Spring Dipping for Lamprey

It was lovely to be back at Blashford on Sunday after a two week break, with the sun shining and chiffchaffs calling from what seemed like every other tree. It was time again for our monthly Young Naturalists meeting, and with the weather warming up we began with a rummage through the light trap. It revealed a number of Common and Small Quakers and Hebrew Characters along with this rather pale Brindled Beauty.

Brindled Beauty by Talia Felstead

Brindled Beauty by Talia Felstead

The light trap also contained a number of Clouded Drabs, with this one in particular making us take a closer look:

Clouded drab by Talia Felstead

Clouded Drab by Talia Falstead

We wondered if it could perhaps have been a Lead-coloured Drab instead, but couldn’t be sure. Having only a photo to show Bob today, we’ve decided it probably was a Clouded Drab, as their colours can be quite variable, but you never know, we might be wrong!

After carefully putting the moths back in the light trap to be released later in the day, we headed down to the Dockens Water in search of Brook Lamprey. Brook Lamprey can grow up to 15cm and can easily be confused with small eels, but they lack jaws, instead having a sucker disc with a mouth in the centre. They also lack scales, any paired fins and a gill cover, instead having a line of seven respiratory holes behind the eye. They are easily overlooked, burrowing down into sand, silt or mud before emerging in the Spring to spawn. They die soon after spawning, but their corpses are quickly devoured by fish and birds so often are not found.

Now was the time to go looking for them, and we knew a couple had been caught on a school visit the week before. We were in luck, catching nine in our usual river dipping spot and another two when we searched further downstream.

We also caught bullhead fish, mayfly nymphs, caddisfly larvae and pond skaters. On moving further downstream, we caught a large number of dragonfly nymphs, fourteen in total. We decided they were likely to be nymphs of the Golden-ringed dragonfly, a species that usually patrols upland and heathland streams. The nymphs often burrow down into the stream’s muddy or sandy bottom, leaving only their head and the tip of their abdomen exposed. They may remain in the same position for several weeks, waiting to ambush any prey that passes by.

With the Dockens starting its journey to the sea in the New Forest, it is not surprising the nymphs have found their way downstream to us, and whilst we don’t get many sightings of the adults on the reserve they are sometimes seen hawking low over the water.

It was great to see so many nymphs of all different sizes, we should have Golden-ringed dragonflies emerging from the Dockens for a good few years!

Whilst down by the river, we took some Elder cuttings from nearby trees for Bob. A small deciduous tree native to the UK, elder grows well on wasteland, as well as in woodland, scrub and hedgerows. As they do so well on disturbed ground, they will be planted by the volunteers on the Hanson site where hopefully if they root well their flowers will be an important nectar source for a variety of insects whilst their berries will be a great food source for mammals and Autumn migrants.

After lunch we were joined by Corinne from the Cameron Bespolka Trust, who came with us for a spot of nettle pulling alongside a stretch of path in the woodland. Whilst nettles are fantastic for wildlife, we have plenty on the reserve and clearing some areas gives other flora the chance to thrive. We’re hoping to see increased amounts of ground ivy and hopefully twayblades, a medium sized orchid that can be easily overlooked, so keep your eyes peeled!

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly funded by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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A varied Sunday!

Our Young Naturalists had a practical session on Sunday, building shelters to go out on the new set of tern rafts currently being put together by our volunteers. The shelters will provide excellent cover for the tern chicks once they hatch, enabling them to hopefully avoid any hungry dive-bombing gulls.

We were joined on the day by Corinne, Cameron’s mum, who together with family and friends formed the Cameron Bespolka Trust in his memory, which is supporting the Young Naturalists group at Blashford alongside other projects. It was great to have an extra pair of hands for such a practical activity!

When collecting our wood and tools, we spied this blackbird which had made her nest close to our store. We had a super quick peak before leaving her in peace, constructing our shelters at the back of the centre.

Blackbird on nest

Blackbird by Talia Felstead

The task was a great challenge for the group as we had a couple of old examples to use as a guide and lots of offcuts of wood, so making them was a good test of our team building skills – it was a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, finding the best pieces to fit and figuring out the best way to join them:

Cutting wood

Cutting wood 2

Sawing planks to make the shelters

Hammering

Hammering 2

Making the shelters

We managed to make four shelters during the morning, which I’m sure will be very well received by the tern chicks when the time comes:

Finished shelters

Chick shelters

Our four finished chick shelters

During lunch we were watched rather closely by an inquisitive jackdaw, which Talia managed to photograph:

Jackdaw

Jackdaw by Talia Felstead

After lunch we headed back down to the river as we’d enjoyed dipping so much last time and not all of the group had had the opportunity. We managed to catch more bullhead fish, brook lamprey and trout fry, along with dragonfly, mayfly and stonefly nymphs and beetle larvae.

Whilst down by the river we spotted lots of fresh deer tracks in the soft ground along the edge of the river bank, following them until they headed off up the bank and into the trees:

Deer tracks

Deer tracks in the soft ground

There were also a small number of bluebell in flower – hopefully more will follow and the woodland along the Dockens Water will soon be a splash of blue.

Bluebells

Bluebell by Talia Felstead

After river dipping, we headed over to Ellingham Pound to have a look at the prototype tern raft which had been launched a week or so ago so the group could see where their chick shelters would eventually end up. Whilst there, we were distracted by ripples on the surface of the lake which seemed to move around rather purposefully, and realised we were watching alder-fly which had recently emerged from the water. One conveniently left the surface of the lake and landed nearby, allowing us to take a closer look:

Caddis fly

Alder-fly by Talia Felstead

Finally on heading back to the centre, we spied this speckled wood butterfly sunning itself. It took a while to make sure everyone had seen it as it was so well camouflaged against the dead leaves and sticks on the woodland floor.

Speckled Wood

Speckled wood butterfly by Talia Felstead

Our Young Naturalists group offers monthly conservation tasks and wildlife activities to young people aged 13-17 years and is kindly funded by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. To find out more or join the group please telephone Jim or Tracy at the Education Centre on 01425 472760.

Water world

On Sunday our Young Naturalists joined us for a watery session, discovering the life lurking at Blashford in the pond and the Dockens Water.

We began the day though with a rummage through the moth trap, a task greatly enjoyed by the group last year so it was great to have the opportunity again now the weather has warmed up and there are more moths on the wing.

Emptying the light trap

Emptying the moth trap

Moth id

Moth identification

We only had five different species to identify so our task didn’t take too long, but there were plenty of moths in the trap: 25 Hebrew character, ten Common quaker, five Small quaker, 6 Clouded drab and one very smart Lunar marbled brown:

Lunar marbled brown resized

Lunar marbled brown

After carefully putting the moths back in the trap to be released at the end of the day, we spent the rest of the morning having a closer look at the life lurking in the Education Centre pond.

Pond dipping 2

Inspecting our catch2

pond dipping

Pond dipping

The pond has certainly sprung to life with the warmer weather and after a lot of dipping, it was time to take a closer look at our catch.

Inspecing our catch

Having a closer look

Having a closer look at some of our smallest finds

We were lucky enough to catch a number of newts, both adults and newt tadpoles, known as efts. The efts breathe through external feathery gills located just behind their heads, which really make them look like miniature dragons!

Adult newt and eft by Talia Felstead

Adult newt with eft by Talia Felstead

Male smooth newt

Male smooth newt, with its frilly crest extending from its head to the tip of its tail

Newt handling

Careful newt handling, with very wet hands!

We also caught a number of cased caddisfly larvae. Cased caddisfly are probably my favourite of all the pond (and river!) creatures as they construct the most amazing cases to live in, providing themselves with excellent camouflage. They use whatever materials they have available to them in the pond or river, which could be sand, tiny stones, segments cut from weed or other water plants, old snail shells, seed pods, the list is endless! They really are the ultimate swimming stick:

Cased caddis

Two cased caddisfly larvae by Talia Felstead, these two have used plant material to create their cases

One of the many different caddis

Another cased caddis, this one has used older pieces of plant matter and old seed pods

We also caught a number of water stick insects:

Water stick insect

Water stick insect

Finally, after exhausting the pond we headed down to the river in search of other aquatic life, including fish. We had to search a little harder, as the invertebrates in the river along with many of the fish will hide in amongst and under stones and rocks on the river bed to avoid being picked up by the current and taken downstream. We did though manage to catch a number of bullhead and brook lamprey:

Bullhead

Bullhead by Talia Felstead

Brook lamprey

Brook lamprey by Talia Felstead

The brook lamprey are often confused with small eels, but instead of having jaws they have a sucker disc with their mouth in the centre. Now is definitely the time of year to look for them as they spend most of their time buried in the sand or silt on the river bed, emerging in spring to spawn and dying soon after.

If you look closely in shallower stretches of the Dockens Water when passing, you might be lucky enough to spot some!