30 Days Wild – Day 29 – Almost there!

When I met Tracy at Blashford she mentioned a large wasp nest that had been made at the Tern Hide, so when I went over there on my site check I took a look. I am not sure how I had missed it before.

wasp nest 2

wasp nest

The nests are made of chewed up wood pulp, essentially paper and the hides are often a favourite source, the sound of scraping wasp jaws is one that summer hide visitors will know well. If the hide were open this nest would be a problem as it is very near the door, but as it is not and I doubt it will be anytime soon, I think I can leave it alone.

Returning to the Centre a visitor then told me of another wasp nest, this time under a sign near the car park.

wasp nest 1

another wasp nest – 2 in one day

This one will need to be avoided as it is under the sign and not obvious so easy to inadvertently get very close to. We have put out a sign and I will fix up a temporary fence to keep people at a safe distance.

We have several species of social wasps in the UK, I am pretty sure that both of these nests are the same species though, the common wasp Vespula vulgaris.

I went down to check on the common tern rafts and am pleased to say they are still doing well, with lots of fast growing chicks making good use of the shelters.

terns raft and chicks

tern raft and chicks

It is not a great picture, but you can see the chicks, especially grouped around the left hand shelter. There is a good way to go yet,  but this is great progress in a season when I had feared I would get no rafts out for them.

30 Days Wild – Day 18

Day 18 was the day the rain came to Blashford, now that we are open, at least in a limited way, it also brought a few visitors, although not many. The rain is welcome after a very long dry spell, but it is unfortunate that it has come just as we reopen.

rain

rain

Planning for how we are able to carry on providing environmental education and safe access to wildlife continues. At present with 2 metres distancing things are very difficult, especially as our paths are under 2m wide, which is why we have a one-way system on the path network.

On Ivy Lake the mute swan pair hatched three cygnets and while ago, the swans that have nested there in recent years have proved very bad at rearing their young, so I did not hold out much hope they would survive. However, although there is  along way to go, they are still alive and thriving.

swan and cygnets

swan and cygnets

I am also delighted to say that the common tern on the raft are still going strong, most, possibly all, have now hatched their chicks and they are sometimes being left alone in groups when their parents go off to find food. With a bit of luck you will just be able to  see the chicks in the picture below.

terns on raft with chicks

terns on raft with chicks

There is a group of small chicks near the shelter on the left-hand side of the raft. Hopefully they will continue to grow well and fledge, over the years our fledging success has been very high, fingers crossed it will be again this year.

I have slipped a bit behind, but will try and catch up.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 5

You may have got the impression from yesterday’s three pictures of Tortrix moths that they are all grey or at best black and white, but nothing could be further from the truth and to prove it here is a very different one.

Agapeta zoeganaAgapeta zoegana

This one was in my garden moth trap, the caterpillar eats the roots of knapweed and probably field scabious, both of which I have growing in my garden mini-meadow.

My journey to work takes me across the New Forest and from time to time I see interesting wildlife on my way. This morning’s top spot went to a hawfinch which flew low over the road in front of me.

By contrast things at Blashford were pretty quiet today, the patchy weather perhaps not helping, with several showers and the wind pretty strong at times too. One surprise though was a pair of gadwall on the Education Centre dipping pond when I was emptying the moth trap. I have often seen mallard on there, but gadwall I had not expected.

Towards the end of the afternoon I went down to Ivy South to check on the common terns nesting on the raft. With the iffy weather I knew all the birds with clutches would be sure to be sitting tight. In addition the wind meant the rafts were swinging a bit so I could see from slightly different angles, with luck I hoped to get a good count of the sitting birds.

terns on raft 4x3

Nesting terns on Ivy Lake raft

I concluded there are certainly 23 nests on this raft, probably 24, and possibly 25, there is also one gull nest. In addition there is another on the other raft along with several black-headed gull and an additional pair which don’t seem to have settled yet. So the total is a minimum of 25 pairs and perhaps up to 27. There also appears to be one pair still milling around on Ibsley Water. The density of nests on this raft is amazing, it is only 2.4m x 2.4m (8ft x 8ft) so the total area is 5.75 square metres, there are at least 24 nests which gives each pair just under a quarter of a square metre each (50cm x 50cm).

Although our tern colony is not large but it is important as over the years it has been one of the most productive in the country, sometimes fledging over two chick for each nesting pair, typically productivity is between 0.5-1.0 chicks per pair on average across a colony. So you could say it is as important as perhaps a 100 strong colony might be elsewhere. Terns live a long time, 20 years and more, so the chicks produced at Blashford over the years will probably be out there in colonies all over southern England. One thing that is certain is that few return to us, if they did our colony would be in the low hundreds of pairs by now!

Overall, so far at least, this seems to be a good breeding season for lots of species. The fine weather suited most of the small birds, with perhaps only the thrushes not liking the dry conditions, The coot and moorhen have done well, they will have benefited from the good weather but their success also suggests we do not have a significant issue with mink on the reserve just now.

young moorhen

young moorhen

A successful early brood is doubly important for moorhens, as once full grown the offspring of the first brood will help to rear the next. This helps the parents, meaning the second brood can be larger but it also means the young will have experience in what it takes to rear a brood, making them more likely to succeed when they first nest themselves next spring.

Spring Advances

There have been a lot of consequences of the current coronavirus outbreak that we might not have foreseen. One of these at Blashford are problems for our breeding common terns. The virus and consequent cancellation of all volunteer work parties has meant that the rafts the terns usually nest on cannot be launched. Luckily the very large raft we put out last summer on Ibsley Water was never brought in and the terns seem to be willing to consider it as a nest site.

two tern pairs

Displaying common terns on the “Mega raft”.

The bird to the right has a fish, this will be a male that has caught a fish to bring back to his mate as part of courtship feeding. This behaviour will show a new partner his fishing ability, or just strengthen existing pair bonds, it will also help the female gain condition in readiness for producing the eggs, a huge drain in her resources.

It will be interesting to see how many pairs turn up this year, after years of steady growth the population has fallen in the last couple of years, I think due to poor weather at migration time and more problems competing with nesting black-headed gulls. We also seem to have had very few birds passing through, until this year that is. The other day 68 were counted over Ibsley Water, of course that does not mean they will stay to breed and most have certainly moved on, but at least 14 remain, so perhaps we have a core of seven pairs to build on.

The spring is peak time for birds passing through and as well as common tern we usually see some of their more northern nesting cousins, Arctic terns and occasionally a few of the inland marsh nesting, black tern, although sadly they do not nest in the UK. Black tern and another passage visitor the little gull are probably on their way to nesting around the Baltic Sea area. This spring does seem to have been a good one for little gull, with birds being seen on several days.

P1080400

Little gull, one hatched last year (2cy).

The young birds, hatched last year vary a lot in the amount of dark markings in their wings, this one being fairly typical, but some have almost totally black upper-wings and some much reduced. These birds used to be called “First summer” , although this might seem a little odd as they were hatched last spring, but their actual first summer would have been spent in juvenile plumage, so “First summer” actually described the plumage, not the age of the bird. Things get more confusing with some other species that time their moult differently, so these days you are more likely to hear birders referring to “Second calendar year” (often reduced to 2cy) indicating the age of the bird, rather than the plumage.

As it is spring most of our birds are settling down to nest. As I was having some lunch on Monday a mallard was on the new pond built last year behind the Education Centre, I wondered why it was so reluctant to leave as I sat down nearby. The answer was actually obvious, it had a nest near the pond and when I looked away it flew a short distance into the vegetation and disappeared, no doubt it was just taking a short break from the arduous task of incubation, which is all done by the female.

mallard duck on Centre pond

mallard duck on Centre pond

Blashford Lakes is not an obviously good site for orchids, generally when thinking of these the mind goes to long established chalk downland and these are certainly very good for orchids. However just because Blashford is a recently developed old gravel pit complex this does not mean there are no orchids. In fact we have at least seven species, which might seem surprising, but the secret is that the soils are very nutrient poor, something they have in common with old chalk downland. Our commonest species is probably bee orchid, with scattered groups in various, mostly grassy, places. Next would be southern marsh and common spotted orchids in the damper areas. In deep shade and so probably often overlooked there are common twayblade. On the dry grassland was have a growing population of autumn lady’s tresses and, since it was first found last year a single green-winged orchid. Last years plant was a good tall one, but it got eaten, probably by deer or rabbit. I wondered if it had come up this year so went to have a look yesterday and found it, although a good bit smaller than it was last year, but still flowering.

green-winged orchid

green-winged orchid

First Migrants

For the last few days it has been feeling distinctly spring-like and I have been expecting the first sand martin, little ringed plover and singing chiffchaff of the spring. So far I have been disappointed, but yesterday visitors to the reserve were reporting chiffchaff singing near Ivy North hide and a little ringed plover on Ibsley Water. Chiffchaff will over-winter on the reserve, although this year none were seen after the New Year so I don’t think there is any real doubt this was a new arrival.

As the summer visitors start arriving many of the winter visitors are leaving, this is especially noticeable on Ivy Lake where there were around a thousand wildfowl only a couple of weeks or so ago, now there are little more than a hundred. Some winter visitors are still with us though, brambling can be seen regularly around the feeders and at the last ringing session four were caught.

brambling male in the hand

Male brambling in the hand

One of the most obvious signs of spring is the changes in plants. Bluebell laves are now well up and wild daffodil are in full bloom.

P1100207

Wild daffodil

Often one of the very first flowers of many years is colt’s foot, although this year it has only started flowering in the last week or so.

colt's foot

colt’s foot

Yesterday while out working with the volunteers they spotted a brimstone butterfly, often the first butterfly of spring, although these days red admiral usually beats them due to their rather shallow hibernation.

The change in the season means the end of the winter work and the last couple of weeks has been busy with tidying up around areas we have been working in during the winter. Our next big task will be preparing the tern rafts so they can go out when the common tern arrive sometime in mid April.

I will end with a mystery, or at least something that is a mystery to me, I am hoping someone will be able to help me identify it. On Sunday I was looking at a clonal patch of young aspen trees and noticed small clusters of something I took to be lichen on the lower stems of several very small suckers. This was surprising as the trees were just a hand full of years old, rather a short time for lichens to get going. Looking closer I don’t think it is lichen, but I don’t know what it is, does anyone have any idea?

lower stem of aspen

Lower stem of aspen, about 10cm above ground – but what is it?

A Clear(er) View

On Thursday the volunteers cleared the annual vegetation from in front of the Tern hide, we do this each year for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is that it improves the view of the nearest shore from the hide. Another is that it clears the ground for the nesting lapwing and little ringed plover next spring. There are also always some seedling bramble, birch and willow that need pulling out before they get established.

before

The shore before we started

after

and after a couple of hours of hard weeding

Looking out from the hide today this did not make much difference as visibility was seriously reduced due to persistent heavy rain. Despite this there were some birds to see, including at least 800 sand martin, 3 swift, 2 dunlin, a little ringed plover, 3 common sandpiper, 33 mute swan and 3 pochard. Ivy Lake was quieter with just a few coot, gadwall and great crested grebe, there are also still two broods of two common tern chicks on the rafts.

Today was not a day for invertebrates, but I do have one more picture from Thursday, spotted in long grass as I went round locking up, a wasp spider, my first of the year.

wasp spider

Wasp spider female with prey.

 

A Few Moths (at last)

Although it is still very quiet for moths an increase in the overnight temperature has resulted in a few more species emerging. Today I saw my first May highflyer and poplar hawk of the season.

poplar hawk moth

poplar hawk moth

There were also a couple of species that are now coming towards the end of their season, although both were in quite good condition, perhaps because the cold April delayed their emergence. These were a brindled beauty,

brindled beauty

brindled beauty

and a great prominent.

great prominent

great prominent

The Tuesday volunteers were in today and we spent most of the time preparing some more materials for the common tern rafts. We have already put out six rafts and so far we have about eight to ten pairs looking settled, hopefully there will be more to come. I had hoped to put two more out on Thursday but calamity struck at the end of the day, when I got a flat tyre on the trailer as I was taking materials down to the shore of Ivy Lake. Unfortunately it will need a new wheel, so we may not be mobile in time for Thursday.

Generally bird sightings were rather few today, a single common sandpiper on Ibsley Water and a hobby high over the Centre as we ate lunch were the highlights.

 

 

Lots of Insects, Thankfully

A very hectic day started with the usual opening up and set up for the invertebrate course, all of which had to be done quickly as I was then off to the southern end of Ivy lake to meet a group from Ringwood School to do some birdwatching after their early morning Himalayan balsam pull. Being at the southern end of the lake gives a slightly better view of the common tern rafts and I am pretty sure there are twenty-one pairs there now, with at least nine pairs on the eastern raft.

common terns on raft

The reeds we planted along the southern shore of the lake a few years ago have done well and are now providing habitat for several pairs of reed warbler and reed bunting.

reed bunting male

I could not stay long with the school group though as the course started at 10 o’clock. I had intended to do an indoor introduction, but the weather was so good and a warm sunny day has been such a rarity this year that we just went out and looked for invertebrates. We were rewarded with what, for this year, was a really good day, lots of things seem to have been waiting for the sun to come out as much as we were. I saw more species of dragonflies than I have managed all year, five species in all: four-spotted chaser, scarce chaser, emperor, southern hawker and downy emerald. I also saw my first meadow brown butterflies of the year, I sometimes see them in May! We found adult mottled grasshoppers, although the field and meadow grasshoppers were all just large nymphs. Near the Centre someone spotted a four-banded longhorn beetle, then another one and another, they are not rare but I don’t remember seeing several in a small area before.

four-banded longhorn beetle

We were using several different techniques for finding invertebrates, we looked at moth trapping, sweep-netting, and just simply looking, but one of the more unusual was using pheromone lures. We put out several designed to attract clearwing moths, the lure is an artificial chemical synthesised to be similar to the natural attractant produced by the female moth. At first we did not have great success but then, moving to a new area attracted a magnificent male red-tipped clearing. All in all a good day and I was so pleased that the weather was with us as looking for insects int herain is both difficult and not my idea of fun at all.