30 Days Wild – Day 13

As I was wondering if I should put on a fleece under my jacket in an effort to keep both dry and warm, it was good to think back to those balmy days of short-sleeves in February and know that it would be warm again, sometime. Needless to say, despite it being mid-June, it was not a day for insects, or much else.

The stalwarts of Blashford’s Brilliant Volunteers worked through it all though and we made a good job of finally clearing the yard of scrap metal and old tyres. Sadly we are “donated” rather a lot of rubbish, not generally by our visitors, but in the form of fly-tipping. I suppose it is something we should feel “Wild” about, but after years of working in the countryside it, sadly, has becomes an expected part of the job.

Although I have said our reserve visitors are generally very good alt not leaving litter, there have been a few incidents recently of mess being left at the Goosander Hide, probably int he evenings. There is some indication of a degree of general anti-social behaviour as well. If anyone is on the reserve at any time and sees such things going on it is very useful to have such details as it is easy to get. These issues are difficult to tackle so any information is useful, an email to the Blashford Lakes email or if ongoing int he daytime a call to the office or one of our mobiles is very helpful, the contact details are posted in the hides.

One sign of summer at Blashford was in evidence though, although it was necessary to peer through the drizzle to see it, the ponies are back grazing the shore of Ibsley Water.

pony in the mist

Pony in the mist

The weather has been a problem in lots of ways, one of them is that it is preventing us from colour-ringing our usual sample of young black-headed gull. It seems likely that most will have fledged before we get the weather to go and ring them.

black-headed gull juv

juvenile black-headed gull

Let’s hope for some more summery conditions next week.

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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.

30 Days Wild – Day 21

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.

P1050350

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.

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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.

lime hawk caterpillar

lime hawk moth larva

Recent Reports and a Trip North

The last week has been very busy at Blashford Lakes, lots of work getting done around Ibsley Water, up the road at Linwood as well as several large education groups.

On the wildlife front the birds have been rather few, although reports of a brambling at the Woodland hide were interesting as I don’t think we have had one at the feeders in October before, perhaps we are in for  a “Finch Winter”. On this note there have been large flocks of siskin about with 70 or more around the Centre this week. On a slightly more mundane note 3 house sparrow by the Tern hide on Thursday were unusual as was a red-legged partridge there on Friday.

The wildlife highlight of the week, without doubt, has been the many sighting of otter in Ibsley Water, mainly from the Goosander hide, but also from Tern hide and from the descriptions it would have been visible from Lapwing hide several times too. There are pictures, but I don’t have any of them at present.

On Friday Ed and I had a trip north, well up to Winchester at least. WE went to look at the trust’s excellent Winnall Moors reserve and look at the grazing management for breeding waders and other species. It also enabled us to catch up with a little piece of Blashford.

The entrance to Winnall Moors made from a fallen Blashford oak.

The entrance to Winnall Moors made from a fallen Blashford oak.

The reserve is grazed by part of the herd of British White cattle that the Trust now uses to manage much of the grazing on our reserves. They do a wonderful job of grazing and browsing, produce very good beef and are easy to find, thanks to their white colour.

British White cattle on Winnall Moors

British White cattle on Winnall Moors

It was a beautiful, misty morning and as the mist burnt off it left droplets handing on every bit of vegetation and cobweb. Winnall Moors is a wetland site with many channels and lots of sluices that control the flow of water around the reserve.

Sluice at Winnall Moors

Sluice at Winnall Moors

As we walked round we were looking at how it might be possible to improve the habitat for nesting waders, such as lapwing and redshank. I suspect redshank may be gone for the foreseeable future as their fortunes, especially inland do not look good. Lapwing might be tempted back, but they often nest on spring ploughed arable land and to specially manage the herb rich wet grasslands at Winnall might result in more being lost than gained, so as with much land management balancing different interests will make for difficult decisions.

The afternoon saw us back at Blashford and making plans for more work on Ibsley Water, hopefully we will cut the main nesting island next week to stop trees and brambles growing on it and maybe prepare an extra area for terns to nest next year.

All in all a very fine autumn day, and as though to emphasise the season, I found this very smart fly agaric.

fly agaric

fly agaric