Camping out

This summer our Young Naturalists once again spent a night on the reserve, cooking dinner and breakfast over the campfire, setting and checking mammal traps, listening to bats, sleeping under a poncho or tarp shelter and getting up nice and early for a morning stroll up to Lapwing Hide.

Meeting in the morning, our first task was to finish off the bug hotel which we had almost completed the month before. To finish it off, we lined the roof with pond liner before adding a piece of wood around each of the four edges which enabled us to add a layer of gravel on top of the liner. We then put some sedum matting which had been left over from the construction of the Welcome Hut on top of the gravel.

Should it rain heavily, the top of the bug hotel will be protected by the liner which will stop water from seeping down and the gravel should allow a space for drainage ensuring the sedum does not become waterlogged.

The bugs have been quick to move in! We have already spotted spiders, parasitic wasps checking out the bamboo canes and our Welcome Volunteer Gail, after some very patient waiting, managed to take this photo of a Digger Wasp inside one of the tubes:

Digger wasp by Gail Taplin

Digger wasp by Gail Taplin

It was then time to head over to our camp area and put up our shelters for the night, using tarpaulins or ponchos and whittling tent pegs from willow. Finley and Percy had a go at making clay models – their clay men looked brilliant!

Clay people

Clay people by Finley and Percy

Shelters by Torey

Shelters by Torey

After setting up camp we gathered firewood whilst locking the hides, put out some apples and Geoff’s trail cam by the Woodland Hide to see what wildlife we could film overnight, set some mammal traps near the Education Centre and re-set the moth trap.

It was then time to get the fire going and cook dinner:

Camp

Chatting by the fire

 

Cooking

Ben in charge of the chips (we did eat more than chips!)

That evening we went on a night walk in search of bats and had a great time on the edge of the Lichen Heath and in Ivy South Hide listening to them on the bat detectors. We also heard Tawny owls calling and spotted a couple of constellations (The Plough and Cassiopeia) in the night sky. After a pudding of marshmallows, baked apples or bananas filled with chocolate it was time to retreat to our shelters and try to get some sleep.

Fire

Campfire

After threatening the group with a four am start (they weren’t keen) we were up just after five am and after a quick snack, headed off up to Lapwing to see what wildlife we could spot.

Damselfly

Damselfly hiding behind the soft rush

Heading back via Tern Hide we opened up the rest of the reserve, retrieved Geoff’s trail cam and checked the mammal traps set the night before. Whilst most of them were empty, we were lucky enough to catch a woodmouse in one, which we looked at before releasing it carefully back into the bramble:

WoodmouseIt was then time to light the fire again, cook breakfast and tidy away our shelters.

After breakfast we went through the light trap to see what had been attracted to it the night before, and this Burnished brass was definitely the highlight:

Burnished brass

Burnished brass

Finally, we had a look at Geoff’s trail cam and we were delighted to discover images of a jay, lots of footage of the fallow deer enjoying the apples and rather excitedly a fox:

jay

Jay

deer

Fallow deer

fox

Fox

A huge thank you to Geoff and Yvette who very kindly volunteered their time for the campout and stayed the night, we definitely couldn’t run such sessions without their help. We had a lovely time!

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

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30 Days Wild – Day 16

Since Thursday evening something dramatic has happened to the breeding gulls on Ibsley Water, they have completely abandoned their nesting island. I know there were lots of large chicks still on there, so I can only assume that a ground predator reached the island and predated a lot of them. Perhaps most likely is that a fox swam out there and spent some time wandering about killing chicks, but it could have been an otter or mink. Luckily some of the chicks had already flown, so this was not a complete colony loss.

The moth trap overnight caught rather little, unsurprisingly as it was again very windy, with a few showers. There was one notable species though, a lunar yellow underwing, this is a species of very dry grassland and regularly found at only two sites in Hampshire. Curiously I have several times caught them on nights that would generally be thought of as poor for moths, I once caught three in a night of high winds and rain when the total catch was only twelve moths.

lunar yellow underwing

lunar yellow underwing

Wet and windy weather is not good for insects, unsurprising really as they mostly like warm sunshine! I found one casualty in the new Centre pond yesterday.

Emperor dead

Dead emperor dragonfly

The rain and wind has brought down a few trees, a combination of wet ground and a heavy weight of leaves making them much more unstable. In the afternoon we suffered a power cut when a tree fell on the overhead power lines, hopefully to be restored by the start of the new working week. All trees will fall eventually and most will go onto have a value for wildlife, either by continuing to grow or by providing a deadwood resource. One group that uses deadwood are the slime moulds and I found what I think was one on a dead willow stump.

slime mould possibly

A slime mould (possibly)

The patchy sunshine brought out good numbers of insects and other warmth loving species, after a few days in hiding they were keen to get active if they could.

grass snake

grass snake on the stump at Ivy South Hide

 

I saw three different large female grass snake during the day, no doubt tempted out by the sunny spells, but not so warmed up that they were really active.

Other insects out and about included this distinctive click beetle.

Agrypnus murinus

Agrypnus murinus

There were also quiet a lot of solitary bees about, including this yellow-face bee.

yellow faced bee

yellow-face bee (not sure which species)

 

Caught on Camera

It has been a busy week at Blashford Lakes with volunteer work parties on four days, despite unpromising weather we actually got a lot done. On Sunday we repaired some damaged sections of the boardwalk, Tuesday saw us felling some non-native grey alder trees, Thursday’s task was scrub clearance to increase habitat connectivity for reptiles and today we were clearing the shore of Ibsley Water to improve habitat for nesting lapwing next spring.

About ten days ago the apprentices put out a trailcam and today we got it in to look at the images. There were not a great many but the range of species captured was impressive. There was one shot of a passing fox, several of fallow deer and grey squirrel. Bird were fewer with one shot each of blackbird and blue tit, but several of tawny owl and on more than one night too. The picture quality was not great but the owl was landing in front of the camera, possibly to take small invertebrate prey.

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tawny owl caught on trailcam

Throughout the week I have been checking the roosting great white egret on Ivy Lake when I go to lock up the hides, I suspect there are as many as five around but still have yet to see more than four together, this evening there were three.

The rain today caused the Dockens Water to flood into Ivy Lake and it is now filling at last, hopefully the reedbed in front of Ivy North hide will have enough water for the bittern to favour this area soon, one was seen from there on Wednesday.

A feature of this winter is the unusual number of pochard on the lakes, or at least unusual for recent years. This morning there were 109 on Ivy Lake and at dusk at least 150. It appears that they gather on Ivy Lake in the late afternoon before flying off at dusk in groups of ten to twenty, probably to feed. At the same time the tufted duck, which used to roost on Ivy Lake also leave, I am not sure where they go but I did notice a lot fly in just as it got dark when I was counting the goosander from Goosander hide on Tuesday, I suspect they go to roost there rather than to feed. Walking back from Ivy South hide after locking up usually happens more or less in the dark at this time of year and a feature has been the squeaking calls of mandarin duck gathered on the silt pond, in the gloom I have just been able to make out as many as ten drakes displaying on some evenings.

The black-necked grebe has been seen daily on Ibsley Water as has at least one water pipit and green sandpiper. The grebe has been favouring the western shore to the north of the low islands, the water pipit and sandpiper the shore near Tern and Goosander hides. However for many visitors it has not been the rarer bird that have attracted to interest but the starling roost. The numbers are not exceptionally large but they can put on quiet a good show looking west into the last light of the setting sun. this evening they were especially spectacular, climbing high into the air in an effort to avoid a hunting peregrine.

Starlings 1

Starling murmuration starting to form over the trees west of Tern hide

Starlings 2

The gathering twisting to avoid a peregrine, there is a small group coming int to join them towards the top left.

Starlings 3

Some of the flock trying to funnel down into the roost site

Starlings 4

The peregrine was keeping the main flock high in the air but the draw of the roost was strong and they were falling down in a column whenever they could risk it.

Starlings 5

One group broke away in an exceptionally tight ball of birds and just dropped like a stone from the spiralling flock.

The starlings had all gone to roost by about 16:15, so if you want to give them a try I would try to arrive by 16:00 at the latest, viewing is good from the high point at the back of the main car park and possible, but sometimes less easy, from the Tern hide.

The Blues

The last few days have seen warm sunshine by day but chilly nights, meaning it has been poor for moths but good for day-flying insects. Today at Blashford Lakes I saw my first scarce chaser and downy emerald of the year and there were other dragonflies about too with reports of emperor, broad-bodied chaser and hairy dragonfly.

Most of the butterflies that over winter by hibernation as adults are getting scarce now and spring species such as orange-tip are dropping in numbers. there are a few whites around with all three of the common species, but the highlight today was the emergence of  blues. The small meadow near Ivy North hide had six or more male common blue as I went to lock up and at least three brown argus as well, the argus is brown, but an honorary “blue” all the same..

common blue male

common blue (male), freshly emerged.

The brown argus look very like small female common blue, and the male common blues will get up to chase one if it flies by, however they quickly realise their mistake and give up. The first emergences are all males and the females will follow in a day or so. The reason for this is the same as that for male migrant bird arriving just ahead of the females. Evolution will push the males to be in place and ready for the first females to arrive, it does not pay to be late, so the pressure for males to be early is greater than that on females, who can afford to wait until they know there will be males to mate with.

The spring solitary bees are starting to disappear now, many species collect pollen from just a few plants and as these cease to flower they need to wrap up their breeding cycle. I did come across one interesting species today though, it was one of the nomad bees and the smallest species of them to be found in Britain, Nomada sheppardana.

Nomada sheppardana

Nomada sheppardana on forget-me-not

Visiting flowers is something many insects have to do to feed, it may sound an unproblematic things to do, the flowers want to offer a nectar reward, or perhaps bribe might be a better description, to the insects that will pollinate them. However it is not as safe as it might sound, flowers can hide predators, especially the camouflaged crab spider which match their colour to the flowers they sit on.

crab spider with hoverfly

crab spider with hoverfly prey

The crab spider here matched the hawthorn flowers so well that I missed it and initially set up to take a picture of the hoverfly, only then did I see the spider!

It has not been a good year for ground-nesting birds so far this spring, with most lapwing and little ringed plover losing their eggs to predators. I suspect mammals at night as the ones nesting on the islands are doing much better. Or at least they were, on Thursday might all the black-headed gull on Long Spit abandoned their nests. Although I don’t know for sure I suspect that something swam out there and ate their eggs, probably a fox or a badger. These mammals are usually not that keen on swimming, but if they are hungry they will go to great lengths to get the food they want, I think small mammals, which are their preferred prey, are in short supply this year, which might be why they are seeking birds eggs more actively.

Despite a bad time for some ground-nesters the pair of oystercatcher are still doing well, with their two chicks growing well. They hatched on Long Spit, moved off to the shore near Tern hide and have now returned to Long Spit, this meant they were not out there on the night of the predator raid. So far the main gull colony on Gull Island shows no sign of being attacked and neither do the tern rafts on Ivy Lake.

 

Dumping and Cutting, a Tale from the Roadside

There seems to be a lot going on at present. At Blashford we are resurfacing a lot of the paths, the entrance track and a few other improvements will follow.

We have also been putting out the tern rafts, so far the gulls have been taking most of the space but hopefully the terns will get their act together soon.

Out on Ibsley Water the lapwing have not been doing well, with most nests failing at the eggs stage, I suspect fox or badger, as the birds nesting on the islands seem unaffected.

I was at Fishlake briefly today and saw my first hairy dragonfly of the year, it was beautifully perched, but I did not have a camera with me!

Meanwhile back at Blashford we received an overnight donation of two large tractor tyres, several car tyres and the remains of a trailer. Not the kind of donation we want as it will cost a fair bit to dispose of. Fly tipping in the countryside is an increasing problem as the cost legitimate disposal increases.

Another increasing roadside problem is the decline in the the diversity of flora found on verges. I remember a series called “Wayside and Woodland” books, I always took the implication of the title was that much of the wildlife featured was to be found on waysides, that is path and road verges. The reason is the accumulation of nutrients, in fact this is probably one of the greatest threats to wildlife diversity in almost all habitats. It is no accident that habitats that are very poor in freely available nutrients are rich in species, they have to fight it out for resources and tiny differences in adaptations mean that one species will win over if even a very small change in the environment happens. Thus a thin chalk soil can produce an incredibly rich sward with huge species diversity. Where nutrients are easy to come by a few very vigorous specie swill overwhelm the competition and species diversity is low and growth vigorous.

Road verges suffer the twin threats of car exhausts, which are rich in nitrogen a key nutrient for vigorous plant growth. This growth then gets cut, often many times a year and the cutting left as a “mulch” further aiding the building up of nutrients. Cutting once  later in the year and removing the cuttings would reduce the nutrients, reduce the vigour of the growth and promote plant diversity. In fact Plantlife have just produced an excellent guide to managing road verges The Good Verge Guide

The Highways Agency also produced quiet good guidelines for highways managers, but these do not seem to have been widely taken up by the people that set the contracts for the work. A case in point is a very fine round about close to my home, this morning I admired the good show of ox-eye daisy and could make out the soon to be flowering stems of corky-fruited water dropwort as I waited at the traffic lights. On my way home tonight I see it has been mown and the cuttings left as a deep green mulch, it is large round about and easy to see across so there is little need for cutting for safety reasons. Slowly but surely this fine area of herb-rich, semi-natural grassland is being destroyed by the state, an act of causal degradation of our biodiversity in the midst of an extinction crisis.

I will end with a couple more moths form yesterday, the catch was small but included perhaps the smartest pebble prominent I have ever seen.

pebble prominent

pebble prominent

There were also three very fresh poplar hawk.

poplar hawk 2

poplar hawk

Goosander Hide Highlights

The Goosander hide has been attracting people from far and wide recently, especially photographers in search of that illusive kingfisher shot. However, as is often the way, the kingfisher does not always play along, luckily it is not only a place to get kingfisher shots and we have been send a selection of great images taken from there recently by Mark Wright, here are a few of them.

There have been lots of herons around recently and they do not always get on well.

1H0A0233

Grey herons having a disagreement by Mark Wright

Of course not all herons are grey.

1H0A0315

“Walter” the great white egret by Mark Wright

1H0A9840

Little and Large, “Walter” with a smaller companion by Mark Wright

Since my observation of Walter taking a fish from in front of a cormorant he seems to have developed a limp, it could be the cormorant had a go at him as they can be quite aggressive. Hopefully he will recover  soon and continue on.

Not all the birds are large, there have been a number of grey wagtail close to the hide recently.

IMG_6970

Juvenile grey wagtail by Mark Wright

And not all the wildlife there is birds.

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Fallow deer doe by Mark Wright

IMG_6416

young fox by Mark Wright

Then of course there are always the occasional opportunities to get shots of kingfisher as well.

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Kingfisher by Mark Wright

Many thanks to Mark for sending us such a great series of shots.

30 Days Wild – Day 30: At Last!

Sorry for the late post of this the last day of 30 Days Wild, but my 30th day was spent on the road. On my travels I passed through areas of the country that I have lived in during years gone by. It was interesting to see that there were buzzard almost everywhere, I remember when it was necessary to go west to at least the Welsh borders to see one. I also saw red kite, once so rare that a special trip was the only option if you wanted a glimpse of one.

As my post is late it coincides with National Meadows Day, so I will mention one of the other things I noticed on my travels, the verges and how they were managed. I was mostly on the motorway network so much of the grass was long, with scattered banks of scrub. I was disappointing to see the particularly wide banks of grassland beside the M6 Toll road being mown short even right to the top and the cuttings left lying, it looked very “neat” but was a disaster for wildlife. I don’t know if it was because it was a toll road but this was thankfully the only section I saw getting quite such brutal treatment.

Incidentally I make no apology for not applying the strict definition of a meadow, that is a field where herbage is cut as a crop, dried in the sun and removed to feed livestock, there are rather few of these now. For my purposes, if it is a grass and hopefully, herb mix that is maintained with little or no spring grazing, it could be a meadow as far as most of the species that use meadows are concerned. So wide verges, roundabouts, golf course rough and corporate greensward all count.

As I said I spent the day on the road, in fact it was also part of the night as well, due to road closures and subsequent detours. On the nocturnal part of my journey I saw a couple of foxes and another recent addition to south-east England, a polecat, which trotted across the road in front of me as I was navigating a back route alternative to the A34.

Today I was at Lepe Country Park, where they were opening a new sensory garden, put together by staff and the Friends of Lepe, it is very fine and well worth a visit. Many years ago I used to work at Lepe and one of the projects I did then was to add what is now the meadow area at the north of the site onto the Country Park. It had been a deep ploughed cereal field but we seeded it and thirty years on is a meadow afforded SINC (Site of Importance for Nature Conservation) status. I took a quick look today and it was alive with butterflies, maybe not an old meadow but a great one for wildlife. This is one of the wonderful things about grassland, a relatively few years of good management can produce something of real value for wildlife. Despite this it is trees that get planted all the time as good for nature conservation, yet most of these secondary woodlands will still be struggling to reach anything like their potential in a few centuries. Plant a tree if you must, but make a meadow if you can or persuade someone who manages grass to step back and appreciate that they manage a wonderful habitat, not a green carpet. With a little imagination we could be surrounded by meadows.

It’s Good to have a Hobby

And even better to have two! Which is what we saw today hunting insects over Ivy Lake when we went to put out another of the tern rafts. These sickle-winged falcons winter south of the Sahara and fly north to breed along with their favourite prey, swallows and martins. Watching them swooping to catch flying insects is a fantastic experience, you can only marvel at their mastery of the air, one of the great sights of summer.

The tern rafts are gradually being deployed, so far the terns have looked interested but failed to occupy any of the rafts before they have been dominated by pairs of  black-headed gull. It is always a problem getting the timing right and this is why I deploy the rafts one or two at a time, at some point the terns must surely be ready to take control of one.

preparing the tern raft

Preparing a tern raft

There have been at least 30 common tern around regularly and they have been doing courtship flights and bringing food, so I think they should be ready to settle soon. So far there has been little sign of much tern passage, apart from a few beautiful black tern, the biggest group so far being 5 on Sunday afternoon. Little gull are usually birds of passage that stay at most a day or so , which makes the fine adult that has been frequenting  Ibsley Water for several days something of an exception. It was there again today, although I don’t think anyone saw the Bonaparte’s gull. Other birds have included a few dunlin and common sandpiper and last week a bar-tailed godwit.

Barwit

Bar-tailed godwit

In recent posts we have featured a number of pictures of lapwing chicks, sadly I don’t think any of them have survived. This season has been a good one for the number of pairs and in general hatching success has been quite good, but the chicks have been disappearing fast. I think a combination of dry weather and predators is the cause. Dry conditions mean the chicks get brought to the lakeshore to seek food, as all their favoured puddles are gone, unfortunately the shore is regularly patrolled by fox and other predators, as it regularly has washed up food in the shape of dead birds and fish. The foxes may not be actively seeking the chicks but they will not refuse one should they come across it. Sadly a similar lack of success is befalling the little ringed plover, but at least they will continue to try and may yet succeed before the summer is out.

LRP

Little ringed plover near Tern hide.

The cold winds are making moth trapping a slow business, with few species flying, although we have caught an eyed hawk-moth and a couple of poplar hawk-moth recently.

poplar hawk

Poplar hawk-moth

Coastal Bird and Wildlife Spotting

Yesterday was a great wildlife spotting day. On opening up Tern Hide, a male Goldeneye was clearly visible on Ibsley Water and this was soon followed by views of an otter on the far side of Ivy Silt Pond, a first for me at Blashford and a great start to the day.

It was then time to head over to Keyhaven Marshes with our Young Naturalists, on our first outing from Blashford Lakes.

minibus

Young Naturalists on our first outing to Keyhaven, raring to go on a great bird spotting adventure

We got off to a great start, with views of a juvenile marsh harrier from the car park and even better views once we had started walking of it hunting over the reed bed. We also watched a fox making its way through scrub and grassland, disturbing the birds as it got closer to them.

group

In total, we clocked a grand figure of 74 different species, including a great white egret, 2 Dartford warbler, a peregrine, a ruff, Mediterranean gull, eider and red-breasted merganser. A number of species were present in large flocks, such as golden plover, knot, dunlin, wigeon, teal, black-tailed godwit and lapwing. The bird spot of the day though had to go to Jackson, who spotted 3 spoonbill flying over. We kept our eyes peeled for them as we carried on walking and had distant views of them feeding out on the salt marsh.

The find that excited the group the most however, was this dead juvenile Brent goose, close enough to the footpath for Bob to reach so we could take a closer look. On close inspection it appeared to have perished from natural causes as there were no obvious signs of predation. The bird would likely have hatched somewhere on the Taymyr peninsula, in northern Siberia, making the long journey here to overwinter on our warmer shores. Whilst many do survive the journey, this goose had a somewhat sadder ending!

Thanks to Bob for joining us for the day and providing a wealth of local site and bird watching knowledge, and to Nigel for driving the minibus.

hurst-castle

Hurst Castle with the Isle of Wight behind

 

A Day for Mammals

Bird News: Ivy Lakebittern 1+

I have very little news today as I was off site for even longer than I was yesterday, another meeting at Testwood and another failed attempt to see the firecrests and hawfinches.

When I opened up the hides this morning I saw very few birds of interest, but it was a good morning for mammals. As I approached the badger sett I heard a dog fox calling close by so I stopped and stood, the fox came into view and went to the sett. It dropped down into one fo the holes on the east side and almost immediately came out again pursued by a vixen. after a brief tussle the vixen went back underground. the dog then sat for some time on a fresh pile of earth, he looked my way several times but did not seem to see me, aalthough I was stood in the middle of the path in full view, After a few minutes he trotted off towards the Centre and I went to fill the bird feeders.

Heading towards the Ivy South hide I found a group of 3 roe deer and got a reasonable picture of one of them, a young buck, you can see the small antlers covered in their soft velvet. Roe deer do not rut in the autumn like fallow or red deer but in late summer and the doe then delays implantation of the fertilised egg until about the New Year.

young roe deer buck

Although I did not see any birds of note at Testwood, I did see a rather older roe buck, although it was in full retreat and did not hang around for a picture.

When I returned to Blashford in the afternoon it seemed that the bittern had once again been performing very well just below the Ivy North hide and had been seen catching a good sized perch, just as it has been a couple of times recently.