Sunshine, insects and the brambling are back

Yesterday’s sunny spells made a welcome change to the rather bleak, wet weather we have been having and the insects seemed to agree. Whilst walking the Ellingham Lake path yesterday morning to check all was ok after the strong winds on Sunday night I saw a brimstone butterfly and a little later spotted a peacock butterfly (I think, it was some distance away) fly down to bask on the gravel in the car park. 

Regular visitors John and David saw a very smart male southern hawker behind the Education Centre and on seeing it settle were able to get some very nice photos and alert me to its presence so I could photograph it too. Thank you very much to David who sent in this fantastic photo of it perched in the sunshine:

male southern hawker David Cuddon

Male southern hawker by David Cuddon

Whilst we were chatting we mentioned brambling had been spotted on the feeder by the Welcome Hut (I was yet to see my first this winter) and talked about how it is admittedly nicer to photograph a bird sat on something more natural. This morning when I arrived the male brambling was back (we think it is the same bird that is beginning to visit the feeder regularly) and I have watched it today on the feeder and on the ground in front of it. This afternoon it flew from the feeder to the neighbouring willow and I was able to take a couple of photos. 

So David, after our chat yesterday and knowing how the feeder is not your preferred backdrop, and to prove they will pose nicely in the trees nearby, this one’s for you…;)

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Brambling in the willow by the Welcome Hut

Joh and Sam also shared a photo from their visit yesterday, of a primrose flowering close to the Education Centre.

Primrose by Sam and Joh

Flowering Primrose by Sam and Joh

A very hardy wildflower, they can flower as early as December in mild years, appearing all the way through the spring until May. The beginning of November seems incredibly early! Thank you Sam and Joh for sharing your sighting.

Seasonal Shift

Although the hides remain closed good views can be had of Ibsley Water from the viewpoint at the back of the main car park. Although views of most things on this large lake are distant at least from there you can see most of the lake. I have found one or two people wandering off the paths recently to try to get to the lakeshore, this is unacceptable which is highlighted by the fact that it has been the birds taking flight that has brought it to my attention. I also found someone standing on a badger sett the other day, also unacceptable. In each case the people concerned have failed to see much and caused any birds nearby to fly off.

From the viewpoint this morning I saw a merlin, a peregrine, over 50 wigeon, a few pintail (yesterday there were 8), 18 goosander, about 40 shoveler and over a 1000 house martin, not bad for a quick scan. The martins have been held up by the inclement weather and have been feeding over the lake for a few days, there have also been a few swallow and one or two sand martin. Later when I was checking the hide the peregrine was perched on a post near Tern Hide and I got the shot below. With that beak and those claws it is easy to see why this is such a feared predator.

I have yet to stay until dusk to check the gull roost, but numbers are building now, a quick look before leaving yesterday yielded 3 yellow-legged gull in the hundreds of lesser black-backed gull and a single first winter common gull in the black-headed gull part of the flock.

Elsewhere on the reserve there are good numbers of chiffchaff, so far no yellow-browed warbler, but I will keep looking. Two marsh tit have been visiting the feeders, the first for a few years. It looks like being a good winter for finches, with a steady movement of siskin and recently also redpoll overhead on several days. The first redwing will be along any day now and maybe a brambling or tow passing through.

For all of the sings of approaching winter it is still quite warm by day and speckled wood remain flying in good numbers with a few whites and red admiral too. Most of the solitary bees have ended their season now but I did see this one today, I think an orange-footed furrow bee.

possibly orange-footed furrow bee

Likewise there are still some hoverflies on the wing, today’s brightest was this Sericomyia silentis.

Sericomyia silentis

I will end with a quick warning that tomorrow morning we will be working beside the path and boardwalk near Ivy South Hide, this will mean that the path may be closed for short periods.

Summing up…

The past two weeks hasn’t all been about the current improvements at Blashford, we have been in search of reptiles and amphibians on two Wild Days Out, run a busy family pond dip session (distinctly lacking in newts, we must have scared them all off the week before!) and woven some very pretty Easter baskets using materials found on the reserve.

And the reserve is looking lovely! It is getting greener by the day, although some trees are suffering more than others from the ever increasing number of munching Alder leaf beetles. This Crab apple in particular is being stripped bare:

There are plenty of wildflowers out, including Germander speedwell, Ground ivy, Cuckoo flower, Moschatel, Primrose, Cowslip and Common Dog-violet. Lesser celandine is carpeting the woodland floor near the reserve entrance and the Bluebells will soon be following suit, with some already flowering.

The warm sunny weather has bought the butterflies out in force, with Brimstone, Orange-tip, Speckled wood, Small white, Comma and Peacock all on the wing.

Large numbers of Sand martin have been investigating the holes in the Sand martin wall in preparation for nesting and Swallows are also back, although currently in much smaller numbers. Three Black tern spent most of today over Ibsley Water and as I left all three had alighted the Osprey perch out in the lake. Little ringed plover have been on the shoreline and Lapwing continue to display overhead.

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Sand martins

David Stanley-Ward sent in two very fine photos recently, one of two fighting Coot taken from the new Tern Hide and the other of two Great-crested grebes displaying in front of Goosander Hide.

Coots

Fighting Coots by David Stanley-Ward

Great-crested Grebe

Great-crested Grebes by David Stanley-Ward

If you have visited recently and would like to share your wildlife sighting with us, please do email them to BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk along with whether you are happy for us to use them on the blog and on other promotional material and how you would like to be credited. We don’t always manage to post images straight away, but do always enjoy seeing them, so thank you David for sharing these.

The woodland is full of bird song, with Chiff-chaff and Cetti’s warbler in particular standing out with their more striking calls. Blackcaps are seen frequently although they do not stay in one spot for long and Willow warblers are also present whilst Brambling and Reed bunting continue to feed in front of the Woodland Hide. Sedge warbler and Reed warbler can also be heard in the reedbeds by Ivy North Hide and Ivy Silt Pond.

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Brambling

And finally back to the events! On our Wild Days Out Amphibian and Reptile Rambles we managed one young grass snake, the same snake in the same spot on both days. This really isn’t the best photo, but if you look in the centre you might be able to make out the tip of it’s tail as it disappeared into the undergrowth.

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Spot the tiny grass snake’s tail!

On both days the weather was fairly cool so we failed to spot an adder, but both groups enjoyed a longer walk over to Goosander Hide and the older children managed to make it as far as Lapwing Hide.

Back at the pond we had more success, catching a number of newts, and we also found some under the logs in the woodland. Both days were enjoyed by all, even if the reptiles were a bit thin on the ground!

And last but not least, on Wednesday morning a very satisfying two hours were spent weaving in willow wood, with a number of children creating some very striking Easter baskets using materials collected on the reserve and a wooden disc base prepped by volunteer Geoff. We used rush, sedge and larch as well as the willow, with a couple of the older children even having a go with fresh bramble. One of the girls stripped the bark off some of the willow leaving the inner white of the rod on show. They all looked amazing!

The last couple of weeks have been very varied, but with the weather warming up it has been lovely to be out and about on the reserve. Spring is definitely here!

Very Different Days

I was at Blashford again today after a couple of days off. I was last in on Thursday, when it rained all day and I left in a thunderstorm with hail and torrential rain. Today was quite different, warm, often sunny and altogether very pleasant. Both days produced notable migrants though, despite the very different conditions. On Thursday I arrived to find an osprey perched on the stick in Ibsley Water, the one that Ed Bennett and I put out there for the very purpose of giving an osprey somewhere to rest, it is always good when it works!

osprey in the rain

an osprey in the rain

Also in the rain a pair of Mandarin landed outside the new Tern Hide, they did not look much happier than the osprey.

mandarin

Mandarin in the rain

Today was more about butterflies, I saw good numbers of peacock, speckled wood, brimstone and orange-tip. But there were still migrant birds too, today’s highlight was a flock of 12 adult little gull, some in full breeding plumage and with a pink flush to their underparts, surely one of the best of all gulls in this plumage.

The other top birds today were the brambling, with 100 or more around the Centre and Woodland Hide area, many were feeding around the Woodland Hide giving great views, even I could get a half decent picture.

brambling male

male brambling

There are still small numbers of all the winter duck around, although numbers are declining day by day now. Today I saw nine goldeneye, although I am pretty sure there are still 11 around, there were also goosander, wigeon, teal and shoveler in small numbers. A few pairs of shoveler have been regularly in front of Tern Hide allowing the chance of a picture.

shoveler male

drake shoveler

Next week will see some further work at the Centre, with car park resurfacing and landscaping. There will also be some work at the Tern Hide at the end of the week, which is likely to mean that it will be closed for a day or so.

Also next week, In Focus will be doing optics sale in the Tern Hide on Tuesday.

Bee is for Blashford

Or maybe Blashford is for bees, well of course it is! Blashford is for all wildlife and the people who like to experience it. Everyone knows the honey bee and bumble bees, although perhaps not that there are 28 species of them. However there are something like 250 other species of bees in Britain and they all spend their days visiting flowers and pollinating them. These 250 are the so called solitary bees, despite the name they can occur in great aggregations, importantly though each nest is the domain of just one female, there are no worker bees.

Andrena vaga female 2

grey-backed mining bee (female) with a load of willow pollen.

There has been much coverage recently about the declines in insect numbers around the world and that of pollinating insects in particular, perhaps because they are economically important to us as pollinators of crops. Declines could be for many reasons and probably are multi-factored, but a general loss of habitat and an increasing uniformity in what is left, along with increased prevalence of chemical contaminants are all likely contributors. Some enlightened local authorities are modifying their grass mowing regimes on verges, roundabouts and recreation site to allow more flowering, some of the best are actually seeding back wildflowers or using “meadow mixes”. In fact we can all help by providing flowers that are good sources of nectar and by valuing some of the “weeds” that we might have removed in the past. For instance a lawn with dandelions may not win the green-keepers prize but these are a very important source of food for early flying bees and hoverflies.

Blashford Lakes has lots of nectar sources, especially at this time of year when willows are important for many species and so has lots of solitary bees. Many also need bare, sandy soil to dig their nests and we have that in abundance too.

Andrena vaga female emerging from burrow

grey-backed mining bee (female) emerging from nest hole

One of the problems with solitary bees is that some species are very similar to one another and so difficult to identify in the field. Although the grey-backed mining bee female is distinctive the male looks very like the male of another species, the ashy mining bee.

Andrena cineraria male

ashy mining bee (male)

One of the commonest mining bees around at present is the yellow-legged mining bee, which can be found nesting in bare ground in banks, lawns and various other places.

Andrena flavipes male

yellow-legged mining bee (male) – or at least I think it is!

Some bees are neither colonial nor make their own solitary nests, they are nest parasites of other bees. One genus of bees the Nomada bees specialise in this way of life, often specialising on one particular host species. The yellow-legged mining bee plays unwilling host to the painted nomad bee, which looks very wasp-like.

Nomada fucata male

painted nomad bee (male)

The last few of days have seen big arrivals of hirundines, Monday was almost all sand martin, yesterday there were a few swallow and the odd house martin and today there were even more swallow, probably over 50. On Ibsley Water there a couple of pairs of oystercatcher, a pair of redshank, probably five little ringed plover, several lapwing and today two green sandpiper. Meanwhile around the Centre and Woodland Hide the wheezing of brambling is very much in evidence, particularly in the morning, there are at least 30 and I suspect 50 or more around just now.

And remember it does not take much effort not to mow the lawn for a few days and let the dandelions flower to feed the bees. You could put your feet up and have a cup of tea, or a beer (other drinks are available), whilst making your own contribution to Wilding Hampshire!

Some Birds and Some Bees

I had my first proper look out of the new Tern Hide when I arrived to open up this morning and was greeted by something between 600 and 1000 sand martin swooping over the water, the first serious arrival of hirundines this spring. I saw only one swallow though and no sign of any house martin.

Along the shore in front of the hide there was a pair of little ringed plover and a fine male lapwing.

lapwing

male lapwing from Tern Hide

There were several ducks feeding close in too.

gadwall drake

drake gadwall, not just a dull, grey duck as some would have you believe

shoveler pair

shoveler pair

tufted duck pair

tufted duck pair

I spent a good part of the day trying to complete the annual report, which kept me in the office on a day when outside would have been far preferable. However I did have an excuse to get out for a while and enjoy the sunshine as we had a visit from a small group of top entomologists to look particularly at solitary bees, of which we saw many species including a few new reserve records. Incidentally we also saw several orange-tip, including one female, speckled wood and peacock.

Locking up the weather was still sunny and at the Woodland Hide finches were still feeding, including a good number of brambling.

brambling male

male brambling

There were also several reed bunting, almost all males.

reed bunting male

male reed bunting 

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.

deer

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.

vet-logo

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)

 

Some Things are Hard to Swallow

A rough day on the reserve today, but despite this there were reports of at least eight sand martin over Ibsley Water, so Spring migrants are still arriving. I missed seeing the martins but did see a little ringed plover. Other birds today were a small flock of black-tailed godwit which flew over, a single dunlin, the black-necked grebe, now in breeding plumage and a brambling. The bittern continues to be seen at Ivy North Hide, it is getting very late for it to still be here. At the end of the day it was sitting hunkered down in the reeds near the hide, looking miserable after a wet and windy day.

bittern 01

Miserable looking bittern

It did not look as though it was interested in anything other than keeping out of the wind and rain, however something caught its attention.

bittern 2

What was that?

It certainly seemed worth investigating.

bittern 3

Got to go and take a look

It certainly was!

bittern 4

Definitely worth taking a look

Having made the capture the next trick is was to manoeuvre it into a swallowable position.

bittern 5

sideways is no good

Turning a pike this big whilst it is still alive is no easy task.

bittern 6

Too good a meal to let go

Even when turned it was to wide to get down with mouth agape.

bittern 7

Eventually the head was in

Now it was only going to go one way.

bittern 8

Almost gone

It is a good thing they have expanding necks!

bittern 9

Gone

It then stalked off, passing close to the hide to spend the night digesting, I would guess it won’t be flying off tonight so should still be around for at least another day.

bittern 10

Heading off to do a little digesting

A cracking way to end the day!

Wildlife Watch -working with willow

An unpromising Saturday morning which started with unexpected rain whilst opening up but soon cleared to be a fresh but quite lovely day with lots of visitors coming to make the most of it – and enjoying their views of all the usual winter suspects in the process, including bittern and brambling.

Our small, but growing, Wildlife Watch group met at the Centre for their monthly meeting in the morning too.

First job was to make some fat balls combined with a special individually hand picked ‘n’ mixed  selection of sunflower seeds, hearts and/or sultanas. Unfortunately one of our leaders is vegan, but he stoically saw the activity through, albeit from a distance, knowing full well that the vegetable equivalent of beef suet is not palatable to birds…

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With the food itself made we headed outside into the winter sunshine to saw:

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Drill:

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Poke, snip and tie:

(Actually, I didn’t take any pictures of this activity, you will just have to imagine sliding willow withies up through all the drilled holes until wedged tight, cutting them to size and securing the tops – and bottoms/sides, depending on the style of creation of the individual Wildlife Watch member!)

Before finally filling – and proudly showing off – the finished bird feeders:

Next month we meet 10.30am-12.30pm, on Saturday 9th March, for a wildlife walk in search of Spring!

E-mail Blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk to find out more… or if you’re not aged 6-12 but wish you were simply watch this space to enjoy the session vicariously!

Four Finches and a Hide Away

A fine if chilly day on the reserve and it seemed lots of people were out looking for brambling, although there has been one seen at the Woodland Hide I think it will be a week or tow more before they are regular. Although they are “Winter” finches, they are actually most frequent at our feeders in early spring, so March is often the best month. I think the reason is that they tend to come to artificial feed once the natural food sources reduce. There are certainly more finches at the feeders now than before Christmas, with siskin now present most of the time, with the males singing whenever the sun comes out.

singing siskin

singing siskin

Greenfinch are now probably scarcer than siskin at garden feeders, a reflection of the fall in their numbers as well as an undoubted rise in siskin abundance.

greenfinch

Greenfinch, not as common a sight as once it was

One finch that rarely comes to garden feeders is the linnet, it is a bird of more open habitats, there is a good flock on the shore of Ibsley Water at present and I got a shot of part of the group today.

linnet flock

part of the linnet flock

I took the shot above from Tern hide, by way of a farewell, the hide will be closed as of this evening and tomorrow we start to take it down in readiness for replacing it with a brand new hide. This will mean that part of the car park will be closed tomorrow, although the Centre car park should be back on stream, so overall there will still be plenty of parking.

Although everyone seemed to be looking for brambling, their resident close relative the chaffinch is a very fine bird which we perhaps disregard too easily, probably because it is so common.

male chaffinch

male chaffinch

Reports from around the reserve today included –

At Ivy North Hide: the bittern and great white egret, with supporting caste of water rail.                                                                                                                                                        At Woodland Hide: reed bunting and all the regulars.                                                                At Tern Hide: 3 Mediterranean gull, probably 2 Caspian gull and well over 100 common gull, as well as the linnet flock noted above.

As far as I know the yellow-browed warbler has not been certainly seen for a few days now, although I have heard rumours of sightings at various points between Ivy North hide and south of the boardwalk, so who knows?

If you do visit over the next few weeks there will be various works going on, I would ask that you take note of any signs and fences, these will be in place to keep you safe when there is machinery moving around and working. Apart from the Tern hide, which is being replaced, all the other hides remain open and there will always be parking available. The Centre and toilets should be available as usual.