30 Days Wild – Day 6: And the Wind did Blow

And how it blew! And how it rained too, very unseasonal gales to tear at the trees and soak fluffy wader chicks. So it was with some trepidation that I got to Blashford today. Looking from Tern hide when I opened up I saw at least two of the small lapwing chicks and spotted one of the oystercatcher offspring too, although they should be well able to survive a bit of weather by now. A few of our trees had not done so well, no major fallers but several branches down, at this time of year, in full leaf and soaked with rain, the wind can really get hold of a branch twisting and breaking it off. Luckily the volunteers were in and between us we were able to walk the full length of all the paths clearing branches as we went and then returning to saw off the few larger leaning stems.

At lunchtime a smooth newt was spotted on the surface of the Centre pond, Jim then realised that it had been caught by a great diving beetle larva, these are ferocious predators but I was surprised that one would tackle a full grown newt.

newt and diving beetle larva

Newt being attacked by great diving beetle larva.

The newt was struggling but it was hard to see how it was going to get the beetle larva off as it had its jaws firmly embedded. As we watched a second, equally large larva closed in and joined the attack, I don’t think the newt had any chance against two attackers. I knew they would tackle prey larger than themselves but this was the first time I had seen one take on something so large. The picture is an example of “Digi-binning” that is holding the digital point and shoot camera up to one eyepiece of the binoculars.

Unsurprisingly the moth trap was very quiet, I doubt many moths tried to fly and those that did probably had trouble getting anywhere they wanted to go. Amongst the few that did get out and into the trap was a very fresh mottled beauty.

mottled beauty

mottled beauty

The weather did improve a bit in the afternoon and there were quite a few insects flying as I went to lock up, lots of damselflies and various things nectaring on the flower heads of hemlock water-dropwort, one of the best food sources for lots of species at this time of year. I cannot identify them but the many insects include a number of sawflies.

sawfly

sawfly (unidentified)

Looking after a nature reserve can be rewarding, especially when you can work to improve habitats, allowing them to support more species and individuals, in the jargon increasing biodiversity and biomass. On a reserve such as Blashford Lakes there is the additional goal of increasing the accessibility of this wildlife to allow appreciation and enjoyment for people. Increasingly it is being realised that this is good for our health, diverse green space really matters to our wellbeing, individually and as a society. It is also a small push back against a tide of mass declines in species abundance and variety, to make a real difference to that needs action on a much larger scale than just a nature reserve.

So on Day 6 of  my 30Days Wild I have to confess to getting a little wild myself. I have already blogged about my tiny back garden meadow and we are doing work at Blashford to enhance the grassland to support more species. Species rich grasslands and meadows have been one of the fastest declining habitats in recent decades, with the accompanying loss of wild flowers, butterflies and the rest of the species such places support. Local Authorities and Government Agencies have a duty to enhance the environment where possible. There has recently been much publicity about the importance of grass verges for wildflowers, it has made national radio and some species are now almost only found by roadsides.  The Highways Agency publishes very good guidelines for the management of verges, round-abouts and other roadside grass areas, with the idea that managers of such places will have a best practice guide to follow.

So what made me wild? It was the close mowing, for the second time this season, of the large (probably 0.5ha or so) round-about at the end of the road where I live. This does not improve safety, to do this at most a couple of metres around the edge would need mowing, nor was it tall, no more than 30-40cm and the mass of corky-fruited water-dropwort was just coming into flower. The first cut dealt with the cowslips and much else besides, this is a relatively herb-rich grassland that is being systematically destroyed by close mowing and swamped by a layer of mulched cuttings each time. Eventually this will ensure it has only a tall coarse sward of cocks-foot, thistle and nettle and another vestige of our grassland heritage will have gone. I don’t know which particular arm of authority undertakes this mowing, but the guidelines have evidently not reached them! So long as there is careless disregard for such places the march to environmental mediocrity will continue and we may as well lay Astroturf and be done with it!

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow, unless the “Wild” part of 30 Days Wild takes hold again!

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30 Days Wild – Day 5: Wet and Windy

Not a very June-like day, with increasingly strong winds and rain getting heavy by the end of the day. Not the kind of conditions to be a newly hatched, fluffy lapwing chick and not the conditions to be an adult lapwing trying to keep your chicks alive. In front of Tern hide the brood of tiny chicks I first saw yesterday turned out to be a family of three. The adults have a difficult line to tread, if they brood the chicks, keeping them warm and dry, they don’t get enough food and ultimately starve, if they let them feed they run the risk of getting wet and cold and dying anyway. So prolonged wet windy weather is very bad for chick survival, let’s hope there are enough dry breaks in the weather to give them have a chance.

wader conflict

Lapwing and oystercatcher chicks

As it the weather was not enough the adult lapwing are very protective of their chicks and see danger everywhere, in this case they seemed to think that the oystercatcher and her chick and the starlings were unacceptably close and needed driving off.

The oystercatcher chicks are somewhat larger now and able to cope with a bit of adverse weather. When they get to this size the adults often take charge of one chick each, watching over them and feeding them, with the chick finding a little food itself.

Oystercatcher family

Oystercatcher family

The poor weather brought lots of swallows, martins and swifts to feed over Ibsley Water, the numbers growing throughout the day as the conditions worsened until, by the time I closed up I estimate there were at least 1000 swifts, an amazing sight. I got a picture, but in the rain it is hard to make out the birds, I think there are probably about 75 in this shot and the whole sky was filled with them.

swifts

every dot is a swift!

30 Days Wild – Day 1: Weird Stuff

Here we are again, another June and another 30 Days Wild, I will try to keep up this year and post something every day.

I was at Blashford today with the volunteers tidying up on the southern shore of Ivy Lake, clearing away some old tern rafts and doing a little Himalayan balsam pulling, actually the volunteers did these things, I cut a few brambles and set up the telescope to count the nesting common tern. I am pretty sure we now have 25 pairs on the rafts with nests and eggs, possibly 26 pairs. So with five pairs on the Pound we have reached thirty pairs for the first time! This has been a really successful project and almost entirely the work of our great volunteer team. Over the last ten years the Blashford terns have consistently produced more flying chicks per pair than any other local colony, with many pairs achieving the magical 100% success rate, laying three eggs and fledging three chicks. Over the last year we have made a whole set of new rafts funded by a grant from Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS) to a design refined and honed by our volunteer team.

During the course of the work we came across two grass snake, a nest of bank vole and a number of dragonflies including an emperor, scarce chaser and broad-bodies chaser.

The weirdest thing I saw today though was an old favourite of mine, a slime mould, these are strange organisms that usually live as single cells but aggregate to form sporangia and it is this stage that we can see on old wet logs. The one I found today near the Woodland hide was a Stemonitis, possibly Stemonitis axifera. They take less than a day to aggregate, develop and produce spores and then disappear.

Stemonitis axifera

Slime mould, probably Stemonitis axifera on a damp log near the Woodland hide.

Regulars will be pleased to hear that the two lapwing chicks and the two oystercatcher chicks are still doing well outside Tern hide, with an additional and larger, oystercatcher chick in the distance on Gull Island as well.

You can see various 30 Days Wild stuff on Twitter via #30DaysWild and probably lots of other places too and it is still not too late to join the over 45,000 people who have signed up to do something wild on 30 Days. Our environment is vital to our wellbeing, physical and mental health and it is where we live, despite this it is not getting much attention

Stay Close

At the Tern hide there is still a pair of lapwing with three chicks and now also a pair of oystercatcher with two chicks. Lapwing are good parents, they will defend their chicks vigorously, but they still have to find their own food and so wander off making them vulnerable to predators. Oystercatcher are great defenders and also find food for their chicks. This has two clear advantages, the chicks can stay very close to their parents and they get  a lot more food. I watched the birds yesterday afternoon and the adults were feeding the chick a good sized food item every 30 seconds or so.

stay close

Oystercatcher chicks stay close for protection and food.

A number of people told me there was only one chick, but this mistake is easy to make as the adults seem to concentrate on feeding one chick at a time the other resting, well hidden and probably digesting all the food it has just had.

More dragonflies are noticeable around the reserve, yesterday I saw broad-bodied chaser and black-tailed skimmer and numbers of damselflies are really impressive.

black-tailed skimmer

Recently emerged black-tailed skimmer

It’s Good to have a Hobby

And even better to have two! Which is what we saw today hunting insects over Ivy Lake when we went to put out another of the tern rafts. These sickle-winged falcons winter south of the Sahara and fly north to breed along with their favourite prey, swallows and martins. Watching them swooping to catch flying insects is a fantastic experience, you can only marvel at their mastery of the air, one of the great sights of summer.

The tern rafts are gradually being deployed, so far the terns have looked interested but failed to occupy any of the rafts before they have been dominated by pairs of  black-headed gull. It is always a problem getting the timing right and this is why I deploy the rafts one or two at a time, at some point the terns must surely be ready to take control of one.

preparing the tern raft

Preparing a tern raft

There have been at least 30 common tern around regularly and they have been doing courtship flights and bringing food, so I think they should be ready to settle soon. So far there has been little sign of much tern passage, apart from a few beautiful black tern, the biggest group so far being 5 on Sunday afternoon. Little gull are usually birds of passage that stay at most a day or so , which makes the fine adult that has been frequenting  Ibsley Water for several days something of an exception. It was there again today, although I don’t think anyone saw the Bonaparte’s gull. Other birds have included a few dunlin and common sandpiper and last week a bar-tailed godwit.

Barwit

Bar-tailed godwit

In recent posts we have featured a number of pictures of lapwing chicks, sadly I don’t think any of them have survived. This season has been a good one for the number of pairs and in general hatching success has been quite good, but the chicks have been disappearing fast. I think a combination of dry weather and predators is the cause. Dry conditions mean the chicks get brought to the lakeshore to seek food, as all their favoured puddles are gone, unfortunately the shore is regularly patrolled by fox and other predators, as it regularly has washed up food in the shape of dead birds and fish. The foxes may not be actively seeking the chicks but they will not refuse one should they come across it. Sadly a similar lack of success is befalling the little ringed plover, but at least they will continue to try and may yet succeed before the summer is out.

LRP

Little ringed plover near Tern hide.

The cold winds are making moth trapping a slow business, with few species flying, although we have caught an eyed hawk-moth and a couple of poplar hawk-moth recently.

poplar hawk

Poplar hawk-moth

Early birds…

Over the weekend ten super keen Young Naturalists enjoyed a night on the reserve in order to appreciate the dawn chorus at it’s best.

To avoid any ridiculously early drop offs by parents, we met at the Education Centre at 7pm on Saturday night then headed straight over to Tern Hide in the hope of a glimpse of the lapwing chick before it got too dark. We had to wait a while but got lucky!

Lapwing chick by Talia Felstead resized

Lapwing chick by Talia Felstead

In the fading light, we also spotted Lapwing, Greylag geese with three goslings, Redshank and a Pied wagtail.

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We then headed up to Goosander and Lapwing hides in search of deer, getting out the bat detectors for the walk back and picking up lots of Soprano and Common pipistrelles. The bats put on a great show!

It was then time to head back to the Centre for a drink and a snack and to make ourselves comfortable for the night, picking our spots on the Education Centre floor. Whilst getting ready for a night in the classroom, we looked at the footage picked up on the trail cam we had put out at last month’s Young Naturalists session in the hope of a glimpse of some of the reserve’s more secretive wildlife.

Rather excitingly the trail cam revealed images of badgers and deer along with videos of badgers, deer and a fox.

Badger 1

Badger!

deer 1

Deer

After setting the alarm for 4am, we attempted to get some sleep!

In the morning we were joined incredibly bright and early at 4.30am by Bob and volunteer Liz, who had declined the offer to join us overnight but were still happy to be here super early. After a cup of tea and a snack we headed outside at about 4.45am to enjoy the dawn chorus at its best.

Our early bird of the morning was the robin, who we heard just outside the Centre. We then headed towards Ivy North hide before following the path round to the Woodland hide then Ivy South hide, crossing the river and following the path along the Dockens to our river dipping bridge then back to the Centre. Unfortunately it was a bit windy but we still heard 19 species of bird, with Bob’s expert help, and the crescendo of bird song was fabulous.

Our 19 species of bird were heard in the following order: robin, wood pigeon, blackbird, Canada goose, song thrush, wren, blackcap, reed warbler, garden warbler, Cetti’s warbler, chiffchaff, black-headed gull, Egyptian goose, mallard, blue tit, great tit, chaffinch, jackdaw and goldcrest.

Group on dawn chorus walk resized

A very early dawn chorus walk! We are excited, just a little sleepy…

We then had a look in the light trap which revealed two May highflyers, a Great prominent, a Sharp angled peacock, two Hebrew characters, three Flame shoulders, a Pale tussock and a Common quaker. We also saw a Brimstone moth fly past.

It was then time for second breakfast, so we got the fire going and tucked into our sausage and bacon rolls.

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After tidying away from breakfast we headed back over to Tern hide to see if we could spot the Lapwing chick in a better light. Unfortunately luck was not on our side this time, but we did see a black tern, bar tailed godwit, ringed plover, little ringed plover, redshank, black-headed gull, Egyptian geese, greylag geese, tufted duck, coot, pied wagtail, common tern, lapwing, swallows, cormorant and both house and sand martins.

Whilst waiting for the parents to arrive we had time to pond dip at the Centre, catching a newt (the kingfisher hasn’t eaten all of them!) and a brilliant great diving beetle:

Thank you to volunteers Geoff, Emily and Harry for joining us for a night on the Education Centre floor in preparation for our brilliant dawn chorus experience, to Liz for joining us in the morning and to Bob for coming in to lead the walk with his wealth of bird song knowledge.

Thanks too to the Young Naturalists eager for such an early start – Lysander, Megan C, Megan Y, Talia, James, Cameron, Poppy, Ben, Will H and Jodie, we hope you all enjoyed it and have managed to catch up on some sleep…

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

Resisting the Chill

Despite the cold blast, so far the nesting waders on Ibsley Water seem to be continuing to do well. The stretch of shore in front of Tern hide has a lone parent lapwing with two chicks now two weeks old and to the west of the hide there are two more broods of smaller chicks. One of these broods walked across from the restored concrete plant where they had nested. Unfortunately they did it during the middle of the day when the car park was busy and they got split up and wandering about under the brambles. I had to rescue them and carry the brood over the bank, luckily their parents were watching and quickly joined them.

As well as lapwing the shore outside Tern hide looks as though it will be hosting a pair of little ringed plover again, after a couple of years when the have been rather further away. There were a pair displaying vigorously just a few metres from the hide yesterday.

little ringed plover male

Male little ringed plover

Although it was woolly hat and gloves weather yesterday the sun is now pretty strong, so out of the wind it was not too bad and at lunchtime I even saw a male orange-tip near the Centre.

orange-tip male on Jack-by-the-Hedge

male orange-tip

The cold wind had kept the swallows, martins and swifts low over Ibsley Water in their hundreds all day, although I find it hard to imagine there were many insects even there.

The Bonaparte’s gull continues to attract visiting birders, with a supporting caste of black tern and three little gull. Remarkably another Bonaparte’s gull turned up yesterday on Bournemouth Water’s Longham Lakes site, just a few miles away. I still have not managed to better my remarkable “Record shot” of the gull, so I will sign off with one of the moth-stealing robin.

robin

The Moth Thief

A Dry Spring

Lots of visitors are coming to the Tern hide at present, drawn in roughly equal measure by the Bonaparte’s gull and great views of the lapwing chicks. The gull was present on and off again yesterday as were 3 little gull (2 of them beautiful adults), up to 27 or more Mediterranean gull and at least a dozen common tern.

The two lapwing chicks in front of the hide are doing well and approaching two weeks old now, this is especially pleasing as they are only protected by their mother, dad having gone missing a while ago. She is driving off all comers, but especially redshank, common sandpiper and little ringed plover, not perhaps the greatest threats to her chicks.

lapwing chicks

lapwing chicks sheltering from a cool north wind.

So far lapwing are having a remarkable year and we have something like 20 pairs nesting with at least five already hatched. Of these three can be seen from Tern hide. The lake shore has the lure of water, where the chicks can find small insect prey, but it is not that safe as it is frequented by many predators. They would be better staying around puddles away from the shore, but the recent long bout of dry weather has meant almost all of them have dried out now, we could really do with some rain!

The good weather has been brilliant for early butterflies though; the reserve has had lots of orange-tip and large first broods of speckled wood and small copper.

small copper

small copper, one of many first brood ones seen this year.

As spring moves on we are now entering “Willow snow” season, when the woolly seeds of the willows are blown around and collect in drifts. It is these light-weight seeds that allow willows to colonise so well as they are carried long distances by the wind.

willow snow

willow seeds

Despite the dry weather there have been a few fungi around and I came across the one in the picture below growing on lichen heath on Sunday, I have failed to put a name to it though.

fungus

fungus on lichen heath

Recent days have seen a good range of birds around the reserve. Both garden warbler and common swift have arrived in numbers and there has been a good variety of migrants. On Sunday a fine male ruff was on Ibsley Water and other passage waders in the last few days have included whimbrel, greenshank, dunlin and common sandpiper.

Chick time!

We’ve had lots of fab photos emailed in over the past few days, thank you to everyone who’s taken the time to share them with us! Especially popular are the lapwing chicks which have been showing very nicely in front of Tern Hide.

Lapwing chick by Sarah Moss

Lapwing chick by Sarah Moss

Lapwing with chick by Sue Marshall

Lapwing by Sarah Moss

Lapwing by Sarah Moss

The chicks have amazing camouflage in amongst the gravel shore line and definitely tick all the right boxes on the cute and fluffy front!

Thanks also to Sue Marshall for emailing across some of the other slightly less cute and fluffy but still very lovely to look at birds on the reserve:

Wren Blashford NR

Wren by Sue Marshall

Chiffchaff Blashford NR

Chiffchaff by Sue Marshall

 

Blackcap Blashford NR

Blackcap by Sue Marshall

Dunnock Blashford NR

Dunnock by Sue Marshall

Wrens Blashford NR

Wrens by Sue Marshall

Do keep them coming! If you’re happy for us to pop them on the blog and use them within the Trust please do say when you email them in and please do let us know who we need to credit when we use them.

The cute and fluffier the better…

Catch-up

After a bit of a break, both because I have been away and due to a computer failure I am now back and doing  along overdue post.

Headline news has to go to Blashford’s first Bonaparte’s gull, a North American species, similar to, but slightly smaller than a black-headed gull. I saw it first as I locked up on Monday and then again as I locked up today. It is a first summer bird and seems to come to Ibsley Water late in the afternoon to hunt insects. Here is my “Record shot” of the bird, truly a terrible picture, but with imagination you can just about tell what it is!

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull in flight over Ibsley Water, no really, it is!

The gull is not the only Blashford first recently though. In the late winter we did some clearance of small trees to expose a sandy bank that has been popular with solitary bees and many associated species. When I visited the other day I spotted and photographed a dotted bee-fly, similar to the much commoner bordered bee-fly, but with dots on the wings.

dotted bee-fly

dotted bee-fly

Regular visitors will know that we have been working to improve habitat for nesting lapwing at Blashford and this has included the restoration work on the old concrete block works site. It has certainly paid off and we now have several broods of lapwing chicks running around, including two right in front of the Tern hide, a great opportunity to see them really close if you have never had the chance.