30 Days Wild – Day 9

The moth trap at Blashford was run last night, in fact we run it almost every night and have done so for many years. The advantage of doing survey over long periods is that you get some idea of changes over time. Although one moth trap in one location is not a controlled dataset when the data from lots of traps run all across the country is combined a picture of change begins to emerge.

The longest running systematic survey data for moth comes from the Rothamsted traps, which have been run every night at locations all across the country since 1967. A summary of the results of this work was published (Macgregor, C.J., Williams, J.H., Bell, J.R. et al. Moth biomass increases and decreases over 50 years in Britain. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 1645–1649). The traps are of a standard design so the catches can be compared between sites and between years. It turns out that moth biomass, the total weight of moths of all types caught, actually increased between 1967 and 1982. Since then there has been a steady decline to the present. However there still seems to be almost twice the biomass of moths now that there was in 1967. Catches varied widely between years, with hot, dry years, such as 1976 resulting in large increases, so we might expect increases following the last two summers, time will tell.

Although the data does not go back before 1967 in such a systematic way, the evidence that is available suggests that the really big declines had already happened by 1967, following the large growth in pesticide use in the years following WW2. Comparing habitats the poorest are urban and arable areas, arable perhaps due to their uniformity and continuing pesticide use, urban areas although more diverse are still subject to light and chemical pollution, both of which probably have impacts. More natural habitats such as grassland and woodland have larger catches and might be expected to be more stable, but have actually suffered 18% and 15% decline respectively since 1983. Although numbers are lower, catches have been stable on arable land over the same period.

great oak beauty

great oak beauty – a moth of old woodland

It appears that the continuing declines are ongoing in the richest habitats but stable on the degraded ones, perhaps indicating that all habitats are declining towards an impoverished base level of bio-abundance, at least for moths. A similar pattern is suggested for other insects too and is supported to some degree by observations of long-term changes in bird populations across a range of habitats.

In recent years there has been a lot of enthusiasm for “Rewilding” and this does seem to be one way to start to reverse the wholesale declines impacting many species. It is certainly true that typically small, isolated nature reserves cannot maintain our biodiversity, but they do still have a vital role to play. They are biodiversity islands in a generally impoverished landscape. If the impoverishment can be reversed this biodiversity can start to spread out from the reserves and repopulate the wider countryside and urban areas. Nature reserves are not just slightly nicer bits of countryside, they are where we have effectively “Banked” much of our wildlife and so need special treatment if we are ever to rebuild wildlife richness across the country. Far from being irrelevant in a time of rewilding, nature reserves remain essential to rewidling achieving its full potential.

The breeding season seems to have been a good one for most bird species at Blashford Lakes. There are now well grown broods of little grebe, coot, moorhen and wildfowl all around the reserve.

coot family

coot family

One group that as fared less well are the ground nesters that use the lake shores and islands. Black-headed gulls are nesting only on the few available rafts, for the first time in over a decade none are using the islands. This may be due to predation last season, but in combination with no breeding around the lake shore by lapwing, I suspect that heavy disturbance, especially at night, is a very likely reason. Unfortunately lockdown started just as the breeding season got underway, which might seem a good thing, but it brought a huge increase in nighttime poaching activity on the reserve as people had more time on their hands and legitimate angling sites were closed.

gulls on a raft

Black-headed gulls are doing well on the rafts with lost of fast growing chicks

Luckily poaching activity has now declined again as angling lakes have reopened. Lockdown has seen lots more people out in the countryside and seemingly a much greater value being put on local greenspace, which is all positive. However, as has been widely seen in the media, it also seems to have resulted in a large increase in more careless use. Many reserves have suffered incidents, with fires being perhaps the worst in terms of wildlife impacts. It would perhaps be ironic if, just as more people have recognised the great value of greenspace, inconsiderate use resulted in some of its value being lost. If we value something we should be looking after it, ultimately nature reserve do not look after wildlife, we all do, we have banked some nature on our reserves, not so we can go in and burn a few pounds from time to time, but so we have seed capital to invest in a better future with wildlife across the whole landscape.

I will try and include more pictures and less verbiage in Day 10’s post!

 

Lockdown Impacts on Wildlife

I was on site for checks again yesterday and a good thing as it turned out as a large oak bough had fallen across a path. Presumably in the wind on Monday a branch, with no obvious decay and just coming into leaf, was ripped off and fell 8m or so to the ground, luckily nobody was under it. Fortunately Jo was also doing checks not too far away at Fishlake and was able to come over to provide my first aid cover so I could use the chainsaw to clear the problem away.

Generally the reserve is quiet now with very few people continuing to drive out and so mainly only being visited by those within walking range. I had hoped that fewer people might mean some benefit for wildlife, especially more easily disturbed species that may avoid areas close to car parks and paths under normal circumstances. I think some of this may be happening, it appears that snakes are basking beside the paths a little more than usual, they undoubtedly do so anyway, but will move away each time someone passes. I spotted this very bright adder by a path edge yesterday.

adder 4x3

basking adder

Unfortunately I think the overall effect on wildlife will be very negative, what I have found, and this seems to be getting worse, is that the few people who are still driving out to the reserve are mostly wandering well off the paths. At least four of yesterdays eight vehicles parked near the reserve for long periods were definitely associated with anglers, either wandering with bait boxes to look at fish or actively fishing. As a result there is regular and at times persistent disturbance around most of the lake shores, in areas that would usually be quiet. It was noticeable that both pairs of oystercatcher seem to have gone and the three lapwing displaying last week were nowhere to be seen.

I did see my first common tern of the year yesterday, but with little chance of getting the rafts out they will have only the islands to nest on. The main island is usually full of gulls, but these are absent this year, which would give them a chance free from the usual competition. Unfortunately I suspect the gulls are not there because of the high level of disturbance from anglers on the nearest bank, which will also put off the terns. It is also likely that angling is even more common at night so my records probably underplay the impacts.

The day was bright and sunny and it was pleasant to be out, I heard my first singing garden warbler and was able to enjoy the crab apple in all its glory.

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crab apple in bloom

As a conservationist I am an optimist, it goes with the territory, even when the evidence is against us a belief that things can be improved is essential. In life though the actions of a few can undo the good intentions of the many, whether in wildlife conservation or, as we are all now finding, in the suppression of a viral pandemic.

Stay safe, really look at your bit of the world and the other life you share it with, enjoy it and think how it could be made better.

30 Days Wild – Day 10 – Damp(ish)

Most of my “Wildness” involved being indoors looking out, although it was not too bad at the beginning and end of the day. The office window at Blashford looks out over the picnic tables and the small pond used by education groups for pond-dipping. It was a movement on the pond-dipping boardwalk that attracted my attention as I was using the photocopier.

roe eating dropwort 4x3

Roe deer eating hemlock water-dropwort

It seemed to be eating mainly the flowers, but the books will tell you that every part of the plant is highly poisonous. I have previously noticed that cattle seem very partial to eating this plant, apparently without obvious harm.

I ventured out at lunchtime, but only as far as the Tern Hide, but I was rewarded with an adult lapwing accompanied by a juvenile with several colour-rings. I do not know for sure yet, but I am pretty certain it is one ringed by the Waders for Real project in the Avon Valley. Given the poor success of our own birds this year I was just pleased to see a fledged juvenile.

colour-ringed juv lapwing

colour-ringed juv lapwing

Although the juvenile was running around feeding well and could fly very well it was still being defended vigorously by the adult, which spent sometime dive-bombing a family party of Canada geese.

wet lapwing

A rather damp adult lapwing, still watching over the youngster despite having left home.

Other birds around were two wigeon, a drake and a duck, but not together, a black swan, hundreds of swift, similar numbers of house martin (in both cases over 350). The highlight though was a marsh harrier, hunched down in the shelter of the vegetation on one of the islands, looking rather miserable.

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

Bee is for Blashford

Or maybe Blashford is for bees, well of course it is! Blashford is for all wildlife and the people who like to experience it. Everyone knows the honey bee and bumble bees, although perhaps not that there are 28 species of them. However there are something like 250 other species of bees in Britain and they all spend their days visiting flowers and pollinating them. These 250 are the so called solitary bees, despite the name they can occur in great aggregations, importantly though each nest is the domain of just one female, there are no worker bees.

Andrena vaga female 2

grey-backed mining bee (female) with a load of willow pollen.

There has been much coverage recently about the declines in insect numbers around the world and that of pollinating insects in particular, perhaps because they are economically important to us as pollinators of crops. Declines could be for many reasons and probably are multi-factored, but a general loss of habitat and an increasing uniformity in what is left, along with increased prevalence of chemical contaminants are all likely contributors. Some enlightened local authorities are modifying their grass mowing regimes on verges, roundabouts and recreation site to allow more flowering, some of the best are actually seeding back wildflowers or using “meadow mixes”. In fact we can all help by providing flowers that are good sources of nectar and by valuing some of the “weeds” that we might have removed in the past. For instance a lawn with dandelions may not win the green-keepers prize but these are a very important source of food for early flying bees and hoverflies.

Blashford Lakes has lots of nectar sources, especially at this time of year when willows are important for many species and so has lots of solitary bees. Many also need bare, sandy soil to dig their nests and we have that in abundance too.

Andrena vaga female emerging from burrow

grey-backed mining bee (female) emerging from nest hole

One of the problems with solitary bees is that some species are very similar to one another and so difficult to identify in the field. Although the grey-backed mining bee female is distinctive the male looks very like the male of another species, the ashy mining bee.

Andrena cineraria male

ashy mining bee (male)

One of the commonest mining bees around at present is the yellow-legged mining bee, which can be found nesting in bare ground in banks, lawns and various other places.

Andrena flavipes male

yellow-legged mining bee (male) – or at least I think it is!

Some bees are neither colonial nor make their own solitary nests, they are nest parasites of other bees. One genus of bees the Nomada bees specialise in this way of life, often specialising on one particular host species. The yellow-legged mining bee plays unwilling host to the painted nomad bee, which looks very wasp-like.

Nomada fucata male

painted nomad bee (male)

The last few of days have seen big arrivals of hirundines, Monday was almost all sand martin, yesterday there were a few swallow and the odd house martin and today there were even more swallow, probably over 50. On Ibsley Water there a couple of pairs of oystercatcher, a pair of redshank, probably five little ringed plover, several lapwing and today two green sandpiper. Meanwhile around the Centre and Woodland Hide the wheezing of brambling is very much in evidence, particularly in the morning, there are at least 30 and I suspect 50 or more around just now.

And remember it does not take much effort not to mow the lawn for a few days and let the dandelions flower to feed the bees. You could put your feet up and have a cup of tea, or a beer (other drinks are available), whilst making your own contribution to Wilding Hampshire!

Some Birds and Some Bees

I had my first proper look out of the new Tern Hide when I arrived to open up this morning and was greeted by something between 600 and 1000 sand martin swooping over the water, the first serious arrival of hirundines this spring. I saw only one swallow though and no sign of any house martin.

Along the shore in front of the hide there was a pair of little ringed plover and a fine male lapwing.

lapwing

male lapwing from Tern Hide

There were several ducks feeding close in too.

gadwall drake

drake gadwall, not just a dull, grey duck as some would have you believe

shoveler pair

shoveler pair

tufted duck pair

tufted duck pair

I spent a good part of the day trying to complete the annual report, which kept me in the office on a day when outside would have been far preferable. However I did have an excuse to get out for a while and enjoy the sunshine as we had a visit from a small group of top entomologists to look particularly at solitary bees, of which we saw many species including a few new reserve records. Incidentally we also saw several orange-tip, including one female, speckled wood and peacock.

Locking up the weather was still sunny and at the Woodland Hide finches were still feeding, including a good number of brambling.

brambling male

male brambling

There were also several reed bunting, almost all males.

reed bunting male

male reed bunting 

Year’s End

The last day of 2018 and I was out doing my December waterbird count, numbers are generally low this winter, but there was variety. I started with Ibsley Water, the most numerous species was coot with 327 other species exceeding one hundred were wigeon 206 and lapwing 288. Gulls are not counted but at dusk were present in thousands. During the day the highlights from Ibsley Water were black-necked grebe, a dark-bellied brent goose, water pipit(s), first winter Caspian gull and a first winter Mediterranean gull, in addition the flock of linnet were feeding outside Tern hide once again.

Elsewhere the bittern was on show at Ivy North hide, along with water rail and Cetti’s warbler and at dusk two great white egret. On Blashford (Spinnaker) Lake during the day there were two great white egret and a good number of wildfowl including 300 coot. A further 299 coot were on Rockford Lake and a water pipit on the shore close to the path was something I had not seen there before.

No doubt tomorrow will be busy and there are a nice range of birds to see along with the extra attraction of the Pop-up cafe.

Caught on Camera

It has been a busy week at Blashford Lakes with volunteer work parties on four days, despite unpromising weather we actually got a lot done. On Sunday we repaired some damaged sections of the boardwalk, Tuesday saw us felling some non-native grey alder trees, Thursday’s task was scrub clearance to increase habitat connectivity for reptiles and today we were clearing the shore of Ibsley Water to improve habitat for nesting lapwing next spring.

About ten days ago the apprentices put out a trailcam and today we got it in to look at the images. There were not a great many but the range of species captured was impressive. There was one shot of a passing fox, several of fallow deer and grey squirrel. Bird were fewer with one shot each of blackbird and blue tit, but several of tawny owl and on more than one night too. The picture quality was not great but the owl was landing in front of the camera, possibly to take small invertebrate prey.

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tawny owl caught on trailcam

Throughout the week I have been checking the roosting great white egret on Ivy Lake when I go to lock up the hides, I suspect there are as many as five around but still have yet to see more than four together, this evening there were three.

The rain today caused the Dockens Water to flood into Ivy Lake and it is now filling at last, hopefully the reedbed in front of Ivy North hide will have enough water for the bittern to favour this area soon, one was seen from there on Wednesday.

A feature of this winter is the unusual number of pochard on the lakes, or at least unusual for recent years. This morning there were 109 on Ivy Lake and at dusk at least 150. It appears that they gather on Ivy Lake in the late afternoon before flying off at dusk in groups of ten to twenty, probably to feed. At the same time the tufted duck, which used to roost on Ivy Lake also leave, I am not sure where they go but I did notice a lot fly in just as it got dark when I was counting the goosander from Goosander hide on Tuesday, I suspect they go to roost there rather than to feed. Walking back from Ivy South hide after locking up usually happens more or less in the dark at this time of year and a feature has been the squeaking calls of mandarin duck gathered on the silt pond, in the gloom I have just been able to make out as many as ten drakes displaying on some evenings.

The black-necked grebe has been seen daily on Ibsley Water as has at least one water pipit and green sandpiper. The grebe has been favouring the western shore to the north of the low islands, the water pipit and sandpiper the shore near Tern and Goosander hides. However for many visitors it has not been the rarer bird that have attracted to interest but the starling roost. The numbers are not exceptionally large but they can put on quiet a good show looking west into the last light of the setting sun. this evening they were especially spectacular, climbing high into the air in an effort to avoid a hunting peregrine.

Starlings 1

Starling murmuration starting to form over the trees west of Tern hide

Starlings 2

The gathering twisting to avoid a peregrine, there is a small group coming int to join them towards the top left.

Starlings 3

Some of the flock trying to funnel down into the roost site

Starlings 4

The peregrine was keeping the main flock high in the air but the draw of the roost was strong and they were falling down in a column whenever they could risk it.

Starlings 5

One group broke away in an exceptionally tight ball of birds and just dropped like a stone from the spiralling flock.

The starlings had all gone to roost by about 16:15, so if you want to give them a try I would try to arrive by 16:00 at the latest, viewing is good from the high point at the back of the main car park and possible, but sometimes less easy, from the Tern hide.

A trip to the coast

At the end of November we headed to Keyhaven Marshes for some coastal bird watching with our Young Naturalists. We were last here with the group a couple of years ago so it was great to return again with some who came last time and take some of our newer members who had never visited this part of the coastline before.

Pleasantly surprised by the weather (I had been keeping an eye on the forecast all week and been expecting to get wet), we headed off from the car park under a lovely blue sky. Deciding once again to list the different bird species spotted, we were quick to see collared dove, house sparrow (bathing in puddles along the side of the road) and starling. We scanned the first area of reeds for marsh harrier but were unsuccessful, settling for mallard, black-tailed godwit and grey heron instead.

Keyhaven view

Keyhaven on a lovely blue sky day

Following the path we watched a number of turnstone rummaging for insects, crustaceans and molluscs on the shoreline. On our way to Keyhaven Lagoon we added black-headed gull, little egret, brent goose, magpie, pintail, gadwall and wigeon to our list. Pausing by the lagoon we watched mute swan, coot, shelduck, avocet and Canada goose for some time and flock of linnet also flew over our heads. Whilst walking along the path between Keyhaven Lagoon and Fishtail Lagoon we saw buzzard, curlew, redshank, dunlin, stonechat, lapwing, shoveler, teal and herring gull. Out in the Solent we saw great crested grebes and on pausing to chat to a group on the corner by Butts Lagoon we were directed towards a pair of peregrine, perched either end of a concrete block on an island.

Peregrines

Peregrines perched on a concrete block in the Solent with Hurst Spit behind

The group also told us they had seen red-breasted merganser from this corner as well, so we spent some time trying to pick these out using the scope and were rewarded for our patience.

Bird watching

Looking at the Red-breasted merganser

We carried on along the path, noting down great black-backed gull, moorhen, blackbird and carrion crow. We found a sheltered spot to stop for lunch (it was still a bit windy out on the sea wall) before heading inland and following the path past the old tip.

Walking

Heading inland towards lower Pennington Lane and the ancient highway

Here we did not spot what was spooking the lapwing and golden plover but we did enjoy watching them flocking overhead.

golden plover

Golden plover

lapwing

Lapwing

We decided we had enough time to make a brief detour towards Pennington Marsh so headed along the lane, watching kestrel, pheasant, robin, chaffinch, jackdaw, wood pigeon, rook and dunnock and hearing the distinctive call of a Cetti’s warbler. We then turned back and headed towards Keyhaven and the car park, following the ancient highway and watching cormorant and tufted duck on the pond by the landfill site. Along this path we also saw meadow pipit, blue tit and great tit and heard a nuthatch calling.

Finally we paused again by the bridge over Avon Water, scanning the reed bed and trees behind for signs of a marsh harrier. We spotted a large bird perched on the top of a distant tree and whilst this is a good place to see marsh harrier, with its back turned to us we couldn’t say for certain it wasn’t a buzzard. We let Will decide whether or not this was a sighting and he quite rightly decided it wasn’t, as we couldn’t be certain. It had been worth the look though as whilst here we saw a kingfisher fly past, a very lovely bird to be last on our list.

Keyhaven view 2

Keyhaven

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

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Paths to Wildlife

A busy few days, either working with the volunteers or on a chainsaw course has meant that I have not really had time to look around the reserve or hear many reports from those that have. As it happens it seems there has been little change, the ferruginous duck is still present and frequenting the group of sticks at the end of Long Spit in Ibsley Water and when not there on the long Spit itself, although often only visible from Goosander hide. The wood sandpiper is also still around, although now often on the eastern shore of the lake between Goosander and Lapwing hides. There are still 2 green sandpiper a common sandpiper and a dozen or so wigeon and both great white egret remain. The only new bird that I was aware of today was a single black-tailed godwit on the western shore of Ibsley Water.

With the volunteers were have been cutting the shore west of Goosander hide and the site of the former concrete block works to keep the habitat suitable for nesting lapwing next spring. We have also been working on the paths between Goosander and Lapwing hides. In all we have something like 8 kilometres of paths on the reserve and keeping them in a reasonable state takes quiet a bit of time and effort. We also like to try to keep them interesting, not just routes from A to B, but ones on which you might come across things of interest. Today we were clearing the paths, but also opening up the edges to provide sheltered clearings and making a sand bank for solitary bees to nest.

I am keen to try and get the management of the reserve to always be maximising the opportunities for all kinds of wildlife, both because this makes it a more interesting place  to visit and because our beleaguered wildlife needs all the opportunities it can get.