Nature and wildlife on my doorstep

Young Naturalist Izzy Fry has written a blog for us to share about her experiences during lockdown, along with some fabulous photos. Whilst off she also began writing her own blog, titled My Nature and Photography, and you can find it here.

Enjoy!

Red admiral by Izzy Fry

Red admiral by Izzy Fry

 

Despite the current circumstances, Summer is just round the corner. The weather is warming; young hares begin to bound around the meadows and migratory birds have returned. Bees are busy collecting pollen, wildflowers are in full bloom, and butterflies begin to lay their eggs.

Hare by Izzy Fry

Brown hare by Izzy Fry

 

Although many of us are contained to our homes and gardens, there is still so much to explore! I am lucky enough to live on a farm surrounded by woodland and fields which is a haven for wildlife. From Rabbits and Pied Wagtails on the farmland to Spotted Flycatchers and Muntjacs in the woods.

I absolutely love photography, and it has massively helped me to get through these past months. One of my favourite things to photograph is the birds and squirrels in my garden!

Grey squirrel by Izzy Fry 2

Grey squirrel by Izzy Fry

I have made my own woodland table to get photos of my garden wildlife on natural objects. I get four Grey squirrels which spend hours munching on the loose food on the table as well as providing lots of different bird foods, to attract different species!
For example, peanuts for tit species and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, nyger seed for Gold and Greenfinches, fat balls for Robins and Long‐tailed tits and seeds for Nuthatches and Sparrows!

To give me a project during quarantine, I have also made my own nature and photography blog where I post about my photos and nature experiences. Nearly a year ago I made an Instagram account ‐ @focus.photograph.y – and I loved sharing my photos with people! I also have a big interest in journalism and so decided to make a blog to present my photos and journalism at the same time! This is the link to it – https://mynatureandphotographyblog.wordpress.com/

Blog

Homepage of Izzy’s blog

My family owns two hives full of honeybees which we collected from swarms in people’s gardens! I have been out learning more about them with my mum who is
a beekeeper. We have been looking at the three different types of bees – the drones, workers and queen! The drone honeybees have a bigger abdomen and their job is to care for the eggs and larvae! The worker’s job is to collect pollen and make the honey and the queen is the most important bee of all! The queen’s only job is to reproduce – she is the mother to every single bee (around 15,000!) in the hive!


I was walking back home one day from my daily exercise, when I heard a loud cheeping noise coming from a hole in a tree. At first, I thought it was a Nuthatch nest as they usually nest in small cavities in trees, but after sitting close by for a while, I noticed a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers flying around in the trees nearby. After a bit longer, I saw them go in to feed their chicks! It was amazing to watch – unfortunately, I did not get any photos as I didn’t want to spook the parents by moving the camera around! But I plan to go back soon and see if I can get some shots!

To keep ourselves occupied during lockdown, my family decided to install a pond in our garden in the hope to attract more wildlife! After digging a big hole and placing the pond liner inside, we filled it with pond water from a nearby pond. We also had a mini pond inside full of tadpoles which had hatched from toad spawn which we put in too as well as 3 newts we caught and a caddis fly larvae!

Very close to my house, we have a small orchard where I saw a big group of juvenile blue tits! For the last couple of days, I have sat for ages photographing them in the trees and being fed by their parents. Did you know that even after having fledged, blue tit chicks will still rely on their parents for food for a while after leaving the nest!


Even though we are limited to a small space at the moment, there are still lots of activities that you can do to stay connected to nature! For example: make a bird feeder, build a bug house, watch a wildlife webcam.

Blue tit on feeder by Izzy Fry

Blue tit on homemade bird feeder by Izzy Fry

Currently we all have a lot of free time, and so it is the perfect time to explore!

Meadow brown by Izzy Fry

Meadow brown by Izzy Fry

Back to Blashford

Last Monday I helped Bob put a couple of tern rafts out on Ivy Lake, something he had been hoping to do for a while but needed someone on site whilst he went out on the water. So when I say ‘help’, I do mean it in the loosest sense of the word as I kept an eye on him from the comfort of Ivy South hide.

Ivy Lake 3

The view from Ivy South hide – the spiders have moved in and the vegetation is taking over!

Luckily, two of the rafts were still on the edges of the lake, so they just needed moving out into position in the middle and securing in place. By the end of the day there were six common terns interested in one of the rafts and this number has gradually increased over the course of the week. In wandering down there today there were at least twenty either on the raft itself or flying around overhead, with a few black-headed gulls. We would usually put out more rafts but without volunteer support to make them and move them (not a job that allows for social distancing) they will have to make do with these two instead.

Ivy Lake 2

A blurred Bob out on Ivy Lake with two tern rafts (I liked the foreground!)

Whilst waiting for Bob I listened to the reed warblers with their distinctive chatty song and watched a pair of great crested grebes out on the water. I also noticed lots of newly emerged damselflies, yet to develop their full colours and markings, on the stems growing outside the hide. It takes a few days for them to develop their colouring, a useful survival mechanism as at present they are not quite ready to fly so blend in rather well with the vegetation. Lower down you could make out the cast skins or exuvia clinging on to the vegetation following their final moult and emergence as an adult.

Bob has also been busy strimming step asides into the edges of some of the footpaths, where it has been possible to do so, to create areas for people to pass each other more easily and aid social distancing when walking around.

In addition we have been busy planning extra signage for some of the footpaths and will be making some routes one way, again to aid social distancing and enable people to visit safely. Crossing the stretches of boardwalk safely will be particularly difficult, so people will be directed over these a certain way. We hope to begin putting signage up this week, at the entrances to the reserve and also at path junctions, so if and when you do visit please keep an eye out for them. Hopefully we will have ironed out any snags by the time we are able to open a car park, which fingers crossed will not be too far off now, we will keep you all posted…

It has been nice to spend a bit of time out on the reserve – I was back just in time to experience the bluebells along the Dockens Water, although they are going over now, and also heard my first cuckoo of the year this week. I wasn’t sure I was going to hear one this spring. There is also still some greater stitchwort flowering along the Dockens path:

On Ibsley Water the large raft is mainly occupied by black-headed gulls, although there were a couple of common tern on there early last week. It’s lovely to see the common terns back again for another summer.

By the Centre there has been plenty of insect life around the pond, with beetles, bees, dragonflies and damselflies making the most of the sunshine:

On Wednesday Bob and I were sat having lunch when the female mallard he had noticed on the new Education Centre pond made an appearance, followed by 13 ducklings. We watched them topple off the boardwalk into the water, one or two at a time, and enjoyed their company whilst we finished eating. Later on that afternoon they moved over to the original centre pond but I haven’t seen them since, so I hope they are ok.

It has also been really nice to be able to rummage through the moth trap again, although with a few cold nights it has been quite quiet. Here are some moth highlights:

There have also been a number of cockchafers in the light trap. Also known as May bugs or doodlebugs these large brown beetles also fly around at dusk.

May bug

Cockchafer, May bug or doodlebug

On Thursday I found the exuvia or final moult of a hawker dragonfly in the pond and fished it out to take a closer look:

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

Leaving it out in a sunny spot to dry out I completely forgot about it, only remembering once I had driven home that evening. By this morning though it had found its way onto my desk, so Bob must have spotted it too!

I have also visited the meadow a couple times, the oxeye daisies are looking beautiful now they are coming into flower, rivalling the gorgeous pink display of ragged robin by the Welcome Hut which Jo shared a photo of last week. The common vetch and buttercups are also flowering and there are a few common blue butterflies on the wing.

The beautiful green beetle above has many names, it is known as the thick-legged flower beetle, false oil beetle and swollen-thighed beetle. Only the males have thickened hind legs, I might have to visit the meadow again in search of a female.

Wildlife encounters of the furlough kind

I returned to work on Sunday after eight weeks away from Blashford (it is so green now!) and six weeks on furlough along with around 40% of my Trust colleagues, most of whom are still off. Whilst I’m back to help Bob with the reserve tasks he cannot do by himself and engage with visitors on site from a safe distance, following on from the easing of restrictions last week, we are still closed whilst we look at what we can safely offer in the coming weeks and months. We will keep you updated as and when things begin to change!

A Blashford blog will follow shortly, but I thought I would share what I have been getting up to whilst off.

Spending so much time at home meant I was able to discover what wildlife visits my garden, a bit of a distraction whilst I was supposed to still be working, but it was really nice to be there during the day and have more time to appreciate my outside space. My garden is only small, with two patio areas which contain a number of plants in pots and a lawn which has struggled as a lawn and now has a few flowers planted into the patchier bits as I slowly tun it into a much wilder space. I have lived there for a couple of years, and this year the garden really seems to have come to life with birds and insects, which has been really nice to see.

Whilst at home I had blue tits, wood pigeons, dunnocks and blackbirds frequently visiting the garden along with a wren, great tits and a goldfinch. I have a willow bird table and the blackbirds seem to really like this, launching themselves onto it from the hedge and swinging around whilst they fed.

I have two hedges in the garden and this year the blackbirds successfully nested in one (I did a fair amount of cat chasing whilst off, if they have another brood they’re on their own!) which was lovely to watch. I saw four fledglings at the same time, two sunning themselves in one hedge and two in the other and both adults worked really hard to feed them with the male bringing back huge beak fulls, including a garden centipede in the photo below:

Blackbird 2

Male blackbird with a beak full

They fledged last Thursday so I was able to enjoy their company for a few days, with one of the young staying in the garden until Sunday morning. It was very amusing to see it sat swinging on the bird table calling mum for food.

I had written a rather long list of things to do to keep me busy, and one of those things was to dig a pond. Digging a pond was definitely more exciting than decorating the bathroom, re-pointing some dodgy brickwork to hopefully solve a damp issue in the kitchen and damp proofing and repainting the kitchen wall, so it was one of the first things I did and it’s been really nice to see it change over just a few weeks. The less exciting jobs were left until last week when I knew I was returning to work…

The photos below show the garden before and after, then the pond full of mud as the female blackbird decided the moss I had placed round the edge would make really nice nest building material (she had ignored it the entire time it was elsewhere in the garden) and later on with some plant additions (all native) I had been able to order online.

Whilst digging the pond I unearthed the snake millipede below, along with centipedes that were too fast for a photo, and the stones placed around the edge quickly became resting spots for hoverflies:

The blackbirds had been using a bucket of water with some willow sticks in to drink from and bathe in, but they now both use the pond which is really nice to watch. The female didn’t mind me being around at all but the male was a lot more wary of me to begin with and would fly off even if I was watching from the window, but now he is quite happy for me to be out in the garden whilst he’s there feeding.

As well as the birds it was great to see which insects were visiting the flowers and which flowers were growing really well, the ragged robin in particular has seeded so well from one plant in a pot last year I was able to plant it out in different places in the grass.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I live on the edge of Salisbury so on my daily walks I walked my dog from home to either a little stretch of the River Bourne in Laverstock or up to the Laverstock Downs, enjoying the fact there were fewer cars on the road.

These photos were taken in the little patch of woodland down by the river:

I had hoped to see some bluebells on my wanders but sadly all those I did see were garden escapees.

I spent a lot more time up on the Downs as although they were further to walk to, it was much easier to practice social distancing up here than it was down by the river which tended to be busier with people and had a stretch of boardwalk to contend with.

It was a great spot for bird watching and I had some brilliant views of both blackcap and common whitethroat, especially early spring when the whitethroats were displaying and establishing territories.

I managed a total of 47 bird species whilst off, either in my garden, flying over my garden or on my daily walks: blackbird, blue tit, dunnock, wren, great tit, wood pigeon, collared dove, jackdaw, starling, long-tailed tit, yellowhammer, carrion crow, buzzard, pheasant, song thrush, chaffinch, chiffchaff, red kite, blackcap, common whitethroat, swallow, linnet, goldfinch, red-legged partridge, little egret, mallard, shoveler, kingfisher, magpie, skylark, great spotted woodpecker, robin, Canada goose, mute swan, raven, sparrowhawk, rook, bullfinch, house sparrow, Cetti’s warbler, grey heron, moorhen, mistle thrush, swift, house martin, peregrine falcon and mandarin duck. They were quite a good mix!

The Downs were also a great spot for butterflies, with orange tips, brimstones, small tortoiseshells, green-veined whites, small heaths, peacocks and dingy skippers all on the wing. I also found lots of green-veined orchids and other flowers on the chalk grassland.

The most exciting spot though was probably to see glow worm larvae on three separate occasions, so I must go up there over the summer in search of glow worms.

Glow worm larvae

Glow worm larvae

I was very lucky to have my garden to enjoy and also have some lovely spaces within walking distance to explore (it was also quite nice to use my car less!), so I had plenty of nature to keep me company during the pandemic, whilst a list of house and craft projects also kept me busy. I might be heading back up to the Downs at the weekend…

Bee is for Blashford

Or maybe Blashford is for bees, well of course it is! Blashford is for all wildlife and the people who like to experience it. Everyone knows the honey bee and bumble bees, although perhaps not that there are 28 species of them. However there are something like 250 other species of bees in Britain and they all spend their days visiting flowers and pollinating them. These 250 are the so called solitary bees, despite the name they can occur in great aggregations, importantly though each nest is the domain of just one female, there are no worker bees.

Andrena vaga female 2

grey-backed mining bee (female) with a load of willow pollen.

There has been much coverage recently about the declines in insect numbers around the world and that of pollinating insects in particular, perhaps because they are economically important to us as pollinators of crops. Declines could be for many reasons and probably are multi-factored, but a general loss of habitat and an increasing uniformity in what is left, along with increased prevalence of chemical contaminants are all likely contributors. Some enlightened local authorities are modifying their grass mowing regimes on verges, roundabouts and recreation site to allow more flowering, some of the best are actually seeding back wildflowers or using “meadow mixes”. In fact we can all help by providing flowers that are good sources of nectar and by valuing some of the “weeds” that we might have removed in the past. For instance a lawn with dandelions may not win the green-keepers prize but these are a very important source of food for early flying bees and hoverflies.

Blashford Lakes has lots of nectar sources, especially at this time of year when willows are important for many species and so has lots of solitary bees. Many also need bare, sandy soil to dig their nests and we have that in abundance too.

Andrena vaga female emerging from burrow

grey-backed mining bee (female) emerging from nest hole

One of the problems with solitary bees is that some species are very similar to one another and so difficult to identify in the field. Although the grey-backed mining bee female is distinctive the male looks very like the male of another species, the ashy mining bee.

Andrena cineraria male

ashy mining bee (male)

One of the commonest mining bees around at present is the yellow-legged mining bee, which can be found nesting in bare ground in banks, lawns and various other places.

Andrena flavipes male

yellow-legged mining bee (male) – or at least I think it is!

Some bees are neither colonial nor make their own solitary nests, they are nest parasites of other bees. One genus of bees the Nomada bees specialise in this way of life, often specialising on one particular host species. The yellow-legged mining bee plays unwilling host to the painted nomad bee, which looks very wasp-like.

Nomada fucata male

painted nomad bee (male)

The last few of days have seen big arrivals of hirundines, Monday was almost all sand martin, yesterday there were a few swallow and the odd house martin and today there were even more swallow, probably over 50. On Ibsley Water there a couple of pairs of oystercatcher, a pair of redshank, probably five little ringed plover, several lapwing and today two green sandpiper. Meanwhile around the Centre and Woodland Hide the wheezing of brambling is very much in evidence, particularly in the morning, there are at least 30 and I suspect 50 or more around just now.

And remember it does not take much effort not to mow the lawn for a few days and let the dandelions flower to feed the bees. You could put your feet up and have a cup of tea, or a beer (other drinks are available), whilst making your own contribution to Wilding Hampshire!

Camping out

At our last Young Naturalists session in July, we spent a night on the reserve, exploring Blashford and the surrounding area late in to the evening and early in the morning. It seems like a really long time ago now, but hopefully this blog is better late than never…

After arriving on the Saturday morning we got straight on with setting up our camp, using old army ponchos to make dens to sleep under and whittling pegs out of willow.

We then headed to the back of the Education Centre to sit by the pond and butterfly spot as part of the Big Butterfly Count. The Purple loosestrife proved to be very popular with the butterflies and we saw a large white, numerous small whites, a green-veined white and brimstones, along with a gatekeeper and painted lady by the bramble. We also watched the water for newts coming up to the surface and spotted a number of young frogs.

After lunch we headed up into the Forest, exploring the local Rockford and Ibsley Commons for a different view of the lakes. The bell heather was in flower and attracting lots of honey and bumble bees.

We paused for a while at the bridge over the Dockens Water, exploring this stretch of the river and taking a closer look at some of the plants before heading up on to the Common for another view of the reserve, this time Ibsley Water.

On arriving back at Moyles Court we paused by the ford for a paddle, although Jorge got wetter than most!

Walking back along the Dockens we spotted this fabulous Chicken of the Woods fungi growing on an old log:

Chicken in the woods

Chicken of the Woods

Arriving back at the Education Centre, it was time to empty the light trap from the night before so we could re-set it for the Saturday evening and we also set some mammal traps to see if we could catch any of our smaller resident mammals.

It was then time to think about food and the group did a great job of chopping the ingredients before tucking in to healthy wraps toasted over the fire followed by slightly less healthy popcorn and banana stuffed with chocolate and mini marshmallows…

Lysander had also very kindly bought some of his left over Cadet rations to share with the group, cooking them through using his stove. Whilst not all sampled his food, we were pleasantly surprised by how nice it tasted!

After eating we headed off on a night walk in search of bats, picking up pipistrelles on the bat detectors in the woodland and near Ivy South hide.

After convincing the group to get up bright and early on Sunday morning, we roused them at 5.30am and headed off up to Lapwing Hide for some early morning wildlife spotting.

It was lovely and peaceful to be out on the reserve so early, and whilst we didn’t spot anything out of the ordinary we had a good wander and worked up an appetite for breakfast which we cooked over the campfire.

Breakfast

Breakfast, looking slightly sleepy

It was then time to check the mammal traps we had put out the previous evening, but sadly although a couple had been sprung we were unsuccessful. The two light traps however gave us 31 different species off moth to identify, along with a Dark bush cricket and an Oak bush cricket:

After tidying away our camp and bringing everything back to the Centre it was time for the group to head off, a little sleepy but having spent a very enjoyable time overnight on the reserve.

Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly at the Education Centre Pond

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

30 Days Wild – Day 29 – One More Time Out with the Blues

Just two days to go before another 30 Days are over. I spent part of Day 29 in my garden mostly looking at the meadow.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

There continue to be a good few small skipper and today also one large skipper, although in the heat it was so active that, try as I might, I could not get a picture of it. The hot weather suits most insects very well, allowing them to be more active for longer periods of the day. This may well mean that many species will be around for a shorter period than we are used to as they will have managed to fulfil their destiny and breed successfully in less time than usual. So I anticipate that lots of butterflies will be recorded in high numbers but for a short season if this weather continues.

Many people will know the common chafer beetle, sometimes called a “May bug” which flies mainly in May, but the smaller summer chafer is less well known, although still common. It seems to be having a good season as I am seeing more than I can remember this year. I got a picture of one on top of a wild carrot flower head.

summer chafer catching evening sun

summer chafer catching evening sun

I have featured a number of species of bee in this blog but honey-bee does not often get  a look in. The honey-bee Apis mellifera also known as the western honey-bee is our familiar bee species for most people. Its population in the UK is probably dependent upon domestic, artificial hive based colonies and it is speculated that it arrived here with humans at some time in the distant past. That said the honey-bees in more northern areas are darker and better able to maintain colonies in cooler conditions and it has been suggested these are native populations, they certainly seem to be genetically distinct from the more familiar paler bees found in southern England. Although most honey-bees do live in colonies in man made hives wild colonies are not unusual and there was a colony in a large Turkey oak at Blashford Lakes for several years, although it now seems to have been abandoned.

honey bee on field scabious

honey-bee on field scabious

Although I did get out to take a look in the meadow most of the day was taken up with domestic activities. So as the evening was fine I took the chance to go out onto the nearby Forest to see the silver-studded blue once more. There were many groups roosting in the heather, often ten or more together and probably 80 or more roosting in no more than about 0.3ha.

silver-studded blue female

roosting silver-studded blue (female)

roosting silver-studded blue

roosting silver-studded blue

Just one more post to go in the “30 Days”.

Butterflies, Bees and a good Soaking

Friday was a warm if not particularly sunny day, apart from right at the end , but I will try not to dwell on that!

Although the reserve is known for the lakes we are lucky to have some very good woodland and small areas of heath, most of which is lichen heath. However some of the heath is the more traditional kind with patches of heather and these are now in full flower.

heather

heather

Heather not only looks good it also produces lots of nectar which attracts lots of insects and despite the lack of sunshine these included several butterflies and bees. I saw common blue, brown argus and this small copper all enjoying a good feast and sitting with wings open to gain as much warmth as they could from the weak sunshine.

small copper on heather

small copper on heather

We have probably all heard of heather honey as being one of the most sought after, and heather is often visited by honey bees, but the bees visiting these plants were much smaller, one of the solitary Colletes species.

small bee on heather

small bee on heather

Having looked it up I am pretty sure they were Colletes succinctus , a common species that especially favours heather flowers. I also saw at least one bee wolf, a wasp that hunts bees and especially honey bees, I wondered if it would take the little solitary bees but it did not seem interested in them, perhaps waiting for larger prey.

The heather was not the only plant flowering though, there was just enough sunlight to open the flowers of common centaury.

common centaury

common centaury

This attractive little plant has flowers which only open if the sun is more or less out, as this when the insects that will pollinate it will be flying.

It was quite a good day for butterflies all round, at least in terms of species seen, I also saw silver-washed fritillary and clouded yellow as well as the commoner species. I failed to get any pictures of clouded yellow or fritillary, although I did get this female meadow brown with wings open, something they don’t tend to do when the sun is fully out as they get too hot.

meadow brown female on fleabane

meadow brown female on fleabane

I locked up the hides at the end of the day as Jim and Tracey were setting up things for the Ellingham Show, if you can, go along and say hello to them, they have lots of activities with them and the show attracts lots of participants, so is well worth a visit. A feature of the locking up process was mandarin ducks, I saw two juveniles on Ivy Lake, one on Ibsley Water and no less than four on the Clearwater Pond. They have obviously had a good nesting season, as have almost all species it seems. On Ivy Lake there are still four common tern chicks to fledge and I saw several broods of tufted duck, especially on Ibsley Water.

It started to rain hard as I locked up the Tern hide, normally the last hide to visit, but unfortunately from there I could see that the windows of the Lapwing hide had been left open and I knew that heavy rain would soak the hide, so I went up to close them. By the time I got there the seats and arm rests were drenched as was the hide log book. On the plus side I did see 3 common sandpiper, a green sandpiper, 3 shoveler, a teal and a snipe, I also got very, very wet!