Wildlife encounters of the furlough kind

I returned to work on Sunday after eight weeks away from Blashford (it is so green now!) and six weeks on furlough along with around 40% of my Trust colleagues, most of whom are still off. Whilst I’m back to help Bob with the reserve tasks he cannot do by himself and engage with visitors on site from a safe distance, following on from the easing of restrictions last week, we are still closed whilst we look at what we can safely offer in the coming weeks and months. We will keep you updated as and when things begin to change!

A Blashford blog will follow shortly, but I thought I would share what I have been getting up to whilst off.

Spending so much time at home meant I was able to discover what wildlife visits my garden, a bit of a distraction whilst I was supposed to still be working, but it was really nice to be there during the day and have more time to appreciate my outside space. My garden is only small, with two patio areas which contain a number of plants in pots and a lawn which has struggled as a lawn and now has a few flowers planted into the patchier bits as I slowly tun it into a much wilder space. I have lived there for a couple of years, and this year the garden really seems to have come to life with birds and insects, which has been really nice to see.

Whilst at home I had blue tits, wood pigeons, dunnocks and blackbirds frequently visiting the garden along with a wren, great tits and a goldfinch. I have a willow bird table and the blackbirds seem to really like this, launching themselves onto it from the hedge and swinging around whilst they fed.

I have two hedges in the garden and this year the blackbirds successfully nested in one (I did a fair amount of cat chasing whilst off, if they have another brood they’re on their own!) which was lovely to watch. I saw four fledglings at the same time, two sunning themselves in one hedge and two in the other and both adults worked really hard to feed them with the male bringing back huge beak fulls, including a garden centipede in the photo below:

Blackbird 2

Male blackbird with a beak full

They fledged last Thursday so I was able to enjoy their company for a few days, with one of the young staying in the garden until Sunday morning. It was very amusing to see it sat swinging on the bird table calling mum for food.

I had written a rather long list of things to do to keep me busy, and one of those things was to dig a pond. Digging a pond was definitely more exciting than decorating the bathroom, re-pointing some dodgy brickwork to hopefully solve a damp issue in the kitchen and damp proofing and repainting the kitchen wall, so it was one of the first things I did and it’s been really nice to see it change over just a few weeks. The less exciting jobs were left until last week when I knew I was returning to work…

The photos below show the garden before and after, then the pond full of mud as the female blackbird decided the moss I had placed round the edge would make really nice nest building material (she had ignored it the entire time it was elsewhere in the garden) and later on with some plant additions (all native) I had been able to order online.

Whilst digging the pond I unearthed the snake millipede below, along with centipedes that were too fast for a photo, and the stones placed around the edge quickly became resting spots for hoverflies:

The blackbirds had been using a bucket of water with some willow sticks in to drink from and bathe in, but they now both use the pond which is really nice to watch. The female didn’t mind me being around at all but the male was a lot more wary of me to begin with and would fly off even if I was watching from the window, but now he is quite happy for me to be out in the garden whilst he’s there feeding.

As well as the birds it was great to see which insects were visiting the flowers and which flowers were growing really well, the ragged robin in particular has seeded so well from one plant in a pot last year I was able to plant it out in different places in the grass.

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I live on the edge of Salisbury so on my daily walks I walked my dog from home to either a little stretch of the River Bourne in Laverstock or up to the Laverstock Downs, enjoying the fact there were fewer cars on the road.

These photos were taken in the little patch of woodland down by the river:

I had hoped to see some bluebells on my wanders but sadly all those I did see were garden escapees.

I spent a lot more time up on the Downs as although they were further to walk to, it was much easier to practice social distancing up here than it was down by the river which tended to be busier with people and had a stretch of boardwalk to contend with.

It was a great spot for bird watching and I had some brilliant views of both blackcap and common whitethroat, especially early spring when the whitethroats were displaying and establishing territories.

I managed a total of 47 bird species whilst off, either in my garden, flying over my garden or on my daily walks: blackbird, blue tit, dunnock, wren, great tit, wood pigeon, collared dove, jackdaw, starling, long-tailed tit, yellowhammer, carrion crow, buzzard, pheasant, song thrush, chaffinch, chiffchaff, red kite, blackcap, common whitethroat, swallow, linnet, goldfinch, red-legged partridge, little egret, mallard, shoveler, kingfisher, magpie, skylark, great spotted woodpecker, robin, Canada goose, mute swan, raven, sparrowhawk, rook, bullfinch, house sparrow, Cetti’s warbler, grey heron, moorhen, mistle thrush, swift, house martin, peregrine falcon and mandarin duck. They were quite a good mix!

The Downs were also a great spot for butterflies, with orange tips, brimstones, small tortoiseshells, green-veined whites, small heaths, peacocks and dingy skippers all on the wing. I also found lots of green-veined orchids and other flowers on the chalk grassland.

The most exciting spot though was probably to see glow worm larvae on three separate occasions, so I must go up there over the summer in search of glow worms.

Glow worm larvae

Glow worm larvae

I was very lucky to have my garden to enjoy and also have some lovely spaces within walking distance to explore (it was also quite nice to use my car less!), so I had plenty of nature to keep me company during the pandemic, whilst a list of house and craft projects also kept me busy. I might be heading back up to the Downs at the weekend…

Still Going

As Jim said in his recent post, I am still going into the reserve most days, mainly to keep and eye on things and do some routine maintenance tasks. Generally the reserve is very quite, although there is a small minority of people who are still out and about. Some are walking out from the nearest houses for their daily exercise. A few are still driving to the reserve, not really approved of these days, but in small numbers perhaps not a big problem. Unfortunately some are taking advantage of there being few people about to engage in poaching and other undesirable activity, probably inevitable but a shame all the same.

Yesterday morning was especially pleasant and I went right around the reserve to check on things. When there is nothing amiss I have to count myself really lucky to be still able to get out. I came across a group of basking male adder, there were at least three in one mass, but it was hard to work out how many exactly, a single nearby made for a better photo though.

adder

adder

There are surprising number of wildfowl still on the reserve, I suspect because we have had predominantly north-easterly winds and they don’t much like flying into a headwind when migrating. Earlier this week there were still over a thousand duck on Ibsley Water, with as many as 400 shoveler and hundreds of wigeon and pintail as well. There has also been a flock of black-tailed godwit around, at least 250, probably more, they are presumably feeding on the Avon floods now they have receded a bit, every so often they are lifted by a passing bird of prey and wheel about. The ducks are on the move now that the winds have eased and will be heading towards Scandinavia, the godwits will probably wait a couple of weeks or so before heading off to Iceland. By then I hope we will have a lot more summer visitors.

Despite the sunshine and generally rather spring-like feel to the weather there have been rather few summer visitors around so far. I have seen a very small number of sand martin, but no more than ten and no swallow or house martin. A few years ago there were sand martin excavating the first nest holes in the last week of March, and hundreds over the lake. There are a good few chiffchaff and blackcap singing now, but no other migrants.

The forecast is for warmer conditions next week, so perhaps we will get an arrival of summer visitors, we can be wait.

 

A Few Moths, Rather a Lot of Ducks and an Added Extra

A much less spring-like day on the reserve today, but even in the drizzle being out in the open air still raises the spirits. Although there was no obvious arrival of migrants I think there were one or two more blackcap and chiffchaff today.

We had a tree surgeon on site today to deal with a couple of fallen trees near Ivy South Hide, this did upset some of the duck and probably contributed to the high numbers on Ibsley Water, where I counted 248 shoveler along with about 300 pintail and at least 400 wigeon, still quite large numbers for mid March. Although the hides are closed the viewpoint behind Tern Hide still offers views over the water, and large enough for a small number of people whilst still maintaining a 2m safety zone.

The moth trap caught the best catch so far this year almost 40 moths of seven species, new for the year was a brindled beauty.

Brindled beauty

Brindled beauty

Emptying the trap at the end of the day I saw that the long-tailed tit nest nearby is more or less complete, I think they are busy adding the feather lining now. The nest is a wonderful ball construction made with moss and lichen bound together with spider’s web.

long-tailed tit nest

long-tailed tit nest

As there was a bit of a wildlife shortage today I will add a picture from Tuesday, when I saw a fine male adder, my first of the year.

P1070688

male adder

The World Still Turns and Birds and Bees are Still Doing What They do Best

Despite all that is going on in our world, the seasons are moving on, and today this was very noticeable with the first sand martin of the spring being seen on the reserve. There are also several chiffchaff singing and at least 2 blackcap. Long-tailed tit are building in lots of places, I don’t think I have ever known so many pairs, probably a result of a very mild winter.

I saw my first grey-backed mining bee a few days ago, as is typical they were all males, who emerge earlier than the females. Today I saw the first female, she had not long emerged but was already attracting the attention of several males.

Andrena vaga female

Grey-backed mining bee (female)

This bee has only recently recolonised the UK and so far has only a few sites, Blashford having one of the larger known colonies. It is one of the earliest solitary bee species to emerge and specialises in feeding on willow flowers, which are one of the very earliest sources of pollen and nectar.

Andrena vaga pair 2 5x8

Grey-backed mining bee female with attendant male

The males wait around the nesting banks for the first females to emerge and try to mate as soon as they come to the surface. Mating itself seems to be a swift affair from what I saw today.

Andrena vaga pair

Grey-backed mining bee mating pair

Over the next few weeks I will try to blog as regularly as I can, I am conscious that many people will not be able to get out and about, indeed it is quite possible these blogs may become about my garden or even just what I can see from the window before things are resolved. I will also be putting posts on Twitter, Bob Chapman @bobservablelife

Our human centred world may be tumbling about us as things we rely upon turn out to be nothing like as robust as we might have hoped. At the same time nature, much of which we have sacrificed in pursuit of growing what is now falling about us, will be carrying on, I will try to record some of that continuity as I come across it for as long as I can.

 

Open Again

The Tern Hide will be open again today, although there are still some access restrictions elsewhere on the reserve, where works continue, please take note of any signs as works are changing day by day as they are completed. That said all the hides are open, as is the Centre.

The last few days have been as hectic as have many over the last few weeks, although thankfully we are firmly on the home stretch now. Despite a degree of chaos spring is definitely moving along apace.

Chiffchaff and blackcap are now present in good numbers and we have also have the first reed warbler and willow warbler on the reserve. Over Ibsley Water large numbers of sand martin, house martin and swallow have been gathering and some sand martin are now visiting the nesting wall. There have also been migrants passing through, the week has been characterised by a significant movement of little gull, with up to 12 over Ibsley Water at times, on their way to breeding areas around the Baltic Sea.

little gull

one of the adult little gull over Ibsley Water

A proportion of the swallows and martins will be moving on as will be the splendid male yellow wagtail that was seen on Thursday.

Insect numbers are increasing also with many more butterflies around.

comma

comma, one of the species that over-winters as an adult

As well as the species that hibernate as adults there are also lots of spring hatching species too, particularly speckled wood and orange-tip.

orange-tip

male orange-tip

The nights, although rather cool have more moths now, on Friday morning the highlight in the moth trap was the first great prominent of the year.

great prominent

great prominent

Earlier in the week a red sword-grass was a notable capture, possibly a migrant but also perhaps from the nearby New Forest which is one of the few areas in southern England with a significant population.

red swordgrass

red sword-grass

I have also seem my first tree bumble-bee of the year, a queen searching for a nest site, this species only colonised the UK in the last 20 years, but is now common across large areas.

tree bumble bee

tree bumble-bee queen searching for a nest site

Of course all the while resident species are starting to nest, blue tit and great tit are starting to lay eggs and I have seen my first song thrush fledgling of the year. Out on Ibsley Water lapwing and little ringed plover are displaying, truly spring has arrived at Blashford Lakes.

lapwing male

male lapwing

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)

 

And Wildlife Too

Although the week on the reserve was undeniably hectic with contractors working away all over the place, it was still a week of wonderful wildlife.

The early surge of migrants dropped off when the wind and weather changed, but as we get into mid-March migrants are arriving anyway. Chiffchaff are now singing at various locations, sand martin are being seen occasionally and a little ringed plover has been a fixture on Ibsley Water, although hard to find hunkered down out of the wind.

Perhaps the most surprising bird on the reserve has been the bittern, which seems not to want to leave and has been giving good views day after day from Ivy North hide.

bittern square

The bittern remains lurking and often not, near Ivy North Hide

The adult ring-billed gull seems again to have become a regular fixture in the gull roost on Ibsley Water each evening, after having gone off somewhere or the mid-winter period.

The early butterflies have retreated due to lack of sunshine, but the occasional adder is still being seen and mild nights have resulted in good moth catches. Common Quaker are most abundant, but Hebrew character, small Quaker, twin-spotted Quaker, clouded drab and oak beauty have all been regular. Although not warm enough for butterflies, bees are made of sterner stuff. Buff-tailed bumble-bee queens are buzzing around and investigating potential nest sites between bouts of feeding, sallow catkins being one of their favourites.

Bombus terrestris and sallow catkins

buff-tailed bumble-bee visiting sallow flowers

There are also some solitary bees flying, so far only males that I have seen, they tend to emerge earlier than the females. Yellow-legged mining bee being the most common, but I found a blacker bee this week, I suspect it of being the rare grey-backed mining bee. The female is very distinctive but the males look similar to the much commoner ashy mining bee.

Andrena bee male

a male mining bee, I suspect grey-backed mining bee

The wonderful thing about spring is that you can see the things moving on day by day, even when the weather is poor, the imperative to get on with life pulls wildlife along, or perhaps pushes it. The costs of being late are probably to miss out on breeding, so this encourages getting earlier to steal a march on rivals, but get it wrong and starting too early and all can be lost.

Climate change is an added complication at this time of year when timing is so important and the costs of getting things wrong so high. Many species respond to temperature, but others to day length, or other factors or combinations of them. Many species will be dependent upon on another, bees need flowers for food but the plants need bees to pollinate them, sometimes the relationships are complex and the interdependence critical to survival. If the relationship is broken completely extinction is likely for one or both partners, but even stretching it will result in declines.

There is no doubt that our management or mismanagement of land, use of chemicals and casual approach to waste have all taken a serious  toll, the much publicised insect decline being just one result. We are now recognising some of this and some things have been turned around, ozone in the atmosphere being a good example of effective action.

However the really big threat is climate change and it will not be so easy to reverse, in fact halting it looks way beyond us at present. So it was really refreshing to see so many young people getting involved in a call for real action, showing that there is perhaps a generation who are seeing the big picture. The lack of engagement by the young in politics is often decried but maybe they are seeing what others are missing, the real issue is way beyond politics and certainly our current politicians. The environment not as special interest, but a matter of life and death.

 

13th January – Great White and Yellow-browed

Another busy day on the reserve with the yellow-browed warbler performing pretty well throughout the day and drawing a steady flow of admirers to its favoured area neat Ivy South hide. It was not the only warbler on show though, there were Cetti’s warbler at Ivy North hide and at the silt pond neat Ivy South hide. Chiffchaff have been particularly frequent this winter and today I saw them near Ivy South hide, on the approach to Goosander hide and near Lapwing hide.

In the brief bit of sunshine we enjoyed around midday I went to have a quick practice with the new camera, these are some of the results.

chaffinch female

female chaffinch with scaly-leg

siskin male

siskin, a male not really showing his best side.

Although finch numbers at the Woodland hide are not large, they are increasing with siskin leading the charge and also an occasional redpoll.

tufted duck drake 2

tufted duck drake

At dusk there were at least 187 cormorant roosting in the trees beside Ivy Lake, which I photographed earlier in the day when there was more light.

view from ivy south hide

Ivy Lake from Ivy South hide with the very first few of the cormorant gathering to roost.

As Jim mentioned yesterday the car park nearest the Education Centre will be completely closed from tomorrow morning for at least the next week, this will mean no access along the track to the Centre, either for vehicles or pedestrians, you can still walk to the Centre using the footpath to the left of the track, always the safest route. The work is aimed at  levelling the car park surface to reduce the large puddles that are sometimes an unwelcome feature.

Further works are in the pipeline, so please keep an eye on things here to keep up to date with events.

High-brow

I was elsewhere yesterday so was only able to read about the bird of the day, the yellow-browed warbler seen near Ivy South hide. It was not a great surprise as they are now scarce migrants and winter visitors in Hampshire despite breeding in Asia and being smaller than a chiffchaff! Although climate change might be expected to lead to more southern bird species spreading north and it probably has, there also seems to be a strong trend for traditionally Siberian species to be spreading west. Several formerly very rare species are now occurring much more frequently in western Europe and even nesting.

So as I opened up the hides I was keeping an eye out for a long-tailed tit flock as the warbler was tagging along with one yesterday. Leaving the Ivy South hide there was a flock just behind the hide and there it was, high in an alder, the yellow-browed warbler had found me! Only brief views as they don’t stay still for long, but I did grab a quick picture.

yellow-browed warbler

yellow-browed warbler

These birds are common in Asia breeding across a wide area and migrating south to winter mostly in tropical south-east Asia. On the face of it their now regular arrival in some numbers in western Europe in autumn and wintering in south-west Europe would seem very unlikely and may be related to a westward range extension in the summer.

I understand the bittern was seen several times today and a Caspian gull was in the roost on Ibsley Water. I was busy all day so my only other sighting of any note was at dusk from Ivy North hide where there were two water rail and two great white egret in the trees. It was a magnificent evening with a splendid sky at sunset.

sunset from main car park

sunset from the main car park

Another Year

What a great start to the New Year, a beautiful morning and the reserve was busy with visitors and birds for them to see. So busy in fact that the Pop-up cafe ran out of cake! This may also be because word is getting around that the cakes are exceedingly fine so people get in early, they will be back next Sunday though, so all is not lost.

A New Year means a new “list” not that I ever manage to keep one going to year’s end, but a good start for me at least, with 78 species recorded, 75 of them at Blashford.

Ibsley Water featured at least two (although I think there must be more) water pipit, seen from all three hides during the day, the black-necked grebe, typically near the north-western shore, a fly-over by the dark-bellied brent goose (rare at Blashford), a marsh harrier, green sandpiper and all the usual wildfowl. In the afternoon the Caspian gull was in the roost along with about 10 yellow-legged gull.

Meanwhile Ivy Lake had the bittern on view on and off for much of the day at Ivy North hide along with a supporting caste of Cetti’s warbler, chiffchaff and water rail, joined later by first one and then two great white egret which stayed to roost with the cormorants.

At Woodland hide the regular woodland birds have now been joined by a few reed bunting, but there is no sign as yet of any redpoll or brambling, but it is early days. More widely around the reserve a firecrest was at the road crossing to Goosander hide and several more chiffchaff were in the reeds and willows on the walk to Lapwing hide, where there was a reed bunting giving brief snatches of song, they usually don=t start until well into the spring.

Despite recording 75 species on the reserve, I never saw a greenfinch! and there were a few other species missing that are generally not that difficult to see.

I saw just four mammal species (not counting humans) all day and two of those were non-natives, grey squirrel, fallow deer, roe deer and a wood mouse, live-trapped in the loft. Meanwhile the year’s moth list got off to a roaring start with a single mottled umber, although by convention moths are recorded as being on the previous day as most fly just after dusk, so this is when they are attracted to the light.

mottled umber

a very well marked mottled umber