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.

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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.

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Nest box news!

At our last Young Naturalists session we were lucky enough to join Brenda, who voluntarily monitors the nest boxes on the reserve, so we could see at close hand the processes and survey work involved as well as having a peek inside some of the boxes the group had made themselves. They thoroughly enjoyed it!

 

We were often watched closely:

Being watched

Being watched by a Blue tit

The following week Brenda returned for more nest box checks and was very pleased to report the following:

YN 1 – Poppy’s box – 10 Blue tits fledged and were being fed by parents in the trees close to the box

YN 3 – Geoff’s box – 10 Blue tits fledged

YN 4 – Ben’s box – 3 Great tits fledged

YN 9 – Will H’s box – 6 Great tits fledged

YN 10 – Megan C’s box –  9 Blue tits fledged

YN 11 – Thomas’ box – 9 Great tits fledged

Not all of the boxes the group made were used this year, but there is always next year! It was great to see how well their boxes did this year after a late start. The warm weather meant there has been plenty of food and although we have had a few days of rain the parent birds have managed to cope well and provided enough food for excellent numbers of chicks surviving, growing and fledging from the boxes. Brenda shared some photos with us of the ringing stages and box pictures:

 

The group made more boxes during April’s session which Brenda is looking forward to using next year, again to replace some of the older rotting boxes which are very wet and not so good for nesting. Brenda was keen to say a big thank you to the group for making the boxes and we would like to say a big thank you to Brenda for letting the group help out with the monitoring and surveying that day, I know it meant she was here quite a bit longer than she usually is as everyone, in particular Thomas and Lysander, were so keen.

After our nest box monitoring we had a look through the moth trap, which held a number of great moths including a Lobster moth, Pale tussock, Poplar hawk-moth, Fox moth, Buff-tip and May bug, which Ben took a particular liking to:

 

We did a few odd jobs, cleaning out the tank of tadpoles we were keeping in the Education Centre to show visiting school groups, watching the pond life below the water when we released the young froglets, and tidying up an old planter outside the front of the building.

Newt

Swimming newt

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. Thank you to Roma and Geoff for your help during the session and of course to Brenda for letting us assist with the nest box monitoring.

Changeable

The last week or so has been very strange, with the arrival of several migrants and further snow.

gorse flower in snow 3

Spring!

On the migrant front there are now small numbers of sand martin hawking over several of the lakes, the most I have seen together is only six. On Ibsley Water there have been at least 2 little ringed plover, but be warned as there has also been a ringed plover. Other waders in the snow last weekend included a few dunlin and 3 golden plover. A single swallow has been recorded on several days and is perhaps the one reported in North Gorley as well. In the woodland small numbers of chiffchaff are singing and near Tern hide a pair of wheatear have been seen for the last four days. Perhaps the greatest excitement has been the sighting of 2 osprey passing singly overhead in the last week. typically for spring birds, they did not linger.

Other notable sightings have included up to 5 stonechat beside Ibsley Water, this is usually a very scarce species on the reserve, I suspect these are birds that had returned to the open Forest before snow and moved into the valley to escape the worst of the conditions. Two adult little gull have been over Ibsley Water where numbers of Mediterranean gull are increasing and the ring-billed gull is still being seen int he evening roost.

As thought to highlight the confusion of the seasons there have been birds starting to nest and the dawn chorus has gone up a gear. The picture below was taken through my kitchen window and shows blue tits investigating a nestbox in the snow.

blue tit pair at box in snow

The drive to start breeding is not stopped by changeable weather.

 

Making Preparations

Although it feels very much like winter there are preparations for the coming spring afoot. At Blashford Lakes I spent Tuesday working with our volunteer team clearing the Long Spit island and the open ground of the old Hanson plant making the ground ready for nesting lapwing, little ringed plover, common tern and black-headed gull. Lapwing can settle down to nest as early as the start of March and will be pairing up at nest sites well before then if the weather is suitable.

before

The Long Spit before clearance

after

Long Spit after clearance

It was very cold and we had feared we would also get wet as there were some fierce showers, luckily they mostly missed us and by the time we had finished the sun was out.

By way of proof of approaching spring I spotted a pair of blue tit checking out a nest box outside my kitchen window, luckily the Blashford boxes have all been cleaned out, a reminder for me to do mine at home.

blue tit investigating

Blue tit checking out the nest box outside my kitchen window at the weekend.

Today we were working with our new volunteer team at Fishlake Meadows, again we were making preparations for later in the year. This time it was scrub cutting in preparation for grazing parts of this new reserve. Although much of the reserve is open water and reedbed there are areas of wet grassland that is gradually getting ranker and invaded by willow and bramble. To arrest this we plan a light grazing regime to maintain the mix of grass, fen and small patches of low scrub. Today we removed some young willow and cleared small alder to leave a few larger trees that will provide valuable shade for cattle in the summer sun.

start

Making the first cuts – the Fishlake volunteers starting out.

We were lucky with the weather, it was cold, but we managed to stay out of the wind and in the sun making it feel rather pleasant, hopefully we will be as lucky next time.

finish

With the scrub removed these trees will provide valuable shade for the cattle later in the year.

As we walked out to the worksite I saw a distant great white egret and on the way back we watched 2 red kite sparring with a pair of crow.

In the afternoon I returned to Blashford Lakes and got a quick picture of a water pipit outside Tern hide, nit the best I have seen but the best picture I have managed,

water pipit

water pipit

I am very lucky to be able to see quite a lot of wildlife as I go about my working day, however there are times when I should definitely have been looking the other way. As we headed out to work on the Long Spit on Tuesday we apparently disturbed an otter from the lakeside and it then swam by the Tern hide, somehow none of us saw it!

At Blashford we are also at the start of preparations of a different kind, we are planning a number of improvements around the reserve. To fund this we are hoping to apply for a grant and part of this process involves sounding out our visitors for their experience of the reserve. If you have visited recently it would be very useful to have your views, a questionnaire is attached here: Blashford Lakes Questionnaire if you are able to complete it and email it to us it would greatly help us with our grant application.

 

December Moths

Yes, there really are moths that fly in December. You might think that all moths fly on warm summer nights, which most do, but there are moths flying at all times of the year.  One of them is actually called the “December moth” and as the name suggests it flies mainly in December. Perhaps because of this habit of flying on rather cool nights, it comes with quite a shaggy fur coat.December moth

You can see that this male December moth has large feathered antennae, these are used to detect the female’s pheromones and so find her as quickly as possible. This style of antenna is shared with another of the moths of December, the appropriately named feathered thorn.feathered thorn

Like most other moths both sexes of the above species can fly. A number of other winter flying moths have females that are wingless or, more accurately, with such tiny wings that they cannot fly. This enables them to put as many resources as possible into egg production. There are several such species, one of which is the mottled umber, a very variable moth. Inevitably it is only ever the males that come to the moth light! The females wait on a tree trunk to be found by the males, who use the pheromone scent carried on the breeze to find them.mottled umber

The tactic obviously works as one of other species that also has flightless females is the winter moth, which is mostly about between November and January and is very common and widespread, it is even found on Shetland. In fact it is so common, that it seems that blue tits actually time their breeding so that their chicks can be fed on the huge number of winter moth caterpillars to be found on many species of tree in May.

These winter-flying moths are interesting, why do they fly in the coldest months? They cannot feed on nectar as many other moths do, as there are no flowers, actually not as much of a problem as it might sound as quite a few summer flying species do not feed as adults. But flying in the cold is more of a problem, their flight muscles need to be above a certain temperature to allow flight, so they mostly fly on the warmer winter nights, recent nights have been kind to them in this regard. A clear advantage of winter flight is that there are many fewer bats about and bats eat a lot of moths!

I have mentioned one of the advantages of having flightless females, they can lay more eggs. However you would imagine that being flightless would be a real drawback when it comes to dispersal, males can fly off, but this is useless if the females cannot move. Males might find ideal new habitat but they cannot colonise it without females. It is hard to imagine a caterpillar or an adult female walking more than the distance from one tree to the next in each generation, so a few metres each year, at that rate they would have not have spread more than a few kilometres since the ice receded and the land bridge to Europe was cut off! (assuming of course that they got to the land bridge at all). So how have they become so nearly ubiquitous across the UK?. It turns out it is the caterpillars that fly, they use a technique like that of spiders, known as “ballooning”. The small caterpillars go to a high point and produce a long strand of silk and get carried off by the breeze, sometimes for long distances.

Just a few Birds

I know Ed’s been really busy and hasn’t had the opportunity lately to post much in the way of pictures from the Reserve so I’ll share a few images of some of our more common species, taken last Wednesday and today.

The long view from the Tern Hide to the far side of Ibsley Water was distinctly autumnal

Across the water from the Tern Hide

Across the water from the Tern Hide

A few of the ‘regular’ birds using the feeders around the Woodland Hide were considerate enough to perch up on the nearby branches before dashing in to take a few seeds.

Male chaffinch

Male chaffinch

Female chaffinch

Female chaffinch

Greenfinch

Greenfinch

Collared Dove - normally a bird of more open areas, these have adapted their behaviour to the woodland area and taken to raiding the seed feeders.

Collared Dove – normally a bird of more open (park and garden) areas, but at Blashford they have adapted their behaviour to the woodland area and taken to raiding the seed feeders.

and a seasonal favourite…………..

A Blashford Christmas robin ?

A Blashford Christmas robin ?

Although most of the tit family only lingered long enough on the feeder for me to take their picture

Great tit

Great tit

Among the other birds seen around the woodlands are wren, nuthatch, blue and coal tits, siskin, dunnock, goldcrest and chiffchaff.  On the water there are increasing numbers of duck of several species including gadwall, mallard, tufted duck, teal, wigeon, shoveler, pochard, goldeneye and goosander, as well as the now regular long-tailed duck.  Great crested, little and black-necked grebe are all present on Ibsley water. Here also the early evening spectacle of large numbers of lesser black-backed, herring and black-headed gull  together with smaller numbers of great black-backed, common and yellow-legged gull coming to roost continues to attract birdwatchers. The starling murmuration has lost some of its previous  splendour with reduced numbers and more distant view, but on clear days, like today, can still be quite impressive.

On Ivy Lake at least two bittern have been seen and a couple of water rail were scrapping, chasing one another around outside the Ivy North Hide earlier today.

Visitors often ask where they might see particular birds around the reserve. In my experience the species most often sought is kingfisher, but I usually have to resort to rather vague advice of looking from one or other hide where a bird has been reported (but not personally seen by me!!). So it was gratifying to be privy to views of these birds perched openly and close(ish) to the Ivy North Hide, even allowing me to capture some half-decent images.

Kingfisher in reedbeds to right of Ivy North Hide

Kingfisher in reedbeds to left of Ivy North Hide

In branches to left of Ivy North Hide

In branches to left of Ivy North Hide

 

 

 

Day starts misty optically, but ends optimistically

As we approach the winter solstice its, perhaps, not surprising that there are days when what little sunlight we receive is often obscured by cloud. Today was just such a one and the associated drizzle didn’t improve matters. Deposits of the damp stuff on hide windows further reduces visibility. So in a Canute like effort to improve matters I set about cleaning off the worst of the mist from the Woodland Hide windows, to some effect.

wet, wintery

Clearly not very clear

A clearer view

A clearer view

At least now the feeding greenfinch, goldfinch, nuthatch, great spotted woodpecker , blue tits and great tits can be seen.
Back at the Centre one of the daily routines is to check in the loft to see if any mice have wandered into our (humane) traps. At this time of year it seems a lot of youngsters are dispersing and the attraction of a warm dry loft isn’t to be sneered at. The incidence of mice finding the loft seems to be increasing at the moment, so I had the dubious pleasure of taking a woodmouse off on its ‘holiday’ to be released back into the community!

On an otherwise not terribly inspiring day, it was good to see the great white egret on the TV screen in the Centre lobby.

Star of screen ......, but also visible from hides!!

Star of screen ……, but also, often, visible from hides!!

The, newly re-furbished, camera is positioned viewing an area between Ivy North and South Hides, which is just not readily accessible, so without it we couldn’t see this area – or the egret.
Just after this image was taken the egret left – suddenly – being pursued by a grey heron. It would appear that despite the somewhat greater stature of the egret, standing ‘head and beak’ above a grey heron, it’s a little less than confident in standing its ground (water?) against our more common native bird.

Yesterday’s starling murmuration was well attended, by both starlings and spectators, although the light levels weren’t terrific for photography. We don’t know how much longer this spectacle is likely to continue but at least a large number of people have been fortunate enough to get here to view it over the last couple of weeks.

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Didn’t get over to the Tern Hide car-park tonight as when the weather is so grim they usually sneak in and settle so there didn’t seem to be much point. There’s always the chance that with less inclement weather, the display may continue for a while longer.
Also of note today, there were a number of siskin on the feeder by the Centre car-park, a start to the build-up of wintering finches we hope will be with us soon.
A couple of visitors had reported good sightings of the great white egret. As I closed down it was foraging in the reeds, about thirty feet away from the Ivy North Hide — don’t rate it’s chances if it runs into one of our bittern!!!!

Hare today – Birdtrail tomorrow

Saturday isn’t my normal day to be here but with the Birdtrail event tomorrow Jim will be on duty, so I’m covering his normal Saturday shift.  As Jim mentioned in yesterday’s post, tomorrow morning  there will be a number of groups of young people, parents and volunteers visiting the Reserve for the Birdtrail.

Although most of the work on resurfacing the access road to the Education Centre has ben done, the rain has delayed some aspects and it will now be next week before it’s ready to take traffic

With the reduced parking , due to re-surfacing of the road, other visitors might wish to delay their arrival tomorrow until the afternoon.

The rejuvenated road surface

The rejuvenated road surface

Butterfly wise its just starting to ‘buzz’ (if that’s the right description??) with a number of white butterflies including orange-tip as well green-veined white. Personally I find brief views of white butterflies one of those things that test your identification skills, especially as they seem to be a group that are particularly active and flighty.   Another complicating aspect is the amount of grey/black on the wing tips and that early and later broods of the same species have variable markings. Having said this the male orange tip is unmistakable – with the orange tip to its forewing – but the female can look very similar to other whites.

Male orange-tip

Male orange-tip

Fortunately both male and female orange-tip butterflies have a  magnificent marbled green and white underwing, which marks them out from the rest.

Whilst we’re talking about lepidoptera, the light/moth trap only had one inhabitant present of the species Parus major, not a moth at all, but a great tit.  He/she  had apparently eaten all the moths, although we only found one set of detached wings, so there may not have been many moths anyway as the overnight rain may have deterred them from flying.

Undeterred from nocturnal, and diurnal, flying activity were a great number of small flying insect, which I tend to lump together as midges,  so as well as quite a few in the moth trap there was also a fair number of them bedecking a somewhat dilapidated spider’s web, close to where the light trap had been set-up.

Spiders web with midge decoration

Spiders web with midge decoration

Apart from our voracious great tit and the usual collection of  blue tit, coal tit , greenfinch, chaffinch and goldfinch around the feeders, other birds seen or heard around the reserve include swift and common tern cruising above the Tern Hide when we opened up this morning. Three  little ringed plover  and a pair of dunlin , in breeding plumage, were seen by a couple of visitors and a cuckoo was singing(?) somewhere not too far from the Education Centre.

It’s  the nesting season and although it’s not alway obvious with most of the smaller land based birds, where the nests are, some of our water birds are less than subtle in collecting the necessary material, as was this coot.

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Coot with nesting material

Some other aspects of bird behaviour can be fascinating as well, especially where it’s not entirely what’s expected, as with this jackdaw which has learned to exploit our seed feeders.  Not content with simply picking up the spillage that the smaller birds leave, it’s found that is can balance itself on the feeder, but being a highly intelligent and resourceful bird it checks out the area first from a suitable vantage point.

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A suitable vantage point

Here we go.....................!!

Here we go…………………!!

A safe and rewarding landing.

A safe and rewarding landing.

But it’s not only the jackdaw that was taking advantage of our signposts for human visitors…

Great spot for a great spot

Great spot for a great spot

On the mammal front there are plenty of rabbits around the reserve.  Jackie, who regularly assists on a Saturday, spent some time  today walking the paths and cutting back bramble that was threatening to snake across them, and was rewarded for her efforts when she saw a hare not far from the Lapwing Hide.

Although there wasn’t a huge influx of visitors today, none of those we spoke to were reporting much activity near the sand martin nests under the Goosander Hide. It was, therefore,  reassuring as we closed the Tern hide to have over fifty sand martins with a few house martins, swallows and swifts circling around over the car-park.