A Day Unparalleled

Although I failed to see it a when I opened up this morning, the grey phalarope remained on Ibsley Water as did a juvenile black tern and the two ruff. A feature of recent days on this lake has been the mass fishing events, when a flock of cormorant, sometimes a hundred or more will act together to drive  large shoal of small fish into a corner. This attracts grey heron, little egret and the great white egret, which patrol the shallows, everyone gets some fish, sometimes several, which shows just how big the shoal must be.

The swallow and martin flock was perhaps a little smaller today, but still ran to several thousand and once again included a single swift. However it was not the birds that made for an “Unparalleled” day, it was a moth, a Clifden nonpareil, or blue underwing.

Clifden Nonpareil

Clifden nonpareil in egg boxes from the moth trap.

These are very large and, until recently, very rare moths. Having become extinct in the UK they turned up only as rare migrants until recolonizing about ten years ago. The New Forest area seems to be their stronghold now and in the last few years we have seen one or two each year, but they at still a real treat. It is just a shame it did not turn up yesterday for the moth event.

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Clifden nonpareil close up.

We have been doing quite a lot of grass cutting recently, some areas we are managing like meadows to increase the variety of wild flowers and this means we have to cut and remove the bulk of the grass by the end of the growing season. Today we cut areas of the sweep meadow used by education groups near the Ivy North hide. In this areas we cut in alternate years to leave longer herbage for over-wintering insects. If we leave it uncut for too long bramble and small trees start to colonise and many of the grassland plants, upon which so many insects depend, disappear.

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A meadow area near Lapwing hide prior to cutting.

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Meadow area near Lapwing hide after cutting.

The grass is raked up and piled into a heap which should provide a good place for grass snakes to breed next year, especially if the heap is in a sunny spot.

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Fishing in the Rain

The last two days have not been the best, I think it rained, even if only lightly, for the whole time I was at Blashford on Sunday. It did not put of the monthly volunteers, or at least not completely, four stalwarts came in and spent nearly two hours pulling nettles from along the paths and around the wild daffodil bank. The rain did stop everyone from coming to my planned “Late Summer Wildlife” walk though and so they all missed the two black tern that spent the afternoon over Ibsley Water and the thousand or two of house martin and swallow too.

Iblsey Water has had a lot of fish eating birds on it lately and Sunday was not exception with both grey heron and great crested grebe hunting close to Tern hide.

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Juvenile grey heron

There have been well over 70 grey heron on a number of days recently and my maximum count was late last week when I saw 153!

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Great crested grebe in the rain

I have also made some of my highest counts of grebes for  along time recently, today I saw at least 57 from Tern hide alone. There have also been at least 6 little egret, Walter the great white egret and as many as 193 cormorant, so life for smaller fish has been difficult, but equally there must be  a lot of them to have attracted the attention of so many predators.

Goosander Hide Highlights

The Goosander hide has been attracting people from far and wide recently, especially photographers in search of that illusive kingfisher shot. However, as is often the way, the kingfisher does not always play along, luckily it is not only a place to get kingfisher shots and we have been send a selection of great images taken from there recently by Mark Wright, here are a few of them.

There have been lots of herons around recently and they do not always get on well.

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Grey herons having a disagreement by Mark Wright

Of course not all herons are grey.

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“Walter” the great white egret by Mark Wright

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Little and Large, “Walter” with a smaller companion by Mark Wright

Since my observation of Walter taking a fish from in front of a cormorant he seems to have developed a limp, it could be the cormorant had a go at him as they can be quite aggressive. Hopefully he will recover  soon and continue on.

Not all the birds are large, there have been a number of grey wagtail close to the hide recently.

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Juvenile grey wagtail by Mark Wright

And not all the wildlife there is birds.

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Fallow deer doe by Mark Wright

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young fox by Mark Wright

Then of course there are always the occasional opportunities to get shots of kingfisher as well.

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Kingfisher by Mark Wright

Many thanks to Mark for sending us such a great series of shots.

Birds and a (mini) Beast

As promised here are a couple of excellent pictures of the avocet that dropped into Blashford Lakes on Monday, many thanks to Keith Beswick for sending them in.

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Avocet by Keith Beswick

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Avocet by Keith Beswick

What is immediately obvious is that this is a juvenile bird, the brownish feathers would be black in an adult. Juvenile birds tend to turn up in slightly unusual places as they learn about their environment and where best to be, this one will probably join the large wintering flock in Poole Harbour.

Signs of the changing season are all around now, opening the Tern hide yesterday I saw 8 shoveler, 7 teal, a wigeon (although this was probably the bird that summered with us), a shelduck and a garganey. There were also at least 3 common sandpiper and a green sandpiper. At the end of the day the lake was dominated by fish-eating birds with at least 50 grey heron, 6 little egret, 1 great white egret (“Walter”) and 195 cormorant.

During the day I was working with the volunteers on efforts to establish a grassland in the old concrete plant site, we are making good progress and I think it will be a valuable addition to the reserve. The new path is still not open yet as the necessary agreements with our landlords are still not in place. On our way back for lunch the volunteers found a splendid caterpillar, it reminded me of Dougal the dog, a reference that will date me for those who recognise it.

sycamore caterpillar

sycamore caterpillar

The sycamore moth is rather a dull pale grey species but the caterpillar is a wonderful creature.

Reserve Visiting

I have just returned from a holiday up north where I visited a few reserves myself, but the title here refers to a visitor we had at Blashford today, an avocet. Not perhaps quite the rarity they once were, but still very unusual, unfortunately I missed it. It flew in in the early afternoon and gave good views for  a short time from the Tern hide, I am told there are pictures too, so perhaps some will make it here. I then discovered that there had been an avocet at the Trust’s new Fishlake Meadows reserve in Romsey at about 11:30 and that it had flown off heading west, it seems highly probable that these two sightings relate to the same bird travelling between the two reserves.

The one problem with going away is the number of things that have to be caught up on when you get back and the dread emails kept me in the office for a fair bit of the day, which is not to say that I did not get out on the reserve as well. The sun had brought out a few butterflies, but numbers are on the decline now. I did find a very smart comma near the Goosander hide.

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comma

Not far away I also came across a female Roesel’s bush-cricket sitting on one of our benches.

Roesel's bush cricket female

Roesel’s bush-cricket

Looking from Tern hide I saw Walter the great white egret now looking very relaxed with a large group of grey heron. The herons seem not to take so much notice of him these days, at one time they would constantly be chasing him around, perhaps they have just got used to him. It is a curious thing that when little egret were first turning up they were often mobbed by gulls but now they are just ignored. Perhaps there is something about the unusual that elicits these responses and once something is regular they just become part of the scenery.

Locking up I was pleased to see that at least one of our wasp spiders is still going, I am not sure if something has predated the others or if they have laid their eggs. This one looks a though it will not be long before she lays her eggs and disappears.

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wasp spider, female

A little bit of everything…

Yesterday our Young Naturalists were back at Blashford for a varied session in search of birds and fungi and a practical task in our camp fire meadow. Kevin and Jack, BTO bird ringers, were ringing at Goosander Hide in the morning so we headed straight up there to try and catch them before they had finished. Whilst we were there, we were lucky enough to watch Jack ring a robin and a chiffchaff and talk us through the process.

Thank you Kevin and Jack for taking the time to chat to the group and explain what you were up to and looking for, giving a great overview of bird ringing.

Whilst in Goosander Hide, Young Naturalist Talia took some great photos of some of the birds on Ibsley Water:

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Grey Heron with six Little Egrets by Talia Felstead

It was then time to rummage through the light trap which revealed a really nice variety of moths for us to identify, including this lovely Feathered Thorn:

The most abundant moth by far was the November moth sp. but we also had the following:

Close to the Education Centre we found this fantastic Shaggy Ink Cap, which sadly by this morning had become too top heavy and is now in two bits! Unfortunately this photo doesn’t do its size justice, it was super tall!

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Shaggy Ink Cap – ‘Coprinus comatus’

After lunch it was time to do something practical and we spent the afternoon in our camp fire meadow, raking up the vegetation strimmed by volunteers Emily and Geoff in the morning. We also cut up some of our old den building poles to use as firewood, as these will be replaced with new poles cut over the Winter.

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Cameron and James raking the cut grass

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Cutting up the old den building poles for firewood

We finished our time in the meadow with more toffee apple cooking over the fire, with newcomers Gregory and Jodie having a go at fire lighting and old hands James, Cameron and Talia showing how it’s done.

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More toffee apple cooking!

With time left at the end of the session, we checked our mammal traps in the loft which revealed two wood mice, who had ventured into the building where the nights are now cooler.

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Two wood mice, being well photographed by the Young Naturalists

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Finally, we went on a short walk to Ivy South Hide, spotting fungi on the way and a Red admiral butterfly making the most of the October sun’s warmth:

Our Young Naturalists group is funded by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

Black and Yellow

A quick update only today. Today at last saw us get our first black tern of the autumn, sadly they only stayed a few minutes and I missed them but a group of four is good and hopefully there will be more to come. When I have opened the Tern hide the last couple of days there have been lots of wagtails, mostly pied but yesterday 3 and today 4 yellow wagtail, not common birds here. The osprey from the weekend has been seen everyday until today, and I suspect that it was the “large bird” seen by a visitor to the west of Ibsley Water that flushed lots of grey heron, so I am pretty sure it is still around.

Hopefully more to report tomorrow.

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!

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Grass Snake by Martin King

 

 

 

 

Farewell

After the wet Bank Holiday Monday, Tuesday’s sunshine was welcome, however despite this it was a sad day at Blashford as we had to say farewell to Michelle. She has been an invaluable member of the Education team and a source of endless enthusiasm which has inspired far more than just those working on the educational side of things. She has been a source of many amazing ideas, a lot of which have turned into great activities and some of which were just amazing!

As befits our having to part with such a well loved member of the team we had to give her a send off and the volunteers stepped in with liberal supplies of cake, a parting gift and a traditional farewell walk around the reserve.

Michelle receiving her parting gift

Michelle receiving her parting gift (note the cake! all of it very good) 

On our walk we went to the Autumn lady’s-tresses I found on Monday and Jim promptly found another! The sun had brought out lots of insects and before we left there was a humming-bird hawk-moth by the Centre and out on the reserve lots of speckled wood and brimstone butterflies. I especially liked this one perched on a hemp agrimony plant, until I downloaded the picture I had not noticed the tiny wasp perched on the rear edge of the hind-wing.

brimstone and tiny wasp

brimstone and tiny wasp

The reserve staff stayed on after we had locked up and all went up onto the ridge that overlooks the valley from the east, from where you apparently get a fine view across the lakes and beyond.

The lakes have got to be here somewhere

The lakes have got to be here somewhere

Hopefully Michelle will come back to see us from time to time, she will be missed by staff, volunteers and visitors to the reserve.

Although the weather was improved most of Monday’s birds had gone, although the little stint was on Ibsley Water first thing in the morning. When we locked up the hides we counted a huge 120 grey heron on Ibsley Water along with 110 cormorant, they were all just standing around, I guess they had been flushed from the valley and come to the lakes for some peace and quiet. They may have retreated from the unexpected sight of a flock of cattle egret, which were reported flying up the valley earlier, although where they went remains a mystery.

Finally an osprey

A big thank you goes to volunteers Jacki, Bob and particularly Geoff who helped rake up cut ragwort and thistle on the northern shore of Ibsley Water yesterday. Unfortunately we have to remove these plants to maintain the grassland habitat, thistles because they can take over by sheer numbers and ragwort because it can be toxic to horses if eaten in large quantities. Both plants are a brilliant nectar source for insects so we do leave plenty in other areas. We have now completed this hot and sweaty task I am pleased to say.

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Volunteer Geoff with just some of the cut ragwort and thistles

On the way back to base Geoff and I stopped to have a look at the small fleabane plants growing on Mockbeggar Lane, a tiny and very rare flower found at just a handful of sites in the New Forest.

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Small fleabane

This morning when I unlocked Ivy North hide the great white egret was present again, I just got my camera focused on him and he caught a small pike.

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Great white egret Walter White, catching a pike

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Going…

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gone

As rain was forecast for this afternoon I thought I spend the morning trimming paths near the Goosander and Lapwing Hides. While I was out I noticed the local fallow deer had been stripping bark from willow trees, unfortunately nearly every tree in this area has been damaged or even killed by deer and most of the understory vegetation has been eaten except the most unpalatable species like stinging nettles. This is a problem where ever there are large deer populations without natural predators (lynx, wolves) to keep them on the move and prevent them staying in one area for too longer time. Indeed the decline in many woodland birds like nightingales, willow tits and wood warblers is thought to be partly caused by increased numbers of deer eating out woodland understory, reducing habitat and the amount of insects.

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Willow damaged by fallow deer

At lunch time I went to Goosander hide, and despite Wessex Water’s ecologists doing algae surveys and plant transects in a canoe there was a fair bit to see including 2 kingfishers close to the hide, 5 pochards, 28 grey herons at various points around the lake and a distant osprey carrying a fish flying over the river west of the reserve.

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Wessex Water ecologists doing algae surveys and plant transects

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Kingfisher at Goosander hide

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Terrible photo of a distant osprey.

There as been quite few ospreys around the county recently, Farlington Marshes, Titchfield Haven, Christchurch harbour and Fish lakes meadows near Romsey have all had them lately so it was really good to see one here. Hopefully the next one will land on our new osprey perch we put out in Ibsley Water a few weeks ago.