Sunshine and Solitude

Another sunny, spring-like day and finally people seem to be getting the message as there were many fewer people about. Sadly the few who are out include a high number of people who are behaving very badly, often in restricted areas after climbing gates and fences and ignoring signs. I had thought that fewer people might at least mean that wildlife would get less disturbance, but the last couple of days suggest that it will actually suffer a great deal more.

As I knew I was coming in I ran the moth trap overnight and although the night was cold quite a few moths were attracted. New for the year was an early grey.

early grey

early grey

There were also several common and small quaker and clouded drab, which although grey and brown is not as dull as the name suggests.

clouded drab

clouded drab

The sunny days have really brought out the butterflies, my impression is that numbers of all the hibernating species are very good, perhaps at odds with the idea that they survive better in a cold winter. Unfortunately we will not know for sure if this is true as the long -running Butterfly Transect Survey, which monitors numbers, is understandably suspended. The same is true of all bird surveys, bumble-bee and dragonfly transects, in fact all the long-running datasets that tell us the impact of what is actually going on in our countryside.

peacock

peacock

I also spotted this caddisfly larva which I found oaring its way across the surface of the Centre Pond at lunchtime, it has a wonderful spiky case, if we had something similar but scaled up of course, the 2 metre zone would be easier to maintain!

caddis larva 4x3

caddis fly larva

I will end with a plea to anyone who is going out for their daily exercise on Trust reserves, or indeed anywhere else. I know usual viewing points are often closed, but please don’t get round this by wandering “off piste”. Although paths are open in most places, remember these are often narrow and will not allow you to keep 2 metres apart if you need to pass anyone, some very popular sites such as Fishlake Meadows are a particular problem in this regard. Going out in nature is so valuable to us all, but we need to consider the impacts carefully and do this safely and with minimum negative effects.

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.

 

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.

Spring is Sprung?

Well a bit maybe, at least today saw the first arrival of undoubted migrants with at least 15 sand martin over Ibsley Water this afternoon. Earlier in the week there had been a scatter of chiffchaff, more than have over-wintered, so some must have come in from somewhere.

Other signs of a slow change in the season have been a few peacock, red admiral and brimstone butterflies, although today’s cold kept them tucked up somewhere. Sunshine in mid week resulted in a good number of sightings of adder and grass snake.

Moth numbers are also picking up and this week we have seen oak beauty, yellow-horned, common Quaker, small Quaker, twin-spot Quaker, Hebrew character and clouded drab in increasing numbers.

Although many of the wildfowl have left there were still at least 431 shoveler on Ibsley Water today and the bittern continues to be seen from Ivy North hide, surely it will be leaving soon. Also on Iblsey Water the Slavonian grebe is still present as are the 2 black-necked grebe, now looking very smart in their full breeding colours.

The gull roost remains very large, although the big gulls have almost all departed they have been replaced by thousands of smaller gulls, mostly black-headed gull, but including 20 or more Mediterranean gull, tonight there were at least five second winter birds, 1 first winter and 15 or so adults. Unusually for Blashford, this winter has seen good numbers of common gull in the roost, typically we struggle to get double figures, unless it is very cold, but tonight I counted at least 412 and along the way saw an adult ring-billed gull. This last American visitor was not the one that spent the winter with us, but one that has arrived in the last few days, in fact it seems we may have had three different birds recently (some claim perhaps four!). During the afternoon there were also 3 adult little gull, these would be migrants, the smallest of the gulls we get and probably the most elegant.

At the Woodland hide numbers of finches are declining, but there are still good numbers of siskin, a few lesser redpoll and 10 or so brambling, including  a number of very smart males. There are also several reed bunting feeding there regularly and today, and this was a first for me, a drake mallard, not a species that immediately springs to mind as feeding outside the Woodland hide.

Spring may not exactly have sprung but it is slowly unfurling, at last.

A Day by the Water

By which I mean Ibsley Water, where we spent the day working with a party of staff from one of our Partners, Bournemouth Water. It was particularly fortuitous that it was a Leap Year as this allowed us to do a task willow cutting on the shore of the lake, in a normal year it would have been the 1st of March and so into the “no scrub cutting” season. This is a bit of an arbitrary date, but a fair one to choose as many birds will start to nest soon now. These low willows are not really suitable for nesting, although they might be used for feeding by some, but as they grow on the lakeshore where open grass suitable for grazing wildfowl is more of a priority, we have been removing them throughout the winter. This shows the site at the start of the task.

before

We disposed of the cut material mostly by building a dead-hedge, which will be a useful habitat and is especially popular with nesting song thrush. The rest we burnt on the lakeshore. After about four and a half hours work the site looked like this.

after

Hopefully everybody enjoyed their day out from the office , they certainly got  a lot of work done and without their help it would definitely not have been done this season. I got this team picture just before they were ready, but it does have a flock of greylag geese in shot.

not quite ready but with geese

In wildlife news, I understand the bittern was seen again today from Ivy North hide and I saw the Slavonian grebe on Ibsley Water. At the end of the day the, now huge, roost of black-headed gull included at least 52 Mediterranean gull, all but two of them adults and amongst the modest number of larger gulls I found a first winter Caspian gull.

The moth trap did not contain much, perhaps not a surprise after rather a cold night, there were just a few common Quaker, small Quaker and clouded drab.

Could you be a Wildlife Watch-er?

Pond dipping with Wildlife Watch at Blashford Lakes today

Pond dipping with Wildlife Watch at Blashford Lakes today

 

The Blashford Lakes Wildlife Watch group were in this morning – and following what has been a bit of a theme for the week so far, they were pond dipping!

140412BlashfordWildlifeWatch3 by J Day_resize

The children’s favourites were undoubtedly the large dragonfly nymphs in the catch, but mine was this intriguing sub-aqua caterpillar which I can only assume is some kind of caseless china mark moth, but more learned readers of this blog may be able to tell me otherwise or more precisely what it may be:

A china mark moth caterpillar?

A china mark moth caterpillar?

In no way connected to the pond dipping, or the suspected moth caterpillar, afterwards we had a look through the light trap. Surprisingly it wasn’t a great catch last night, (clouded drab, Hebrew character, common quaker, pale brindled beauty, herald and nut-tree tussock; pictured below), but the children (and accompanying parents!) enjoyed seeing them none-the-less:

Nut-tree tussock

Nut-tree tussock

Wildlife Watch is the junior branch of The Wildlife Trusts and the UK’s leading environmental action club for kids. If you care about nature and the environment and want to explore your local wildlife – this is the club for YOU!

There are 150,000 Wildlife Watch members around the UK (and the Isle of Man and Alderney too) and hundreds of local Watch groups where young people get stuck into environmental activities. Taking part in Wildlife Watch is an exciting way to explore your surroundings and get closer to the wildlife you share it with.

Watch groups are run by registered leaders who enjoy working with children and have an enthusiasm and concern for wildlife and the environment.

 There are five principles which underpin all Watch activity:  

 • increasing understanding of our whole environment
• fostering awareness and feeling for the world we live in
• encouraging a caring attitude towards wildlife and participation in conservation
• creating factual, informal, fun ways to investigate our surroundings
• ensuring that young people’s environmental concerns, ideas and opinions are recognised and developed, and opportunities are created to act upon them.

 Across the UK hundreds of adult volunteers are dedicated to running Wildlife Watch groups where children can meet and enjoy exploring their environment. Going regularly to a group, along with their peers, enables young people to have lots of fun and make new friends whilst they develop real understanding and commitment.

 Watch groups give children opportunities to discover local wildlife and get stuck into practical activities likely to encompass anything from environmental artwork and waste recycling, to barn owl surveys, pond dipping and wildflower fun days. All groups operate within a monitored framework of child welfare and safety and all Watch leaders undergo a thorough recruitment process to check their suitability to work with young people.

And why am I telling you all this? Because the popular and successful Blashford Lakes Wildlife Watch group needs more Leaders! The current leaders, Carol, Imogen and Jaime do a brilliant job (the group has even been “Wildlife Watch Group of the Year Regional Winner and even UK Runner Ups several times in recent years!), but at times they can be stretched, especially if someone is ill or on holiday and they are therefore looking for volunteers to join them as Group Leaders.

If you’ve read this blog this far then you’ve obviously got some interest  in wildlife and in helping children learn more about our natural world, so go on, take the next step and find out more about becoming a Wildlife Watch Leader!

For information about the Blashford Lakes group specifically e-mail Imogen (imogen_fidler@yahoo.co.uk) or if this blog has piqued your interest but you would like to find out if there is a Wildlife Watch group nearer to where you live (or even find out how to set one up if there isn’t!) contact Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trusts Wildlife Watch Co-ordinator, Dawn Morgan (dawn.morgan@hiwwt.org.uk). You won’t regret it!

Alternatively if you love the sound of Wildlife Watch for your own children you can be sure of a welcome at the Blashford Lakes group (and all of the others too I am sure!) – for details of the next group meeting see the website or get in touch with Imogen or Dawn!

 

Moss, Moths and a Herald (of Spring?)

There are times when I think that I must have been walking around with my eyes shut for the first half of my life.  I was quite oblivious of most of the bird life around  me, let alone the smaller stuff like butterflies and dragonflies.   The problem for the most part, and something that I suspect many of us ‘suffer’ from, is that we just don’t know how to look for these things. Once some things are pointed out to you you can start to ‘get your eye in’ and you then wonder how you missed these things before.

I had one such experience last Thursday when one of the volunteers pointed out a mossy bundle in a hedge. Closer inspection revealed what is probably an old (last year’s) long-tailed tit nest which with the lack of leafy covering was now visible. In truth it has probably been visible for many months.

Long-tailed tit nest

Long-tailed tit nest

Having had this pointed out to me I mentioned it to one of our regular bird ringers, who wanted then to see it, so we set out to re-find it.    Now being in the company of someone who knew what to look for, we found a number of other nests nearby, as well as a couple of nest boxes that had long been forgotten.

I’ve sometimes remarked in these ramblings of the strange names that have been given to moth species.  Today’s collection of inmates in the light trap this morning included Common Quaker and Small Quaker , presumably named for their peace loving  nature(?).   Although not one of the most inspiring of moths when first seen, the Clouded Drab does have a subtle richness to its markings – its also a moth that has a name reminiscent of a British weather forecast!

Clouded Drab

Clouded Drab

Also appropriately named from its re-appearance, after the winter months, is this moth – the Herald

A Herald -------of Spring?

A Herald ——-of Spring?   Unfortunately not a pristine specimen-  probably because it has overwintered in its adult state

The Hidden and the Hiding

Bird News: Ibsley Waterblack-necked grebe 1, dunlin 1, black-tailed godwit 4, peregrine 1. Ivy Lakebittern 1. Woodlandbrambling 1+, chiffchaff 1+.

As I opened the Ivy North hide I was delighted to see that at least one bittern remains, hopefully it will stay for the weekend, although it was staying pretty well hidden when I was watching it. Near the Woodland hide I heard my first singing chiffchaff of the year, surely this one must have been a migrant. bittern hiding from the hide

I phoned in to get the moth trap put out last night and was pleased I had, the catch was not large but did include two new species for the year, one was a clouded drab.

clouded drab

The other was one of the larger of the “micro” moths, Diurnea fagella.

Diurnea fagella

I was confined to the office for much of the day and I have to confess that the brambling sighting was made via the TV in the entrance to the Centre, it was a fine male visiting the feeder at the Woodland hide, a live feed but not quite like seeing it in the feather.