White-tailed surprise

Spring is definitely here. On Ibsley Water the wildfowl have made way for the noisy black-headed and Mediterranean gulls which can be heard calling noisily overhead. Although a few ducks remain, including goldeneye, shoveler, goosander and gadwall, the majority have now departed. 

This afternoon a pair of redshank were feeding along the shoreline in front of Tern Hide whilst a pair of oystercatcher were on the island.

Black-tailed godwit numbers have decreased and a black swan seems to be favouring the north-western corner of the lake. Although I’m still waiting for my first swallow, sand martin numbers have increased hugely and watching them does not disappoint. I popped into Goosander Hide yesterday to see if any were investigating the sand martin bank and they most certainly are:

Although the hides remain closed and we have no plans to open them at present, it’s nice to know the martins are back and hopefully, if the next few months go to plan, it may be possible for visitors to catch the end of this year’s nesting season later on in the summer. We will be keeping our fingers crossed!

Reed buntings have been singing high from the willows on the edge of the main car park recently, and yesterday after leaving Goosander Hide I spotted this one sitting pretty in the top of a silver birch:

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Reed bunting

The highlight of yesterday’s walk (and something that definitely made working Easter Sunday worth it) was this sighting of one of the white-tailed eagles, high in the sky over Ibsley Water. They can cover such a huge area, you definitely need to be in the right place at the right time and have luck on your side, this was my first sighting of one of the (I’m assuming) Isle of Wight birds. Not the best photos, but they’re definitely good enough to tell what it is:

After getting mobbed by some gulls, which pushed it closer to where I was standing, it flew in the direction of Ibsley Common and the forest beyond.

Staying on the northern side of the reserve, the warmer weather has bought out the reptiles, with both adder and grass snake enjoying the sunshine. I’m still waiting for a grass snake photo opportunity, the adders have been more obliging:

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Adder

Although there is some just outside the Education Centre, the edges of the footpaths past Lapwing Hide and the boardwalk are good places to keep an eye out for colt’s-foot. Local names of this flower include foal’s foot and ass’ foot, clatterclogs, horse hoof and son afore the father, with the latter name referring to the fact that the flowers appear before the leaves. 

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Colt’s-foot

Wherever you walk at the moment it’s impossible not to hear the unmistakeable call of the chiffchaff, and with their numbers swelling on the reserve their call is turning into the back-drop of spring, along with Cetti’s warbler and blackcap.

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Chiffchaff

I have managed a half-decent photo of a blackcap but will keep trying, as Steve Farmer very kindly shared his beautiful images – thank you Steve!

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Blackcap by Steve Farmer

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Blackcap by Steve Farmer

As well as the spring birds, it’s been lovey to see so many insects, with brimstone, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, speckled wood and peacock all on the wing. The brimstones have even posed for photographs:

The bees are also buzzing, with honeybees, bumblebees including the common carder bee and a number of different solitary bees active.

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Honeybee on a gorse flower

I’ve seen both tawny and ashy mining bees as well as this little one:

Smaller and less striking or noticable than the vibrant female, I think it could be a male tawny mining bee, but am not completely sure.

There are also lots of dark-edged bee-flies about. This bee mimic has a long straight proboscis that it uses to feed on spring flowers like primroses and violets. Their larvae are nest parasites of ground-nesting and solitary bees, feeding on the bee grubs. The female bee-fly flicks her eggs towards the entrance holes of solitary bee nests to allow the larvae to hatch in the right place. Once a bee-fly egg hatches, the larva crawls into the underground nest cell of a host bee where, once large enough, it attaches itself and starts to suck out the body fluids of the host species…

Elsewhere in the woodland the wild daffodils are fading and making way for carpets of lesser celandine, with ground ivy and dog violets adding purple to the bright yellow. As Jim mentioned, the tiny and easily overlooked moschatel, or town-hall clock, is also flowering, although you have to look closely to see it!

 

Although the past couple of nights have been cold, resulting in a slightly less exciting catch in the moth trap, moth species have been picking up and there has at times been a very nice variety to look at and photograph. I think the oak beauty may be my favourite, so far…

So there is plenty to see and hear on the reserve at present, and as well as making the most of what spring has to offer it has been really nice to see some of our regular visitors and volunteers who live a little further afield venturing back to enjoy the insect and bird life and a walk in a slightly different location. With pond dipping events planned and hopefully an onsite Young Naturalists meeting at the end of the month, it feels as though things may be going in the right direction… 

Wildlife encounters of the furlough kind

I returned to work on Sunday after eight weeks away from Blashford (it is so green now!) and six weeks on furlough along with around 40% of my Trust colleagues, most of whom are still off. Whilst I’m back to help Bob with the reserve tasks he cannot do by himself and engage with visitors on site from a safe distance, following on from the easing of restrictions last week, we are still closed whilst we look at what we can safely offer in the coming weeks and months. We will keep you updated as and when things begin to change!

A Blashford blog will follow shortly, but I thought I would share what I have been getting up to whilst off.

Spending so much time at home meant I was able to discover what wildlife visits my garden, a bit of a distraction whilst I was supposed to still be working, but it was really nice to be there during the day and have more time to appreciate my outside space. My garden is only small, with two patio areas which contain a number of plants in pots and a lawn which has struggled as a lawn and now has a few flowers planted into the patchier bits as I slowly tun it into a much wilder space. I have lived there for a couple of years, and this year the garden really seems to have come to life with birds and insects, which has been really nice to see.

Whilst at home I had blue tits, wood pigeons, dunnocks and blackbirds frequently visiting the garden along with a wren, great tits and a goldfinch. I have a willow bird table and the blackbirds seem to really like this, launching themselves onto it from the hedge and swinging around whilst they fed.

I have two hedges in the garden and this year the blackbirds successfully nested in one (I did a fair amount of cat chasing whilst off, if they have another brood they’re on their own!) which was lovely to watch. I saw four fledglings at the same time, two sunning themselves in one hedge and two in the other and both adults worked really hard to feed them with the male bringing back huge beak fulls, including a garden centipede in the photo below:

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Male blackbird with a beak full

They fledged last Thursday so I was able to enjoy their company for a few days, with one of the young staying in the garden until Sunday morning. It was very amusing to see it sat swinging on the bird table calling mum for food.

I had written a rather long list of things to do to keep me busy, and one of those things was to dig a pond. Digging a pond was definitely more exciting than decorating the bathroom, re-pointing some dodgy brickwork to hopefully solve a damp issue in the kitchen and damp proofing and repainting the kitchen wall, so it was one of the first things I did and it’s been really nice to see it change over just a few weeks. The less exciting jobs were left until last week when I knew I was returning to work…

The photos below show the garden before and after, then the pond full of mud as the female blackbird decided the moss I had placed round the edge would make really nice nest building material (she had ignored it the entire time it was elsewhere in the garden) and later on with some plant additions (all native) I had been able to order online.

Whilst digging the pond I unearthed the snake millipede below, along with centipedes that were too fast for a photo, and the stones placed around the edge quickly became resting spots for hoverflies:

The blackbirds had been using a bucket of water with some willow sticks in to drink from and bathe in, but they now both use the pond which is really nice to watch. The female didn’t mind me being around at all but the male was a lot more wary of me to begin with and would fly off even if I was watching from the window, but now he is quite happy for me to be out in the garden whilst he’s there feeding.

As well as the birds it was great to see which insects were visiting the flowers and which flowers were growing really well, the ragged robin in particular has seeded so well from one plant in a pot last year I was able to plant it out in different places in the grass.

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I live on the edge of Salisbury so on my daily walks I walked my dog from home to either a little stretch of the River Bourne in Laverstock or up to the Laverstock Downs, enjoying the fact there were fewer cars on the road.

These photos were taken in the little patch of woodland down by the river:

I had hoped to see some bluebells on my wanders but sadly all those I did see were garden escapees.

I spent a lot more time up on the Downs as although they were further to walk to, it was much easier to practice social distancing up here than it was down by the river which tended to be busier with people and had a stretch of boardwalk to contend with.

It was a great spot for bird watching and I had some brilliant views of both blackcap and common whitethroat, especially early spring when the whitethroats were displaying and establishing territories.

I managed a total of 47 bird species whilst off, either in my garden, flying over my garden or on my daily walks: blackbird, blue tit, dunnock, wren, great tit, wood pigeon, collared dove, jackdaw, starling, long-tailed tit, yellowhammer, carrion crow, buzzard, pheasant, song thrush, chaffinch, chiffchaff, red kite, blackcap, common whitethroat, swallow, linnet, goldfinch, red-legged partridge, little egret, mallard, shoveler, kingfisher, magpie, skylark, great spotted woodpecker, robin, Canada goose, mute swan, raven, sparrowhawk, rook, bullfinch, house sparrow, Cetti’s warbler, grey heron, moorhen, mistle thrush, swift, house martin, peregrine falcon and mandarin duck. They were quite a good mix!

The Downs were also a great spot for butterflies, with orange tips, brimstones, small tortoiseshells, green-veined whites, small heaths, peacocks and dingy skippers all on the wing. I also found lots of green-veined orchids and other flowers on the chalk grassland.

The most exciting spot though was probably to see glow worm larvae on three separate occasions, so I must go up there over the summer in search of glow worms.

Glow worm larvae

Glow worm larvae

I was very lucky to have my garden to enjoy and also have some lovely spaces within walking distance to explore (it was also quite nice to use my car less!), so I had plenty of nature to keep me company during the pandemic, whilst a list of house and craft projects also kept me busy. I might be heading back up to the Downs at the weekend…

Still Going

As Jim said in his recent post, I am still going into the reserve most days, mainly to keep and eye on things and do some routine maintenance tasks. Generally the reserve is very quite, although there is a small minority of people who are still out and about. Some are walking out from the nearest houses for their daily exercise. A few are still driving to the reserve, not really approved of these days, but in small numbers perhaps not a big problem. Unfortunately some are taking advantage of there being few people about to engage in poaching and other undesirable activity, probably inevitable but a shame all the same.

Yesterday morning was especially pleasant and I went right around the reserve to check on things. When there is nothing amiss I have to count myself really lucky to be still able to get out. I came across a group of basking male adder, there were at least three in one mass, but it was hard to work out how many exactly, a single nearby made for a better photo though.

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adder

There are surprising number of wildfowl still on the reserve, I suspect because we have had predominantly north-easterly winds and they don’t much like flying into a headwind when migrating. Earlier this week there were still over a thousand duck on Ibsley Water, with as many as 400 shoveler and hundreds of wigeon and pintail as well. There has also been a flock of black-tailed godwit around, at least 250, probably more, they are presumably feeding on the Avon floods now they have receded a bit, every so often they are lifted by a passing bird of prey and wheel about. The ducks are on the move now that the winds have eased and will be heading towards Scandinavia, the godwits will probably wait a couple of weeks or so before heading off to Iceland. By then I hope we will have a lot more summer visitors.

Despite the sunshine and generally rather spring-like feel to the weather there have been rather few summer visitors around so far. I have seen a very small number of sand martin, but no more than ten and no swallow or house martin. A few years ago there were sand martin excavating the first nest holes in the last week of March, and hundreds over the lake. There are a good few chiffchaff and blackcap singing now, but no other migrants.

The forecast is for warmer conditions next week, so perhaps we will get an arrival of summer visitors, we can be wait.

 

A Few Moths, Rather a Lot of Ducks and an Added Extra

A much less spring-like day on the reserve today, but even in the drizzle being out in the open air still raises the spirits. Although there was no obvious arrival of migrants I think there were one or two more blackcap and chiffchaff today.

We had a tree surgeon on site today to deal with a couple of fallen trees near Ivy South Hide, this did upset some of the duck and probably contributed to the high numbers on Ibsley Water, where I counted 248 shoveler along with about 300 pintail and at least 400 wigeon, still quite large numbers for mid March. Although the hides are closed the viewpoint behind Tern Hide still offers views over the water, and large enough for a small number of people whilst still maintaining a 2m safety zone.

The moth trap caught the best catch so far this year almost 40 moths of seven species, new for the year was a brindled beauty.

Brindled beauty

Brindled beauty

Emptying the trap at the end of the day I saw that the long-tailed tit nest nearby is more or less complete, I think they are busy adding the feather lining now. The nest is a wonderful ball construction made with moss and lichen bound together with spider’s web.

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long-tailed tit nest

As there was a bit of a wildlife shortage today I will add a picture from Tuesday, when I saw a fine male adder, my first of the year.

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male adder

The World Still Turns and Birds and Bees are Still Doing What They do Best

Despite all that is going on in our world, the seasons are moving on, and today this was very noticeable with the first sand martin of the spring being seen on the reserve. There are also several chiffchaff singing and at least 2 blackcap. Long-tailed tit are building in lots of places, I don’t think I have ever known so many pairs, probably a result of a very mild winter.

I saw my first grey-backed mining bee a few days ago, as is typical they were all males, who emerge earlier than the females. Today I saw the first female, she had not long emerged but was already attracting the attention of several males.

Andrena vaga female

Grey-backed mining bee (female)

This bee has only recently recolonised the UK and so far has only a few sites, Blashford having one of the larger known colonies. It is one of the earliest solitary bee species to emerge and specialises in feeding on willow flowers, which are one of the very earliest sources of pollen and nectar.

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Grey-backed mining bee female with attendant male

The males wait around the nesting banks for the first females to emerge and try to mate as soon as they come to the surface. Mating itself seems to be a swift affair from what I saw today.

Andrena vaga pair

Grey-backed mining bee mating pair

Over the next few weeks I will try to blog as regularly as I can, I am conscious that many people will not be able to get out and about, indeed it is quite possible these blogs may become about my garden or even just what I can see from the window before things are resolved. I will also be putting posts on Twitter, Bob Chapman @bobservablelife

Our human centred world may be tumbling about us as things we rely upon turn out to be nothing like as robust as we might have hoped. At the same time nature, much of which we have sacrificed in pursuit of growing what is now falling about us, will be carrying on, I will try to record some of that continuity as I come across it for as long as I can.

 

Open Again

The Tern Hide will be open again today, although there are still some access restrictions elsewhere on the reserve, where works continue, please take note of any signs as works are changing day by day as they are completed. That said all the hides are open, as is the Centre.

The last few days have been as hectic as have many over the last few weeks, although thankfully we are firmly on the home stretch now. Despite a degree of chaos spring is definitely moving along apace.

Chiffchaff and blackcap are now present in good numbers and we have also have the first reed warbler and willow warbler on the reserve. Over Ibsley Water large numbers of sand martin, house martin and swallow have been gathering and some sand martin are now visiting the nesting wall. There have also been migrants passing through, the week has been characterised by a significant movement of little gull, with up to 12 over Ibsley Water at times, on their way to breeding areas around the Baltic Sea.

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one of the adult little gull over Ibsley Water

A proportion of the swallows and martins will be moving on as will be the splendid male yellow wagtail that was seen on Thursday.

Insect numbers are increasing also with many more butterflies around.

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comma, one of the species that over-winters as an adult

As well as the species that hibernate as adults there are also lots of spring hatching species too, particularly speckled wood and orange-tip.

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male orange-tip

The nights, although rather cool have more moths now, on Friday morning the highlight in the moth trap was the first great prominent of the year.

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great prominent

Earlier in the week a red sword-grass was a notable capture, possibly a migrant but also perhaps from the nearby New Forest which is one of the few areas in southern England with a significant population.

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red sword-grass

I have also seem my first tree bumble-bee of the year, a queen searching for a nest site, this species only colonised the UK in the last 20 years, but is now common across large areas.

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tree bumble-bee queen searching for a nest site

Of course all the while resident species are starting to nest, blue tit and great tit are starting to lay eggs and I have seen my first song thrush fledgling of the year. Out on Ibsley Water lapwing and little ringed plover are displaying, truly spring has arrived at Blashford Lakes.

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male lapwing

Nearly Re-Terned and Last Pop-up

We are nearly there, the Tern Hide reconstruction is getting close to completion. The structure is up, although the roof still has to be finished, then there are the banks and screens to put up and various other finishing elements to do, but we are nearing the end now. The project has not just been about the Tern Hide though.

There is a great new viewing platform on the bank to the rear of the main car park, which gives a fantastic view, not just of Ibsley water but a panorama of the whole valley, it could become a great place to watch migration.

Over at the Education Centre we have a new information hut and a second education pond, this is will allow us to reline the existing one which leaks badly, without having any time without a pond. There are also various other improvements to the lay-out that should make it much easier and safer for education groups and visitors as a whole.

Further out on the reserve there will be new signage and one or too surprises too. If you have not visited for a while you may also notice that we have done some further tree felling, this has been targeted at invasive Turkey oak and grey alder, in both cases removing these will allow space for more native trees to grow. Although the landscape value of such non-native trees can be positive, they harbour markedly less wildlife.

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roe deer

Although we are approaching the end there are still some restrictions in places, most notably the car parking at the Centre, which is being re-levelled and surfaced, please take notice of signage and temporary fences whilst this work is going on.

This work has been made possible thanks to a grant from the Veolia Environmental Trust.

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Despite all this work we have remained open for business as close to normal as possible. The bittern has been parading about, although it seems likely it has now departed. The ring-billed gull has been roosting on Ibsley Water, where there has also been a very fine drake garganey. At Woodland Hide there have been small numbers of redpoll and brambling among the chaffinch, goldfinch and reed bunting. On top of all this there are migrants arriving in moderate numbers with at least 27 sand martin yesterday and also blackcap, chiffchaff and little ringed plover.

This weekend sees the last appearance for the season of the Pop-up cafe, so if you do not make it to the reserve you will have to wait until next autumn for some of the best cake around.

Spring is all around with insect numbers increasing, numbers of moths have been rising and last night we saw our first brindled beauty of the year, following on from our first streamer and engrailed earlier in the week.

brindled beauty

brindled beauty

Numbers of solitary bees have been increasing too, including lot of what I think are male grey-backed mining bee, this is a very rare bee and the males are very similar to the much common ashy mining bee.

male Andrena

male mining bee, I think grey backed (Andrena vaga)

 

A Few Birds

We had a mini bird race for teams from our Blashford Lakes Project partners today, which meant that I got to have a good look around the reserve and see a few birds as well. Generally it was a quite day with rather little sign of migration despite the season.

Over Ibsley Water there were several hundred hirundines, predominantly house martin but including sand martin and swallow. The only wader was common sandpiper, but the bushes between the lakes held some small birds including chiffchaff, willow warbler, blackcap and a single spotted flycatcher, mostly accompanying flocks of long-tailed tit.

Walter our regular great white egret was back in his regular spot outside Ivy North hide after going absent for a few days, his recent companion has not been seen for several days. An adult hobby hunting over the trees at the same spot was also nice to see and a peregrine was reported there as well.

Numbers of wildfowl have been high for the time of year and I took the opportunity to get a new count of the coot on Ibsley Water and found 794, a really high count for the first half of September.

 

Back to some birds

I have been off for the week and today was my first day back. In my absence the reserve has turned green! Many of the trees have leaves bursting through and around the lakes emergent plants are doing what they do best and emerging.

The change of seasons is very apparent, with Ibsley Water having swallow, sand martin and a few house martin swooping over at least 47 wigeon and a goldeneye, reminders of winter. A fine adult little gull was hunting insects over the lake in the morning, but seemed to have gone in the afternoon. The rain of early afternoon brought in a flock of 25 Arctic tern, always a treat and at the end of the day some of them had joined the 4 common tern on the shingle near Tern hide giving a great comparison.

Migrants generally are still rather few apart from chiffchaff and blackcap, which are both around the reserve in good numbers. Today I found just singles of willow warbler and reed warbler, we usually have just one pair of willow warbler but there should be many more reed warbler to come.

Other more random sightings I had today included a red kite, a pair of mandarin duck, 4 goosander and 3 snipe. I also had reports of 2 white wagtail and a common sandpiper.

April Showers

Or more prolonged outbreaks of rain! Recent days have certainly been making up for the rather dry winter. The lakes which had been unusually low for the time of year have now filled up to the point where a number of the islands in Ibsley Water have disappeared.

On the plus side it has warmed up a little and this has resulted in something of an upturn in moth numbers. Last night saw nine species caught including early grey and brindled pug new for the year, there were also a number of oak beauty.

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oak beauty

Spring migrants continue to arrive in low numbers, there are now several chiffchaff and  a few blackcap singing around the reserve and today we recorded our first terns of the year. The single common tern this afternoon was not unexpected, but the 4 Sandwich tern this morning were unusual and they were flying over heading south! The adult little gull was still around in the morning at least, it has been a near record season for them and we have probably already recorded about 20 individuals. Yesterday there were still at least 13 goldeneye and probably the same today, a hang over from winter with 50 or so sand martin and 5 or more swallow feeding over their heads.

There are now common dog violet, ground ivy, moschatel  and cowslip starting to come into flower. Ground ivy is normally very popular with the early butterflies, but recent days have been too cold and/or wet for them to have been flying.

cowslip

cowslip

As though the emphasise the changeability of the season I saw this intense rainbow as I went to lock up the Tern hide this afternoon, hopefully the ratio of rain to sun will start to change soon.

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rainbow from the main car park