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.

IMAG0005

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.

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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.

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 28 – Beyond Nature Reserves

At Blashford Lakes it was volunteer task day and nine volunteers braved the heat to work on the reserve for the morning. We did try to keep out of sun as much as possible, doing a number of tasks, fixing the door to Tern hide, trimming the sight lines around the main entrance and making up 19 bat boxes. Our volunteer team are vital to the successful running of the reserve, there are many tasks that I would never get done at all working alone.

All this effort makes the reserve a haven for wildlife, which is as you would expect. However what makes Blashford Lakes so good for wildlife is location. It lies between the New Forest and the Avon Valley two areas that are very good for wildlife. More than that they are in active management for wildlife. The New Forest has many ongoing projects aimed at maintaining or improving habitats. Less well known is the work that goes on in the Avon Valley. There are large projects such as the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Waders for Real and more local action taken by landowners such as the nearby Somerley Estate. The important thing here is that on our own we cannot achieve very much, doing work that meshes into a greater whole makes every part more robust and likely to succeed.

The lapwing that breed at Blashford form part of the same population that breed on Somerley Estate, the New Forest heaths and greater Avon Valley. Birds may do better in some habitats than others in different years so a variety of breeding sites is important for the population as a whole, each site supports the others.

To say that nature reserves are important for nature conservation may seem like an obvious statement, but their role needs to be understood. If nature lives only on reserves it will be lost. Reserves can act as hotspots of diversity, places of long-term management continuity and are good places to easily get people to see wildlife up close, but the survival of wildlife is dependent upon the wider environment. So enjoy visiting your local nature reserve but look to the management of the wider countryside to save wildlife in meaningful amounts and for future generations.

After an afternoon of paperwork, something that seems to take more and more time as I get older, I think because there is more of it rather than that I am slowing, but who knows, we had planned to go out to ring some more black-headed gull chicks. However it was too windy, or the wind was in the wrong direction, so we called it off until next week.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Lots of plants in the meadow are going to seed now, some plants take a slightly different route though and one such is crow garlic, which produces bulbils rather than true seeds. These fall and develop into underground bulbs from which the plant grows. It is a common plant of road verges and rough grasslands and I have several in the meadow, although this is the first year I have had plants producing bulbils.

crow garlic

crow garlic bulbils

 

The Blues

The last few days have seen warm sunshine by day but chilly nights, meaning it has been poor for moths but good for day-flying insects. Today at Blashford Lakes I saw my first scarce chaser and downy emerald of the year and there were other dragonflies about too with reports of emperor, broad-bodied chaser and hairy dragonfly.

Most of the butterflies that over winter by hibernation as adults are getting scarce now and spring species such as orange-tip are dropping in numbers. there are a few whites around with all three of the common species, but the highlight today was the emergence of  blues. The small meadow near Ivy North hide had six or more male common blue as I went to lock up and at least three brown argus as well, the argus is brown, but an honorary “blue” all the same..

common blue male

common blue (male), freshly emerged.

The brown argus look very like small female common blue, and the male common blues will get up to chase one if it flies by, however they quickly realise their mistake and give up. The first emergences are all males and the females will follow in a day or so. The reason for this is the same as that for male migrant bird arriving just ahead of the females. Evolution will push the males to be in place and ready for the first females to arrive, it does not pay to be late, so the pressure for males to be early is greater than that on females, who can afford to wait until they know there will be males to mate with.

The spring solitary bees are starting to disappear now, many species collect pollen from just a few plants and as these cease to flower they need to wrap up their breeding cycle. I did come across one interesting species today though, it was one of the nomad bees and the smallest species of them to be found in Britain, Nomada sheppardana.

Nomada sheppardana

Nomada sheppardana on forget-me-not

Visiting flowers is something many insects have to do to feed, it may sound an unproblematic things to do, the flowers want to offer a nectar reward, or perhaps bribe might be a better description, to the insects that will pollinate them. However it is not as safe as it might sound, flowers can hide predators, especially the camouflaged crab spider which match their colour to the flowers they sit on.

crab spider with hoverfly

crab spider with hoverfly prey

The crab spider here matched the hawthorn flowers so well that I missed it and initially set up to take a picture of the hoverfly, only then did I see the spider!

It has not been a good year for ground-nesting birds so far this spring, with most lapwing and little ringed plover losing their eggs to predators. I suspect mammals at night as the ones nesting on the islands are doing much better. Or at least they were, on Thursday might all the black-headed gull on Long Spit abandoned their nests. Although I don’t know for sure I suspect that something swam out there and ate their eggs, probably a fox or a badger. These mammals are usually not that keen on swimming, but if they are hungry they will go to great lengths to get the food they want, I think small mammals, which are their preferred prey, are in short supply this year, which might be why they are seeking birds eggs more actively.

Despite a bad time for some ground-nesters the pair of oystercatcher are still doing well, with their two chicks growing well. They hatched on Long Spit, moved off to the shore near Tern hide and have now returned to Long Spit, this meant they were not out there on the night of the predator raid. So far the main gull colony on Gull Island shows no sign of being attacked and neither do the tern rafts on Ivy Lake.

 

Dumping and Cutting, a Tale from the Roadside

There seems to be a lot going on at present. At Blashford we are resurfacing a lot of the paths, the entrance track and a few other improvements will follow.

We have also been putting out the tern rafts, so far the gulls have been taking most of the space but hopefully the terns will get their act together soon.

Out on Ibsley Water the lapwing have not been doing well, with most nests failing at the eggs stage, I suspect fox or badger, as the birds nesting on the islands seem unaffected.

I was at Fishlake briefly today and saw my first hairy dragonfly of the year, it was beautifully perched, but I did not have a camera with me!

Meanwhile back at Blashford we received an overnight donation of two large tractor tyres, several car tyres and the remains of a trailer. Not the kind of donation we want as it will cost a fair bit to dispose of. Fly tipping in the countryside is an increasing problem as the cost legitimate disposal increases.

Another increasing roadside problem is the decline in the the diversity of flora found on verges. I remember a series called “Wayside and Woodland” books, I always took the implication of the title was that much of the wildlife featured was to be found on waysides, that is path and road verges. The reason is the accumulation of nutrients, in fact this is probably one of the greatest threats to wildlife diversity in almost all habitats. It is no accident that habitats that are very poor in freely available nutrients are rich in species, they have to fight it out for resources and tiny differences in adaptations mean that one species will win over if even a very small change in the environment happens. Thus a thin chalk soil can produce an incredibly rich sward with huge species diversity. Where nutrients are easy to come by a few very vigorous specie swill overwhelm the competition and species diversity is low and growth vigorous.

Road verges suffer the twin threats of car exhausts, which are rich in nitrogen a key nutrient for vigorous plant growth. This growth then gets cut, often many times a year and the cutting left as a “mulch” further aiding the building up of nutrients. Cutting once  later in the year and removing the cuttings would reduce the nutrients, reduce the vigour of the growth and promote plant diversity. In fact Plantlife have just produced an excellent guide to managing road verges The Good Verge Guide

The Highways Agency also produced quiet good guidelines for highways managers, but these do not seem to have been widely taken up by the people that set the contracts for the work. A case in point is a very fine round about close to my home, this morning I admired the good show of ox-eye daisy and could make out the soon to be flowering stems of corky-fruited water dropwort as I waited at the traffic lights. On my way home tonight I see it has been mown and the cuttings left as a deep green mulch, it is large round about and easy to see across so there is little need for cutting for safety reasons. Slowly but surely this fine area of herb-rich, semi-natural grassland is being destroyed by the state, an act of causal degradation of our biodiversity in the midst of an extinction crisis.

I will end with a couple more moths form yesterday, the catch was small but included perhaps the smartest pebble prominent I have ever seen.

pebble prominent

pebble prominent

There were also three very fresh poplar hawk.

poplar hawk 2

poplar hawk

Then the Thaw

Sunday was a day of great change, at first the snow was still thick in many places, turning to slush on the paths, but still making the roads a little difficult in places.

After the cold of the previous few days the warm sun of a proper springlike day was very welcome. The change during the day was remarkable, by lunchtime the entrance track was largely clear of snow and the Dockens Water was starting to rise and flood through the woodland.

Dockens Water

Dockens Water levels starting to rise

There rapid change resulted in some unusual sightings, perhaps the oddest and something I don’t think I had seen before, was a banded snail crawling across the snow surface. Unfortunately when I tired to take a picture it retreated into its shell, so in the picture you can just see the foot still out, but the rest of the body is hidden.

snail on snow

snail on snow

Another unusual sight, although not as surprising, was that of scarlet elf-cup poking up through the snow.

Elf cup in snow

scarlet elf-cup in snow

I noted in the morning that there were still no lapwing on the nesting areas, I have known birds to be egg-laying by the first week of March. However by the afternoon in the sunshine there were two males on territory on the former Hanson plant site and several more wandering around the shore nearby.

By the end of the day the Dockens Water was flooding through the alder carr and through the silt pond into Ivy Lake.

alder carr flooding

Dockens Water flooding through the alder carr

Having not been on the reserve fro a few days it was pleasing to see that there are still a good few brambling around the Woodland hide along with 8 or more reed bunting. In the afternoon the ring-billed gull was in the gull roost and, rather late in the day and distantly, also the Thayer’s gull.

A Big Chill

It looks as though the week ahead is going to be a cold one. A freeze at the very end of winter like this can be particularly problematic, wild food such as seeds are almost exhausted and a cold snap will bring a halt to any early spring flush of new foods.

It will also stop any early nesting attempts. I have known lapwing to be settled on eggs in the first week of March, but I am sure they will be much later this year.

frosty lapwing

frosty lapwing

Birds are well adapted to deal with cold weather, despite maintaining a higher body temperature than we do their feathers do a fantastic job of insulation. The lapwing in the picture has a layer of frost on its back, showing just how good this insulation is.

We are predicted to get snow this week, and we will certainly get ice. The reserve is obviously more dangerous when it is icy, as are the roads on the way and the car parks. We are intending to stay open all week, but this might change if either staff cannot safely travel or the conditions on the reserve become dangerous. I will try and keep information up to date here on the blog.

 

Making Preparations

Although it feels very much like winter there are preparations for the coming spring afoot. At Blashford Lakes I spent Tuesday working with our volunteer team clearing the Long Spit island and the open ground of the old Hanson plant making the ground ready for nesting lapwing, little ringed plover, common tern and black-headed gull. Lapwing can settle down to nest as early as the start of March and will be pairing up at nest sites well before then if the weather is suitable.

before

The Long Spit before clearance

after

Long Spit after clearance

It was very cold and we had feared we would also get wet as there were some fierce showers, luckily they mostly missed us and by the time we had finished the sun was out.

By way of proof of approaching spring I spotted a pair of blue tit checking out a nest box outside my kitchen window, luckily the Blashford boxes have all been cleaned out, a reminder for me to do mine at home.

blue tit investigating

Blue tit checking out the nest box outside my kitchen window at the weekend.

Today we were working with our new volunteer team at Fishlake Meadows, again we were making preparations for later in the year. This time it was scrub cutting in preparation for grazing parts of this new reserve. Although much of the reserve is open water and reedbed there are areas of wet grassland that is gradually getting ranker and invaded by willow and bramble. To arrest this we plan a light grazing regime to maintain the mix of grass, fen and small patches of low scrub. Today we removed some young willow and cleared small alder to leave a few larger trees that will provide valuable shade for cattle in the summer sun.

start

Making the first cuts – the Fishlake volunteers starting out.

We were lucky with the weather, it was cold, but we managed to stay out of the wind and in the sun making it feel rather pleasant, hopefully we will be as lucky next time.

finish

With the scrub removed these trees will provide valuable shade for the cattle later in the year.

As we walked out to the worksite I saw a distant great white egret and on the way back we watched 2 red kite sparring with a pair of crow.

In the afternoon I returned to Blashford Lakes and got a quick picture of a water pipit outside Tern hide, nit the best I have seen but the best picture I have managed,

water pipit

water pipit

I am very lucky to be able to see quite a lot of wildlife as I go about my working day, however there are times when I should definitely have been looking the other way. As we headed out to work on the Long Spit on Tuesday we apparently disturbed an otter from the lakeside and it then swam by the Tern hide, somehow none of us saw it!

At Blashford we are also at the start of preparations of a different kind, we are planning a number of improvements around the reserve. To fund this we are hoping to apply for a grant and part of this process involves sounding out our visitors for their experience of the reserve. If you have visited recently it would be very useful to have your views, a questionnaire is attached here: Blashford Lakes Questionnaire if you are able to complete it and email it to us it would greatly help us with our grant application.

 

A Clear(er) View

On Thursday the volunteers cleared the annual vegetation from in front of the Tern hide, we do this each year for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is that it improves the view of the nearest shore from the hide. Another is that it clears the ground for the nesting lapwing and little ringed plover next spring. There are also always some seedling bramble, birch and willow that need pulling out before they get established.

before

The shore before we started

after

and after a couple of hours of hard weeding

Looking out from the hide today this did not make much difference as visibility was seriously reduced due to persistent heavy rain. Despite this there were some birds to see, including at least 800 sand martin, 3 swift, 2 dunlin, a little ringed plover, 3 common sandpiper, 33 mute swan and 3 pochard. Ivy Lake was quieter with just a few coot, gadwall and great crested grebe, there are also still two broods of two common tern chicks on the rafts.

Today was not a day for invertebrates, but I do have one more picture from Thursday, spotted in long grass as I went round locking up, a wasp spider, my first of the year.

wasp spider

Wasp spider female with prey.