Filling in the gaps

It has been some time since my last blog… I’m sorry about the gap! I had a bit of time off over New Year – which seems like a super long time ago now – and since the lockdown I have been part time furloughed (and spending more time exploring more locally to me in Salisbury), so I’m at Blashford three days a week at present.

So, after Christmas I had a break from weaving willow wreaths – our final wreath total was a whopping 94 (out of 100) sold for a donation, which was a fantastic response to the activity and we hope those who bought them enjoyed decorating them. I think we may have to offer it again next year…

This was briefly replaced with a ‘Forest Folk’ activity for our younger visitors, where they could make their own forest friend or stickman then enjoy some simple activities along the wild walk loop. Although short lived, due to the lockdown, a number of families took part and we will be able to put the activity and signs out again when restrictions are lifted.

I’ve also been out and about helping Bob more, mainly to provide first aid cover whilst he’s chainsawing, and it’s been nice to spend time on other bits of the reserve. We’ve spent a bit of time widening the footpath up by the screens on the approach to Lapwing Hide:

Whilst out and about it’s easy to get distracted by the signs of spring – it’s nice to know it’s on its way! I’ve seen my first scarlet elf cups and primroses are also in flower. The snowdrops near the Centre have emerged and the buds are very close now to opening fully.

I also found a nice clump of jelly ear fungus along the Dockens Water path…

… and a very nice blob of Yellow brain or witches’ butter:

yellow brain

Yellow brain fungus or Witches’ butter

According to European folklore, if yellow brain fungus appeared on the gate or door of a house it meant a witch had cast a spell on the family living there. The only way to remove the spell was to pierce the fungus several times with straight pins until it went away, which gave it the common name ‘witches’ butter’. In Sweden, it was burnt to protect against evil spirits.

Another sign of spring I like to look for each year is on the hazel trees. If you look really closely at the hazel you might be able to spot some of its incredibly tiny pink flowers, which look a bit like sea anemones. Hazel is monoecious, with both the male and female flowers found on the same tree. The yellow male catkins appear first before the leaves and hang in clusters, whilst the female flowers are tiny, bud-like and with red styles.

Once pollinated by pollen from other hazel trees, the female flowers develop into oval fruits which then mature into hazelnuts.

On the insect front, the only moth I’ve seen recently was this mottled umber, which greeted me on the Centre door as I was opening up one morning:

mottled umber

Mottled umber

The robins near Ivy Silt Pond continue to be very obliging, posing for photos, and I’ve also been watching the kingfisher by the pond outside the back of the Centre. It seems to prefer this spot when the lake levels are higher and visibility poorer, making it harder to fish for food.

robin

Robin

kingfisher

Kingfisher

And we have on occasion had some rain! These photos were from the heavy downpours last week:

On Sunday I was half expecting to arrive to a snowy scene, but it seemed to just miss the reserve. On my drive in it became less and less wintery and I arrived to a thin layer of melting slush, having left behind a rather white Salisbury. Given I had to get home again it was probably a good thing, but I admit I was slightly disappointed! It was though a good day for photographing water droplets, as everything was melting and there were plenty around!

I will finish with a blue tit enjoying the sunshine up by Lapwing Hide, and will endeavour to blog again soon… I’m woefully behind with my Young Naturalists updates…

blue tit

Blue tit enjoying the sunshine

Spring has definitely sprung

Yesterday I was keeping an eye on things at Blashford and after a bit of time finishing things off in the office (the last couple of days have been filled with emails, creating signs and cancelling events and school visits) I had lunch outside the back of the centre with one of our very friendly robins for company and decided to make the most of the glorious weather and venture out onto the reserve.

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Lunchtime company

Being at Blashford with the car park empty and the sun shining did remind me of the very quiet days we have on the reserve in the summer, when you know everyone has headed to the beach and the coast to stay cool. The main reminder of spring was the increase in birdsong, it was lovely to hear chiffchaff calling, and also the new growth on the trees.

willow leaves

New growth on the willow 

willow catkins

Willow catkins

Nearing the entrances however it was apparent people were very much still out and about and there were a fair few cars parked up. Fortunately most people were respecting social distancing, however I did have to stand in vegetation at one point to allow a group to pass who were quite happy to walk, albeit in single file, down the middle of the footpath. Out footpaths are not that wide… so please do take care out there and give people space!

Keeping the car parks closed does encourage fewer people to visit the reserve, which gives everyone a chance to keep their distance, but it does also reduce the risk of fly tipping on the site. Between me leaving on Friday and arriving back on Sunday a large amount of rubbish, including a couple of single mattresses, had been dumped in the first lay by on Ellingham Drove, if coming from the A338, and although this may have happened over night we have in the past had fly tipping occur during day inside our gates on the approach to Tern Hide and also on the nature reserve itself, near the water treatment works. Although those who fly tip will always sadly find somewhere for it to go, at least having the reserve secure at all times will reduce the opportunities available for fly tipping on the reserve itself, where the site is now generally quieter and our staff presence lower. Unfortunately with quieter roads this issue is something that may sadly increase over the next few weeks and months.

My real reason though for venturing close to the entrance was to stare at the very fine display of moss growing on the top of the wooden fence by our gate. I had been waiting for a sunny day to photograph it and usually when I am passing I am driving, either having just arrived or heading home. After a bit of searching, I think it is capillary thread moss, but am happy to be corrected if wrong!

capillary thread moss

Capillary thread moss

The hazel trees near the entrance are also displaying fresh bright green leaves and lesser celandine carpets the woodland floor below them.

hazel leaves

Hazel leaves

lesser celandine

Lesser celandine

I followed the path along the Dockens Water, spotting a brimstone butterfly but it did not settle for a photo. On my way up to Lapwing Hide I saw great tit and blue tit feeding amongst the willows and nearer to the hide itself chiffchaff, Cetti’s warbler, water rail and little grebe were all calling and I saw a reed bunting in the trees.

I also spied my first adder of the year, something I wasn’t necessarily expecting as it was now mid afternoon and had warmed up considerably.

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Adder in amongst dead wood

On the edges of the paths colt’s-foot is flowering. It looks like a short dandelion but has a much rounder middle. Flowering early in spring, the flowers appear before the leaves do which has led to the plant getting the name ‘Son-before-father’.

coltsfoot

Colt’s-foot

Blackthorn is also blossoming and looking very pretty against a bright blue sky:

blackthorn blossom

Blackthorn blossom

After walking round to Goosander Hide I cut back across to Tern Hide via the closed Hanson path and saw my first peacock butterfly of the year, which was more obliging than the brimstone and paused just long enough for a photo.

peacock

Peacock

I popped in to Tern Hide to check all was well and see if there were any little ringed plover yet on the shore line. I couldn’t see any, or the common sandpiper which had been quite frequent, but did see teal, wigeon, tufted duck, goldeneye, shovelar, goosander and good numbers of pintail out on the water.

ibsley water and tern hide

Tern Hide and Ibsley Water from the viewing platform

On heading back to the Centre I decided to keep following the path along the Dockens Water to see if there were any signs of flowers on the bluebells (not yet, but it won’t be long!) and also to check the boardwalk was still taped off at either end where it is currently closed.

The hawthorn along the path is another tree coming into leaf. Its flowers are similar to blackthorn, however hawthorn comes into leaf first, and will not flower until May, whereas the flowers of blackthorn appear before the leaves, as seen in the photo above.

hawthorn

Hawthorn leaves

All in all it was a very nice wander around the reserve in the sunshine. I am working from home today, listening to the chaffinch and dunnock singing outside, and will be doing so more over the coming weeks and months so it was good to get out on the reserve while I still could. I will be spending more time in my little garden and walking my dog down to the closest stretch of the River Bourne in Laverstock, or possibly up to the Laverstock Downs themselves if they remain quiet. So I will finish this blog with a photo of a primrose, as there are still plenty flowering on the reserve:

primrose

Primrose

Laying around

Another busy day with lots of visitors, a volunteer work party and the Pop-up cafe. The bittern performed from time to time at Ivy North hide, including at dusk as I went to lock up. A water rail there was seen to catch and eat a small fish, which surprised some watching, in fact water rail are not fussy eaters and will happily eat vegetation, seed, and animal matter alive and dead. I have seen them eat fish and even small birds and they are a well known hazard when ringing birds in a reedbed, as they will try to pick birds from the nets given half a chance.

The volunteers worked laying another section of the hedge alongside the A338 on the western side of Ellingham Drove. This hedge was planted in 2005/06 winter and is being laid to thicken it up and make it more useful for wildlife and as a visual screen for the road.

hedge before laying

The hedge plants before work began

After the hedge laying you can see it is already much denser even though some of the side branches have been removed.

hedge after laying

hedge after laying

Those of you that are familiar with the traditional craft of hedge laying will immediately notice that this is not a craftsman’s job. The traditional craft produced a barrier that would keep livestock in before the days of barbed wire, it had a woven line of rods on top between stakes and much more of the twigs and branches were removed. This art is still practised and there are regular competitions, to make a good traditional hedge in this way takes great skill. However we are just trying to thicken up the hedge and retain as much of the potential for flowering and fruiting next year and for this purpose some reduction in the branches and a partial cut to lay the stem over will suffice.

Such hedges make good nesting places for many of our common birds like robin, dunnock and blackbird.

blackbird male

adult male blackbird at Woodland hide

This hedge is almost entirely made up of hawthorn, but we are trying to diversify it by adding extra species. One that we could add is hazel, normally we would plant these in the winter when the plants are dormant, but looking at the hazel around the reserve today they are anything but dormant.

hazel catkins

hazel catkins

The catkins are the familiar flowers of the hazel, but these just the male flowers which open to scatter their pollen, the female flowers are much smaller and easily overlooked. Each hazel will have flowers of both sexes, the catkins on the ends of the twigs and the female flowers a little further down.

hazel flower female

the female hazel flower

Although winter is natures “downtime” it is not so for all species and on the outside of the Education Centre door this morning there was a male winter moth.

winter moth

Winter moth (male)

When moth trapping you always catch many more males than females, probably because they fly around more seeking females, however in the case of the winter moth you will only ever catch males as the females are wingless. The larvae to these moths eat oak leaves are the main food collected by blue and great tit when feeding their young, one of the possible effects of climate change could be a disconnect between the timing of peak caterpillar numbers and hungry chicks. Only time and project s such as the one undertaken by Brenda at Blashford (see the last post) will show if this becomes a real problem for the birds.

I was trying out a new camera today, a replacement for my one that packed up the other day, it is a “bridge camera”, not something I have used before so I was keen to see what it could do. The light was not good today, but it seems as though it will be useful. I tried a range of pictures, standard shots a sat the top of the page, some macro and finally some using the full magnification, although not a great shot I quiet liked the one below of a group of pintail.

three pairs of pintail

three pairs of pintail up ending

Hopefully we will get some better light and I will get the chance to put it through its paces rather more fully.

Spring Between the Showers

On Thursday the volunteers were working out on the shore of Ibsley Water putting out fresh shingle patches for nesting little ringed plover and oystercatcher. Now that the old concrete block plant has been removed and the site opened up to the lakeshore there is a much larger area of suitable habitat for these species and for lapwing, so we have high hopes for the coming nesting season.

plover-patches

“Plover patches” small areas of fresh shingle ideal for nesting little ringed plovers.

It turned out we were just in time as on Friday the first little ringed plover of the season was seen! They are usually one of the first of the spring migrants along with sand martin. There are lots of other signs of approaching spring around the reserve now, the hazel catkins and flowers are out.

hazel-catkins

Hazel catkins, these are the familiar male flowers that produce lots of pollen.

The tiny female flowers are easily overlooked and very different, each tree will have both the catkins and female flowers, you just need to look closely to see them.

hazel-flower

Female flower of hazel.

It is not just hazel that has catkins, those of alder are also out now and rather similar to look at.

alder-catkins

Alder catkins, with last year’s seed cones.

I was also working with the volunteers today, although in less benign conditions, it rained and hailed and we took shelter by the Centre and made nest boxes. However Jim had thought to put out the moth trap and I was quite impressed to find it contained five moths, 2 twin-spot Quaker, a small Quaker, an oak beauty and a yellow-horned, so we got to see a little wildlife at least.

yellow-horned

Yellow-horned moth, the first of the season.

I did get lucky as I was opening up the Ivy North hide as the bittern was in the open beside the “pool” just below the western end of the hide, it must surely be thinking of going soon. At the end of the day I took a quick look at the gull roost, now mostly smaller gulls with about 3000 black-headed gull, only 21 common gull and just a single Mediterranean gull.

A Beautiful Day

Despite the overnight rain and a rather soggy start to opening up the day turned out to be quite sunny eventually.  Dockens Water was running high as you can see here in this view from one of the bridges.Image

I didn’t open up the Tern Hide car-park first thing as the level of water was such that it was only accessible to anyone wearing Wellington boots – this eventually drained partly and so was opened later.

Next Sunday I’m due to lead a walk looking for ‘ Spring Firsts’ and when these things are planned and put in the events diary it’s always done with the hope that the weather will be kind and that nature will conform to the ‘normal’ pattern of seasonal progression.   Having had a short walk around this morning I’m quietly confident there will be things to see, but can’t promise what the weather will be like…

Many trees are starting to show signs of the changing season including  willow catkins.

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Catkins just starting to burst out – note the flooded Tern Hide car-park in the background

On the ground the leaves of many plants are pushing through the soil, including lots of wild arum (Arum maculatum) like this rather delicately spotted leaf found under some trees by the path.

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Arum is a fairly common and widespread plant with a distinctive flower spike (spathe)pushing up inside a cup-like leafy structure (spadix) and it has many alternative old country names including ‘cuckoo pint’ and ‘lords and ladies’. It is, perhaps, better known from the stage once the bright red berries have formed.

Woodpeckers have been drumming regularly, lapwing displaying and giving their characteristic ‘peewit‘ call and at least one pair of great crested grebe have been engaged in courtship display.

Around the feeders in the Centre car-park area both siskin and lesser redpoll  are using the feeders and taking food off the ground.

Redpoll on feerer P1390218

Lesser redpoll on niger seed feeder

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Fine male lesser redpoll taking advantage of spilled food on the ground – probably been on the reserve for some time – note metal ring on right leg

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Siskin waiting in a tree before flying down to the niger seed feeder

There are still a few brambling around and one of our regular visitors has reported seeing a hawfinch in the same area on more than one occasion. This bird is rather shy and has only been seen from some distance, so don’t expect it to be as obliging as the siskin and redpoll.

Worryingly one visitor reported hearing the sound of mating mink, it’s apparently a high-pitched screaming, just outside the Ivy South Hide .