April Showers

Or more prolonged outbreaks of rain! Recent days have certainly been making up for the rather dry winter. The lakes which had been unusually low for the time of year have now filled up to the point where a number of the islands in Ibsley Water have disappeared.

On the plus side it has warmed up a little and this has resulted in something of an upturn in moth numbers. Last night saw nine species caught including early grey and brindled pug new for the year, there were also a number of oak beauty.

IMG_0581

oak beauty

Spring migrants continue to arrive in low numbers, there are now several chiffchaff and  a few blackcap singing around the reserve and today we recorded our first terns of the year. The single common tern this afternoon was not unexpected, but the 4 Sandwich tern this morning were unusual and they were flying over heading south! The adult little gull was still around in the morning at least, it has been a near record season for them and we have probably already recorded about 20 individuals. Yesterday there were still at least 13 goldeneye and probably the same today, a hang over from winter with 50 or so sand martin and 5 or more swallow feeding over their heads.

There are now common dog violet, ground ivy, moschatel  and cowslip starting to come into flower. Ground ivy is normally very popular with the early butterflies, but recent days have been too cold and/or wet for them to have been flying.

cowslip

cowslip

As though the emphasise the changeability of the season I saw this intense rainbow as I went to lock up the Tern hide this afternoon, hopefully the ratio of rain to sun will start to change soon.

rainbow
rainbow from the main car park

 

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Moths Again

A combination of the need to do some repair work on the trap and a lot of very unfavourable weather has meant that it has been a good time since I have run a moth trap. Finally I have made some repairs and the conditions have picked up so the trap has gone out.

So far catches have been unremarkable and involve the typical early spring species such as the aptly named early thorn.

early thorn

early thorn

Although the early thorn does fly from March, early in the year, at least for moths, it also has a second brood which flies between July and September, when the name is not so appropriate.

A number of closely related species, mostly in the genus Orthosia and commonly known as “Quakers” fly at this time of the year, often the most frequent is the common Quaker, although it is often outnumbered by the small Quaker. One of the most distinctive of these is the twin-spotted Quaker, with its prominent “twin-spots”, although a few do not have them so prominent, just to keep me on my toes.

twin-spot quaker

twin-spotted Quaker

Although not called a Quaker the Hebrew character is in the same genus and easily identified by the prominent black markings on the fore-wings.

Hebrew character

Hebrew character

Other species are also now flying, the oak beauty is a close relative of the peppered moth, famous for having industrial melanism. The March moth, unsurprisingly flies now as does the yellow horned, which is widespread wherever there is birch growing.

yellow-horned

yellow horned

I might reasonably be asked “Why fly so early int he year?” it is rather cold and there are few flowers around to feed from. Equally there are not so many moth eating birds and bats about to hunt them when they are flying at night. Starting early in the year also means the caterpillars can get started eating the fresh, new growth. For species with more than one brood per year, such as the early thorn, it also allows time for the second brood to be reared, lay eggs and have the caterpillars pupate in time to over-winter ready to hatch in the next spring.

 

Late Winter Dash as Spring Looms

This time of year is always hectic, the winter work really needs to be finished by the end of February and somehow there is never quiet enough winter to get it all done. That said we have done very well this time, getting round to some tasks that I had been wanting to do for some years as well as doing  a lot of work in the former block works site to make it ready to become part of the reserve.

In the last week we have planted several hundred shrubs, coppiced a lot of willow and built a long dead hedge we have also cleared small birches to make basking sites for reptiles and nesting areas for solitary bees, raked cut brambles and taken willow cuttings. Luckily Blashford’s Brilliant Volunteers have turned out en masse and with the Our Past, Our Future apprentice rangers and Emily, our volunteer placement, the workforce has been at peak performance.

before

The site for a new dead hedge

after

The dead hedge completed, looking back towards the viewpoint of the picture above.

Even with all this activity there has still been some time for a bit of wildlife. The last couple of nights have been much warmer, spring is definitely in the air now, so we have put out the moth trap. Today’s catch was 3 chestnut, 3 pale brindled beauty, a spring usher (I said it was in the air), one of my favourites, an oak beauty

oak-beauty

oak beauty, one of the finest moths of spring

and a dotted border.

dotted-border

dotted border

A bittern was seen a couple of days ago, but not since, so perhaps the feel of spring has made it return to more suitable breeding habitat. So far we still have two great white egret, including “Walter”, although he usually departs about mid-February, so I suspect he will not be here much longer. The Cetti’s warbler are singing a lot now, hopefully they will stay to breed this year. The ring-billed gull are still present, with both birds seen in the past few days, although not on the same evening. Oystercatcher have come back and up to three have been noisily flying great circles above the reserve. The gull roost now includes 15 or more Mediterranean gull, a now typical spring build-up. The cormorant roost was up to 148 the other evening in the tree beside Ivy Lake

cormorant-roost

Cormorant roost beside Ivy Lake

and this evening there were upward of 5000 starling performing to the north of Ibsley Water, putting on quite a show, perhaps because there was a peregrine about, I am guessing they roosted in the reeds to the north of the lane.

Locking up Ivy North hide there was a very tame grey squirrel outside the hide, gorging on food that someone had thrown out of the window.

grey-squirrel

Grey squirrel, not turning down a free meal.

As I closed Tern hide and the starlings were doing their thing off to the north, there was a rather fine sunset off to the west, a perfect end to a very busy day.

ducks-at-dusk

Sunset, with three ducks.

 

 

 

Spring is Sprung?

Well a bit maybe, at least today saw the first arrival of undoubted migrants with at least 15 sand martin over Ibsley Water this afternoon. Earlier in the week there had been a scatter of chiffchaff, more than have over-wintered, so some must have come in from somewhere.

Other signs of a slow change in the season have been a few peacock, red admiral and brimstone butterflies, although today’s cold kept them tucked up somewhere. Sunshine in mid week resulted in a good number of sightings of adder and grass snake.

Moth numbers are also picking up and this week we have seen oak beauty, yellow-horned, common Quaker, small Quaker, twin-spot Quaker, Hebrew character and clouded drab in increasing numbers.

Although many of the wildfowl have left there were still at least 431 shoveler on Ibsley Water today and the bittern continues to be seen from Ivy North hide, surely it will be leaving soon. Also on Iblsey Water the Slavonian grebe is still present as are the 2 black-necked grebe, now looking very smart in their full breeding colours.

The gull roost remains very large, although the big gulls have almost all departed they have been replaced by thousands of smaller gulls, mostly black-headed gull, but including 20 or more Mediterranean gull, tonight there were at least five second winter birds, 1 first winter and 15 or so adults. Unusually for Blashford, this winter has seen good numbers of common gull in the roost, typically we struggle to get double figures, unless it is very cold, but tonight I counted at least 412 and along the way saw an adult ring-billed gull. This last American visitor was not the one that spent the winter with us, but one that has arrived in the last few days, in fact it seems we may have had three different birds recently (some claim perhaps four!). During the afternoon there were also 3 adult little gull, these would be migrants, the smallest of the gulls we get and probably the most elegant.

At the Woodland hide numbers of finches are declining, but there are still good numbers of siskin, a few lesser redpoll and 10 or so brambling, including  a number of very smart males. There are also several reed bunting feeding there regularly and today, and this was a first for me, a drake mallard, not a species that immediately springs to mind as feeding outside the Woodland hide.

Spring may not exactly have sprung but it is slowly unfurling, at last.

Another Beauty

Many visitors will be delighted to hear that yesterday’s volunteer task was pot-hole filling along the access track. We have only made a temporary repair, it will still need a full scale regarding later in the spring, but the access is considerably less bumpy than it was.

There was not much wildlife news, the highlight was probably a raven feeding on the road-kill roe deer near Ibsley Water and a sighting of a red kite.

The moth trap was pretty empty after a rather cool night, but did include another beauty, this time an oak beauty, one of my favourite early spring moths.

oak beauty

A Busy Week, (With Moths).

It is the same every year, at the end of October we are looking forward to the winter tasks with the whole season stretched out before us. Then, suddenly it is February and there is still lots of winter work, but not much winter. So it has been lucky that this week the weather has been kind and the schedule of meetings and other “interruptions”  has allowed us to really get on with some tasks out on the reserve.

We have cleared bramble clumps to encourage grassland and maintain path edges, layered willows to thicken up habitat for breeding warblers and provide screening, cut rushes along Ibsley Water shore to increase suitability for breeding lapwing and grazing wigeon, cleared brash piles left by the power line clearance and cut around the Woodland hide to improve the viewing. When I think about it we also got  a few other odd jobs done as well, but then winter is fast leaving us.

This point has been brought home when I have run the moth trap, only a couple of species caught but both typical early spring ones rather than winter species. One of my favourite early moths is the oak beauty, the closest relative of the peppered moth, well known a the classic example of industrial melanism.   oak beauty 2The other moth was the common quaker, which is often very abundant indeed in early spring.common quakerThe reserve has continued to host a wide range of birds over the week, with both the black-necked grebe and Slavonian grebe being seen on Ibsley Water along with the usual goldeneye, goosander and good numbers of shoveler (over 200), wigeon (1000+) and some pintail. At dusk the large gull roost has included the regular ring-billed gull, three or possibly even four Caspian gull and several Mediterranean gull, these always increase during February, so far about five or six, but they might top twenty in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile the bittern and great white egret have been seen fairly regularly on Ivy Lake and a the Woodland hide has hosted small numbers of brambling, lesser redpoll, reed bunting and masses of siskin.

Of Moths and Men(& Women) visitors

For the first time in a while I’ve just spent two consecutive days on duty here and they couldn’t have been more different.

Yesterday was fairly busy, the pleasant weather and sunshine enticed several tens of visitors, including a couple of organised group visits. Today, however, the promising start soon deteriorated and only a minority of the stalwarts stayed on much after lunch time.

Bird wise there have been the ‘usual suspects’, although the two mealy redpoll have been elusive and its looking increasingly likely that the great white egret has flown to pastures new (France?). The red-crested pochard is still hanging around and at least one black-necked grebe was on show from Lapwing Hide. One of our regular watchers reported, yesterday, that the osprey platform was being investigated as a possible nest site. Unfortunately the putative nest builders were a couple of Egyptian geese – so not such good news!!!

Today’s ‘best bird’ was a firecrest, spotted by Bob Chapman, in hanging ivy near the woodland hide.

Two different observers reported a strange continuous  ‘trilling’/ ‘warbling’ sound from low down in reed beds close to the Lapwing Hide. Trying to attribute this sound to any likely bird species proved impossible, but the suggestion it might be a frog species (Bull frog??) seemed to fit, but, as Patrick Moore used to say, ‘we just don’t know’.

The mild conditions and predicted overnight dry spell, encouraged me to put the light trap on for its first outing this year. Not surprisingly for the time of year there wasn’t a massive number of moths, only seven in total.

I’ll leave you with a few pictures of the moths…

P1470558 Oak beauty

P1470521 March Moth P1470551 hebrew Character P1470563 Chestnut

From top to bottom these are Oak Beauty, the rather seasonally named March Moth, Hebrew Character and Chestnut.

More Warblers than in an Opera

The day started well with a fanfare of song from a chiffchaff as we unlocked the gates to the Reserve. On the way round to open up the hides there were quite a few more chiffchaff and several blackcap, busy carving out territories with their song. Near the Ivy North Hide and again near the settlement pond Cetti’s warbler were chanting their piercing call. Also by the settlement pond a few trills coming from the direction of the reeded area at first sounded like a reed warbler, but after a break in song the next twitterings were almost certainly those of a sedge warbler. As is usually the case,  getting sight of these birds is not so easy, even though the leaf cover is only just starting to appear, but I did manage to get a half-way reasonable image of a blackcap.

Male blackcap

Male blackcap

With the spell of warmer weather it’s about time for some of the invertebrate fauna to be putting in an appearance. With that in mind, Jim set up the light trap last night which  managed to attract 27  moths of seven different species.    Mostly Common Quaker (11) and Small Quaker (7) plus two Twin-spot Quaker there were also some nicely marked Hebrew Character (4) and   single Oak Beauty, Engrailed and a pug species which after some argument we eventually decided must have been a Brindled Pug. 

Hebrew Character

Hebrew Character

Engrailed

Engrailed

Oak Beauty

Oak Beauty – a well marked moth, but notice how well it blends into the background

Such a relative abundance of insect life, compared with the last few attempts at moth trapping this year, herald the start of a proper spring period.      Looking around elsewhere on the reserve it was appropriate to see, from the Tern Hide, a common tern hunting  over Ibsley water (sorry no picture – much too distant and mobile). Another first  for the year, and for me a real herald of Spring – this wheatear posing on the shingle out to the side of the Tern Hide.

Wheatear seen from Tern  Hide

Wheatear seen from Tern Hide

Beauty and the Bittern

Bird News: Ibsley Watersmew 1, black-necked grebe 1, oystercatcher 2, black-tailed godwit 7, Mediterranean gull 6. Ivy Lakebittern 3, water rail 2, Cetti’s warbler 1, smew 1.

A much milder night has seen a thaw of the remaining ice, much to the benefit of the bitterns, at least three of which were in evidence again for most of the day. The brighter of the two smew was also on Ivy Lake in front of the Ivy North hide for a time and I saw the duller bird on Ibsley water as I opened up. At the Ivy North hide first thing, I spotted one bittern just visible round the trunk of the tree off to the left of the hide.

lurking bittern

The mild night resulted in a modest catch of moths including an oak beauty, hebrew character and chestnut.

oak beauty

Looking ahead the next few days do have a very spring-like appearance, perhaps we will even see a sand martin before the end of February. The wild daffodils are starting to come out and will be sped up by a bit of warmth, meanwhile the snowdrops are still looking good, but will soon be finished.

snowdrops

When it comes to finding ways to allow people to get close to wildlife the provision of a hide is a frequent choice, but it is not the only one. Obviously a hide that really works will mean that the wildlife will not know you are watching and will give the truest picture of what they get up to. With some wildlife habituation is a possibility, this technique relies on the fact that many species will get used to a moderately close approach under certain conditions. Wildfowl like to be able to see a threat, this is why they will actually follow a fox along the shore of a lake, a threat they can see cannot surprise them. Likewise they will see humans a s a threat but can learn to tolerate people within defined limits. With this in mind I have been cutting the vegetation alongside the path to the Ivy South hide to produce a low dense hedge. This means the ducks can see people but equally the barrier means they can easily see that we are not too close. This is slowly producing results and recently there have been several gadwall, mallard, tufted duck and a few shoveler using the pond, allowing quite good views without the constraints of a hide.

shoveler pair relaxing on Ivy Silt Pond

There was not much other news today, a black-necked grebe on Ibsley Water was new and will perhaps stay to moult. At dusk the numbers of large gulls are again declining, but there was further evidence of the arrival of smaller gulls with at least 6 Mediterranean gulls reported, all adults.