On Show and No Show

When I arrived at Blashford on Friday afternoon to join our brilliant volunteer team for the annual “Thank you” event I was greeted with news that there had been a water shrew seen on “Pondcam”, I was a very envious! Water shrews are aquatic hunters of invertebrates and even small fish. They have long hairs on their feet and under-tail which aid swimming and are as frantic underwater as their terrestrial cousins are on land.

They are not uncommon, but not easy to see and so probably very under recorded. Just as I was bemoaning my bad luck there was a swirl of debris in front of the camera and it was back! A frenetic silver predator scattering everything before it. They look silver underwater due to the layer of air trapped in their fur. Although great swimmers they also hunt on land taking larger prey than other native shrews as befits their greater size, they are about twice the weight of a common shrew.

Blashford Lakes clocked up another “First” for Hampshire this weekend when a Thayer’s gull was found in the roost on Ibsley Water at dusk on Sunday. The finder was also responsible for the last county first found at Blashford, last autumn’s lesser scaup. Both of these species are from the western side of the Atlantic. The gull breeds in high Arctic Canada and mostly winters on the Pacific coast of Canada and the USA. Although considered as having a population of only a few thousand pairs it has been occurring with increasing frequency on the east coast of N. America and very rarely in W. Europe. Although usually listed as a full species it seems quite possible that it will be “lumped” in with Iceland gull and Kumlien’s gull, they are structurally very, very similar.

Not unexpectedly when I returned to Blashford this evening, after spending most of the day at Fishlake Meadow, there was a good crowd gathered in the hope of seeing the Thayer’s gull. Sadly they were disappointed, as it never showed up. I was not too surprised as the few Iceland gulls that have appeared in the roost over the years have almost always only been there on one evening, still it was a shame and there is still a chance it is around somewhere locally.

 

Nearly the end of the summer holidays – and at last summer is here!

I’m camping with my family again this weekend – nothing too adventurous, just a few miles down the road from home at a campsite in the Forest! Doesn’t matter where it is though, its just being away from home and the kids being able to run riot with the extended family and friends and their families who are all there too. We haven’t had much luck weather wise with our camping this year so I’m looking forward to packing away a DRY tent on Monday!

In the meantime despite all the early signs of autumn (blackberries and blackberry pickers, volunteer Geoff bringing in his windfall apples from home for the birds (and other wildlife!) outside Woodland Hide, late morning dew-laden grass and cobwebs, hirundines gathering in pre-migration flocks, common and green sandpipers on the shore (and even a woodsandpiper outside Tern Hide on Wednesday and Thursday this week), the sun is shining here at Blashford too – and it is bringing out the butterflies again at last too! The volunteers who walk the butterfly transects on a weekly basis have had their best counts for a while, and sightings this week have included clouded yellow and  grayling – my lunch by the pond today was a fiesta of brimstones, green veined white and small tortoiseshell. This female common darter was reasonably obliging too – until it decided that my hand was a better perch!

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Like the butterflies, dragonflies are fairly active again now after a bit of a lull with the poorer weather and there was even a report of a ruddy darter by the pond earlier in the week although the visitor who reported it could not be 100% as it had only been a glimpse, albeit of a very red dragonfly which he was sure was not a common darter, so keep your eyes open for us – ruddy darter are not a common sight on the reserve by any means, although the common darter very much can be in some autumns.

Our volunteers recording reptiles on the northerly transect had a good week this week too – 4 adders, 4 grass snakes and an additional 9 newly “born” juvenile adders, which is great news (unless you don’t like snakes that is, in which case look away now!):

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Three baby adders by one of the survey tins

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Another juvenile adder on the side of the path – please watch where you are walking!

Visitors and photographers continue to gather in Goosander Hide to enjoy and photograph the all too obliging kingfishers, who continue to oblige! With so many eyes on Ibsley Water they’re picking up plenty of other exciting birds too – Sunday and the start of this week had marsh harrier pasing through on several occasions and on Thursday morning Dee was lucky enough to not just see, but photograph, this honey buzzard coming through:

Honey buzzard by Dee Maddams

Honey buzzard over Ibsley Water by Dee Maddams

 

Tracy and I have had another busy week playing (I know, I know, but it really is hard work, honest!).

This weeks Wild Days Out have included a “Wild Challenge” day which went really well and were thoroughly enjoyed by everyone, although sadly bookings were not as great as the other events this summer so it was a privileged few who participated in the fun and testing team activities in the end. They elected to challenge themselves as a girls vs. a boys team and needless to say, it was the boys who won…! Actually that is entirely unfair – the girls took and held an early lead and only just lost out (72 points to the boys 76!) in the very last activity of the day! A good time was had by all, but I think the girls (probably quite rightly!) felt robbed! Haven’t got any pictures to share as there were a number of children for whom we did not have photographic consent, but IO can tell you that the highlights were the natural tinder fire lighting challenge, the “Rapidough” style clay sculpting challenge and the “Kims” game plant identification & memory challenge!

Wednesday was the turn of the younger 5-8 year olds to join us, this week for nothing more complicated than a fairly freeform “wild play day” of firelighting, den building, bug hunting, mud/clay play and “natural painting” with clay, charcoal, chalk and blackberries and a water fight! Just to ramp up the pressure on what otherwise would have been a fairly relaxed day for us as staff “Ofsted” were here to inspect the quality and safety of our provision. We did of course pass with no problems, just a couple of suggested amendments to some of our recruitment procedures, but I have to say I was pleased to when she let me know we had passed and left so I could get on with the more serious business of playing and could relax again!

Bug hunting was very much the order of the day and it was nice to see banded demoiselle as opposed to the beautiful demoiselle we see normally at Blashford alongside the other damselflies and grasshoppers, crickets etc. in the grass. Caterpillars were also very much in evidence, including a “woolly bear” (tiger moth?) caterpillar and this goat moth caterpillar which REALLY fascinated them!

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Not a bug, but equally fascinating was a common shrew (I “tweeted” a picture at the time but I have managed to delete the picture off my phone so can’t share it here sadly!), who was either too hungry to worry about the 6 or so children that were crowded around it at any one time, or too young to know that it was supposed to be afraid and run away! In the end we carefully moved it away from curious eyes (and the fingers that were starting to become inquisitive!) into some long grass and some peace and quiet!

The day finished with an “environmentally responsible” water fight – okay, you can probably never really have a truly environmentally friendly water fight, but a couple of buckets of water and a load of sponges must come pretty close and are so much more “eco” than little rubber balloons or lengthy hosepipe battles… and it was a lot of fun!

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AND FINALLY, in all senses of the word, having started with a mention of my family, I shall finish with my family and specifically my eldest son Toby. AGES ago he took it upon himself to raise some money for Blashford Lakes by making and selling some fairy cakes to our neighbours – all his own idea and all his own work. His collection sat around at home for a while, and then my desk for a while and I have kept meaning to properly acknowledge his contribution and completely failing to do so – until now:

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It isn’t a huge amount in the grand scheme of things, but all donations are always very gratefully received at Blashford Lakes and by the Trust generally, and I know for a fact that this is a pretty reasonable sum to Toby anyway, so Toby, THANK YOU and I’m only sorry I didn’t say thank you sooner!

They were good cakes too 😉