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

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April Catch-up

April is flying by and we’ve been busy! We’re sorry for the rather long gap between this and the last blog, but hopefully this one explains a little of what we’ve been up to and what’s currently out and about on the reserve.

The sunshine brought plenty of visitors to our local craft event, who enjoyed the excellent refreshments provided by Nigel and Christine’s pop-up café (which will return in November) along with basket making, hurdle making and wood turning demonstrations and the chance to have a go at making bird feeders from willow.

Willow bird feeders

Willow bird feeders made at our craft event

This was swiftly followed by Wildlife Tots, who got into the spirit of Spring by making excellent nests for our cuddly birds.

Jessie with nest

Jessie with her nest for a Teal

We then entertained a holiday club visiting from London with den building and fire lighting activities, followed by a night walk. We’ve welcomed new six-month volunteer placement Harry, who is with us now until September and thrown him in at the deep end with a group of beavers who were here to enjoy a river dip. Luckily that didn’t put him off and Emily and the other volunteers have been busy showing him the ropes.

This week we’ve had two wet Wild Days Out, pond and river dipping in search of newts, fish and other monsters, rescuing ducks, floating boats, building dams and enjoying a balloon free water fight. Our most monstrous find was this awesome Great Diving Beetle Larva, which tried to devour anything in its sight:

Great diving beetle lava 2

Great Diving Beetle larva ready to pounce

Our volunteers have been super busy, with the warmer weather bringing with it the start of our butterfly transects and reptile surveys. The butterfly transects have had an excellent start, with Peacock, Orange Tip, Brimstone, Speckled Wood, Comma and Small White all recorded and Holly Blue, Green Veined White and Small Tortoiseshell also seen around. They have already recorded more than they did in the whole of April last year, so fingers crossed numbers will continue to be good!

Grass snakes and adders have started to venture into areas accessible to visitors so if the cloud disappears and the temperature warms up again keep your eyes peeled! Two grass snakes were seen recently from Ivy South hide, but out of the window at the far end rather than their usual basking spot on the log outside the front; whilst the grass verges too and from Lapwing hide are usually good places to try for a basking adder.

In bird news, Lapwing, Common sandpiper, Redshank and Little ringed plover have all been showing nicely in front of Tern Hide, along with the Black headed gulls which are getting more and more vocal! An osprey reportedly flew over the reserve on Wednesday and a Common tern was also seen on Wednesday from Tern Hide.

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Thank you to Richard Smith for emailing across a photo of two very busy Little ringed plover:

Little Ringed Plovers by Richard Smith

Little ringed plover by Richard Smith

A Great spotted woodpecker has been busy excavating a hole in a tree trunk near Ivy Lake and best viewed from the far right hand window in Ivy North hide. Brambling were also still being spotted from the Woodland Hide this week, looking very smart as they develop their summer plumage and our first fledglings have been seen too – Robin and Dunnock – so keep an eye out for parent birds feeding their young.

Thanks to Lyn Miller and Steve Michelle for also sending in some great photos from recent visits to the reserve:

Kingfisher by Lyn Miller

Hungry kingfisher devouring a newt by Lyn Miller

Redpoll by Steve Michelle

Lesser redpoll by Steve Michelle

Black Headed Gull by Steve Michelle

Black headed gull by Steve Michelle

Finally thank you to everyone who’s popped in to tell us what they’ve seen, Jim and I have unfortunately been slightly office bound when not out and about leading events and group visits, so it’s great to know what’s going on out on the reserve!

We will try not to leave such a long gap between this and next blog, Bob’s back from leave soon so fingers crossed!

Bee-flies, Butterflies and a Good Tern

Another very warm spring day at Blashford today and the air was full of all the sights and sounds of the season. There are now chiffchaff and blackcap singing in many parts of the  reserve and there were reports of a willow warbler singing near the Ivy North hide.

The volunteers were working near the main car park today, where we were buzzed by bees as butterflies floated by. As were headed back for cake, we also saw a bee-fly, it turned out not to be the usual Bombylius major or dark-edged bee-fly, but the much rarer Bombylius discolor  or dotted bee-fly, a new species for the reserve.

And so onto cake, cake is not a rarity at Blashford, less common than biscuits, but not rare. In this case it was to honour the departure of Katherine, an Apprentice Ranger with The New Forest National Park scheme run as part of the Our Past, Our Future Heritage Lottery Project. But it was not for this reason alone, but also to mark the last day of our own Volunteer Trainee, Emily, who also made the cakes, a valuable extra skill. Katherine had spent three months with us and Emily six, remarkable staying power by any standards. In fact Emily has volunteered to stay on, so is not going to be lost to the reserve yet. Katherine has moved on to spend a time with the Forestry Commission team locally.

After cake we headed out to look at the changes to the butterfly transect routes, it was a shame that it was still March, the transect counts don’t start until the 1st April and it is often hard to find many butterflies in the first few weeks. Today they were everywhere and altogether we saw seven species between us. There were lots of peacock, a few brimstone and at least 3 speckled wood, but also singles of comma, small tortoiseshell, red admiral and orange-tip.

red admiral

A rather battered red admiral, probably one that has hibernated here and so is perhaps five or six months old.

Of the seven species five are ones that hibernate as adults, just the speckled wood and orange-tip will have emerged from pupae this spring. There is a small chance that the red admiral was a recent immigrant as they do also arrive from the south each spring, although usually later than this.

A different sort of life form is also in evidence on the reserve at present and I do mean a very different life form, slime mould. These are a bit of a favourite of mine and the one on a log towards the Ivy South hide is certainly living up to the name and is now oozing slime.

slime mould

slime mould, with slime

Locking up at the end of the day there was one last surprise, looking over Ibsley Water I saw a tern amongst the many black-headed gull, not as I expected an early common tern but a very fine sandwich tern, something of a rarity away from the coast.

sandwich tern

Sandwich tern, an unexpected visitor.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 14

Some days are wilder than others, even when you work on a nature reserve. Today was not one of the wildest, the morning was spent in a meeting, where wildlife was a topic rather than present and the afternoon was largely taken up with trimming paths with the help of our volunteers. During path trimming we saw a few common spotted orchid and broad-leaved helleborine, I looked for twayblade and southern marsh orchid, both of which I have seen in the same area before but without success.

It was warming up as we finished and on the way back to the Centre we saw a red admiral and a male large white. Butterflies are very few and far between at present, but soon the browns will be out and this should change.

As I went to lock up the sun was almost out and near the Woodland hide the orange-tip caterpillars were doing their best to look like the garlic mustard seedpods upon which they feed.

orange tip caterpillar

orange-tip caterpillar

When I first saw these I discounted them as orange-tip, because they were not green, forgetting that they look quite different in their first few instars.

On the way down to the Ivy South hide is found a tree bumblebee sunning itself on a bramble leaf. This is a species that ha sonly colonised this country in this century, but is already common throughout most of England. It is similar to the common carder bee but the white tail gives it away.

tree bumblebee

tree bumblebee

Finally caught up, I just have to keep going to the end of the month now!

A Quiet Spring Day

It felt very pleasant in the sunshine this lunchtime and as I was sitting eating at one of the picnic tables behind the Education Centre I spotted my first orange-tip butterfly of the year. He very obligingly settled on a flowering head of pendulous sedge, making for quiet a pleasing picture.

orange tip

The wild daffodil are almost all spent now, but the bluebell are coming out. It is interesting that our bluebells are always about a week or so later than the ones inland and on higher ground, on the chalk, I am not sure why this is.

bluebell

After yesterday’s red-rumped swallow excitement, today was rather quiet on the bird front. A few swift and, a scatter of hirundines were over Ibsley Water. While a report of a dunlin and a ringed plover hinted at some wader movement as did the 2 common sandpiper but that about sums things up.

common sandpiper

 

 

A Bit of the Blues

Still quite a lot of bird song around, although the leaf cover makes seeing them a little tricky. most evident amongst the summer visitors  are blackcap, garden warbler and whitethroat song.

The seeds from the ripe catkins are now very much in evidence, but in among the drifting white downy seeds there are quite large numbers of almost inconspicuous blue damselflies. From the ones I managed to identify there is a mixture of common blue and azure damselflies.  At Blashford I’ve only been  aware that we have these two species, although there might just  be variable damselflies, which do occur on the New Forest. Blue damselflies are a group of insects that many find difficult to separate in the field and in truth they do look very similar.  Just as with birdwatching it helps to know a little about their range and habitat preferences so you can eliminate those species which are unlikely to occur.  To separate the blue and Azure it helps to be aware of  subtle differences in the arrangement of the various coloured parts.  Many field guides make mention of the shape of the black markings on the second segment of the abdomen (tail!) which is ‘club shaped’ on the blue and a ‘U’ shape on the Azure.  Personally I find this quite difficult as they perch with their wings along the body length, which can obscure these markings. My favoured field marks are the thicker blue stripes on the thorax of the common blue and also the double clear blue segments near the tip of the tail. Azure damselflies have one and one half blue segments on the tail.

Common blue damselfly ( Enallagma cyanthigerum)

Common blue damselfly ( Enallagma cyanthigerum)

Note the thick blue stripes, club shape near top of abdomen and blue end to  tail with a faint black line separating equal sized patches of blue.

Azure damselfly (Coenagrion puella)

Azure damselfly (Coenagrion puella)

Thinner blue stripes on thorax, ‘U’ shape mark and unequal sized blue bits on tail end.

All this, of course, applies to the male damselflies. the females are more confusing ( ’twas ever thus !!),  being less conspicuous by  having paler blue colouring and more black markings as in the case of this female common blue.

Female common blue damselfly

Female common blue damselfly

Also ‘on parade’ but proving more elusive to photograph, was a banded demoiselle damselfly, which perched approximately 10 feet up  and partially obscured by leaves – this poor image gives some indication of its stunning metallic lustre.

Banded demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)

Banded demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)

I spent some time today cutting back nettles and brambles around the entrance gates to the reserve, serenaded by blackcap and whitethroat, but otherwise not seeing much wildlife other than a fine male orange-tip butterfly, which failed to stop long enough to have it’s picture taken. More obliging was this speckled wood near the Woodland Hide.

Speckled wood

Speckled wood

Sometimes when wildlife watching you can see the most amazing things – like this mallard walking down an oak tree……

 

'Spider-Duck'??

‘Spider-Duck’??

A sort of duck-down!!!!!

Not really!!  Saw this mallard on fallen oak and couldn’t resist the urge to  turn the image sideways – sorry.

A relatively new addition to the reserve’s equipment is this small sailing boat to be used in some educational activities. Its been carefully tided up and all sharp edges removed before being set in the ground with some holes in the bottom and a soak-away underneath, so that it doesn’t fill with rain, all courtesy of some of our  volunteers, many thanks to them – you know who you are!.

 

Activity boat set into the ground for children.

Activity boat set into the ground for children.

But nature being what it is, it won’t be too long before the boat will be colonised by all sorts of wildlife.  In fact its already starting to happen as it appears there is a ‘piratical teddy’ on board.

Captain Ted

Captain Ted

 

 

 

Hare today – Birdtrail tomorrow

Saturday isn’t my normal day to be here but with the Birdtrail event tomorrow Jim will be on duty, so I’m covering his normal Saturday shift.  As Jim mentioned in yesterday’s post, tomorrow morning  there will be a number of groups of young people, parents and volunteers visiting the Reserve for the Birdtrail.

Although most of the work on resurfacing the access road to the Education Centre has ben done, the rain has delayed some aspects and it will now be next week before it’s ready to take traffic

With the reduced parking , due to re-surfacing of the road, other visitors might wish to delay their arrival tomorrow until the afternoon.

The rejuvenated road surface

The rejuvenated road surface

Butterfly wise its just starting to ‘buzz’ (if that’s the right description??) with a number of white butterflies including orange-tip as well green-veined white. Personally I find brief views of white butterflies one of those things that test your identification skills, especially as they seem to be a group that are particularly active and flighty.   Another complicating aspect is the amount of grey/black on the wing tips and that early and later broods of the same species have variable markings. Having said this the male orange tip is unmistakable – with the orange tip to its forewing – but the female can look very similar to other whites.

Male orange-tip

Male orange-tip

Fortunately both male and female orange-tip butterflies have a  magnificent marbled green and white underwing, which marks them out from the rest.

Whilst we’re talking about lepidoptera, the light/moth trap only had one inhabitant present of the species Parus major, not a moth at all, but a great tit.  He/she  had apparently eaten all the moths, although we only found one set of detached wings, so there may not have been many moths anyway as the overnight rain may have deterred them from flying.

Undeterred from nocturnal, and diurnal, flying activity were a great number of small flying insect, which I tend to lump together as midges,  so as well as quite a few in the moth trap there was also a fair number of them bedecking a somewhat dilapidated spider’s web, close to where the light trap had been set-up.

Spiders web with midge decoration

Spiders web with midge decoration

Apart from our voracious great tit and the usual collection of  blue tit, coal tit , greenfinch, chaffinch and goldfinch around the feeders, other birds seen or heard around the reserve include swift and common tern cruising above the Tern Hide when we opened up this morning. Three  little ringed plover  and a pair of dunlin , in breeding plumage, were seen by a couple of visitors and a cuckoo was singing(?) somewhere not too far from the Education Centre.

It’s  the nesting season and although it’s not alway obvious with most of the smaller land based birds, where the nests are, some of our water birds are less than subtle in collecting the necessary material, as was this coot.

P1400122

Coot with nesting material

Some other aspects of bird behaviour can be fascinating as well, especially where it’s not entirely what’s expected, as with this jackdaw which has learned to exploit our seed feeders.  Not content with simply picking up the spillage that the smaller birds leave, it’s found that is can balance itself on the feeder, but being a highly intelligent and resourceful bird it checks out the area first from a suitable vantage point.

P1400102

A suitable vantage point

Here we go.....................!!

Here we go…………………!!

A safe and rewarding landing.

A safe and rewarding landing.

But it’s not only the jackdaw that was taking advantage of our signposts for human visitors…

Great spot for a great spot

Great spot for a great spot

On the mammal front there are plenty of rabbits around the reserve.  Jackie, who regularly assists on a Saturday, spent some time  today walking the paths and cutting back bramble that was threatening to snake across them, and was rewarded for her efforts when she saw a hare not far from the Lapwing Hide.

Although there wasn’t a huge influx of visitors today, none of those we spoke to were reporting much activity near the sand martin nests under the Goosander Hide. It was, therefore,  reassuring as we closed the Tern hide to have over fifty sand martins with a few house martins, swallows and swifts circling around over the car-park.

Migrants and a Tipster

Bird News: Ibsley Watercommon tern 7, common sandpiper 1+, goldeneye 2, little ringed plover 2+, house martin 2, swallow 2+, sand martin 40+. Lichen Heath wheatear 2. Ivy Lakewillow warbler 2+, reed warbler 1.

Although there have been a few reports in recent days, I had not seen a common sandpiper this spring until the one on the shore outside the Tern hide this morning.  There was also a pair of little ringed plover displaying and two pairs of lapwing both competing for the shingle area in front of the hide. The lapwing dispute got quite heated but when it quietened down the female of the resident pair settle to preen in the sunshine.

female lapwing

Crossing to Ivy Lake to open the hides I saw a female wheatear on the Lichen Heath, my first at Blashford this spring, it remained all day and when I went to lock up had been joined by a fine male. It was evident that there had been an arrival of migrants overnight as there were 2 or more willow warbler singing and int he Ivy Silt Pond a singing reed warbler, another first for the year.

The night had been quite cold so I was not expecting much from the moth trap and the catch was small, but included an angle shades.

angle shades

It was a very fine morning and so we went for a short walk on the reserve before doing the work rota for the next few months. It was the first time I had seen the sand martins actually over the nesting bank this year, although there are still not many around, whilst at the Goosander hide we saw 7 common tern over Ibsley Water, although they seemed to have gone by the time I locked up so perhaps they were not our nesting birds. There was also a pair of goldeneye, seemingly the last ones left over from the winter. On the way back to the Centre we passed a male orange-tip, that for once was not resting with wings closed and I managed to get a picture that shows the “orange-tips”.

male orange-tip

The woods on the reserve are very noisy with bird song just now. I was standing briefly just south of the Woodland hide on my way around to lock up at the end of the day and I could hear garden, reed and Cetti’s warblers, blackcap, wren, robin, song thrush and dunnock all at once.

A Butterfly Day

Bird News: Ibsley Watersand martin c10, water pipit 1, little ringed plover 2. Ivy Silt PondCetti’s warbler 1.

Another “Butterfly Day” warm and sunny, but still quiet for birds. A couple of sand martin were seen visiting the bank at the Goosander hide, but other migrants were restricted to a few chiffchaff, blackcap and a couple of little ringed plover. It was pleasing to see the first sitting lapwing of the season, just to the east of the Tern hide.

sitting lapwing

Unfortunately the fine weather also brought out a lot of wandering persons, some obviously angler baiting up swims for poaching others just not aware of where they are. Worryingly two were in areas used by ground nesting birds, sadly the illegal angling in particular results in nest loss as they will come in at night and stay for hours. They are also involved in illegal fish movements and thefts which spread disease and alien species, this fringe element of angling is actually a serious environmental threat, but one that is hard to tackle (sorry about that!).

I saw rather little on my way around the reserve as I opened up, but a group of 5 roe deer by the badger sett were quite approachable and I got a picture of them, there really are five, honest.

five roe deer (if you look closely)

At the Ivy South hide a pair of lesser black backed gulls were on one of the less successful of our rafts, alright one that didn’t work, but that is how you learn! The female carries a blue ring on the right leg engraved in white with AP, I have seen this bird each spring for at least four years, they stay around and show signs of wanting to breed but always go in the end without seeming to do anything, I will look up the details and post them tomorrow if I remember.

lesser black backed gull pair, with female ringed

The butterflies were out in force again with peacock, small tortoiseshell, comma, red admiral, green-veined white and orange tip all seen and what I feel sure was a holly blue as well.

Forecast for tomorrow is once again “Scorchio” but then it is Volunteer Thursday, so rain was never likely!