Skipping

A glorious day to be out working on the reserve today, unfortunately we were not engaged in the most rewarding of tasks.  One of the less desirable sides of working in the countryside is seeing how some see it not a “Green and Pleasant Land”, but a handy place to get rid of rubbish. This can range from the seemingly endless scatter of coffee cups and beer cans that occur every few metres along the sides of roads across the Forest to the more concerted lorry loads of builders waste. Todays task was to clear just such a load dumped on the reserve by someone evidently does updates to kitchens and bathrooms. Avoiding tip fees no doubt makes the quote cheaper, or maybe just increases profits.

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A load of rubbish!

Of course someone has to pay in the end, in this case it took three of us all morning to collect it up and get it to the skip, so we lost 1.5 person days of work on the reserve, plus the cost £300 or so to get it taken away. We have also been “donated” two caravans recently, both dumped in broad daylight and proving very difficult to get taken away.

It is rightly costly to dispose of waste, it takes time and effort to recover the recyclable and properly dispose of the rest and the producer of the waste should pay. Unfortunately when something becomes costly or difficult more ands more people will seek an easier route. Enforcement of anti-dumping laws is difficult and in practice dumpers are rarely caught which encourages the activity.

To me the most worrying thing about our inability to get a grip on this problem is this, most people would never leave rubbish somewhere they cared about, so if the Forest is strewn with litter and wildlife sites are seen as prime fly-tipping sites this tells us something. This is more than indifference, it comes from a culture of casual destruction, the environment is not something we inhabit, it is not where we live. Except, of course, it is.

I am not sure how this issue can be tackled, but that it can seems evident. Some 25 years ago I lived in rural Ireland for a while, very wild, very beautiful and full of rubbish. Much of the countryside seemed to be regarded as worthless space only good for getting rid of unwanted items. Fast forward to today and now you cannot but be struck by the lack of litter and how terrible our countryside looks in comparison. I am not sure how the attitudes were turned around but they certainly seem to have been.

In more a wildlife related vein, the pink-footed goose and Caspian gull were seen on Ibsley Water again today and there were 2 drake pintail there when I opened the Tern hide this morning. The sunshine also brought out a few insects, there was a red admiral near the Centre and Jim reported a common darter dragonfly still hanging on despite the frosts.

 

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Moths and Birds and no Snowberry

Despite the autumnal weather the moth trap continues to catch a reasonable range of species, Friday’s catch included two of the bigger wainscots, the large wainscot,

large wainscot

large wainscot

and the bulrush wainscot.

Bulrush wainscot 2

bulrush wainscot

Neither of them particularly colourful species, unlike the frosted orange.

frosted orange

frosted orange

I know I have already posted this species a few times, but they are very fine and this one was very fresh. Autumn moths tend to be either bright yellow, orange or very dull indeed and the deep brown dart is certainly at the dull end, at least in terms of colour.

deep brown dart

deep brown dart

Despite the extremely dull weather today there were some birds to see, the ruff remains on Ibsley Water and there were also 2 green sandpiper and a common sandpiper there too. A sign of the changing season is the slowly increasing number of wigeon, I saw at least 25 today, but there were also something over 75 hirundines, mostly swallow but also a number of house martin and even a few sand martin.

Recently the Goosander hide has been attracting  allot of photographers trying to get shots of a fairly cooperative kingfisher. It also seems to be good for quiet a few other species too. I was especially pleased to see  the trees that we leaned into the lake there being well used as perches by a range of species, including today, Walter, our returning great white egret.

Walter

Walter, our returning great white egret, you can just make out some of his rings.

The perches near the Goosander hide are being used by lots of birds, the rails I put up  a few years ago were very popular with cormorant today.

cormorants

A “drying-off” of cormorant.

Large numbers of cormorant have been mass fishing in Ibsley Water recently, something they only do when there are very large shoals of fish, of just the right size, on offer. This year there seem to be large numbers of perch and rudd to be caught, to judge from the many pictures we have been sent of cormorant with fish recently.

These same rails are also popular with gulls and I saw three different yellow-legged gull on there this afternoon, including this first winter bird.

Yellow-legged gull 1st W

Yellow-egged gull, in first winter plumage (or if you prefer 1st cy)

It was the first Sunday of the month and despite unpromising weather four volunteers turned out for a task this morning. For several years I have been meaning to get around to removing a patch of snowberry near the Ivy North hide, it has not spread very far but is a garden plant that really should not be in a semi-natural woodland. Finally today we got rid of it, or at least of as much of it as we could dig up, next spring we will see how much we missed!

I will end with a sure sign of autumn, a fungus, the reserve has  a lot of fungi just now, I really struggle to identify them, but I think I know what this is, until someone puts me right, a fly agaric – this one complete with flies.

Fungus Gnat Agaric

fungus gnat agaric

 

Walter Returns!

After reports of a great white egret since the end of the week before last we have been wondering if it was “Walter”  come back for his fourteenth winter, but sightings have been too poor to confirm if it had rings in the right combination. So I was delighted to see from Ivy North hide as I locked up, there he was, rings and all. I got a very poor picture, but I only had a 60mm macro lens on my camera, so I have some excuse.

Walter!

“Walter”

At fourteen and three months he is by far the oldest great white egret know to have been seen in the UK and is quite a great age for the species. When he arrived he was a real pioneer, one of only three or so in the country, but over the last few years they have increased and now breed in the UK and look as though they are here to stay.

 

Late Winter Dash as Spring Looms

This time of year is always hectic, the winter work really needs to be finished by the end of February and somehow there is never quiet enough winter to get it all done. That said we have done very well this time, getting round to some tasks that I had been wanting to do for some years as well as doing  a lot of work in the former block works site to make it ready to become part of the reserve.

In the last week we have planted several hundred shrubs, coppiced a lot of willow and built a long dead hedge we have also cleared small birches to make basking sites for reptiles and nesting areas for solitary bees, raked cut brambles and taken willow cuttings. Luckily Blashford’s Brilliant Volunteers have turned out en masse and with the Our Past, Our Future apprentice rangers and Emily, our volunteer placement, the workforce has been at peak performance.

before

The site for a new dead hedge

after

The dead hedge completed, looking back towards the viewpoint of the picture above.

Even with all this activity there has still been some time for a bit of wildlife. The last couple of nights have been much warmer, spring is definitely in the air now, so we have put out the moth trap. Today’s catch was 3 chestnut, 3 pale brindled beauty, a spring usher (I said it was in the air), one of my favourites, an oak beauty

oak-beauty

oak beauty, one of the finest moths of spring

and a dotted border.

dotted-border

dotted border

A bittern was seen a couple of days ago, but not since, so perhaps the feel of spring has made it return to more suitable breeding habitat. So far we still have two great white egret, including “Walter”, although he usually departs about mid-February, so I suspect he will not be here much longer. The Cetti’s warbler are singing a lot now, hopefully they will stay to breed this year. The ring-billed gull are still present, with both birds seen in the past few days, although not on the same evening. Oystercatcher have come back and up to three have been noisily flying great circles above the reserve. The gull roost now includes 15 or more Mediterranean gull, a now typical spring build-up. The cormorant roost was up to 148 the other evening in the tree beside Ivy Lake

cormorant-roost

Cormorant roost beside Ivy Lake

and this evening there were upward of 5000 starling performing to the north of Ibsley Water, putting on quite a show, perhaps because there was a peregrine about, I am guessing they roosted in the reeds to the north of the lane.

Locking up Ivy North hide there was a very tame grey squirrel outside the hide, gorging on food that someone had thrown out of the window.

grey-squirrel

Grey squirrel, not turning down a free meal.

As I closed Tern hide and the starlings were doing their thing off to the north, there was a rather fine sunset off to the west, a perfect end to a very busy day.

ducks-at-dusk

Sunset, with three ducks.

 

 

 

Coppicing, Snipe and Great Whites

A brilliant sunny day, not a great surprise to Blashford aficionados, is was Thursday and so volunteer day, (it almost never rains on a Thursday morning). The volunteers continued coppicing and using the brash to make a new dead hedge in the former Hanson plant site. This hedge should grow up with bramble and so provide valuable cover and habitat. The earth bank has steep south-facing slopes and these should be great for insects and hopefully also reptiles. Unfortunately I still have no firm date on the opening of the new path but at least the preparations are progressing well.

In the afternoon I was leading a winter bird walk, it is always good to get out on site and see some wildlife and this afternoon was glorious. We started at Tern hide with good views of water pipit and 3 snipe close to the hide.

snipe-2

one of three snipe feeding along the shore near the hide

A dead gull on the shore just east of the had attracted a crow which was tucking in, but very soon it was pushed off the prize by two buzzard, and two magpie also came down to see what they could snatch.

carrion-feeders

carrion feeders

A meal of meat is always welcome to these birds but in cold weather such as we are having now could make all the difference to these birds survival. It may seem a little gory, but nothing goes to waste.

Looking further out onto the lake we managed to miss the black-necked grebe that had been reported but did find a  female red-breasted merganser, these close relatives of the goosander are usually found on the coast and it is some years since there was one on the reserve. We also saw several of our regular goosander by way of comparison, these are larger and although the females are similar, the goosander have an overall cleaner look.

At the Woodland hide we saw a good range of the regular smaller birds, but the highlight was the water rail feeding in the pool under the alder carr just outside the hide, it gave wonderful views and seemed completely unconcerned by our watching it. After failing to see a bittern, we headed back to Tern hide and were rewarded with great views of a green sandpiper on the shore below the hide, it only flew off when a second came by.

When I went to lock up I saw a great white egret roosting in the trees on Ivy Lake from the Ivy North hide, “Walter” on his usual perch. By the time I got to Ivy South hide and looked across there were two! Presumably the second bird which has been using the area just north of the reserve had joined him, it will be interesting to see if they both roost there regularly.

 

Laying around

On Sunday, as it was the first Sunday of the month the reserve had both a volunteer work party and a Pop-up Café. The volunteers worked on laying part of the hedge along the western side of the reserve near Ellingham Lake. This was planted in 2005 and has now grown tall, but not very thick, wildlife tends to prefer a wide, thick hedge to a narrow, tall one. We did not do the classic hedge laying, which is good if the object is to keep in livestock, instead we only lightly trimmed the tops of the plants and laid them over. This should produce a wider hedge with at least some flowering and fruit production in the first year. It is also a much quicker and easier and within my skillset, true hedge laying is well beyond me.  We need to give the young growth at the base of the plants some protection so we put the trimmings and any bramble we had to cut out around the base of the hedge to try ands keep the deer and rabbits off. We managed to do 20m of hedge in our two hour session.

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Before we could lay the hedge we had to remove the old rabbit fencing and tree guards.

Meanwhile, back at the Centre the Pop-up Café had been laying out cake and some of the volunteers stopped for a slice before heading for home. Both the hedge and cake were excellent.

Perhaps because of the approach of Christmas the reserve was not that busy despite the bright sunshine. This was a shame as  the birds were putting on a good show with both great white egret seen as well as a beautiful firecrest in the ivy covered trees beside the Woodland hide. On Ibsley Water both of the adult ring-billed gull were eventually found in the gull roost. They seem to take absolutely no notice of one another despite being far from home. They are North American natives and there would appear to be only about three in the UK at present, so quite why two of them should be at Blashford is a bit of a mystery.

 

All Clear

The Blashford volunteers were hard at work today and we finally finished the clearance of the western shore of Ibsley Water. As an old gravel working it has taken a long time for the area to settle down. The bare ground left at the end of extraction was a seedbed for a forest of ragwort and after we got this under control nettle and bramble proliferated. Mowing and grazing is increasingly establishing grassland over larger and larger areas, but getting it too a state where we can readily manage it as long term grassland has been a challenge. Hopefully today we had our last day of this clearance work, so long as I can get a suitable mower for the job from now on it should be easier to maintain habitat suitable for breeding lapwing and feeding wigeon.

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The last patches at the start of the task.

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Part way through

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Nearly there, just a bramble clump to go.

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Just the raking up to do.

Managing the habitat around the reserve and maximising the opportunity for people to enjoy the wildlife from the hides is a constant task and the input of the many volunteers is what makes it possible. They don’t just do lots of the work, they also come up with all sorts of ideas. Many of our volunteers are also regular visitors to the reserve, which gives them a different perspective from that of staff. Lots of ideas keep the reserve moving forward and encourages us to try new things and hopefully improves things for wildlife and visitors alike.

We have tamed the western shore of the lake just in time as we are shortly to take on the old concrete block works site between Tern and Goosander hides. This will be another area of disturbed ground, no doubt full of weed seeds and with added concrete, metal reinforcing etc. to boot. Although the major groundworks are now complete establishing vegetation is going to take time and effort. Several people have asked me when the new path between the main car park and Goosander hide will open. The short answer is I don’t know yet. Although the large scale works are done there is still things to finish before we will be able to take possession and open it up for use. I am hoping it won’t be too long now and rest assured that I will post details as soon as I know.

Clouded Yellow

From the Tern hide first thing it was no surprise to find that yesterday’s spoonbill had moved on. Possibly a good thing as the volunteers were working outside the hide this morning to further improve the view by hand-pulling the annual; plant growth that obscures the shoreline. During the we came across a “Woolly bear” caterpillar, once a very common sight these larvae of the tiger moth are now not so often seen. Then a rather large grass snake slithered away up the bank and lastly the reserve’s first clouded yellow of the year flew by. Later in the Centre car park I saw a second clouded yellow, so perhaps there is something of a migrant insect arrival underway with the change in the weather, if it includes moths we could be in for a good session on Sunday morning. Incidentally if you would like to come along to see what the trap has gathered overnight there are still places available.

Birds were rather few, a dunlin on Ibsley Water and 2 whitethroat in the bramble around the main car park were as good as it got for me today.

The Archers

The moth trapping has picked up a bit now and there have ben on or two new species in the trap, yesterday we caught two very fresh Archer’s dart, not a species I see very often at all.

archer's dart

Archer’s dart

Going away for a couple of weeks makes the changes on the reserve really noticeable, the lake levels have dropped a bit, all the nesting terns have left and there are lots of adult crickets and grasshoppers calling away. As the years advance I am pleased I can still (just) hear  Roesel’s bush cricket and long-winged conehead.

long-winged conehead

long-winged conehead female

After a day bramble cutting it was pleasant to walk round the hides at locking up time. Highlights were 43 gadwall on Ivy Lake and a sun bathing Neoitamus cyanurus,  a species of robberfly, on the wooden screen at the Woodland hide.

Neoitamus cyanurus male

Neoitamus cyanurus (male)

This is quite a common species in woodland and is identified by its bright orange legs.

 

Sunday Sun, (Eventually)

On Sunday I opened the moth trap for visitors to the reserve, the catch was actually not too bad considering how windy it had been overnight. The highlight was a micro species, Anania verbascalis, which I was only able to identify retrospectively, as far as I am aware it was new for the reserve as well as to me. Unfortunately it was very difficult to get half decent photographs as it was very dull and raining at times.

Luckily in the afternoon it did warm up and the sun came out. I had to mend part of the fence beside the sweep meadow and could not avoid admiring how good it is looking this year.

sweep meadow

sweep meadow

It often has a good show of ox-eye daisy, but I think it is the mass flowering of bird’s foot trefoil that really makes it look so good this year. Actually there are four different bird’s foot trefoils growing across the meadow and nearby lichen heath. In the wettest areas there is the tallest one, the greater bird’s foot trefoil, in the general grassland there is the “regular” bird’s foot trefoil, whilst as it gets drier there are patches of slender  bird’s foot trefoil and on the really dry sandy spots there is hairy bird’s foot trefoil. The rarest, at least in Hampshire is the slender bird’s foot trefoil, which seems to be having a very good year this year, with some large patches.

slender bird's foot trefoil

slender bird’s foot trefoil

As I finished repairing the fence I noticed a common toad crossing the path, no doubt tempted out by the morning rain.

toad

common toad

As the sun warmed the insects came out in force. I came across my first bee wolf of the year, in fact several on a sandy patch beside the entrance track.

bee wolf

bee wolf

These wasps capture honey bees to provision their nests, which they dig in the sand, to provide food for their larvae. I also saw several other digger wasps, I only a picture of one and so far I have failed to get a positive identification of it.

digger wasp

digger wasp