Chick time!

We’ve had lots of fab photos emailed in over the past few days, thank you to everyone who’s taken the time to share them with us! Especially popular are the lapwing chicks which have been showing very nicely in front of Tern Hide.

Lapwing chick by Sarah Moss

Lapwing chick by Sarah Moss

Lapwing with chick by Sue Marshall

Lapwing by Sarah Moss

Lapwing by Sarah Moss

The chicks have amazing camouflage in amongst the gravel shore line and definitely tick all the right boxes on the cute and fluffy front!

Thanks also to Sue Marshall for emailing across some of the other slightly less cute and fluffy but still very lovely to look at birds on the reserve:

Wren Blashford NR

Wren by Sue Marshall

Chiffchaff Blashford NR

Chiffchaff by Sue Marshall

 

Blackcap Blashford NR

Blackcap by Sue Marshall

Dunnock Blashford NR

Dunnock by Sue Marshall

Wrens Blashford NR

Wrens by Sue Marshall

Do keep them coming! If you’re happy for us to pop them on the blog and use them within the Trust please do say when you email them in and please do let us know who we need to credit when we use them.

The cute and fluffier the better…

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Bee-flies, Butterflies and a Good Tern

Another very warm spring day at Blashford today and the air was full of all the sights and sounds of the season. There are now chiffchaff and blackcap singing in many parts of the  reserve and there were reports of a willow warbler singing near the Ivy North hide.

The volunteers were working near the main car park today, where we were buzzed by bees as butterflies floated by. As were headed back for cake, we also saw a bee-fly, it turned out not to be the usual Bombylius major or dark-edged bee-fly, but the much rarer Bombylius discolor  or dotted bee-fly, a new species for the reserve.

And so onto cake, cake is not a rarity at Blashford, less common than biscuits, but not rare. In this case it was to honour the departure of Katherine, an Apprentice Ranger with The New Forest National Park scheme run as part of the Our Past, Our Future Heritage Lottery Project. But it was not for this reason alone, but also to mark the last day of our own Volunteer Trainee, Emily, who also made the cakes, a valuable extra skill. Katherine had spent three months with us and Emily six, remarkable staying power by any standards. In fact Emily has volunteered to stay on, so is not going to be lost to the reserve yet. Katherine has moved on to spend a time with the Forestry Commission team locally.

After cake we headed out to look at the changes to the butterfly transect routes, it was a shame that it was still March, the transect counts don’t start until the 1st April and it is often hard to find many butterflies in the first few weeks. Today they were everywhere and altogether we saw seven species between us. There were lots of peacock, a few brimstone and at least 3 speckled wood, but also singles of comma, small tortoiseshell, red admiral and orange-tip.

red admiral

A rather battered red admiral, probably one that has hibernated here and so is perhaps five or six months old.

Of the seven species five are ones that hibernate as adults, just the speckled wood and orange-tip will have emerged from pupae this spring. There is a small chance that the red admiral was a recent immigrant as they do also arrive from the south each spring, although usually later than this.

A different sort of life form is also in evidence on the reserve at present and I do mean a very different life form, slime mould. These are a bit of a favourite of mine and the one on a log towards the Ivy South hide is certainly living up to the name and is now oozing slime.

slime mould

slime mould, with slime

Locking up at the end of the day there was one last surprise, looking over Ibsley Water I saw a tern amongst the many black-headed gull, not as I expected an early common tern but a very fine sandwich tern, something of a rarity away from the coast.

sandwich tern

Sandwich tern, an unexpected visitor.

 

Remaining Wild

A bit of  a lull for a couple of days due to computer problems, perhaps now sorted? But only time will tell.

Over the last couple of days, and say this quietly, it has been rather more summery. Although it is clearly already moving into late summer as many migrant birds are on the move, starting their southward journeys. On Ibsley Water there are returning common sandpiper, at least two on recent days, also a fine male black-tailed godwit yesterday, returned from trying to breed in Iceland. There have also been large gatherings of sand martin stopping to feed on their was south to Africa for the winter, likewise I suspect that some of the swift are on the move too. The cuckoo have stopped “cuckooing” and most will be gone, just the juveniles left to give us records into autumn. Although the blackcap still sings it is now the late summer song, which is subtly different form their spring one, still recognisably blackcap, but with  a more melancholy sound.

It is not all downbeat though, lots of butterflies are coming out, “Brown season” is in full swing with loads of meadow brown and marbled white (they are browns really, honest) and the first gatekeeper too. It is also getting towards peak horsefly season, okay perhaps not such a cause for celebration, but most species do not bite humans. Today I came across one such species Hybromitra distinguenda, also known as the bright horsefly. It was also a male, so no risk at all of being bitten as it is only the females that bite. He was hovering at about 75cm, swinging from side to side and back and forth, above the track to Ivy South hide as I went to open up. I have seen other Hybomitra species doing this, sometimes as early as 06:00am and often in small groups, I assume it is some sort of display to attract passing females, but I have never seen a female fly in. Here are a couple of pictures I managed to grab.

Hybomitra distinguenda 2

bright horsefly male

Hybomitra distinguenda

bright horsefly male, front view

Horseflies are remarkable creatures, they are probably the fastest of all flies, capable of 30 or 40 kilometres per hour and incredibly manoeuvrable being able to make a 180 degree turn in just a few metres, even at that speed. They have huge eyes that give them close to a 360 degree view of the world and a visual processing speed that makes catching them fantastically difficult unless they are not paying attention.

 

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.

 

First Flowering

I was acting as substitute Jim today as he is on leave, it made a change to be on the reserve on a Saturday and a very pleasant one, in the fine spring sunshine. After a morning spent tying up various loose ends from the year end, I took the chance to get out tin the sun after lunch. I wanted to check out a few of the projects we have done over the years and see how they have worked. First I went to an area we cleared of rhododendron some five years ago, it had been one of the few areas not dug for gravel and still had a few large, old hazel stools growing up through it. We cleared the rhododendron and planted  a few hazel in their place. The ground flora had all been killed off by decades of deep shade from the rhododendron, so we decided to try collecting some wild daffodil seed from near the Woodland hide and spreading it on the bare ground, to see if we could establish some new plants. The seedlings came up and today I found the first flower!first daffodil

Wild daffodil are a feature of the reserve, or at least the areas that were not destroyed by gravel extraction, so re-establishing them to places they would once have been and removing planted garden daffodils is a thing we have been to do for some time.

I then went to the western side of Ellingham Lake to look at the hedge we laid last winter. It has suffered somewhat from being nibbled by rabbits, but is not looking too bad on the whole.hedge

The sunshine had brought out lots of butterflies, I saw good numbers of brimstone, a few peacock and a single small tortoiseshell.small tortoiseshell

Most of the butterflies were nectaring, as this small tortoiseshell was, on ground ivy, one of the best sources of food for butterflies and bees at this time of year.ground ivy

I also found a fine grass snake enjoying the sunshine, it was on very open ground so rather than slip off to cover it reared up in threat and then froze, allowing me to get some shots.grass snake

With a little effort I managed to creep really close and get some headshots, when I did it became apparent that it had some sort of damage around the upper jaw, it looks quite nasty, but the snake seemed to be in otherwise good shape.snake head

There had evidently been some arrival of migrants overnight, with a couple of willow warbler singing near the main gate as I opened up and there were noticeably more chiffchaff and blackcap. The highlight though, was a male wheatear on the lichen heath near Ivy North hide.

As I ate my lunch I watched a pair of long-tailed tit collecting spider’s web for their nest from under the eaves of the Education Centre and the resident pair of robin were courtship feeding on the picnic tables.

Closing up the Tern hide a sudden commotion flushed all the shoveler from the south-east part of Ibsley Water out into the centre of the lake, allowing me to get a good count, the total was 283, pretty good for April. There was little else to report, although the Slavonian grebe was still there somewhere apparently, although I failed to see it myself.

 

Seasonal Signs

Although spring has been creeping up on us for a little while now, today felt like one of the first really spring-like days. Perhaps it was because I got out of the office and around the reserve. We went on a walk around the northern part of the reserve to check on various jobs that will need doing and to seek out a reported cracked tree that might require work.

There were chiffchaff singing and a couple of blackcap and the wild daffodil and lesser celandine along the Dockens Water were putting on a good show. A few brimstone, a peacock and even a speckled wood were enjoying the warm sunshine.speckled wood

The speckled wood was my first spring butterfly, by which I mean the first of the species that emerge from the pupa in spring as opposed to the brimstone, peacock and the like that hibernate over winter as adult butterflies.

Towards the Lapwing hide we saw both grass snake and adder, also soaking up the sunshine. One sign of spring that we did not see in this area was the seasonal path that runs north to Mockbeggar Lane. This is indicated on our leaflets and elsewhere as being open from April 1st to 30th September, however it was not open today. This area is no longer part of the nature reserve and is now within Somerley Estate who manage the path. If it opens I will let you know.

Other birds we saw today included 2 red kite, at least 3 little ringed plover, good numbers of shoveler, on Ibsley Water I counted 179 that I could see from Tern hide, but later I understand 205 were seen. There are still some winter birds around though, with a group of wigeon grazing the eastern shore, until flushed by a wandering visitor and at least 13 goldeneye, including 3 adult drakes. The Slavonian grebe was reported again and is now starting to get some breeding plumage. Several lapwing are taking up territory and I saw a couple starting to make nest scrapes.

 

 

A Bit of the Blues

Still quite a lot of bird song around, although the leaf cover makes seeing them a little tricky. most evident amongst the summer visitors  are blackcap, garden warbler and whitethroat song.

The seeds from the ripe catkins are now very much in evidence, but in among the drifting white downy seeds there are quite large numbers of almost inconspicuous blue damselflies. From the ones I managed to identify there is a mixture of common blue and azure damselflies.  At Blashford I’ve only been  aware that we have these two species, although there might just  be variable damselflies, which do occur on the New Forest. Blue damselflies are a group of insects that many find difficult to separate in the field and in truth they do look very similar.  Just as with birdwatching it helps to know a little about their range and habitat preferences so you can eliminate those species which are unlikely to occur.  To separate the blue and Azure it helps to be aware of  subtle differences in the arrangement of the various coloured parts.  Many field guides make mention of the shape of the black markings on the second segment of the abdomen (tail!) which is ‘club shaped’ on the blue and a ‘U’ shape on the Azure.  Personally I find this quite difficult as they perch with their wings along the body length, which can obscure these markings. My favoured field marks are the thicker blue stripes on the thorax of the common blue and also the double clear blue segments near the tip of the tail. Azure damselflies have one and one half blue segments on the tail.

Common blue damselfly ( Enallagma cyanthigerum)

Common blue damselfly ( Enallagma cyanthigerum)

Note the thick blue stripes, club shape near top of abdomen and blue end to  tail with a faint black line separating equal sized patches of blue.

Azure damselfly (Coenagrion puella)

Azure damselfly (Coenagrion puella)

Thinner blue stripes on thorax, ‘U’ shape mark and unequal sized blue bits on tail end.

All this, of course, applies to the male damselflies. the females are more confusing ( ’twas ever thus !!),  being less conspicuous by  having paler blue colouring and more black markings as in the case of this female common blue.

Female common blue damselfly

Female common blue damselfly

Also ‘on parade’ but proving more elusive to photograph, was a banded demoiselle damselfly, which perched approximately 10 feet up  and partially obscured by leaves – this poor image gives some indication of its stunning metallic lustre.

Banded demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)

Banded demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)

I spent some time today cutting back nettles and brambles around the entrance gates to the reserve, serenaded by blackcap and whitethroat, but otherwise not seeing much wildlife other than a fine male orange-tip butterfly, which failed to stop long enough to have it’s picture taken. More obliging was this speckled wood near the Woodland Hide.

Speckled wood

Speckled wood

Sometimes when wildlife watching you can see the most amazing things – like this mallard walking down an oak tree……

 

'Spider-Duck'??

‘Spider-Duck’??

A sort of duck-down!!!!!

Not really!!  Saw this mallard on fallen oak and couldn’t resist the urge to  turn the image sideways – sorry.

A relatively new addition to the reserve’s equipment is this small sailing boat to be used in some educational activities. Its been carefully tided up and all sharp edges removed before being set in the ground with some holes in the bottom and a soak-away underneath, so that it doesn’t fill with rain, all courtesy of some of our  volunteers, many thanks to them – you know who you are!.

 

Activity boat set into the ground for children.

Activity boat set into the ground for children.

But nature being what it is, it won’t be too long before the boat will be colonised by all sorts of wildlife.  In fact its already starting to happen as it appears there is a ‘piratical teddy’ on board.

Captain Ted

Captain Ted

 

 

 

Turn and Tern again

Greetings from a windswept Blashford.

The main ‘event’ today was a demonstration of wood turning by one of our regular conservation volunteers, Geoff Knott. Sadly the weather deterred a lot of people from visiting the reserve, but those who did were able to admire the skill of the craft and the beauty of the finished products.  Much of the wood used is from here or other Trust reserves and Goeff has kindly donated the proceeds from today’s sales to the Trust.

P1480258 woodturning demo

Geoff demonstrating his craft

 

Here's a few of the items he produced 'earlier'

Here’s a few of the items he produced ‘earlier’

Fortunately, for me, the lack of visitors gave me the chance to have an impromptu lesson on woodturning, thank you Geoff.

The really wet weather didn’t set in until early afternoon so we had a quick trip round part of the reserve. Not the best conditions for birdwatching, but did manage to catch up with my first view, this year, of common tern, appropriately from the Tern Hide.

Common tern

Common tern

An immature little gull was also seen (not by me) from this hide. Otherwise the bird life is much as recently reported with little ringed plover and lapwing around Ibsley Water and a collection of sand  martins, house martins and swallows over the water.

Lapwing foraging in front of Tern Hide, not the droplets of water on its back

Lapwing foraging in front of Tern Hide, note the droplets of water on its back

With chiffchaff, blackcap and garden warbler singing, it sounds like spring, even if it doesn’t feel spring-like.

Notable colour is being provided by a patch of leopard’sbane in flower close to the footbridge over Docken’s water.

Leopard'sbane

Leopard’sbane

 

 

Of Nadders and Noranges

Especially early start today, with the clocks going forward. I was most impressed on my journey here, to see that the public clock in Burley had been re-set correctly. Did someone get up specially to put it forward or, being fairly new, is it adjusted automatically from a radio signal, like the clock in my car???

Given the clock change, I was expecting a fairly quiet morning, but the fine weather encouraged a goodly supply of visitors. it appears that many were here to see and photograph our adders.  Several were seen throughout the morning although by the time I got up to the Lapwing Hide only one was partially visible. There have been several good images on earlier postings so I’ve resisted the temptation to adder nother.

The early start meant that a few animals were ‘caught-out’ by my sudden appearance,  they get used to having the reserve to themselves earlier in the day. Of particular note were the pair of mandarin on the settlement pond near Ivy South Hide.

 

Pair of mandarin on settlement pond

Pair of mandarin on settlement pond

 

They get their name from the fine costume of the drake and the fact that they were imported from China. Originally in a collection at Virginia Water, in Surrey, some escaped and found the U.K. to their liking, to such an extent that there are now more here than in China.   A more common connotation of the name is with a small fruit of the orange family, and as these ducks nest in holes in trees, like the fruit they also grow on trees!!!

Regular readers will recall that I have a slightly quirky take on language – hence the title above which refers to the fact that in English both adders and oranges have changed their names over the years. They each used to be preceded with an ‘n’ as  ‘a nadder’ and ‘a norange’ , but the ‘n’ migrated across the gap to what we have today.

Spring is really sprung now and everywhere there is bird song. The sheer ebullience of the males in securing a territory and attracting a mate has made them extremely vocal and quite bold. In my early morning tour round I managed to see at least four of the many wrens, whereas normally I would only hear them. Later on, one of the three  blackcaps I heard was obliging enough to show itself well enough for me to take a halfway decent picture.

P1470972 Blackcap

an obliging blackcap

The, now, long staying red-crested pochard was causing some kerfuffle among a group of other ducks, trying to impress them with its magnificence, probably a testosterone fuelled aggression generated by the lack of females of its own species.

P1470923 Red crested pochard

red-crested pochard chasing anything in feathers

Across the lakes there are still considerable numbers of duck, although we may have local breeding populations of mallard, teal, tufted duck, goosander and others we will loose pintail, goldeneye, wigeon and shoveler for the summer. Running to their own timetable there is still a little time before they push off to regions northwards. We can only marvel at the strength of purpose that drives them on their travels several hundreds or even thousands of miles to their northerly breeding grounds.

The lovely sunshine of late encourages one to look around, sometimes spotting things that have been around all the time, but just weren’t so obvious. Such a view was the abundance of witch’s broom festooning a tree near Docken’s water.

P1470877 which's broom

witch’s broom on tree by Docken’s Water

The power of the life force in humble seeds is well demonstrated by the emergence of this small tree (sycamore?) growing out of one of the drain covers on the tarmacked drive near the reserve entrance.

P1470881 sycamore

sycamore(?) growing in a roadside drain

This burgeoning abundance of life provides us with some beautiful sights like these willow catkins just outside the Lapwing Hide.

P1470920 catkins

catkins in sunshine

Even a very primitive plant, mare’s tail, presents us with a startling image in its young stage.

P1470956 mare'stail

dramatic looking shoot of mare’s tail

Mare’s tail are truly ancient plants – related to the ferns that formed the backdrop to forests at the time (or even earlier) when dinosaurs ruled.  A plant of damp or even wet places they have survived  the millennia and are nowadays a bit of a nuisance, being quite difficult to eradicate if they pop up in your garden.  It’s also  difficult to ignore another gardeners’  ‘problem’ plant, celandine, its cheerful bright yellow flowers adorning the woodland areas of the reserve.

P1470980 celendine

the cheerful flower of celandine – like a beacon on the forest floor

Talking of ‘problems’, I remember being out on a wild flower walk many years ago,  with an extremely knowledgeable  local botanist, but who admitted that field identification of a lot of the little ‘dandelion like’ flowering plants was nigh on impossible at times. There are, however, a few that have such distinctive features making identification fairly easy. One such plant is the colt’s foot which is one of our earliest flowers and has a distinctive, stout stem.

P1470959 coltsfoot

Colt’s foot with its distinctive stems

A lot of the later yellow flowers in this style are a bit of a nightmare to separate.

Talking of nightmares of this sort, for me and I believe a lot of other’s interested in moths, members of the pug family can be quite difficult to identify accurately. Many of them are on the wing in the middle months of the year, so at the momenta lot of species can be  eliminated from the possibilities. Working on this principle I think the pug which turned up in the light trap this morning is a brindled pug.

P1470857 brindled pug

brindled pug

From the smallest to the largest and another brindled specimen was this strikingly patterned brindled beauty.

P1470863 brindled beauty

brindled beauty

Sitting more like a butterfly than most moths, the group known as ‘thorns’ can also exercise observational skills – fortunately this one is one of the more distinctive types and its appearance at this time of year chimes in well with the name – early thorn.

P1470854 early thorn

early thorn

As Jim reported earlier in the week, our overnight light trap has attracted the attention of avian predators, probably the robin which waited in attendance when I was emptying the trap last week. Nevertheless, last night Jim had crammed the trap full of egg boxes so that any bird would find it difficult to move around inside. I did find one pair of wings this morning and any moths that had settled around the outside of the trap had been eaten, but  there were over 100 moths in the trap.  A fitting result for Mother’s (Moth-er’s) Day!!!

The most numerous were common quakers , nearly fifty of them.

P1470851 common quaker

common quaker

Our avian predator may well be from the pair of robins  who, in an indefatigable effort are striving to create a nest in the roof of the outside shelter by the Education Centre.

A spectacular piece of avian engineering!!!

A spectacular piece of avian engineering!!!

 

P.S. If anyone has lost a rather smart looking monopod on the reserve, it has been handed in – please ‘phone to identify and arrange collection.

 

 

 

 

 

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