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.

grey heron juv

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!

GCG in rain

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.


Mouldy Old Day

On my way to open up the hides this morning I found another slime mould on a log near the Woodland hide. More regular readers will perhaps know I am rather fond of these bizarre organisms. This morning’s species was the coral slime mould Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa and it resembled a hoar frost in colour and shape.

coral slime mould

coral slime mould

I spent the day working with the volunteers continuing to develop the new area of grassland beside the path through the old concrete works. Before anyone asks, no I don’t have an opening date for the path yet, but I hope it will be reasonably soon. We were doing some cutting, but also a lot or raking up and it was remarkable how many young common toad there were in the area, certainly many tens and probably hundreds, clearly it is an important area for them. The seeding we did back in the spring has worked surprisingly well considering how dry it was, although it seems to be making up for that now. There are lots of young bird’s foot trefoil and ox-eye daisy plants coming up so it should look pretty good in a year or two.

At the end of the day I set off to lock up the hides and my eye was caught by something brilliant yellow, another slime mould! This time troll butter, it is almost dayglow in brightness.

troll butter and very small beetle

troll butter

It was only when I downloaded the picture that I noticed the tiny beetle.



A Clear(er) View

On Thursday the volunteers cleared the annual vegetation from in front of the Tern hide, we do this each year for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is that it improves the view of the nearest shore from the hide. Another is that it clears the ground for the nesting lapwing and little ringed plover next spring. There are also always some seedling bramble, birch and willow that need pulling out before they get established.


The shore before we started


and after a couple of hours of hard weeding

Looking out from the hide today this did not make much difference as visibility was seriously reduced due to persistent heavy rain. Despite this there were some birds to see, including at least 800 sand martin, 3 swift, 2 dunlin, a little ringed plover, 3 common sandpiper, 33 mute swan and 3 pochard. Ivy Lake was quieter with just a few coot, gadwall and great crested grebe, there are also still two broods of two common tern chicks on the rafts.

Today was not a day for invertebrates, but I do have one more picture from Thursday, spotted in long grass as I went round locking up, a wasp spider, my first of the year.

wasp spider

Wasp spider female with prey.


A Bit of a Catch-up

Apologies for a bit of a gap in posts, a combination of not a lot to report and too much to do.

The volunteers have been busy working in and around the former Hanson concrete plant site to get it into shape for the winter and to enhance the establishment of the plantings and sown grassland areas.  I am amazed how well the planting have survived considering the prolonged dry spell we have had and the almost unspeakably poor soil they were planted into, testament to how carefully they were planted. We have also been cutting nettle, bramble and thistle growth off the areas that we want to establish as grassland such as the shore to the west of Goosander hide where we were working on Tuesday in the oppressive heat.


The shore before we started covered with low bramble.


The shore at the end of the day.

It turned out there was quite a lot of grass and other plants under the bramble cover, so whilst there is still a fair bit to do I think we should be able to establish a grassy bank in the longer term, ideal for wigeon in the winter and lapwing in the spring.

The warm weather has been good for insects with butterfly numbers surging in the last week.

speckled wood

speckled wood

Moth trapping has also been good with several new species for the year.


crescent moth

As well as good numbers of old favourites.

black arches

Black arches moth, a male with feathery antennae, the pattern seems to be slightly different on each one.

purple thorn

Purple thorn.

We are into a bit of a slack time for birds at the moment, although with autumn migration just starting things should pick up soon. A single green sandpiper has been around and common sandpiper reached at least six on Monday. Today there were 6 pochard, 4 more than recently. Almost all of the common tern have fledged now, just the three late broods remain, once again success has been very high at around two chicks fledged per pair. On Iblsey Water there are at least four broods of tufted duck and one of gadwall.

I had hoped to feature some of the many fine pictures I have been sent in recent days and I will do so soon, I’m afraid tonight that the technology has defeated me.

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.


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.



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.


small elephant hawk-moth


30 Days Wild – Day 23: Priorities

Finally a day when it was cool enough to get out on site with some machinery to get some of the paths trimmed. This is not the most glamorous of reserve management tasks but it has to be done. Managing a nature reserve is full of conflicting demands and dilemmas. No management is without impact and what is positive for one group of species will be negative for others. Trimming the paths often means cutting back nettles, as most will know these are the food plant of peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies, so I try to avoid cutting the patches in full sun which they prefer and to do larger scale cutting only after they caterpillars have finished feeding.


a fresh summer brood small tortoiseshell

The clearance of dense nettlebeds promotes patches of grassland and other herbage which is preferred by a wider range of species such as small skipper, which have just started to fly this year.


small skipper

Over the years I have managed many different sites used for various purposes, ranging from nature reserves, long distance paths, picnic sites and Country Parks and these dilemmas occur at all of them. In truth all land management involves conflicting interests and all land is in multiple use. On a nature reserve wildlife will take precedence over most of the site, but access and safety will be paramount in some areas. I do believe that whatever the land use, it is wrong to deny the multiple interests, land management is about balancing interests not ignoring some entirely. Above all management should be about maintaining and enhancing the possibilities that are available for the future, good management is about increasing potential not applying a full stop.

Following Day 22’s horsefly picture I got another, this time of a male Hybomitra species in flight. This one is Hybomitra distinguenda and they fly very fast indeed, the picture was taken at 1/4000 sec and the wings are still in motion.


Hybomitra distinguenda

It is reputed that a species of this genus, albeit a rather large one from Southern Africa is the fastest flying insect having allegedly been clocked at 90 mph!

I have noted before how Blashford has many species that have come in from elsewhere, often due to the somewhat chequered industrial history. We have a number of coastal species including a very large population of annual beard grass, perhaps the largest in    the county, the natural habitat for it is poached upper saltmarsh, such a scan be found at Farlington Marshes.


Mayweed flower in annual beard grass.




All Clear

The Blashford volunteers were hard at work today and we finally finished the clearance of the western shore of Ibsley Water. As an old gravel working it has taken a long time for the area to settle down. The bare ground left at the end of extraction was a seedbed for a forest of ragwort and after we got this under control nettle and bramble proliferated. Mowing and grazing is increasingly establishing grassland over larger and larger areas, but getting it too a state where we can readily manage it as long term grassland has been a challenge. Hopefully today we had our last day of this clearance work, so long as I can get a suitable mower for the job from now on it should be easier to maintain habitat suitable for breeding lapwing and feeding wigeon.


The last patches at the start of the task.


Part way through


Nearly there, just a bramble clump to go.


Just the raking up to do.

Managing the habitat around the reserve and maximising the opportunity for people to enjoy the wildlife from the hides is a constant task and the input of the many volunteers is what makes it possible. They don’t just do lots of the work, they also come up with all sorts of ideas. Many of our volunteers are also regular visitors to the reserve, which gives them a different perspective from that of staff. Lots of ideas keep the reserve moving forward and encourages us to try new things and hopefully improves things for wildlife and visitors alike.

We have tamed the western shore of the lake just in time as we are shortly to take on the old concrete block works site between Tern and Goosander hides. This will be another area of disturbed ground, no doubt full of weed seeds and with added concrete, metal reinforcing etc. to boot. Although the major groundworks are now complete establishing vegetation is going to take time and effort. Several people have asked me when the new path between the main car park and Goosander hide will open. The short answer is I don’t know yet. Although the large scale works are done there is still things to finish before we will be able to take possession and open it up for use. I am hoping it won’t be too long now and rest assured that I will post details as soon as I know.

The Cutting Crew

Recent visitors to the reserve may have noticed that there has been a lot of work going on in the area between the main car park and Goosander hide, where the concrete block plant used to be. We have been waiting for the site to be restored for some years as it will give us a path directly from the car park to Goosander hide and so a circular route around the reserve. It will also give us about 2ha of open ground potentially ideal for nesting lapwing and little ringed plover. It is not yet part of the reserve, but hopefully will be before too long and in anticipation of this we are working to make sure it can deliver as much as possible.

Today the Tuesday volunteers were cutting a huge bramble clump that covered the shore of the lake west of Goosander hide cutting the lake off from the open ground. The plan is for this bank to be grassland in the long run, although this is going to need a few years of hard work. Hopefully it will be good for both nesting lapwing and feeding wigeon. We got  a lot done today as the pictures below show.



As you can see, although I have labelled this “before” we have already done two days work in previous weeks.



The new banks that flank what will be the path from the main car park will be planted with willows and brambles to provide habitat for small birds and many of the open areas will have wildflower seed spread on them to provide nectar for insects.

When I opened up this morning it was noticeable that there were no swallows or martins over Ibsley Water. Scanning around I saw two of the three garganey and a group of small waders which proved to be 3 dunlin and a single little stint. Later we saw 5 pochard, the most I have seen in ages. Late in the day when I was locking up I again saw the great white egret on Ibsley Water along with all three garganey, a pair of Mandarin duck and an adult yellow-legged gull.


One for all the Mothers

To avoid confusion perhaps I should say “Moth-ers” as I mean those interested in moths rather than the producers of off-spring. Although actually I would hope mothers and everyone else would be interested too as this is about not just moths but what kind of world we want to live in.

On Friday we ran a moth event at Blashford, sadly only one person turned up, which was a shame as we had our largest catch of moths this year. Two moth traps had been run overnight and we had caught almost ninety species, an illustration of the huge diversity of moth species flying at this time of the year. In addition I also run a trap in my own garden and altogether I have seen well over one hundred species in the last two days!

I will not list all the species, but we had some large and impressive species such as elephant hawk moth, poplar hawk moth and buff-tip, as well as lots of smaller but nonetheless beautiful ones. The many clouded border were interesting as none are exactly alike. We caught one new species for Blashford, another micro and again one of the Pyralids, Rhodophaea formosa, just like the previous new record featured in my last post. It is described in the book as “local, but perhaps spreading” and lives in hedgerows, so should not be short of habitat.

Rhodophaea formosa

Rhodophaea Formosa

Personally it was my garden trap that caught the stand-out species though, a fine female four-spotted footman.

four-spotted footman, female

four-spotted footman, female

In the picture you can only see two of the spots, there are two on each fore-wing, making four in all, however it is usually males that are seen and they have no spots at all. The other notable species and one I rarely see, was the small chocolate-tip.

small chocolate-tip

small chocolate-tip

I am delighted to say that my one attendee at the moth “event” did seem to really enjoy it and went away inspired to make and run her own trap at home.

The huge diversity of moth species to be found, even in a suburban back garden shows us just how much wildlife is out there and which we hardly see, there is no part of even our built up cities that is not habitat for some species. Although nature reserves may hold the greatest range of species we need to consider everywhere as wildlife habitat. There is no need for industrial estates and corporate head quarters to be surrounded by closely mown carpets of rye grass, be bold, let some wild flowers grow, contribute something to supporting wildlife and save money on grounds maintenance into the bargain! There has been much in the press recently about providing for bees and other pollinators, but actually we could do this quite easily by just modifying mowing regimes and benefit lots of other wildlife at the same time. The local highways authorities could lead the way by setting an example with roadside verges and round abouts, many of which are still ruthlessly over mown. A truly Living Landscape needs these opportunities to be made the most of, if we give a little thought we can all make small space for wildlife and together make  a big space and wildlife can be inspiring, as the moths in our traps demonstrated.

In more general Blashford news, the great white egret is occasionally being seen, usually outside Ivy North hide, on Ibsley Water there were at least 3 common sandpiper and in front of Tern hide a brood of three little ringed plover chicks.

Do something for wildlife today!