Autumn’s nibbled tresses

The weather certainly feels as though it is heading for autumn, although the recent (and current!) rainfall has certainly improved the look of our original dipping pond which with a tear in the liner had definitely suffered during the rather long hot dry spell.

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Our dipping pond, looking much happier and healthier than it did a few weeks ago

Thankfully we have had the second pond to use for our dipping sessions and yesterday saw another four very happy family groups delving into its depths to see what they could catch.

The highlight for me this time were the few alderfly larvae we caught in the morning:

alderfly larvae

Alderfly larvae

Whilst out by the pond we also had great views of a number of dragonflies, with a common darter perching close by on the boardwalk, a pair of common darters mating in the wheel position and resting on nearby vegetation, and in the afternoon a female southern hawker getting very close to us and egg lay into the grooves in the wooden boardwalk.

common darter

Common darter

Mating common darters

Pair of Common darters mating

Female southern hawker

Female Southern hawker

Female southern hawker 2

Female Southern hawker

I have seen dragonflies egg laying straight into the water and pond vegetation many times before but hadn’t realised some species prefer to lay their eggs into wood on the pond margin and will happily use a newish boardwalk rather than an older rotting stick.

Whilst dipping a Common carder bee flew onto one of the children, who was not worried at all, but in brushing it off her leg it fell into the pond where she was so close to it. It was quickly rescued and relocated onto some of the flowering water mint to recover:

 

August is the time of year to look for the last of our flowering orchids, Autumn Lady’s-tresses, which can be found on grassland and heathland. Here it grows in places on the lichen heath, if it is given the chance!

It is a very delicate looking orchid with white individual flowers that spiral round the short stem. I have been on the lookout for them since the start of the month, when they first started popping up on social media, but had no success. Although they can be very hard to spot I put their absence in part down to the very dry spell we had over the spring and summer. Jim though did manage to spy a small group of them on the lichen heath and Bob, in checking for them again came to the conclusion the increasing numbers of rabbits on the reserve have in fact merrily munched their way through the ones that have flowered.

Not expecting much, I decided to have one last try this morning before the rain arrived and was rewarded with one flower, admittedly slightly past its best, in amongst a clump of I think St John’s Wort (I say I think as that was also going over) which clearly kept it safe from the rabbits. Nearby I also spied a second stem, with the flower bitten clean off:

Autumn lady's-tresses

Autumn Lady’s-tresses

nibbled autumn lady's-tresses

Autumn Lady’s-tresses nibbled stem

If anyone would like to try and find some, I think Wilverly Plain in the forest will be a better place to look!

It is probably time for me to relocate everything from the Welcome Hut (a much nicer spot to work from even in the pouring rain!) back to the centre, so I will finish with a few photos taken a week or so go that I didn’t quite get round to sharing: a bee-wolf and another heather colletes bee enjoying the heather in bloom in the meadow and a solitary bee on the Inula hookeri outside the front of the Centre.

Feather finds

Today’s wild highlight was finding and appreciating this beautiful jay feather, which I spotted on the gravel outside the back of the Education Centre this morning, close to the moth trap:

jay feather

Beautiful blue Jay feather

The moth trap was fuller today than it has been for some time, with a greater variety of species. The highlights (or the one’s that didn’t fly off instantly, it’s so warm first thing) were:

I also thought I’d share two that were in the trap last Thursday morning, as I didn’t get round to sharing them then and they are both too smart not to:

After looking at the moths I decided to clear in front of the bug hotel, before it got even hotter. Our Young Naturalists group made it last summer, using old pallets that had been left over from the improvement works here last Spring and anything else we could find. It sits behind the new pond, but was no longer visible from the decking.

bug hotel before

Spot the bug hotel

I only pulled up the garlic mustard, also known as ‘Jack-by-the-hedge’, which has gone over now and is present all round the back of the pond, and some stinging nettles that were right in front of the hotel, opening it up again to receive more sunlight. We couldn’t have cleared it much sooner as Bob had noticed the female mallard on the pond and was certain she was nesting directly behind the hotel, so we would have disturbed her.

bug hotel after

After!

I will have to keep an eye on the blocks of wood to see if any bees move in…

Whilst out by the pond I spotted lots of damselfly exuvia on the vegetation growing out of the water, which is not surprising given the amount of damselflies that are on the wing at present. These dried outer cases are left behind when damselflies (and dragonflies) finish the aquatic stage of their lifecycle and emerge as an adult.

damselfly exuvia

Damselfly exuvia

I also went over to the main car park in search of a couple of different orchids Bob had mentioned were flowering. There are two pyramidal orchids close to the footpath into the car park and a bee orchid to the left of the path that leads up to the viewing platform. I could only spot one bee orchid, and was there some time looking for it! If you venture up there, tread carefully…

bee orchid

Bee orchid

This afternoon I walked round the ‘Wild Walk’ sculpture trail route to see which flowers are now out and what I could ‘label’ with our temporary signs over the coming weeks. I took one with me to mark the best spot for looking for grass snakes, and whilst there met a family who had seen one a short while earlier. I am still waiting for my first grass snake spot of the year!

On my way back I spotted a white-tailed bumblebee enjoying the bramble flowers. The honeybees are also back in the cavity of the turkey oak which is at the top of the Dockens Water path, before you turn right to head towards the river dipping bridge. I watched them flying in and out, but they were too speedy for a photo!

white tailed bumble bee

White-tailed bumblebee, Bombus lucorum

Ringing in the New

Despite the weather being somewhat poorer than originally expected the reserve was busy with a mixture of general visitors and listers out to get a good start to 2016. I knew it would be, as there are several species that you are more perhaps likely to see at Blashford than anywhere else in Hampshire. Species like brambling, and two obliged for much of the day at the Woodland hide, Slavonian and black-necked grebe, which both showed all day on Ibsley Water and of course goosander and goldeneye. Then there are the gulls, with regular yellow-legged gulls and, albeit rather late in the day, the ring-billed gull. The only species that really let the side down was bittern, which failed to show at all, as far as I know.

I managed to see 66 species of birds on the reserve today, not a bad start to the year. Along the way I found a hibernating peacock butterfly and a very well developed group of orchid rosettes, hopefully they will cope with any frosts we do eventually get.orchid

I had the rather pleasant task of putting the new hide logbooks in each hide today, so I got to visit them all. From the Goosander hide it was pleasing to see a group of wigeon grazing the eastern shore of Ibsley Water, just reward for all the volunteers’ hard work.grazing wigeon

I also saw a colour-ringed first winter black-headed gull standing on the rails, I think it was a red ring coded 230A, but it was hard to be sure, can you make it out?ringed black-headed gull

The recent rain has also been beneficial to the ephemeral ponds, these only hold water for part of the year, but have a whole range of specialist species that depend upon them. The volunteers have been involved with these too, treading the mud in the bases so they hold water for longer, a process known as puddling. temporary ponds

As well as a good range of species there were a few notable counts during the day, mostly at dusk. I could not get into the Tern hide, there was such a crush of gull watchers, so I looked from the mound at the back of the car park. From there I saw the ring-billed gull and, after a long absence, a flock of starling. Not quite a fully fledged murmuration , but at least 3000 birds. Later on Ivy Lake there were at least 161 roosting cormorant, a new record. I also counted 239 tufted duck, a large number, but there must have been many more as I could mostly only make out the drakes with their white flanks as it was so dark.

Bank Holiday Birds with a Twist

A rainy August Bank Holiday and unsurprisingly Blashford was not very busy with visitors, although there were quiet a few birds of interest. When I opened the hides the great white egret was perched in front of Ivy North and at Ivy South 3 wigeon hint at the winter to come. I had hoped for a few waders or terns to drop in, rain often forces them down from their high level flights overland, but all Ibsley Water had to offer were a couple of common sandpiper. The rain had forced in a huge flock of hirundines to feed low over the water though, I estimated at least a thousand, roughly 40% swallow, 40% house martin and 20% sand martin.

Having just returned from holiday I had a backlog of office work to deal with, being in the office was not so bad when the rain was pouring down outside. Still by lunchtime I had to get out for a bit and went over to the Tern hide to see if anything had changed, the answer was yes. There were terns, only three but they were 2 adult common tern and a  juvenile Arctic tern. There were also more waders, I counted at least 4 and probably 6 common sandpiper, also a dunlin, a little ringed plover and a juvenile little stint. In addition 14 shoveler were flushed by a grey heron and flew over to Mockbeggar Lake.

The rain continued and I returned to the office. Luckily by mid afternoon it stopped and so before doing the round for locking up I went for a quick look on the edge of the lichen heath, in search of Autumn lady’s-tresses, a small orchid that seems to be having a good year. As far as I know it has only been recorded once at Blashford and that some years ago. I looked pretty hard, even using binoculars and was about to give up when I found one, only one, but a good size for this usually small species.

Autumn lady's tresses

Autumn lady’s-tresses

Admittedly not as big as it looks in the picture, perhaps 12cm high. Their Latin name is Spiranthes spiralis and it is easy to see how it got the name from the way the flowers twist around the stem. The recent rain has greened up the heath and caused lots of the plants to flower again, the blue fleabane being especially abundant.

blue fleabane

blue fleabane

When I closed up the Tern hide all I could find of the earlier birds was the Arctic tern and a couple of common sandpiper, so perhaps the improvement in the weather had persuaded the rest to move on. Even the hirundines has mostly gone leaving more or less just sand martin, although I estimated there were now over 300 of them.