I love wildlife. Guess that stands to reason and I wouldn’t be doing the job I am if I didn’t. Of course lots of people do, but they do so in different ways. For some it is the satisfaction of capturing nature or a landscape on film or canvas, for others it is tracking down and identifying a rarity, or working on a nature reserve, a farm or even in a garden and managing it in such a way that benefits a greater diversity of plants or animals and for others, including myself, it is seeing the beauty in the common place.
At this time of year there is a lot of bird movement taking place and at Blashford at the moment it is the Hirundines that particularly stand out in this regard, with lots of them massing and feeding on the insects around the lakes as they fuel up for their southward journey, and it was this this morning that provided me with my first “wow” moment as I pulled into the car park to open up Tern Hide and ducked instinctively as I got out of the car as house martins darted and swooped all around. Periodically landing or taking off from the car park itself or the small willows growing on the banks around the car park, feeding immediately over the lake and at great heights there were thousands of birds. And for all I’m pretty sure I didn’t actually need to duck in order to avoid them and them avoid me, I really couldn’t help it! As always with these things a picture really doesn’t capture it, but here is my rather weak attempt to do so! The “white bits” in the first picture are house martins – honest!
I did say they weren’t great, you really had to be there!
And talking of pictures not really doing something justice I had another “mini wow” moment when I opened Ivy North Hide – I’d spoken to Bob after the work party yesterday and of course I’d read his blog, but again, the pictures of what he and the volunteers achieved yesterday really didn’t do the work justice. Views across the reed bed to the west of the hide have been opened right up and bode well for views of bittern flybys this winter.
Today and yesterday I was struck by the number of red admirals. The weather has not been brilliant for many insects, including some butterflies and dragonflies (in fact whilst having lunch yesterday we were mulling over the relative dearth of damselflies) so it’s nice to see that the red admirals at least seemed to have fared relatively well, or at least have all emerged from their pupa at about the same time to add a splash of colour to the woodland edges. Couldn’t get near enough to get a picture of most of them but this one perched with another on the play boat at the back of the centre when I was doing my weekly safety checks was more obliging:
Having topped up the bird feeder in the car park I recalled someone mentioning their concern that visitors had been abusing the wild play / bushcraft education area in the willow coppice so went to investigate.
We work hard to keep the site in a condition ready for use with a group so it is frustrating when we turn up to use it to find that out of hours users have burnt our stock of logs, pulled branches of the tree’s or scattered our den building materials across the site. Thankfully, although not an uncommon occurrence, this does not happen regularly so it was a bit alarming to hear that a small fire at our den building poles stack at the base of a tree was suspected, and as I investigated I could see why they were concerned:
Charred poles and burnt leaf litter?
Fortunately closer inspection revealed that foul play was not the cause. The trunk of the adjacent tree had a very obvious “sap” run down it:
A sap run?
However following the trail of liquid up revealed that the true cause of the “charred” wood and leaves was actually a result of the sticky sweet “honey dew” secretions of an absolute mass of willow aphids, arguably the largest of the worlds aphid species it is a common insect at Blashford Lakes and is particularly common – or perhaps obvious – at this time of year:
Willow aphids – if you look closely you can see the distinctive black “shark fin” on the back of some of the insects.
So mystery solved! The “charred logs” are actually covered in honey dew and this has in turn developed a sooty mould. As well as the mould the honey dew also feeds other insects, in particular wasps and hornets which were much in evidence this morning.
And although not on the scale of the house martin spectacle with which I started this blog, it is still pretty impressive none the less!