Star Turn

I was at the reserve on Sunday for an Autumn Moths event, unfortunately nobody told the moths, which were outnumbered by the event attendees! To be fair it was not really the moths’ fault, 28mm of rain overnight was excuse enough.

As I opened up it was tipping down and for a while I did not dare open the main car park as water was flooding in and I feared it would quickly become too deep to be crossable. Luckily the rain stopped just after I opened the Centre and, in the end, the day was not too bad, mainly sunny with just the odd shower.

Out on the reserve the highlight of the day was the autumn’s first sighting of a bittern, with one being seen flying over the Ivy Silt Pond. In recent year’s they have been arriving earlier and earlier, they used to turn up around Christmas, but now late October has become the norm. I suspect this is because we used to get mainly birds arriving from the near continent, forced to move by icy weather, nowadays they are probably mainly dispersing British birds, a reflection of the growth of our population following concerted conservation efforts.

The only other significant bird sighting was of a rock pipit, or possibly two, that dropped down in front of the Tern hide from the north, stopped for perhaps two minutes to bathe and preen then flew off high to the south. The second bird landed behind a stone, so could not be seen on the ground, but I strongly suspect it was also a rock pipit. Rock pipit winter and breed on the coast, British birds move very little, but in winter we get migrants from Scandinavia and I would guess it is these that we sometimes see at Blashford.

Returning to the Centre in the rain first thing it occurred to me to check if there were any earth star  in their usual place beside the path, I was rewarded with one very fine specimen.

earth-star-geastrum-triplex

earth star (Geastrum triplex)

During the last weeks we have been doing lost of work around Ibsley Water, preparing the shore for arriving winter wildfowl and work associated with the restoration of the former Hanson concrete block plant. One of the biggest jobs has been clearing a huge bramble bank on the shore of the lake that would otherwise cut off the open former plant site from the lakeshore. The long-term goal is to get grass to grow on this area to make it suitable for feeding wildfowl and breeding waders. The latest efforts of the Tuesday volunteers are below.

before

Bramble clump before work (third session)

after

By the end of the day the difference is finally becoming clear! The brambles would have filled the open ground in this shot when we started work three sessions ago.

The old concrete plant will be a challenge to turn into useful wildlife habitat, but I think it has real potential. The open ground has already been used by nesting lapwing and little ringed plover and we can enhance the habitat for these species. I also think there is potential for developing some interesting flower-rich grassland, the very poor soils of the old plant site are actually a plus in this regard. It is going to take some years to come to fruition but I am hopeful it will eventually be a valuable addition.

 

 

The Sun and the Stars

I got to spend a Saturday at Blashford today, standing in for Jim who is now off on paternity leave. It was a very pleasant day and at times the sunshine was warm enough to tempt out a range of insects. I saw good numbers of speckled wood, several red admiral, of which this rather battered individual was one.

red admiral

red admiral

I also heard of someone seeing a peacock and I saw a clouded yellow flying south over Ibsley water. There were also still lots of common darter and a fair few migrant hawker dragonflies on the wing.

I walked the paths around the Ivy Lake hides with the leaf blower in the morning and could not help but notice the number of fungi all over the place. The earth stars continue to come up, with another new one opening.

earth star

earth star

It was one of a line of them each at different stages.

a constelation of earth stars

a constellation of earth stars

Later on I walked the northern part of the reserve an don the way along the Dockens Water path I heard a firecrest calling, I then came across a group of four “crests” chasing around the hollies, I only ever managed to get a good look at one at any time and it was a firecrest each time, but I cannot say for sure if I was looking at the same bird each time or a different one, so I still don’t know if there was more than one!

Up at the Lapwing hide, I looked for and failed to find the black-necked grebe, but did see 2 ruddy duck and rather a lot of Egyptian goose. The geese were already checking out the osprey platform as a nest site again.

Egyptian geese on osprey

Egyptian geese on osprey

One of the problems that Egyptian geese pose for native specie sis that they will start breeding very early in the year, perhaps in January and so occupy sites long before native species, often these are large tree holes and by taking them over so early they can displace birds such as barn owl for these sought after nest locations.

During my wanderings I came across many more fungi, I cannot identify most of them and even the ones I put a name to may well be wrong, but here are some pictures anyway.

Bolete - spongecap

Bolete – spongecap

parasol mushroom

parasol mushroom

amethyst deceiver

amethyst deceiver

My most unexpected sighting of the day was of 2 sand martin over Ibsley Water, I think my latest ever sighting of this species. I also saw a goldeneye, at least 374 greylag geese, a few goosander and 5 snipe.

At dusk the gull roost was quite large but not spectacularly so, I estimated about 3000 lesser black-backed gull, 2000 black-headed gull and a single adult Mediterranean gull. Earlier the regular adult yellow-legged gull was on the raft on Ivy Lake, it is almost certainly the same one that has been there each winter fro several years and it has a metal ring on the left leg, unfortunately it is too far away to ever be read.

Wildlife stars in abundance!

Blashford is at least as lovely place a place to work as it is to visit… although unfortunately time spent necessarily, although very reluctantly, in the office, does mean that we staff often miss out on sightings that some lucky visitors enjoy. Yesterday this included an otter (watched for 10 minutes swimming around Ibsley Silt Pond, the small lake just north of/behind Lapwing Hide) and a bittern (first reported sighting of this season, observed in the usual hot spot in the reed bed by Ivy North Hide).

Of course being here every day there are other “stars” whom we are privileged to see very regularly and even, dare I say it, take a little bit for granted at times; birds like kingfisher (had a lovely view of one perched/fishing in front of Ivy South Hide this morning) and, of course, the great white egret. Christened Walter White by Ed (for reasons known only unto himself!), this lovely picture of it in flight by Tern Hide earlier in the week, was sent in by David:

 

Great white egret by David Stanley Ward

Great white egret by David Stanley Ward

Perhaps of less interest to some, but even more interest to others, is this moth which I recorded in the light trap this morning. Obviously a footman, it was larger than I am used to and I have identified it as a (male) four-spotted footman. Don’t worry about the lack of spots, it is the female that bears those! It is possible that I have misidentified it, but if not this is, according to the book, a nationally scarce moth with a small population in the New Forest (and other small populations else where in southern England and west Wales). The caterpillars of this species feed on tree lichens, of which we certainly have plenty on the reserve.

Four-spotted footman?

Four-spotted footman?

Speaking of lichens, I did take a picture of some on the lichen heath this morning, for no other reason than they looked quite stunning in the wet, grey and overcast weather:

Lichen on the lichen heath

Lichen on the lichen heath

As is often the case, the photo does not really do it justice! They do seem to be doing well this year; possibly as a result of the particular weather conditions, or possibly associated with the small reduction in visitors which the weather has bought about, and an associated decrease in trampling by the same, as we know that they do not fare well with regular trampling and this is why the footpaths across the reserve all skirt around the lichen heath.

Also flourishing in the warm wet conditions this month are fungi:

I mentioned the earth stars that have come up in a previous blog, but was unable to take a picture at the time. I have now recovered the camera and couldn’t resist photographing this very lovely specimen this morning:

Earth star

Earth star

This nearby shaggy ink cap was also particularly impressive:

Shaggy ink cap

Shaggy ink cap

Unfortunately the picture is not great, but, with my binoculars in-situ for scale, I hope you can appreciate the awesome majesty of this fungus, which has to be the largest example of this particular species that I have ever come across!