Wildlife encounters of the furlough kind

I returned to work on Sunday after eight weeks away from Blashford (it is so green now!) and six weeks on furlough along with around 40% of my Trust colleagues, most of whom are still off. Whilst I’m back to help Bob with the reserve tasks he cannot do by himself and engage with visitors on site from a safe distance, following on from the easing of restrictions last week, we are still closed whilst we look at what we can safely offer in the coming weeks and months. We will keep you updated as and when things begin to change!

A Blashford blog will follow shortly, but I thought I would share what I have been getting up to whilst off.

Spending so much time at home meant I was able to discover what wildlife visits my garden, a bit of a distraction whilst I was supposed to still be working, but it was really nice to be there during the day and have more time to appreciate my outside space. My garden is only small, with two patio areas which contain a number of plants in pots and a lawn which has struggled as a lawn and now has a few flowers planted into the patchier bits as I slowly tun it into a much wilder space. I have lived there for a couple of years, and this year the garden really seems to have come to life with birds and insects, which has been really nice to see.

Whilst at home I had blue tits, wood pigeons, dunnocks and blackbirds frequently visiting the garden along with a wren, great tits and a goldfinch. I have a willow bird table and the blackbirds seem to really like this, launching themselves onto it from the hedge and swinging around whilst they fed.

I have two hedges in the garden and this year the blackbirds successfully nested in one (I did a fair amount of cat chasing whilst off, if they have another brood they’re on their own!) which was lovely to watch. I saw four fledglings at the same time, two sunning themselves in one hedge and two in the other and both adults worked really hard to feed them with the male bringing back huge beak fulls, including a garden centipede in the photo below:

Blackbird 2

Male blackbird with a beak full

They fledged last Thursday so I was able to enjoy their company for a few days, with one of the young staying in the garden until Sunday morning. It was very amusing to see it sat swinging on the bird table calling mum for food.

I had written a rather long list of things to do to keep me busy, and one of those things was to dig a pond. Digging a pond was definitely more exciting than decorating the bathroom, re-pointing some dodgy brickwork to hopefully solve a damp issue in the kitchen and damp proofing and repainting the kitchen wall, so it was one of the first things I did and it’s been really nice to see it change over just a few weeks. The less exciting jobs were left until last week when I knew I was returning to work…

The photos below show the garden before and after, then the pond full of mud as the female blackbird decided the moss I had placed round the edge would make really nice nest building material (she had ignored it the entire time it was elsewhere in the garden) and later on with some plant additions (all native) I had been able to order online.

Whilst digging the pond I unearthed the snake millipede below, along with centipedes that were too fast for a photo, and the stones placed around the edge quickly became resting spots for hoverflies:

The blackbirds had been using a bucket of water with some willow sticks in to drink from and bathe in, but they now both use the pond which is really nice to watch. The female didn’t mind me being around at all but the male was a lot more wary of me to begin with and would fly off even if I was watching from the window, but now he is quite happy for me to be out in the garden whilst he’s there feeding.

As well as the birds it was great to see which insects were visiting the flowers and which flowers were growing really well, the ragged robin in particular has seeded so well from one plant in a pot last year I was able to plant it out in different places in the grass.

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I live on the edge of Salisbury so on my daily walks I walked my dog from home to either a little stretch of the River Bourne in Laverstock or up to the Laverstock Downs, enjoying the fact there were fewer cars on the road.

These photos were taken in the little patch of woodland down by the river:

I had hoped to see some bluebells on my wanders but sadly all those I did see were garden escapees.

I spent a lot more time up on the Downs as although they were further to walk to, it was much easier to practice social distancing up here than it was down by the river which tended to be busier with people and had a stretch of boardwalk to contend with.

It was a great spot for bird watching and I had some brilliant views of both blackcap and common whitethroat, especially early spring when the whitethroats were displaying and establishing territories.

I managed a total of 47 bird species whilst off, either in my garden, flying over my garden or on my daily walks: blackbird, blue tit, dunnock, wren, great tit, wood pigeon, collared dove, jackdaw, starling, long-tailed tit, yellowhammer, carrion crow, buzzard, pheasant, song thrush, chaffinch, chiffchaff, red kite, blackcap, common whitethroat, swallow, linnet, goldfinch, red-legged partridge, little egret, mallard, shoveler, kingfisher, magpie, skylark, great spotted woodpecker, robin, Canada goose, mute swan, raven, sparrowhawk, rook, bullfinch, house sparrow, Cetti’s warbler, grey heron, moorhen, mistle thrush, swift, house martin, peregrine falcon and mandarin duck. They were quite a good mix!

The Downs were also a great spot for butterflies, with orange tips, brimstones, small tortoiseshells, green-veined whites, small heaths, peacocks and dingy skippers all on the wing. I also found lots of green-veined orchids and other flowers on the chalk grassland.

The most exciting spot though was probably to see glow worm larvae on three separate occasions, so I must go up there over the summer in search of glow worms.

Glow worm larvae

Glow worm larvae

I was very lucky to have my garden to enjoy and also have some lovely spaces within walking distance to explore (it was also quite nice to use my car less!), so I had plenty of nature to keep me company during the pandemic, whilst a list of house and craft projects also kept me busy. I might be heading back up to the Downs at the weekend…

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!

April Showers

Or more prolonged outbreaks of rain! Recent days have certainly been making up for the rather dry winter. The lakes which had been unusually low for the time of year have now filled up to the point where a number of the islands in Ibsley Water have disappeared.

On the plus side it has warmed up a little and this has resulted in something of an upturn in moth numbers. Last night saw nine species caught including early grey and brindled pug new for the year, there were also a number of oak beauty.

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oak beauty

Spring migrants continue to arrive in low numbers, there are now several chiffchaff and  a few blackcap singing around the reserve and today we recorded our first terns of the year. The single common tern this afternoon was not unexpected, but the 4 Sandwich tern this morning were unusual and they were flying over heading south! The adult little gull was still around in the morning at least, it has been a near record season for them and we have probably already recorded about 20 individuals. Yesterday there were still at least 13 goldeneye and probably the same today, a hang over from winter with 50 or so sand martin and 5 or more swallow feeding over their heads.

There are now common dog violet, ground ivy, moschatel  and cowslip starting to come into flower. Ground ivy is normally very popular with the early butterflies, but recent days have been too cold and/or wet for them to have been flying.

cowslip

cowslip

As though the emphasise the changeability of the season I saw this intense rainbow as I went to lock up the Tern hide this afternoon, hopefully the ratio of rain to sun will start to change soon.

rainbow
rainbow from the main car park

 

First Flowering

I was acting as substitute Jim today as he is on leave, it made a change to be on the reserve on a Saturday and a very pleasant one, in the fine spring sunshine. After a morning spent tying up various loose ends from the year end, I took the chance to get out tin the sun after lunch. I wanted to check out a few of the projects we have done over the years and see how they have worked. First I went to an area we cleared of rhododendron some five years ago, it had been one of the few areas not dug for gravel and still had a few large, old hazel stools growing up through it. We cleared the rhododendron and planted  a few hazel in their place. The ground flora had all been killed off by decades of deep shade from the rhododendron, so we decided to try collecting some wild daffodil seed from near the Woodland hide and spreading it on the bare ground, to see if we could establish some new plants. The seedlings came up and today I found the first flower!first daffodil

Wild daffodil are a feature of the reserve, or at least the areas that were not destroyed by gravel extraction, so re-establishing them to places they would once have been and removing planted garden daffodils is a thing we have been to do for some time.

I then went to the western side of Ellingham Lake to look at the hedge we laid last winter. It has suffered somewhat from being nibbled by rabbits, but is not looking too bad on the whole.hedge

The sunshine had brought out lots of butterflies, I saw good numbers of brimstone, a few peacock and a single small tortoiseshell.small tortoiseshell

Most of the butterflies were nectaring, as this small tortoiseshell was, on ground ivy, one of the best sources of food for butterflies and bees at this time of year.ground ivy

I also found a fine grass snake enjoying the sunshine, it was on very open ground so rather than slip off to cover it reared up in threat and then froze, allowing me to get some shots.grass snake

With a little effort I managed to creep really close and get some headshots, when I did it became apparent that it had some sort of damage around the upper jaw, it looks quite nasty, but the snake seemed to be in otherwise good shape.snake head

There had evidently been some arrival of migrants overnight, with a couple of willow warbler singing near the main gate as I opened up and there were noticeably more chiffchaff and blackcap. The highlight though, was a male wheatear on the lichen heath near Ivy North hide.

As I ate my lunch I watched a pair of long-tailed tit collecting spider’s web for their nest from under the eaves of the Education Centre and the resident pair of robin were courtship feeding on the picnic tables.

Closing up the Tern hide a sudden commotion flushed all the shoveler from the south-east part of Ibsley Water out into the centre of the lake, allowing me to get a good count, the total was 283, pretty good for April. There was little else to report, although the Slavonian grebe was still there somewhere apparently, although I failed to see it myself.

 

More than a fuzz of green now

It is noticeably greener day by day - even in the drizzle!

It is noticeably greener day by day – even in the drizzle!

This is my favourite time of year – the evenings are longer, the birds are singing and you can see the natural world changing before your eyes, particularly as the leaf buds on the tree’s and hedgerows open and unfold. Last weekend there was a general “fuzz” of green about the place, today it is most definitely green and getting greener. And for all that it has been grey and wet all day it has been surprisingly mild, with the thermometer recording a low of 10C and a high of 15C overnight and during the course of the day. Therefore perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised to find a grass snake “basking” on top of the dead hedge near Woodland Hide this afternoon – but I was surprised, and therefore didn’t get a picture unfortunately!

Sticking with the green theme momentarily a frosted green was a nice find in the light trap this morning:

Frosted green

Frosted green

It was one of 30 moths in total and 9 species, including this, a herald:

Herald

Herald

As the daffodils fade and spring moves on we are moving steadily from the season of yellow flowers to that of purple, with a few early ground ivy flowering and some lovely carpets of dog violets along the woodland edges in places:

Dog violet

Dog violet

Bird wise a ruff that was on Ibsley Water yesterday was absent today, but at least a couple of little gull were present, as were the pair of little ringed plover who (hopefully) are establishing a territory somewhere between the Tern Hide and across to the large peninsula.

There was some excitement over what was perceived to be a drake American wigeon this morning, but by mid-afternoon it was generally accepted that what had initially been thought to have an exciting record was in reality an unusually marked, or hybrid, wigeon.