Getting ‘Otter

The last couple of days have really warmed up and you get the feeling that spring has really set in. The oak trees are coming into leaf and well before the ash too, so if you believe the rhyme we should be in for a warm summer. The warm weather has resulted in another one of our emperor moth hatching out, this time a male.

the Emperor

You can see the feathery antennae which are how he “smells” the air for the female’s pheromones.

There have also been  a lot more butterflies and other insects out and about, I saw several peacock and brimstone today and this slightly tattered comma.tattered comma

There are also other insects, although not as many as I would have expected, hoverflies seem very few, apart from the drone-fly Eristalis pertinax here posing on a cowslip.

Eristalis pertinax on cowslip

The spring flowers are moving on, the wild daffodil are almost all over and the bluebells are starting, less spectacular but still attractive are the tiny flowers of moschatel, or town-hall clock.

Mochattel

Yesterday I cam across a lot of tiny round growths on a tree stump, some with pale lumps on top, presumably the reproductive phase of something, I am not sure what, perhaps a slime mould? It is not a great picture,  but they were very, very small.

odd things

The winter birds have been continuing to go, I could not find any goldeneye today and the wigeon are down to a handful and even the shoveler down to a few tens. The Slavonian grebe may actually have gone as well, unusually it was asleep in the middle of the lake yesterday evening, quite at odds with usual behaviour and I am guessing it was having a good rest before flying off. On the other side of the coin there was a common tern today, tantalisingly it was a ringed bird, but I could not read the ring. There has also been a welcome return by Cetti’s warbler to the Ivy silt pond, after a long absence.

However the highlight of the last two days came yesterday as I was heading to open Ivy South hide, I noticed some commotion in the water beside the path and guessed maybe it was a cormorant, coot or maybe a moorhen. It was close by so I stopped and looked down over a tree stump and there just 2.5m away were two otter they looked up at me for perhaps five seconds, then dived off to go under some overhanging trees, some 10m away. I phoned the office but by the time Jim and Tracy had arrived they had headed off across the pond and out of sight. I could have got a great picture, but actually would not have done, by the time I had got the camera out and ready they would have gone, so instead I enjoyed a fabulous close encounter. The only close-up picture of a mammal I can offer is this young rabbit snapped with my 60mm macro lens today.

bunny

 

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A Mighty Perch has Landed

I will try and make up for the lack of any posts over the last few days by doing a short run through recent times at Blashford. On Thursday the volunteers were again busy on the western shore of Ibsley Water, raking up the grass, nettles, thistles and brambles that Ed and I were cutting. The idea is to encourage grass growth for wintering wildfowl such as wigeon and for them to leave the grass short enough for it to be suitable for lapwing to nest on in the spring. It is  a lot  of work but we are progressing steadily and hopefully we will see the effects this coming winter. It was quite warm and as we worked there were lots of butterflies, especially marbled white, meadow brown and gatekeeper.

gatekeeper

gatekeeper

At the end of the day on Thursday Ed and I set out to complete a project that he had been planning for some time, this was to put up a tall perch well out in Ibsley Water. As Ibsley Water is mostly between four and seven metres deep this was going to be quite a task.

transporting the perch

transporting the perch

After a bit of searching around for the right spot and the application of specialist perch placing skill the job was done.

the perch in place

the perch in place

All we have to do now is wait for the first osprey to land on it! So far all I have seen are common terns.

terns on the perch

terns on the perch

It was my turn to man the reserve on Saturday and despite mostly attending to office work it was a surprisingly varied day. It started with seeing a very smart adult summer plumage turnstone in front of Tern hide.

turnstone - almost a good shot, I knew we should have weeded the shore!

turnstone – almost a good shot, I knew we should have weeded the shore!

It was around all day and I am sure there will have been many good pictures taken of it, but this was my best.

turnstone

turnstone

In recent days there have been several reports of an adult Arctic tern at the Tern hide, apparently it had a ring on one leg. I photographed this one which fitted the bill in that it has a ring and a, more or less, all red bill, however this is still a common tern.

common tern, ringed adult

common tern, ringed adult

At this time of year many adult common terns bills have reduced black tips, or even no black at all, so you need to check other characters as well. In this case these are easily seen as it is perched so close to the hide. The characters to look for are: dark, almost black outer primaries (the long pointed part of the wings), on a common tern these feathers are old and very worn by now, on an Arctic tern they would be much paler grey. The legs of common tern are also longer as is the bill, but these features are of less use unless you have seen lots of Arctic terns. Sadly this shot shows none of the letters or numbers on the ring, but if anyone else gets pictures of this bird it would be great to try and see if we can read the ring and find out where it has come from.

There were also several of the fledged juvenile common terns around as well, soon these will be leaving so it is good to enjoy them whilst they are still here.

common tern, juvenile

common tern, juvenile

As I said I spent much of the day in the office, but got out on various errands as well, one was to respond to a call to say there was a mute swan stuck on the path alongside Rockford Lake.

swan on the path

swan on the path

Swans that land on Ivy Lake get attacked by the resident pair and if they fail to fly off get pushed up the bank and end up on the path where they are unable to get into Rockford Lake due to the fences. After a brief bit of swan wrestling I got the better of it and was able to lift it over the fence to join the non-breeding flock on Rockford Lake.

It was a great day for insects with lots of butterflies, dragonflies and other creatures out and about. I briefly saw a clearwing most but frustratingly failed to either get a picture or identify it before it flew off. It had been nectaring on a burdock plant at the Centre, which also had lots of tiny picture-winged flies on the flower heads.

picture-winged flies

picture-winged flies

The butterflies included lots of comma and this silver-washed fritillary.

silver-washed fritillary

silver-washed fritillary

Dragonflies included brown hawker, common darter, emperor, a probable migrant hawker and this black-tailed skimmer, which I found eating a damselfly.

black-tailed skimmer

black-tailed skimmer, female

How long will it be before the first osprey lands on the new perch? I for one will be very disappointed if there has not been at least one by the end of August.

Other bird sightings during the day included the great white egret on Ivy Lake, a green sandpiper on Rockford Lake and common sandpiper, dunlin, juvenile redshank and a report of a wood sandpiper all on Ibsley Water. I would be keen to hear more about the last record as only one person seems to have seen it despite there being lots of people about all day, it would be good to know a few details as we don’t see many of them at Blashford.

The Admiral, the Mermaid and the Great White

Sea level rise might be a problem eventually but this particular tale of the high seas was an all lake affair! Over the last few days thewarm weather has kicked in again and finally the dragonflies are out in force and the number of butterflies has picked up markedly. There are new red admiral out and about, these could be either new migrants or offspring of earlier arrivals.

red admiral

red admiral

Other species are more certainly home grown, with summer brood individuals of peacock and comma also out and about now.

comma

comma

So having dealt with the “Admiral” and the “,” what about the mermaid? Yesterday I was working with the volunteers to clear the last of the ragwort from the eastern shore of Ibsley Water when we saw……………

mermaid

mermaid

I had always doubted the existence of mermaids, but the camera does not lie, although it can take pictures of large carp. In this case a very large, but dead one, it probably died as a result of the exertions  of spawning.

To wind up the marine theme, as I opened up the Ivy North  hide today the great white egret was standing outside by the reedbed, I say “the” because it was our regular colour-ringed bird, which has returned to us each year since it first came in August 2003. It generally arrives between mid July and early September and leaves between the end of January and early March.

A Touch of Frost

With three millimetres of rain and overnight temperature a low single figure, it certainly feels more like autumn now.

The final butterfly transects, we have been monitoring them now since early April, were completed this week. The surveyors haven’t been bothered by huge numbers of butterflies, although understand we still have quite a few speckled wood butterflies,

speckled wood

speckled wood

 

37 were seen on the north transect, plus a good number of comma (16) and five red admiral on the south section.

Other signs of autumn are the burgeoning numbers of fungi, like this troop, of I believe lycoperdon sp.(?),  I saw beside the path.

 

lycoperdon species?

lycoperdon species?

Whilst bird numbers aren’t particularly spectacular yet, the range of species is increasing slowly. One lucky couple saw what they are sure was a honey buzzard in the Ibsley Water area.  More prosaically I only managed a few of the more common species, like this lapwing

lapwing

lapwing

and a couple of young little grebe, or dabchick, with a coot.

coot and dabchick

coot and dabchick

 

A final flurry of, mostly fairly inconspicuous, flowers is providing a little colour around the place, but most are well past their best.

P1540544 geranium

cut-leaved geranium(?)

common storksbill

common storksbill

dark mullein

dark mullein

On the ‘light  trap’ front, we are still attracting hornets,

hornet

hornet

 

but a number of colourful moths as well.

pink-barred sallow

pink-barred sallow

 

frosted orange

frosted orange

angle shades

angle shades

Pleasant morning for a stroll…

Coming towards the end of what has been a busy summer for the education team, and making the most of a short lull before things pick up again in the autumn, I decided to take advantage of that, and the warm (but not too hot!) weather to reacquaint myself with some parts of the reserve that I have been neglecting whilst busy with teaching or catching up on the administration that goes with managing the centre, and at the same time trim back some brambles and nettles and make sure that the ponies grazing the Ibsley Water shore were still okay.

Small white, green veined white, speckled wood, red admiral and comma butterflies were all in evidence across the reserve, but the most common insect by far seemed to be common darter – these two were photographed in tandem between Lapwing and Goosander Hide:

Common darter

Common darter

As I have missed them earlier in the year I also had a quick look for cherry plums and thought I was going to be disappointed, but did find a couple of late fruiting tree’s which obliged me with a handful of tasty fruit. Earlier in the summer there was much more in the way of windfalls which the badgers apparently adore. Even with much less fruit available to them, they are obviously still snuffling them out as this quite fresh, stone filled, dropping clearly demonstrates:

Badger dropping - note the plum stones.

Badger dropping – note the plum stones.

However with the fruit now a bit more scarce than it was there was also evidence of them turning to other food:

Badger excavated wasps nest

Badger excavated wasps nest

Wasps often build their nests underground in old mouse or vole holes and badgers do love to munch on the larva. I know the wasps are probably a bit dopey when the badgers dig them out but I can’t help thinking that those larva must really taste divine for the badgers to risk the stings to their snouts and mouths that they must surely be subject to. Either that or they like their food “spicey”!

Other notable sightings included hobby over Ivy Lake and a common sandpiper on Ibsley Water. The wet weather and decidedly autumnal change in temperatures has also seen a few different species of fungi emerge, some of which I do not know, but which do include parasol fungus, shaggy ink cap and chicken of the woods.

The light trap had no surprises, though a reasonable selection of common moths, including a very worn poplar hawkmoth and this, pictured here because I am not entirely sure what it is, but think it may be a flounced rustic?

Flounced rustic?

Flounced rustic?

The commonest catch in the trap by far was actually a shield bug of which there were 9 individuals  –

Red-legged shield bug

Red-legged shield bug

Finally a plea for help:

We are lucky at Blashford Lakes, certainly compared with other more urban reserves, to avoid much in the way of vandalism or other inappropriate behaviour, although it does happen from time to time and sometimes/something’s more regularly than others. One such incident is that of people, presumably young people, and no doubt young men at that, using Tern Hide car park for reckless driving and pulling “doughnut” stunts – potentially dangerous for them and other visitors, but not necessarily harmful to the reserve. This summer however there have been a number of incidents of people driving across the lichen heath outside the water treatment works adjacent to the lower car park and this is massively damaging to what is a very fragile and rare habitat. A couple of weekends ago due to the damper conditions, a lot of damage to the invertebrate, flora and lichen populations was done:

Evidence of irresponsible idiots.

Evidence of irresponsible idiots on the lichen heath.

We know that this occurred during the day, we think on the Sunday, but did not see anything and nor was anything reported – and this is where you come in. If you do ever see any behaviour on the reserve that you do not think should be happening, be it fishing, trespassing off the footpaths,  fungus harvesting (and by that I don’t mean the odd mushroom here and there, but wholesale gathering of everything, which, sadly, does happen), dangerous driving, or anything else, please do take a note of whatever details you can, including registration numbers and model/makes in the case of a vehicle, and let us know so we can do what we can to reduce or prevent such incidents in the future – thank you!

Bank Holiday blues

Welcome, from a soggy Blashford Lakes Reserve. As is customary we have another damp and dismal Bank Holiday Monday (10mm of rain overnight and it hasn’t stopped raining all day), but there are a few folk here making the most of the situation.

Not terribly inspiring for bird watching and most self respecting insects are keeping well out of sight today, so I’ll just share a few pictures, taken last Friday, when covering the Butterfly Survey transect on the south of the Reserve.

Green-veined white butterflies were the most common on the transect and arguably THE most common butterfly in the U.K. with a wide geographic range (absent only from Orkney and Shetland) and having two or even three broods (in good years).  An innocuous butterfly, its caterpillars don’t damage cultivated cabbages, unlike their close cousins the large white  and small white, but lay their eggs on wild relatives of these plants. An active butterfly its quite difficult to identify from small white when in flight, I’m guessing that many ‘non-butterfliers’  probably wouldn’t even have heard of them – I know I hadn’t before taking more interest in these insects.

Most common butterfly - Green-veined White

Most common butterfly – Green-veined White

Green-veined white butterflies are very much a species of damp and marshy places near hedgerows and woodland edges, so the Reserve is ideal habitat for them – especially today.

Overall the number of butterflies to be seen has dropped off lately as the temperature falls  and sunshine has decreased with only 21 butterflies of four/five species ( including ‘unknown’ White) seen last Friday, although I believe the transect on the north side of the Reserve was more productive. The brightest and  most colourful was this Comma.

Comma - so named from the tiny white 'comma shaped' mark on the underside of the hind wing

Comma – so named from the tiny white ‘comma shaped’ mark on the underside of the hind wing

The common name of this butterfly, and even the scientific name Polygonia c-album, refer to this tiny mark (if my rusty knowledge of Latin is correct c-album = ‘ white c’), but it’s really quite inconspicuous unless you know to look for it.  I guess the naming dates back to the time when collectors could study these things at their leisure as it was  ‘O.K.’ to catch these beautiful insects and handle them, before killing and mounting them in collections

In greater profusion than all the butterflies were common blue damselflies which were just about everywhere, gently skimming over the tops of shrubbery and settling, usually briefly, before being disturbed by another damselfly. The males were most conspicuous, with their electric blue colouration,  whilst the females were difficult to pick out, especially if motionless as they stayed perched up.  I’ll admit that I find it easier to identify the species of a male damselfly, like ducks as opposed to drakes, the females are more drably marked.

Dragonflies and damselflies are spectacularly visual insects, the relative size of their eyes is a bit of a give-a-way, so I’m guessing that males can easily identify their prospective mating partners from a mixed assortment of, to us, similar looking females of other species.  As a safeguard to prevent cross breeding  I understand that the claspers (anal appendages) on a male can only latch on successfully to the neck of a female of the same species to create the mating position called the ‘heart’ or ‘cartwheel’ position.  Whilst so engaged they are easier to photograph as they seem somewhat ‘distracted’ and less likely to fly off suddenly – can’t think why!

pair of common blue damselflies

pair of common blue damselflies in cartwheel position

Dragonflies were also out and about, hopeless trying to photograph them whilst flying (the dragonflies – not me!) with my little camera, but when they hang-up briefly there’s a chance of a quick shot.   Missed the southern hawker, but this migrant hawker was more obliging.

Migrant hawker

Migrant hawker

Common darter are living up to their name, by a) being quite common (20 plus seen easily – don’t know how many we missed) and  b) perching up and ‘darting’ out before returning to the same perch, making them relatively easy to photograph.

Common darter

Common darter

The butterfly transect should notionally take about an hour and a half, but we managed to stretch it to two hours, having been ‘distracted’ by some quite delicious blackberries along the way. Whilst engaged in this activity a strange bug hopped onto my hand and demanded to have it’s picture taken.

Dock bug?

Dock bug?

Searching the literature – and online – I think its a dock bug (Coreus marginatus) , though not a fully grown one, as these appear to have a more definite darker patch on their abdomen.  One of the family ‘Leatherbugs’ of which there are eleven species in the U.K. and five in the new Forest (Paul D. Brock : A photographic guide to Insects of the New Forest) this is apparently the most common and easily found.

I’ll close with an update from the rain gauge – 22mm (nearly an inch in real terms)  and rising!!

 

Pictures from the Purple Patch

It’s often been said, ( although, probably only  by me!) that a lot of the conservation work at Blashford is  ‘ a bit like gardening, but on an industrial scale‘ .  Today I was doing what, to me,  is one of the more pleasant gardening tasks of dead heading the buddleia.   We don’t have much buddleia left on the reserve, it’s a terribly invasive non-native plant and as such doesn’t really belong here so it’s largely being eradicated from the more wild parts of the reserve, with only one plant left near the Centre.  It is, however, a great nectar source for insects and removing the seed heads encourages more flower to form.  So what could be finer on a pleasantly warm day than a little light pruning whilst seeped in a heady fragrance and being constantly visited by comma, small tortoiseshell, green-veined white, silver-washed fritillary and peacock butterflies and also this smart red admiral.

 

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

The rich lilac/purple flowers of the buddleia are mirrored by many other flowers at the moment – indeed the reserve is going through a ‘purple patch; as evidenced by the flower-heads of creeping thistle, teasel and marjoram

creeping thistle

creeping thistle

 

Teasel

Teasel

 

Marjoram

Marjoram

All of which were within about four metres of the buddleia.

In fact I didn’t really need to go more than a few paces to see …

Green-veined white butterflies on marjoram

Green-veined white butterflies on marjoram

Southern hawker dragonfly

Southern hawker dragonfly

Common Lizard playing 'peek-a-boo' on fencing around the pond

Common Lizard playing ‘peek-a-boo’ on fencing around the pond

and perhaps most unexpected this small furry mammal taking advantage of  the largess provided by some spikes of seeds ( sorrel I think) close by the pick-nick benches

mouse or vole

mouse?

After my embarrassing faux-pas over the bee/hoverfly last week ( thanks to those who put me right) I’m reluctant to put a name to this  —  I just know there are really knowledgeable folks out there who can tell us.

And a final flourish was this rather posey small tortoiseshell who insisted on sharing a pick-nick bench with me.

Small tortoiseshell

Small tortoiseshell

As I say all this from, almost, a single position – can’t be bad…

Spring Firsts – a ‘betwixt and between’ day

In the previous two years, when it had been my task to lead our early spring walk on the reserve, the weather had been, to say the least, indifferent. Last year at this time you may remember we had recently had a brief spell of snow and it was still quite cold. But, as they say, what a difference a year makes, and today we were treated to a fabulously pleasant spell of sunshine and temperatures that were almost summer-like. Having said that, though, you can’t hurry nature and wildlife will do what it will do in its own time. We were still lucky enough to catch up with a number of duck species in the form of wigeon, teal, shoveler, goldeneye, pintail, tufted duck, goosander, mallard and gadwall. although many of their kin have left us to breed in more northern climes. Great-crested grebe are now looking splendid with their golden brown crest feathers. The common scoter, reported yesterday, was elusive or more likely has moved on. Later in the day there was a report of a  pair of mandarin seen on Ivy Lake.

Spring firsts were also a little elusive, although the increased level of birdsong was most welcome. From near the Lapwing Hide a Cetti’s warbler, one  of this country’s two truly resident warblers, was ‘tuning-up’ and giving a somewhat subdued and fragmentary version of its usual piercing song. For most of the year they are birds which are quite difficult to see, but  the next few weeks is a good time to look for them as they set up their territories and get a little bolder, sometimes perching out quite openly.

Perhaps the most evocative indication of spring were the four, or five, chiffchaff giving out their onomatopoeic song.  Another indicator of warmer conditions were the numbers of butterflies scuttling through the reserve. We must have had sightings of close to twenty brimstone  and several peacock and a couple of comma butterflies.   The brimstone were a little too active, but the other two have the good manners to settle openly on the path, inviting us to take their pictures.

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly

 

 

Comma buttterfly

Comma butterfly

I sometimes wonder what possessed the people who gave names to our wildlife. The comma is a quite distinctive orange-brown and black butterfly with scalloped wings, quite unlike other U.K. butterflies, yet its name derives from a small, almost inconspicuous, comma shaped white mark on an otherwise dark underside of the wings.

All in all a quite uplifting day with the promise of many exciting things to come in the next few weeks. The end of the day was quite unremarkable, quite unlike the dramatically coloured sunset that I saw yesterday from my home.

Sunset from yesterday

Sunset from yesterday

 

Phew!! What a scorcher. – now you know I’ve run out of ideas for titles!!!

In a somewhat ironic (or iconic) piece of fortune the first mini-beast of the day was a gatekeeper butterfly which buzzed me as I opened up the gate to the Tern Hide car-park.

Gatekeeper or Hedge brown - keeping an eye on our gate!!

Gatekeeper or Hedge brown – keeping an eye on our gate!!

Other butterflies are really making their presence felt – not before time, following the unusually cold ( do you remember that?) spring.  A red admiral has been floating around the Education Centre and without moving too far away it’s been possible to see both large white and small white, meadow brown, speckled wood, peacock, comma, brimstone and what was almost certainly a silver-washed fritillary scuttling through.  Many of them will have been looking for nectar sources, but the plants that always used to be cited as the ‘butterfly bush’ , buddleia , have yet to produce much in the way of flowers– possibly another effect of the cold spring.

A gentle stroll around the path between Ellingham Water and Dockens water, ostensibly to do a bit of trimming back of overhanging branches and invasive brambles, produced a few bonuses in terms of dragonflies and damselflies including a fine male emperor dragonfly, a couple of brown hawker and numerous common blue damselflies,and one beautiful demoiselle. Only a keeled skimmer stayed still long enough to have its picture taken and that was from some distance away.

Keeled skimmer

A more obvious pair of megafauna graced us with a fleeting glimpse, as a female roe deer and her fawn dashed across the lichen heath.

Along the path heading south towards the Iron Age hut there are a number of broad-leaved helleborine, which are only just starting to come into flower. Disappointingly a number of them have been decapitated, probably having been nibbled by deer.  There were, however, several intact specimens, which even before fully flowering have a delightfully sweeping architectural shape.

Broad-leaved Helleborine

Broad-leaved Helleborine

but only one that had started to bloom.

Broad-leaved helleborine

First flowering spike of broad-leaved helleborine

Helleborines are in the orchid family, a fascinating group of plants with more different members than any other family of vascular plants. Genetically they are rather complicated with more DNA than many more complex plants and animals including ourselves. As a group that is currently rapidly evolving many hybrids may be formed and for this reason may present  challenges to anyone wishing to identify the species. Given my track record on plant ID, I might be foolish, but I’m pretty sure these are broad-leaved helleborine…

As it’s the time of year for interesting insects I’ll finish, as usual, with a few moths.

Pinion

Pinion

Pale prominent

Pale prominent

Small scallop

Small scallop

Damsels finally sighted…

Michelle and I are now well and truly in the throes of what is always a hectic summer term of teaching, so apologies for the lack of pictures to accompany this entry, but, yes, at long last, yesterday (and today) large red damselflies can finally be seen winging their way around the nature reserve and particularly by the Centre pond, where no doubt many emerged recently as nymphs. The last day in April was remarkably late considering they are regularly first seen in March. Also reported today were first sightings of a few butterfly firsts of the year, including orangetip, speckled wood and comma.

The BTO Constant Effort Site bird ringing survey begins as of tomorrow, so morning visitors may be aware of activity in the vicinity of Lapwing Hide with the intention of building up on-going long-term information about the bird life of this part of the nature reserve and population trends, with the primary interest being the warblers that breed and feed in the reed and scrub here, though of course other birds will also be ringed and contribute further to our knowledge of bird population trends both within the reserve and nationally. The bird ringers are very happy to talk to visitors about what they are doing but please do not disturb the nets, particularly when they are being deployed for the survey work.

Another warning for visitors tomorrow is that subject to weather the volunteers may be “painting” the exterior of the Tern Hide – it needs doing while the sun is shining and while there are no birds nesting outside to disturb, so apologies to any visitors that this may impact upon.