A Close Shave?

After a windy night I looked out over Tern hide this morning with some hope of seeing something new blown in. I was greeted by an adult peregrine perched on one of the posts outside Tern hide and unsurprisingly not many other birds.

peregrine

Peregrine digi-scoped in the early morning gloom.

Scanning further up the lake I spotted the juvenile black tern that has been with us for a while, then a second bird also dipping over the water, this time a young little gull, later it became clear there were two of the same age. Lastly I noticed a small wader flying low over the water, it took me a moment to realise it was a grey phalarope, no doubt blown inland overnight and if the forecast is correct probably the first of many.

There were still hundreds of hirundines, it seemed more were house martin today, but it may just have been that more martins were low over the water today. With all these martins it was perhaps inevitable that a hobby would be drawn in to hunt them and there was at least one for a good part of the day. It engaged in fantastic dives, steep climbs and stall turns that would have even have impressed the spitfire pilots that once flew from here. In mid afternoon the phalarope caught its eye and apparently it managed to knock it into the water, luckily it seemed uninjured and flew off high to the east with the hobby in pursuit. A few minutes later a hobby flew in from the east, so it was hoped that the phalarope escaped.

The volunteers were working to cut back the path to Lapwing hide today, normally this is a quiet part of the reserve, but the phalarope attracted a fair few admirers so we saw a lot more people than usual. With almost five miles of paths on the reserve keeping them open in the face of fast growing brambles and and descending willows is a constant task, especially with autumn gales added to the picture. We were not just cutting back but also trying to create sheltered bays and edges for insects and reptiles, so this was combined habitat creation and access work.

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19th September – Sightings

A windy day with occasional showers and a lot of cloud. Iblsey Water hosted hundreds of hirundines all day, in contrast to yesterday, when almost all were house martin, today there were good numbers of swallow with quite a few sand martin as well, in a quick estimate first thing I came up with about 400-500 swallow and perhaps 200 sand martin low over the water and closest to Tern hide, with about 500 house martin, mostly towards the north and as is usually the case higher up in the sky. I searched the higher house martin for a late swift, but without success.

The edges of the car park held at least 5 chiffchaff and it was my impression that there were many more about today generally. I was mostly stuck in meetings for the rest of the day sop I have relied upon “reports received” for the rest. Over Ibsley Water single hobby, peregrine and a passing female type marsh harrier were seen as was a fly over cattle egret, I still have yet to see one at Blashford! A single great white egret spent the day on the lake amongst the crowd of grey heron. The juvenile black tern remained in place for its fifth day.

A Few Birds

We had a mini bird race for teams from our Blashford Lakes Project partners today, which meant that I got to have a good look around the reserve and see a few birds as well. Generally it was a quite day with rather little sign of migration despite the season.

Over Ibsley Water there were several hundred hirundines, predominantly house martin but including sand martin and swallow. The only wader was common sandpiper, but the bushes between the lakes held some small birds including chiffchaff, willow warbler, blackcap and a single spotted flycatcher, mostly accompanying flocks of long-tailed tit.

Walter our regular great white egret was back in his regular spot outside Ivy North hide after going absent for a few days, his recent companion has not been seen for several days. An adult hobby hunting over the trees at the same spot was also nice to see and a peregrine was reported there as well.

Numbers of wildfowl have been high for the time of year and I took the opportunity to get a new count of the coot on Ibsley Water and found 794, a really high count for the first half of September.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 11 – Land of Giants

Another great night for moths, as anyone trying to sleep will have noticed, good moth nights tend to be too hot and windless for sleeping.  I caught 31 species in the garden and an impressive 46 at Blashford Lakes. I say impressive, but this is just for these days, catches of 80 or even 100 plus species were more common in days gone by and can still be achieved on the very best night at the best sites. There now seems to be no doubt that moths, along with perhaps all insects, have become less common. This seems to be a gross decline in numbers across the board, rather than a the extinction lost of species, although rarity does precede extinction.

It is very hard to say exactly why insects have declined but I think it is to do with human n=intervention in the environment, perhaps not a single cause but a combination of habitat degradation, nutrient enrichment, habitat fragmentation, chemical use etc. The sum of our many and various impacts on the world around us. I have run traps in more out of the way places where human impact is less obvious and have been impressed by the large number of individuals, even if not species that I have seen. Once in the far west of Ireland I saw several hundred garden tiger moths attracted to a single light trap, it was an extraordinary sight!

A 25 year long study of 63 nature reserve in Germany using a standardised collecting method concluded that flying insects of all types had declined by 75% during the study period, a truly shocking statistic an done that supports the gut feeling of most that look at insects here too. You can find out more on  Naturespot an excellent site that records wildlife across Leicestershire and Rutland.

puss moth

puss moth -one of my favourites from last night’s catch.

Moth traps do not only attract moths and last night at Blashford we caught a giant lacewing, these are really big, at least for lacewings. It is a species found in damp woodland that I have only ever found at a moth light, they must be hiding out there somewhere, but they are not the most obvious creatures when resting.

giant lacewing

giant lacewing

After a morning spent mowing bramble regrowth I was off the Fishlake to do a walk for Trust members. It was very hot in the sunshine and we enjoyed seeing a hobby and hearing a cuckoo.  The cuckoos will very soon be leaving us again, work by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has shown that many of our cuckoos arrive here in mid April and leave by the end of June. How do they know? They have fitted a number of them with satellite tags and you can follow their progress at BTO Cuckoo tracking , it is a fascinating project and well worth a look.

Personally I enjoyed the sight of lots of male banded demoiselle jockeying for the best perches on the yellow water lily flowers along the barge canal.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Back home I had a wander around the edge of the meadow and it struck me that I had not mentioned clovers, perhaps because they are in almost every patch of grassland, even maintained lawns. I have just the two most common species, the red and the white clover, but both are wonderful nectar sources for insects, especially bees. Clovers, like the rest of the pea family to which they belong have the ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, which is why they were used in crop rotations before we had chemical fertilisers to increase the nitrogen content of our soils.

white clover

white clover

I think I will have a quiet night in today, last night I was tramping around a New Forest heath in search of nightjar for a survey being run by the Wildlife Trust. I enjoy a survey as much as the next person, but I confess that when I was crossing from one transect to the next and found that the “path” actually just lead into an uncrossable bog, resulting in the need for a nearly two mile detour, the appeal waned a little. I did find some churring nightjar though and heard a drumming snipe. These are two of the strangest natural sounds to be heard in this country and ones that, if you have not heard them on a dark June night, need to be added to your “Bucket lists”, a proper Wild Experience.

A Full House

The poor weather over the last couple of days has brought in huge numbers of hirundines, that is swallows and martins, to Ibsley Water. there are especially very large numbers of house martin, they are impossible to count but I estimated at least 5000 today with probably 1000 swallow and at least 500 sand martin. Everywhere you looked over the water there were birds and then, scanning upward against the clouds there were many, many hundreds more. These higher birds are mostly house martin the swallow and sand martin tend to keep lower. They gather over water in an effort to find insects in weather when there are few flying elsewhere, often they pick prey directly from the surface of the lake.

The other aerial plankton feeder of summer is the swift, they mostly leave around the end of July, but a few can linger and searching through the hirundines can sometimes result in finding one and today was just such a time. Swift in September is a scarce bird, in fact in some years I don’t see one after mid August.

Other birds today included a hobby, lured in by the masses of martins as potential prey, although I did not see it catch one. The great white egret was around on and off, the ruff of the last few days was joined by another by the end of the day, when there were also 2 juvenile Arctic tern. A single black-tailed godwit dropped in for a while and there were 2 sanderling reported.

This is really not the weather for moths, so tomorrow’s planned “Moth Event” promises to be a bit of a damp squib. Today’s catch total a massive two moths! I suspect tonight may well be worse. The highlight was a fresh frosted orange, always a nice sight.

Frosted orange

Frosted orange

Several people mentioned the very good show of flower put on by our small patches of heather near Ivy North hide this year, in fact there at small patches of heather in several places across the lichen heath and I suspect these will expand in the coming years. All of this heather is the common ling, but we do have one plant of bell heather Erica cinerea on the reserve and this is in full flower now, somewhat after the ling has finished.

bell heather

bell heather

Although it is feeling very like autumn already there are still some reminders of summer out there, such as grasshoppers, I found this somewhat atypically coloured field grasshopper near the bell heather at the end of last week.

field grasshopper

field grasshopper

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!