A Misty Morning

A fine and frosty morning, perhaps the first that has felt properly wintry. Having scraped the frost from my windscreen I headed to Blashford across a New Forest washed with mist. I stopped briefly near our reserve at Linwood and took the picture below.

Lookinmg across Dockens Valley S of Linwood

The valley of the Dockens Water on a frosty morning

In the Avon Valley the mist was thicker and there was almost nothing within viewing range at the hides, but it still made for an atmospheric scene.

misty morning over Ivy Lake

The misty view from Ivy South hide

The mist soon cleared and the day was a fine one for working with the volunteers out on the reserve. Our team is somewhat larger than usual at present as we have two Apprentice Rangers from the New Forest National Park working on the reserve until early January. Today we were felling grey alder trees on the path towards Lapwing hide. These trees are similar to our native alder but tend to grow rather larger and faster and have a habit of spreading far and wide by seed. We are removing them to allow the native alder to grow unhindered and diversify the habitat along the path edges where more light will now get down to the ground layer.

felling grey alder

Felling grey alder beside the path to Lapwing hide

I took advantage of the fine evening to make a count of the goosander roost, I managed to see at least 118 gathered in two groups near the Goosander hide, there were at least 35 adult drakes, very close to the average of one third that I have recorded over many years. The rest were what are known as “redheads” that is birds with grey bodies and reddish-brown heads, these will include both adult females and immature birds of both sexes. Other bird in the bay were a single green sandpiper very close to the hide and at least 14 goldeneye.

Yesterday evening as I closed Ivy North hide I could clearly see 4 great white egret roosting in the dead alder trees. I have suspected there were more than the three that are often seen for sometime now but have been unable to prove it before. Generally yesterday was a better day for bird sightings despite the poorer weather, but then using a chainsaw all day is not particularly conducive to seeing birds! Other sightings yesterday included the black-necked grebe on Ibsey Water, along with at least 78 pochard, a good count these days and all the better as there were at least 73 on Ivy Lake as well. Ten or twenty years ago these figures would have been unremarkable, but these ducks are in decline all over Europe for a variety of reasons including lowered breed success due to a significant imbalance of the sexes.

Out on the reserve yesterday I flushed a woodcock between Goosander and Lapwing hides, my first of the winter, whilst in the same area 2 raven flew over and a chiffchaff was calling in the willows. At dusk I took a quick look at the gull roost, I could not find the ring-billed gull, but there were at least 11 yellow-legged gull, all adult and including the atypical adult bird with the heavily marked head. Yellow-legged gull adults usually have all white heads in winter, in contrast to most of the other large gulls, this well marked bird is similar to those of the race that is found on the Azores,  separated as the race “atlantis”. Gull watching came to an end when an adult female peregrine made several low passes over the roost, scattering it in all directions.

With more wintry weather it is perhaps unsurprising that the moth trap is getting quieter, despite this, but appropriate to the season recent catches have included Winter moth, December moth and mottled umber.

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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.

First Moth

New Year’s Day saw the usual good numbers of visitors out to start their bird list for the year. The day started well, and there were a good range of species to be seen. All the usual ducks were on show, including 6 pintail on Iblsey Water. Around the shore of the lake there were several raven and right below the Tern hide the water pipit was picking along the shore, giving some of the best views I have had of this species.

On Ivy Lake “Walter”, our regular great white egret was on show, but the bittern failed to make an appearance. Other species there included water rail and Cetti’s warbler at Ivy North hide.

The Woodland hide was alive with birds, 50 or more chaffinch were joined by at least one brambling and there were also greenfinch, siskin, goldfinch and a lesser redpoll.

Unfortunately the weather let us down later in the day, with rain, accompanied by a cold NNE wind sending most people home before it got dark and certainly curtailed any real efforts to look through the gull roost.

The Pop up Café proved popular once again and will return later this month if you missed it.

We also recorded our first moth of the year, a mottled umber. It was a male, as most moths in the trap are. Male moths fly about more than females as the try to seek out a mate and so are more likely to fly near to the light. Mottled umber females do not fly at all an dare more or less wingless, so the males have to seek them out as they sit on tree trunks waiting.

mottled-umber

mottled umber

 

 

December Moths

Yes, there really are moths that fly in December. You might think that all moths fly on warm summer nights, which most do, but there are moths flying at all times of the year.  One of them is actually called the “December moth” and as the name suggests it flies mainly in December. Perhaps because of this habit of flying on rather cool nights, it comes with quite a shaggy fur coat.December moth

You can see that this male December moth has large feathered antennae, these are used to detect the female’s pheromones and so find her as quickly as possible. This style of antenna is shared with another of the moths of December, the appropriately named feathered thorn.feathered thorn

Like most other moths both sexes of the above species can fly. A number of other winter flying moths have females that are wingless or, more accurately, with such tiny wings that they cannot fly. This enables them to put as many resources as possible into egg production. There are several such species, one of which is the mottled umber, a very variable moth. Inevitably it is only ever the males that come to the moth light! The females wait on a tree trunk to be found by the males, who use the pheromone scent carried on the breeze to find them.mottled umber

The tactic obviously works as one of other species that also has flightless females is the winter moth, which is mostly about between November and January and is very common and widespread, it is even found on Shetland. In fact it is so common, that it seems that blue tits actually time their breeding so that their chicks can be fed on the huge number of winter moth caterpillars to be found on many species of tree in May.

These winter-flying moths are interesting, why do they fly in the coldest months? They cannot feed on nectar as many other moths do, as there are no flowers, actually not as much of a problem as it might sound as quite a few summer flying species do not feed as adults. But flying in the cold is more of a problem, their flight muscles need to be above a certain temperature to allow flight, so they mostly fly on the warmer winter nights, recent nights have been kind to them in this regard. A clear advantage of winter flight is that there are many fewer bats about and bats eat a lot of moths!

I have mentioned one of the advantages of having flightless females, they can lay more eggs. However you would imagine that being flightless would be a real drawback when it comes to dispersal, males can fly off, but this is useless if the females cannot move. Males might find ideal new habitat but they cannot colonise it without females. It is hard to imagine a caterpillar or an adult female walking more than the distance from one tree to the next in each generation, so a few metres each year, at that rate they would have not have spread more than a few kilometres since the ice receded and the land bridge to Europe was cut off! (assuming of course that they got to the land bridge at all). So how have they become so nearly ubiquitous across the UK?. It turns out it is the caterpillars that fly, they use a technique like that of spiders, known as “ballooning”. The small caterpillars go to a high point and produce a long strand of silk and get carried off by the breeze, sometimes for long distances.

A happy (and a not so happy) ending…

A beautiful day drew in a steady stream of visitors to the reserve throughout the day – with great views of bittern (from Ivy North hide) and kingfisher (on Ivy Silt Pond) and also reports of the red crested pochard (from Goosander Hide). Much of the wildfowl was concentrated around the eastern side of Ibsley Water so the best views were always going to be from Goosander and Lapwing Hides, but I took this picture of wigeon and coot when I opened up Tern this morning:

View from Tern Hide this morning

View from Tern Hide this morning

I failed (again!) to see bittern, but the early morning sun gave the reed on Ivy Lake, where one would be seen later in the day, quite beautiful  and almost ethereal:

Ivy Reed beds

Ivy Reed beds

Nothing out of the ordinary was to be seen from Ivy South either, but still worth a picture of a nice assemblage of wildfowl, including wigeon, coot, tufted duck, gadwall and great crested grebe:

View from Ivy South Hide

View from Ivy South Hide

Given the recent mild (and dry) weather I decided to run the light trap last night as it had not been run for weeks, if not months – and of course it cleared overnight to a frosty start this morning! None the less I am able to report 3 species as having been on the wing last night (albeit only 5 individual moths actually caught) – December moth, mottled umber and scarce umber. Pictured here are the December moth and mottled umber, both quite attractive species, the December moth especially so with it’s warm “woolly coat” and heavily feathered antennae, necessary to help keep the insect insulated against the winter cold!

Mottled umber

Mottled umber

December moth

December moth

 

A close up of those remarkable antennae!

A close up of those remarkable antennae!

As for the blog title? I’m delighted, and more than a little surprised, to report a happy ending for a mute swan that Ed and Adam retrieved from Ivy Silt Pond by boat a few weeks ago following reports of a swan in difficulties and apparently ensnared by fishing line. In fact it had swallowed the line as well as been trapped in it and really looked to be on it’s last legs. Fortunately our local wildlife rescue experts, Joel and Mike, from “Wildlife Rescue” who operate from Moyles Court, were able to take the swan in and in turn then passed it on to specialist swan rescue centre near London. Fortunately for the bird it seems that it was rescued in the nick of time and despite having swallowed a massive length of line all the way into its gizzard, there was no hook on the end of it and after several days on a drip she has made a  remarkable recovery and was released onto Ibsley Water this afternoon:

Ready, steady...

Ready, steady…

..GO!

…GO!

In less than a minute she had made new friends and was off. Aah!

In less than a minute she had made new friends and was off. Aah!

Hats off to Mike, Carla and Joel who give an inordinate amount of their time to rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife and do an absolutely remarkable job  for little or no reward other than the satisfaction that they receive from helping injured animals. Sadly I’m sure we will be in touch with them again before too long, but we at least are extremely grateful for their work – and the fact that they are so close!

On my way back across to the centre I came across another animal whose end was was not quite so happy; glancing into the river as I crossed the footbridge I saw this (once) lovely sea trout washed up in the shallows of the Dockens Water:

The untimely demise of a sea trout?

The untimely demise of a sea trout?

It isn’t ever so clear in the picture, but when I headed down the bank for a closer look it soon became apparent that the trout had actually been predated – with a big chunk of its belly missing, almost certainly the work of an otter, though it maybe that mink also leave similar tell-tale signs. It’s been a little while since we had enough rain to bring the sea trout up river with the spate conditions, so hopefully it had spawned before becoming someones dinner.

28 mm and rising – just another day at the Duck Pond

Once again the overnight and early morning rain has conspired to provide a wonderfully watery pond-scape to areas of the reserve normally considered to be part of the land!!   So much so that for the second time in a fortnight it wasn’t possible to open the Tern Hide car-park as it was underwater.  The rain gauge registering 28 mm ( that’s over an inch in ‘old money’) says it all!!!

Being a Sunday Conservation team day, we were blessed with dry weather for the morning period and managed to coppice and pollard a small area of willow that had become a little unkempt over the years.  Being quite close to the Centre was an advantage as although it stayed dry and at times even sunny, we weren’t sure it would remain like that, so it offered a chance for a quick retreat if necessary.

The overnight conditions, and the time of year, weren’t conducive to encouraging many moths to fly, but we did have four moths in or around the light trap, Mottled Umber, November Moth,  Silver Y and  this delightfully named Sprawler.

A Spawler – with a wonderfully relaxed name for a moth.

 There were various reports from visitors coming in during the day of the road outside the reserve being flooded to various degrees. It looks as though the Dockens Water is not able to cope with the sheer volume of water coming off the Forest and water, as it does, finds the path of least resistance which in places is along the road.

Neverthe less we still had a steady stream of visitors, some, no doubt, attacted by the reports of reasonably good views of bittern.  For my part I’d first heard of the bittern(s) a week ago last Thursday, but still hadn’t seen it. I believe I foolishly promised some pictures last week, so when opening up the hide this morning was half hoping to see it. They say patience is a virtue, so being particularly virtuous, I was rewarded with an exceptional opportinity to photograph the beast   – which I ‘snapped up’   

Just one of the two bittern to be seen here

A Clean Sweep

Quite a contrast to yesterdays bright and breezy day, there was nothing too inspiring about the grey overcast conditions today.  The moth trap only held two species – still a 100% increase on yesterday, a Red-line Quaker and this Mottled Umber.

Mottled Umber

Whilst the falling temperatures and shorter days don’t immediately conjure up visions of the breeding season, there are just some birds who don’t know when to stop, as evidenced by this egg-shell found lying in the leaf litter alongside the path.

Breeding evidence – collared dove?

I’m no eggspert but I think it’s probably collared dove.  I’ve certainly seen them on a nest in mid-winter , on a cold a draughty railway station in January.  Presumably it’s their ability to breed all through the year that has seen the massive increase in their range.  As I understand it, if you wanted to see a collared dove a hundred years ago you would need to go to Turkey, in the intervening time they have spread right across Europe to the Atlantic coast, which rather put a crimp on further range expansion.

The entrance into the south side of the reserve had, quite frankly, got into a bit of a state with all the leaves that have fallen .

a leaf litter problem?

But with the efforts of  a sweeper and  a shoveler  as seen here :-

‘shoveler’???

It soon looked a lot clearer

A ‘clean sweep’

The bittern that was seen on Thursday, or its cousin, was again in evidence today for a lucky few.   It was seen in the reedbeds outside Ivy North Hide and some managed to capture images, but sadly not me. – so no pictures here.  Whether it was the effect of these reports or the outbreak of school half-term there were certainly a few more visitors here today.

The lakes are certainly better decorated at present with greater numbers of many common resident and winter visitors and I couldn’t resist taking a couple of pictures of some of them as they came close by the Ivy South Hide.  Perhaps most striking was this great crested grebe

Great crested grebe

and one of this years models

Young great crested grebe

and plenty of wigeon looking  autumnal in their cinnamon colours

Wigeon

and slightly understated, but nevertheless lovely birds in their own right, these gadwall

Pair of gadwall

I think Jim mentioned yesterday that brambling had been seen but the best image I could capture through the glass of the Woodland Hide in a rather gloomy setting was this one.

brambling in a badly lit woodland setting

Hopefully we’ll be publishing better pictures of this and the bittern in future postings.