gloom I have just been able to make out as many as ten drakes displaying on some evenings.

The black-necked grebe has been seen daily on Ibsley Water as has at least one water pipit and green sandpiper. The grebe has been favouring the western shore to the north of the low islands, the water pipit and sandpiper the shore near Tern and Goosander hides. However for many visitors it has not been the rarer bird that have attracted to interest but the starling roost. The numbers are not exceptionally large but they can put on quiet a good show looking west into the last light of the setting sun. this evening they were especially spectacular, climbing high into the air in an effort to avoid a hunting peregrine.

Starlings 1

Starling murmuration starting to form over the trees west of Tern hide

Starlings 2

The gathering twisting to avoid a peregrine, there is a small group coming int to join them towards the top left.

Starlings 3

Some of the flock trying to funnel down into the roost site

Starlings 4

The peregrine was keeping the main flock high in the air but the draw of the roost was strong and they were falling down in a column whenever they could risk it.

Starlings 5

One group broke away in an exceptionally tight ball of birds and just dropped like a stone from the spiralling flock.

The starlings had all gone to roost by about 16:15, so if you want to give them a try I would try to arrive by 16:00 at the latest, viewing is good from the high point at the back of the main car park and possible, but sometimes less easy, from the Tern hide.

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.

The Big Chill

Like many people I have been pretty much holed up for the last couple of days. I did venture out onto the edge  of the Forest on Thursday. It was very quiet with only a few blackbird and robin digging about in the leaf litter. I came across a group of New Forest ponies, showing just how hardy they are, eating gorse with a covering of snow on their backs. The snow covering shows just how good their coats are at insulating them, the longer hairs that form the winter coat trap layer of air, just as we are told to if we are to keep warm.

a hardy New Forest pony

New Forest pony eating gorse in the snow.

The area I was in is prime nightjar habitat and somewhere I often visit to listen to and watch them. It is remarkable to think that they will probably be churring away here in under two months.

Nightjar habitat

Nightjar habitat

Despite the undoubtedly wintery weather we are actually on the very edge of spring. As thought to emphasise this there were a pair of garganey at Farlington Marshes at the end of last week and sand martin usually arrive at Blashford around the end of the first week of March.

Some signs of spring start a little earlier than the arrival of long-distance migrants. Plants are often our first signs and wild daffodil have been out for a while as have lesser celandine and primrose.

Yesterday I ventured out again and got as far as our Hythe Spartina Marsh reserve, it was very bleak indeed!

Hythe Spartine Marsh

Hythe Spartina Marsh

There were flocks of wigeon and various waders feeding along the water’s edge where the seawater was keeping the mud unfrozen. The wind was cold, blowing across Southampton Water and I did not stay long.

When I decided that opening up on Thursday was not going to happen I did wonder if I had done the right thing. At the time I could have got to the reserve, but the forecast was not promising. Since my way home would have been along the A31, I am very pleased I opted not to open as I might well not have got home the same day!

30 Days Wild – Day 27

Up and out early today to do my final breeding bird survey of the year, in fact not quite as early as I had hoped as it was rather drizzly at dawn, but still in the field by 05:40. I am surveying a site about 40 minutes from home so there is always a risk that conditions are okay at home but not at the site.  As it is now quite late in the season a lot of birds have stopped singing and some have completely finished nesting and are wandering around in flocks. In this regard the rather wet conditions of late are an advantage as this enables many resident species to have an extra brood, species like song thrush and blackbird, will give up in June in a dry season but can often have an extra brood if worms are still easy to come by in a wet season.

I did have quite a few singing thrushes and also a lot of wren and the summer visitors are still mostly singing so chiffchaff and blackcap were in good numbers. I also had several young birds, some being fed by their parents, confirming breeding. The survey involves mapping the location of every bird seen or heard on eight to twelve visits. This can then be analysed to give a fair estimate of the number of territories of each species present. All I have to do now is transfer all the data to species maps and work out how many territories of each species I have found, it could take a while!

For almost the whole of my four hours on site it was grey with low cloud, but just as I finished the sun came out and with it lots of insects. I saw meadow brown, marbled white, large skipper and small tortoiseshell in just a couple of minutes.

small tortoiseshell

small tortoiseshell

Almost next to the butterfly on the same bramble there was a very smart longhorn beetle, with a very long-winded name, it is the golden-bloomed grey longhorn beetle Agapanthia villosoviridescens.

golden-bloomed grey longhorn beetle (Agapanthia villosoviridescens)

golden-bloomed grey longhorn beetle (Agapanthia villosoviridescens)

My afternoon was spent in a meeting at County Hall, Chichester, a pretty wildlife free zone, but as I left the building it was great to hear the cries of the peregrine on the cathedral, probably the young ones after food from their parents. It is amazing to think that about forty years ago these birds were restricted to western cliffs and that they were plagued by the twin ills of egg collectors and pesticides to the point where it seemed we might lose them altogether.

 

Swallows and More

I was out early doing a breeding bird survey off-site this morning and when I arrived at Blashford it was to be told that I had just missed a red-rumped swallow. This Mediterranean nesting cousin of our familiar swallow occurs as a regular, but still rare, migrant at this time of year, some of them migrate north with a bit too much vigour and over-shoot their intended destinations. They usually turn up in flocks of swallows and martins at places like Ibsley Water, so it was something of a surprise that we had not got a reserve record before now. It was reported again about an hour later and I did see a bird that was supposed to be it, but I could not convince myself that it was and before I could get a better look it flew off. One that got away!

However there were lots of other birds, at least 850 mixed swallows and martins, I estimated about 400 sand martin, 250 swallow and 200 house martin. There were also at least 6 swift, although I was told there were many more. Scanning around I also saw a red kite, 2 raven, at least 8 little ringed plover in an aerial dash past the hide and lots of buzzard. On the ground I saw my first common sandpiper of the spring and a white wagtail.  In addition the first summer little gull was still there as were at least 6 common tern.

The main work recently seems to have been raft related. We are building a new set of tern rafts with money from a grant given by Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS). A few days ago we launched the prototype before we get on with building the new fleet.

tern raft

Although the common tern are starting to arrive they won’t be getting down to nesting for a little while yet unlike the resident birds. In the last few days I have found nests of both blackbird and song thrush. The pictures show the differences between the two, the eggs of song thrush are clear blue with black spots, clearly distinct from the more muted colours of the blackbird eggs. You can also see the difference in the nests themselves. Blackbirds have a lining of grass whereas song thrush have a smooth render of mud that dries to a hard shell and no lining at all.

blackbird nest

song thrush nest

Black, Blue and Violet

Heard my first blackcap of the year today. It was just ‘tuning-up’ its song, so a bit scratchy, whilst flitting through the trees near the Ivy North Hide and fortunately as there is very little leaf cover at the moment, I  managed to see it quite well.  Not the only warbler around, there are now plenty of chiffchaff singing all around, with lots of other song from, among others, great tit, dunnock, chaffinch, blackbird and song thrush.

A colourful  sighting was a group of teal, loafing on the island to the left of the Ivy North Hide. they seemed to be taking advantage of the early sun to warm them up.  I believe there is a colour referred to in the rag trade called ‘teal green’. I’ve never been clear whether this refers to the green on the head plumage or the green patch, speculum, in the wings. In the case of theses particular birds the normal green on the head was replaced with a purple-blue colour

Teal with the 'blues'

Teal with the ‘blues’

It’s a phenomenon caused by the interference of light that produces the normal green colour. Probably, many people may have seen on mallard, where the usual green colour appears to turn  blue, but I’d never noticed it quite as strikingly on teal before.

Its the time of year when we should be expecting some more colour in our hedgerows, so I was delighted to see some violets in flower alongside the path to Ivy South Hide.

First violets

First violets

 

Let the Sun Shine

Bird News: Ibsley Waterblack-necked grebe 2 (at least). Ivy Lakebittern 1.

No great sightings today, but a great day of bright sun, after yesterday’s torrents of rain.

Ivy Silt Pond, what a difference a day makes

Although it was still pretty cold, especially if you were exposed to the wind, this did not stop lots of birds singing. Song thrushes have been doing so for sometime but the blackbirds have been slower to get into their stride, this morning several were making up for lost time. I struggled to get a picture, the one below was signing although it does not look like it, but it is a very fine male showing the silvery sheen on the black feathers that some, probably older birds, have in spring.

male blackbird

At least one bittern was seen by lots of visitors today, although the seeming reluctance of a few photographers to allow others a good look once again resulted in some disharmony. Over on Ibsley Water at least 2 black-necked grebe remain, there were also at least 9 black-tailed godwit, although they now seem to have lost their accompanying ruff.