Another Thursday and we decided to tackle what is without doubt the volunteers least favourite task of the year, ragwort control around Ibsley Water. When I first started at the reserve ragwort was the dominant plant around large areas of the shore, often to the exclusion of all other plants. Over the years we have cut and pulled it to try and establish a more mixed and predominantly grassy sward. It has been back breaking work, but it finally seems to be paying off. Walking the eastern shore it is now no more that occasional and forms part of an increasingly varied sward including sedges, bee orchid and much more.
Ragwort is actually a valuable nectar source and present in small amounts in grassland that is not used for hay does not present any real risk to livestock. Although poisonous few animals will eat it when growing. Fortunately at Blashford the grassland has many other nectar sources so loss of some ragwort probably has minimal impact upon nectaring insects. As we worked we saw a good range of butterflies, despite the overcast conditions including lots of meadow brown.
Meadow brown pair mating
I also saw my first small skipper of the year, although a few have been seen on the reserve by others.
The day was not entirely positive though. Arriving at the reserve and looking out onto Ibsley Water it was clear that the black-headed gull pairs with chicks and single common tern pair that had just started sitting on the small island neat Tern hide had been lost overnight, probably to a predatory mammal. Fox is probably likely, but they often get the blame when others are actually the culprit and I cannot rule out badger, mink or otter.
black-headed gull pair
I got a real surprise at the end of the day when I closed up the Tern hide I realised there was a female common scoter floating around with the tufted duck flock. There was also a black-necked grebe reported in the hide diary, although I could not find it.
At last summer seems to have arrived! The Tuesday volunteers and I were working along the western shore of Ibsley Water and for what seemed like the first time this year we were surrounded by butterflies and other insects. We have been working for the last few years to try to reduce bramble, nettle and willow scrub and encourage a flower rich grassland in this area and it finally seems to be paying off. Last winter we cleared some new bramble and willow patches and our task was to cut the young growth that was coming back in advance of the arrival of the ponies.
grassland on the shore of Ibsley Water
As we worked we saw lots of meadow brown and marbled white butterflies and over the lake egg-laying black-tailed skimmer dragonfly. In places we are now seeing increasing quantities of wild flower including several patches of ox-eye daisy.
ox-eye daisy patches
The transformation of this shore in the last ten years has been considerable. when the gravel pit was finished there was a large spoil bank running the whole length of the lake and this was colonised by an almost impenetrable stand of creeping thistle and ragwort. This was cut and eventually replaced by nettle, and now, with further cutting it is becoming grassland at last.
Over the last few days I have seen a number of young wader chicks around the reserve. Near the Tern hide there are two pairs of lapwing each with broods of three chicks. Out on gull island there is at least one well grown oystercatcher chick and again near the Tern hide I saw a fledged little ringed plover chick a couple of days ago and today two chicks that should fly in the next couple of days. If we add the apparent success so far of the terns it is looking like quite a good breeding season.
You may remember an earlier blog about lime hawk moth, the female laid some eggs and since they hatched we have been rearing them, not on lime but birch, which they seem to eat quite willingly. We started with about forty larvae, but when they were a week or so old all but three suddenly died, I have no idea why as the remaining ones continue to grow well.
I often take Friday off if I am working at the weekend, so I spent the day catching up on work in the garden. I started by going through the moth trap, catches are increasing now with warmer weather and today’s highlight was a great oak beauty, another southern woodland specialist. This one is a male as you can see from the feathery antennae which it uses to “smell” the females and so find them in the dark.
great oak beauty
It was a warm, rather than sunny day, so the insects in the garden were somewhat disappointing, I saw no butterflies the whole day! Lots of bees were out and about though and I managed to get a picture of this very colourful parasitic wasp.
I was mostly tidying up, not something I do too much of in the garden as the “untidy” bits are often where the wildlife is. One area that gets minimal attention is the tiny meadow area, it is only something like 20 square metres but attracts lost of insects and even after just two years looks quite the part. A key species that we introduced was yellow rattle. It is an annual that germinates in April and grows very rapidly, partly because it is semi-parasitic on other plants including grasses. This means the grass grows less vigorously allowing more space for herb species, the “flowers” to grow, increasing the number of species in the sward. The yellow rattle flowers themselves are very attractive to bees as well as adding colour to the meadow.
In agricultural terms a meadow full of yellow rattle was a bad thing though, as the rattle reduces the vigour of the grasses and if you are making hay, grasses are the crop.