Out and About in the Sunshine

It has been very, very dry recently and reasonably sunny, however it has also been quite cold for a lot of the time, with north or north-east winds. This has made for quite a good spring for insects, certainly better than for several years, although it could do with warming up a bit and we will need some rain, not too much, just enough to keep the vegetation green. Yesterday it was warmer and the wind swung round to a more southerly direction.

I finally saw my second dragonfly of the year, I have seen lots of damselflies but dragons have been in very short supply. Although the view was brief I think it was a hairy dragonfly. I also found several of one of my favourite insects, groundhoppers, small relations to grasshoppers that get easily overlooked as they are adult in spring. There are three species in Britain and we get two of them at Blashford, or at least sop far I have only found two species. They favour damp, bare ground and can both fly and swim! The one below is a slender groundhopper.

slender groundhopper 2

Slender groundhopper

I was out bird surveying at the start of the day at Linwood reserve and noticed that the leaves on the oak there are mostly brown, almost all the first flush of leaves dead. Linwood lies in the valley of the Dockens Water a well known frost-hollow, these leaves had all been killed by the late frost that also had my early potatoes. This will be bad news for the nesting blue tit on the reserve as they mainly feed their chicks on winter moth caterpillars and these eat the first flush of oak leaves.

Hawthorn, or may, traditionally flowers in May, although often it seems to be earlier, this year it has lived up to the name and was in full bloom in the first week of the month. Although it has lots of flowers they do not seem to attract as many insects as the earlier blackthorn flowers, however one in a good sunny spot can still be worth checking for bees, hoverflies and beetles. I spotted this leaf beetle nectaring on the bush close to Ivy South hide as I locked up yesterday afternoon.

leaf beetle

leaf beetle on hawthorn

Yesterday’s birds included a male wheatear on the Lichen Heath and the long-staying Bonaparte’s gull on Ibsley Water.

 

 

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Ice, Ice

Blashford was unusually quiet today, not really surprising as roads to the reserve were treacherous and the fog meant that seeing more than a few tens of metres was impossible. This is not to say that there was nothing to see however. At the Woodland hide there were at least 2 male brambling feeding with the chaffinch and from Ivy South hide the ducks were concentrated close to the hide, giving great views. However the real things to look at were the effects of the cold weather on the everyday things around the reserve, the heavy frost on the trees and grass and frosted seed heads. Best of all, in my opinion were some amazing iced leaves embedded in some of the frosted puddles.

ice-leaves

Iced leaves

The mass of leaves looked good but some of the single leaves were even more impressive.

ice-leaf

Ice leaf

I think the effect comes from little pockets of air trapped along the leaf veins, but I don’t remember seeing it before.

Today was also notable as the day our new apprentices started, they are working with us until the end of March as part of the “Our Past, Our Future” project with the New Forest National Park.

Frosty Sniping

It is a remarkable thing, but often true, that the sun always shines on the Blashford volunteers and so it was today. Admittedly it was a little chilly, but as we were coppicing willow we soon warmed up and it was a glorious day to be outside. As to my claim about the sun shining on the volunteers, it is more or less true, or at least it almost never rains. They meet every Thursday morning and it has happened a number of times that it has been raining ant 09:50, but dry by 10:00 (when we start), or been dry but started to rain just as we finish. Oddly the Sunday volunteers, who meet just once a month, not infrequently get rained on despite meeting at the same time and working for the same duration.

frosted-grass

frosted grass

The cold still seems to have had little effect upon the birds, although there were more snipe than usual feeding along the shore of Ibsley Water today, no doubt because they are finding harder to find worms now that the top layer of the ground is frozen. I had gone to Goosander hide on a tip-off that there was a jack snipe there, a bird I have very rarely seen at Blashford and never other than when I have flushed them. When I got there I could see several common snipe and an unringed great white egret.

gwe-snipe

great white egret and snipe

I scanned along the shore and eventually found 13 common snipe and the single jack snipe probing the ground beside the water to the north of the hide. More frequent readers of this blog will have seen the many excellent pictures we get sent in as well as my own, somewhat variable efforts. So in the tradition of the “Record shot” I offer my jack snipe, with a few common snipe thrown-in.

snipe-and-jack-snipe

Jack snipe (honest) with 4 common snipe

Jack snipe, unlike their common relative, do not breed in Britain, coming to us for the winter from points north and east. They are probably one of our most secretive birds, relying on camouflage and usually staying in dense vegetation and flying only when nearly stepped upon. We know very little about how many visit Britain each winter, but it will be hundreds of times as many as ever get seen. They are smaller than common snipe, with shorter bills and a peculiar habit of slowly bobbing up and down, in fact this is often what gives them away. Which begs the question, “Why be so well camouflaged and then give yourself away by bobbing up and down?” Answers on a postcard, well in a comment might be better, please.

During the afternoon a ring-billed gull and several yellow-legged gull were seen from Tern hide. I say “a” ring-billed gull as there was a suggestion that it was not the regular bird, something for the keen gull watchers to ponder. It was the case that there were at least two at the end of last winter and it is entirely possible that they will both/all return again, as gull are long-lived and often go back to places they know.

As I locked up my brief glance from Ivy North hide coincided with the bittern flying across into the long reeds to the west of the hide, a place they have roosted in previous years.

Brrrr Blashford

There was ice on some of the lakes this morning and some of it lasted all day, something that does not happen every winter these days. So far the cold snap does not seem to have resulted in many birds arriving as it might later in the winter, but it has seen a distinct upturn in the number of birds visiting the feeders at the Woodland hide.

frosty-leaves

frosty leaves

At Ivy North hide recently water rail have been much in evidence and we were sent the  picture below taken from there by John Hartley.

2016-blachford-water-rail-pair-20-nov-2016

two water rail at Ivy North hide (by John Hartley)

Nobody seems to have seen the bittern for a couple of days, although great white egret was there today. I suspect the bittern might have moved a little to get access to open water as the reedbed by the hide is mostly frozen.

The gull roost this evening did show some signs of an effect of the cold snap in the form of an increase in the number of common gull, there were at least 60 this evening and I understand the ring-billed gull was seen again.