30 Days Wild – Day 6: And the Wind did Blow

And how it blew! And how it rained too, very unseasonal gales to tear at the trees and soak fluffy wader chicks. So it was with some trepidation that I got to Blashford today. Looking from Tern hide when I opened up I saw at least two of the small lapwing chicks and spotted one of the oystercatcher offspring too, although they should be well able to survive a bit of weather by now. A few of our trees had not done so well, no major fallers but several branches down, at this time of year, in full leaf and soaked with rain, the wind can really get hold of a branch twisting and breaking it off. Luckily the volunteers were in and between us we were able to walk the full length of all the paths clearing branches as we went and then returning to saw off the few larger leaning stems.

At lunchtime a smooth newt was spotted on the surface of the Centre pond, Jim then realised that it had been caught by a great diving beetle larva, these are ferocious predators but I was surprised that one would tackle a full grown newt.

newt and diving beetle larva

Newt being attacked by great diving beetle larva.

The newt was struggling but it was hard to see how it was going to get the beetle larva off as it had its jaws firmly embedded. As we watched a second, equally large larva closed in and joined the attack, I don’t think the newt had any chance against two attackers. I knew they would tackle prey larger than themselves but this was the first time I had seen one take on something so large. The picture is an example of “Digi-binning” that is holding the digital point and shoot camera up to one eyepiece of the binoculars.

Unsurprisingly the moth trap was very quiet, I doubt many moths tried to fly and those that did probably had trouble getting anywhere they wanted to go. Amongst the few that did get out and into the trap was a very fresh mottled beauty.

mottled beauty

mottled beauty

The weather did improve a bit in the afternoon and there were quite a few insects flying as I went to lock up, lots of damselflies and various things nectaring on the flower heads of hemlock water-dropwort, one of the best food sources for lots of species at this time of year. I cannot identify them but the many insects include a number of sawflies.

sawfly

sawfly (unidentified)

Looking after a nature reserve can be rewarding, especially when you can work to improve habitats, allowing them to support more species and individuals, in the jargon increasing biodiversity and biomass. On a reserve such as Blashford Lakes there is the additional goal of increasing the accessibility of this wildlife to allow appreciation and enjoyment for people. Increasingly it is being realised that this is good for our health, diverse green space really matters to our wellbeing, individually and as a society. It is also a small push back against a tide of mass declines in species abundance and variety, to make a real difference to that needs action on a much larger scale than just a nature reserve.

So on Day 6 of  my 30Days Wild I have to confess to getting a little wild myself. I have already blogged about my tiny back garden meadow and we are doing work at Blashford to enhance the grassland to support more species. Species rich grasslands and meadows have been one of the fastest declining habitats in recent decades, with the accompanying loss of wild flowers, butterflies and the rest of the species such places support. Local Authorities and Government Agencies have a duty to enhance the environment where possible. There has recently been much publicity about the importance of grass verges for wildflowers, it has made national radio and some species are now almost only found by roadsides.  The Highways Agency publishes very good guidelines for the management of verges, round-abouts and other roadside grass areas, with the idea that managers of such places will have a best practice guide to follow.

So what made me wild? It was the close mowing, for the second time this season, of the large (probably 0.5ha or so) round-about at the end of the road where I live. This does not improve safety, to do this at most a couple of metres around the edge would need mowing, nor was it tall, no more than 30-40cm and the mass of corky-fruited water-dropwort was just coming into flower. The first cut dealt with the cowslips and much else besides, this is a relatively herb-rich grassland that is being systematically destroyed by close mowing and swamped by a layer of mulched cuttings each time. Eventually this will ensure it has only a tall coarse sward of cocks-foot, thistle and nettle and another vestige of our grassland heritage will have gone. I don’t know which particular arm of authority undertakes this mowing, but the guidelines have evidently not reached them! So long as there is careless disregard for such places the march to environmental mediocrity will continue and we may as well lay Astroturf and be done with it!

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow, unless the “Wild” part of 30 Days Wild takes hold again!

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Early birds…

Over the weekend ten super keen Young Naturalists enjoyed a night on the reserve in order to appreciate the dawn chorus at it’s best.

To avoid any ridiculously early drop offs by parents, we met at the Education Centre at 7pm on Saturday night then headed straight over to Tern Hide in the hope of a glimpse of the lapwing chick before it got too dark. We had to wait a while but got lucky!

Lapwing chick by Talia Felstead resized

Lapwing chick by Talia Felstead

In the fading light, we also spotted Lapwing, Greylag geese with three goslings, Redshank and a Pied wagtail.

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We then headed up to Goosander and Lapwing hides in search of deer, getting out the bat detectors for the walk back and picking up lots of Soprano and Common pipistrelles. The bats put on a great show!

It was then time to head back to the Centre for a drink and a snack and to make ourselves comfortable for the night, picking our spots on the Education Centre floor. Whilst getting ready for a night in the classroom, we looked at the footage picked up on the trail cam we had put out at last month’s Young Naturalists session in the hope of a glimpse of some of the reserve’s more secretive wildlife.

Rather excitingly the trail cam revealed images of badgers and deer along with videos of badgers, deer and a fox.

Badger 1

Badger!

deer 1

Deer

After setting the alarm for 4am, we attempted to get some sleep!

In the morning we were joined incredibly bright and early at 4.30am by Bob and volunteer Liz, who had declined the offer to join us overnight but were still happy to be here super early. After a cup of tea and a snack we headed outside at about 4.45am to enjoy the dawn chorus at its best.

Our early bird of the morning was the robin, who we heard just outside the Centre. We then headed towards Ivy North hide before following the path round to the Woodland hide then Ivy South hide, crossing the river and following the path along the Dockens to our river dipping bridge then back to the Centre. Unfortunately it was a bit windy but we still heard 19 species of bird, with Bob’s expert help, and the crescendo of bird song was fabulous.

Our 19 species of bird were heard in the following order: robin, wood pigeon, blackbird, Canada goose, song thrush, wren, blackcap, reed warbler, garden warbler, Cetti’s warbler, chiffchaff, black-headed gull, Egyptian goose, mallard, blue tit, great tit, chaffinch, jackdaw and goldcrest.

Group on dawn chorus walk resized

A very early dawn chorus walk! We are excited, just a little sleepy…

We then had a look in the light trap which revealed two May highflyers, a Great prominent, a Sharp angled peacock, two Hebrew characters, three Flame shoulders, a Pale tussock and a Common quaker. We also saw a Brimstone moth fly past.

It was then time for second breakfast, so we got the fire going and tucked into our sausage and bacon rolls.

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After tidying away from breakfast we headed back over to Tern hide to see if we could spot the Lapwing chick in a better light. Unfortunately luck was not on our side this time, but we did see a black tern, bar tailed godwit, ringed plover, little ringed plover, redshank, black-headed gull, Egyptian geese, greylag geese, tufted duck, coot, pied wagtail, common tern, lapwing, swallows, cormorant and both house and sand martins.

Whilst waiting for the parents to arrive we had time to pond dip at the Centre, catching a newt (the kingfisher hasn’t eaten all of them!) and a brilliant great diving beetle:

Thank you to volunteers Geoff, Emily and Harry for joining us for a night on the Education Centre floor in preparation for our brilliant dawn chorus experience, to Liz for joining us in the morning and to Bob for coming in to lead the walk with his wealth of bird song knowledge.

Thanks too to the Young Naturalists eager for such an early start – Lysander, Megan C, Megan Y, Talia, James, Cameron, Poppy, Ben, Will H and Jodie, we hope you all enjoyed it and have managed to catch up on some sleep…

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