It’s Good to have a Hobby

And even better to have two! Which is what we saw today hunting insects over Ivy Lake when we went to put out another of the tern rafts. These sickle-winged falcons winter south of the Sahara and fly north to breed along with their favourite prey, swallows and martins. Watching them swooping to catch flying insects is a fantastic experience, you can only marvel at their mastery of the air, one of the great sights of summer.

The tern rafts are gradually being deployed, so far the terns have looked interested but failed to occupy any of the rafts before they have been dominated by pairs of  black-headed gull. It is always a problem getting the timing right and this is why I deploy the rafts one or two at a time, at some point the terns must surely be ready to take control of one.

preparing the tern raft

Preparing a tern raft

There have been at least 30 common tern around regularly and they have been doing courtship flights and bringing food, so I think they should be ready to settle soon. So far there has been little sign of much tern passage, apart from a few beautiful black tern, the biggest group so far being 5 on Sunday afternoon. Little gull are usually birds of passage that stay at most a day or so , which makes the fine adult that has been frequenting  Ibsley Water for several days something of an exception. It was there again today, although I don’t think anyone saw the Bonaparte’s gull. Other birds have included a few dunlin and common sandpiper and last week a bar-tailed godwit.

Barwit

Bar-tailed godwit

In recent posts we have featured a number of pictures of lapwing chicks, sadly I don’t think any of them have survived. This season has been a good one for the number of pairs and in general hatching success has been quite good, but the chicks have been disappearing fast. I think a combination of dry weather and predators is the cause. Dry conditions mean the chicks get brought to the lakeshore to seek food, as all their favoured puddles are gone, unfortunately the shore is regularly patrolled by fox and other predators, as it regularly has washed up food in the shape of dead birds and fish. The foxes may not be actively seeking the chicks but they will not refuse one should they come across it. Sadly a similar lack of success is befalling the little ringed plover, but at least they will continue to try and may yet succeed before the summer is out.

LRP

Little ringed plover near Tern hide.

The cold winds are making moth trapping a slow business, with few species flying, although we have caught an eyed hawk-moth and a couple of poplar hawk-moth recently.

poplar hawk

Poplar hawk-moth

Mothless, well Almost

Yesterday I ran a “Moth event” at Blashford, unfortunately I forgot to tell the moths and there were probably more human participants than moths! Usually late August is a good time for catching large numbers of moths, but big catches require warm, calm nights following warm settled days. What we had was a windy, mostly clear night following a rather stormy day.

Luckily the day got more settled as it went on, at least until late afternoon anyway. This brought out good numbers of insects, including as many dragonflies as I have seen this year. Around the reserve I saw several brown hawker, southern and migrant hawkers, an egg-laying emperor dragonfly and a fair few common darter. Damselflies included common blue, azure, red-eyed, small red-eyed and blue-tailed.

Butterflies were rather fewer, most that I saw were whites, with all three common species near the Centre. Out on the reserve a few meadow brown and gatekeeper are still flying and speckled wood are increasing again. Near the Lapwing hide I saw both red admiral and painted lady, perhaps indicating some continued arrival of passage insects.

The sunshine in the middle of the day brought out reptiles as well and I saw two grass snake and an adder. The adder was very fat and I suspect a female which will shortly be giving birth, since adders have live young rather than laying eggs as grass snakes do.

adder

adder

I have heard reports of wasp spider being seen around the reserve recently and today I finally saw one.

wasp spider

wasp spider

This is a female, the males are much, much smaller and wander about seeking the females.

I had hoped for a few different birds, following the rough weather, perhaps a few terns, but there was little change form the past week. A few extra waders were the best that could be found, 2 dunlin, 2 oystercatcher, 2 common sandpiper, 1 redshank and the pick of the day, 3 greenshank, although they only flew through. There are starting to be a few more ducks around, I saw 8 shoveler and 3 teal, but there are still no wigeon on the reserve, although they should not be far away. Away for the water looking up there were 2 raven, and single hobby and peregrine. Whilst low over the water before the day warmed there were 1000+ sand martin and c200 house martin.

Perhaps the sighting of the day for many visitors though was the female roe deer that spent part of the morning in front of the Woodland hide.

roe deer at Woodland hide 3

roe deer doe at the Woodland hide

 

30 Days Wild – Day 16

Thursday at Blashford Lakes is volunteer day and we spent the morning clearing nettles along the path edges and around the Woodland hide. As we worked at the Woodland hide we had fly over views of a hobby, but in general nettle pulling is not that compatible with seeing wildlife.

We got away without getting wet in the morning but the afternoon turned out to be one of steady rain, although we avoided the heavy thunder storms that rolled around us.

At each end of the day there were several Mediterranean gull outside the Tern hide, in the morning 3 adults and one first summer and in the afternoon 2 adults. There was also a single second summer yellow-legged gull.

My only picture today is of a scarce coastal grass and one of rather few that I can identify as it grew at Farlington Marshes where I worked for years. It is annual beard grass and is actually common in some areas at Blashford, where it probably arrived on the wheels of a gravel truck. It is very distinctive with large fluffy flower heads and in this shot they are covered in rain drops.

annual beard grass

annual beard grass (Polypogon monspeliensis)

I also rather like the Latin name.

Hobby Display Team

A quick look out of the Tern hide first thing revealed that yesterday’s avocet was still present as were 2 greenshank and 2 dunlin. But as I was busy elsewhere today I could not linger, hopefully they would still be there at lunchtime.

Ed has been away this week so the first Sunday of the month volunteer task fell to me to lead. It has been a while since I have done one and there were a few new faces since my last foray with the team. Six of us set out to tackle some more Himalayan balsam, carrying on from where we left off on Thursday with the weekday volunteers. We ended up spending the whole two hours in the alder carr area where we found quite a lot of plants. Although they are still small it is easier to see them than it will be when the nettles get really tall later in the season. It was not all plants though, we found a starling’s nest in an old woodpecker hole and several common frog, the one below was caught on camera by Natasha.

a frog we came across as we were balsam pulling

a frog we came across as we were balsam pulling

After topping up the pond with the rainwater collected thanks to last night’s rain I set off for a look at the northern part of the reserve. Looking from the Tern hide I saw the avocet again as well as a sanderling, unlike last weeks breeding plumage bird this one was still looking very wintery. They was also a peregrine, several swift and 2 hobby. I then headed off to the Goosander and Lapwing hides.

It was a good while since I was up there and on the way I looked out for some of the orchids that grow in the old silt pond. I quickly found a good few twayblade, not in flower yet but actually not far off.

twayblade

twayblade

In an area that we have been cutting for some years to see what would come up I found a good few southern marsh orchids.

southern marsh orchid

southern marsh orchid

And a few with spotted leaves that were probably common spotted orchid.

common spotted orchid

common spotted orchid

Unfortunately many were already quite nibbled by deer and they may yet ensure that none of them get to flower. Deer are a particular and growing problem in this part of the reserve where  a lot of fallow lay up in the daytime and feed at night, they are having a heavy impact on the vegetation which gets worse and worse as their numbers continue to rise.

I then went up to the Lapwing hide, which, as it turned out, was where the action really was. On the way I had been impressed by 2 hobby swooping overhead, but from the hide there were five and they were coming very close to the hide, giving a fantastic display, the best I had seen in years.

I was also interested to see we still have 3 wigeon and a few teal, although I could find no sign of yesterday’s splendid drake garganey. There was a smart red bar-tailed godwit on the grass and a whimbrel flew in from the south, so there was a good tally of waders about today. May is always an exciting month and there may yet be more interesting visitors, perhaps a black tern or two?

Pleasant morning for a stroll…

Coming towards the end of what has been a busy summer for the education team, and making the most of a short lull before things pick up again in the autumn, I decided to take advantage of that, and the warm (but not too hot!) weather to reacquaint myself with some parts of the reserve that I have been neglecting whilst busy with teaching or catching up on the administration that goes with managing the centre, and at the same time trim back some brambles and nettles and make sure that the ponies grazing the Ibsley Water shore were still okay.

Small white, green veined white, speckled wood, red admiral and comma butterflies were all in evidence across the reserve, but the most common insect by far seemed to be common darter – these two were photographed in tandem between Lapwing and Goosander Hide:

Common darter

Common darter

As I have missed them earlier in the year I also had a quick look for cherry plums and thought I was going to be disappointed, but did find a couple of late fruiting tree’s which obliged me with a handful of tasty fruit. Earlier in the summer there was much more in the way of windfalls which the badgers apparently adore. Even with much less fruit available to them, they are obviously still snuffling them out as this quite fresh, stone filled, dropping clearly demonstrates:

Badger dropping - note the plum stones.

Badger dropping – note the plum stones.

However with the fruit now a bit more scarce than it was there was also evidence of them turning to other food:

Badger excavated wasps nest

Badger excavated wasps nest

Wasps often build their nests underground in old mouse or vole holes and badgers do love to munch on the larva. I know the wasps are probably a bit dopey when the badgers dig them out but I can’t help thinking that those larva must really taste divine for the badgers to risk the stings to their snouts and mouths that they must surely be subject to. Either that or they like their food “spicey”!

Other notable sightings included hobby over Ivy Lake and a common sandpiper on Ibsley Water. The wet weather and decidedly autumnal change in temperatures has also seen a few different species of fungi emerge, some of which I do not know, but which do include parasol fungus, shaggy ink cap and chicken of the woods.

The light trap had no surprises, though a reasonable selection of common moths, including a very worn poplar hawkmoth and this, pictured here because I am not entirely sure what it is, but think it may be a flounced rustic?

Flounced rustic?

Flounced rustic?

The commonest catch in the trap by far was actually a shield bug of which there were 9 individuals  –

Red-legged shield bug

Red-legged shield bug

Finally a plea for help:

We are lucky at Blashford Lakes, certainly compared with other more urban reserves, to avoid much in the way of vandalism or other inappropriate behaviour, although it does happen from time to time and sometimes/something’s more regularly than others. One such incident is that of people, presumably young people, and no doubt young men at that, using Tern Hide car park for reckless driving and pulling “doughnut” stunts – potentially dangerous for them and other visitors, but not necessarily harmful to the reserve. This summer however there have been a number of incidents of people driving across the lichen heath outside the water treatment works adjacent to the lower car park and this is massively damaging to what is a very fragile and rare habitat. A couple of weekends ago due to the damper conditions, a lot of damage to the invertebrate, flora and lichen populations was done:

Evidence of irresponsible idiots.

Evidence of irresponsible idiots on the lichen heath.

We know that this occurred during the day, we think on the Sunday, but did not see anything and nor was anything reported – and this is where you come in. If you do ever see any behaviour on the reserve that you do not think should be happening, be it fishing, trespassing off the footpaths,  fungus harvesting (and by that I don’t mean the odd mushroom here and there, but wholesale gathering of everything, which, sadly, does happen), dangerous driving, or anything else, please do take a note of whatever details you can, including registration numbers and model/makes in the case of a vehicle, and let us know so we can do what we can to reduce or prevent such incidents in the future – thank you!

Snakes Alive

There are now at least five grass snakes being seen on the logs outside the Ivy South Hide, although three of these reported yesterday were quite small.  Although not as warm as yesterday when opening up the hide, some were basking – how many I leave for you to decide….

Basking Grass Snake(s) ???

Basking Grass Snake(s) ???

A close up of the head of one snake shows a distinctly blue cast to the eye,

Old 'blue-eyes'

Old ‘blue-eyes’

 

probably indicative that it is getting ready to slough off its outer skin, which , I believe happens as they get larger. literally bursting out of their skin.

Early morning, before too many people are around the wildlife has the place largely to itself and it’s probably a bit of a shock when we turn in to open the place up. Yesterday morning, I startled a couple of roe deer that were lurking near the Woodland Hide

Roe Deer and young

Roe Deer and young

Though still suffering some predation, we can run the light trap without too many losses. providing its stuffed full of egg-boxes. Highlights from yesterday and today were this Coxcomb Prominent,

 

Coxcomb Prominent

Coxcomb Prominent

 

a rather butterfly-like Common Emerald,

Common Emerald

Common Emerald

a distinctively marked and appositely named Blood-vein, contrasting nicely with the black of the light trap,

Blood-vein

Blood-vein

and star turn, a Privet Hawkmoth, which when seen with wings closed is quite impressive,

Privet Hawkmoth

Privet Hawkmoth

but with its wings open and spread out reveals a body clad in a rugby shirt of black and pink stripes.

Privet Hawkmoth

Privet Hawkmoth

Reports of birds in and around the Reserve, include a flyover Hobby and a rapacious Sparrowhawk which caught a Sand Martin just outside the Goosander Hide.

Near the Centre a juvenile Great-spotted Woodpecker was being fed, from our feeder, by an adult male Great-spotted Woodpecker — presumably its Dad – quite appropriate for Fathers Day!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gold ‘n Brown with an Imperial Finish

A really hot day today, and very humid with it. As often happens on such days the reserve was quiet as everybody headed for the coast. At first glance you could have been for given for thinking there was not a lot about at Blashford today. A look at Ibsley water revealed no passing black terns, not even a single wader. I did see a circling hobby, quite a scarce sight this summer and as I watched it I noticed a swift higher int he sky behind it. In some years this would be quite late for a swift and I had not seen one at Blashford for a few days. however I think there will be good numbers of late records this year with the rather delayed summer we have had.

Walking to open the Ivy South hide I caught the distinctive smell of a stink horn fungus, the foul smell attracts flies which spread the spores.

stink horn

It was really a day for insects, although the moth catch was rather poor considering the warm night we had, the pick of the bunch was another gold spot, always a fine species to see.

gold spot

When I went into the Centre I could hear a clattering sound and quickly discovered it was coming from a brown hawker that had got trapped inside overnight, luckily it had not set off the alarm! It took several attempts to catch it but eventually I succeeded and let it go, after I got a couple of pictures.

brown hawker

The Buddleia bushes have been alive with peacocks and red admirals for a few days now, today there was also a single small tortoiseshell, these have been very thin on the ground this year, a silver-washed fritillary was nice to see and a grayling a real surprise as I have not seen one on the reserve for two or three years.

grayling

I had a quick look ou ton the lichen heath on my way to Ellingham Pound. The sandy areas of the heath are very good places for solitary bees and wasps of various sorts and I saw a couple of bee wolves, a wasp that hunts and kills honey-bees. I also found the wasp in the picture, I don’t have any idea what it is but it was very smart.

wasp species

A couple of years ago there was a lesser emperor dragonfly on the Pound and it is also a very good place to see red-eyed and sometimes small red-eyed damselflies, so I had a good look when I saw an emperor dragonfly darting over the water. There were lots of red-eyed damselflies but no small ones that I could find. I was pleased to see a coot chick and even more so to see two great crested grebe chicks, now quite well-grown, the first time I have known them to breed on this water.

On my way back I looked in the grassland and came across a big female wasp spider. The webs are quite large and coarse and the aim is to catch grasshoppers, which they seem very good at doing. They always have a very obvious zig zag of silk, possibly to make it obvious to larger creatures so they avoid destroying it. The picture one below has a grasshopper trapped in the web just below the zig zag and the spider is eating another.

wasp spider

The real highlight of the day came right at the end. I went down to the Ivy South hide to lock up and there were several photographers who reported few birds but good value on dragonflies from the hide. As they talked I scanned the lake and noticed an odd emperor with a dark abdomen and very blue “saddle”, it looked like a lesser emperor but was too far away to make any certain claim. In the conversation mention was made of an emperor egg-laying on the fallen trees below the hide and how it as unusual to see the male in tandem when the female was egg-laying, I had never seen this and then a picture was shown and I suspected immediately that they were in fact lesser emperors although the small screen made detail hard to see. When I got home I checked and it is indeed the case that lesser emperors do remain in tandem when egg-laying, we had lesser emperor breeding in Ivy Lake! I think a first for Hampshire.