Woodwork and wandering

The weather last week resulted in two very different Wild Days Out, with Tuesday very wet and soggy and not the best conditions for wildlife watching although we did still manage a trip to the hides and a walk in search of wasp spiders, and the Wednesday much warmer and brighter.

On Tuesday we swapped wildlife watching for some making, made possible with a small group and limited only by the children’s imagination, the materials we could lay our hands on and the woodwork skills of volunteers Chris and Lucy and myself. The group did keep us on our toes! But the focus and determination that went into the making was fabulous, we started with a bit of wand making then this progressed into making paints from blackberries, charcoal and clay, bug homes, a willow snail and a sword and a shield.

And there was definitely time to play at the end, especially when they found a toad!

Playing

With very different weather on the Wednesday, we headed off to the lichen heath in search of wasp spiders, munched a few wild strawberries and blackberries then made our way to Goosander Hide to see what we could spot.

Unfortunately we didn’t manage to spot any adders, but on our way back we did see a number of butterflies enjoying the sunnier weather:

There were also plenty of butterflies and other insects enjoying the flowers by the pond at lunchtime:

We also spent a bit of time enjoying the new sand pit, tunnel and stepping stones:

After lunch we rummaged through the moth trap, with the highlights including a stunning Elephant hawk-moth, a Poplar hawk-moth and a Canary-shouldered thorn:

We then headed off on the ‘Wild Walk‘, keeping our fingers crossed for grass snakes and we were not disappointed, spotting six altogether either on the branches in Ivy Silt Pond or outside the front of Ivy South Hide: 

We carried on along the sculpture trail then headed down to the river to finish with a paddle and some rush boat racing:

We still have some spaces available on our summer Wild Days Out and details on how to book can be found on our website.

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30 Days Wild – Day 24

A warm clam night, ideal for moths and so it proved, with the best catches of the year so  far. There was not a lot of great note, just all the usual suspects plus a lot of small species, which tend to be caught much more on calm nights. In fact it was the micro moths that provided the best moth of the night, assuming I have managed to identify it accurately, it was a Tortrix moth, Pammene trauniana.

Pammene trauniana

Pammene trauniana

The grass snakes were putting on a show again yesterday at Ivy South Hide, with four individuals on the tree stump in front of the hide.

Signs of the year moving on are starting to appear, a common sandpiper on Ibsley Water will be one on the return journey south and the moulting goose flocks are building in size.

There was clearly an arrival of painted lady butterflies with several around in the afternoon, perhaps more to follow and maybe other species too.

Following yesterday’s clearwing success, I tried the lures again at lunchtime and again attracted a single orange-tailed clearwing. This time I did manage some rather better pictures.

orange-tailed bee

orange-tailed clearwing

 

30 Days Wild – Day 20

A slippery sort of a day, blue sky to start then rain, then warm sun and eventually heavy rain, it was hard to know how many layers and of what type to wear and every time I went out I got it wrong. The wildlife seemed equally confused, at Ivy South Hide as I opened up in thick cloud the grass snakes were “basking” on the tree stump.

grass snake

the largest grass snake

By the time I set out with the volunteers at 10:00 to work on the eastern shore of Ibsley Water, the sun was strong and the sun block was out in force. Ten minutes later when we got there, grey clouds were threatening and curtains of rain could be seen falling to the south-west. Luckily, and to my surprise, we got away with it and managed to return still more or less dry. On the return journey I noticed a mullein plant with the telltale tattered leaves caused by munching mullein moth caterpillars.

mullein moth caterpillar

mullein moth caterpillar

Our tern rafts have mainly been occupied by gulls again this year, this is to be expected as gulls far outnumber terns. There are about twenty pairs of terns nesting though and many now have chicks.

raft with B-h gulls

Raft with black-headed gull families

There are still a few common tern seemingly loafing around on Ibsley Water, I assume off-duty birds whose partners are still sitting on eggs, but perhaps non-breeders.

common tern

common tern

The picture, with wings open shows a clear identification feature of the species, the darker outer primaries. The reason for this is that the outer four or five of the wing feathers much older than the inner ones and so more worn. The white edges wear away more quickly which means older feathers look darker, forming a definite dark wedge in the outer-wing. The reason this helps with identification because the most similar tern species, the Arctic tern moults all of its wing feathers in one continuous sequence, meaning that there is no such contrast between the newest and oldest wing feather, making the wing look the same all along its length.

Warm wet weather is perfect for slime moulds, the really weird end of nature and a group I have featured a few times before.

Fuligo serptica

Fuligo septica

This one has various names, one is troll butter, but there are many more.

The bark chippings in the raised beds at the Centre also has some, at first I though just one type but a closer look suggests at least two. A close look is essential as the fruiting bodies are very small indeed.

slime mould 1

Slime mould fruiting body looking like tiny strings of pearls

Close up they look like minute stylised trees.

slime mould poss Physarum album

slime mould possibly Physarum album

Taking a closer look is when I realised that not all of them had white stems and spherical tops.

Slime mould close in

A different slime mould

slime mould

Even closer

30 Days Wild – Day 19

Another rainy day, all the trees dripping and overall just drab and damp. The mild night resulted in a few moths, a few new for the year; purple clay, elephant hawk-moth and blotched emerald.

It was not cold and I suppose this was why the grass snake were out on the tree stump at Ivy South Hide, two seemed to be there all day, both a good size, but one especially large one.

Poor weather is a signal to catch up on paperwork, or at least to try to. However too much paperwork is bad for the soul, so this afternoon we were out doing something I have never done before. Hanging woven willow sculptures in trees, specifically three each of dragonflies and wasps.

willow dragonfly 2

willow dragonfly

The dragonflies were made in workshops led by Kim Creswell as part of the Veolia Environmental Trust project  by our Young Naturalists Group and the wasps made by members of the local Home Educators community who have regular field visit meet ups here throughout the year. They have joined the various other sculptures on the circular walk from the Centre south via the boardwalk and back along the Dockens Water.

willow wasp

willow wasp

As well as doing the blog, more or less daily, look for tweets @30DaysWild from us and loads of other people, you can add your own and use #30DaysWild, if you tweet about Blashford use #BlashfordLakes too if you can.

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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.

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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)

 

Bonaparte’s Again

A couple of years ago Blashford Lakes was visited by a first year Bonaparte’s gull, a small species between little gull and black-headed gull in size and looking very like the latter. They breed in North America and very occasionally get blown across the Atlantic. Most turn up in this country in spring and are first year birds. It seems probable that they are blown across in autumn storms and are following a natural instinct to migrate north after wintering well to the south of us. Yesterday the second of this species to be found on the reserve was seen from the splendid new Tern Hide and attracted a fair few birders as the news got out.

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull (right) with black-headed gull of the same age and common terns.

Although similar to a black-headed gull the differences are not too hard to see up close, although this bird is somewhat larger than our last and so less obvious. At long range and especially if feeding on the water, it is much less easy to spot. However there are some clues that might help. The most obvious is the difference in feeding action, the Bonaparte’s has a habit of up-ending and overall swims with neck very stretched looking reminiscent of a phalarope, with their faster feeding action as well.

The Tern Hide is also proving a great place, appropriately enough, to see terns, specifically common tern.

common tern

displaying common tern from Tern Hide

The last few days have seen a few migrant birds passing through or arriving, we have recorded our first swift and migrant waders like dunlin and whimbrel. I have not managed to get pictures of any of these but I did snap a red kite that flew over on Monday.

red kite

red kite

The spring is not all about birds though, as the season moves on we are seeing lots more insects such as small copper, holly blue and many spring hoverflies.

Epistrophe elegans

Epistrophe eligans – a typical spring hoverfly

We are also seeing more reptiles and I found the grass snake below basking beside the main car park!

grass snake

grass snake

Our developments are still ongoing, but are drawing to a close, however the latest job will be to resurface the car park nearest the Education Centre, meaning it will be unavailable for parking for a few days, most likely next week. We are nearly at the end of the works, so things should settle down soon! Thank you to New Forest LEADER for funding our improvements to the area in front of the Education Centre.

New Forest LEADER

 

Summing up…

The past two weeks hasn’t all been about the current improvements at Blashford, we have been in search of reptiles and amphibians on two Wild Days Out, run a busy family pond dip session (distinctly lacking in newts, we must have scared them all off the week before!) and woven some very pretty Easter baskets using materials found on the reserve.

And the reserve is looking lovely! It is getting greener by the day, although some trees are suffering more than others from the ever increasing number of munching Alder leaf beetles. This Crab apple in particular is being stripped bare:

There are plenty of wildflowers out, including Germander speedwell, Ground ivy, Cuckoo flower, Moschatel, Primrose, Cowslip and Common Dog-violet. Lesser celandine is carpeting the woodland floor near the reserve entrance and the Bluebells will soon be following suit, with some already flowering.

The warm sunny weather has bought the butterflies out in force, with Brimstone, Orange-tip, Speckled wood, Small white, Comma and Peacock all on the wing.

Large numbers of Sand martin have been investigating the holes in the Sand martin wall in preparation for nesting and Swallows are also back, although currently in much smaller numbers. Three Black tern spent most of today over Ibsley Water and as I left all three had alighted the Osprey perch out in the lake. Little ringed plover have been on the shoreline and Lapwing continue to display overhead.

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Sand martins

David Stanley-Ward sent in two very fine photos recently, one of two fighting Coot taken from the new Tern Hide and the other of two Great-crested grebes displaying in front of Goosander Hide.

Coots

Fighting Coots by David Stanley-Ward

Great-crested Grebe

Great-crested Grebes by David Stanley-Ward

If you have visited recently and would like to share your wildlife sighting with us, please do email them to BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk along with whether you are happy for us to use them on the blog and on other promotional material and how you would like to be credited. We don’t always manage to post images straight away, but do always enjoy seeing them, so thank you David for sharing these.

The woodland is full of bird song, with Chiff-chaff and Cetti’s warbler in particular standing out with their more striking calls. Blackcaps are seen frequently although they do not stay in one spot for long and Willow warblers are also present whilst Brambling and Reed bunting continue to feed in front of the Woodland Hide. Sedge warbler and Reed warbler can also be heard in the reedbeds by Ivy North Hide and Ivy Silt Pond.

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Brambling

And finally back to the events! On our Wild Days Out Amphibian and Reptile Rambles we managed one young grass snake, the same snake in the same spot on both days. This really isn’t the best photo, but if you look in the centre you might be able to make out the tip of it’s tail as it disappeared into the undergrowth.

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Spot the tiny grass snake’s tail!

On both days the weather was fairly cool so we failed to spot an adder, but both groups enjoyed a longer walk over to Goosander Hide and the older children managed to make it as far as Lapwing Hide.

Back at the pond we had more success, catching a number of newts, and we also found some under the logs in the woodland. Both days were enjoyed by all, even if the reptiles were a bit thin on the ground!

And last but not least, on Wednesday morning a very satisfying two hours were spent weaving in willow wood, with a number of children creating some very striking Easter baskets using materials collected on the reserve and a wooden disc base prepped by volunteer Geoff. We used rush, sedge and larch as well as the willow, with a couple of the older children even having a go with fresh bramble. One of the girls stripped the bark off some of the willow leaving the inner white of the rod on show. They all looked amazing!

The last couple of weeks have been very varied, but with the weather warming up it has been lovely to be out and about on the reserve. Spring is definitely here!

Wandering in Nature

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Another belated blog post relating to our summer holiday activity program… this time a “Wildlife Wander”. Nice easy one to plan and prepare for this one. Basically gather children and head out on the nature reserve to walk, play and see what we can discover!

Being August, and with blackberries fruiting in the prodigious quantities that they are this summer, blackberry picking and eating featured quite highly throughout both of our wildlife wanders! Sometimes picking “traditionally” with fingers, sometimes “browsing” them off the stem directly like a deer or a giraffe, just for fun. Regardless the end result was lots of purple faces, although some did somehow end up a lot more purple than others! None more so than these two who opted for painting their hands with the fruit:

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There’s quite a lot of fruit around generally, although disappointingly this year the cherry plums have been spectacularly bad. Related to the cherry plums, the blackthorm seems to be producing a good sloe crop. Blackthorn is an occasional shrub at Blashford and by no means occurs in sufficient quantities for Tracy (or anyone else for that matter!) to keep herself in sloe gin, but there is more than ample for me to delight in encouraging young people to try the bittersweet fruit! Love it!

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Bird watching as well as foraging also featured highly in our expeditions, with visits to Ivy North, Goosander and Tern Hides. The “hidelight” was undoubtedly on the second day when we observed a large grass snake emerge from the water beneath Goosander Hide, much to the consternation of the grey wagtail we were also watching at the time, and then proceed to make its way to the wall and attempt to slither inside a crack in the blockwork at the base.

Bug hunting was on the agenda of many of our wildlife explorers too of course – we are after all talking about children, and children interested in nature at that! Best of all though were the wasp spiders in the hard rush tussocks amongst the scrub behind Goosander Hide where we picnicked. I was delighted to see these beauties as I had failed to see any earlier in the year when sweep netting in our small meadow by Ivy North Hide where we usually do see (and sometimes inadvertently catch) at least a few each summer. Of the children Thomas “bug boy” Baker was by far the best spotter, finding at least 12 on the Tuesday, but even his sterling efforts were far outstripped by Tracy on Thursday who must have found at least 20 herself. I was quite frustrated and didn’t find any of my “own” until I eventually did manage to get my eye in and find 8 or so (my excuse is that Tracy, being more vertically challenged than I, is more on a level with the spiders, thus making them easier for her to spot…). With the children finding a good number more it really was astounding just how many there are up there:

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Hmmm. Do I like this, or do I not like this…?!

And then there was the wander itself – it was lovely watching and listening to the children amble along with their friends and making new friends,  chatting about this, that and nothing in particular:

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The second day was a bit warmer than the first and, as far as the children were concerned, they had walked miles, so towards the end we needed an incentive to keep them going – what more of an incentive could a child need than the opportunity to get in a river? None it turned out and a good time was had by all – so at the end of the day a lot of tired, blackberry full, very wet children went home very happy!

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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 😉

 

 

 

 

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