Camping out

At our last Young Naturalists session in July, we spent a night on the reserve, exploring Blashford and the surrounding area late in to the evening and early in the morning. It seems like a really long time ago now, but hopefully this blog is better late than never…

After arriving on the Saturday morning we got straight on with setting up our camp, using old army ponchos to make dens to sleep under and whittling pegs out of willow.

We then headed to the back of the Education Centre to sit by the pond and butterfly spot as part of the Big Butterfly Count. The Purple loosestrife proved to be very popular with the butterflies and we saw a large white, numerous small whites, a green-veined white and brimstones, along with a gatekeeper and painted lady by the bramble. We also watched the water for newts coming up to the surface and spotted a number of young frogs.

After lunch we headed up into the Forest, exploring the local Rockford and Ibsley Commons for a different view of the lakes. The bell heather was in flower and attracting lots of honey and bumble bees.

We paused for a while at the bridge over the Dockens Water, exploring this stretch of the river and taking a closer look at some of the plants before heading up on to the Common for another view of the reserve, this time Ibsley Water.

On arriving back at Moyles Court we paused by the ford for a paddle, although Jorge got wetter than most!

Walking back along the Dockens we spotted this fabulous Chicken of the Woods fungi growing on an old log:

Chicken in the woods

Chicken of the Woods

Arriving back at the Education Centre, it was time to empty the light trap from the night before so we could re-set it for the Saturday evening and we also set some mammal traps to see if we could catch any of our smaller resident mammals.

It was then time to think about food and the group did a great job of chopping the ingredients before tucking in to healthy wraps toasted over the fire followed by slightly less healthy popcorn and banana stuffed with chocolate and mini marshmallows…

Lysander had also very kindly bought some of his left over Cadet rations to share with the group, cooking them through using his stove. Whilst not all sampled his food, we were pleasantly surprised by how nice it tasted!

After eating we headed off on a night walk in search of bats, picking up pipistrelles on the bat detectors in the woodland and near Ivy South hide.

After convincing the group to get up bright and early on Sunday morning, we roused them at 5.30am and headed off up to Lapwing Hide for some early morning wildlife spotting.

It was lovely and peaceful to be out on the reserve so early, and whilst we didn’t spot anything out of the ordinary we had a good wander and worked up an appetite for breakfast which we cooked over the campfire.

Breakfast

Breakfast, looking slightly sleepy

It was then time to check the mammal traps we had put out the previous evening, but sadly although a couple had been sprung we were unsuccessful. The two light traps however gave us 31 different species off moth to identify, along with a Dark bush cricket and an Oak bush cricket:

After tidying away our camp and bringing everything back to the Centre it was time for the group to head off, a little sleepy but having spent a very enjoyable time overnight on the reserve.

Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly at the Education Centre Pond

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

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30 Days Wild – Day 14 – Concrete to Orchids

Blashford’s brilliant volunteers were working hard again, this time on a project to produce a grassland on the former concrete block plant entrance. This is a project with a lot of difficulties, the site was abandoned fro three years and much of it got overgrown with bramble. The old hard standings and buildings were broken up leaving a mix of rubble, gavel and a very little soil. This might sound a bad start for a grassland, but it actually has potential, the most diverse grassland habitats are those with very poor soils and this area has a very, very poor soil. From this poor beginning we are making real progress, the old tarmac entrance now has flowering ox-eye daisy and bird’s-foot-trefoil and this is in just the second season since seeding. Perhaps most remarkably as we headed back for a cup of tea we found a flowering bee orchid!

bee orchid on Hanson entrance track

bee orchid growing on old entrance road

I suspect it may have come not as a seed but as a small plant along when some of the soil was being moved around, but clearly it is doing well. When I returned in the afternoon to do some more mowing of bramble regrowth I came across a pyramidal orchid on the bank that used to edge the road. The soil there was not so disturbed, so I would guess it had arrived some time ago.

pyramidal orchid

pyramidal orchid

Although the day had started drizzly it dried up, as it always does on a Thursday morning, famously it never rains during our Thursday volunteer sessions, whatever the forecast might say.

By afternoon it was hot in the sunshine and as I ate lunch I saw lots of insects. On bramble flower behind the Education Centre I found a yellow-and-black longhorn beetle.

yellow-and-black longhorn beetle

yellow-and-black longhorn beetle

I also saw several dark bush cricket nymphs.

dark bush cricket nymph

dark bush cricket nymph

What’s in My Meadow Today?

The wild carrot that I featured before the flowers open a while back is now in full flower and attracting insects.

dronefly on wild carrot

dronefly on wild carrot

There are several species of dronefly, all named for their similarity to male honey-bees. I think this one is Eristalis pertinax, but actually might be E. nemorum as it looks a little bright to be pertinax.

The reason for my late post of this time is that I was out again last night surveying nightjar. I heard possibly one that moved about or up to three, unfortunately I could never hear two at the same time, so I cannot say with certainty that there was more than one.

Oh, to Bee in England…

As though to emphasise the change in season today was one of those rare days when it was possible to see both brambling and swift at Blashford Lakes an opportunity that lasts for only a few days.  When I started birdwatching in the Midlands our equivalent was seeing fieldfare and swallow in the same place, on the same day. The brambling were at least 2 males at the feeders and the swift at least 14 over Ibsley Water.

Despite the remaining reminders of winter it felt very spring-like, with orange-tip, green-veined and small white, comma, peacock, brimstone, holly blue and several speckled wood butterflies seen, along with the year’s first damselfly, the large red.

After last night’s thunder storm I was not surprised that the moth trap was not over-filled with moths, although the catch did include a lesser swallow prominent, a pale prominent and a scarce prominent, the last a new reserve record, I think.

The warm weather has encouraged a lot of insects out, I saw my first dark bush cricket nymph of the year near the Centre pond. Nearby I also saw my first dotted bee-fly, this species used to be quite scarce but can now be seen widely around the reserve, although it is well outnumbered by the commoner dark-bordered bee-fly.

dark bush cricket nymph

dark bush cricket nymph

The wild daffodil are now well and truly over but the bluebell are just coming out.

bluebell

bluebell

A lot of trees are in flower now or are shortly to be, the large elm on the way to Tern hide is still covered in flower though.

elm flowers

elm flower

Trees are a valuable source of food for a lot of insects and the find of the day was a species that makes good use of tree pollen. I had spotted what I at first thought were some nesting ashy mining bees Andrena cineraria, but they did not look right. That species has a dark band over the thorax and black leg hairs. This one had white hairs on the back legs and no dark thorax band. I took some pictures and it turns out to be grey-backed mining bee Andrena vaga, until very recently a very rare species in the UK which seems to now be colonising new areas.

grey-backed mining bee 2

grey-backed mining bee

They make tunnelled nests in dry soil and provision them with pollen from willows for the larvae.

greybacked mining bee

grey-backed mining bee with a load of pollen

The same area of ground also had several other mining bees, including the perhaps the most frequent early spring species, the yellow-legged mining bee.

yellow-legged mining bee 2

yellow-legged mining bee (female)

 

Challenging and Wild Play!

This week has seen our summer programme of Wild Days Out events come to an end – they’ve been a lot of fun! We began on Monday with a Wild Challenge for the older children, where in teams they had to explore the reserve and tackle different challenges on the way – they were certainly up for it!

We spent slightly longer than planned making our all important team flags, mainly because we decorated them with paints made from natural finds – charcoal, the baked clay that had lined our pit furnace, chalk and blackberries. We also collected leaves and bracken to print with, and painted our hands and feet!

Whilst finishing off our flags in the classroom, we had a go at our first challenge of the day, some dingbats, or visual word puzzles of well known words or phrases.  Volunteer Cheryl gave the two teams a great example to get them going and by the time we headed outside the boys were just ahead by one point, as they had got all their dingbats right and gained a bonus point by finishing first, it was starting to get competitive!

Dingbats

Dingbats – forever; double decker bus; Jack in the box; banana split; snowball; lazy bones; ants in your pants; misunderstanding; four wheel drive; up hill struggle; Cheryl’s example, mayonnaise

Heading outside our challenges got more serious and we played the chocolate game, where you have throw a six with a dice, dress up and try to cut a bar of chocolate using a knife and a fork whilst everyone else in the team keeps rolling for a six. If someone else rolls one, you have to change over. The boys were very vocal with this game, but unfortunately both teams were so good at rolling sixes the girls only managed to cut two pieces and the boys one, meaning they were neck and neck. Here’s Millie demonstrating the chocolate game in her very fetching health and safety gear, much more exciting to wear than a woolly hat and scarf!

Chocolate game!

The chocolate game, with a health and safety twist

We then headed to the woodland for two more challenges, a plant identification memory test and some fire lighting. Both teams were brilliant at their plant challenge, remembering most of the leaves, grasses and flowers hidden under the tea towel, although we did give them both a second sneaky peak!

It was then onto fire lighting, with one point awarded for creating a spark and two for lighting a piece of cotton wool.  All were brilliant at persevering with the strike sticks, as you do need to apply a fair amount of pressure to create a spark, but the girls just crept into the lead with everyone in their team managing to light a piece of cotton wool.

We finished the day by setting a trail for the other team to follow, with points awarded for how good their trail was, e.g. could the other team actually follow it successfully, and how well they hid at the end. Amber, Connor and Max all gained an extra point each for being expert hiders!

Whilst waiting for the other team to set their trail, we played two more games: magic carpet, where you have to flip over the ‘carpet’ you’re standing on without putting your foot on the ground; and human knot, where you have to hold hands with each other and un-tangle yourselves back into a circle, without letting go:

Both teams fully embraced the challenges and had a lot of fun – although the girls just beat the boys to it by a whopping one point, they were all brilliant and equally rewarded at the end!

Arrows

Arrow on our tracking trail

Yesterday the younger children joined us for a Wild Play session, a lovely way to finish off the holidays! We began by making kites then headed outside to see if they would fly – luckily there was just enough of a breeze:

Kite flying!

Kite flying, with just enough of a breeze!

We spent most of the day in our camp area, making paints, decorating flags, tree climbing, den building, bug hunting and fire lighting, before having an afternoon popcorn treat! We tried flavouring our popcorn with a little bit of cinnamon and sugar, which needs a little bit of perfecting but was very tasty…

We had a couple of great wildlife spots whilst in the meadow, catching an awesome Dark bush cricket, which hung around long enough for a photo, and spying a brilliant Goat moth caterpillar, which we quickly re-located to a safer spot. The Goat moth caterpillars feed principally on willow, a species we have plenty of!

Goat moth caterpillar

Goat moth caterpillar

We finished off our play day with a paddle in the river to cool off, and a game of hide and seek.

There will be more exciting Wild Days Out in the October Half Term – keep an eye on the website for details:

http://www.hiwwt.org.uk/whats-on

The End of the Picture Gremlins

scarce merveille du jour

Here it is at last, that moth picture that would not load, the gremlins have hopefully ben banished.

A fine day at last today, but of course it was Thursday so it was perhaps to have been expected. Seventeen volunteers came out and we were once again pulling ragwort along the eastern shore of Ibsley Water. We have not been able to do the grassy promontory between the Goosander and Lapwing hides as the lapwing there has at least two chicks, the only ones I have seen on the lake this summer. We made good progress north towards the Lapwing hide and on the way saw a variety of insects including marbled white, meadow brown, emperor dragonfly, mint beetles, a white plume moth and lots of cinnabar moths and their caterpillars.

Having lunch back at the Center int he by now very warm sunshine it was again insects that caught the eye, a cream spot ladybird on the table was first for a picture.

cream spot ladybird

Dragonflies are still rather few and even damselflies are not as numerous as would normally be expected. The large red damselfly is usually the first species seen in spring, sometimes from late March and they usually are over by the end of June, so to see several still flying around now was perhaps an indication of how late the season now is.

large red damselfly

The damselfly was beside the pond and just below it was a young toad, not one of the tiny ones just leaving the ponds but an older, but still sub-adult one.

small common toad

The surrounding vegetation offers various chances for sun-loving insects to bask and on one leaf a young dark bush cricket was catching some sun.

dark bush cricket nymph

Looking at Ivy lake as I locked up the hides it was clear that a fair few of the common tern chicks have now moved away from the colony, although they have been replaced by other newly fledged ones, I think at least 25 have now flown and several are still on rafts still too small to fly. I also increased my record count of mute swan to 38. The arrival of a flock of mute swans is a new thing for this lake as the pair that used to occupy it would never tolerate incomers, their replacements are just not able to keep the hoards away. There are also two broods of Canada geese on Ivy Lake, this despite that fact that none nested there, these seem to have walked in from Rockford Lake.

Canada geese

The adult geese are all flightless now having dropped all their primary feathers and will regrow them at the same time as the goslings grow theirs, so all should become able to fly at pretty much the same time.