Bug-ingham Palace

Last Sunday our Young Naturalists made a rather magnificent bug hotel in a sunny spot close to the new dipping pond. The improvement works here on the reserve resulted in a rather large number of pallets accumulating, so it was great to be able to put some of them to good use.

Bug hotel

Positioning the bug hotel

We stacked the pallets one at a time, packing them with various different materials to create lots of different nooks and crannies, including bark, sticks, pine cones, old roof tiles, bamboo, off-cuts of roof from the old Tern Hide, pebbles and sawdust. We also drilled different sized holes in some of the bits of wood.

We still have a few more gaps to fill with more pine cones, dried plant and reed stems and dry grass and I’m hoping we can add a green roof to finish it off, but we were pretty pleased with our efforts:

To make a sign, Torey and Sophie carefully broke up a pallet with Geoff’s help and some of the group had a go with a pyrography pen to burn writing and pictures onto the wood.

Sign

We didn’t quite have time to finish the sign on Sunday, but volunteer Lucy made a brilliant job of finishing it off on Monday, the bugs should be impressed!

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We’re looking forward to seeing who moves in!

Finley and Percy had a go at using the various bits and pieces we had assembled to make a bird feeder:

Bird feeder

After lunch we headed off to do the Big Butterfly Count. We decided to do ours in the wild play area where we do our den building and campfire activities, as although we had seen a lot of butterflies that morning around the Centre we fancied a change of scenery to the area where we had been working. On route we spied this Brimstone:

Brimstone

Brimstone butterfly

With Nigel as our time keeper, we positioned ourselves in the long grass and counted the greatest number of different species seen at any one time in our 15 minute window. We managed five species in total and 15 butterflies altogether: four Meadow brown, three Brown argus, three Gatekeeper, three Common blue, one Red admiral and one Speckled wood.

The Big Butterfly Count runs until the 11th August so there’s still time to get involved – you just need to find a sunny spot (this could be your garden, a park or in a wood) and spot butterflies for 15 minutes then submit your sightings online.

We had a few minutes to spare before the end of the session so decided to head back to the Centre via the lichen heath in search of wasp spiders, which we’d heard were visible in the patches of bramble and taller grass and rush.

Finally, we spied some Cinnabar caterpillars munching on the ragwort:

Cinnabar caterpillar

Our Young Naturalists group is supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

 

 

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Two for one

I am behind with our Young Naturalists updates, I think mainly because New Year and time off got in the way after our December session, so here’s a quick update from the last couple of months.

We met in between Christmas and New Year for a festive campfire cookout, something the group had enjoyed doing at the end of 2017 and requested again. We had a slightly random feast, depending on what food items each of the group had brought along, including crumpets, sausages, bacon, a very festive and warming fruit punch and of course marshmallows.

After tidying everything away we headed off for a wander and decided to go down to the Dockens Water to see if we could spot any tracks in the soft ground. We found plenty of signs of deer and some much smaller tracks which we decided could have been squirrel, I should have taken something for scale!

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Walking along the Dockens Water

Corinne from the Cameron Bespolka Trust, who very kindly sponsors our Young Naturalists group, enabling us to run the sessions, venture further afield and enlist the help of specialists, had called in to leave Trust t-shirts and Great grey shrike pin badges for the group. The group were delighted with both, and we handed them out again in January to those who couldn’t make it in December. Despite the cold, I managed to convince a number to put them on straight away for a photo:

At the end of January we once again took part in the Big Garden Bird Watch, a survey we have now taken part in for three years. We spent an hour in the woodland hide, recording the greatest number of each species seen at any one time, no mean feat where the chaffinch were concerned!

In total, after comparing results from each pair, we had counted 91 birds and 18 different species, along with three grey squirrels. They were: 38 chaffinch, 9 reed bunting, 6 goldfinch, 5 siskin and blackbird, 4 great tit, blue tit and dunnock, 3 long-tailed tit, 2 greenfinch, robin, jackdaw and woodpigeon, and 1 coal tit, nuthatch, brambling, great spotted woodpecker and jay.  Both the chaffinch and reed bunting were hard to count where they were mostly feeding on the ground, and I’m sure we missed a few. In addition, and not included in our results as they were flying over, Will spotted a cormorant and herring gull, so it was a good bird watching hour!

Compared to the past two years, our number of species has gradually increased, with 15 different species recorded in January 2017 and 16 recorded in 2018. Interestingly chaffinch numbers have risen from 16 to 23 to 38 whilst no reed bunting were recorded in 2018 and only 1 in 2017. Greenfinch numbers have decreased with 2 recorded this year compared to 4 in both 2018 and 2017, whilst 2017 saw 10 blackbird out in front of the hide, compared to 4 in 2018 and 5 this year. Finally, last year we picked a good hour and saw 1 lesser redpoll, something I had been hoping for this year, but it really does just depend on what is about on the day. It will be interesting to see what results we get next year.

After lunch we headed back out to lay a short stretch of hedge along the reserve boundary, past Ellingham Pound and by the A338. Stretches of this hedge have been laid at different times over the past few years and it has been laid with wildlife in mind rather than traditionally. A nice, thick, denser hedge is the perfect sanctuary for smaller mammals and birds, giving them a safer place to nest and hide from predators. As it continues to grow it will thicken out and grow up, with the new growth providing the perfect cover.

The two photos below show Geoff explaining to the group how to cut at an angle into the tree so it will bend and lay over those previously cut without breaking, and the stretch of hedge before we began working.

As well as laying the trees, we did a bit of ‘tidying up’, so to speak, clearing the many brambles growing in between and entwining around them to make them easier to lay and also more comfortable for us to get to them, and also as this hedge is hawthorn and blackthorn, cutting back any of the branches likely to again impede our task.

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Cutting back

We managed to lay a good stretch whilst we were out, leaving the odd tree still standing and working in from both ends. There is not much left now to lay, so perhaps we will get a chance to head back to it again another time or the volunteers will be able to lay the final bit. The weather had changed for my ‘after’ photo, but hopefully you can see the difference. The gravel mound across the road is certainly more obvious!

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The hedge after

Thanks to Geoff, Nigel and Roma for your help on Sunday.

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

30 Days Wild – Day 28 – Beyond Nature Reserves

At Blashford Lakes it was volunteer task day and nine volunteers braved the heat to work on the reserve for the morning. We did try to keep out of sun as much as possible, doing a number of tasks, fixing the door to Tern hide, trimming the sight lines around the main entrance and making up 19 bat boxes. Our volunteer team are vital to the successful running of the reserve, there are many tasks that I would never get done at all working alone.

All this effort makes the reserve a haven for wildlife, which is as you would expect. However what makes Blashford Lakes so good for wildlife is location. It lies between the New Forest and the Avon Valley two areas that are very good for wildlife. More than that they are in active management for wildlife. The New Forest has many ongoing projects aimed at maintaining or improving habitats. Less well known is the work that goes on in the Avon Valley. There are large projects such as the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Waders for Real and more local action taken by landowners such as the nearby Somerley Estate. The important thing here is that on our own we cannot achieve very much, doing work that meshes into a greater whole makes every part more robust and likely to succeed.

The lapwing that breed at Blashford form part of the same population that breed on Somerley Estate, the New Forest heaths and greater Avon Valley. Birds may do better in some habitats than others in different years so a variety of breeding sites is important for the population as a whole, each site supports the others.

To say that nature reserves are important for nature conservation may seem like an obvious statement, but their role needs to be understood. If nature lives only on reserves it will be lost. Reserves can act as hotspots of diversity, places of long-term management continuity and are good places to easily get people to see wildlife up close, but the survival of wildlife is dependent upon the wider environment. So enjoy visiting your local nature reserve but look to the management of the wider countryside to save wildlife in meaningful amounts and for future generations.

After an afternoon of paperwork, something that seems to take more and more time as I get older, I think because there is more of it rather than that I am slowing, but who knows, we had planned to go out to ring some more black-headed gull chicks. However it was too windy, or the wind was in the wrong direction, so we called it off until next week.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Lots of plants in the meadow are going to seed now, some plants take a slightly different route though and one such is crow garlic, which produces bulbils rather than true seeds. These fall and develop into underground bulbs from which the plant grows. It is a common plant of road verges and rough grasslands and I have several in the meadow, although this is the first year I have had plants producing bulbils.

crow garlic

crow garlic bulbils

 

Counting birds and a community fund

On Sunday our Young Naturalists took part in the garden bird watch, visiting the woodland hide and watching the feeder and trees close to the Education Centre, watching the birds for one hour and recording the highest number they saw of each bird species at any one time within that hour.

Talia and Poppy

Talia and Poppy

 

Unsurprisingly, our top species was chaffinch, with 23 birds recorded at one time. This was followed by goldfinch (7), great tit (5), blue tit (5), long-tailed tit (4), greenfinch (4), blackbird (4), robin (4), brambling (4), siskin (3), dunnock (3), coal tit (2), nuthatch (1), jay (1), carrion crow (1), and lesser redpoll (1): sixteen different species in total.

Talia took some lovely photos of the different birds and has shared them with us for the blog:

Siskin by Talia Felstead

Siskin by Talia Felstead

Robin by Talia Felstead

Robin by Talia Felstead

Long tailed tit by Talia Felstead

Long tailed tit by Talia Felstead

Great tit by Talia Felstead

Great tit by Talia Felstead

Dunnock by Talia Felstead

Dunnock by Talia Felstead

Chaffinch by Talia Felstead

Chaffinch by Talia Felstead

Chaffinch 2 by Talia Felstead

Chaffinch by Talia Felstead

Brambling by Talia Felstead

Brambling by Talia Felstead

In addition to the birds we also spotted four bank voles and one brown rat.

Bank vole by Talia Felstead

Bank vole by Talia Felstead

After lunch we headed over to the area by Goosander hide to remove some of the young birch trees which have self seeded and started to dominate this part of the reserve. The smaller ones we either pulled out or levered out using a fork. Geoff had also made a very nifty sapling lever which we had a go at using. The larger trees we cut at waist height, hopefully reducing the likelihood of them continuing to grow – if coppiced low to the ground they would certainly sprout new shoots quickly.

Young Naturalist Megan has very kindly nominated our group for the Waitrose Community Matters fund and we’ve been chosen as one of their three charities throughout February at the Lymington store for a share of the months funding.

So, if you live in or near Lymington and shop in Waitrose, or feel like popping in throughout February, please make sure you get a token at the end of your shop and place it in our Young Naturalists pot to support the group!

Thank you, and thank you Megan for nominating us!

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Our Young Naturalists are kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

Operation Wallacea!

One of our Young Naturalists, Talia, spent two weeks over the summer taking part in Operation Wallacea. Operation Wallacea is a conservation research organisation that is funded by, and relies on, teams of student volunteers who join expeditions for the opportunity to work on real-world research programs alongside academic researchers.

Talia signed up to the programme through college, with this year being the first year this particular trip was being offered to college students. She raised funds for the expedition to Africa through working part time, running photography workshops with her dad and asking participants for a donation towards the trip and also received sponsorship directly from the Cameron Bespolka Trust, who kindly fund our Young Naturalists project.

Talia always takes fantastic photographs whilst on our Young Naturalists sessions, so after a lot of trawling through the many images taken whilst away, she has shared some of them with us along with a write up of her experiences.

So, for something a little more exotic than our usual Blashford wildlife, please read on!

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Zebras – Liwonde

During the first 5 days I was in Tanzania, near one of the crater lakes known as Lake Kisiba. We stayed at the local school, getting to work with the students to teach them about England and learning about their culture as well.

The conservation team in Kisiba are working to survey the species present in the lake. This will help to protect them in the future. The first task my group had was to collect invertebrate samples from the lake and from a nearby stream. Using kick sampling we collected the invertebrates in nets before identifying them. Unfortunately some had to be preserved in ethanol to be studied in the lab but the majority were released. We found a variety of species including cichlid fry, dragonfly nymphs and some freshwater crabs.

The other sampling we did around the lake was taking water and plankton samples. We then analysed these in the lab, finding the different plankton species in Lake Kisiba.

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Zooplankton – Kisiba

After doing this we got a chance to look around the lake shore, a few of the group taking the opportunity to find some of the land invertebrates at the lake. We succeeded in finding a dragonfly, butterflies and a stalk-eyed fly. A small skink even showed itself to us long enough to get a quick photo before disappearing again!

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Dragonfly – Kisiba

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Pea Blue Butterfly – Kisiba

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Stalk-eyed Fly – Kisiba

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Yellow Banded Acraea – Kisiba

We also discovered some less welcome ‘bugs’ when we returned to our dorm rooms. African Wolf Spiders the same size as an adults hand, luckily they aren’t venomous and we caught them in a cup to take them away from the dorms.

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African Wolf Spider – Kisiba

One of the other activities I took part in at Kisiba was a bird survey. After helping to set up two mist nets to catch the birds it took just 20 minutes before six birds had been caught, a pair of Little Bee Eaters, a pair of an unidentified species of Greenbul, an Olive Sunbird and a Variable Sunbird. The birds were weighed, measured and photographed before being released, with the larger species being released by my group. I got to release one of the Little Bee Eaters, a bird that has always been one of my favourites!

After the 5 days at Kisiba we moved to Nkhata Bay, on the shore of Lake Malawi. Here we took part in fish surveys, gaining our PADI dive certificate in the process. Lake Malawi is the eighth largest lake in the world and holds more species than any other lake. In particular the scientists are studying the cichlid species that are unique to the lake. Currently Lake Malawi is being severely overfished, many of the large fish species are no longer caught and the majority of fish sold at the local markets are tiny. Because of this it is important to know what fish are in the lake, with the cichlids being the most important for scientists as they are found only in Lake Malawi. To survey the fish we used both GoPros and underwater writing equipment to record fish as we saw them.

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Cichlids – Nkhata

As well as surveying fish in the bay we went out to a nearby beach to take some invertebrate samples, using the same techniques as we used at Kisiba. While going on this trip we got to feed a pair of wild African Fish Eagles, an experience I believe will never be matched. They are massive birds with 2 meter wingspans and they were just meters from the boats!

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African Fish Eagle – Nkhata

Another thing I loved about Nkhata Bay was the lizards. I couldn’t go anywhere without finding a few on the path ahead. Both Five Lined Skinks and a species I suspect is a Rainbow Skink could be found sunning themselves on the rocks at any time of the day. My dive group also had the experience of swimming with a Rock Monitor, one of the larger reptile species in the area.

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Five-lined Skink – Nkhata

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Rainbow Skink – Nkhata

After a week at Nkhata Bay we moved down to Liwonde National Park for a bit of a holiday. We went on a land safari and a river safari, even being lucky enough to see a large herd of elephants along with the other species in the park.

Overall, Operation Wallacea was an amazing experience and one I would love to take part in again. If I ever get the opportunity to go on a similar trip I will definitely take it! Doing this trip has taught me much more about conservation and how is it done as well as giving me important skills and experience for the area I want to work in, wildlife conservation.

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Free Time in Nkhata