A Constellation of Garlic

A fairly busy day on the reserve today with a steady stream of new visitors, it is always good to encounter people who are still just discovering us after all this time! I was out with the volunteers removing brambles from a warm south-facing bank which I hope will prove popular with insects and reptiles.

It seems odd to say there was not a lot of bird news when the Bonaparte’s gull was still present, but it has been here a while now and most who were keen to see it have done so by now. The first summer little gull is also still with us, otherwise migrants were a dunlin, a whimbrel and at least three common sandpiper. Numbers of swift have increased again I think, with at least 100 zooming noisily about this afternoon.

Out on the edge of the lichen heath I saw a small copper and a grey-patched mining bee.

grey-patched mining bee Andrena nitida

grey-patched mining bee Andrena nitida

I only saw my first damselfly of the year a couple of days ago, I don’t think I have ever waited until May before I saw my first of the year before. My first was, as expected, a large red damselfly and today I saw a single female common blue damselfly.

common blue damselfly

common blue damselfly (female)

As you can see it is not at all blue, but it has not long hatched out and has yet to acquire its colour, many females do not get all that blue anyway.

The wild daffodil have long since ceased flowering and the bluebell are starting to go over, but the reserve’s only patch of ramsons, also known as wild garlic, is looking very fine and in full, starry flower. Half close your eyes and it looks like a firework display  worthy of any New Year. I was hoping to find the hoverfly that feeds on it as it would be new for the reserve, but no such luck.

ramsons 2

ramsons

Although I had not luck with the hoverfly I did find a snail-killing fly near the Centre Pond, I think it is Tetanocera ferruginea.

snail-killing fly-001

Tetanocera ferruginea

Although it was a rather cool night the moth trap did catch a few species including my first pale pinion of this year, never an abundant species, I usually see only a few each year.

plae pinion

pale pinion

 

Rafts, Birds and Bees

It’s that time of year again, the tern rafts are going out and the migrant waders are on the move. On Tuesday the volunteers got two rafts out onto Ivy Lake, after wintering on the shore.

preparing tern raft for launch

Adding nesting substrate to the raft.

They were occupied by common tern within minutes, although black-headed gull also arrived in numbers and by the end of the day were the only species present. This highlights one of the big problems that terns have these days, as their nesting habitats reduce they are competing more and more with gulls and usually lose out to them.

tern raft with terns (and gulls)

two terns and two gulls on newly floated raft

Yesterday’s migrant birds were mainly waders heading to the high Arctic and included a common sandpiper, a bar-tailed godwit,

bar-tailed godwit

bar-tailed godwit

a very smart turnstone and two dunlin.

dunlin

one of two dunlin

The waders that nest with us are all displaying but none seem to have really settled down yet. Little ringed plover are especially in evidence near Tern Hide.

little ringed plover

Little ringed plover, male

Although it has got cooler the spring insects are still in evidence and some of the earlier season species are beginning to disappear for another year. One such is the rare grey-backed mining bee Andrena vaga, there are only a few females to be found now, but as they feed on willow pollen their food will soon run out.

Andrena vaga

grey-backed mining bee female, one of only a few still flying

If you look at a solitary bee nesting bank there are usually lots of, what at first, look like wasps, but these are actually parasitic bees. Many are very specific as to their host species, I came across two species yesterday. I found what I think was Lathbury’s nomad bee, which uses grey-backed and  the commoner ashy mining bee as hosts.

Nomada lathburiana

Lathbury’s nomad bee Nomada lathburiana

 

I also found lots of painted nomad bee, which visits the nests of the common yellow-legged mining bee.

Nomada fucata

painted nomad bee Nomada fucata

Work continues on the parking area close to the Education Centre, which means that it will not be available for parking until after the weekend, please take note of any signs to keep safe on your visit whilst we have machinery working on site.

Bonaparte’s Again

A couple of years ago Blashford Lakes was visited by a first year Bonaparte’s gull, a small species between little gull and black-headed gull in size and looking very like the latter. They breed in North America and very occasionally get blown across the Atlantic. Most turn up in this country in spring and are first year birds. It seems probable that they are blown across in autumn storms and are following a natural instinct to migrate north after wintering well to the south of us. Yesterday the second of this species to be found on the reserve was seen from the splendid new Tern Hide and attracted a fair few birders as the news got out.

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull (right) with black-headed gull of the same age and common terns.

Although similar to a black-headed gull the differences are not too hard to see up close, although this bird is somewhat larger than our last and so less obvious. At long range and especially if feeding on the water, it is much less easy to spot. However there are some clues that might help. The most obvious is the difference in feeding action, the Bonaparte’s has a habit of up-ending and overall swims with neck very stretched looking reminiscent of a phalarope, with their faster feeding action as well.

The Tern Hide is also proving a great place, appropriately enough, to see terns, specifically common tern.

common tern

displaying common tern from Tern Hide

The last few days have seen a few migrant birds passing through or arriving, we have recorded our first swift and migrant waders like dunlin and whimbrel. I have not managed to get pictures of any of these but I did snap a red kite that flew over on Monday.

red kite

red kite

The spring is not all about birds though, as the season moves on we are seeing lots more insects such as small copper, holly blue and many spring hoverflies.

Epistrophe elegans

Epistrophe eligans – a typical spring hoverfly

We are also seeing more reptiles and I found the grass snake below basking beside the main car park!

grass snake

grass snake

Our developments are still ongoing, but are drawing to a close, however the latest job will be to resurface the car park nearest the Education Centre, meaning it will be unavailable for parking for a few days, most likely next week. We are nearly at the end of the works, so things should settle down soon! Thank you to New Forest LEADER for funding our improvements to the area in front of the Education Centre.

New Forest LEADER

 

Some Things are Hard to Swallow

A rough day on the reserve today, but despite this there were reports of at least eight sand martin over Ibsley Water, so Spring migrants are still arriving. I missed seeing the martins but did see a little ringed plover. Other birds today were a small flock of black-tailed godwit which flew over, a single dunlin, the black-necked grebe, now in breeding plumage and a brambling. The bittern continues to be seen at Ivy North Hide, it is getting very late for it to still be here. At the end of the day it was sitting hunkered down in the reeds near the hide, looking miserable after a wet and windy day.

bittern 01

Miserable looking bittern

It did not look as though it was interested in anything other than keeping out of the wind and rain, however something caught its attention.

bittern 2

What was that?

It certainly seemed worth investigating.

bittern 3

Got to go and take a look

It certainly was!

bittern 4

Definitely worth taking a look

Having made the capture the next trick is was to manoeuvre it into a swallowable position.

bittern 5

sideways is no good

Turning a pike this big whilst it is still alive is no easy task.

bittern 6

Too good a meal to let go

Even when turned it was to wide to get down with mouth agape.

bittern 7

Eventually the head was in

Now it was only going to go one way.

bittern 8

Almost gone

It is a good thing they have expanding necks!

bittern 9

Gone

It then stalked off, passing close to the hide to spend the night digesting, I would guess it won’t be flying off tonight so should still be around for at least another day.

bittern 10

Heading off to do a little digesting

A cracking way to end the day!

Damp Days

The long, hot summer seems an age away now, with most days dominated by drizzle (Friday excepted). It is still very mild, but the combination of damp and mildness makes for difficult working conditions. Winter work on the reserve is mostly fairly heavy, with lots of protective clothing and machinery, things that do not go well with mild damp weather. Despite this we have been busy with the volunteers clearing sites and generally preparing for the planned updates to the reserve. Alongside this there is still the usual maintenance to be done and today I was out with the team repairing the boardwalk and trimming back the path sides.

The Pop-up Cafe was in the Centre again today, sadly things were rather quiet, probably a result of the poor weather, the cakes were as good as ever, if you missed them, they will be back on the 16th of December and New Year’s Day with more.

Out on the reserve things seem fairly quiet, I say this but there was quiet a lot to see. On Ibsley Water there was a black-necked grebe, 2 dunlin, green sandpiper, a variety of duck including pintail, wigeon, pochard, goosander, goldeneye and at dusk the gull roost and starling murmuration. I just missed seeing a peregrine take a drake pochard, I would have thought rather a bulky prey item for this falcon. Other birds today included red kite, chiffchaff, Cetti’s warbler and at dusk on Ivy Lake three roosting great white egret, all in all not bad for a “quiet day”!

 

The Best of Blashford

The second Pop-up Cafe of the winter today and, thankfully, the weather was a great deal better than the damp day we had at the start of the month. The reserve was busy and there was a good deal to see from most points, for most of the day.

Opening up Tern hide I saw a water pipit, although my first notable birds were at the main gate, where there was a fieldfare with a couple of redwing and a pair of bullfinch. 

I then spent a couple of hours attending to various tasks about the office before getting out to Lapwing and Goosander hides. We have done quite a bit of work on and beside the paths in this area with the object of both maintaining good access and making the walk more interesting for visitors and wildlife. To this end we have been scraping back the path edges and thinning the small trees to make clearings, increase the light and open up some views over the reeds. This work should also benefit insects and the reptiles that use this area, so we have been making sunny sheltered clearings and have dug one new sandy bank for solitary bees.

Up at Lapwing hide I was surprised to see several hundred large gulls, it was only late morning, so way to early for a roost gathering. I noticed the other day that there were  a lot of large gulls on the lake very early in the day. I suspect there are two possible explanations, either they are feeding very nearby and dropping in and out between bouts of feeding, or they have found somewhere with so much food that they are getting their fill in just a couple of hours. Looking through the gulls I saw the Caspian gull found yesterday, it is a “textbook” first winter bird, which always helps with these potentially difficult to identify birds.

At Goosander hide on the way back there were 2 green sandpiper and a dunlin, the latter flushed from the Long Spit in the company of a snipe by a peregrine. I took the long way back as I wanted to investigate some tyre tracks I had noticed on the Lichen Heath last Monday. Hidden away on the far side of the water treatment works I found out where they had been heading and why, a heap of fly-tipped material. I suspect dumped in the rain last Saturday, since it must have been in the day and when there were not many people around. We are certainly welcoming donations at the moment, but not this kind! It goes without saying that if you are on the reserve and ever see anything suspicious like this please make a note of what you safely can and let us know.

We always welcome donations of course, but at present we are trying to raise money to make a number of improvements to the reserve. The largest of these is the replacement of the Tern hide, the existing hide is suffering a bit and we recently won a grant to replace it, if we can raise the rest of the funds, to find out how you can help us see The Blashford Appeal

On my way back from a bird food buying trip I dropped in at Tern hide and saw 3 great white egret in the distance flying north up the Avon valley, I assume our regulars, but who knows? After another spell in the office I got out again in the late afternoon where there was a marsh harrier visible in the distance. Out on the lake the numbers of gulls had increased a lot and were more than I have seen this winter so far by some margin. I found the ring-billed gull deep in the flock, but unfortunately had to take off my glasses and when I looked back I could not find it again.

The Pop-up Cafe had done well, they will be back with more excellent cake on the first Sunday of December, so if you missed them today you could come then, or on the 16th of December, or both and New Year’s Day as well. You can also get a range of Wildlife Trust gifts and Christmas cards.

Locking up I saw 2 great white egret as usual at Ivy North hide, there were also at least 160 cormorant roosting in the trees and at least 161 tufted duck on the water.

It had felt like a good day almost all round, fly-tipping excepted. The reserve was busy with a range of people watching wildlife, from keen rarity hunters to families enjoying the nuthatch and the fine male sparrowhawk perched at the Woodland hide and there was cake too. Blashford Lakes is fortunate to have elements that appeal to a wide audience, we have popular events for ages from toddlers onward and different parts of the reserve that offer highlights for all types of wildlife seekers. Hopefully the reserve can continue to enthuse a wide and growing audience, our wildlife needs all the supporters it can get!

A film and many questions…

Back in April our Young Naturalists group were joined by Paul from Strong Island Media who came along to film them engaging with nature and participating in a number of different activities. As a result, we had a brilliantly varied session and Paul was able to produce a fabulous short film of them chatting about their experiences and their interest in wildlife, a brilliant snapshot of the group and a great piece of promotional material.

The group did a fantastic job and the film is available here: https://youtu.be/GSyY1C_upvg , please do take a look and share it with anyone you think may be interested in seeing it or possibly joining us at future sessions.

Slightly less polished was our very wet session at the end of August, although at the time the pond was certainly grateful for a top up. We tidied the area at the back of the centre, weeding the gravel and cutting back the bramble and other vegetation that was coming through the fence by the pond. It was a soggy task!

We did then retire to the classroom where the group had a lot of fun dissecting owl pellets, an activity we had been doing that week on our Wild Days Out. I had been hoping someone would find the skull of a small bird amongst all the small mammal skulls (just for a bit of variety!), however Lysander managed to go one better discovering a bit of metal instead which we were excited to discover was a bird ring.

Bird ringAfter studying the bird ring under the microscope to decide exactly what was written on it, we settled on Poland St. Orn. Gdansk JA 40684 and submitted it online via Euring Web Recovery to see if we could find out more.

Unfortunately, we have had our pellets at Blashford for a rather long time and are not entirely sure when we got them or even where they came from, with Testwood Lakes and even Lincolnshire via Jim both possible candidates. But it was still incredibly exciting to have found the ring of a bird originally ringed in Poland and exciting to see what else we could discover about its life via the Euring Recovery programme.

So the results? Our bird was a dunlin, a wading bird slightly smaller than a starling and one we do get in small numbers from time to time at Blashford. It is the smallest of the regular wading birds found on our local coastline and they can be seen here all year round, preferring estuaries where they eat insects, worms and molluscs. Locally the largest numbers are present in the winter and these birds will depart in the spring to their breeding grounds of Northern Scandinavia and Russia. The dunlin seen overwintering in the Solent are not the same birds seen in the summer.

This particular bird was ringed in Ujscie Redy, Gdanskie, Poland by Wlodzimierz Meissner Kuling when it was in its second calendar year but it is unknown whether it was male or female. Ringed on 30th July 1983, the ring is now 35 years old with the bird possibly 37 if alive today. According to the BTO the oldest recorded dunlin was 19 years, 3 months and 26 days (record set in 2010) so I suspect ours had been dead and languishing in an owl pellet for a considerably long time.

It was fascinating to learn a little bit more about this particular bird and fingers crossed it did live to a ripe old age before its unfortunate demise. Not knowing where the pellets came from (in terms of geographical location and owl species as they had begun to disintegrate) or when the pellets were found the ring discovery does raise a lot of questions:

– which owl species eat dunlin (from a quick bit of research Short-eared owls possess the ability to take shore birds and seem the likeliest candidate, with pellets taken from Farlington Marshes during the winter of 1970-71 illustrating this, however Barn owls are also capable of taking larger birds as prey).

– was the wader roost raided, was the bird a solitary target or was it already sick or injured?

– did the owl migrate or the dunlin, and if it was the owl where was it feasting before its migration? I have really been assuming it was the dunlin, but there is always a chance it was the owl. It can take up to 10 hours for an owl to regurgitate a pellet, I have no idea how long it would take for an owl to fly from mainland Europe to the UK, this dunlin could have been its last meal before that flight…

– when did the owl eat the dunlin?

Sadly we will never know, but it has been fun and very interesting thinking about it!

RS1085_KeyhavenDunlin_Thea_Love_30.01.11

Dunlin at Keyhaven by Thea Love

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

Changeable

The last week or so has been very strange, with the arrival of several migrants and further snow.

gorse flower in snow 3

Spring!

On the migrant front there are now small numbers of sand martin hawking over several of the lakes, the most I have seen together is only six. On Ibsley Water there have been at least 2 little ringed plover, but be warned as there has also been a ringed plover. Other waders in the snow last weekend included a few dunlin and 3 golden plover. A single swallow has been recorded on several days and is perhaps the one reported in North Gorley as well. In the woodland small numbers of chiffchaff are singing and near Tern hide a pair of wheatear have been seen for the last four days. Perhaps the greatest excitement has been the sighting of 2 osprey passing singly overhead in the last week. typically for spring birds, they did not linger.

Other notable sightings have included up to 5 stonechat beside Ibsley Water, this is usually a very scarce species on the reserve, I suspect these are birds that had returned to the open Forest before snow and moved into the valley to escape the worst of the conditions. Two adult little gull have been over Ibsley Water where numbers of Mediterranean gull are increasing and the ring-billed gull is still being seen int he evening roost.

As thought to highlight the confusion of the seasons there have been birds starting to nest and the dawn chorus has gone up a gear. The picture below was taken through my kitchen window and shows blue tits investigating a nestbox in the snow.

blue tit pair at box in snow

The drive to start breeding is not stopped by changeable weather.

 

Some Birds!

A late report from yesterday was of the returning drake ferruginous duck seen on Ibsley Water in the late afternoon. When I arrived this morning there were people looking for it, without success, however one observer was excited to have found a great white egret. Unfortunately I had to tell him that “Walter” was a regular, on going into the Tern hide he was there, standing on the Spit Island. I then scanned the lake and instantly found that there was a second great white egret standing with a group of little egret on the north shore. Swinging round I came upon a party of 6 brent geese, an unusual sight inland, these were all adults of the dark-bellied race. Despite a pretty good look there was no sign of the ferruginous duck though.

I had a guided bird walk in the morning so I was back in Tern hide by 09:45, still no sign of the duck, but the two great white egret were together. The new bird has no rings and is the same size as Walter, the second bird last winter was significantly smaller, so this new comer is a different one and also probably a male.

At the end of our walk I returned to the Tern hide and soon spotted a diving duck with white under-tail coverts, similar to a ferruginous duck, however it was the wrong shade of brown, however as we looked a second bird was seen and this was the real thing! The sun came out for a bit and although distant the rusty colour was clear as was the pale eye, smaller size and characteristic head-shape. There were also a few waders on the lake; 6 dunlin, a ringed plover, a green sandpiper and at least 3 common sandpiper. All in all quite a good range of species, it was a shame they were all on show the day after our Bird Trail!

Needless to say I have no pictures of any of these birds, so I will include a couple I took at the end of last week when I had a day off and went down to Pennington and Keyhaven Marshes. Both these are species I have pictured at Blashford, although in each case they were terrible pictures, these are hopefully a little better.

P1080428-002

Grey phalarope, a little closer than the bird on Ibsley Water!

spoonbill preening

Spoonbill, the only one I have ever seen at Blashford was almost 1 kilometre from the hide when I tried to get a picture! No such issues at Pennington on Friday though.

A Black and Grey Day

That is black as in the tern, as there was another juvenile black tern today and even better, grey as in grey phalarope!

grey phalarope

Grey phalarope, juvenile

Yet another in a proud line of “record shots” of wildlife at Blashford, my excuse is that it was a long way off and I have to say to is much better than my efforts the last time we had a phalarope at Blashford. Of course it should not be here, it has been blown in by the north-westerly gales and Ibsley Water was just the nearest thing to the open sea that it could find.

Despite the phalarope and black tern and a supporting caste of 2 ruff, 2 dunlin a ringed plover and Walter the great white egret my personal show-stopping wildlife spectacle of the day was actually the house martins. Thousands and thousands of them, I think at least 8000, possibly even more than 10,000 at the start of the day. They swarmed over the water like gnats with a 1000 or so swallow a few hundred sand martin and still a single swift.

I had an autumn moth event this morning, I was a little concerned we might have no moths to look at after yesterday’s paltry two moths, luckily it was not quite that bad. The highlight were 2 feathered gothic, the first of the year, others included snout, pinion-streaked snout, frosted orange, canary shouldered thorn, square spot rusticautumnal rustic and a few micro-moths.

feathered gothic

Feathered gothic, male