30 Days Wild- Day 16: The Curlew’s Cry

I spent a good part of the day at a small reserve in the New Forest at Linwood where we are discussing a habitat restoration project with the Our Past, Our Present Heritage Lottery project. The reserve is small but interesting as it is in the New Forest but not grazed by livestock. It is mainly woodland of quite recent origin and within the trees are areas of mire and it is maintaining these that is the objective. The open history of the site is attested by the patches of bog myrtle and the rare white sedge. The sedge is not that rare nationally but is predominantly a northern and western species and is rare in southern England.

white sedge

white sedge

The New Forest is something of a haven in southern England for species that are otherwise typically more often found northern or even upland areas. The reason is mainly that it is one of the few areas with bogs and mires in this part of the country. One of the once typical birds of such places, the curlew called repeatedly from the open bog beyond the reserve as we were looking around. There are now only about 40 pairs remaining in the New Forest and breeding success is worryingly low. As with many other species habitat change is probably a major factor nationally, but within the New Forest increasing recreation is probably a factor too, since the habitat appears to remain much as before.

There was not much news from Blashford, although the second year little gull was still to be seen from Tern hide.

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30 Days Wild – Day 15: Trying to Impress

I was out on the eastern side of Ibsley Water with the volunteers this morning to clear the areas we cut and which are grazed by ponies of ragwort. It is toxic to animals, but they will usually not eat when it is growing, however they will if it is cut and gets mixed with grass or hay. At one time it was one of the commonest plants in this area but now it is much reduced and overall the grassland is looking much better, with quite a good range of species. A couple of highlights this morning were several patches of corky-fruited water-dropwort.

IMG_1455

corky-fruited water-dropwort

Corky-fruited water-dropwort is an Umbellifer, one of the carrot family and is very attractive to insects, this one had lots of pollen beetles on it. It is quiet frequent in unimproved grasslands in a swathe roughly south of the M4, so it is pleasing to see it at Blashford where the grassland is still recovering from the ravages of mineral extraction. Another find was knotted clover, a plant of dry sandy places, often near the coast, I am not sure if I have found it at Blashford previously.

knotted clover

knotted clover

At lunchtime I tried the pheromone lures for clearwing moths again, completely without success. However I did spot a handsome black-and-yellow longhorn beetle.

black-and-yellow longhorn beetle Rutpela maculata

black-and-yellow longhorn beetle Rutpela maculata.

After doing various odd jobs in the afternoon I went to lock up the hides and found a pair of crab spiders on a hemlock water-dropwort flower head, The male is quite different from the female and a lot smaller so he has to tread carefully if he is not going to get eaten.

crab spider pair

crab spider pair

It seemed it was not only the spiders that were making plans, on a nearby ox-eye daisy I saw a female hoverfly Eristalis horticola, with a male hovering low over her and darting from side to side. I am not sure if she was impressed but he was trying hard to dazzle her with his advanced hovering skills.

Eristalis horticola pair

Eristalis horticola pair

I also found another slime mould, on the same log as the one the other day, although this was clearly a different species.

slime mould

slime mould

The only new bird sighting of note today was of a first summer little gull as I locked Tern hide. It was pleasing to see that the single oystercatcher chick from gull island has fledged and that the remaining one near Tern hide is close to doing so. In additions the single large lapwing chick is also close to flying and two of the smaller ones are still going strong. Even better was a sighting of two well grown little ringed plover chicks today. On Ivy Lake the common tern chicks are growing well and most broods seem to still be of three chicks.

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

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

Trying to Spring

Spring has stuttered somewhat this week, with the return of night frosts and a chilly northerly wind. With continuing sunny days this has not had too much effect on many species but the cold nights have really hit the moths. Recent days have been seeing just a handful of moths in the trap at most. Some of the highlights have been a couple of great prominent.

great prominent

great prominent

The first pale prominent of the year.

pale prominent

pale prominent

And, yesterday a spectacle.

spectacle

spectacle

One hazard that we have to watch very closely when checking the moth trap is our resident robin, it has got very tame and will dive in and grab a moth if given the smallest chance.

The sunny days are still good for butterflies and other insects and this spring has been one of the best in recent years to spring insects. One of the typical spring hoverflies, Epistrophe eligans is quite frequent along the wooded paths now.

Epistrophe eligans

Epistrophe eligans (male)

There are also good numbers of green tiger beetle in the sandier areas of the reserve, these are very active, running fast and flying very readily, a proper challenge to photograph!

green tiger beetle

green tiger beetle

On the bird front yesterday saw our first black tern of the year over Ibsley Water, along with the Bonaparte’s gull, little gull and the return of the male ruff first seen on Sunday, but apparently not on Monday.

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.

Late Spring Colour

After a few days of properly sunny weather things are picking up on the reserve now, with more and more insects in evidence each day. There are lots of damselflies about and today I added azure damselfly to my species list for the year. I also saw my first Blashford holly blue and small copper today, often the spring brood of small copper can pass almost un-noticed, so maybe there will be really big numbers by the autumn, something to look forward to. The holly blue was near the Centre, first spotted flying round the tree tops but then it dropped down to drink from the damp ground beside the puddle outside the Centre entrance.

holly blue drinking

holly blue drinking

The recent southerly winds have also resulted in a modest arrival of large white and red admiral, fresh in from the south.

red damiral

red admiral

Other insects today included common malachite beetle, the more frequent cousin to the very rare and beautiful scarlet malachite beetle, which is actually found within just a couple of miles of the reserve.

common malachite beetle

common malachite beetle

The most notable insect of the day though was a rather rare and splendid hoverfly, a species associated with old woodland and no doubt on the reserve because of our direct link to the New Forest, it goes by the name Brachypalpoides lentus. It flies about through the vegetation like a parasitic wasp and even mimics their behaviour by trembling its body when at rest, just as the wasps do.

Brachypalpoides lentus

Brachypalpoides lentus

There are a lot more flowers coming out now, which probably pleases the insects, the hawthorn is in full bloom as is the broom, although I think our broom is actually a planted alien species called hairy-fruited broom rather than the native.

broom

broom in flower

The day was not wholly about insects though. On Ibsley Water the immature little gull is still to be seen, usually just to the east of Tern hide. A little further away on the longer shingle spit there was a very smart drake garganey this morning and as I locked up there was a single Arctic tern over the lake with the usual dozen or so common tern.

 

Downy Day

Despite apparently good weather for migrants, with lots of terns being seen ont he coast today, there was not sign of any “action” at Blashford. The little gull was again reported, although I cannot see it for looking.

The volunteers were in today and we did the most glamorous of tasks, building a fox-proof (hopefully) box, to store our rubbish bags in when we put them out for collection.

Although there were no new birds, there were new insects. The Centre pond had seen an emergence of downy emerald dragonflies, although they may have regretted coming out into the rain this morning.

downy emerald

newly emerged downy emerald

This is one of the earliest dragonflies to emerge and perhaps it is downy to help it keep warm. It is usually associated with lakes and large ponds with trees surround the banks, but recently it has become one of the commonest species in the small Centre dipping pond.

As well as being downy they are also very green. Interestingly they assume pretty much their full colour in just a few hours, unlike the many blue species which take several days to develop their colouration.

downy emerald detail 2

downy emerald in close-up, showing how it gets the name.

 

These are the Days

There can be few things better than getting out into the countryside on a fine May day and this is exactly what I did over the weekend. On Sunday I was at Blashford and on Saturday, on something of a busman’s holiday, visiting another Trust reserve at Noar Hill.

Noar Hill is a well known site for  arrange of chalkland butterflies, at this time of year this especially means the Duke of Burgundy fritillary. They did not disappoint, with several dozen seen in fine, warm sunshine. Their caterpillars feed on cowslip and it was easy to see what they like about this site as there must be thousands of cowslip plants all over the hill.

Duke of Burgundy 2

Duke of Burgundy fritillary

There were also a fair few other butterflies, including green hairstreak and dingy skipper.

dingy skipper

dingy skipper

For a single season we had a small colony of these skippers at Blashford, but they have not been seen since.

The weather was still very warm on Sunday and once again the insects were out in numbers. At last I saw some damselflies, in fact three species, the common blue, large red and blue-tailed. I visited the sandy bank where I saw the solitary bees nests a couple of weeks ago. The same species were there again along with some new ones, one of which was a tiny parasitic species, another nomad bee called the little nomad bee, if I have identified it correctly.

little nomad bee

little nomad bee

Elsewhere on the reserve I found a lot of unidentified solitary bees feeding on the flowers of field maple, I had never before realised just how attractive these flowers are to bees.

field maple flowers

flowering field maple

Some other trees have long finished flowering and are now in seed, none more obviously so than the willow, which spread seed on the wind making it fall like snow along the path edges.

willow in seed

seeding willow

The last couple of days have seen a few birds of note. On Saturday a sanderling and a little gull were seen on Ibsley Water and today there were four black tern reported there along with a little gull and a turnstone. On Sunday a hobby spent much of the day over the lake and a female marsh harrier flew north up the valley, whilst red kite and raven have been seen everyday recently. Unfortunately I managed to get pictures of none of these, all I can offer is a stock dove snapped in the shadow at the end of the day from the Woodland hide on Sunday.

stock dove

stock dove on feeder

 

Didn’t tern up today

Weather like today often brings in large numbers of black terns and with the lovely bird mentioned by Bob in his last post I had high hopes, despite Bobs suggestion at the end of yesterday that it was still a bit early in the year… so when I opened up I suppose I shouldn’t have been too disappointed that there weren’t any, not even the bird that had been around the last couple of days!

So I was grateful to David for sending this picture of yesterdays black tern, as well as one of the little gull which was at least still here today!

Black tern by David Stanley Ward

Black tern by David Stanley-Ward

Little gull by David Stanley Ward

Little gull by David Stanley-Ward

What there was, apart from the little gull, was a large number of sand martins, house martins and a good number of swifts – the first I’ve seen this year. Talking of firsts the sunshine of Wednesday seems along time ago today but I also saw my first large red damselfly of the year then – not at Blashford but actually on my way back here from our head office near Botley where it alighted on the grass by the small pond there when I was passing.

Keeping with the bee theme from Bobs last post here is a red-tailed bumble bee nectaring on ground ivy, sent in by Andy:

orange tail bumble bee

red tailed bumble bee by Andy Copleston

Woodland Hide is definitely getting quieter this week – Bobs male brambling doesn’t seem to have hung around but there was a female out there today, and there are still a few siskin. Finally a selection of common Blashford birds taken and sent in during the last fortnight by Adrian Moore:

Wren by Adrian Moore

Wren by Adrian Moore

Long tailed tit by Adrian Moore

Long tailed tit by Adrian Moore

Pochard by Adrian Moore

Pochard by Adrian Moore