30 Days Wild – Day 22: Punctuated

It was thankfully cooler today which allowed us to do some work along the open western shore of Ibsley Water. As it was Thursday the “us” was the famous Blashford volunteer team. We were trimming brambles and pulling ragwort. I know ragwort is a great nectar source, but in this case we are trying to establish grassland where there has been bramble, willow and nettlebeds, this means mowing, but as we have ponies on site we need to remove the ragwort first. Ponies will rarely eat growing ragwort, but if cut and mixed in grass they will and so can get poisoned.

This shore was dominated by huge beds of ragwort and nettles but years of cutting and light grazing are taking effect and we now have mostly grassland with patches of ox-eye daisy, bird’s foot trefoil and other more desirable species. In turn this is attracting insects such as long-winged conehead.

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long-winged conehead, female nymph

We saw a good few butterflies including good numbers of comma. It seems they are having a very good year and the fresh summer brood emerging now is particularly strong. This generation will breed and produce another generation of adult in the autumn which will them hibernate.

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comma

They get their name from the white comma-shaped marking on the under-wing, which is not visible in this shot. Their ragged wing outline makes them less butterfly-shaped and so harder for predators to find, this is especially so when the wings are closed.

I ran two moth traps last night, only about 50m apart, but one under trees and the other in the open. An illustration of what a difference location makes is seen from the number of hawk-moths caught. The one in the open contained 8 elephant hawk-moth, a pine hawk-moth and 2 poplar hawk-moth, whereas the one under the trees contained just one eyed hawk-moth.

As you will have gathered from this blog, I am a fan of insects in general, even horseflies, although I am less keen on them when they come into the office as this one did today.

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Chrysops relictus female

It is the females that bite, so it would be better if this one went outside again.

 

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Meanwhile, Back at Blashford

Whilst Tracy was off roaming the southern side of the Forest with the Young Naturalists, I was back at Blashford where Sunday was very pleasantly sunny and warm. As the week ahead looks grey and damp, it was likely to be the best day of the week for butterflies and a good opportunity to get the transects done. Although numbers of butterflies are declining as the spring species decline there are a few summer ones starting to appear, the last couple of days have seen the first common blue and brown argus on the wing. Thanks to Blashford’s brilliant volunteers for organising and doing the butterfly transects.

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The first brown argus of the year (well my first at least).

I also finally saw my first grass snake of the year too, perhaps not strictly my first as I did find a freshly dead one a couple of weeks ago, probably killed by a buzzard. This live one was rather unexpectedly crossing the open gravel behind the Education Centre.

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grass snake on gravel

Although it has been sunny recently it was still quite cool in the persistent north or north-east wind, this changed on Saturday and the extra warmth seemed to prompt large numbers of damselflies top emerge, I must have seen many hundreds on Sunday, mostly common blue damselflies, but including large red, azure and beautiful demoiselle.

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common blue damselfly (male), still not quiet fully coloured up.

It is very pleasing to see that two of our projects are showing signs of success again. The tern rafts are used every year, but it gets harder each year to stop them all being claimed by gulls, timing in putting them out is the key. By Monday there were at least 20 common tern on the rafts so hopefully this will be enough to fend of the gulls. The other project, the sand martin wall, has had more mixed fortunes. After a few years of success to start with it fell out of favour with none nesting for several years, but this year they are back! Not in huge numbers but a visit to Goosander hide is well worth the effort.

A number of people have asked me recently when the “new” path from the main car park to Goosander hide will open, regular visitors will have noted that the work was completed some months ago now. Unfortunately the answer is still “I don’t know” but rest assured I will make it known when it is open. The hold up is not of our making, but to do with the process of transfer from previous occupiers via our landlord and the meeting of various planning and other requirements.

The change to more south-westerly winds has reduced migrant activity, but the reserve has still seen a some waders passing through in the last few days, on Sunday a sanderling with a peg-leg was by Tern hide and today a turnstone was on Long Spit (as I have decided to christen the new island we created to the east of Tern hide this spring). Both these are high Arctic breeders and only occasional visitors to Blashford.

Blashford’s Busiest Week?

Most of last week was typified by cold clear nights followed by crisp, bright days. No doubt this accounted for the large numbers of visitors to the reserve on most days. The wildlife also cooperated fairly well with the bittern seen on most days and sometimes giving good views. The great white egret also spent a good time each day on Ivy Lake and there was also little egret for easy comparison.

The Woodland hide is also getting busier all the time with over 100 chaffinch, at least 3 brambling, 5 or more reed bunting and all the usual woodland birds. Siskin are starting to visit the nyger feeders now the alder seed is getting scarcer. Under the alders outside the hide the water rail has been showing again and the firecrest has been frequently seen in the ivy covered oaks just behind the hide.

The gull roost has quietened somewhat with rather fewer lesser black-backed gull coming in now, although numbers of the smaller gulls remain high and at least one ring-billed gull has been seen. Very bright conditions are actually a hindrance to gull watchers as it makes the shades of grey more a result of shadow than actual shade, in addition a more north or east wind direction takes the gulls towards the eastern and northern shore of the lake where they are harder to see well.

The fine weather has also enabled us to get on with a lot of work, something that has been boosted by some bumper turn-outs by our volunteers. As a result we have completed the dead hedge around the old Hanson plant site, about 250m or so in length! We have also made great progress with the scrub clearance on the adjacent lake shore, which should make the whole area much more attractive to nesting waders. Restoring this old factory site to useful wildlife habitat is going to be a long task but we have made a great start.

We also had a tree surgeon on site on Thursday to deal with a few trees that had been an increasing cause for concern. Some I could perhaps have felled myself, but having a tree surgeon climb them enables the damaged part to be removed and, where possible, leave a section of trunk standing. This can be very valuable habitat and many of the damaged trees are ones with hollows and holes, ideal for lots of species. From a wildlife point of view it is often the trees of most safety concern that are the very ones that we would most want to keep. So getting them partially felled is a useful way to make them safe and keep a good part of the wildlife value.

I am hoping the good weather will continue and we can have  another productive week. So often the winter work program ends in a rush to get what we can finished before spring races in. So far this winter we have done really well, although I am sure there will be tasks outstanding when the end of February comes, but then the task of reserve management is never one that has a real end point.