Batty evenings and dewy mornings

Last night a number of our Young Naturalists were joined by HIWWT’s Senior Ecologist Sarah Jackson, for an evening in search of Blashford’s bats. After a short introduction inside, we headed out armed with bat detectors to see what, if anything was flying about above our heads.

Sarah has been at Blashford the past couple of Thursday evenings, running a popular beginners course on Bat Ecology and Survey Techniques, so we had high expectations after being treated to aerial activity from Soprano and Common pipistrelles, Daubenton’s bat, Noctules and excitingly, a surprising flyby by a Greater horseshoe. Definitely my highlight of Thursday evening!

Sadly our total number of species last night didn’t quite match the five mentioned above, but we were lucky enough to quickly pick up lots of the characteristic ‘wet slaps’ or ‘smacks’ of both Common and Soprano pipistrelles. On our way down to Ivy South hide we paused to listen to the Tawny Owls calling in the distance and with Ivy Silt Pond pretty quiet on the bat front, we went in to the hide in the hope of more bat activity. Here the pipistrelles were immersed in a feeding frenzy over the lake, not surprising given the amount of flies on and above the surface of the water!

We stayed long enough watching them by torchlight and listening to them on the bat detectors that we also picked up Daubenton’s bat, with their distinctive call sounding like a rapid series of regular ‘clicks’, before leaving the hide to the spiders.

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A spider interrupted in Ivy South hide

As the sky was clear in places, we were able to spot a couple of the Autumn constellations, The Plough and Cassiopeia. If you look hard enough at the two photos below you might be able to make them out!

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The Plough – seven stars in the shape of a saucepan, part of the constellation Ursa Major

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Cassiopeia constellation, you can just make out the ‘W’ shape formed by five bright stars

Here’s a dot to dot to give you a better idea!

Thank you Sarah for joining us! Sarah’s second Beginners Bat Ecology course is also fully booked, but details of other courses offered by the Trust can be found on our website:

http://www.hiwwt.org.uk/courses

With courses on astronomy, nature photography, wildlife identification, forest school and wildlife art, there’s lots to choose from.

On opening up this morning the spider’s webs along the edge of the lichen heath were laden with dew, a sure sign of a cooler morning and lowering temperatures. I was lucky enough to see three kingfishers on Ivy Silt Pond, but there was no sign of a grass snake first thing.

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Dew covered spiders web

The light trap was emptier than it has been, with 17 moths present, seven species in total. In amongst the Large yellow underwings, there was a Snout, two Sallows and this Canary shouldered thorn:

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Canary shouldered thorn

The trap also contained a rather smart Ichneumon fly, Enicospilus ramidulus, which unusually hung around long enough to be photographed:

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Ichneumon fly ‘Enicospilus ramidulus’

The highlight, or surprise, of the light trap though was this rather sluggish hornet, which was happy to be removed from the trap and relocated for a photograph or two:

 

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A night on the reserve…

Last week a number of our Young Naturalists spent the night at Blashford, camping out under shelters they had made themselves, cooking dinner and breakfast over the camp fire and embarking on a night time adventure around the reserve.

The Young Naturalists project has been shortlisted for the Young People category of Hampshire’s 10th annual Countryside Awards, organised by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). With judging taking place over the summer, they began their camp out by hosting the judges and showing them some of the activities they enjoy taking part in and some of the areas they have worked in around the reserve. We went through the light trap, looking at and having a go at identifying the moths, then wowed our important visitors with the variety of life found in the pond. After pond dipping, we headed off to the woodland to show them the log circle the group had replaced last June and the Woodland Hide.

After the judges had left us, it was time to think about setting up camp and we selected our materials and headed over to our camp area. It had been incredibly hot during the day, but we were expecting rain overnight and possibly some rumbles of thunder, so all were keen to construct a good shelter and we had a nice variety of designs:

It was then time to think about food so we gathered firewood and got the fire going, prepared an extravagant dinner of jacket potatoes, fish and a vegetable bean chilli and began cooking once the fire had died down a little.

Whilst cooking and eating dinner, and pudding, we enjoyed a stunning sunset:

Stunning sky

It was then time to head off into the night in search of some wildlife! We had already set the light trap, set some mammal traps near the Centre and locked the Woodland and Ivy lake hides, so decided to venture over the road towards the Clear Water Pond and Goosander Hide. Armed with bat detectors, torches and Bob’s homemade moth gloop (a sticky concoction of unrefined sugar, treacle and half a bottle of bitter, designed hopefully to attract moths if painted liberally onto tree trunks), we headed off into the night.

Our bat detectors soon picked up the characteristic ‘wet slaps’ or ‘smacks’ of both Common and Soprano pipistrelles as we passed the lichen heath and paused near the bridge over the Dockens Water. As we followed the path along the Dockens we painted some of the trees with our moth gloop, in the hope that on our return a little later something may have been attracted to the sweet syrup:

Painting trees with moth gloop

After carefully crossing the road we followed the path around the Clear Water Pond towards Goosander Hide and were rewarded with a bat feeding frenzy, picking up Daubenton’s bat and more Pipistrelles. Whilst Daubenton’s bat are picked up on the bat detector at the same frequency as Common pipistrelle, they can be distinguished by a different call, a rapid series of regular ‘clicks’ which resemble rapid machine gun fire. We enjoyed listening to them and spent a while watching them dive low over the water and fly overhead.

It was then time to head back to the Education Centre and we had a lot of painted trees to check on the way. On our way back we spotted slugs, spiders, woodlice (the only thing really attracted to Bob’s moth gloop) and a toad.

After not a lot of sleep (we had rain and a couple of rumbles of thunder, but luckily, with the exception of volunteer Geoff’s, our tarp shelters stood up to the test) it was time to think about cooking breakfast. Geoff had been up bright and early and got the fire going again for us, after rather a soggy nights sleep (sorry Geoff!), so we cooked breakfast then headed off to open up the hides, top up the bird feeders and check the light trap.

You may have spotted the tent in the first picture, this was Jess and Maddy’s plan D, after seeing the forecast for the night and taking three attempts to make their shelter. They retreated here at about 3 o’clock in the morning, not beaten by the weather (their shelter was bone dry, Geoff would have loved it!) but by the slugs…

Our final task of the morning, aside from taking down our shelters and tidying camp, was to check the mammal traps we had put out the night before. We were rewarded with two bank voles and two wood mice, out of the ten we had set – not a bad catch!

Thank you all the Young Naturalists who joined us for a night on the reserve, and a really big thank you to volunteers Geoff, Nigel and Emily for giving up their time too!

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