A Marvellous Day

The first Sunday of the month is volunteer task day and this morning we were continuing work on the path between Goosander and Lapwing hide. The path is being trimmed back and the gravel surface cleaned of grass and other growth,. In addition we are opening up sheltered clearings along the path to increase interest. At one point we are making a solitary bee nesting bank, it is always worth making use of suitable ground for these kind of features which can be quiet rare.

Out on the reserve there were lots of visitors enjoying the cool sunshine. There were birds to see to, especially from Goosander hide where the feeding frenzy is still in full swing. There were 50 or more grey heron, several little egret, both great white egret and lots of cormorant, with gulls and grebes there to mop up the small fry.

The ferrunginous duck seems to have departed, probably for Kingfisher Lake and the wood sandpiper also appears to have left after a rather long stay. There was still a common sandpiper and at least 2 green sandpiper though and a rather unexpected redshank, not a bird we see much other than in spring and summer at Blashford.

Elsewhere there were 2 pintail on Ivy Lake along with 6 wigeon and I saw at least 300 coot on Rockford Lake. In the willows around the reserve there were good numbers of chiffchaff, but no other small migrants that I could locate. A few swallow were passing through, including at least one rather late adult, most at this time are juveniles. First thing this morning there were 60 or so house martin over Ibsley Water although I saw none later in the day.

Locking up there was a considerable gull roost developing and I noticed that there were a lot of very dark backed individuals amongst the lesser black-backed gull flock, a much higher percentage than we see in the winter, an indication of birds from further north and east in Europe passing through.

The sunshine brought out a few butterflies and I saw a good few speckled wood and several small copper around the reserve. The cool night was not the best for moths but the trap did contain one of my favourite species, a merveille du jour.

Merveille du Jour

merveille du jour

Other moths were red-line Quaker, large yellow underwing, lunar underwing, beaded chestnut, black rustic and deep-brown dart.

 

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September’s End

Another fine day although with more of an autumnal feel that yesterday. There was still mist over the lakes as I opened the hides, from Tern hide the highlight was the unringed great white egret flying past the hide, heading south.

I made the most of the cooler conditions to go and do some path trimming, in places the bramble growth has pushed the path almost completely off the gravel surface. I was working near the southern end of Ellingham Lake  and the hedge there has some large ivy growths, some of it now flowering and on these I saw a few of the ivy bee Colletes hederae. This is quite large for a solitary bee and flying so late in the season is very obvious, so it seems extraordinary that it was only described as new to science in 1993, since when it has been found over much of Europe. It was first found in the UK in Dorset in 2001 and has now spread as far north as Norfolk.

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Ivy bee Colletes hederae

In the late afternoon I went over to Goosander and Lapwing hides. In the reedbed and willows there were a few chiffchaff but no other migrants. From Lapwing hide I saw 2 green sandpiper and at least 1 common sandpiper. The screens overlooking the silt pond behind Lapwing hide proved worth a look with 2 mandarin and 2 snipe on show and some bullfinch in the willows.

At Goosander hide there has been a feeding frenzy going on for many days now. The cormorant seem to have got a large shoal of small carp hemmed in the bay near the hide and they are attracting everything that can swallow a small fish. There were the cormorant of course along with little egret, a great white egret (Walter this time), grey heron, great crested grebe, little grebe, black-headed gull and even mallard. The mallard and gulls are mostly steeling dropped fish, but a lot of the cormorant seem not to be bothering to eat everything they catch. Sometimes the cormorant are coming up with large perch or even pike, these are also in on the hunt for small carp, but run the risk of becoming a meal themselves in the process.

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Cormorant flock fishing for carp

The cormorant dive for the fish which are driven into the weedy shallows in an attempt to escape, where they then run into the line of heron and egret.

Goosander hide feeding frenzy

Grey heron, little egret and great white egret waiting to the carp to be driven near to the shore

Finally, as I locked up the tern hide right at the end of the day I was delighted to see the reported wood sandpiper just in front of the hide. It was a juvenile, with fresh yellowish spangled feathers looking very splendid in the golden glow of the setting sun. To add to the scene the grey phalarope flew in and landed some 100m away, despite trying I could not see the juvenile garganey that was also seen earlier, but tomorrow is another day.

 

The White Stuff

A Red Letter Day for Fishlake Meadows today, we finally have some cattle on site! We had hoped they would be on much earlier and next year I am sure we will. They will be grazing in Ashley Meadow for the next few weeks, hopefully helping us to maintain the rich fen habitat.

English White cattle on Ashley Meadow

British White cattle on Ashley Meadow

As we were unable to graze the meadow earlier in the year we did take a hay cut from about half of the field.

Ashley Meadow

Ashley Meadow showing the boundary between the cut and uncut areas

The intention is to maintain a mix of tall and slightly shorter herbage with very few trees and shrubs. Such habitats are very rich in plants and as a result invertebrates. Mowing certainly can deliver this, but the act of mowing is rather dramatic, eliminating large areas of habitat at a stroke, by contrast grazing achieves a similar result but at a more gradual pace. Gazing animals will also favour some areas and species over others so the variability in height, what is known as the “structure” of the grassland will be greater.

When I was in Ashley Meadow preparing for the arrival of the cattle today I saw a good range of species including several very smart small copper.

small copper

small copper

There was a very interesting article in a recent issue of British Wildlife magazine which highlighted the effects of different grassland management regimes on spider populations and species. I have not managed to identify the one below yet, but I saw it lurking on a flower waiting for an unwary insect to be lured in.

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crab spider on fleabane flower

When looking at grassland management there are many considerations, should it be mown or grazed,or both, most hayfields are cut for the hay crop and then grazed later in the season. Traditional hay meadows were cut around or just after mid-summer and this favoured plants that set seed by this time like yellow rattle or which spread vegetatively. Modern grass cropping by silage making produces a much larger grass crop but the grassland is more or less a mono-culture, the land may be green but it is certainly not pleasant as far as most wildlife is concerned.

Once the cutting regime is settled there is grazing to consider, but not all animals graze in the same way, sheep and horses cut the grass short using their teeth, cattle rip the grass in tufts using their tongue to gather each bunch. The resulting grassland will look very different and be home to very different wildlife. Timing of grazing will also make a big difference, mid-late summer grazing tends to produce the most diverse flora, but this will vary with location and ground type.

Lastly different breed of animals will graze in different ways, our cattle at Fishlake are British Whites, a traditional bred that will eat grass but also likes to mix in some rougher sedge and other herbage as well as some tree leaves and twigs, ideal for a site such as Fishlake Meadows.

It was not only a white themed day at Fishlake, as I locked up at Blashford Lakes the view from Tern hide was filled with birds, in particular 13 brilliant white little egret and 2 great white egret.

herons egrets and cormorants

egrets, herons and cormorants

Ibsley Water has been attracting huge numbers of fish eating birds recently, with up to 300 cormorant, over 100 grey heron and the egrets, although I have failed to see them there have also been 2 cattle egret seen.

Ivy Lake has also produced a few notable records int he last few days, yesterday a bittern was photographed flying past Ivy South hide, far and away our earliest reserve record, but with the British population doing much better these days perhaps something we will get used to as young birds disperse. There have also been a few notable ducks, yesterday a juvenile garganey and today 4 wigeon , 3 pintail and a few shoveler as well as good numbers of gadwall and a dozen or so teal.

Listing, Lessons and Speculations

Like lots of people who look at wildlife I cannot resist keeping lists, not usually very thorough and I usually lose interest in about mid-February each year. So far I have kept going and find that I have seen 116 species of birds so far this year, all of them in Hampshire and at least 105 of them on visits to Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust reserves.

Of the 116 species I can see that five of them are introduced alien species (Canada goose, Egyptian goose, Mandarin duck, pheasant and red-legged partridge) and another an introduced population of a former native (greylag).  All of these  have been either introduced for “sport” or escaped from parkland collections.

Of the native species I am struck by the many species that have changed their status radically since I arrived in Hampshire. There are various reasons for this, the white trio of little egret (now breeding), great white egret (soon to be breeding here?) and spoonbill (perhaps likewise), have increased in number and range right across western Europe. The same could be said for Cetti’s warbler, avocet, yellow-legged gull and Mediterranean gull.

Birds of prey have increased, more or less across the board and seeing red kite, marsh harrier and peregrine is not now especially notable and buzzard has spread right across the county rather than being a New Forest bird. All of these species have benefited from a more benign environment, in which they are less exposed to harmful chemicals and suffer less persecution, at least in lowland England. One other species has gained from the same change is the raven, which now nests across most of the county. Goshawk has also colonised the county and benefited similarly, although the population is of escaped , or released, origin.

When I first came to Hampshire in 1978 there was no accepted record of ring-billed gull and I am not sure there was even such a thing as a Caspian gull thought about.

I estimate that if I had been doing the same thing forty years ago my list would most likely not have included at least 14 of those I have seen this year, so more than 10% of my list are birds that would have seemed remarkable then. Of course there would have been some species that I would have expected to see then by mid January, that we have now more or less lost, or at least which now need more particular seeking. For example Bewick’s swan, white-fronted goose, grey partridge, willow tit, corn bunting, yellowhammer and tree sparrow.

So listing may well be a rather pointless exercise in many ways but reflecting upon my list so far certainly tells a story of how much has changed and of course makes one think how much might change in the future. So what might a list in another forty years include?

I suspect we will have established populations of additional alien species, most likely is ring-necked parakeet (I suspect this will happen quite soon), but I think black swan may also get a firmer foothold too and Egyptian goose could become very common. Who knows perhaps even sacred ibis could make it over here in time if the continental populations develop uncontrolled.

Natural colonists that look like becoming regulars include, cattle egret and glossy ibis, both already occasional visitors. It is interesting to note the preponderance of wetland birds that are expanding their ranges. A bit of a wildcard might be the potential for a whole range of essentially  Pacific Arctic species to turn up as winter vagrants. The ice melt along the northern coast of Russia has opened up a route for many previously unconsidered species. The occurrence in Europe in recent years of slaty-backed gull hints at the potential for species to come via this route in years to come.

Unfortunately I think a lot of species are going to get much rarer. Coastal species will be under particular pressure, in forty years time there will be little or no saltmarsh along most of the Solent shoreline and much reduced mudflats, so wintering coastal wader populations will surely be much reduced. Couple this with and increase in “short-stopping”, which means that wintering birds coming from the north and east just don’t come so far in the increasingly mild winters. Overall I think it certain that the Solent will not be nearly so significant for wintering wetland birds.

This discussion of change is only considering the winter, our breeding birds could be in for at least as great a change, who knows I might speculate on this in a later blog.

 

A Day Unparalleled

Although I failed to see it a when I opened up this morning, the grey phalarope remained on Ibsley Water as did a juvenile black tern and the two ruff. A feature of recent days on this lake has been the mass fishing events, when a flock of cormorant, sometimes a hundred or more will act together to drive  large shoal of small fish into a corner. This attracts grey heron, little egret and the great white egret, which patrol the shallows, everyone gets some fish, sometimes several, which shows just how big the shoal must be.

The swallow and martin flock was perhaps a little smaller today, but still ran to several thousand and once again included a single swift. However it was not the birds that made for an “Unparalleled” day, it was a moth, a Clifden nonpareil, or blue underwing.

Clifden Nonpareil

Clifden nonpareil in egg boxes from the moth trap.

These are very large and, until recently, very rare moths. Having become extinct in the UK they turned up only as rare migrants until recolonizing about ten years ago. The New Forest area seems to be their stronghold now and in the last few years we have seen one or two each year, but they at still a real treat. It is just a shame it did not turn up yesterday for the moth event.

Big Blue headshot

Clifden nonpareil close up.

We have been doing quite a lot of grass cutting recently, some areas we are managing like meadows to increase the variety of wild flowers and this means we have to cut and remove the bulk of the grass by the end of the growing season. Today we cut areas of the sweep meadow used by education groups near the Ivy North hide. In this areas we cut in alternate years to leave longer herbage for over-wintering insects. If we leave it uncut for too long bramble and small trees start to colonise and many of the grassland plants, upon which so many insects depend, disappear.

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A meadow area near Lapwing hide prior to cutting.

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Meadow area near Lapwing hide after cutting.

The grass is raked up and piled into a heap which should provide a good place for grass snakes to breed next year, especially if the heap is in a sunny spot.

Goosander Hide Highlights

The Goosander hide has been attracting people from far and wide recently, especially photographers in search of that illusive kingfisher shot. However, as is often the way, the kingfisher does not always play along, luckily it is not only a place to get kingfisher shots and we have been send a selection of great images taken from there recently by Mark Wright, here are a few of them.

There have been lots of herons around recently and they do not always get on well.

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Grey herons having a disagreement by Mark Wright

Of course not all herons are grey.

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“Walter” the great white egret by Mark Wright

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Little and Large, “Walter” with a smaller companion by Mark Wright

Since my observation of Walter taking a fish from in front of a cormorant he seems to have developed a limp, it could be the cormorant had a go at him as they can be quite aggressive. Hopefully he will recover  soon and continue on.

Not all the birds are large, there have been a number of grey wagtail close to the hide recently.

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Juvenile grey wagtail by Mark Wright

And not all the wildlife there is birds.

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Fallow deer doe by Mark Wright

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young fox by Mark Wright

Then of course there are always the occasional opportunities to get shots of kingfisher as well.

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Kingfisher by Mark Wright

Many thanks to Mark for sending us such a great series of shots.

Birds and a (mini) Beast

As promised here are a couple of excellent pictures of the avocet that dropped into Blashford Lakes on Monday, many thanks to Keith Beswick for sending them in.

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Avocet by Keith Beswick

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Avocet by Keith Beswick

What is immediately obvious is that this is a juvenile bird, the brownish feathers would be black in an adult. Juvenile birds tend to turn up in slightly unusual places as they learn about their environment and where best to be, this one will probably join the large wintering flock in Poole Harbour.

Signs of the changing season are all around now, opening the Tern hide yesterday I saw 8 shoveler, 7 teal, a wigeon (although this was probably the bird that summered with us), a shelduck and a garganey. There were also at least 3 common sandpiper and a green sandpiper. At the end of the day the lake was dominated by fish-eating birds with at least 50 grey heron, 6 little egret, 1 great white egret (“Walter”) and 195 cormorant.

During the day I was working with the volunteers on efforts to establish a grassland in the old concrete plant site, we are making good progress and I think it will be a valuable addition to the reserve. The new path is still not open yet as the necessary agreements with our landlords are still not in place. On our way back for lunch the volunteers found a splendid caterpillar, it reminded me of Dougal the dog, a reference that will date me for those who recognise it.

sycamore caterpillar

sycamore caterpillar

The sycamore moth is rather a dull pale grey species but the caterpillar is a wonderful creature.

Reserve Visiting

I have just returned from a holiday up north where I visited a few reserves myself, but the title here refers to a visitor we had at Blashford today, an avocet. Not perhaps quite the rarity they once were, but still very unusual, unfortunately I missed it. It flew in in the early afternoon and gave good views for  a short time from the Tern hide, I am told there are pictures too, so perhaps some will make it here. I then discovered that there had been an avocet at the Trust’s new Fishlake Meadows reserve in Romsey at about 11:30 and that it had flown off heading west, it seems highly probable that these two sightings relate to the same bird travelling between the two reserves.

The one problem with going away is the number of things that have to be caught up on when you get back and the dread emails kept me in the office for a fair bit of the day, which is not to say that I did not get out on the reserve as well. The sun had brought out a few butterflies, but numbers are on the decline now. I did find a very smart comma near the Goosander hide.

comma

comma

Not far away I also came across a female Roesel’s bush-cricket sitting on one of our benches.

Roesel's bush cricket female

Roesel’s bush-cricket

Looking from Tern hide I saw Walter the great white egret now looking very relaxed with a large group of grey heron. The herons seem not to take so much notice of him these days, at one time they would constantly be chasing him around, perhaps they have just got used to him. It is a curious thing that when little egret were first turning up they were often mobbed by gulls but now they are just ignored. Perhaps there is something about the unusual that elicits these responses and once something is regular they just become part of the scenery.

Locking up I was pleased to see that at least one of our wasp spiders is still going, I am not sure if something has predated the others or if they have laid their eggs. This one looks a though it will not be long before she lays her eggs and disappears.

wasp spider female

wasp spider, female

Update 1

A few sightings from the last couple of days:

Yesterday (Sunday): On Ibsley Water the female red-breasted merganser was again with a group of goosander and the black-necked grebe was frequenting the northern part of the lake, as they usually do. The more regularly seen of the two ring-billed gull was in early, being seen from about 1pm and later the roost included Mediterranean and yellow-legged gulls as well. The water pipit was showing well first thing from Tern hide, which was good as there was fog at the time and the only other bird visible was a single tufted duck.

Elsewhere, there were firecrest at the Woodland hide and in the holly trees alongside the Dockens Water, today there were two reported from the area between the Woodland hide and Ivy North. The water rail was again in the pool under the alders close to the Woodland hide, showing very well and others were seen from Ivy North hide. The bittern showed at times from Ivy North, as it did again today and “Walter” the great white egret was perched on a branch there all afternoon and was joined by the second bird at roost in the dead alder at dusk, there were both there again this evening too.

At the Woodland hide the food is attracting 2 or 3 brambling and lots of chaffinch, also around 5 or so reed bunting as well as all the regulars.

Opening up this morning I saw 5 raven on the eastern side of Ibsley Water, whilst at dusk  a ring-billed gull was reported again, although viewing conditions were difficult.

Some news from just up the road, a cattle egret was found with a small group of little egret in a field beside Church Lane at Harbridge.

I did run the moth trap last night, but the moth list for 2017 remains the same, with just mottled umber and winter moth so far.

Weaving willow for birds

Today our Young Naturalists were back at Blashford for their December session and we began the day with a quick look in the light trap. It really was a quick look, with only two moths present, a December moth and a Red-line Quaker:

We then headed over to our willow wood for a morning of pollarding the willows and turning our cut stems into a number of simple platforms for nesting birds. In particular, Bob has Little egrets in mind, so fingers crossed they may be tempted by our creations! Little egrets tend to nest in colonies, with coastal birds preferring small colonies or even nesting alone. Their nests are usually small platforms made of sticks, 30-35cm wide and 10-15cm high. Hopefully our platforms will be a good starting point for nest building once they have been carefully positioned out on the reserve.

We began pollarding one section while volunteer Geoff carefully strimmed another part of the area, so we would be able to see all the hidden holes and dips in the uneven ground.

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Edie and Poppy pollarding

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Will and Jackson pollarding

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Geoff strimming

We then used some of our cuttings to weave the nesting platforms, trying out both a round and circular design. I’m not sure which, if any, the birds will prefer!

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Weaving a round platform from the pollarded willow

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Three of our finished platforms

We will have to see what the birds, and Bob, make of them, but they’re a good start!

After lunch we visited Goosander, Lapwing and Ivy North hides and were rewarded with a good mix of birds including a kingfisher, a number of goosander and flocks of siskins jingling around the tree tops in search of seeds. Sadly there was no bittern to be seen, but one was seen yesterday.

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Great crested grebe by Talia Felstead

 

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Snoozing Tufted duck by Talia Felstead

Thanks everyone for your hard work today and to volunteers Geoff and Nigel for helping out.

Our Young Naturalists group is generously supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. Do visit their newly re-launched website to find out more.

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