Progress Against an Invader

Thursday at Blashford is volunteer day and we had a good turn out of fourteen for our first Himalayan balsam pull of the year. After many years of pulling this plant we have very significantly reduced the population and it is nowhere the dominant plant. The advantage of doing the first sweep early in the season is that we remove a significant number of plants but also get an idea of where the main problem areas are and so where to concentrate on our later visit. Pleasingly we found no more than a couple of hundred plants on about half the length of the stream, enough to suggest that there is still a seed source upstream  somewhere but not so many that it is having a serious impact on native wildlife.

The common terns are finally taking some interest in the rafts on Ivy Lake, although they are still not really taking control of any in numbers sufficient to deter the black-headed gulls. I tried putting out another raft during the afternoon in the hope that a new one might tempt them in. The gulls often just loaf around on the rafts, but have the annoying habit of bringing reeds and sticks and leaving them scattered  over the surface. I suspect they are mostly young adults, as the older birds started nesting a couple of weeks ago, a few may eventually build a proper nest, but in the meantime their practice efforts are putting off the terns.

Generally things were quite across the reserve, most of the birds are now nesting or getting ready to do so. Our visitor form North America, the Bonaparte’s gull is still to be seen, although it does not now attract more than the occasional admirer. I did manage to get a slightly better picture of it, which does show a couple of the differences from black-headed gull. You can see the slightly smaller size and overall thinner, more “pointed” look. Now that it is getting a summer plumage hood you can also see that this is blacker than that of black-headed gull, which is actually chocolate brown.

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull (right)

A very noticeable feature of the past week has been the huge increase in the numbers of damselflies around the reserve. Common blue and azure damselflies are now out in numbers, but the large red damselfly, typically the commonest spring species is very hard to find, perhaps due to the very poor April weather last year.

 

 

Out and About in the Sunshine

It has been very, very dry recently and reasonably sunny, however it has also been quite cold for a lot of the time, with north or north-east winds. This has made for quite a good spring for insects, certainly better than for several years, although it could do with warming up a bit and we will need some rain, not too much, just enough to keep the vegetation green. Yesterday it was warmer and the wind swung round to a more southerly direction.

I finally saw my second dragonfly of the year, I have seen lots of damselflies but dragons have been in very short supply. Although the view was brief I think it was a hairy dragonfly. I also found several of one of my favourite insects, groundhoppers, small relations to grasshoppers that get easily overlooked as they are adult in spring. There are three species in Britain and we get two of them at Blashford, or at least sop far I have only found two species. They favour damp, bare ground and can both fly and swim! The one below is a slender groundhopper.

slender groundhopper 2

Slender groundhopper

I was out bird surveying at the start of the day at Linwood reserve and noticed that the leaves on the oak there are mostly brown, almost all the first flush of leaves dead. Linwood lies in the valley of the Dockens Water a well known frost-hollow, these leaves had all been killed by the late frost that also had my early potatoes. This will be bad news for the nesting blue tit on the reserve as they mainly feed their chicks on winter moth caterpillars and these eat the first flush of oak leaves.

Hawthorn, or may, traditionally flowers in May, although often it seems to be earlier, this year it has lived up to the name and was in full bloom in the first week of the month. Although it has lots of flowers they do not seem to attract as many insects as the earlier blackthorn flowers, however one in a good sunny spot can still be worth checking for bees, hoverflies and beetles. I spotted this leaf beetle nectaring on the bush close to Ivy South hide as I locked up yesterday afternoon.

leaf beetle

leaf beetle on hawthorn

Yesterday’s birds included a male wheatear on the Lichen Heath and the long-staying Bonaparte’s gull on Ibsley Water.

 

 

It’s Good to have a Hobby

And even better to have two! Which is what we saw today hunting insects over Ivy Lake when we went to put out another of the tern rafts. These sickle-winged falcons winter south of the Sahara and fly north to breed along with their favourite prey, swallows and martins. Watching them swooping to catch flying insects is a fantastic experience, you can only marvel at their mastery of the air, one of the great sights of summer.

The tern rafts are gradually being deployed, so far the terns have looked interested but failed to occupy any of the rafts before they have been dominated by pairs of  black-headed gull. It is always a problem getting the timing right and this is why I deploy the rafts one or two at a time, at some point the terns must surely be ready to take control of one.

preparing the tern raft

Preparing a tern raft

There have been at least 30 common tern around regularly and they have been doing courtship flights and bringing food, so I think they should be ready to settle soon. So far there has been little sign of much tern passage, apart from a few beautiful black tern, the biggest group so far being 5 on Sunday afternoon. Little gull are usually birds of passage that stay at most a day or so , which makes the fine adult that has been frequenting  Ibsley Water for several days something of an exception. It was there again today, although I don’t think anyone saw the Bonaparte’s gull. Other birds have included a few dunlin and common sandpiper and last week a bar-tailed godwit.

Barwit

Bar-tailed godwit

In recent posts we have featured a number of pictures of lapwing chicks, sadly I don’t think any of them have survived. This season has been a good one for the number of pairs and in general hatching success has been quite good, but the chicks have been disappearing fast. I think a combination of dry weather and predators is the cause. Dry conditions mean the chicks get brought to the lakeshore to seek food, as all their favoured puddles are gone, unfortunately the shore is regularly patrolled by fox and other predators, as it regularly has washed up food in the shape of dead birds and fish. The foxes may not be actively seeking the chicks but they will not refuse one should they come across it. Sadly a similar lack of success is befalling the little ringed plover, but at least they will continue to try and may yet succeed before the summer is out.

LRP

Little ringed plover near Tern hide.

The cold winds are making moth trapping a slow business, with few species flying, although we have caught an eyed hawk-moth and a couple of poplar hawk-moth recently.

poplar hawk

Poplar hawk-moth

Trying to Spring

Spring has stuttered somewhat this week, with the return of night frosts and a chilly northerly wind. With continuing sunny days this has not had too much effect on many species but the cold nights have really hit the moths. Recent days have been seeing just a handful of moths in the trap at most. Some of the highlights have been a couple of great prominent.

great prominent

great prominent

The first pale prominent of the year.

pale prominent

pale prominent

And, yesterday a spectacle.

spectacle

spectacle

One hazard that we have to watch very closely when checking the moth trap is our resident robin, it has got very tame and will dive in and grab a moth if given the smallest chance.

The sunny days are still good for butterflies and other insects and this spring has been one of the best in recent years to spring insects. One of the typical spring hoverflies, Epistrophe eligans is quite frequent along the wooded paths now.

Epistrophe eligans

Epistrophe eligans (male)

There are also good numbers of green tiger beetle in the sandier areas of the reserve, these are very active, running fast and flying very readily, a proper challenge to photograph!

green tiger beetle

green tiger beetle

On the bird front yesterday saw our first black tern of the year over Ibsley Water, along with the Bonaparte’s gull, little gull and the return of the male ruff first seen on Sunday, but apparently not on Monday.

A Dry Spring

Lots of visitors are coming to the Tern hide at present, drawn in roughly equal measure by the Bonaparte’s gull and great views of the lapwing chicks. The gull was present on and off again yesterday as were 3 little gull (2 of them beautiful adults), up to 27 or more Mediterranean gull and at least a dozen common tern.

The two lapwing chicks in front of the hide are doing well and approaching two weeks old now, this is especially pleasing as they are only protected by their mother, dad having gone missing a while ago. She is driving off all comers, but especially redshank, common sandpiper and little ringed plover, not perhaps the greatest threats to her chicks.

lapwing chicks

lapwing chicks sheltering from a cool north wind.

So far lapwing are having a remarkable year and we have something like 20 pairs nesting with at least five already hatched. Of these three can be seen from Tern hide. The lake shore has the lure of water, where the chicks can find small insect prey, but it is not that safe as it is frequented by many predators. They would be better staying around puddles away from the shore, but the recent long bout of dry weather has meant almost all of them have dried out now, we could really do with some rain!

The good weather has been brilliant for early butterflies though; the reserve has had lots of orange-tip and large first broods of speckled wood and small copper.

small copper

small copper, one of many first brood ones seen this year.

As spring moves on we are now entering “Willow snow” season, when the woolly seeds of the willows are blown around and collect in drifts. It is these light-weight seeds that allow willows to colonise so well as they are carried long distances by the wind.

willow snow

willow seeds

Despite the dry weather there have been a few fungi around and I came across the one in the picture below growing on lichen heath on Sunday, I have failed to put a name to it though.

fungus

fungus on lichen heath

Recent days have seen a good range of birds around the reserve. Both garden warbler and common swift have arrived in numbers and there has been a good variety of migrants. On Sunday a fine male ruff was on Ibsley Water and other passage waders in the last few days have included whimbrel, greenshank, dunlin and common sandpiper.

Catch-up

After a bit of a break, both because I have been away and due to a computer failure I am now back and doing  along overdue post.

Headline news has to go to Blashford’s first Bonaparte’s gull, a North American species, similar to, but slightly smaller than a black-headed gull. I saw it first as I locked up on Monday and then again as I locked up today. It is a first summer bird and seems to come to Ibsley Water late in the afternoon to hunt insects. Here is my “Record shot” of the bird, truly a terrible picture, but with imagination you can just about tell what it is!

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull in flight over Ibsley Water, no really, it is!

The gull is not the only Blashford first recently though. In the late winter we did some clearance of small trees to expose a sandy bank that has been popular with solitary bees and many associated species. When I visited the other day I spotted and photographed a dotted bee-fly, similar to the much commoner bordered bee-fly, but with dots on the wings.

dotted bee-fly

dotted bee-fly

Regular visitors will know that we have been working to improve habitat for nesting lapwing at Blashford and this has included the restoration work on the old concrete block works site. It has certainly paid off and we now have several broods of lapwing chicks running around, including two right in front of the Tern hide, a great opportunity to see them really close if you have never had the chance.