Laying around

Another busy day with lots of visitors, a volunteer work party and the Pop-up cafe. The bittern performed from time to time at Ivy North hide, including at dusk as I went to lock up. A water rail there was seen to catch and eat a small fish, which surprised some watching, in fact water rail are not fussy eaters and will happily eat vegetation, seed, and animal matter alive and dead. I have seen them eat fish and even small birds and they are a well known hazard when ringing birds in a reedbed, as they will try to pick birds from the nets given half a chance.

The volunteers worked laying another section of the hedge alongside the A338 on the western side of Ellingham Drove. This hedge was planted in 2005/06 winter and is being laid to thicken it up and make it more useful for wildlife and as a visual screen for the road.

hedge before laying

The hedge plants before work began

After the hedge laying you can see it is already much denser even though some of the side branches have been removed.

hedge after laying

hedge after laying

Those of you that are familiar with the traditional craft of hedge laying will immediately notice that this is not a craftsman’s job. The traditional craft produced a barrier that would keep livestock in before the days of barbed wire, it had a woven line of rods on top between stakes and much more of the twigs and branches were removed. This art is still practised and there are regular competitions, to make a good traditional hedge in this way takes great skill. However we are just trying to thicken up the hedge and retain as much of the potential for flowering and fruiting next year and for this purpose some reduction in the branches and a partial cut to lay the stem over will suffice.

Such hedges make good nesting places for many of our common birds like robin, dunnock and blackbird.

blackbird male

adult male blackbird at Woodland hide

This hedge is almost entirely made up of hawthorn, but we are trying to diversify it by adding extra species. One that we could add is hazel, normally we would plant these in the winter when the plants are dormant, but looking at the hazel around the reserve today they are anything but dormant.

hazel catkins

hazel catkins

The catkins are the familiar flowers of the hazel, but these just the male flowers which open to scatter their pollen, the female flowers are much smaller and easily overlooked. Each hazel will have flowers of both sexes, the catkins on the ends of the twigs and the female flowers a little further down.

hazel flower female

the female hazel flower

Although winter is natures “downtime” it is not so for all species and on the outside of the Education Centre door this morning there was a male winter moth.

winter moth

Winter moth (male)

When moth trapping you always catch many more males than females, probably because they fly around more seeking females, however in the case of the winter moth you will only ever catch males as the females are wingless. The larvae to these moths eat oak leaves are the main food collected by blue and great tit when feeding their young, one of the possible effects of climate change could be a disconnect between the timing of peak caterpillar numbers and hungry chicks. Only time and project s such as the one undertaken by Brenda at Blashford (see the last post) will show if this becomes a real problem for the birds.

I was trying out a new camera today, a replacement for my one that packed up the other day, it is a “bridge camera”, not something I have used before so I was keen to see what it could do. The light was not good today, but it seems as though it will be useful. I tried a range of pictures, standard shots a sat the top of the page, some macro and finally some using the full magnification, although not a great shot I quiet liked the one below of a group of pintail.

three pairs of pintail

three pairs of pintail up ending

Hopefully we will get some better light and I will get the chance to put it through its paces rather more fully.

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Out and About in the Sunshine

It has been very, very dry recently and reasonably sunny, however it has also been quite cold for a lot of the time, with north or north-east winds. This has made for quite a good spring for insects, certainly better than for several years, although it could do with warming up a bit and we will need some rain, not too much, just enough to keep the vegetation green. Yesterday it was warmer and the wind swung round to a more southerly direction.

I finally saw my second dragonfly of the year, I have seen lots of damselflies but dragons have been in very short supply. Although the view was brief I think it was a hairy dragonfly. I also found several of one of my favourite insects, groundhoppers, small relations to grasshoppers that get easily overlooked as they are adult in spring. There are three species in Britain and we get two of them at Blashford, or at least sop far I have only found two species. They favour damp, bare ground and can both fly and swim! The one below is a slender groundhopper.

slender groundhopper 2

Slender groundhopper

I was out bird surveying at the start of the day at Linwood reserve and noticed that the leaves on the oak there are mostly brown, almost all the first flush of leaves dead. Linwood lies in the valley of the Dockens Water a well known frost-hollow, these leaves had all been killed by the late frost that also had my early potatoes. This will be bad news for the nesting blue tit on the reserve as they mainly feed their chicks on winter moth caterpillars and these eat the first flush of oak leaves.

Hawthorn, or may, traditionally flowers in May, although often it seems to be earlier, this year it has lived up to the name and was in full bloom in the first week of the month. Although it has lots of flowers they do not seem to attract as many insects as the earlier blackthorn flowers, however one in a good sunny spot can still be worth checking for bees, hoverflies and beetles. I spotted this leaf beetle nectaring on the bush close to Ivy South hide as I locked up yesterday afternoon.

leaf beetle

leaf beetle on hawthorn

Yesterday’s birds included a male wheatear on the Lichen Heath and the long-staying Bonaparte’s gull on Ibsley Water.

 

 

Spring?

Willow catkin

Willow catkin

Despite another miserable, wet day, as the subject title suggests there are at least glimmers of hope that spring might be on the way!

One of these is the growing number of  “pussy willows” (pictured above) whose catkins have opened and are now ready to service the needs of hungry insects including early bee’s and butterflies and even birds such as blue tits have been known to feed on this rich supply of early nectar. You can try it yourself if you want, though you may get a few odd looks; simply pop the open catkin in your mouth and suck for a little sample of the sweet nectar. Just take care to only pick “fresh” looking flowers as bedraggled, damp ones may have recently been tried by someone else reading the blog! If the weather carries on like this you may as well try a few because there will certainly be no insects to pollinate the flowers until the weather improves.

Elsewhere around the reserve there are a few other signs that spring is around the corner – chiff chaffs are in full song and good numbers of and a number of swallows were feeding over Ibsley Water today and though there are not yet signs that the martins have begun excavating nest cavities in the sand martin bank other birds are certainly “in the mood” – a pair of great crested grebes were diligently constructing a nest outside Tern Hide this afternoon and I caught a pair of tufted duck “in the act” as I opened it up this morning too. 

Though far from being in full leaf the hawthorn hedges have now got a very obvious “fuzz of green” about them and other tree leaf buds are swelling and will soon be emerging too.

Bread and Cheese

Bird News: Ibsley Waterblack-tailed godwit 1, redshank 2. Ivy Lakebittern 1, scaup 1. Woodlandbrambling 1.

Another misty morning and I was not expecting to see much as I opened the hides, in fact the visibility meant that it was not possible to see much from the Tern hide. At the Ivy North hide I had very good views of a Cetti’s warbler in the reedmace and saw a water rail briefly in flight. However it was the Ivy South hide that delivered the surprise of the morning, I scanned around the lake, the usual scatter of tufted duck and shoveler, then I saw a very fine drake scaup. He was head bobbing and neck stretching, clearly keen to take flight, but none of the tufted duck seemed to share this desire to get away. I had hoped this would mean it would decide to stay, but no, within a couple of minutes it was off, circling the lake then off high into the murk to the south-east, the bird of the day well and truly gone.

Several people came into the Centre to ask where they could see the bittern, they were directed toward the Ivy North hide, along with the opinion that they were probably too late and the bitterns had probably gone. I have suggested we have seen the last of the bitterns several times now, you might have thought I would have learnt my lesson by now and once again I was proved wrong. If there is one thing harder to establish than the presence of a bittern it is the absence of one.

I continued clearing rubbish from around the reserve and yet again have filled the skip I ordered and still have more to go into it. One of my rubbish piles was over beside Mockbeggar Lake and on my way there I passed the hawthorn hedge we had a go at layering to thicken a couple of years ago, it is really looking quite good now.

roadside hedge, Ellingham Drove

The next stage will be to remove the old fence altogether and keep the hedge trimmed to allow it to really thicken up. It is not as good as the classic plashed hedge of old, but much quicker to do and within my capabilities. It has the additional advantage of retaining enough of the top growth that it will flower and fruit the first season after being done. The leaf buds are starting to open on some of the bushes now and the tiny flower buds can also be seen. These shoots can be eaten and were known as “Bread and cheese”, for some reason the advent of burgers and crisps seems to have dented enthusiasm for nibbling the hedgerows.

bread and cheese

We are still awaiting a real arrival of migrants, but I did hear news of an arrival today, a swallow was seen just north of Ibsley village, an impressively early date, especially in a spring when things seem to be on the late side, despite apparently good weather. I also heard that the long-staying whooper swan is still in the fields north of Harbridge church.