Filling in the gaps

It has been some time since my last blog… I’m sorry about the gap! I had a bit of time off over New Year – which seems like a super long time ago now – and since the lockdown I have been part time furloughed (and spending more time exploring more locally to me in Salisbury), so I’m at Blashford three days a week at present.

So, after Christmas I had a break from weaving willow wreaths – our final wreath total was a whopping 94 (out of 100) sold for a donation, which was a fantastic response to the activity and we hope those who bought them enjoyed decorating them. I think we may have to offer it again next year…

This was briefly replaced with a ‘Forest Folk’ activity for our younger visitors, where they could make their own forest friend or stickman then enjoy some simple activities along the wild walk loop. Although short lived, due to the lockdown, a number of families took part and we will be able to put the activity and signs out again when restrictions are lifted.

I’ve also been out and about helping Bob more, mainly to provide first aid cover whilst he’s chainsawing, and it’s been nice to spend time on other bits of the reserve. We’ve spent a bit of time widening the footpath up by the screens on the approach to Lapwing Hide:

Whilst out and about it’s easy to get distracted by the signs of spring – it’s nice to know it’s on its way! I’ve seen my first scarlet elf cups and primroses are also in flower. The snowdrops near the Centre have emerged and the buds are very close now to opening fully.

I also found a nice clump of jelly ear fungus along the Dockens Water path…

… and a very nice blob of Yellow brain or witches’ butter:

yellow brain

Yellow brain fungus or Witches’ butter

According to European folklore, if yellow brain fungus appeared on the gate or door of a house it meant a witch had cast a spell on the family living there. The only way to remove the spell was to pierce the fungus several times with straight pins until it went away, which gave it the common name ‘witches’ butter’. In Sweden, it was burnt to protect against evil spirits.

Another sign of spring I like to look for each year is on the hazel trees. If you look really closely at the hazel you might be able to spot some of its incredibly tiny pink flowers, which look a bit like sea anemones. Hazel is monoecious, with both the male and female flowers found on the same tree. The yellow male catkins appear first before the leaves and hang in clusters, whilst the female flowers are tiny, bud-like and with red styles.

Once pollinated by pollen from other hazel trees, the female flowers develop into oval fruits which then mature into hazelnuts.

On the insect front, the only moth I’ve seen recently was this mottled umber, which greeted me on the Centre door as I was opening up one morning:

mottled umber

Mottled umber

The robins near Ivy Silt Pond continue to be very obliging, posing for photos, and I’ve also been watching the kingfisher by the pond outside the back of the Centre. It seems to prefer this spot when the lake levels are higher and visibility poorer, making it harder to fish for food.

robin

Robin

kingfisher

Kingfisher

And we have on occasion had some rain! These photos were from the heavy downpours last week:

On Sunday I was half expecting to arrive to a snowy scene, but it seemed to just miss the reserve. On my drive in it became less and less wintery and I arrived to a thin layer of melting slush, having left behind a rather white Salisbury. Given I had to get home again it was probably a good thing, but I admit I was slightly disappointed! It was though a good day for photographing water droplets, as everything was melting and there were plenty around!

I will finish with a blue tit enjoying the sunshine up by Lapwing Hide, and will endeavour to blog again soon… I’m woefully behind with my Young Naturalists updates…

blue tit

Blue tit enjoying the sunshine

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.

Spring Between the Showers

On Thursday the volunteers were working out on the shore of Ibsley Water putting out fresh shingle patches for nesting little ringed plover and oystercatcher. Now that the old concrete block plant has been removed and the site opened up to the lakeshore there is a much larger area of suitable habitat for these species and for lapwing, so we have high hopes for the coming nesting season.

plover-patches

“Plover patches” small areas of fresh shingle ideal for nesting little ringed plovers.

It turned out we were just in time as on Friday the first little ringed plover of the season was seen! They are usually one of the first of the spring migrants along with sand martin. There are lots of other signs of approaching spring around the reserve now, the hazel catkins and flowers are out.

hazel-catkins

Hazel catkins, these are the familiar male flowers that produce lots of pollen.

The tiny female flowers are easily overlooked and very different, each tree will have both the catkins and female flowers, you just need to look closely to see them.

hazel-flower

Female flower of hazel.

It is not just hazel that has catkins, those of alder are also out now and rather similar to look at.

alder-catkins

Alder catkins, with last year’s seed cones.

I was also working with the volunteers today, although in less benign conditions, it rained and hailed and we took shelter by the Centre and made nest boxes. However Jim had thought to put out the moth trap and I was quite impressed to find it contained five moths, 2 twin-spot Quaker, a small Quaker, an oak beauty and a yellow-horned, so we got to see a little wildlife at least.

yellow-horned

Yellow-horned moth, the first of the season.

I did get lucky as I was opening up the Ivy North hide as the bittern was in the open beside the “pool” just below the western end of the hide, it must surely be thinking of going soon. At the end of the day I took a quick look at the gull roost, now mostly smaller gulls with about 3000 black-headed gull, only 21 common gull and just a single Mediterranean gull.