A Dry Spring

Lots of visitors are coming to the Tern hide at present, drawn in roughly equal measure by the Bonaparte’s gull and great views of the lapwing chicks. The gull was present on and off again yesterday as were 3 little gull (2 of them beautiful adults), up to 27 or more Mediterranean gull and at least a dozen common tern.

The two lapwing chicks in front of the hide are doing well and approaching two weeks old now, this is especially pleasing as they are only protected by their mother, dad having gone missing a while ago. She is driving off all comers, but especially redshank, common sandpiper and little ringed plover, not perhaps the greatest threats to her chicks.

lapwing chicks

lapwing chicks sheltering from a cool north wind.

So far lapwing are having a remarkable year and we have something like 20 pairs nesting with at least five already hatched. Of these three can be seen from Tern hide. The lake shore has the lure of water, where the chicks can find small insect prey, but it is not that safe as it is frequented by many predators. They would be better staying around puddles away from the shore, but the recent long bout of dry weather has meant almost all of them have dried out now, we could really do with some rain!

The good weather has been brilliant for early butterflies though; the reserve has had lots of orange-tip and large first broods of speckled wood and small copper.

small copper

small copper, one of many first brood ones seen this year.

As spring moves on we are now entering “Willow snow” season, when the woolly seeds of the willows are blown around and collect in drifts. It is these light-weight seeds that allow willows to colonise so well as they are carried long distances by the wind.

willow snow

willow seeds

Despite the dry weather there have been a few fungi around and I came across the one in the picture below growing on lichen heath on Sunday, I have failed to put a name to it though.

fungus

fungus on lichen heath

Recent days have seen a good range of birds around the reserve. Both garden warbler and common swift have arrived in numbers and there has been a good variety of migrants. On Sunday a fine male ruff was on Ibsley Water and other passage waders in the last few days have included whimbrel, greenshank, dunlin and common sandpiper.

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Black Kite is a Long Way from Home

It has been a very hectic week and one way or another I have not managed to get any posts done, so this will have to serve as a round-up of the last few days.

The big news of the week was of a black kite, seen and photographed well on Saturday afternoon, pictures can be seen on the HOS go-birding website, just click on “photos” at the top and you will see them. Blashford seems to be a bit of a local hot spot for black kite with several records in recent years, although all of them have avoided me! Unlike red kite , which are becoming ever more frequent as a resident, the black kite migrates to Africa for the winter. They breed commonly across southern Europe and regularly into central France, although they are pushing slowly northward they remain rare in Britain, being just an occasional over-shoot migrant.

Other bird news included a pied flycatcher seen by the Goosander hide on the 25th, up to 3 yellow wagtail, a male white wagtail and an arrival of garden warbler, sedge warbler and swift, the last reaching at least 200 over Ibsley Water today. A few waders have passed through too, with up to 6 dunlin, 5 common sandpiper and a greenshank.

The main task that has been occupying the volunteers has been the construction and deployment of tern rafts and just in time too as the common tern numbers have crept up to at least 18. On Thursday we put the first one out on Ivy Lake and it was immediately investigated by a pair of terns and today we put one out on Ellingham Pound, in both cases using the shelters built by the Young Naturalists last Sunday. The next ones to go out will be the first of the new ones built with a grant from HOS (Hampshire Ornithological Society), they are much easier to move about than the old ones and should last longer too.

I will do a full post on the rafts soon, including a “How to make one at home” easy guide to making one.

On the way over to the main car park this afternoon I was passing the lichen heath when I noticed the masses of early forget-me-not flowering by the tarmac roadway.

Forget-me-not constellation

early forget-me-not flowers

They are really tiny flowers, just a millimetre or two across, but there are hundreds of them, almost like a cloud of stars when viewed from a distance.

early forget-me-not

early forget-me-not flowers in close-up

I am hoping the promised warmer weather will bring a pick-up in insect numbers next week and perhaps even a few more butterflies and moths to report, so watch this space for more news.

 

A Bit of the Blues

Still quite a lot of bird song around, although the leaf cover makes seeing them a little tricky. most evident amongst the summer visitors  are blackcap, garden warbler and whitethroat song.

The seeds from the ripe catkins are now very much in evidence, but in among the drifting white downy seeds there are quite large numbers of almost inconspicuous blue damselflies. From the ones I managed to identify there is a mixture of common blue and azure damselflies.  At Blashford I’ve only been  aware that we have these two species, although there might just  be variable damselflies, which do occur on the New Forest. Blue damselflies are a group of insects that many find difficult to separate in the field and in truth they do look very similar.  Just as with birdwatching it helps to know a little about their range and habitat preferences so you can eliminate those species which are unlikely to occur.  To separate the blue and Azure it helps to be aware of  subtle differences in the arrangement of the various coloured parts.  Many field guides make mention of the shape of the black markings on the second segment of the abdomen (tail!) which is ‘club shaped’ on the blue and a ‘U’ shape on the Azure.  Personally I find this quite difficult as they perch with their wings along the body length, which can obscure these markings. My favoured field marks are the thicker blue stripes on the thorax of the common blue and also the double clear blue segments near the tip of the tail. Azure damselflies have one and one half blue segments on the tail.

Common blue damselfly ( Enallagma cyanthigerum)

Common blue damselfly ( Enallagma cyanthigerum)

Note the thick blue stripes, club shape near top of abdomen and blue end to  tail with a faint black line separating equal sized patches of blue.

Azure damselfly (Coenagrion puella)

Azure damselfly (Coenagrion puella)

Thinner blue stripes on thorax, ‘U’ shape mark and unequal sized blue bits on tail end.

All this, of course, applies to the male damselflies. the females are more confusing ( ’twas ever thus !!),  being less conspicuous by  having paler blue colouring and more black markings as in the case of this female common blue.

Female common blue damselfly

Female common blue damselfly

Also ‘on parade’ but proving more elusive to photograph, was a banded demoiselle damselfly, which perched approximately 10 feet up  and partially obscured by leaves – this poor image gives some indication of its stunning metallic lustre.

Banded demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)

Banded demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)

I spent some time today cutting back nettles and brambles around the entrance gates to the reserve, serenaded by blackcap and whitethroat, but otherwise not seeing much wildlife other than a fine male orange-tip butterfly, which failed to stop long enough to have it’s picture taken. More obliging was this speckled wood near the Woodland Hide.

Speckled wood

Speckled wood

Sometimes when wildlife watching you can see the most amazing things – like this mallard walking down an oak tree……

 

'Spider-Duck'??

‘Spider-Duck’??

A sort of duck-down!!!!!

Not really!!  Saw this mallard on fallen oak and couldn’t resist the urge to  turn the image sideways – sorry.

A relatively new addition to the reserve’s equipment is this small sailing boat to be used in some educational activities. Its been carefully tided up and all sharp edges removed before being set in the ground with some holes in the bottom and a soak-away underneath, so that it doesn’t fill with rain, all courtesy of some of our  volunteers, many thanks to them – you know who you are!.

 

Activity boat set into the ground for children.

Activity boat set into the ground for children.

But nature being what it is, it won’t be too long before the boat will be colonised by all sorts of wildlife.  In fact its already starting to happen as it appears there is a ‘piratical teddy’ on board.

Captain Ted

Captain Ted

 

 

 

Turn and Tern again

Greetings from a windswept Blashford.

The main ‘event’ today was a demonstration of wood turning by one of our regular conservation volunteers, Geoff Knott. Sadly the weather deterred a lot of people from visiting the reserve, but those who did were able to admire the skill of the craft and the beauty of the finished products.  Much of the wood used is from here or other Trust reserves and Goeff has kindly donated the proceeds from today’s sales to the Trust.

P1480258 woodturning demo

Geoff demonstrating his craft

 

Here's a few of the items he produced 'earlier'

Here’s a few of the items he produced ‘earlier’

Fortunately, for me, the lack of visitors gave me the chance to have an impromptu lesson on woodturning, thank you Geoff.

The really wet weather didn’t set in until early afternoon so we had a quick trip round part of the reserve. Not the best conditions for birdwatching, but did manage to catch up with my first view, this year, of common tern, appropriately from the Tern Hide.

Common tern

Common tern

An immature little gull was also seen (not by me) from this hide. Otherwise the bird life is much as recently reported with little ringed plover and lapwing around Ibsley Water and a collection of sand  martins, house martins and swallows over the water.

Lapwing foraging in front of Tern Hide, not the droplets of water on its back

Lapwing foraging in front of Tern Hide, note the droplets of water on its back

With chiffchaff, blackcap and garden warbler singing, it sounds like spring, even if it doesn’t feel spring-like.

Notable colour is being provided by a patch of leopard’sbane in flower close to the footbridge over Docken’s water.

Leopard'sbane

Leopard’sbane

 

 

A Couple of Prominent Visitors

Following yesterday’s weather with pleasingly warm spells, which encouraged a few butterflies to grace us with their presence in the garden,  it was a disappointingly overcast scene here at Blashford today.  Birds, however, can’t afford to be put off by a little spell of cooler, damper conditions and the usual chorus of willow warbler, chiffchaff, sedge warbler, reed warbler, Cetti’s warbler, blackcap and garden warbler were all singing brightly whilst we opened the reserve.

Not to be outdone by this vocal opposition, our local cuckoo has continued to call out his name for most of the morning and at least two of out regular visitors caught sight of him and managed to get a few pictures.

Cuckoo - picture courtesy of Nigel and Mara Elliott

Cuckoo – picture courtesy of Nigel and Mara Elliott

Signs of breeding success in the form of a  mallard and five, very small ducklings were seen on the path between Ivy Lake and the settlement pond.

I suspect that the largely more overcast conditions last night might have been responsible for an increase, over yesterday,  in the number and range of moths and other insects, ‘visiting’ our light trap.

Among the other insects there were five of the beetles that Jim referred to yesterday as May bugs, but which I’ve always called cockchafer.  I don’t think I’d ever seen more than one or two of these insects before I started moth trapping, and these had been during camping holidays,often attracted to the lights by the toilet block.  Intrigued by the different naming (Jim’s and mine) I took a look at a well-known on-line encyclopaedia to find out a little more about them. It would seem that there are three different species and at least two of these occur in the U,K, , one common cockchafer associated with open areas and a forest cockchafer found in more wooded areas. I’m guessing it’s the forest type we get here.  Apparently they used to occur in huge numbers before the introduction of chemical pesticides and were a significant pest as their lava , who may spend five to seven years underground, munch their way through the roots of crops. Some years the adults emerged in their millions.

As I said there were a few more moths than on previous nights,   As if to prove that our weather has improved lately, the Dark Sword-grass is an immigrant species presumably taking advantage of southerly winds. Although they have been recorded in the U.K. throughout the year but most frequently from July to October, so the two we found were, perhaps, a little early.

Dark Sword-grass

Dark Sword-grass

Probably the most distinctive moth today was this Nut-tree Tussock, with its striking two-tone livery.

Nut-tree Tussock

Nut-tree Tussock

Not to be outdone were the two individuals who gave rise to the title of this post. Presumably not named for their importance or influence, but because they have raised tufts on their heads, were this Pebble Prominent and Great Prominent.

Pebble Prominent

Pebble Prominent

Great Prominent

Great Prominent

Finding Gold and Watching Out for Tough Ted

Bird News: Ibsley Waterruff 1, little ringed plover 2, water pipit 1, goldeneye 7, mandarin duck 1, sedge warbler 1, Cetti’s warbler 1. Ivy LakeCetti’s warbler 1, scaup 1, garden warbler 1, water rail 2+.

Apart from the odd shower the day was largely sunny, although with an increasingly brisk south-west wind. Opening the Tern hide I saw the water pipit briefly before it flew off to the south over Ellingham Drove, I have seen it do this before and I wonder if it goes to the shingle area around Ellingham Pound, I must make time to check sometime. A single ruff remains and I saw at least 2 little ringed plovers distantly up the lake. A drake mandarin duck flew west over the lake, it seems we have a pair around regularly at present, perhaps they will breed locally this year.

Over beside Ivy Lake I heard my first garden warbler of the year, just south of the Woodland hide. It was also good to see a water rail on the silt pond, there is a pair at the Ivy North hide and it seems there may also be potential for a further breeding territory ont he silt pond as well. The Cetti’s warbler was also singing by the pond and I heard a report of another singing near the Lapwing hide, another species that has not bred on the reserve in my time working here.

Despite a return to more normal weather for the time of year there are still signs of the season moving on, I saw a group of bluebells in full flower and the pendulous sedge near the Centre is coming into flower as well, the long drooping flower heads have masses of pollen.

pendulous sedge in flower

Another plant I noticed in flower today was one that I only realised even grew on the reserve earlier this year, what’s more it is easily visible from one of the paths I walk down several times each day, which just shows how unobservant I am! I am not talking about a single plant either but two large patches a few metres across, the plant is opposite-leaved golden saxifrage, a plant of damp or even wet woodland.

opposite-leaved golden saxifrage

During the day I heard reports of a sedge warbler singing near the Lapwing hide, the first this year and rather later than in most years, in fact there often reed warblers about by now, so although this has been a rather early year for most species is has not been for all. There were a few sand martin, swallow and a house martin or two about over several of the lakes at different times, although numbers of sand martin are still very low, hopefully they are still out there somewhere.

When I went to lock up the hides I was in for a surprise on Ivy Lake, the return of the drake scaup, it seems to have settled in with the local tufted ducks and was displaying to a female tufty, so perhaps it will stay all summer. I was also amused to see the logbook in the Ivy North hide, which included reference to a bird we might want to avoid, the “Tough Ted duck”.

Closing the Tern hide I saw a group of 7 goldeneye, including 2 adult drakes, I doubt they will be with us much longer.