Nearly the end of the summer holidays – and at last summer is here!

I’m camping with my family again this weekend – nothing too adventurous, just a few miles down the road from home at a campsite in the Forest! Doesn’t matter where it is though, its just being away from home and the kids being able to run riot with the extended family and friends and their families who are all there too. We haven’t had much luck weather wise with our camping this year so I’m looking forward to packing away a DRY tent on Monday!

In the meantime despite all the early signs of autumn (blackberries and blackberry pickers, volunteer Geoff bringing in his windfall apples from home for the birds (and other wildlife!) outside Woodland Hide, late morning dew-laden grass and cobwebs, hirundines gathering in pre-migration flocks, common and green sandpipers on the shore (and even a woodsandpiper outside Tern Hide on Wednesday and Thursday this week), the sun is shining here at Blashford too – and it is bringing out the butterflies again at last too! The volunteers who walk the butterfly transects on a weekly basis have had their best counts for a while, and sightings this week have included clouded yellow and  grayling – my lunch by the pond today was a fiesta of brimstones, green veined white and small tortoiseshell. This female common darter was reasonably obliging too – until it decided that my hand was a better perch!

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Like the butterflies, dragonflies are fairly active again now after a bit of a lull with the poorer weather and there was even a report of a ruddy darter by the pond earlier in the week although the visitor who reported it could not be 100% as it had only been a glimpse, albeit of a very red dragonfly which he was sure was not a common darter, so keep your eyes open for us – ruddy darter are not a common sight on the reserve by any means, although the common darter very much can be in some autumns.

Our volunteers recording reptiles on the northerly transect had a good week this week too – 4 adders, 4 grass snakes and an additional 9 newly “born” juvenile adders, which is great news (unless you don’t like snakes that is, in which case look away now!):

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Three baby adders by one of the survey tins

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Another juvenile adder on the side of the path – please watch where you are walking!

Visitors and photographers continue to gather in Goosander Hide to enjoy and photograph the all too obliging kingfishers, who continue to oblige! With so many eyes on Ibsley Water they’re picking up plenty of other exciting birds too – Sunday and the start of this week had marsh harrier pasing through on several occasions and on Thursday morning Dee was lucky enough to not just see, but photograph, this honey buzzard coming through:

Honey buzzard by Dee Maddams

Honey buzzard over Ibsley Water by Dee Maddams

 

Tracy and I have had another busy week playing (I know, I know, but it really is hard work, honest!).

This weeks Wild Days Out have included a “Wild Challenge” day which went really well and were thoroughly enjoyed by everyone, although sadly bookings were not as great as the other events this summer so it was a privileged few who participated in the fun and testing team activities in the end. They elected to challenge themselves as a girls vs. a boys team and needless to say, it was the boys who won…! Actually that is entirely unfair – the girls took and held an early lead and only just lost out (72 points to the boys 76!) in the very last activity of the day! A good time was had by all, but I think the girls (probably quite rightly!) felt robbed! Haven’t got any pictures to share as there were a number of children for whom we did not have photographic consent, but IO can tell you that the highlights were the natural tinder fire lighting challenge, the “Rapidough” style clay sculpting challenge and the “Kims” game plant identification & memory challenge!

Wednesday was the turn of the younger 5-8 year olds to join us, this week for nothing more complicated than a fairly freeform “wild play day” of firelighting, den building, bug hunting, mud/clay play and “natural painting” with clay, charcoal, chalk and blackberries and a water fight! Just to ramp up the pressure on what otherwise would have been a fairly relaxed day for us as staff “Ofsted” were here to inspect the quality and safety of our provision. We did of course pass with no problems, just a couple of suggested amendments to some of our recruitment procedures, but I have to say I was pleased to when she let me know we had passed and left so I could get on with the more serious business of playing and could relax again!

Bug hunting was very much the order of the day and it was nice to see banded demoiselle as opposed to the beautiful demoiselle we see normally at Blashford alongside the other damselflies and grasshoppers, crickets etc. in the grass. Caterpillars were also very much in evidence, including a “woolly bear” (tiger moth?) caterpillar and this goat moth caterpillar which REALLY fascinated them!

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Not a bug, but equally fascinating was a common shrew (I “tweeted” a picture at the time but I have managed to delete the picture off my phone so can’t share it here sadly!), who was either too hungry to worry about the 6 or so children that were crowded around it at any one time, or too young to know that it was supposed to be afraid and run away! In the end we carefully moved it away from curious eyes (and the fingers that were starting to become inquisitive!) into some long grass and some peace and quiet!

The day finished with an “environmentally responsible” water fight – okay, you can probably never really have a truly environmentally friendly water fight, but a couple of buckets of water and a load of sponges must come pretty close and are so much more “eco” than little rubber balloons or lengthy hosepipe battles… and it was a lot of fun!

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AND FINALLY, in all senses of the word, having started with a mention of my family, I shall finish with my family and specifically my eldest son Toby. AGES ago he took it upon himself to raise some money for Blashford Lakes by making and selling some fairy cakes to our neighbours – all his own idea and all his own work. His collection sat around at home for a while, and then my desk for a while and I have kept meaning to properly acknowledge his contribution and completely failing to do so – until now:

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It isn’t a huge amount in the grand scheme of things, but all donations are always very gratefully received at Blashford Lakes and by the Trust generally, and I know for a fact that this is a pretty reasonable sum to Toby anyway, so Toby, THANK YOU and I’m only sorry I didn’t say thank you sooner!

They were good cakes too 😉

 

 

 

 

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30 Days Wild – Day 26: In the Woods

A day of meetings for me today, but at least one of them was in a woodland on a small reserve where we are looking at some works to rejuvenate a mire that is getting shaded out by willow, birch and pine. The area has a lot of fallow deer and although we saw only a couple of adults we found two fawns lying up in the bracken.

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fallow fawn

There were a few butterflies out including meadow brown and ringlet, but it was reptiles that stole the day. We saw a very large female grass snake and as we were leaving a fine male adder.

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adder

I had to wait until I got home to see my other highlight of the day, when I checked the moth trap it contained a small elephant hawk-moth, one of my favourite species.

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small elephant hawk-moth

 

30 Days Wild – Day 9: Send in the Troops

Despite a bit of a stutter in the summer weather this week the season still advances and Day 9 of 30 Days Wild saw the first common tern chicks on the rafts on Ivy Lake. I think they probably hatched couple of days ago. One pair was a few days ahead of the main group so I am expecting a lot of chicks to hatch next week. Common tern almost invariably lay three eggs, so if they all hatch our 36 pairs will have about 100 chicks between them, so fingers crossed for a successful season.

I saw the terns from Ivy South hide where the grass snake were on show, basking on the stump below the hide.

two grass snakes on the stump

Snakes on the stump

The most significant sightings of the day though were once again of insects. I will always try to make a quick check of the hemlock water-dropwort at lunchtime, this plant is very attractive to nectaring insects and amongst these can be some rarer species. In particular it attracts bees, hoverflies and soldierflies. Blashford is a good site for bees, many of which use the dry lichen heath for nesting. Equally the wetland habitats are the home to many hoverflies and especially soldierflies, including some nationally rare species. So I was very pleased to spot at least one ornate brigadier soldierfly (Odontomyia ornata), a species that we see at Blashford every couple of years or so and has, so far, not been found anywhere else in Hampshire. I then spotted a second species, the black colonel (Odontomyia tigrina), slightly more often recorded but still quite rare, this one at least allowed me to take a picture.

Odontomyia tigrina female

Black colonel soldierfly (Odontomyia tigrina), female on hemlock water-dropwort.

However visiting flowers to feed, as these insects must do, is a risky business, there are predators lying in wait, in particular crab spiders.

crab spider with bee prey

Crab spider with bee as prey

Elsewhere on the reserve the three smaller lapwing chicks are still surviving in front of Tern hide along with the single larger one, I did not see the oystercatcher chicks and I suspect they may have lost one late on Thursday. We will see what next week brings.

30 Days Wild – Day 1: Weird Stuff

Here we are again, another June and another 30 Days Wild, I will try to keep up this year and post something every day.

I was at Blashford today with the volunteers tidying up on the southern shore of Ivy Lake, clearing away some old tern rafts and doing a little Himalayan balsam pulling, actually the volunteers did these things, I cut a few brambles and set up the telescope to count the nesting common tern. I am pretty sure we now have 25 pairs on the rafts with nests and eggs, possibly 26 pairs. So with five pairs on the Pound we have reached thirty pairs for the first time! This has been a really successful project and almost entirely the work of our great volunteer team. Over the last ten years the Blashford terns have consistently produced more flying chicks per pair than any other local colony, with many pairs achieving the magical 100% success rate, laying three eggs and fledging three chicks. Over the last year we have made a whole set of new rafts funded by a grant from Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS) to a design refined and honed by our volunteer team.

During the course of the work we came across two grass snake, a nest of bank vole and a number of dragonflies including an emperor, scarce chaser and broad-bodies chaser.

The weirdest thing I saw today though was an old favourite of mine, a slime mould, these are strange organisms that usually live as single cells but aggregate to form sporangia and it is this stage that we can see on old wet logs. The one I found today near the Woodland hide was a Stemonitis, possibly Stemonitis axifera. They take less than a day to aggregate, develop and produce spores and then disappear.

Stemonitis axifera

Slime mould, probably Stemonitis axifera on a damp log near the Woodland hide.

Regulars will be pleased to hear that the two lapwing chicks and the two oystercatcher chicks are still doing well outside Tern hide, with an additional and larger, oystercatcher chick in the distance on Gull Island as well.

You can see various 30 Days Wild stuff on Twitter via #30DaysWild and probably lots of other places too and it is still not too late to join the over 45,000 people who have signed up to do something wild on 30 Days. Our environment is vital to our wellbeing, physical and mental health and it is where we live, despite this it is not getting much attention

Meanwhile, Back at Blashford

Whilst Tracy was off roaming the southern side of the Forest with the Young Naturalists, I was back at Blashford where Sunday was very pleasantly sunny and warm. As the week ahead looks grey and damp, it was likely to be the best day of the week for butterflies and a good opportunity to get the transects done. Although numbers of butterflies are declining as the spring species decline there are a few summer ones starting to appear, the last couple of days have seen the first common blue and brown argus on the wing. Thanks to Blashford’s brilliant volunteers for organising and doing the butterfly transects.

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The first brown argus of the year (well my first at least).

I also finally saw my first grass snake of the year too, perhaps not strictly my first as I did find a freshly dead one a couple of weeks ago, probably killed by a buzzard. This live one was rather unexpectedly crossing the open gravel behind the Education Centre.

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grass snake on gravel

Although it has been sunny recently it was still quite cool in the persistent north or north-east wind, this changed on Saturday and the extra warmth seemed to prompt large numbers of damselflies top emerge, I must have seen many hundreds on Sunday, mostly common blue damselflies, but including large red, azure and beautiful demoiselle.

common blue damselfly

common blue damselfly (male), still not quiet fully coloured up.

It is very pleasing to see that two of our projects are showing signs of success again. The tern rafts are used every year, but it gets harder each year to stop them all being claimed by gulls, timing in putting them out is the key. By Monday there were at least 20 common tern on the rafts so hopefully this will be enough to fend of the gulls. The other project, the sand martin wall, has had more mixed fortunes. After a few years of success to start with it fell out of favour with none nesting for several years, but this year they are back! Not in huge numbers but a visit to Goosander hide is well worth the effort.

A number of people have asked me recently when the “new” path from the main car park to Goosander hide will open, regular visitors will have noted that the work was completed some months ago now. Unfortunately the answer is still “I don’t know” but rest assured I will make it known when it is open. The hold up is not of our making, but to do with the process of transfer from previous occupiers via our landlord and the meeting of various planning and other requirements.

The change to more south-westerly winds has reduced migrant activity, but the reserve has still seen a some waders passing through in the last few days, on Sunday a sanderling with a peg-leg was by Tern hide and today a turnstone was on Long Spit (as I have decided to christen the new island we created to the east of Tern hide this spring). Both these are high Arctic breeders and only occasional visitors to Blashford.

April Catch-up

April is flying by and we’ve been busy! We’re sorry for the rather long gap between this and the last blog, but hopefully this one explains a little of what we’ve been up to and what’s currently out and about on the reserve.

The sunshine brought plenty of visitors to our local craft event, who enjoyed the excellent refreshments provided by Nigel and Christine’s pop-up café (which will return in November) along with basket making, hurdle making and wood turning demonstrations and the chance to have a go at making bird feeders from willow.

Willow bird feeders

Willow bird feeders made at our craft event

This was swiftly followed by Wildlife Tots, who got into the spirit of Spring by making excellent nests for our cuddly birds.

Jessie with nest

Jessie with her nest for a Teal

We then entertained a holiday club visiting from London with den building and fire lighting activities, followed by a night walk. We’ve welcomed new six-month volunteer placement Harry, who is with us now until September and thrown him in at the deep end with a group of beavers who were here to enjoy a river dip. Luckily that didn’t put him off and Emily and the other volunteers have been busy showing him the ropes.

This week we’ve had two wet Wild Days Out, pond and river dipping in search of newts, fish and other monsters, rescuing ducks, floating boats, building dams and enjoying a balloon free water fight. Our most monstrous find was this awesome Great Diving Beetle Larva, which tried to devour anything in its sight:

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Great Diving Beetle larva ready to pounce

Our volunteers have been super busy, with the warmer weather bringing with it the start of our butterfly transects and reptile surveys. The butterfly transects have had an excellent start, with Peacock, Orange Tip, Brimstone, Speckled Wood, Comma and Small White all recorded and Holly Blue, Green Veined White and Small Tortoiseshell also seen around. They have already recorded more than they did in the whole of April last year, so fingers crossed numbers will continue to be good!

Grass snakes and adders have started to venture into areas accessible to visitors so if the cloud disappears and the temperature warms up again keep your eyes peeled! Two grass snakes were seen recently from Ivy South hide, but out of the window at the far end rather than their usual basking spot on the log outside the front; whilst the grass verges too and from Lapwing hide are usually good places to try for a basking adder.

In bird news, Lapwing, Common sandpiper, Redshank and Little ringed plover have all been showing nicely in front of Tern Hide, along with the Black headed gulls which are getting more and more vocal! An osprey reportedly flew over the reserve on Wednesday and a Common tern was also seen on Wednesday from Tern Hide.

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Thank you to Richard Smith for emailing across a photo of two very busy Little ringed plover:

Little Ringed Plovers by Richard Smith

Little ringed plover by Richard Smith

A Great spotted woodpecker has been busy excavating a hole in a tree trunk near Ivy Lake and best viewed from the far right hand window in Ivy North hide. Brambling were also still being spotted from the Woodland Hide this week, looking very smart as they develop their summer plumage and our first fledglings have been seen too – Robin and Dunnock – so keep an eye out for parent birds feeding their young.

Thanks to Lyn Miller and Steve Michelle for also sending in some great photos from recent visits to the reserve:

Kingfisher by Lyn Miller

Hungry kingfisher devouring a newt by Lyn Miller

Redpoll by Steve Michelle

Lesser redpoll by Steve Michelle

Black Headed Gull by Steve Michelle

Black headed gull by Steve Michelle

Finally thank you to everyone who’s popped in to tell us what they’ve seen, Jim and I have unfortunately been slightly office bound when not out and about leading events and group visits, so it’s great to know what’s going on out on the reserve!

We will try not to leave such a long gap between this and next blog, Bob’s back from leave soon so fingers crossed!

Clouded Yellow

From the Tern hide first thing it was no surprise to find that yesterday’s spoonbill had moved on. Possibly a good thing as the volunteers were working outside the hide this morning to further improve the view by hand-pulling the annual; plant growth that obscures the shoreline. During the we came across a “Woolly bear” caterpillar, once a very common sight these larvae of the tiger moth are now not so often seen. Then a rather large grass snake slithered away up the bank and lastly the reserve’s first clouded yellow of the year flew by. Later in the Centre car park I saw a second clouded yellow, so perhaps there is something of a migrant insect arrival underway with the change in the weather, if it includes moths we could be in for a good session on Sunday morning. Incidentally if you would like to come along to see what the trap has gathered overnight there are still places available.

Birds were rather few, a dunlin on Ibsley Water and 2 whitethroat in the bramble around the main car park were as good as it got for me today.

Wildlife roundup

Very aware of the recent lack of postings – with Bob away the last couple of weeks and Tracy and I leading groups or events every day time has been a precious commodity!

Tracy is planning on writing a post summarising our summer holiday activities over the last few days on Monday so I won’t dwell on that other than to say what ever she writes about me when she does post, take with a pinch of salt!

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It does seem that after a coolish spell with a few short, sharp showers we might be getting a bit of a summer again. The insects are certainly benefitting from the better weather with more dragonflies, moth and butterflies on the wing across the reserve.

Brown hawkers are the dragonfly of the moment and are flying in good numbers. A tricky insect to photograph the damselflies are always much more obliging – thanks to Stephen Parris for sending in his picture of a common blue:

Common blue damselfly by Stephen Parris

Common blue damselfly by Stephen Parris

You won’t thank me for pointing it out, but in the light trap there was plenty of evidence of the season moving on – many autumnal moths are yellow, presumably an evolutionary trait that provides better camouflage amongst the woodland canopy as the leaves begin to turn. The attractive canary shouldered thorn is by far the most common moth in the trap this week:

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Canary shouldered thorn

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Scalloped oak

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Herald

On the spider front wasp spiders are becoming more visible – I saw my first about 3 weeks ago when one was caught by a group sweep netting in the meadow area by Ivy North Hide, but not seen any there since, but this week reports of small females are coming in from the usual spot in the rush on the approach to Goosander Hide. In addition regular visitor Garry Prescott spotted a couple of small raft spiders on the centre pond this morning.

The kingfishers will no doubt have had a good breeding year again this year and they are certainly much in evidence around the site and this years fledged youngsters from one of the families along the river is once more starting to make camp outside Goosander Hide this week. Saw two opening up this morning, one to the right of this picture below but much too small at that distance for me to get a picture of so settled for the grey heron instead!

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Ivy North Hide

Finally reptiles are much in evidence again with the better weather – grass snakes are still basking in front of Ivy South Hide, although not as frequently as they have done. Instead the best spot to check is the fallen alders over the Ivy Silt Pond on the approach to Ivy South Hide where at least one and often three can be seen basking on the tree trunks over the water. Adder are worth keeping an eye open for along the path edges on the approach to Lapwing Hide too! Thanks to Martin King for dropping off some great pictures of an Ivy South Hide grass snake, including this one, my particular favourite!

Grass Snake by Martin King (2)_resize

Grass Snake by Martin King

 

 

 

 

Meadow marvels

We’ve spent a lot of time in the meadow over the last few weeks, weather permitting! Occasionally we have had to resort to ‘look, but don’t touch’ as the showers have left the grass too damp for sweep netting, but this habitat has certainly come alive with a great range of insects, spiders and bugs.

Today we headed there with our Wildlife Tots, after a crafty caterpillar and butterfly making session in the classroom and a quick look in the light trap. We also had a look at the Lime hawk-moth caterpillars we have been rearing in a tank in the centre, they have certainly grown on their diet of silver birch leaves (more accessible than the lime trees we have on the reserve!) and look even more impressive!

Lime hawk moth caterpillar

Lime hawk-moth caterpillar

On our way to the meadow we were distracted on the lichen heath, finding flowers for our card and pipe cleaner butterflies to nectar on, and discovered these cinnabar moth caterpillars. Once we had our eye in, we found lots of black and yellow caterpillars munching their way through the ragwort:

Cinnabar caterpillar

Cinnabar moth caterpillar

On entering the meadow, we embarked on a still hunt, no mean feat for a group of toddlers! We found a quiet spot on the path so as not to trample the long grass and sat quietly, looking intently at the miniature world going on around us:

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We’re going on a still hunt…

After being brilliant still hunters, spotting butterflies, damselflies, bumblebees, grasshoppers and beetles, we had a go at catching many of the creatures using a sweep net.

Thanks too to Wendy for sending us this lovely photo of Wildlife Tot Sam with his very impressive sunflower, planted during our March into Spring session back in, yes you’ve guessed it, March! It’s so tall!!

Sam and his sunflower

Sam with his amazingly tall sunflower!!

Carrying on with the meadow theme, this was also the focus of our last Young Naturalists session at the end of June. We were fortunate to have more sun than today, with the butterflies in particular quite happy to let us get close enough for photos.

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Small skipper butterfly

Common blue butterfly

Common blue butterfly

Meadow brown

Meadow brown butterfly

cricket

Cricket, with super long antennae, longer than the length of its body

Grasshopper by Talia Felstead

Grasshopper, with its antennae shorter than its body

Robber fly

Robber fly

Fairy-ring longhorn beetle

Fairy-ring longhorn beetle, I think!

common blue damselfly

Common blue damselfly

Identifying our catch 2

Identifying our meadow creatures

The moth trap as usual revealed a good selection of moths ready for the group to identify, whilst we also spotted Mullein moth and Orange tip butterfly caterpillars:

Although the meadow was a fitting spot to visit as we met right at the end of National Insect Week, it wasn’t all about the insects and we still found time to visit Ivy South hide in search of a basking grass snake…

Grass snake by Talia Felstead

Grass snake by Talia Felstead

…and spotted this toad whilst carrying out Plantlife’s Bee Scene survey, in search of wildflowers good for bumblebees:

Toad by Talia Felstead

Toad by Talia Felstead

Luckily our wanderings found plenty of wildflowers good for bumblebees, a relief perhaps as we were looking on a nature reserve, but still a worthwhile activity for the group to do, encouraging them to brush up on their plant identification. Of the fifteen Bee Scene flowers we had to look for, we found dandelion, white clover, hedge woundwort, foxglove, bramble, red campion, red clover and thistle throughout the day, luckily spotting a few bumblebees too!

Buff tailed bumble bee by Talia Felstead

Buff tailed bumble bee by Talia Felstead

More details about the survey can be found on Plantlife’s website – all you need is a local green space, which doesn’t have to be a nature reserve, it could be your garden, a park, footpath or school grounds. Happy wildflower hunting!

Red campion by Talia Felstead

Red campion by Talia Felstead

 

30 Days Wild – Day 28

As I get to the end of the 30 Days it is clear that they have been far from typical and that a lot of things we took for granted at the start we can no longer rely upon. Quite what the changes to come will mean for wildlife habitats, the environment our landscape and nature conservation is hard to predict. One thing is for sure, we will continue to hold our wildlife and countryside in high regard and will remain home to many of the world’s finest naturalists.

Britain is characterised by a varied landscape and the diversity of wildlife that produces. Locally we have the New Forest, the downlands of the inland chalk and the Island, the chalk streams and the Solent coast, all uniquely characteristic of their place, fashioned by geography and human history. In various ways they have benefited from EU money and protection, with this going we will need to ensure that remain cherished landscapes with improving habitat quality and rich in wildlife, it will be a time of change but must not be a time of loss.

Whilst we ponder the future there are still all the usual things to get on with in the moment. Day 28 was a Tuesday, so we had a volunteer team working at Blashford, we continued work to improve the grassland along the western shore of Ibsley Water, removing bramble regrowth. The lakeshore is grazed by New Forest ponies and I was wondering if they might have been there today as they are due any time now. Many things have been reduced in recent days but the size of this pony still came as a shock!

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tiny pony!

I have absolutely no idea how a small plastic pony had found its was half way up the shore of Ibsley Water.

The sunny weather of the morning gave way to rain in the afternoon, so the grass snake that was happily basking outside the Ivy South hide when I opened up was long gone when I closed up.

grass snake

basking grass snake

Looking towards the common tern rafts it is clear that there are lots of chicks out there growing fast. I decided to take a few minutes to see what the brood sizes were. I can do this easily for the rafts with just one or two pairs, the answer for these was that each of the three pairs had three young, or put another way 100% chick survival since hatching, as they only lay three eggs. I then watched as adult terns came in with fish, once the young no longer need brooding they gather in small groups but when their parent arrives they run towards it for food, allowing the brood size to be determined. I watched as seven different broods were fed and again all had three chicks. Although this was only a sample of ten pairs, it seems clear that it would be fair to say “So far so good”. I do know that one pair that made an attempt on a shingle island in Ibsley Water last week have failed, but all the others seems to be going well.