Odd jobs and enjoying the view

On Sunday it was time again for our monthly Young Naturalists session, and we began the day by choosing a few items for our new Welcome Hut. These would hopefully be a talking point for both our new welcome volunteers and visitors, both young and old, and make the hut look more inviting. As we are still waiting for the interpretation we didn’t get too carried away and the group chose one item each. As a result, the hut does still look pretty empty, but we’re looking forward to filling it properly once the signage is all in place.

They selected a nice mix of items, including a pike jaw bone, roe deer skull, barn owl, fallow deer teeth, long tailed tit nest, badger skull, sea urchin fossil and three ducks, a widgeon, mallard and teal. I think they managed to convince Bryn and Jan that all the items were worthy of a place in the hut! We also gave the volunteers a peacock butterfly which was perfect for looking at in more detail under the microscope and popular with visitors throughout the day.

With the weather warming up we are running the light trap more regularly. Looking at and having a go at identifying moths has always been a popular activity with our Young Naturalists so it was great to have a rummage through the trap and see that they were still as enthusiastic as ever.

We had a number of different species including Hebrew character, Clouded drab, Common quaker, Small quaker, Twin-spotted quaker, Frosted green and Brindled beauty.

The group then treated the willow dragonflies they had made last month with artist Kim Creswell. The wasps made with the Home Education group and the dragonflies have now had two coats of a natural preservative so are ready to be positioned around the reserve on our ‘Wild Walk’. Watch this space to find out when and where you can see them.

Treating the dragonflies

Treating the willow dragonflies

We then headed over the road to see the new Tern Hide, and check out the view over Ibsley Water from the new viewing platform.

After lunch we spent a bit of time pollarding willow and bundling it up to store and use at a later date. It was getting a bit late in the year to harvest the crop but as last summer had been so dry it had not grown as well as previous years, so we just concentrated on the larger, longer whips and left the smaller ones. We will see how it grows this year, but I think there will be plenty for us to pollard next Winter.

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly funded by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. The Trust is sponsoring another Wildlife Camp in the New Forest from 31st May to 2nd June and spaces are available. The camp is aimed at young wildlife enthusiasts between 12 and 17 years and details can be found on their website here.

Our new Tern Hide, viewing platform and Welcome Hut have been funded by public donations and Veolia Environmental Trust (with money from the Landfill Communities Fund).

vet-logo

 

Some Birds and Some Bees

I had my first proper look out of the new Tern Hide when I arrived to open up this morning and was greeted by something between 600 and 1000 sand martin swooping over the water, the first serious arrival of hirundines this spring. I saw only one swallow though and no sign of any house martin.

Along the shore in front of the hide there was a pair of little ringed plover and a fine male lapwing.

lapwing

male lapwing from Tern Hide

There were several ducks feeding close in too.

gadwall drake

drake gadwall, not just a dull, grey duck as some would have you believe

shoveler pair

shoveler pair

tufted duck pair

tufted duck pair

I spent a good part of the day trying to complete the annual report, which kept me in the office on a day when outside would have been far preferable. However I did have an excuse to get out for a while and enjoy the sunshine as we had a visit from a small group of top entomologists to look particularly at solitary bees, of which we saw many species including a few new reserve records. Incidentally we also saw several orange-tip, including one female, speckled wood and peacock.

Locking up the weather was still sunny and at the Woodland Hide finches were still feeding, including a good number of brambling.

brambling male

male brambling

There were also several reed bunting, almost all males.

reed bunting male

male reed bunting 

The White Stuff

A Red Letter Day for Fishlake Meadows today, we finally have some cattle on site! We had hoped they would be on much earlier and next year I am sure we will. They will be grazing in Ashley Meadow for the next few weeks, hopefully helping us to maintain the rich fen habitat.

English White cattle on Ashley Meadow

British White cattle on Ashley Meadow

As we were unable to graze the meadow earlier in the year we did take a hay cut from about half of the field.

Ashley Meadow

Ashley Meadow showing the boundary between the cut and uncut areas

The intention is to maintain a mix of tall and slightly shorter herbage with very few trees and shrubs. Such habitats are very rich in plants and as a result invertebrates. Mowing certainly can deliver this, but the act of mowing is rather dramatic, eliminating large areas of habitat at a stroke, by contrast grazing achieves a similar result but at a more gradual pace. Gazing animals will also favour some areas and species over others so the variability in height, what is known as the “structure” of the grassland will be greater.

When I was in Ashley Meadow preparing for the arrival of the cattle today I saw a good range of species including several very smart small copper.

small copper

small copper

There was a very interesting article in a recent issue of British Wildlife magazine which highlighted the effects of different grassland management regimes on spider populations and species. I have not managed to identify the one below yet, but I saw it lurking on a flower waiting for an unwary insect to be lured in.

spider

crab spider on fleabane flower

When looking at grassland management there are many considerations, should it be mown or grazed,or both, most hayfields are cut for the hay crop and then grazed later in the season. Traditional hay meadows were cut around or just after mid-summer and this favoured plants that set seed by this time like yellow rattle or which spread vegetatively. Modern grass cropping by silage making produces a much larger grass crop but the grassland is more or less a mono-culture, the land may be green but it is certainly not pleasant as far as most wildlife is concerned.

Once the cutting regime is settled there is grazing to consider, but not all animals graze in the same way, sheep and horses cut the grass short using their teeth, cattle rip the grass in tufts using their tongue to gather each bunch. The resulting grassland will look very different and be home to very different wildlife. Timing of grazing will also make a big difference, mid-late summer grazing tends to produce the most diverse flora, but this will vary with location and ground type.

Lastly different breed of animals will graze in different ways, our cattle at Fishlake are British Whites, a traditional bred that will eat grass but also likes to mix in some rougher sedge and other herbage as well as some tree leaves and twigs, ideal for a site such as Fishlake Meadows.

It was not only a white themed day at Fishlake, as I locked up at Blashford Lakes the view from Tern hide was filled with birds, in particular 13 brilliant white little egret and 2 great white egret.

herons egrets and cormorants

egrets, herons and cormorants

Ibsley Water has been attracting huge numbers of fish eating birds recently, with up to 300 cormorant, over 100 grey heron and the egrets, although I have failed to see them there have also been 2 cattle egret seen.

Ivy Lake has also produced a few notable records int he last few days, yesterday a bittern was photographed flying past Ivy South hide, far and away our earliest reserve record, but with the British population doing much better these days perhaps something we will get used to as young birds disperse. There have also been a few notable ducks, yesterday a juvenile garganey and today 4 wigeon , 3 pintail and a few shoveler as well as good numbers of gadwall and a dozen or so teal.

A Couple of Tanners

Despite continued warm nights the number of moths coming to the trap are actually declining, I suspect it might have got too warm and especially dry for many moths to cope with. This does not mean the traps have been devoid of interest though, on two recent mornings the catch has included one of Britain’s largest beetles, the tanner beetle Prionus coriarius. 

tanner beetle

tanner beetle

This is something of a New Forest speciality, being quite frequent in the area and rather scarce across the rest of south-east England.

It will be interesting to see if the numbers pick up again now that it has rained and the weather settles down again, as it is supposed to do by the end of the week.

At Blashford things remain pretty quiet, there are unusual numbers of gadwall making the most of the weed in Ivy Lake, the peak count so far is 139. Numbers of coot, both there and on Ibsley Water are relatively high as well. There has been very little sign of migration so far, although there are several common sandpiper around and at least one green sandpiper. There has been some indication of small birds on the move, the ringers have caught whitethroat and grasshopper warbler and there are a few willow warbler and chiffchaff that seem to be passing through.

 

Dots of Green

The prolonged dry conditions have caused the grass to go brown almost everywhere you look at the moment. Grasses are a group of plants that are drought adapted and when it rains you can be confident that it will green up again quite rapidly. Other plants respond differently, most annuals are as crisp as the grass, often growing less than usual and seeding earlier before the lack of water kills them. What is obvious though is that even in the brownest grass there still dots of green, these are the deep rooted perennial plants. In my mini-meadow the field scabious in particular still has green leaves and is covered in flowers.

The plants that can keep growing in these conditions provide valuable nectar sources for insects. At Blashford Lakes one plant that just carries on is burdock and the plants near the Education Centre are a magnet for insects.

sil;ver-washed fritillarysilver-washed fritillary

Most butterflies have had a good season, numbers overall have been higher than in recent years, although many are not flying for very long. The species that over-winter by hibernation such as peacock and small tortoiseshell have disappeared, they will be hiding away in sheds and cellars, before they fly again in the early autumn.

One group of butterflies that don’t seem to mind the conditions are the whites, perhaps being white their colour reflects the heat better than the dark browns, which hide away in the shade during the hottest part of the day.

small white

small white

As well as butterflies the same flowers are attracting bees as well, at Blashford Lake, a swell as the bumble-bees, I have seen lots of green-eyed flower bee on the burdock flowers. These smallish, compact bees are very fast flyers and have a distinctive, high pitched buzz.

green-eyed flower bee

green-eyed flower bee

In general the reserve remains quite for birds. On Ivy Lake over a hundred gadwall is a good count for the time of year and on Ibsley Water there are good numbers of coot and tufted duck, although counting them is proving tricky. A few migrant waders are turning up, a common sandpiper or two and the occasional black-tailed godwit are witness to approaching autumn. The ringers have reported catching willow warbler, whitethroat and grasshopper warbler recently, almost certainly all migrants rather than local birds.

Counting and Estimating

It was a very grey dawn that broke as I waited in Lapwing hide this morning in an attempt to count the goosander roost on Ibsley Water. Unfortunately I think a lot of them  had already left as I saw only 54, I would have expected over a hundred at this stage of the winter. Luckily, although it was very grey, there was almost no wind, making counting the wildfowl quite easy. Overall the counts on Ibsley Water were poor, a few years ago there could have been totals of a thousand or more, but poor weed growth has meant there is little food for many species this winter. The highlight was seeing both of the black-necked grebe together, although they then went their own ways very quickly, one remaining close the southern shore the other up to the north-west corner as usual.

Luckily some of the other lakes do have a good growth of weed, most notably Ivy Lake which held 356 gadwall and 318 wigeon, although only 31 coot was a real surprise as they are also weed-eaters. It seems the coot were mostly on Rockford Lake, where there were 340, but only a few dozen each of wigeon and gadwall. Perhaps they prefer different types of weed or maybe the coot are going after weed in deeper water. Recent conditions may mean that the ducks do not need to follow the coot around to get at the weed they drag up and can feed on floating fragments.

Wildfowl are relatively easy to count on a lake, they do not move fast and if you have a good viewpoint you can see them all, at least if they are not diving. Later in the I encountered birds that were rather more difficult to count.

In the afternoon I was at our new reserve at Fishlake Meadows, to look at what will eventually be the reserve storage area and yard. We will not have access to it for a while but it was valuable to see the site and where service entry points are. Setting up a new site is always exciting but dealing with all the elements that need to be in place to make things work at their best taxes my brain at times.

After dealing with the boring but essential site details we walked the canal path and witnessed the modest but still impressive starling roost. I say modest, but I was quite unable to count them, an estimate would be perhaps 8-10,000, nothing like the 60,000 or more that were seen a couple of weeks ago. They arrived in several groups, the largest landed quite quickly.

dropping down to roost

The flock dropping into roost

Shortly after this a buzzard flew low over the roost which took flight and then mostly landed in neighbouring trees and bushes.

starlings sitting in trees

bushes full of starlings

All the while extra groups of birds were flying in. Quite a sight and they attracted a fair crowd of local people, it is always good to see people able to enjoy wildlife on their own doorstep. There is something especially satisfying about being able to walk out from your own home and see wildlife, or better still be able to see it in, or from your own garden. Wildlife should really be living around us, not just experienced by travelling to special places, one of the great things about Fishlake Meadows is its proximity to the town of Romsey, wildlife on their doorstep.

Just the Job

The Pop-up cafe was back and so were our splendid Blashford volunteers, for their first task of the new year. I had planned a hedge-laying task but the cold morning and brisk north-east wind caused me to rethink and look for a more sheltered work site. So we ended up clearing a patch of small willow, birch and alder that have invaded the boggy reeds at the top end of the Ivy Silt Pond. I had been meaning to do this task for a while but somehow other things kept pushing this down the list.

start

At the start

This is one of rather few boggy habitats we have on the reserve and it is home to a few species we do not have elsewhere, such as royal fern, bog myrtle and Sphagnum moss. I suspect all arriving there via the Dockens Water. It is amazing what five people working for a couple of hours can do!

end

At the end of a couple of hours work

We dead-hedged the material we cut, much quicker and less damaging than burning. Perhaps the most obvious thing int he second picture is the tall stumps, we usually cut at between knee and waist height, I know this will seem strange to many trained to cut stumps as low as possible, but I do have my reasons.

If we are working with handtools it is very difficult to cut very low to the ground, so cutting at this level is just easier. Low stumps are also hard to see when dragging cut material away so there is a trip risk, the taller stumps are easier to avoid. If I want to I can go round and cut them really low with a chainsaw once the site is clear, or I can treat them with less chance of missing any.  For some species such as birch and alder I have also found that fewer grow back at this height than if cut flush to the ground and then the remaining stump becomes a useful bit of standing deadwood.

Surprisingly on a day when visitors were complaining of the cold, it was very pleasant working int he sunshine and out of the wind and we all had to shed a layer or two to avoid overheating!

The reserve was busy with visitors all day and a good range of birds were to be seen, despite the wind. On Ibsley Water one of the black-necked grebe was close to Goosander hide for most of the day and I counted 129 pochard, a good count these days. A ring-billed gull was reported, but most of the duck were sheltering close to the northern shore.

Ivy Lake is much more sheltered and held at least one thousand wildfowl, including about 250 teal. There were also good numbers of gadwall and wigeon along with a few shoveler, pintail, mallard, coot and diving ducks. Walter the great white egret was also there during the day but seems to have found a more sheltered roost site than his usual exposed dead alder.

At the Woodland hide several brambling and a good range of other woodland species are increasingly evident. I suspect we may get good numbers later on in February and March.

Pochards in the Mist

Okay, so they do not quite have the “wow factor” of gorillas, but they were all that I could see when I arrived to do the monthly waterfowl count this morning.

pochard in the mist

Pochard in the mist

It had been pretty cold overnight and there was quite a frost on the vegetation and even some ice on the puddles.

frosty thistle

frosty creeping thistle

Waiting for the mist to rise I went through the reedbed to Lapwing hide, seeing a couple of chiffchaff on the way.

dawn over the reeds

Early morning reedbed

Eventually the sun did start to burn off the murk.

sun clearing the mist

The sun breaking through

Finally I could start counting in earnest.

misty Ibsley Water

Mist finally clearing from Ibsley Water

On the whole the counts were not high, but I did see the largest number of goosander I have seen so far this autumn, exactly how many I am not quiet sure, 39 flew out at dawn, but then 5 flew in, then 9 flew over followed by another 2, so anything from 39 to 55!

Despite visiting all the lakes I failed to find the lesser scaup or the ferruginous duck, I suspect that both may not have taken kindly to the weekend’s fireworks, perhaps they will return in a few days. I did see out great white egret and either three pairs of raven or perhaps one pair three times. The pink-footed goose was again with the greylag flock on Ibsley Water. For its size Ivy Lake had the most birds, including 118 gadwall, our only internationally important species at Blashford. This importance is based on the fact that we regularly have more than 1% of the north-west European wintering population.

 

 

 

A Clear(er) View

On Thursday the volunteers cleared the annual vegetation from in front of the Tern hide, we do this each year for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is that it improves the view of the nearest shore from the hide. Another is that it clears the ground for the nesting lapwing and little ringed plover next spring. There are also always some seedling bramble, birch and willow that need pulling out before they get established.

before

The shore before we started

after

and after a couple of hours of hard weeding

Looking out from the hide today this did not make much difference as visibility was seriously reduced due to persistent heavy rain. Despite this there were some birds to see, including at least 800 sand martin, 3 swift, 2 dunlin, a little ringed plover, 3 common sandpiper, 33 mute swan and 3 pochard. Ivy Lake was quieter with just a few coot, gadwall and great crested grebe, there are also still two broods of two common tern chicks on the rafts.

Today was not a day for invertebrates, but I do have one more picture from Thursday, spotted in long grass as I went round locking up, a wasp spider, my first of the year.

wasp spider

Wasp spider female with prey.

 

A Bit of a Catch-up

Apologies for a bit of a gap in posts, a combination of not a lot to report and too much to do.

The volunteers have been busy working in and around the former Hanson concrete plant site to get it into shape for the winter and to enhance the establishment of the plantings and sown grassland areas.  I am amazed how well the planting have survived considering the prolonged dry spell we have had and the almost unspeakably poor soil they were planted into, testament to how carefully they were planted. We have also been cutting nettle, bramble and thistle growth off the areas that we want to establish as grassland such as the shore to the west of Goosander hide where we were working on Tuesday in the oppressive heat.

before

The shore before we started covered with low bramble.

after

The shore at the end of the day.

It turned out there was quite a lot of grass and other plants under the bramble cover, so whilst there is still a fair bit to do I think we should be able to establish a grassy bank in the longer term, ideal for wigeon in the winter and lapwing in the spring.

The warm weather has been good for insects with butterfly numbers surging in the last week.

speckled wood

speckled wood

Moth trapping has also been good with several new species for the year.

Crescent

crescent moth

As well as good numbers of old favourites.

black arches

Black arches moth, a male with feathery antennae, the pattern seems to be slightly different on each one.

purple thorn

Purple thorn.

We are into a bit of a slack time for birds at the moment, although with autumn migration just starting things should pick up soon. A single green sandpiper has been around and common sandpiper reached at least six on Monday. Today there were 6 pochard, 4 more than recently. Almost all of the common tern have fledged now, just the three late broods remain, once again success has been very high at around two chicks fledged per pair. On Iblsey Water there are at least four broods of tufted duck and one of gadwall.

I had hoped to feature some of the many fine pictures I have been sent in recent days and I will do so soon, I’m afraid tonight that the technology has defeated me.