Open Again

The Tern Hide will be open again today, although there are still some access restrictions elsewhere on the reserve, where works continue, please take note of any signs as works are changing day by day as they are completed. That said all the hides are open, as is the Centre.

The last few days have been as hectic as have many over the last few weeks, although thankfully we are firmly on the home stretch now. Despite a degree of chaos spring is definitely moving along apace.

Chiffchaff and blackcap are now present in good numbers and we have also have the first reed warbler and willow warbler on the reserve. Over Ibsley Water large numbers of sand martin, house martin and swallow have been gathering and some sand martin are now visiting the nesting wall. There have also been migrants passing through, the week has been characterised by a significant movement of little gull, with up to 12 over Ibsley Water at times, on their way to breeding areas around the Baltic Sea.

little gull

one of the adult little gull over Ibsley Water

A proportion of the swallows and martins will be moving on as will be the splendid male yellow wagtail that was seen on Thursday.

Insect numbers are increasing also with many more butterflies around.

comma

comma, one of the species that over-winters as an adult

As well as the species that hibernate as adults there are also lots of spring hatching species too, particularly speckled wood and orange-tip.

orange-tip

male orange-tip

The nights, although rather cool have more moths now, on Friday morning the highlight in the moth trap was the first great prominent of the year.

great prominent

great prominent

Earlier in the week a red sword-grass was a notable capture, possibly a migrant but also perhaps from the nearby New Forest which is one of the few areas in southern England with a significant population.

red swordgrass

red sword-grass

I have also seem my first tree bumble-bee of the year, a queen searching for a nest site, this species only colonised the UK in the last 20 years, but is now common across large areas.

tree bumble bee

tree bumble-bee queen searching for a nest site

Of course all the while resident species are starting to nest, blue tit and great tit are starting to lay eggs and I have seen my first song thrush fledgling of the year. Out on Ibsley Water lapwing and little ringed plover are displaying, truly spring has arrived at Blashford Lakes.

lapwing male

male lapwing

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Birds, Beetles and Butterflies (and a bit more besides)

We are slipping into autumn, despite the weather remaining warm the signs are everywhere. Berries are ripening and birds are on the move. Over the last few days there have been between 500 and 1000 house martin over Ibsley Water, gathering before migrating south. On Ivy Lake numbers of winter wildfowl are starting to rise, at least 12 wigeon and 18 shoveler were there on Sunday and last week 3 pintail dropped in. In fact overall numbers of wildfowl are very high for the time of year, probably due to good weed growth.

Any visitor to Ibsley Water recently cannot have failed to miss the large numbers of cormorant and heron. They are feeding on the huge numbers of small common carp, a fantastic spectacle, but a sign of problems ahead. Such large numbers of small carp will grow into a very large population of medium sized fish which are likely to largely eliminate the weed and eventually most of the food for wildfowl.

Another very obvious feature at present is the lace-like leaves of the alders, they have been eaten away to skeletons.

alder leaves eaten

alder leaf eaten away by alder leaf beetle

The alder leaf beetles that are responsible are a striking metallic blue and were considered as an extinct species in the UK until just a few years ago, however their status has changed dramatically in the last few years and they are now not just present but super abundant. They seem to be everywhere at the moment and almost every alder leaf has been eaten away and they seem to have been eating hazel and even birch as well. Quiet why they have undergone such an extreme change in fortunes is something of a mystery.

alder leaf beetle

alder leaf beetle Agelastica alni

We are now heading into autumn and the moth trap is starting to catch species typical of the season, perhaps none more so than the aptly named autumnal rustic.

autumnal rustic

autumnal rustic

Another autumn favourite of mine is the intricately marked feathered gothic.

feathered gothic

feathered gothic (male)

The males use their feathered antennae to test the air for female pheromones, in effect using them to smell.

The main butterfly on the wing at present is speckled wood and they are very abundant this year, they are one of the few species that you can see throughout the season as they have a series of overlapping broods. Sometimes the first are on the wing before the end of March ans they can still be flying in November.

speckled wood

speckled wood

Autumn is also the fungi, actually they are to be found all year but many species are most abundant at this time of the year. When we were working today we came across a bright yellow patch on a log near the Woodland hide, but although many of the logs in that are are covered in fungi, this was not a fungus, but a slime mould called troll butter.

troll butter

troll butter slime mould

For those that like to venture up to the Lapwing hide in the winter or spring I have good news. The need to take the long way round or risk getting wet feet when the route through the reedbed floods will soon be a thing of the past, we are having a boardwalk constructed!

new boardwalk to Lapwing hide under construction

new boardwalk to Lapwing hide under construction

A “wow” morning

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!

house-martinshouse-martins-2

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:

red-admiral-by-jim-day

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:

aphid-residue

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:

honey-dew

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-aphid-by-jim-day

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!

 

 

 

Weeds, views and shrews

Image

The amazing Blashford volunteers in a frenzy of weeding activity.

The Thursday volunteers were in as usual today, and we started the task of clearing weeds from the shore of Ibsley Water. We concentrated on the area in front of the Tern hide, removing dock, willow herbs, small willows and birches amongst others. The reason for this is to improve the view of the shore line and to try to encourage little ringed plovers to breed next year. Unfortunately no little ringed plovers bred this year and this is probably due to various reasons like presence of corvids and foxes around the lake but also possibly because the habitat has become too weedy and over grown with plants. The volunteers did a fantastic job as usual and the shore is much improved already, but still needs another session or two. When I locked the hide at 5pm it was pleasing to see several lapwing and starlings feeding around the disturbed ground where we had weeded. 

In the afternoon Adam and I cut back the vegetation along the path by the Ivy silt pond to improve the view of pond, in anticipation of all the rare birds that are going to be seen in there this autumn and winter!

Image

Adam improving the view.

Unfortunately the Avon osprey seen yesterday hasn’t showed up yet but wildlife reported today included a female ruddy duck, ruff, common sandpiper and green sandpiper on Ibsley Water. Plus some migration of around a hundred or so house martins. A female mandarin duck  was seen by the sand martin wall and wasp spiders in the grassland by Goosander hide. A lesser spotted woodpecker at the woodland hide was the first in some time. The highlight today for me was a water shrew in the tool store this afternoon. I have no idea what it was doing in there, they eat invertebrates and it wouldn’t have been interested in any of the stored bird seed. Unfortunately any attempt to photograph or catch it was foiled as it was just too quick and ran out the door! As far I can work out this is the first record for the reserve.