Young Naturalists catch up

On Sunday we held our first online Young Naturalists meeting using Zoom. It was a great success with eleven young people joining us for two hours. We chatted about what everyone had been up to over the last couple of months, including their wildlife highlights and where they had been on their daily walks, how they had been finding homeschooling and projects they had been doing at home – a lot of lockdown ponds have been created which is lovely to hear!

We were joined by volunteer Nigel who pond dipped his garden pond and shared his catch with the group, shared some of the moths caught in his light trap the night before and talked about some of the butterflies out on the wing at present, using photos to help.

We also used the digital microscope to take a closer look at the moths caught overnight at Blashford. Sadly the trap included the remains of a privet hawk-moth, indicating a bird had managed to get in and have a feast, something that does unfortunately happen on occasion. An easy meal for the bird, not so good for the moths! We had a closer look at what had been left behind, its head and one wing. The head was still wriggling which was slightly disconcerting! By chance, Alex and Thomas who had also run their moth trap at home the night before had caught a privet hawk-moth too, which hadn’t fallen foul of an intruder in the trap, and we were able to have a look at a live one.

We had some great moths in the trap and looked up a couple we didn’t know online using the Hants Moths Flying Tonight webpage.

We also had a closer look at some dragonfly exuvia I had collected from around the pond:

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

The larger exuvia is from a emperor dragonfly whilst the smaller one is from a downy emerald. These exuvia are both larger and different in shape to the damselfly one I shared yesterday.

It was great to be able to catch up with the group and we are planning on running sessions fortnightly over the next couple of months. We will be making the most of the moth trap, looking at some of Blashford’s pond and river creatures using the digital microscope, using photos to improve insect identification, create a few quizzes to keep us going and continue to share wildlife sightings and experiences.

When I returned from furlough I got in touch with the group to see what they had all been up to and whether they had any wildlife highlights from their time in lockdown. I hadn’t got round to sharing them sooner, so these are there replies, hopefully a couple more will follow:

Kiera – from an email on the 20th May

Last week we went for a walk at Kings Hat near Beaulieu and we stumbled upon this lizard running through the grass. It’s the first one I have seen in the wild!

lizard

Common lizard by Keira

Amber – from an email on the 18th May

I have been lucky enough to have taken some great nature photos during lockdown. We have been very careful to only walk from home on our dog walks. I have a dachshund called Hagrid.

We’ve recently discovered lots of great walks around Hightown Lakes in Ringwood, some longer than others. In March we came across a mummy duck with absolutely loads of ducklings. Then just last week, we were on our way to the lakes and saw the most wonderful thing, a field of Canada geese, and about 30 gosling’s!! I have never seen so many, they were impossible to count.

The best picture I managed to take was a chicken having a paddle, I didn’t know chickens liked water.

Will A – from an email on 20th May

My dad has built a veggie planter in the front garden and another planter with a wildlife pond and seating area in the back garden. I enjoyed helping build the wildlife pond and have included some pictures of the garden.

Since we only live a ten minute walk away from Stanpit Marsh we have made an effort to get out for a walk most days and I am appreciating things a lot more. I have seen Stanpit spring into life since the end of February. I feel very lucky to have this on my doorstep especially when compared to others. I have also heard from a neighbour that seals have been seen on the beach at Highcliffe.

I’m looking forward to catching up with them again in a couple of weeks to see what else they have been up to.

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

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.

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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…

Home Delights

I had a long weekend, this time not due to the virus, but as I had some leave booked, the current situation ensured that I was at home rather than out and about, but there was still plenty to see.

It was rather cold with an, at times, strong east or north-east wind. In my mini-meadow the cowslip are just starting to flower coming to to replace the primrose scattered around under the hedge.

cowslip 4x3

cowslip

This is the fifth year of the meadow and it is really noticeable that lots of the plants are now self-seeding really well, including the cowslips.

My garden is not the greatest for birds, like a lot of people I have been keeping a list of all the species I can see or hear from the garden during the lockdown, so far, with just about one week down, I have reached a rather meagre 34 species, although today I did add red kite, when two flew low overhead. Like many gardens one of the commonest species and one that seems to be present all the time is woodpigeon. Not always a favourite and undoubtedly much more common that it was, they can be quiet entertaining, especially when you watch pairs engaged in their courtship, the males inflating their necks a bobbing up and down.

woodpigeon

woodpigeon

One of my highlights has been the brief appearance of first a male and then a pair of house sparrow a rare bird in the garden. I a desperate effort to get them to stay I hastily made and put up a semi-detached house sparrow box. Sadly they were not impressed and I have not seen or heard them since!

sparrow semi 4x3

House sparrow box, with room for two pairs (perhaps a little optimistic)

Sparrows!

There is not much bird news as such at this time of year, migration is as near to being over as it ever is, there is always something on the move, the last of the high Arctic waders are still going north and the first returnees will only be days away. Of course I am wrong to say there is no news, the nesting season progresses, this morning I saw that the oystercatchers on the west shore of Ibsley water still have one chick growing well. Meanwhile on Ivy Lake the common terns are all sitting tight on there clutches, hopefully they will have another successful year. In fact when I opened the Ivy South hide I did make a very notable bird observation, there were 2 house sparrows on the trees in the water below the hide. Both were females and they were collecting newly emerged damselflies, they do this to feed their nestlings, but must have come some distance. These were only the second house sparrows I have seen on the reserve proper, they do breed around the boundary but records from the central area are very rare indeed.

house sparrow female

Not a great picture I know but I thought worth it for such a notable record.

The moth trap was busy again after another warm night, a good range of species but nothing rare. One of the commonest species at present is the treble lines, most of them look very similar to one another, but just one or two each year look so different that you would almost think they were another species. The picture shows a typical one on the right and the unusual dark form on the left.

treble lines, typical form on right, dark form on left.

The day started very cloudy but slowly brightened and was another good insect day in the end. As the sun came out I realised a lot of insects were basking on the nettles and brambles near the Centre, one of the most frequent was scorpion flies and they all seemed to be males. These are not flies or scorpions, they have four wings and get their name from the curved tip to the abdomen, it is not a sting however but the male’s sexual apparatus. There are three species in Britain and although the wing pattern looks distinctive to be certain of the species the genitalia need to be examined. This is probably Panorpa communis, the commonest species generally.

male scorpion fly, probably Panorpa communis

As the day warmed I was putting the moth trap in the shade when Jim came out of the Centre tp say a large grass snake had just swam past the pondcam, we looked on the log beside the pond and sure enough there wa sa large female grass snake. It quickly became apparent that it was not the one of the camera though, it was still in the pond and then started to skirt the edge in hunting mode.

grass snake hunting around the pond edge

It was Volunteer Thursday once again and fourteen people turned out despite having to walk over from the main car park due to the repairs to the entrance track. We did several tasks, path trimming, always vital at this time of the year, weeding brambles from the education meadows and laying a new cable from the Education Centre. During the afternoon the track repair really got going and by the end of the day most of the worst pot-holes were filled.

I am next in on Sunday when, if the forecast is to be believed it will be cold and wet, catching up on office work may become an attractive option.