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.



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


Swallows and More

I was out early doing a breeding bird survey off-site this morning and when I arrived at Blashford it was to be told that I had just missed a red-rumped swallow. This Mediterranean nesting cousin of our familiar swallow occurs as a regular, but still rare, migrant at this time of year, some of them migrate north with a bit too much vigour and over-shoot their intended destinations. They usually turn up in flocks of swallows and martins at places like Ibsley Water, so it was something of a surprise that we had not got a reserve record before now. It was reported again about an hour later and I did see a bird that was supposed to be it, but I could not convince myself that it was and before I could get a better look it flew off. One that got away!

However there were lots of other birds, at least 850 mixed swallows and martins, I estimated about 400 sand martin, 250 swallow and 200 house martin. There were also at least 6 swift, although I was told there were many more. Scanning around I also saw a red kite, 2 raven, at least 8 little ringed plover in an aerial dash past the hide and lots of buzzard. On the ground I saw my first common sandpiper of the spring and a white wagtail.  In addition the first summer little gull was still there as were at least 6 common tern.

The main work recently seems to have been raft related. We are building a new set of tern rafts with money from a grant given by Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS). A few days ago we launched the prototype before we get on with building the new fleet.

tern raft

Although the common tern are starting to arrive they won’t be getting down to nesting for a little while yet unlike the resident birds. In the last few days I have found nests of both blackbird and song thrush. The pictures show the differences between the two, the eggs of song thrush are clear blue with black spots, clearly distinct from the more muted colours of the blackbird eggs. You can also see the difference in the nests themselves. Blackbirds have a lining of grass whereas song thrush have a smooth render of mud that dries to a hard shell and no lining at all.

blackbird nest

song thrush nest

The Empress of Blashford

Last year we raised a number of emperor moth caterpillars, which then pupated and now the first of them has hatched out. The emperor moth is the only representative of the Saturniidae to be found in Britain and can often be seen on sunny spring days flying over open ground. These fast flying individuals are males searching for females. They are attracted by pheromones, sometimes form a kilometre or more away. This one is a female and we tried putting her outside the Centre in the sunshine to see if any males would come along. None appeared, but the temperatures were not high and it was rather windy, which makes it harder for the males to track down the females.emperor moth

Spring continues to arrive, Sunday saw the first reed warbler singing on the reserve and in the rain at the end of the day there were over 100 swallow and at least 6 house martin over Ibsley Water. Despite this some signs of winter remain, 10 or more brambling are still regular at the Woodland hide and the Slavonian grebe is still on Ibsley Water, although it is now looking magnificent in full breeding plumage.

Turn and Tern again

Greetings from a windswept Blashford.

The main ‘event’ today was a demonstration of wood turning by one of our regular conservation volunteers, Geoff Knott. Sadly the weather deterred a lot of people from visiting the reserve, but those who did were able to admire the skill of the craft and the beauty of the finished products.  Much of the wood used is from here or other Trust reserves and Goeff has kindly donated the proceeds from today’s sales to the Trust.

P1480258 woodturning demo

Geoff demonstrating his craft


Here's a few of the items he produced 'earlier'

Here’s a few of the items he produced ‘earlier’

Fortunately, for me, the lack of visitors gave me the chance to have an impromptu lesson on woodturning, thank you Geoff.

The really wet weather didn’t set in until early afternoon so we had a quick trip round part of the reserve. Not the best conditions for birdwatching, but did manage to catch up with my first view, this year, of common tern, appropriately from the Tern Hide.

Common tern

Common tern

An immature little gull was also seen (not by me) from this hide. Otherwise the bird life is much as recently reported with little ringed plover and lapwing around Ibsley Water and a collection of sand  martins, house martins and swallows over the water.

Lapwing foraging in front of Tern Hide, not the droplets of water on its back

Lapwing foraging in front of Tern Hide, note the droplets of water on its back

With chiffchaff, blackcap and garden warbler singing, it sounds like spring, even if it doesn’t feel spring-like.

Notable colour is being provided by a patch of leopard’sbane in flower close to the footbridge over Docken’s water.





In the Balance

Bird News: Ibsley Waterhouse martin c1500. Ivy Lakecommon sandpiper 1.

The last couple of days have seen huge numbers of house martins over Ibsley Water, yesterday something over 2000 and today at least 1500. In addition yesterday there were several hundred swift and sand martin and a few swallows. Today there were fewer swifts and so few swallow that it took me several minutes to see one. The only other bird of any real note that I saw during opening up the hides was a common sandpiper with the common terns and black-headed gulls on the rafts on Ivy Lake. The black-headed gulls look quite settled but one pair were getting a very hard time from the common terns today so perhaps they will get driven off in the end as they were last year.

Although there was a frost overnight the day dawned sunny and this was good to see as I was leading a course on invertebrates at Blashford today. It was still quite cold and this kept the insects in hiding, in fact the recent cold weather has set the season well back, I still have not seen any species of dragonfly and the moth catch was reduced to just three this morning. Looking for sun-loving species like hoverflies was a waste of time so we were restricted to largely sweep netting and log-rolling. Despite this we did not have a bad day and saw a few good species and a lot that were new to the participants. The sunny spells did tempt out a few damselflies including azure, blue-tailed and beautiful demoiselle. we are repeating the course in June and July when it will surely be warmer, won’t it? I snapped this ant, which did not get identified to species level, while we were out and about hunting inverts.

ant Myrmica spp.

Although the highlight from the Tern hide were the martins I was distracted by a black-headed gull on one of the near posts it was preening and eventually went for a particularly daring scratch manoeuvre, probably only something to attempt on a calm day.

black-headed gull scratching


black-headed gull, preening


Magical Swiftery

Bird News: Ibsley Waterdunlin 4, swift 300+, house martin 400+, red kite 1 (reported).

The fine brought start to the day lasted just long enough for me to arrive on site whereupon it started to rain lightly. The rain did bring down hundreds of swifts, swallows and martins low over Ibsley Water, I tried to count them, but only got very poor estimates. The spectacle though was worth just watching as hundreds of birds and surely well over a thousand in all zoomed about. A few of the swifts passed so close in front of the Tern hide that I could hear the slicing of their wings through the air as they scythed by, magical by any standards. The only other birds of note were 4 dunlin and a reported red kite.

The weather continues rather poor and as a result insects are in short supply. the moth trap contained a miserly four moths! A poplar hawk-moth, a muslin moth, a pebble prominent and a lesser swallow prominent. This is something of a concern to me as I am leading a course on invertebrates at Blashford on Wednesday and had rather hoped there would be a good range of species to find. I have always had a rather general and very amateur interest in insects. Initially it was the usual butterflies, moths and dragonflies, but as the literature on many other groups became more accessible I branched out. The advent of digital photography has made things even better meaning that you can often identify to species with just a photograph and on-line resources sometimes mean you do not even have to invest in expensive specialist books.

The hawthorn flowers are out now, as they should be and are quite a good place to search for insects. Hawthorn or “Quickthorn” hedges were widely planted as they can be managed to be stock-proof, are fast growing and easy to manage by cutting. Some were planted as part of the gravel pit restoration but after care was poor and they grew too far up and so did not thicken to form a proper hedge. To correct this we laid over the leggy bushes a couple of winters ago, not to proper hedge laying standards but effectively for all that and much quicker. The hedge along Ellingham Drove now looks pretty good and has flowered quite well this spring.

The latest group of insects that I am trying to identify are the ground beetles as there is now a good guide to them published by the Royal Entomological Society and they also have a website with good pictures of reliably identified specimens. I snapped the one below the other day, I am fairly sure it is one called Amara ovata.

Amara ovata 

The internet can be very useful for identification, but must be used with care due to inaccuracies of identification or search terms and just duplication of names. A search for “Peacock” might bring several species of moth, butterfly, sundry blue things or an actual peacock, a bird I have yet to see at Blashford, although I do have it on my garden list.

 a peacock at home (although not mine!)

Surely the weather will brighten up and more importantly, warm up soon. I have still seen very few damselflies and no dragonflies at all.