White-tailed surprise

Spring is definitely here. On Ibsley Water the wildfowl have made way for the noisy black-headed and Mediterranean gulls which can be heard calling noisily overhead. Although a few ducks remain, including goldeneye, shoveler, goosander and gadwall, the majority have now departed. 

This afternoon a pair of redshank were feeding along the shoreline in front of Tern Hide whilst a pair of oystercatcher were on the island.

Black-tailed godwit numbers have decreased and a black swan seems to be favouring the north-western corner of the lake. Although I’m still waiting for my first swallow, sand martin numbers have increased hugely and watching them does not disappoint. I popped into Goosander Hide yesterday to see if any were investigating the sand martin bank and they most certainly are:

Although the hides remain closed and we have no plans to open them at present, it’s nice to know the martins are back and hopefully, if the next few months go to plan, it may be possible for visitors to catch the end of this year’s nesting season later on in the summer. We will be keeping our fingers crossed!

Reed buntings have been singing high from the willows on the edge of the main car park recently, and yesterday after leaving Goosander Hide I spotted this one sitting pretty in the top of a silver birch:

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Reed bunting

The highlight of yesterday’s walk (and something that definitely made working Easter Sunday worth it) was this sighting of one of the white-tailed eagles, high in the sky over Ibsley Water. They can cover such a huge area, you definitely need to be in the right place at the right time and have luck on your side, this was my first sighting of one of the (I’m assuming) Isle of Wight birds. Not the best photos, but they’re definitely good enough to tell what it is:

After getting mobbed by some gulls, which pushed it closer to where I was standing, it flew in the direction of Ibsley Common and the forest beyond.

Staying on the northern side of the reserve, the warmer weather has bought out the reptiles, with both adder and grass snake enjoying the sunshine. I’m still waiting for a grass snake photo opportunity, the adders have been more obliging:

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Adder

Although there is some just outside the Education Centre, the edges of the footpaths past Lapwing Hide and the boardwalk are good places to keep an eye out for colt’s-foot. Local names of this flower include foal’s foot and ass’ foot, clatterclogs, horse hoof and son afore the father, with the latter name referring to the fact that the flowers appear before the leaves. 

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Colt’s-foot

Wherever you walk at the moment it’s impossible not to hear the unmistakeable call of the chiffchaff, and with their numbers swelling on the reserve their call is turning into the back-drop of spring, along with Cetti’s warbler and blackcap.

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Chiffchaff

I have managed a half-decent photo of a blackcap but will keep trying, as Steve Farmer very kindly shared his beautiful images – thank you Steve!

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Blackcap by Steve Farmer

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Blackcap by Steve Farmer

As well as the spring birds, it’s been lovey to see so many insects, with brimstone, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, speckled wood and peacock all on the wing. The brimstones have even posed for photographs:

The bees are also buzzing, with honeybees, bumblebees including the common carder bee and a number of different solitary bees active.

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Honeybee on a gorse flower

I’ve seen both tawny and ashy mining bees as well as this little one:

Smaller and less striking or noticable than the vibrant female, I think it could be a male tawny mining bee, but am not completely sure.

There are also lots of dark-edged bee-flies about. This bee mimic has a long straight proboscis that it uses to feed on spring flowers like primroses and violets. Their larvae are nest parasites of ground-nesting and solitary bees, feeding on the bee grubs. The female bee-fly flicks her eggs towards the entrance holes of solitary bee nests to allow the larvae to hatch in the right place. Once a bee-fly egg hatches, the larva crawls into the underground nest cell of a host bee where, once large enough, it attaches itself and starts to suck out the body fluids of the host species…

Elsewhere in the woodland the wild daffodils are fading and making way for carpets of lesser celandine, with ground ivy and dog violets adding purple to the bright yellow. As Jim mentioned, the tiny and easily overlooked moschatel, or town-hall clock, is also flowering, although you have to look closely to see it!

 

Although the past couple of nights have been cold, resulting in a slightly less exciting catch in the moth trap, moth species have been picking up and there has at times been a very nice variety to look at and photograph. I think the oak beauty may be my favourite, so far…

So there is plenty to see and hear on the reserve at present, and as well as making the most of what spring has to offer it has been really nice to see some of our regular visitors and volunteers who live a little further afield venturing back to enjoy the insect and bird life and a walk in a slightly different location. With pond dipping events planned and hopefully an onsite Young Naturalists meeting at the end of the month, it feels as though things may be going in the right direction… 

Spring has definitely sprung

Yesterday I was keeping an eye on things at Blashford and after a bit of time finishing things off in the office (the last couple of days have been filled with emails, creating signs and cancelling events and school visits) I had lunch outside the back of the centre with one of our very friendly robins for company and decided to make the most of the glorious weather and venture out onto the reserve.

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Lunchtime company

Being at Blashford with the car park empty and the sun shining did remind me of the very quiet days we have on the reserve in the summer, when you know everyone has headed to the beach and the coast to stay cool. The main reminder of spring was the increase in birdsong, it was lovely to hear chiffchaff calling, and also the new growth on the trees.

willow leaves

New growth on the willow 

willow catkins

Willow catkins

Nearing the entrances however it was apparent people were very much still out and about and there were a fair few cars parked up. Fortunately most people were respecting social distancing, however I did have to stand in vegetation at one point to allow a group to pass who were quite happy to walk, albeit in single file, down the middle of the footpath. Out footpaths are not that wide… so please do take care out there and give people space!

Keeping the car parks closed does encourage fewer people to visit the reserve, which gives everyone a chance to keep their distance, but it does also reduce the risk of fly tipping on the site. Between me leaving on Friday and arriving back on Sunday a large amount of rubbish, including a couple of single mattresses, had been dumped in the first lay by on Ellingham Drove, if coming from the A338, and although this may have happened over night we have in the past had fly tipping occur during day inside our gates on the approach to Tern Hide and also on the nature reserve itself, near the water treatment works. Although those who fly tip will always sadly find somewhere for it to go, at least having the reserve secure at all times will reduce the opportunities available for fly tipping on the reserve itself, where the site is now generally quieter and our staff presence lower. Unfortunately with quieter roads this issue is something that may sadly increase over the next few weeks and months.

My real reason though for venturing close to the entrance was to stare at the very fine display of moss growing on the top of the wooden fence by our gate. I had been waiting for a sunny day to photograph it and usually when I am passing I am driving, either having just arrived or heading home. After a bit of searching, I think it is capillary thread moss, but am happy to be corrected if wrong!

capillary thread moss

Capillary thread moss

The hazel trees near the entrance are also displaying fresh bright green leaves and lesser celandine carpets the woodland floor below them.

hazel leaves

Hazel leaves

lesser celandine

Lesser celandine

I followed the path along the Dockens Water, spotting a brimstone butterfly but it did not settle for a photo. On my way up to Lapwing Hide I saw great tit and blue tit feeding amongst the willows and nearer to the hide itself chiffchaff, Cetti’s warbler, water rail and little grebe were all calling and I saw a reed bunting in the trees.

I also spied my first adder of the year, something I wasn’t necessarily expecting as it was now mid afternoon and had warmed up considerably.

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Adder in amongst dead wood

On the edges of the paths colt’s-foot is flowering. It looks like a short dandelion but has a much rounder middle. Flowering early in spring, the flowers appear before the leaves do which has led to the plant getting the name ‘Son-before-father’.

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Colt’s-foot

Blackthorn is also blossoming and looking very pretty against a bright blue sky:

blackthorn blossom

Blackthorn blossom

After walking round to Goosander Hide I cut back across to Tern Hide via the closed Hanson path and saw my first peacock butterfly of the year, which was more obliging than the brimstone and paused just long enough for a photo.

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Peacock

I popped in to Tern Hide to check all was well and see if there were any little ringed plover yet on the shore line. I couldn’t see any, or the common sandpiper which had been quite frequent, but did see teal, wigeon, tufted duck, goldeneye, shovelar, goosander and good numbers of pintail out on the water.

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Tern Hide and Ibsley Water from the viewing platform

On heading back to the Centre I decided to keep following the path along the Dockens Water to see if there were any signs of flowers on the bluebells (not yet, but it won’t be long!) and also to check the boardwalk was still taped off at either end where it is currently closed.

The hawthorn along the path is another tree coming into leaf. Its flowers are similar to blackthorn, however hawthorn comes into leaf first, and will not flower until May, whereas the flowers of blackthorn appear before the leaves, as seen in the photo above.

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Hawthorn leaves

All in all it was a very nice wander around the reserve in the sunshine. I am working from home today, listening to the chaffinch and dunnock singing outside, and will be doing so more over the coming weeks and months so it was good to get out on the reserve while I still could. I will be spending more time in my little garden and walking my dog down to the closest stretch of the River Bourne in Laverstock, or possibly up to the Laverstock Downs themselves if they remain quiet. So I will finish this blog with a photo of a primrose, as there are still plenty flowering on the reserve:

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Primrose

Yellow Days

It is often said that early spring flowers are mostly yellow and there is some truth in this, at Blashford Lakes just now it is certainly the most frequent flower colour. Although not usually actually the “Prime rose” or first flower the primrose is undoubtedly yellow.

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One of the many primroses in flower near the Education Centre.

I am not entirely sure that they are native at Blashford, or at least if they were I suspect they were eradicated by the gravel workings and these are the result of plantings, however they do well and are spreading.

By contrast the wild daffodils are genuinely wild, they grow only where the original woodland ground surface remains, although they are also slowly spreading onto ground that was disturbed.

wild daffodil

wild daffodils

The surrounding area has quite a good population of wild daffodils, although they do show signs of hybridising near to the larger plantings of garden cultivars. For this reason we have removed just about all the cultivated varieties from the reserve, although we still manage to find a few hidden away somewhere every year.

One of the more important early nectar sources for insects is the lesser celandine, these are so reflectively yellow that they are difficult to photograph. They have  a dish-shaped flower which reflects the sun into the centre heating it up. The flowers also reflect ultraviolet light very strongly, especially around the flower centre, making them very attractive to bees and hoverflies which see these wavelengths very well.

lesser celandine

lesser celandine

Another very attractive flower to insects is willow, the catkins are also yellow, although this is because of the abundant pollen, which is also the main prize for many of the insects that visit.

Willow catkins

willow catkins

These are the male flowers and the trees are single sexed, so only about half have the “Pussy willow” flowers.

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Willow catkins, look closely at one of the lower flowers and you can see a small wasp.

Although both sexes produce nectar the male trees are especially valuable for bees as they need pollen as a food source in the spring, apparently this stimulates the queens to lay eggs.

Other yellow flowers include gorse, flowering now ,although peaking usually in May and famously never not in flower hence the saying that “When gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of season”.

gorse

gorse, a very prickly member of the pea family.

In the alder carr the opposite-leaved golden saxifrage is now flowering, the flowers are not large or very obvious, but they continue the yellow theme.

opposite-leaved golden saxifrage

opposite-leaved golden saxifrage

This plant only colonised Blashford Lakes in the last ten years, I think carried down the Dockens Water, possibly from our reserve at Linwood where it is very common.

 

The Big Chill

Like many people I have been pretty much holed up for the last couple of days. I did venture out onto the edge  of the Forest on Thursday. It was very quiet with only a few blackbird and robin digging about in the leaf litter. I came across a group of New Forest ponies, showing just how hardy they are, eating gorse with a covering of snow on their backs. The snow covering shows just how good their coats are at insulating them, the longer hairs that form the winter coat trap layer of air, just as we are told to if we are to keep warm.

a hardy New Forest pony

New Forest pony eating gorse in the snow.

The area I was in is prime nightjar habitat and somewhere I often visit to listen to and watch them. It is remarkable to think that they will probably be churring away here in under two months.

Nightjar habitat

Nightjar habitat

Despite the undoubtedly wintery weather we are actually on the very edge of spring. As thought to emphasise this there were a pair of garganey at Farlington Marshes at the end of last week and sand martin usually arrive at Blashford around the end of the first week of March.

Some signs of spring start a little earlier than the arrival of long-distance migrants. Plants are often our first signs and wild daffodil have been out for a while as have lesser celandine and primrose.

Yesterday I ventured out again and got as far as our Hythe Spartina Marsh reserve, it was very bleak indeed!

Hythe Spartine Marsh

Hythe Spartina Marsh

There were flocks of wigeon and various waders feeding along the water’s edge where the seawater was keeping the mud unfrozen. The wind was cold, blowing across Southampton Water and I did not stay long.

When I decided that opening up on Thursday was not going to happen I did wonder if I had done the right thing. At the time I could have got to the reserve, but the forecast was not promising. Since my way home would have been along the A31, I am very pleased I opted not to open as I might well not have got home the same day!

Upon Reflection

Today was yet another dry, sunny, early spring day, the fourth in a row. Despite the sunshine it was quite fresh, with a cool easterly breeze. Still the sunshine tempted many creatures out into the open. I saw my first grass snake and adder of the year and a peacock butterfly with red admiral also being seen. It was wise to stay out of the wind though and find ways to make the most of the sun’s warmth. The butterflies were staying on the sheltered side of lines of trees but it is possible to do more. It is well known that dark things warm up more and this is why snakes often shelter under dark rocks and why surveyors use roofing felts to attract them in. I saw a number of hoverflies out and about including several Eristalis pertinax.

Eristalis pertinax

They seemed to favour perching on very pale or white surfaces, presumably because they were reflecting the light, although they would not get as warm as a dark surface. I also saw my first large bee-fly of the year and it was also on a pale surface.

bee-fly Bombylius major

Dark insects on very pale surfaces make for difficult photography, but these were the best that I could do.

Many spring flowers are yellow, one of the first in most years is the colt’s foot, although this year the daffodils seem to have beaten it.

colt's foot

The extremely bright yellow is also very hard to capture in a photograph, but I think the yellow flowers of lesser celandine are even more difficult.

lesser celendine

These have shiny, brilliant yellow petals, in some species and perhaps in this also the petals actually concentrate the heat of the sun so that the centre of the flower is heated making it more attractive to pollinating insects. Despite colt’s foot and celandine being attractive to pollinating flies I saw none actually doing so, but then insects still seem to be in short supply, even though many flowers are now in bloom.

In bird news I hear the bittern was seen again yesterday, although not today, but it must surely be due to go soon. On Ibsley Water the Slavonian grebe and both black-necked grebe were seen and the gull roost contained at least on adult ring-billed gull and  a number of Mediterranean gull.

 

Something to Sing About

Bird News: Ibsley Watersmew 1, barnacle goose 5, black-tailed godwit 4, yellow-legged gull 1,            Mediterranean gull 5, wigeon c500, peregrine 1. Ivy Lakebittern 2, smew 2, green sandpiper 1.

Another fabulously clear and frosty start and made better by just about the first bird I saw from the Tern hide being a redhead smew, I think an adult female as it is very clean and neat.

Early morning from the Tern Hide

Somewhere out there is the smew, it is a little more visible in the shot below.

redhead smew

I walked round opening the hides in brilliant sunshine and, despite being cold, this had induced lots of bird to sing. The song thrushes were going full tilt, they are magnificent singers when they really go for it. I got a picture of the one below in the top of a tree just beside the path near the Woodland hide.

song thrush belting it out

The bitterns were performing well again today, although there were a few face-offs when they met, they are famously anti-social birds. Things were a little more restrained inside the hide, but not entirely friction free. As noted before some visitors, most conspicuously photographers, do make a habit of occupying the hide for hours at a time, often hogging the best views to the exclusion of others. So far this has led to no more than muttering off, but a bit more consideration would not go amiss.

I had to go down to Ivy Lake in the afternoon to check out a report of poachers, they might regard themselves as unofficial anglers, but the movement of fish they do is a threat to the legal fisheries and involve the theft of fish sometimes worth hundred of pounds. In this case all that was left was a bit of rubbish, another regular sign of anglers having been on site. On the way I saw two redhead smew, presumably the one I saw on Iblsey Water and another, but I am not entirely sure there are not three around. I also came across my first lesser celandine flower of the spring.

the first lesser celandine of the season

For some time a large ash tree in the same area has had a couple of bracket fungi, but after not looking at it for a while I found the brackets have really grown, the tree is probably slowly dying. Luckily it is not going to fall on anyone or anything that we need to worry about, for once a tree can go through all the stages of life and death with all the niches this provides for wildlife.

ash tree with bracket fungi

When I locked the Tern hide I had a scan for the Iceland gull, with no success, there were at least 5 Mediterranean gulls though and the 5 barnacle geese were also there.  I was also pleased to see a good flock of wigeon grazing the western bank, this has the added bonus of trimming the grass to an ideal length for nesting lapwings.

grazing wigeon flock