Another Autumn Day

We have had a rather vigorous few days, I arrived on the reserve on Saturday in heavy rain. Perhaps foolishly I ventured out when it eased a bit, only for the heavens to open again, so I took refuge in the Tern Hide (sorry, it is not open, I had the key with me!). Sat on a post near the hide was an adult male peregrine looking very miserable. It is not a great picture but it was raining hard and quite dark.

peregrine

Despite the weather it was not hunkered down, but looking about and head bobbing all the time then, suddenly, he was off, low over the water towards the western shore. It was raining hard and none of the birds on the island seemed to see him coming, in no time he was on them and grabbing a coot that had been feeding on the top of the island. Coot can be quite a handful, they have a powerful kick and sharp claws and there were a few minutes of struggle before the peregrine won out. Such a large bird was too heavy to be carried off whole so he stayed and fed where he was. I think the foul weather was the secret of the success of this particular hunt, I had felt a little sorry for him stuck out in the open, but I think he knew exactly what he was doing.

There was almost 20mm of rain in just a few hours during the morning and the Docken Water rapidly flooded.

Flooded woodland along the Dockens Water

The river was full of leaves, the rain and wind seems to be making short work of the autumn splendour of the trees this year, still they look good on the ground too.

Autumn leaves – oak, field maple and birch

There are probably several reasons why some trees are already almost leafless whilst others of the same species nearby remain well covered. Some birches were losing leaves in August this year, probably due to drought but where they still have them they are in fine colour now.

birch trees, as you can see it did stop raining!

Having started the day in driving rain it ended with largely blue skies, I even saw a red admiral butterfly.

30 Days Wild – Day 9

The moth trap at Blashford was run last night, in fact we run it almost every night and have done so for many years. The advantage of doing survey over long periods is that you get some idea of changes over time. Although one moth trap in one location is not a controlled dataset when the data from lots of traps run all across the country is combined a picture of change begins to emerge.

The longest running systematic survey data for moth comes from the Rothamsted traps, which have been run every night at locations all across the country since 1967. A summary of the results of this work was published (Macgregor, C.J., Williams, J.H., Bell, J.R. et al. Moth biomass increases and decreases over 50 years in Britain. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 1645–1649). The traps are of a standard design so the catches can be compared between sites and between years. It turns out that moth biomass, the total weight of moths of all types caught, actually increased between 1967 and 1982. Since then there has been a steady decline to the present. However there still seems to be almost twice the biomass of moths now that there was in 1967. Catches varied widely between years, with hot, dry years, such as 1976 resulting in large increases, so we might expect increases following the last two summers, time will tell.

Although the data does not go back before 1967 in such a systematic way, the evidence that is available suggests that the really big declines had already happened by 1967, following the large growth in pesticide use in the years following WW2. Comparing habitats the poorest are urban and arable areas, arable perhaps due to their uniformity and continuing pesticide use, urban areas although more diverse are still subject to light and chemical pollution, both of which probably have impacts. More natural habitats such as grassland and woodland have larger catches and might be expected to be more stable, but have actually suffered 18% and 15% decline respectively since 1983. Although numbers are lower, catches have been stable on arable land over the same period.

great oak beauty

great oak beauty – a moth of old woodland

It appears that the continuing declines are ongoing in the richest habitats but stable on the degraded ones, perhaps indicating that all habitats are declining towards an impoverished base level of bio-abundance, at least for moths. A similar pattern is suggested for other insects too and is supported to some degree by observations of long-term changes in bird populations across a range of habitats.

In recent years there has been a lot of enthusiasm for “Rewilding” and this does seem to be one way to start to reverse the wholesale declines impacting many species. It is certainly true that typically small, isolated nature reserves cannot maintain our biodiversity, but they do still have a vital role to play. They are biodiversity islands in a generally impoverished landscape. If the impoverishment can be reversed this biodiversity can start to spread out from the reserves and repopulate the wider countryside and urban areas. Nature reserves are not just slightly nicer bits of countryside, they are where we have effectively “Banked” much of our wildlife and so need special treatment if we are ever to rebuild wildlife richness across the country. Far from being irrelevant in a time of rewilding, nature reserves remain essential to rewidling achieving its full potential.

The breeding season seems to have been a good one for most bird species at Blashford Lakes. There are now well grown broods of little grebe, coot, moorhen and wildfowl all around the reserve.

coot family

coot family

One group that as fared less well are the ground nesters that use the lake shores and islands. Black-headed gulls are nesting only on the few available rafts, for the first time in over a decade none are using the islands. This may be due to predation last season, but in combination with no breeding around the lake shore by lapwing, I suspect that heavy disturbance, especially at night, is a very likely reason. Unfortunately lockdown started just as the breeding season got underway, which might seem a good thing, but it brought a huge increase in nighttime poaching activity on the reserve as people had more time on their hands and legitimate angling sites were closed.

gulls on a raft

Black-headed gulls are doing well on the rafts with lost of fast growing chicks

Luckily poaching activity has now declined again as angling lakes have reopened. Lockdown has seen lots more people out in the countryside and seemingly a much greater value being put on local greenspace, which is all positive. However, as has been widely seen in the media, it also seems to have resulted in a large increase in more careless use. Many reserves have suffered incidents, with fires being perhaps the worst in terms of wildlife impacts. It would perhaps be ironic if, just as more people have recognised the great value of greenspace, inconsiderate use resulted in some of its value being lost. If we value something we should be looking after it, ultimately nature reserve do not look after wildlife, we all do, we have banked some nature on our reserves, not so we can go in and burn a few pounds from time to time, but so we have seed capital to invest in a better future with wildlife across the whole landscape.

I will try and include more pictures and less verbiage in Day 10’s post!

 

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.

Accommodation Crisis

The common tern are back at Blashford Lakes, or at least the first few pairs are. It is always good to see them back and the reserve has proved very good for them. We do not have a large population, typically around 20 pairs, but they are very successful, sometimes rearing an average of more than two chicks per pair, an exceptional fledging rate.

common tern

common tern

Our terns nest on rafts that we put out for them, but this year we cannot mobilise the staff and volunteers to do this due to the impossibility of maintaining social distancing when doing the launching. We do have one raft out and there are some shingle patches on one or two islands, so we will have to hope these will be enough to allow them to nest.

I posted a picture of the camera view inside our tawny owl box the other day, full not of owlets, but grey squirrels. The young squirrels have now moved on and the box has immediately been occupied by a pair of stock dove, showing the premium there is on large tree cavities.

stock doves in owl box

stock doves in owl box

Other species are less constrained for nest sites and for them the breeding season moves on. Coot are nest building all around the lakes, or at least anywhere there is something to secure a nest to with some cover.

coot

coot

I have been going into work less frequently than usual and trying to work from home, however there is only so much paperwork a reserves officer can do and site tasks are starting to become more pressing. One in particular has become rather horrifyingly apparent as the spring has unfolded and that is the extent of progress made by ash die-back disease in the last few months. It is now obvious that large numbers of trees have died and will need to be removed. I will leave any that are away from paths as standing dead wood, but unfortunately this still leaves a lot that will need to be felled.

ash die-back

As the trees have come into leaf the full extent of ash die-back has become apparent

Recently on the Reserve

There is a good range of species around the lakes at present, although numbers are not very high. Ibsley Water does not have a lot of wildfowl this winter due to rather weak water-weed growth, but what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in variety. The long-tailed duck has been showing well at times near Goosander and Tern hides and there is now a black-necked grebe frequenting the northern shore of the lake. Recent rain has resulted in some local flooding in the Avon Valley, conditions which lead to increases in numbers of pintail and black-tailed godwit, both of which will visit Ibsley Water during the day. Recently there have been 70 or more pintail and up to 400 godwit at times on the lake. In addition we have a wintering common sandpiper and at least 1 water pipit, both sometimes right in front of Tern Hide.

By contrast Ivy Lake has been very busy with large numbers of wildfowl with hundreds of gadwall, wigeon and coot. There have also been up to 4 great white egret, including “Walter”. Cetti’s warbler seem to be at an all time high on the reserve with one even using the woodland near the Centre and frequently in the vegetation beside the dipping pond. There have been a number of firecrest around, with the hollies along the Dockens Water a favourite location, this very fine picture was sent in last week.

Firecrest by Doug Masson

Firecrest by Doug Masson

Doug also sent in a nice shot of a female shoveler, a duck that is present in only moderate numbers this winter so far.

Shoveler by Doug Masson

Shoveler by Doug Masson

Each winter for the last few years we have had two apprentices from the New Forest National Park working on the reserve for a couple of months, they provide valuable assistance to me on days when I have no volunteer working parties. The apprentices have been doing great work recently, laying two sections of hedge along the western side of Ellingham Lake and on Friday we took to the water and cleared three of the islands on the western side of Ibsley Water of their annual vegetation.

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A section of hedge being prepared for laying.

On Saturday I ran a gull identification workshop in partnership with Hampshire Ornithological Society. These things are rather hit and miss when it comes to going out to see the gulls, so much depends upon the weather and even then the gulls may decide to roost distantly from the hides. We did not find any unusual gulls, but the long-tailed duck, black-necked grebe, goosander roost and a very fine peregrine were all highlights. I was with a group at Tern Hide and we had the peregrine perch on a post close to the hide.

peregrine

Peregrine perched close to Tern Hide

Other recent sightings have included a regular female marsh harrier, a modest starling roost to the north of Ibsley Water, a young female scaup on Rockford Lake and an otter near Ivy South hide, although an American mink was seen there at the weekend. The Ibsley Water gull roost has contained 6 or more yellow-legged gull, an adult Caspian gull and up to 2 Mediterranean gull.

Look out behind you

Behind You!

Many thanks to Jon Mitchell for sending in the “action shot”!

Just thought you might like to see a photo I took from Ivy South on Sunday afternoon (whilst waiting for a kingfisher to perch – no joy!). Us photographers were keeping ourselves amused by taking shots of a female brown hawker that was depositing eggs on the underwater parts of the branches of the fallen tree in front of the hide. At one point, a coot shot in to try and catch the hawker and have a nice high-protein meal.

Fortunately (for the hawker – not for the coot) the dragonflies eyes were good enough to see the coot coming behind her – and she flew away just in time.”

Otherwise things are much the same as they were last time I blogged although the number of hirundines on site has certainly dropped. There are still at least three great white egrets (reported again this morning, on Ibsely Water) and photographers are still semi-permanently encamped in Ivy South Hide waiting for a stunning kingfisher picture. The kingfisher is still very much in evidence but this week I think there have been far more kingfisher sightings than pictures!

The stinkhorns I posted last week are now limp stipes, but have been replaced by new ones which have emerged sequentially every few days and I’ve spotted the odd beefsteak fungus starting to form now too.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 18

Not an inspiring day, although not as wet as predicted, which meant that working with the volunteers we continued with work on a new raft design. Although it rained a little for most of the time it was warm enough that meadow brown butterflies and my first marbled white of the year were flying. Brown butterflies will often fly in dull or rainy weather so log as it is warm, most other species usually need some sun to get active. Marbled white, despite their name, are actually part of the brown family.

My only picture of the day was of the coot family on Ivy Silt Pond, now down to just the single chick, although it has grown well. Coot will actually kill their chicks to reduce brood size if food gets hard to come by, so as to improve the chance of survival of those that remain. I don’t know what has happened to the lost chicks, but they may have been indirect casualties of the recent poor weather, if their parents felt unable to rear all of the brood.

Coot and chick

The coot pair now have just one chick

30 Days Wild – Day 11

Following the recent and unseasonable wet and windy weather the volunteer task on Tuesday was first to walk all the paths and check for fallen branches and other hazards. With five miles of paths this takes a while, especially when there is clearance to be done, not exciting work but very necessary.

This same weather has been having quite an impact on nesting birds, it makes food harder to find for some, although rain makes worms easier to find. Open nests can get wet and wet chicks can chill very quickly. Some species with young that leave the nest soon after hatching are especially vulnerable. However many are still doing well, I came across this brood of coot on the Ivy Lake Silt Pond as I was locking  up on Day 11.

coot adult and juvs

Adult coot and cootlets.

Some of the black-headed gull juveniles have fledged, but many are still wandering around their island or on the rafts, they are mostly quite large so should cope with getting wet reasonably well.

black-headed gull

black-headed gull adult on watch near a nest

The nesting terns are due to start hatching soon, I do worry that very small chick will be at great risk if this period of cool wet weather continues. Very small chicks have fluffy down and a very high surface area to weight ratio. This means if they get wet, the down holds onto the water and they can chill very fast and die. In addition wet, windy conditions make it harder for the adults to find and catch food. Crossed fingers everyone, let’s hope the rain eases and the wind drops soon.

Summing up…

The past two weeks hasn’t all been about the current improvements at Blashford, we have been in search of reptiles and amphibians on two Wild Days Out, run a busy family pond dip session (distinctly lacking in newts, we must have scared them all off the week before!) and woven some very pretty Easter baskets using materials found on the reserve.

And the reserve is looking lovely! It is getting greener by the day, although some trees are suffering more than others from the ever increasing number of munching Alder leaf beetles. This Crab apple in particular is being stripped bare:

There are plenty of wildflowers out, including Germander speedwell, Ground ivy, Cuckoo flower, Moschatel, Primrose, Cowslip and Common Dog-violet. Lesser celandine is carpeting the woodland floor near the reserve entrance and the Bluebells will soon be following suit, with some already flowering.

The warm sunny weather has bought the butterflies out in force, with Brimstone, Orange-tip, Speckled wood, Small white, Comma and Peacock all on the wing.

Large numbers of Sand martin have been investigating the holes in the Sand martin wall in preparation for nesting and Swallows are also back, although currently in much smaller numbers. Three Black tern spent most of today over Ibsley Water and as I left all three had alighted the Osprey perch out in the lake. Little ringed plover have been on the shoreline and Lapwing continue to display overhead.

P1140678

Sand martins

David Stanley-Ward sent in two very fine photos recently, one of two fighting Coot taken from the new Tern Hide and the other of two Great-crested grebes displaying in front of Goosander Hide.

Coots

Fighting Coots by David Stanley-Ward

Great-crested Grebe

Great-crested Grebes by David Stanley-Ward

If you have visited recently and would like to share your wildlife sighting with us, please do email them to BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk along with whether you are happy for us to use them on the blog and on other promotional material and how you would like to be credited. We don’t always manage to post images straight away, but do always enjoy seeing them, so thank you David for sharing these.

The woodland is full of bird song, with Chiff-chaff and Cetti’s warbler in particular standing out with their more striking calls. Blackcaps are seen frequently although they do not stay in one spot for long and Willow warblers are also present whilst Brambling and Reed bunting continue to feed in front of the Woodland Hide. Sedge warbler and Reed warbler can also be heard in the reedbeds by Ivy North Hide and Ivy Silt Pond.

P1140586

Brambling

And finally back to the events! On our Wild Days Out Amphibian and Reptile Rambles we managed one young grass snake, the same snake in the same spot on both days. This really isn’t the best photo, but if you look in the centre you might be able to make out the tip of it’s tail as it disappeared into the undergrowth.

P1140225

Spot the tiny grass snake’s tail!

On both days the weather was fairly cool so we failed to spot an adder, but both groups enjoyed a longer walk over to Goosander Hide and the older children managed to make it as far as Lapwing Hide.

Back at the pond we had more success, catching a number of newts, and we also found some under the logs in the woodland. Both days were enjoyed by all, even if the reptiles were a bit thin on the ground!

And last but not least, on Wednesday morning a very satisfying two hours were spent weaving in willow wood, with a number of children creating some very striking Easter baskets using materials collected on the reserve and a wooden disc base prepped by volunteer Geoff. We used rush, sedge and larch as well as the willow, with a couple of the older children even having a go with fresh bramble. One of the girls stripped the bark off some of the willow leaving the inner white of the rod on show. They all looked amazing!

The last couple of weeks have been very varied, but with the weather warming up it has been lovely to be out and about on the reserve. Spring is definitely here!

Year’s End

The last day of 2018 and I was out doing my December waterbird count, numbers are generally low this winter, but there was variety. I started with Ibsley Water, the most numerous species was coot with 327 other species exceeding one hundred were wigeon 206 and lapwing 288. Gulls are not counted but at dusk were present in thousands. During the day the highlights from Ibsley Water were black-necked grebe, a dark-bellied brent goose, water pipit(s), first winter Caspian gull and a first winter Mediterranean gull, in addition the flock of linnet were feeding outside Tern hide once again.

Elsewhere the bittern was on show at Ivy North hide, along with water rail and Cetti’s warbler and at dusk two great white egret. On Blashford (Spinnaker) Lake during the day there were two great white egret and a good number of wildfowl including 300 coot. A further 299 coot were on Rockford Lake and a water pipit on the shore close to the path was something I had not seen there before.

No doubt tomorrow will be busy and there are a nice range of birds to see along with the extra attraction of the Pop-up cafe.