Nearly the end of the summer holidays – and at last summer is here!

I’m camping with my family again this weekend – nothing too adventurous, just a few miles down the road from home at a campsite in the Forest! Doesn’t matter where it is though, its just being away from home and the kids being able to run riot with the extended family and friends and their families who are all there too. We haven’t had much luck weather wise with our camping this year so I’m looking forward to packing away a DRY tent on Monday!

In the meantime despite all the early signs of autumn (blackberries and blackberry pickers, volunteer Geoff bringing in his windfall apples from home for the birds (and other wildlife!) outside Woodland Hide, late morning dew-laden grass and cobwebs, hirundines gathering in pre-migration flocks, common and green sandpipers on the shore (and even a woodsandpiper outside Tern Hide on Wednesday and Thursday this week), the sun is shining here at Blashford too – and it is bringing out the butterflies again at last too! The volunteers who walk the butterfly transects on a weekly basis have had their best counts for a while, and sightings this week have included clouded yellow and  grayling – my lunch by the pond today was a fiesta of brimstones, green veined white and small tortoiseshell. This female common darter was reasonably obliging too – until it decided that my hand was a better perch!

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Like the butterflies, dragonflies are fairly active again now after a bit of a lull with the poorer weather and there was even a report of a ruddy darter by the pond earlier in the week although the visitor who reported it could not be 100% as it had only been a glimpse, albeit of a very red dragonfly which he was sure was not a common darter, so keep your eyes open for us – ruddy darter are not a common sight on the reserve by any means, although the common darter very much can be in some autumns.

Our volunteers recording reptiles on the northerly transect had a good week this week too – 4 adders, 4 grass snakes and an additional 9 newly “born” juvenile adders, which is great news (unless you don’t like snakes that is, in which case look away now!):

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Three baby adders by one of the survey tins

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Another juvenile adder on the side of the path – please watch where you are walking!

Visitors and photographers continue to gather in Goosander Hide to enjoy and photograph the all too obliging kingfishers, who continue to oblige! With so many eyes on Ibsley Water they’re picking up plenty of other exciting birds too – Sunday and the start of this week had marsh harrier pasing through on several occasions and on Thursday morning Dee was lucky enough to not just see, but photograph, this honey buzzard coming through:

Honey buzzard by Dee Maddams

Honey buzzard over Ibsley Water by Dee Maddams

 

Tracy and I have had another busy week playing (I know, I know, but it really is hard work, honest!).

This weeks Wild Days Out have included a “Wild Challenge” day which went really well and were thoroughly enjoyed by everyone, although sadly bookings were not as great as the other events this summer so it was a privileged few who participated in the fun and testing team activities in the end. They elected to challenge themselves as a girls vs. a boys team and needless to say, it was the boys who won…! Actually that is entirely unfair – the girls took and held an early lead and only just lost out (72 points to the boys 76!) in the very last activity of the day! A good time was had by all, but I think the girls (probably quite rightly!) felt robbed! Haven’t got any pictures to share as there were a number of children for whom we did not have photographic consent, but IO can tell you that the highlights were the natural tinder fire lighting challenge, the “Rapidough” style clay sculpting challenge and the “Kims” game plant identification & memory challenge!

Wednesday was the turn of the younger 5-8 year olds to join us, this week for nothing more complicated than a fairly freeform “wild play day” of firelighting, den building, bug hunting, mud/clay play and “natural painting” with clay, charcoal, chalk and blackberries and a water fight! Just to ramp up the pressure on what otherwise would have been a fairly relaxed day for us as staff “Ofsted” were here to inspect the quality and safety of our provision. We did of course pass with no problems, just a couple of suggested amendments to some of our recruitment procedures, but I have to say I was pleased to when she let me know we had passed and left so I could get on with the more serious business of playing and could relax again!

Bug hunting was very much the order of the day and it was nice to see banded demoiselle as opposed to the beautiful demoiselle we see normally at Blashford alongside the other damselflies and grasshoppers, crickets etc. in the grass. Caterpillars were also very much in evidence, including a “woolly bear” (tiger moth?) caterpillar and this goat moth caterpillar which REALLY fascinated them!

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Not a bug, but equally fascinating was a common shrew (I “tweeted” a picture at the time but I have managed to delete the picture off my phone so can’t share it here sadly!), who was either too hungry to worry about the 6 or so children that were crowded around it at any one time, or too young to know that it was supposed to be afraid and run away! In the end we carefully moved it away from curious eyes (and the fingers that were starting to become inquisitive!) into some long grass and some peace and quiet!

The day finished with an “environmentally responsible” water fight – okay, you can probably never really have a truly environmentally friendly water fight, but a couple of buckets of water and a load of sponges must come pretty close and are so much more “eco” than little rubber balloons or lengthy hosepipe battles… and it was a lot of fun!

170823wilddayout by J Day (1)

AND FINALLY, in all senses of the word, having started with a mention of my family, I shall finish with my family and specifically my eldest son Toby. AGES ago he took it upon himself to raise some money for Blashford Lakes by making and selling some fairy cakes to our neighbours – all his own idea and all his own work. His collection sat around at home for a while, and then my desk for a while and I have kept meaning to properly acknowledge his contribution and completely failing to do so – until now:

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It isn’t a huge amount in the grand scheme of things, but all donations are always very gratefully received at Blashford Lakes and by the Trust generally, and I know for a fact that this is a pretty reasonable sum to Toby anyway, so Toby, THANK YOU and I’m only sorry I didn’t say thank you sooner!

They were good cakes too 😉

 

 

 

 

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30 Days Wild – Day 7

I spent most of the day working at Blashford Lakes with the volunteers, mostly cutting back bramble growth from around paths and signs. We had a real bonus sighting just as we were getting the tools out though, when a female honey buzzard flew low over the trees heading west. We don’t see them very often at Blashford, perhaps once or twice a year at best.

At lunchtime we saw another ornate brigadier soldierfly, this time a female so we have the makings of a breeding population, if she can find Sunday’s male!

In the evening I was surveying breeding birds on the coast, it was a fabulous evening and I found a ringed plover sitting on a nest and on a coastal pool saw a brood of three avocet chicks. A very pleasant way to end the day.

hemlock water dropwort

Hemlock water-dropwort against a late evening sky.

A Touch of Frost

With three millimetres of rain and overnight temperature a low single figure, it certainly feels more like autumn now.

The final butterfly transects, we have been monitoring them now since early April, were completed this week. The surveyors haven’t been bothered by huge numbers of butterflies, although understand we still have quite a few speckled wood butterflies,

speckled wood

speckled wood

 

37 were seen on the north transect, plus a good number of comma (16) and five red admiral on the south section.

Other signs of autumn are the burgeoning numbers of fungi, like this troop, of I believe lycoperdon sp.(?),  I saw beside the path.

 

lycoperdon species?

lycoperdon species?

Whilst bird numbers aren’t particularly spectacular yet, the range of species is increasing slowly. One lucky couple saw what they are sure was a honey buzzard in the Ibsley Water area.  More prosaically I only managed a few of the more common species, like this lapwing

lapwing

lapwing

and a couple of young little grebe, or dabchick, with a coot.

coot and dabchick

coot and dabchick

 

A final flurry of, mostly fairly inconspicuous, flowers is providing a little colour around the place, but most are well past their best.

P1540544 geranium

cut-leaved geranium(?)

common storksbill

common storksbill

dark mullein

dark mullein

On the ‘light  trap’ front, we are still attracting hornets,

hornet

hornet

 

but a number of colourful moths as well.

pink-barred sallow

pink-barred sallow

 

frosted orange

frosted orange

angle shades

angle shades

A Leech You Would Not Want to Meet

A much better day at Blashford today, with no more than the lightest of rain for a few minutes and a fair bit of warm sunshine. I made the most of the conditions and got outside for part of the day. As ever being out does rather increase the chances of seeing interesting things and when I was over at the Tern hide I saw a very smart adult female honey buzzard, it was flying steadily westwards over the lake being chased by 2 common tern. I was looking at the potential route of the new path that will connect the main car park with the Goosander and Lapwing hides, a development that we hope to put in place in time for the coming winter.

I went round the path as far as the Lapwing hide to check for any trees or branches down as I never made it there yesterday. There were none but close to the Lapwing hide the show of hemp agrimony and fleabane is superb and attracting lots of insects.

fleabane and hemp agrimony

fleabane and hemp agrimony

There were several species of butterflies, including very fresh speckled wood.

speckled wood

speckled wood

And green-veined and small white.

small white

small white

Walking back I could hear several Roesel’s bush-cricket, although I find they are no where near so loud as once they were, a sign of advancing age I’m sorry to say, but at least I can still hear  them. I eventually found one rather worn male of the long-winged form.

Roesel's bush-cricket

Roesel’s bush-cricket

I took a look at some of the temporary ponds we made a few years ago and was delighted to see that where they were once infested with the invasive plant Crassula helmsii  this has now all but disappeared. I also found a lesser marsh grasshopper on the bare ground in one of the pools.

lesser marsh grasshopper

lesser marsh grasshopper

I then returned to my office work, but the interesting wildlife did not end there. Blashford was hosting a “Wild Day Out” today and this included pond-dipping during which one of the children caught  a largish leech.

leech

leech

Looking closely we could see that it seemed to have a “hairy” underside.

leech with "hairy" tummy!

leech with “hairy” tummy!

In fact these were tiny little leeches, the offspring of this adult leech. Now I confess that leech identification is well outside my usual area but I think it might be Protoclepsis tesselata which is a leech that lives in the nasal passages of wildfowl, surely an unpleasant lifestyle even for a leech!

Some recent sightings.

Some interesting bird sightings this week, beginning with a Little Gull on Blashford Lake on Sunday (26th). On Tuesday the same lake had a pair of Oystercatchers with 3 chicks on the Island with the gull colony. Guestimates of around 600 House Martins, 100 Sand Martins, 100 Swallows and 200 swifts feeding in the rain low over Ibsley water on Tuesday evening was particularly impressive. Although the actual numbers of these bird is impossible to count as they were literally all over the place. I find it incredible that were actually finding insects to feed on in the heavy rain. Another or the same Little Gull was sat on an island in Ibsley water yesterday. But undoubted bird highlight of the week (so far anyway) was a Honey Buzzard that passed low over the Tern hide car park and Ellingham drove at 1720 while was I locking the car park gates. Definitely the best view of a Honey Buzzard I’ve ever had in Britain, I could see the yellow of it’s eye!

Moth trapping as remained incredible slow, with zero moths in the trap yesterday and just a green carpet, a white ermine, a shuttle-shaped dart and a nut-tree tussock today. Hopefully the epic haul of moths I have been hoping for will happen soon!