Meanwhile, Back at Blashford

Whilst Tracy was off roaming the southern side of the Forest with the Young Naturalists, I was back at Blashford where Sunday was very pleasantly sunny and warm. As the week ahead looks grey and damp, it was likely to be the best day of the week for butterflies and a good opportunity to get the transects done. Although numbers of butterflies are declining as the spring species decline there are a few summer ones starting to appear, the last couple of days have seen the first common blue and brown argus on the wing. Thanks to Blashford’s brilliant volunteers for organising and doing the butterfly transects.

brown argus

The first brown argus of the year (well my first at least).

I also finally saw my first grass snake of the year too, perhaps not strictly my first as I did find a freshly dead one a couple of weeks ago, probably killed by a buzzard. This live one was rather unexpectedly crossing the open gravel behind the Education Centre.

grass snake

grass snake on gravel

Although it has been sunny recently it was still quite cool in the persistent north or north-east wind, this changed on Saturday and the extra warmth seemed to prompt large numbers of damselflies top emerge, I must have seen many hundreds on Sunday, mostly common blue damselflies, but including large red, azure and beautiful demoiselle.

common blue damselfly

common blue damselfly (male), still not quiet fully coloured up.

It is very pleasing to see that two of our projects are showing signs of success again. The tern rafts are used every year, but it gets harder each year to stop them all being claimed by gulls, timing in putting them out is the key. By Monday there were at least 20 common tern on the rafts so hopefully this will be enough to fend of the gulls. The other project, the sand martin wall, has had more mixed fortunes. After a few years of success to start with it fell out of favour with none nesting for several years, but this year they are back! Not in huge numbers but a visit to Goosander hide is well worth the effort.

A number of people have asked me recently when the “new” path from the main car park to Goosander hide will open, regular visitors will have noted that the work was completed some months ago now. Unfortunately the answer is still “I don’t know” but rest assured I will make it known when it is open. The hold up is not of our making, but to do with the process of transfer from previous occupiers via our landlord and the meeting of various planning and other requirements.

The change to more south-westerly winds has reduced migrant activity, but the reserve has still seen a some waders passing through in the last few days, on Sunday a sanderling with a peg-leg was by Tern hide and today a turnstone was on Long Spit (as I have decided to christen the new island we created to the east of Tern hide this spring). Both these are high Arctic breeders and only occasional visitors to Blashford.

Progress Against an Invader

Thursday at Blashford is volunteer day and we had a good turn out of fourteen for our first Himalayan balsam pull of the year. After many years of pulling this plant we have very significantly reduced the population and it is nowhere the dominant plant. The advantage of doing the first sweep early in the season is that we remove a significant number of plants but also get an idea of where the main problem areas are and so where to concentrate on our later visit. Pleasingly we found no more than a couple of hundred plants on about half the length of the stream, enough to suggest that there is still a seed source upstream  somewhere but not so many that it is having a serious impact on native wildlife.

The common terns are finally taking some interest in the rafts on Ivy Lake, although they are still not really taking control of any in numbers sufficient to deter the black-headed gulls. I tried putting out another raft during the afternoon in the hope that a new one might tempt them in. The gulls often just loaf around on the rafts, but have the annoying habit of bringing reeds and sticks and leaving them scattered  over the surface. I suspect they are mostly young adults, as the older birds started nesting a couple of weeks ago, a few may eventually build a proper nest, but in the meantime their practice efforts are putting off the terns.

Generally things were quite across the reserve, most of the birds are now nesting or getting ready to do so. Our visitor form North America, the Bonaparte’s gull is still to be seen, although it does not now attract more than the occasional admirer. I did manage to get a slightly better picture of it, which does show a couple of the differences from black-headed gull. You can see the slightly smaller size and overall thinner, more “pointed” look. Now that it is getting a summer plumage hood you can also see that this is blacker than that of black-headed gull, which is actually chocolate brown.

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull (right)

A very noticeable feature of the past week has been the huge increase in the numbers of damselflies around the reserve. Common blue and azure damselflies are now out in numbers, but the large red damselfly, typically the commonest spring species is very hard to find, perhaps due to the very poor April weather last year.

 

 

Mothless, well Almost

Yesterday I ran a “Moth event” at Blashford, unfortunately I forgot to tell the moths and there were probably more human participants than moths! Usually late August is a good time for catching large numbers of moths, but big catches require warm, calm nights following warm settled days. What we had was a windy, mostly clear night following a rather stormy day.

Luckily the day got more settled as it went on, at least until late afternoon anyway. This brought out good numbers of insects, including as many dragonflies as I have seen this year. Around the reserve I saw several brown hawker, southern and migrant hawkers, an egg-laying emperor dragonfly and a fair few common darter. Damselflies included common blue, azure, red-eyed, small red-eyed and blue-tailed.

Butterflies were rather fewer, most that I saw were whites, with all three common species near the Centre. Out on the reserve a few meadow brown and gatekeeper are still flying and speckled wood are increasing again. Near the Lapwing hide I saw both red admiral and painted lady, perhaps indicating some continued arrival of passage insects.

The sunshine in the middle of the day brought out reptiles as well and I saw two grass snake and an adder. The adder was very fat and I suspect a female which will shortly be giving birth, since adders have live young rather than laying eggs as grass snakes do.

adder

adder

I have heard reports of wasp spider being seen around the reserve recently and today I finally saw one.

wasp spider

wasp spider

This is a female, the males are much, much smaller and wander about seeking the females.

I had hoped for a few different birds, following the rough weather, perhaps a few terns, but there was little change form the past week. A few extra waders were the best that could be found, 2 dunlin, 2 oystercatcher, 2 common sandpiper, 1 redshank and the pick of the day, 3 greenshank, although they only flew through. There are starting to be a few more ducks around, I saw 8 shoveler and 3 teal, but there are still no wigeon on the reserve, although they should not be far away. Away for the water looking up there were 2 raven, and single hobby and peregrine. Whilst low over the water before the day warmed there were 1000+ sand martin and c200 house martin.

Perhaps the sighting of the day for many visitors though was the female roe deer that spent part of the morning in front of the Woodland hide.

roe deer at Woodland hide 3

roe deer doe at the Woodland hide

 

Wildlife roundup

Very aware of the recent lack of postings – with Bob away the last couple of weeks and Tracy and I leading groups or events every day time has been a precious commodity!

Tracy is planning on writing a post summarising our summer holiday activities over the last few days on Monday so I won’t dwell on that other than to say what ever she writes about me when she does post, take with a pinch of salt!

😉

It does seem that after a coolish spell with a few short, sharp showers we might be getting a bit of a summer again. The insects are certainly benefitting from the better weather with more dragonflies, moth and butterflies on the wing across the reserve.

Brown hawkers are the dragonfly of the moment and are flying in good numbers. A tricky insect to photograph the damselflies are always much more obliging – thanks to Stephen Parris for sending in his picture of a common blue:

Common blue damselfly by Stephen Parris

Common blue damselfly by Stephen Parris

You won’t thank me for pointing it out, but in the light trap there was plenty of evidence of the season moving on – many autumnal moths are yellow, presumably an evolutionary trait that provides better camouflage amongst the woodland canopy as the leaves begin to turn. The attractive canary shouldered thorn is by far the most common moth in the trap this week:

IMG_20160806_094822

Canary shouldered thorn

IMG_20160806_095541

Scalloped oak

IMG_20160806_094521

Herald

On the spider front wasp spiders are becoming more visible – I saw my first about 3 weeks ago when one was caught by a group sweep netting in the meadow area by Ivy North Hide, but not seen any there since, but this week reports of small females are coming in from the usual spot in the rush on the approach to Goosander Hide. In addition regular visitor Garry Prescott spotted a couple of small raft spiders on the centre pond this morning.

The kingfishers will no doubt have had a good breeding year again this year and they are certainly much in evidence around the site and this years fledged youngsters from one of the families along the river is once more starting to make camp outside Goosander Hide this week. Saw two opening up this morning, one to the right of this picture below but much too small at that distance for me to get a picture of so settled for the grey heron instead!

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Ivy North Hide

Finally reptiles are much in evidence again with the better weather – grass snakes are still basking in front of Ivy South Hide, although not as frequently as they have done. Instead the best spot to check is the fallen alders over the Ivy Silt Pond on the approach to Ivy South Hide where at least one and often three can be seen basking on the tree trunks over the water. Adder are worth keeping an eye open for along the path edges on the approach to Lapwing Hide too! Thanks to Martin King for dropping off some great pictures of an Ivy South Hide grass snake, including this one, my particular favourite!

Grass Snake by Martin King (2)_resize

Grass Snake by Martin King

 

 

 

 

Row, row, row your boat

As yesterday was so gloriously sunny, our Young Naturalists enjoyed a day exploring the further reaches of the reserve and finishing off a fun task started back in January at our volunteer get together.

We began the day though with our usual rummage through the light trap, where the group were thrilled with a good selection to identify, their best so far this year. Our haul included the following: white ermine, cinnabar, treble lines, poplar hawkmoth, common marbled carpet, marbled brown, orange footman, common white wave, angle shades, light brocade, brown silver lines, common pug and marbled minor. Here are a few photographs taken by Young Naturalist Talia Felstead:

Common marbled carpet

Common marbled carpet

Cinnabar

Cinnabar

Poplar hawkmoth

Poplar hawkmoth

Light brocade

Light brocade

Marbled brown

Marbled brown

White ermine

White ermine

IMG_1543

Angle shades

It was then time to undertake a practical task with a difference, the lining of the coracle made earlier in the year at our volunteer get together. Coracles are small oval shaped boats traditionally used in Wales, but also in parts of western and south western England, Ireland and Scotland. Designed for use in swiftly flowing streams they have been in use for centuries, primarily by fishermen.

The structure is usually made up of a framework of split and interwoven willow rods, a material which we have plenty of here on the reserve, so it seemed silly not to take the plunge (literally) and attempt our own Blashford coracle.

Coracle frame

Our willow framework and wooden seat

The group were up for the challenge of finishing it off, cutting a slightly less traditional liner out of some left over pond liner from Testwood Lakes – thank you Testwood! This outer layer would have originally been an animal skin, covered with a thin layer of tar to make it fully waterproof. Today this has been replaced with tarred calico or canvas, with the Blashford way being whatever we could lay our hands on. So pond liner it was!

We carefully cut the liner to size, before Bella came up with the idea of looping cord through slits cut in the liner and weaving it in and out of the liner and willow rods. It was then time to take it down to the river for the all important will it float test…funnily enough no one else was brave or silly enough to give it a go:

She floats

Looking slightly dubious

Looking concerned

Getting ready…

 

Excitingly, it floats rather well, I think to the disbelief of some of the Young Naturalists, and possibly volunteers! So now we can get cracking with the rest of the flotilla…with plans already in place for a coracle themed Wild Day Out for the older children in the summer holidays.

After lunch we headed over to the northern side of the reserve on a wildlife hunt. We quickly spotted large numbers of Common blue damselflies sunning themselves on the gravel, moving a little further ahead as we approached them:

Common blue 3

Common blue damselfly

We headed up to Lapwing hide where on entering we were greeted with this view of a Canada goose with seven goslings:

Canada goose goslings 2

Canada goose goslings

Canada goose goslings 3

Canada goose with goslings

We stayed for a while, spotting a couple of herons, a little grebe and watching a Common tern fishing over Ibsley Water before perching on one of the posts:

Common tern

Common tern

On our way back, Edie somehow spotted this Elephant hawkmoth in the long grass to the right of the path:

Elephant hawk moth

Elephant hawkmoth

Finally, our last wildlife spot was this Beautiful demoiselle, which perched beautifully for a photo:

Beautiful demoiselle 2

Beautiful demoiselle

Thanks Talia for taking the photos!

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

Beetles and Bugs

It is ages since I spent a Sunday at Blashford, but this weekend I got to fill in for the regulars as they were all occupied elsewhere. The day was a fair bit better than forecast and in the morning we enjoyed some warm sunshine which brought out a range of insects.

I have only seen a couple of dragonflies so far this year but I have seen thousands of damselflies. Two of the commonest are the very similar common blue damselfly and the azure damselfly. I managed to get a picture of a common blue today, although I could not get close enough to an azure.

common blue damselfly

common blue damselfly

The only other damselfly I got a picture of was a blue-tailed damselfly, one of the few species that can withstand slightly polluted or brackish water and so one of the most widespread species.

blue-tailed damselfly

blue-tailed damselfly

There is a very similar species that I would very much like to find at Blashford, the scarce blue-tailed damselfly, it is found in the New Forest and does wander so there is a chance it will turn up one day.

It was quite a days for beetles and I came across several including this brilliant red-headed cardinal beetle.

red-headed cardinal beetle

red-headed cardinal beetle

Whilst at lunchtime I spotted several figwort weevils including this pair.

figwort weevil pair

figwort weevil pair

Various other insects were out and about too including hoverflies like this Helophilus pendulus.

Helophilus pendulus

Helophilus pendulus

I also saw a lot of scorpion-flies today, these are not actually flies in the true sense. There are three very similar species and I don’t know which one the picture shows as I seem to remember that only the males are at all easy to identify and this one is a female.

scorpion-fly

scorpion-fly

Of course when there are lots of insects flying about there will be spiders catching them, one of the most distinctive and common is the very slender Tetragnatha extensa.

Tetragnatha extensa

Tetragnatha extensa

I spent the greater part of the day in the office, but when I did venture out it seemed that the day was quiet, at least for birds. Highlights were the drake pochard still on Ibsley Water, the lapwing chicks still surviving near the Tern hide and the oystercatcher pair having settled down on the small island close to the same hide.

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!!