Nest box news!

At our last Young Naturalists session we were lucky enough to join Brenda, who voluntarily monitors the nest boxes on the reserve, so we could see at close hand the processes and survey work involved as well as having a peek inside some of the boxes the group had made themselves. They thoroughly enjoyed it!

 

We were often watched closely:

Being watched

Being watched by a Blue tit

The following week Brenda returned for more nest box checks and was very pleased to report the following:

YN 1 – Poppy’s box – 10 Blue tits fledged and were being fed by parents in the trees close to the box

YN 3 – Geoff’s box – 10 Blue tits fledged

YN 4 – Ben’s box – 3 Great tits fledged

YN 9 – Will H’s box – 6 Great tits fledged

YN 10 – Megan C’s box –  9 Blue tits fledged

YN 11 – Thomas’ box – 9 Great tits fledged

Not all of the boxes the group made were used this year, but there is always next year! It was great to see how well their boxes did this year after a late start. The warm weather meant there has been plenty of food and although we have had a few days of rain the parent birds have managed to cope well and provided enough food for excellent numbers of chicks surviving, growing and fledging from the boxes. Brenda shared some photos with us of the ringing stages and box pictures:

 

The group made more boxes during April’s session which Brenda is looking forward to using next year, again to replace some of the older rotting boxes which are very wet and not so good for nesting. Brenda was keen to say a big thank you to the group for making the boxes and we would like to say a big thank you to Brenda for letting the group help out with the monitoring and surveying that day, I know it meant she was here quite a bit longer than she usually is as everyone, in particular Thomas and Lysander, were so keen.

After our nest box monitoring we had a look through the moth trap, which held a number of great moths including a Lobster moth, Pale tussock, Poplar hawk-moth, Fox moth, Buff-tip and May bug, which Ben took a particular liking to:

 

We did a few odd jobs, cleaning out the tank of tadpoles we were keeping in the Education Centre to show visiting school groups, watching the pond life below the water when we released the young froglets, and tidying up an old planter outside the front of the building.

Newt

Swimming newt

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. Thank you to Roma and Geoff for your help during the session and of course to Brenda for letting us assist with the nest box monitoring.

30 Days Wild – Day 6 – Digging no More

On my way to open the Ivy South hide this morning I found a dead mole lying on the path.

dead mole

dead mole

As sad sight but it did offer the opportunity to take a close look at one of these common, but not often seen, little mammals. They are fantastically well adapted to their life underground, with very dense velvety fur and the most amazing front feet shaped like clawed shovels.

mole front foot

mole’s front foot

The claws seem to have serrated edges, I would guess as an aid to grooming the fur the keep it clean. Living underground they have little need for eyesight and instead use their sense of smell and sensitive whiskers to find food.

mole nose

mole’s nose

The end of the nose looks very like that of a pig, as both find food by shovelling their nose along through the soil I imagine we have to assume that this design is the optimal one for this purpose. Moles are fierce predators, although their prey is mostly worms and insects and they are very effective hunters with voracious appetites and extremely sharp teeth. If ever find a live one and pick it up do so with great care as they will bite and can easily break the skin.

This time of year often sees dead moles above ground, especially if the weather is dry, I suspect lack of food forces them to move around more. Competition with other moles, which can be very vigorous and aggressive, probably leaves some without a set of tunnels and lack of food result in death.

Moth trapping both at home and at Blashford produced no surprises this morning, although at home I did have a fine male fox moth, the large antennae are used to smell for the female pheromones on the air and so find them for mating.

fox moth (male)

fox moth (male)

I was mostly catching up on paperwork int he office today so it was good to get out into the garden for a bit when I got home.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

One of the species that I have managed to establish in the meadow is corky-fruited water dropwort, it is an umbellifer and like most of this family of plants very popular with insects. It is typical of grasslands along the south coast and was very common at Farlington Marshes when I worked there and I’m sure still is.

corky-fruited water dropwort

corky-fruited water dropwort

Whilst looking at the dropwort I saw a blue-tailed damselfly resting in the grass, I don’t see them so much in the daytime, so I think they come to the long grass to roost in the evening as there are often several in the meadow at this time.

blue-tailed damselfly (male)

blue-tailed damselfly (male)

Blue-tailed damselflies are one of the most widespread species and can withstand low levels of pollution and some salinity, so can occur where other species cannot survive. There is a very similar but much rarer species, the scarce blue-tailed damselfly, which I have not seen for a few years. It looks almost identical but the blue segment of the abdomen is one segment further towards the tip. It is most often found in acid areas such as the New Forest, but even here is uncommon, I might have to go and see if I can find some this summer.

30 Days Wild – Day 2 – Hawks and Dragons

Once again a day off at home trying to work in the garden, but the sun was a bit much so productivity was rather low!

However the day started with a look through the moth trap, most of the moths would have been attracted before midnight when it was warmer, but as the minimum was 14 degrees some will have been active throughout. The pick of the catch were a couple of hawk-moths.

lime hawkmoth

lime hawk-moth

Lime hawk caterpillars eat the leaves of lime trees, but also birch. Many hawk-moths are named after the larval foodplant, or at least one of them. The privet hawk-moth caterpillars eat privet, but also lilac and ash, it is our largest resident hawk-moth.

privet hawkmoth

privet hawk-moth

Other moths caught were buff-tip, heart and dart, treble lines, flame shoulder, light brocade and fox moth.

The sun brought a few butterflies out, I saw a male common blue and a female brimstone in the garden during the early afternoon.

brimstone female on storksbill

female brimstone nectaring on storksbill

The sun also encouraged a fair few hoverflies to feed on flowers in the borders.

dronefly on fox and cubs

Dronefly Eristalis horticola on fox and cubs

Eventually I gave up on the garden and went out for a walk in the New Forest, luckily I live close enough not to need to drive there. The recent wet weather has filled a lot of the small ponds and each one seemed to have a broad-bodied chaser or two.

broad-bodied chaser male

broad-bodied chaser male

There were also good numbers of emperor and four-spotted chaser too.

The New Forest is one of the largest areas of semi-natural open space in Southern England, although a “Forest” it has a lot of wide open treeless areas. This is because a forest in this context is a place where deer were hunted rather than, as we tend to think today, a place dominated by trees. To pick up on the theme of Jo’s post of the other day and also highlight a particular problem within the Forest, I did see a couple of invasive alien species on my short walk. Both were attractive escapes from cultivation and wetland species.

invasive iris

Iris laevigata growing in a New Forest mire

In the background of this shot is another invasive, the white water-lily.

white water-lily

white water-lily

Finally………..

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Although it is perhaps not really a meadow plant I do have a few wild carrot plants in the meadow, like all umbellifers they are very attractive to insects, so I allow them in. The flowers are only just opening and actually look rather interesting just before the flowers open with the head enclosed caged.

wild carrot

wild carrot flower head just about to open.

Two days gone, just another 28 to go!

Ringing the Changes

ox-eye daisy

ox-eye daisies

Perhaps the last of the warm days for a while so I thought I would start with a summery shot of the ox-eye daisies which are just starting to flower now. The good weather has been very useful to us as we have been resurfacing paths and doing much other refurbishment at Blashford over the last few days,. With this in mind I will mention that the car parking on the southern (Education Centre) side of Ellingham Drove will be closed tomorrow whilst the entrance track is being resurfaced. Hopefully we should be more or less back to normal on Friday, so everyone who has been putting up with the bumpy track should notice a significant change.

I had a moth trap opening public event this morning, there were not a lot of moths, but a better catch than we have had for a while. There was common swift, poplar hawk, alder moth, treble lines, light brocade, may highflyer, green carpet, brindled beauty, pale tussock,

pale tussock

pale tussock

silver Y, clouded border, white ermine, buff-tip, common carpet, common marbled carpet, spectacle, pale prominent, sharp-angled peacock, fox moth, flame shoulder and Apotomis betuletana (a micro moth that looks like a bird dropping).

buff-tip

buff-tip

Yesterday I found a dead bird on the path as I went to open up the Ivy North hide, it was not freshly dead, so I am not quite sure why it had appeared there now.

IMG_2625

a very dead bird!

As you may have spotted, it is interesting as it has a metal ring on the leg. Although there is not much to go on I think it is a chiffchaff, the ring is one from the British ringing scheme run by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), it could be one ringed at Blashford or maybe it is from elsewhere, I will find out soon.

IMG_2626

The ring on what might be a chiffchaff

The ringing of birds tells us a lot about where they go to and how they get there, how long they live and much more. With this in mind I have a challenge for all the photographers out there that visit Blashford Lakes. At present there is a pair of oystercatcher with two chicks near Tern hide, one of the adults has a ring, but I cannot read it properly, I have three of the numbers but need more to find out where it came from, if you get a picture that shows any of the numbers or letters please let me know, we may just be able to piece the number together. I have also noticed that two of the common tern have rings, if they ever land on the posts near the hide we may be able to get the numbers off these too. What I know for sure is that neither was ringed at Blashford as we have never caught one at the reserve.

30 Days Wild- Day 3: A New Moth

I run a moth trap in my garden and have recorded hundreds of species, despite this new ones still turn up, as one did last night. The catch when I looked in the trap this morning included a female fox moth, privet hawk-moth, buff-tip, white ermine, treble lines, light brocade, light emerald and a few others. However it is often the small ones that the most interesting, even if they are often the hardest to identify. The new species, which I think I have identified correctly  was a micro-moth called Cydia conicolana, one of the Tortrix moths. Like many of the micro-moths it is beautifully marked when looked at closely, something that digital photography makes much easier.

Cydia conicolana

Cydia conicolana

It feeds on pines as a caterpillar and I do have a large number in a plantation a few hundred metres from my garden, so I would guess this is where it had come from.

The sunny weather is bringing out more hoverflies and other insects, today I saw several species for the first time this year, I only got a picture of one of them though, the metallic green soldierfly, Chloromyia formosa, also known as the broad centurion.

Chloromyia formosa

Chloromyia formosa

30 Days Wild – Day 11

Not a great day weather-wise, but this need not stop the quest for wildlife. Running  a moth trap in the garden helps as you never know what you might catch. This time it was two species that I rarely catch, although neither is at all rare locally. They were a female fox moth.

fox moth female

female fox moth

The males can often be seen careering wildly about over heathland in the daytime as they search out females. The females, on the other hand, fly at night, this one laid a number of eggs in the trap which I will put onto bramble in the garden.

And a female common heath.

common heath female

female common heath

Another moth that can often be seen flying by day over heathland and also one that, like the fox moth, shows strong sexual dimorphism, i.e. the sexes do not look very alike.

Also in the garden I noticed that my hazel was being eaten, lots of the leaves had been stripped and it did not take long to find the culprits, a group of hazel sawfly larvae. when they feel threatened they curl their tails up over their heads as you can see here.

hazel sawfly

hazel sawfly larvae

Still playing catch-up, but getting closer…….