Still going wild

On Sunday we had another of our fortnightly Young Naturalist catch ups, and it was great to hear what the group have been getting up to. Will had been down to the Lymington and Keyhaven Marshes and shared some photos from his walk, including one of an avocet with chick.

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Thomas and Alex had been for a walk at Iping Common, a Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve, and had seen Silver-studded blue butterflies, a glow worm larva, a bloody-nosed beetle and a pill millipede.

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Harry talked to us about the bug hotel in his garden which he built six years ago and is very popular with the spiders and Poppy had also sent me a photo during the week of the female broad-bordered yellow underwing moth which had emerged from a pupa she had found in the garden. Last time we met online she had shown everyone the pupa wriggling and we had guessed at Large yellow underwing, so weren’t far off!

Sadly Saturday night was so windy we didn’t have a huge number of moths to look at, despite Bob running both light traps, but we did have a dozen or so to study under the digital microscope. The group are getting quite good at identifying a few we either catch more regularly or stand out, such as the Spectacle moth or Buff-tip. The most exciting was this lovey Purple thorn, which was very obliging and posed for some time for photos:

Purple thorn (2)

Purple thorn

Nigel had put together another quiz for the group, this time on butterflies, dragonflies, other insects and some spiders they are likely to see whilst out and about and we talked through a presentation on bees, the main reason for all the bee photos I’ve been taking recently!

The group have requested reptiles and amphibians as themes for the next couple of sessions and we will run another in a fortnights time. Grass snake photos will certainly be easy, I spotted one curled up in the vegetation by the Education Centre pond Sunday afternoon:

Grass snake (4)

Grass snake

When I arrived at Blashford yesterday a rather substantial branch had come down by the entrance so I decided to walk the closer footpaths to check everything else was as it should be.

I popped into Ivy South Hide to have a look at the tern rafts and could make out quite a few Common tern chicks, although they were difficult to count especially when an adult came back with food and they all dashed around. Closer to the hide there was a pair of Black-headed gull chicks on one of the life-ring rafts and I watched the smaller one bobbing around in the water before it climbed back on to the raft:

Black-headed gull chicks (2)

Black-headed gull chick

Walking back up the Dockens path I saw another grass snake, this time a young one, basking on the large fallen tree close to the mushroom sculpture. I managed a quick photo before it disappeared over the back of the trunk:

Grass snake (3)

Grass snake

Further along the path I spotted another plant I have not noticed before, identified by Bob today as Tutsan. Tutsan is a deciduous flowering shrub in the Hypericum or St John’s Wort family, and native to western and southern Europe. Its leaves were apparently gathered and burned to ward off evil spirits on the eve of St. John’s Day and it has also been used to treat wounds and inflammation. The name Tutsan comes from the French words “tout” (all) and “sain” (healthy), a reference to the plant’s healing capabilities.

Tutsan

Tutsan

From the river dipping bridge I decided to head over to Tern Hide to have a look at Ibsley Water and see if there were any Ringlets in the area of rough grass between the pedestrian gate and car park height barrier. There were a couple flying about and I also saw my first Gatekeeper of the year, although it did not settle for a photo.

Ringlet (2)

Ringlet

Whilst photographing the Ringlet I noticed a hoverfly, Volucella pellucens, on the bramble flowers. Also called the Pellucid fly or Large Pied-hoverfly, it is one of the largest flies in Britain and has a striking ivory-white band across its middle and large dark spots on its wings. The adults favour bramble flowers and umbellifers whilst the larvae live in the nests of social wasps and bumblebees, eating waste products and bee larvae.

Volucella pellucens

Volucella pellucens

On reaching Tern Hide a movement caught my eye and I noticed a large wasps nest under the roof and to the right of the right hand door. I spent some time watching them flying in and out. Bob did head over there yesterday too to take a look and shared a photo, but here’s another:

Wasps and wasp nest

Wasps and wasp nest

Although we’re not going over there as regularly as we would have done under normal circumstances, I’m surprised neither of us had noticed it sooner given the size!

Yesterday afternoon we had a brief power outage whilst our supply was switched back from a generator to the mains, and as the sun was shining I took the opportunity to linger by the planters outside the Centre, chat to the few visitors that were passing and see which insects were visiting the flowers. Although we’ve shared a few Green-eyed flower bee photos before, they are so smart I couldn’t resist taking a few more photos of them when they either rested on the planter edge or paused for long enough on the vervain.

I also spotted an Alder beetle on the lavender, a bee enjoying the astrantia, a Large white butterfly on the verbena and a mint moth.

The mini meadow by the Welcome Hut is also still really good for insects, with Thick-legged flower beetles, hoverflies and Small skippers enjoying the remaining ox-eye daisies, yarrow and ragged robin. The hoverfly could I think be a male Long hoverfly,  Sphaerophoria scripta, with its narrow body noticeably longer than its wings. The female of this species is broader.

Today has been decidedly soggier, but I did watch a butterfly fly past in the rain and there are plenty of soggy looking damselflies trying to find shelter on the plant stems:

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

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Wildlife encounters of the furlough kind

I returned to work on Sunday after eight weeks away from Blashford (it is so green now!) and six weeks on furlough along with around 40% of my Trust colleagues, most of whom are still off. Whilst I’m back to help Bob with the reserve tasks he cannot do by himself and engage with visitors on site from a safe distance, following on from the easing of restrictions last week, we are still closed whilst we look at what we can safely offer in the coming weeks and months. We will keep you updated as and when things begin to change!

A Blashford blog will follow shortly, but I thought I would share what I have been getting up to whilst off.

Spending so much time at home meant I was able to discover what wildlife visits my garden, a bit of a distraction whilst I was supposed to still be working, but it was really nice to be there during the day and have more time to appreciate my outside space. My garden is only small, with two patio areas which contain a number of plants in pots and a lawn which has struggled as a lawn and now has a few flowers planted into the patchier bits as I slowly tun it into a much wilder space. I have lived there for a couple of years, and this year the garden really seems to have come to life with birds and insects, which has been really nice to see.

Whilst at home I had blue tits, wood pigeons, dunnocks and blackbirds frequently visiting the garden along with a wren, great tits and a goldfinch. I have a willow bird table and the blackbirds seem to really like this, launching themselves onto it from the hedge and swinging around whilst they fed.

I have two hedges in the garden and this year the blackbirds successfully nested in one (I did a fair amount of cat chasing whilst off, if they have another brood they’re on their own!) which was lovely to watch. I saw four fledglings at the same time, two sunning themselves in one hedge and two in the other and both adults worked really hard to feed them with the male bringing back huge beak fulls, including a garden centipede in the photo below:

Blackbird 2

Male blackbird with a beak full

They fledged last Thursday so I was able to enjoy their company for a few days, with one of the young staying in the garden until Sunday morning. It was very amusing to see it sat swinging on the bird table calling mum for food.

I had written a rather long list of things to do to keep me busy, and one of those things was to dig a pond. Digging a pond was definitely more exciting than decorating the bathroom, re-pointing some dodgy brickwork to hopefully solve a damp issue in the kitchen and damp proofing and repainting the kitchen wall, so it was one of the first things I did and it’s been really nice to see it change over just a few weeks. The less exciting jobs were left until last week when I knew I was returning to work…

The photos below show the garden before and after, then the pond full of mud as the female blackbird decided the moss I had placed round the edge would make really nice nest building material (she had ignored it the entire time it was elsewhere in the garden) and later on with some plant additions (all native) I had been able to order online.

Whilst digging the pond I unearthed the snake millipede below, along with centipedes that were too fast for a photo, and the stones placed around the edge quickly became resting spots for hoverflies:

The blackbirds had been using a bucket of water with some willow sticks in to drink from and bathe in, but they now both use the pond which is really nice to watch. The female didn’t mind me being around at all but the male was a lot more wary of me to begin with and would fly off even if I was watching from the window, but now he is quite happy for me to be out in the garden whilst he’s there feeding.

As well as the birds it was great to see which insects were visiting the flowers and which flowers were growing really well, the ragged robin in particular has seeded so well from one plant in a pot last year I was able to plant it out in different places in the grass.

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I live on the edge of Salisbury so on my daily walks I walked my dog from home to either a little stretch of the River Bourne in Laverstock or up to the Laverstock Downs, enjoying the fact there were fewer cars on the road.

These photos were taken in the little patch of woodland down by the river:

I had hoped to see some bluebells on my wanders but sadly all those I did see were garden escapees.

I spent a lot more time up on the Downs as although they were further to walk to, it was much easier to practice social distancing up here than it was down by the river which tended to be busier with people and had a stretch of boardwalk to contend with.

It was a great spot for bird watching and I had some brilliant views of both blackcap and common whitethroat, especially early spring when the whitethroats were displaying and establishing territories.

I managed a total of 47 bird species whilst off, either in my garden, flying over my garden or on my daily walks: blackbird, blue tit, dunnock, wren, great tit, wood pigeon, collared dove, jackdaw, starling, long-tailed tit, yellowhammer, carrion crow, buzzard, pheasant, song thrush, chaffinch, chiffchaff, red kite, blackcap, common whitethroat, swallow, linnet, goldfinch, red-legged partridge, little egret, mallard, shoveler, kingfisher, magpie, skylark, great spotted woodpecker, robin, Canada goose, mute swan, raven, sparrowhawk, rook, bullfinch, house sparrow, Cetti’s warbler, grey heron, moorhen, mistle thrush, swift, house martin, peregrine falcon and mandarin duck. They were quite a good mix!

The Downs were also a great spot for butterflies, with orange tips, brimstones, small tortoiseshells, green-veined whites, small heaths, peacocks and dingy skippers all on the wing. I also found lots of green-veined orchids and other flowers on the chalk grassland.

The most exciting spot though was probably to see glow worm larvae on three separate occasions, so I must go up there over the summer in search of glow worms.

Glow worm larvae

Glow worm larvae

I was very lucky to have my garden to enjoy and also have some lovely spaces within walking distance to explore (it was also quite nice to use my car less!), so I had plenty of nature to keep me company during the pandemic, whilst a list of house and craft projects also kept me busy. I might be heading back up to the Downs at the weekend…

Four Finches and a Hide Away

A fine if chilly day on the reserve and it seemed lots of people were out looking for brambling, although there has been one seen at the Woodland Hide I think it will be a week or tow more before they are regular. Although they are “Winter” finches, they are actually most frequent at our feeders in early spring, so March is often the best month. I think the reason is that they tend to come to artificial feed once the natural food sources reduce. There are certainly more finches at the feeders now than before Christmas, with siskin now present most of the time, with the males singing whenever the sun comes out.

singing siskin

singing siskin

Greenfinch are now probably scarcer than siskin at garden feeders, a reflection of the fall in their numbers as well as an undoubted rise in siskin abundance.

greenfinch

Greenfinch, not as common a sight as once it was

One finch that rarely comes to garden feeders is the linnet, it is a bird of more open habitats, there is a good flock on the shore of Ibsley Water at present and I got a shot of part of the group today.

linnet flock

part of the linnet flock

I took the shot above from Tern hide, by way of a farewell, the hide will be closed as of this evening and tomorrow we start to take it down in readiness for replacing it with a brand new hide. This will mean that part of the car park will be closed tomorrow, although the Centre car park should be back on stream, so overall there will still be plenty of parking.

Although everyone seemed to be looking for brambling, their resident close relative the chaffinch is a very fine bird which we perhaps disregard too easily, probably because it is so common.

male chaffinch

male chaffinch

Reports from around the reserve today included –

At Ivy North Hide: the bittern and great white egret, with supporting caste of water rail.                                                                                                                                                        At Woodland Hide: reed bunting and all the regulars.                                                                At Tern Hide: 3 Mediterranean gull, probably 2 Caspian gull and well over 100 common gull, as well as the linnet flock noted above.

As far as I know the yellow-browed warbler has not been certainly seen for a few days now, although I have heard rumours of sightings at various points between Ivy North hide and south of the boardwalk, so who knows?

If you do visit over the next few weeks there will be various works going on, I would ask that you take note of any signs and fences, these will be in place to keep you safe when there is machinery moving around and working. Apart from the Tern hide, which is being replaced, all the other hides remain open and there will always be parking available. The Centre and toilets should be available as usual.

 

Change is in the Air

Actually change is the only thing that seems constant on the reserve just at the present. Levelling the car park near the Centre is well underway, but will mean this area is closed to parking for at least the whole of this week. In addition work is advancing on the remaining issues that have been preventing us gaining permission to use the new path to Goosander hide, so watch this space for updates on this.

A further sign of the times is that most of the reserve signs are being replaced, sounds simple enough perhaps, but working out exactly what has to be put on each and precisely where they should be placed takes time. Too many sites are over-signed and I don’t want this for Blashford, ideally there should be just enough to do the job and they should be obvious without being intrusive. Only time will tell how close we get to this ideal.

Out on the reserve the yellow-browed warbler continues to please most visitors that seek it, today mostly just to the north of Ivy South hide from what I understand, I did not see it myself. I did see a small flock of eight lesser redpoll in a birch in the same area though, my first this year. At Tern hide the water pipit, or at least a water pipit, seemed to be present for much of the day as did a flock of linnet, although their numbers seem to have reduced. The Woodland hide was very busy, with all the usual suspects present and especially large numbers of goldfinch and siskin when I looked in.

At Ivy North hide the bittern was seen occasionally as were water rail and Cetti’s warbler. When I locked up there was a great white egret, although it was not Walter, as it had no rings.

Lastly, just up the road at Harbridge a single Bewick’s swan continues to feed with the herd of mute swan, sometimes very close to the road.

Watching Wildlife

First Blashford Wildlife Watch meeting of the year this morning and as such I thought we’d start off with a meeting to reflect the name of the Wildlife Trusts children’s membership club for 6-12 year olds – and watch some wildlife!

So during a delayed start while we waited for latecomers (who didn’t come anyway!) we kept ourselves occupied with bird “Top Trumps” , and word searches, before heading out for a short walk via Tern Hide and Goosander Hide to see what we could see:

On route to Tern Hide: blue tit, nuthatch, blackbird, jackdaw, robin, chaffinch and linnet.

The linnets put on a lovely show with a couple of flocks of 40 or so birds reeling between the cherry laurels by the entrance to the car park, the willows in the dead hedge along the edge of the car park and the shore outside Tern Hide itself.

From Tern Hide: dunnock, coot, Canada goose, cormorant, little grebe, goosander, tufted duck, mute swan, lesser black backed gull, common gull, herring gull.

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Blackcurrant, biscuit and a kestrel!

From Goosander Hide: shoveler, kestrel, water pipit, mallard, moorhen, golden eye. We also had a nice chat with some of the very friendly photographers in there who enjoyed showing the children bird pictures they had taken that day and elsewhere – and who had seen the kestrel take a shrew from just beneath the hide shortly before we arrived.

The children also enjoyed, what I think must have been a rare treat from the reaction it received, a cup of hot black currant squash and a chocolate digestive biscuit. For some reason all of them ended up with bits of biscuit floating around in their drinks having dunked, which just seems terribly wrong to me, but maybe I’m just too old to appreciate it!

On route back to Centre: coal tit, great tit.

Not an extensive list, but everyone enjoyed themselves and we also took time out from the birds to admire the hazel catkins and scarlet “flowers”, candlesnuff and curtain crust fungus, and flowering common field speedwell.

Sticking with a bird theme when we next meet in February (10.30am-12.30pm, Saturday 9th) we will concentrate on woodland birds and make some bird feeders to put out on the reserve and take home. For more information about our Wildlife Watch group email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk, or to find out if there is another group nearer you email wildlifewatch@hiwwt.org.uk

One of our members nipped off down to Ivy South Hide with her Dad before they left to see if they could catch up with the yellow-browed warbler. They did, and so did lots of other birders today as well!

It continues to haunt the area between Woodland Hide and just beyond Ivy South Hide, often, but not always, associating with a flock of long-tailed tits, and around Ivy South Hide more often than not. There were already about half a dozen birders looking for it even before we had opened up this morning and there has been a steady flow of people coming to see it all day, usually successfully.

Also showing today has been the bittern, again, as yesterday, predominantly to the right of the hide rather than the left where it has been seen most often prior to this week.

Bob may well re-mention it again tomorrow if he finds time to post a blog but please be warned that the centre car park and track up to it will be closed from this Monday. There will still be pedestrian access up the footpath through the willow wood adjacent to the track so everyone can still access the Centre (and toilets!) and all of the hides, but the vehicle access track will be closed to both cars and pedestrians for as long as it takes to level the car park – contractors are going to be re-working it ahead of the visitor access improvements this spring in order to improve the drainage off the car park. At this point we do not know how long these preliminary works will take but we are allowing up to two weeks, although we hope it will take less time than that and will obviously re-open the track and car park as soon as we can do so.

In the meantime parking will be limited on the south side of the nature reserve and I therefore urge visitors to park in the main Tern Hide car park if they are able to do so – it will avoid parking frustration and free up parking nearer the centre for less mobile visitors who really need it.

 

 

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.

29th Dec – Sightings

No pictures today as my camera has died on me. Opening the hides first thing there was a water pipit at Tern hide (later I also had singles at both Goosander and Lapwing hides as well), also from there a new high count of linnet 108, and a chiffchaff beside the hide. At Ivy North hide the bittern was standing high in the reedmace giving great views. At the Woodland hide the reed bunting count had risen to 7 along with all the usual woodland birds.

Walking round the reserve the number of species singing was notable, I heard mistle thrush, song thrush, great tit, treecreeper, robin and Cetti’s warbler between the Centre and Ivy South hide.

In the afternoon a first winter Caspian gull was showing well swimming among the larger gulls from at least 2 o’clock. Despite searches by a few people no other notable gulls were found apart from rather more yellow-legged gull than recently seen, with perhaps 10 or more.

Towards dusk a green sandpiper was at Goosander hide, a great white egret flew over heading south, I assumed the egret was heading to roost in the trees at Ivy Lake, but when I got there none were to be seen. A small starling roost gathered over the north end of Ibsley Water, maybe 1000 or so birds, being chased by a peregrine. The peregrine them forced low over the water, so low that many wings broke the surface and produced a sudden flash of spray.

 

A Fine Day on the Reserve

Thursday dawned calm and slightly misty with a promise of sunshine to come.

Misty morning at Ivy North

Early morning over Ivy Lake

I am not sure if they were doing the Wildlife Trust’s 7 Days of Wild Christmas, checkout #7DaysofWildChristmas for more on this, but there were lots of visitors on the reserve on Wednesday and they certainly saw a lot of wildlife.

From Ivy North hide the bittern was seen by most who were willing to spend a little time looking and some had excellent views. The picture below was sent in by John Parr after he took it on Saturday from Ivy North hide.

Bittern by John Parr

Bittern by John Parr

As well as the bittern, water rail and Cetti’s warbler were also frequently on show from Ivy North hide. Further out on Ivy Lake a good variety of ducks were on view, there remains an unusually large number of pochard around, with up to 100 on Ivy Lake alone at times. At dusk a single great white egret roosted in the trees.

At the Woodland hide the usual common woodland birds have now been joined by a few reed bunting, attracted by the seed spread on the ground, we have still yet to see any brambling though.

On Ibsley Water the flock of linnet was again feeding on the shore near Tern hide whilst out on the lake up to a dozen goldeneye, over 40 pintail, 200 or so wigeon and the single black-necked grebe. In the late afternoon the gull roost included a Caspian gull, but there was still no sign fop the ring-billed gull, which looks increasingly likely to have moved on somewhere.

As it was Thursday there was a volunteer task on the reserve and six volunteers joined me in doing some willow scrub clearance and pollarding in the reedbed area between Goosander and Lapwing hides. The area is a former silt pond and had grown up with a very uniform cover of closely spaced and rather weakly growing willows, not a habitat with great wildlife value. By opening up clearings and making pollards of the stronger growing willows we can diversify the habitat, making it suitable for a much wider range of wildlife. In particular the open clearings have proved very popular with the areas strong adder population.

The mild weather continues and there are signs of this all around the reserve. On the path to Ivy North hide I found a red campion still in flower.

red campion flower

red campion in flower

Nearby the leaves of lord’s and ladies are well up through the leaf litter.

lords and ladies

lords and ladies

Near the Centre there are patches of speedwell in the gravel and many are in flower.

speedwell

speedwell

The mild conditions, along with the damp conditions are proving good for fungi, with many particularly small species to be found if you look closely. One of the commonest species on well rotted wet logs is the candle snuff fungus.

candle snuff

candle snuff

 

 

It’s a Small World

Boxing Day was quite busy at Blashford, with a fair few visitors on the reserve, most who were prepared to spend the time waiting saw the bittern at Ivy North hide. Whilst they waited good views were to be had of water rail and Cetti’s warbler.

From the hides on Ibsley Water the black-necked grebe could be distantly seen along with at least two water pipit and near Tern hide, at least 85 linnet. An adult female marsh harrier crossed over the lake a few times and a sparrowhawk was seen trying to hunt the small starling roost int he late afternoon. The starling roost has evidently relocated having dropped from tens of thousands to a few hundred. I could also find no sign of any great white egret, even at dusk when I looked at the usual roost site, none could be found.

linnets

Part of the linnet flock on the shore beside Tern hide, there are lots of them but they are hard to pick out!

I had a look through the gull roost and there were good numbers of lesser black-backed gull and black-headed gull, but only 14 common gull, two yellow-legged gull and no sign of the ring-billed gull or Caspian gull. Obviously I could not check all the gulls present but conditions were very good, so I was disappointed not to find either species.

Away from the birds I came across an oak branch with a remarkable habitat growing across it, just one branch had it’s own forest of lichen, moss and fungi, small in scale but extraordinary.

lichens

lichen and moss on oak branch

lichen and moss 2

More lichen and moss

hair lichen

hair-like lichen

fungus

A small fungus (I think)

It might be only just after Christmas, but signs of spring were to be found. I saw snowdrops pushing through the ground and the hazel catkins are opening.

hazel catkins

hazel catkins

I also heard singing mistle thrush and great tit as well as the year round singers like robin and Cetti’s warbler.

Festive Opening

Just a reminder, Christmas Day is the one day of the year we do not open, so the car parks, Education Centre and bird hides will remain closed tomorrow. Normal service however will resume on Boxing Day and in addition on New Years Day the Pop-up Café will again be back in the Education Centre, so you will be able to fuel up with a hot drink and homemade cakes and savouries as you begin a new bird list for 2019.

We have had no further reports of the white-tailed eagle but the bittern is still showing very nicely at times in the reed bed in front of Ivy North Hide, thanks to Lyn Miller for sending in this photo:

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Bittern by Lyn Miller

Marsh harrier, Water pipit and Caspian gull have also all been reported on Ibsley Water today, seen from Tern Hide.

I have been enjoying the flock of linnets that have been feeding in front of Tern Hide and resting in the nearby willows, I reached a count of 73 this morning before one flew and the others followed. They’re a very lovely sight to see when opening up the reserve!

Merry Christmas!

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Linnets by Tern Hide