A Clear(er) View

On Thursday the volunteers cleared the annual vegetation from in front of the Tern hide, we do this each year for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is that it improves the view of the nearest shore from the hide. Another is that it clears the ground for the nesting lapwing and little ringed plover next spring. There are also always some seedling bramble, birch and willow that need pulling out before they get established.

before

The shore before we started

after

and after a couple of hours of hard weeding

Looking out from the hide today this did not make much difference as visibility was seriously reduced due to persistent heavy rain. Despite this there were some birds to see, including at least 800 sand martin, 3 swift, 2 dunlin, a little ringed plover, 3 common sandpiper, 33 mute swan and 3 pochard. Ivy Lake was quieter with just a few coot, gadwall and great crested grebe, there are also still two broods of two common tern chicks on the rafts.

Today was not a day for invertebrates, but I do have one more picture from Thursday, spotted in long grass as I went round locking up, a wasp spider, my first of the year.

wasp spider

Wasp spider female with prey.

 

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30 Days Wild – Day 12

We had another National Moth Night event at Blashford on Sunday, although only a few people attended I think they all had a good time looking at a fair range of moth species and photographing a good number of them.

Out on the reserve the mute swan pair on the Ivy Silt Pond were feeding on a floating mat of branched bur-reed with their six small cygnets. Actually I must check that this is actually branched bur-reed rather than one of the other species, the New Forest is home to the much rarer floating bur-reed.

mite swan family feeding

mute swan pair and cygnets

The day was mostly dull with rain threatening, but right at the end it brightened somewhat and a few insects started to fly including my first Leucozona lucorum of the year. These hoverflies look a bit like bees, but are not that convincing compared with some other species, but perhaps the resemblance is good enough for some predators to avoid them.

Leucozona

Leucozona lucorum

It was even warm enough in the end to tempt out some grass snake and I managed to snap this one near the Centre, I think the milky eyes indicate it is about to shed its skin, which might also be why I was able to get so close.

grass snake

grass snake

A Mighty Perch has Landed

I will try and make up for the lack of any posts over the last few days by doing a short run through recent times at Blashford. On Thursday the volunteers were again busy on the western shore of Ibsley Water, raking up the grass, nettles, thistles and brambles that Ed and I were cutting. The idea is to encourage grass growth for wintering wildfowl such as wigeon and for them to leave the grass short enough for it to be suitable for lapwing to nest on in the spring. It is  a lot  of work but we are progressing steadily and hopefully we will see the effects this coming winter. It was quite warm and as we worked there were lots of butterflies, especially marbled white, meadow brown and gatekeeper.

gatekeeper

gatekeeper

At the end of the day on Thursday Ed and I set out to complete a project that he had been planning for some time, this was to put up a tall perch well out in Ibsley Water. As Ibsley Water is mostly between four and seven metres deep this was going to be quite a task.

transporting the perch

transporting the perch

After a bit of searching around for the right spot and the application of specialist perch placing skill the job was done.

the perch in place

the perch in place

All we have to do now is wait for the first osprey to land on it! So far all I have seen are common terns.

terns on the perch

terns on the perch

It was my turn to man the reserve on Saturday and despite mostly attending to office work it was a surprisingly varied day. It started with seeing a very smart adult summer plumage turnstone in front of Tern hide.

turnstone - almost a good shot, I knew we should have weeded the shore!

turnstone – almost a good shot, I knew we should have weeded the shore!

It was around all day and I am sure there will have been many good pictures taken of it, but this was my best.

turnstone

turnstone

In recent days there have been several reports of an adult Arctic tern at the Tern hide, apparently it had a ring on one leg. I photographed this one which fitted the bill in that it has a ring and a, more or less, all red bill, however this is still a common tern.

common tern, ringed adult

common tern, ringed adult

At this time of year many adult common terns bills have reduced black tips, or even no black at all, so you need to check other characters as well. In this case these are easily seen as it is perched so close to the hide. The characters to look for are: dark, almost black outer primaries (the long pointed part of the wings), on a common tern these feathers are old and very worn by now, on an Arctic tern they would be much paler grey. The legs of common tern are also longer as is the bill, but these features are of less use unless you have seen lots of Arctic terns. Sadly this shot shows none of the letters or numbers on the ring, but if anyone else gets pictures of this bird it would be great to try and see if we can read the ring and find out where it has come from.

There were also several of the fledged juvenile common terns around as well, soon these will be leaving so it is good to enjoy them whilst they are still here.

common tern, juvenile

common tern, juvenile

As I said I spent much of the day in the office, but got out on various errands as well, one was to respond to a call to say there was a mute swan stuck on the path alongside Rockford Lake.

swan on the path

swan on the path

Swans that land on Ivy Lake get attacked by the resident pair and if they fail to fly off get pushed up the bank and end up on the path where they are unable to get into Rockford Lake due to the fences. After a brief bit of swan wrestling I got the better of it and was able to lift it over the fence to join the non-breeding flock on Rockford Lake.

It was a great day for insects with lots of butterflies, dragonflies and other creatures out and about. I briefly saw a clearwing most but frustratingly failed to either get a picture or identify it before it flew off. It had been nectaring on a burdock plant at the Centre, which also had lots of tiny picture-winged flies on the flower heads.

picture-winged flies

picture-winged flies

The butterflies included lots of comma and this silver-washed fritillary.

silver-washed fritillary

silver-washed fritillary

Dragonflies included brown hawker, common darter, emperor, a probable migrant hawker and this black-tailed skimmer, which I found eating a damselfly.

black-tailed skimmer

black-tailed skimmer, female

How long will it be before the first osprey lands on the new perch? I for one will be very disappointed if there has not been at least one by the end of August.

Other bird sightings during the day included the great white egret on Ivy Lake, a green sandpiper on Rockford Lake and common sandpiper, dunlin, juvenile redshank and a report of a wood sandpiper all on Ibsley Water. I would be keen to hear more about the last record as only one person seems to have seen it despite there being lots of people about all day, it would be good to know a few details as we don’t see many of them at Blashford.

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.

Words and Birds

Hello again.  It’s been a while (three weeks) since I posted on this blog, having been away and then, last week, after spending a time trimming back seed heads from buddleia to prevent them overrunning the reserve, and afterwards not feeling inspired enough to write anything.  I was berated, earlier this week,  by one of our regular volunteers and reader of the blog (you know who you are!!!) for not writing anything last Sunday, so I thought I’d better make an effort today.  Those of you who do any writing will probably recognise the problems of either  not feeling they have anything to say and/or struggling to find the words.     Along those lines,  I remember the tale of one professional writer who couldn’t think of a particular word for two weeks – but then it suddenly came to him….’fortnight’!!!

Having said all this, I guess most of you will want to read some news from Blashford, so here goes.

The bittern(s) is still in being seen regularly from Ivy South Hide, but has also been viewed, in its more usual habitat, in the reed beds outside Ivy North Hide. Whilst closing the reserve last Sunday,  I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this bird in the left hand side of the reeds, far off to the right side of the Ivy North Hide. As no one else has posted any pictures of this bird yet, I’ll start with this rather poor, distant image, taken in low light conditions ( getting all my excuses in first!!)  as evidence that the bird is here. P1460717 bittern Recent addition to the avifauna n the form of a ferruginous duck reported yesterday from Ivy South Hide. Otherwise the red-crested pochard is still around as are good numbers of many of the other ducks such as  mallard, shoveller, gadwall, wigeon, teal, pochard, goldeneye and tufted duck. A few green sandpiper  are scattered around the margins of the lakes.

For the gull fans (I know there are a few of you out there) up to nine yellow-legged gulls were seen coming in to roost on Ibsley Water yesterday.  Roost time can also produce increased numbers of goosander as they fly in from the Avon Valley to spend the night here.  Also in residence in and on the water, in roughly decreasing size order, we have mute swan, Canada goose, greylag goose, Egyptian goose, great-crested grebe, lapwing, coot, moorhen and little grebe. 

The alders are providing enough food to keep a regular flock of siskin in and around the Woodland Hide area.  This abundance of natural food means that many of the  winter visitors to our seed feeders haven’t yet put in much of an appearance although some lesser redpoll have been reported.  otherwise the usual collection of tit species including marsh tit as well as nuthatch and treecreeper are being seen from the Woodland Hide.  A water rail was seen, by some lucky visitors,  feeding on a fish (the rail feeding, not the visitor!), just outside the Ivy South Hide for about twenty minutes in the mid-afternoon.

A party from an RSPB local group have chosen Blashford for a day trip. One of the party reported seeing a large bird of prey flying low over the heath and going into the trees, from the description one of ‘our’ buzzards.

To finish here is a picture of what must be one of but maybe not the last ‘summer’ flowers to be seen on the reserve

red campion

red campion

I scream Sunday

The first Sunday of the month and as Ed couldn’t be here, it fell to me to run the conservation volunteers bash.  Today we attacked the encroaching vegetation along the footpath between the small car-park and the equipment storage area. Its one of those areas where gradually growing willow, sedge and brambles have narrowed the width of the path and made it quite narrow. Thanks to all who turned up we now have a much easier route through.

There were a number of ‘seasonal’ bird sightings today.

When  opening up there were three pied wagtail, an adult and two youngsters, perched up on the Tern Hide.  I went  back to the car for my camera, but they flew before I could capture the scene.  Fortunately, however, my trip wasn’t wasted as I managed to snap a couple of young Egyptian geese on the shore outside the hide.

Young Egyptian geese

Young Egyptian geese

Kingfishers are nearly always seen more frequently at this time of year. Although the suitable habitat for breeding on the reserve is only really along the Dockens Water, or further afield in the Avon valley, at this time of year young birds are dispersing – or being dispersed by their parents who are driving them off – and so turn up in some number on the lakes.  Today there were a number of reports from visitors of kingfisher seen from Ivy North and South Hides.

Sometime later at least one visitor saw an osprey over Ibsley water and common sandpiper were regularly patrolling along the shore in front of the Tern hide.

common sandpiper - note the white 'shoulder-stripe' which is characteristic of this species, not seen on other sandpipers

common sandpiper – note the white ‘shoulder-stripe’ which is characteristic of this species, not seen on other sandpipers

It’s also that time of year when the spider population in the hides builds up. I know quite a few people who don’t find this a pleasing aspect of birdwatching and they can provoke an almost hysterical response if they drop from the roof. Personally I don’t mind them, some of them are beautifully marked, but I appreciate there not to everyone’s taste. Those with arachnophobia should look way now.

Spider in Tern Hide

Spider in Tern Hide

The now almost regular highlight of this time of year is the arrival of the great white egret and there were at least half a dozen visitors today who were looking for this bird.  There were several reports  from both Ivy North and South hides and I was lucky enough to capture this image late in the day.

Great whit egret from Ivy North Hide

Great white egret from Ivy North Hide

Slightly unusually when it came to the time I was closing the Tern Hide, several mute swans were busy preening just off shore. It’s the time of year when considerable numbers of these beautiful birds spend time with us as they moult their feathers, as witnessed by large quantities of feathers floating on the lakes and distributed around the shore.

P1450302_Mute Swan

Mute swan outside Tern hide

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? ( or Fungus?)

Those of a certain age may remember a TV programme , having (nearly) the same title as this posting, in which a panel of ‘experts’ were challenged to identify an object from a museum collection.   It sometimes feels like I’m on the panel when a visitor asks questions about something they have seen on the Reserve.  Fortunately, for the most part, I’m usually able to give a plausible (if not invariably correct) answer or direct them to somewhere or someone who can.  I don’t pretend to be an oracle and mis-identifications are always possible. (Thanks to those who pointed out that the long-tailed tit’s nest of last week is almost certainly that of a wren)

For the most part these questions concern the animal or vegetable (fauna and flora) on the reserve, not too many people are concerned with the minerals,  the extraction of which (sand and gravel) created what we have today.   One such question, from a conservation volunteer the other day, concerned a plant/fungus that he’d seen. From the description given both Jim and I concluded that he’d been looking at the young, emergent stage of the Horsetail or Marestail. Just like these on the reserve…

Horsetail - looking rather like an alien invader

Horsetail – looking rather like an alien invader

 I believe these are variously known as Common Horsetail, Giant Horsetail or Field Horsetail or sometimes Marestail – probably Equisetum arvense ( or perhaps you know different??).  More interesting than the name is that they are among the few remaining species of a genus which for more than 100 million years was the predominant type of land based plant life, some of which reached over 30 metres tall and eventually formed the coal measures.  So they certainly have ‘staying power’ which is probably why they are a persistent weed and are much un-loved by gardeners .

Talking of strange organisms, I’m sure many of you will have spotted strange excrescences, often white or yellow though sometimes pink, on logs and tree trunks in the woods. One such caught our eyes the other day and we went back to investigate, and take a picture of this rather magnificent slime mould   

Slime mould

Slime mould

Looking superficially like a fungal growth, I’d always bracketed them in with this group of organisms.  I did, however, know that the lump you see is really a sort of super ‘love-in’ where millions ( billions?) of single-celled organisms had grouped together to form this fruiting body.  They normally live thinly spread in the forest floor and at some signal migrate to one spot to swap DNA and reproduce via spores.  Quite how this is organised or triggered is still a bit of a mystery and the things themselves are, I believe, no longer classified as fungi – probably more like amoeba, feeding on algae and bacteria in the soil.   Also nearby was one of the resultant spore masses ….

Slimemould spore mass

Slime mould spore mass

Truly the more one sees the more mysterious are some of the things around us and just to round off this section I’ll include a picture of an outgrowth on the branches of a tree close to the small car-park near the entrance. I think they’re called ‘Witch’s Broom‘ and I believe they’re caused by insects or a virus – but perhaps someone out there knows better.

Witch's Broom - just one of many such clusters of tiny twigs growing on one tree

Witch’s Broom – just one of many such clusters of tiny twigs growing on one tree

 On a more prosaic level the warblers reported last week have been augmented by at least two garden warblers, one of which was bold enough to perch out on the side of  a bush, giving reasonable views and a so-so image was possible at extreme range..

Garden warbler

Garden warbler

Although not a spectacular breeding site for wading birds we do get our fair share through the winter and it’s always nice to see some at this time of year. From the Tern Hide there were little ringed plover, redshank common sandpiper,  lapwing  and  a snipe has been seen. 

Redshank on edge of Ibsley Water

Redshank on edge of Ibsley Water

As well as many black-headed gulls, tufted duck  and thirteen mute swan , Ibsley Water was hosting at least six common tern and little grebe nesting close by the Goosander Hide.   At the Woodland Hide a lone brambling (doesn;t he know it’s time to go?)  was still in evidence  and we still have some magnificent siskin on display.

Two fine male siskin - getting food for their mates?

Two fine male siskin – getting food for their mates?