Bluebells to Beaulieu

I have been very absent from the blog this last few months, so this is another quick round up of what our Young Naturalists group have been up to since April – it seems like such a long time ago now!

At the end of April we visited another Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust nature reserve, Roydon Woods.  Spring is a great time to visit and we had timed ours perfectly with the flowering bluebells.

Bluebells

Bluebells

The group also enjoyed photographing and identifying some of the other spring flowers, including Bugle, Greater stitchwort, Wood spurge and Wood anemone:

We also saw Primroses, Lesser celandine, Arum maculatum or Lords-and-Ladies, Speedwell and Wild strawberry. There were also a number of Dor beetles on the paths:

Dor beetle

For the birds, we saw Song thrush, Buzzard, Redstart, Black cap, Great tit, Blue tit, Blackbird, Swallow and Raven and heard Great spotted woodpecker and Chiffchaff.

It was great to discover a different part of the forest with the group, and perhaps we could return again in the Autumn to experience the nature reserve at a different time of year.

During May we met twice, once for the Bird Trail and again at the end of the month to carry out some nest box monitoring with British Trust for Ornithology volunteer Brenda, who keeps a watchful eye over all of the nest boxes on the reserve.

The Bird Trail was organised by Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust in partnership with Hampshire Ornithological Society, with each competing team vying to be the one which saw, identified and recorded the most species of bird (and other wildlife – the number of which would be critical in the event of a tie in the number of birds seen).

Following a set route that took in Tern Hide, Ivy South Hide, Woodland Hide and Ivy North Hide, we were also kept busy with a range of other wildlife activities throughout the day including a bird ringing demonstration, pond and river dipping, looking at the moths caught in the light trap, owl pellet dissecting, a static birds of prey demonstration by Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre and a bird feeding strategy activity provided by New Forest National Park Authority Rangers.

Jim was able to blog after the event, and our Young Naturalists team did manage to improve on last time’s second place to come first, recording 44 bird species over the course of the day. Our highlights were probably the Hobby, which flew over the Education Centre whilst we and some of the other teams were having lunch, along with the Chaffinch, simply because it took us all day to see one – we had to wait until we had completed our circuit of all the bird hides and had walked back up to the feeder by the Welcome Hut.

At the end of May, Brenda offered to once again take the group round a number of the nest boxes on the reserve as she checked them and ringed the young. They were delighted to be able to peak inside the nest boxes, a couple of which had been made by older members of the group, see the birds being ringed and handle them carefully before putting them back in their nests.

The nest box monitoring and checking on the reserve by Brenda is carried out following the BTO’s Nest Recording Scheme Code of Conduct and we ensured at all times that nest disturbance was kept to a minimum and our observing did not have a negative impact on their chance of success. The group were incredibly quiet, careful, asked lots of great questions and knew how lucky they were to get the opportunity to join Brenda for a closer look inside the boxes. 

After spending time with Brenda we headed off down to the river in search of two invasive species, Himalayan balsalm and Pink purslane, which when found we pulled up. Hopefully we made a little bit of a difference!

At the end of June, which doesn’t seem quite so long ago, we returned to the Beaulieu River for another canoe safari, an activity the group did a couple of summers ago and really enjoyed. It was brilliant to see the wildlife from a different perspective.

Group

Receiving our briefing

Whilst out on the water we saw Little egrets, Oystercatchers, a Common tern, lots and lots of Canada geese, Swallows, Black headed gulls, a Buzzard, Marbled white butterflies, dragonflies and a Bee which we rescued from the water.

We tried samphire (not popular with all!), watched fish jumping and stuck our hands in the Mermaid’s hair.

The highlight though had to once again be the thousands upon thousands of Moon jellyfish which we paddled through along one stretch of the river:

We had a great day wildlife watching from our canoes, but only Alex opted to jump in off the jetty at the very end:

Alex

Our Young Naturalists group is funded by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

Bee is for Blashford

Or maybe Blashford is for bees, well of course it is! Blashford is for all wildlife and the people who like to experience it. Everyone knows the honey bee and bumble bees, although perhaps not that there are 28 species of them. However there are something like 250 other species of bees in Britain and they all spend their days visiting flowers and pollinating them. These 250 are the so called solitary bees, despite the name they can occur in great aggregations, importantly though each nest is the domain of just one female, there are no worker bees.

Andrena vaga female 2

grey-backed mining bee (female) with a load of willow pollen.

There has been much coverage recently about the declines in insect numbers around the world and that of pollinating insects in particular, perhaps because they are economically important to us as pollinators of crops. Declines could be for many reasons and probably are multi-factored, but a general loss of habitat and an increasing uniformity in what is left, along with increased prevalence of chemical contaminants are all likely contributors. Some enlightened local authorities are modifying their grass mowing regimes on verges, roundabouts and recreation site to allow more flowering, some of the best are actually seeding back wildflowers or using “meadow mixes”. In fact we can all help by providing flowers that are good sources of nectar and by valuing some of the “weeds” that we might have removed in the past. For instance a lawn with dandelions may not win the green-keepers prize but these are a very important source of food for early flying bees and hoverflies.

Blashford Lakes has lots of nectar sources, especially at this time of year when willows are important for many species and so has lots of solitary bees. Many also need bare, sandy soil to dig their nests and we have that in abundance too.

Andrena vaga female emerging from burrow

grey-backed mining bee (female) emerging from nest hole

One of the problems with solitary bees is that some species are very similar to one another and so difficult to identify in the field. Although the grey-backed mining bee female is distinctive the male looks very like the male of another species, the ashy mining bee.

Andrena cineraria male

ashy mining bee (male)

One of the commonest mining bees around at present is the yellow-legged mining bee, which can be found nesting in bare ground in banks, lawns and various other places.

Andrena flavipes male

yellow-legged mining bee (male) – or at least I think it is!

Some bees are neither colonial nor make their own solitary nests, they are nest parasites of other bees. One genus of bees the Nomada bees specialise in this way of life, often specialising on one particular host species. The yellow-legged mining bee plays unwilling host to the painted nomad bee, which looks very wasp-like.

Nomada fucata male

painted nomad bee (male)

The last few of days have seen big arrivals of hirundines, Monday was almost all sand martin, yesterday there were a few swallow and the odd house martin and today there were even more swallow, probably over 50. On Ibsley Water there a couple of pairs of oystercatcher, a pair of redshank, probably five little ringed plover, several lapwing and today two green sandpiper. Meanwhile around the Centre and Woodland Hide the wheezing of brambling is very much in evidence, particularly in the morning, there are at least 30 and I suspect 50 or more around just now.

And remember it does not take much effort not to mow the lawn for a few days and let the dandelions flower to feed the bees. You could put your feet up and have a cup of tea, or a beer (other drinks are available), whilst making your own contribution to Wilding Hampshire!

30 Days Wild – Day 7 – Go-to-Bed Waking Up

Today I will start with…………..

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Mainly because I started the day with a quick look around the meadow, where I found a plant that I had not previously seen flowering in the garden. It was Tragopogon pratensis commonly known as meadow goat’s beard, meadow salsify or Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon. The last name hints at why I had not previously seen it in flower, the flowers open for only a few hours each morning and are closed by midday, so I have usually left before they open and return too late.

Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon 2

Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon in flower and closed seed heads

It is a biennial so any seed that sets this year will not flower until 2020. Hopefully I will get some pictures of the seed heads later.

Quiet a lot of flowers close up for parts of the day, many bee pollinated species close at night and moth pollinated ones open then. Ragwort is one flower that closes at night and some small insects exploit this and let the flower close around them for protection. Ragwort is a much maligned plant, it is poisonous to livestock if they eat it, as are a good few other plants. Livestock generally avoid it as it tastes unpleasant, although if it is included in hay they will eat it and it remains toxic. It is a very valuable nectar source for a host of insects and as we know flowery places are fewer than they were. Buglife produced a very good information sheet on ragwort called Ragwort: noxious weed or precious wildflower?

Generally we do control where it is close to neighbouring land and especially if these are fields where horses are kept or that are cut for hay. It can be very dominant on some recently disturbed sites as the seed can persist for long periods coming up when bare ground is created. Generally closed sward grasslands have relatively little ragwort as there are no bare patches for the seed to germinate in.

One species that is dependant upon ragwort is the cinnabar moth, both the black and yellow caterpillars and the brightly coloured moth, which often flies by day, will be familiar to most  people.

cinnabar moth

cinnabar moth

Both the caterpillar and moth can afford to be brightly coloured as they are also poisonous, they sequester the alkaloid poisons from the plant when they eat it and incorporate them into their bodies.

The moth traps both at home and at Blashford were unremarkable in their catches, but as I was locking up the Education shutters I noticed a Brussels lace moth on the wall, rather an attractive specie sin an understated way.

Brussels lace

Brussels lace

Locking up the Tern hide it was pleasing to see that both oystercatcher chicks are now flying well and accompanying their parents on feeding trips hunting for worms. There was also a rather unseasonal black-tailed godwit, it was not in breeding plumage so was presumably a first year bird, as they do not return to the breeding grounds in Iceland in their first summer.

 

Ringing the Changes

ox-eye daisy

ox-eye daisies

Perhaps the last of the warm days for a while so I thought I would start with a summery shot of the ox-eye daisies which are just starting to flower now. The good weather has been very useful to us as we have been resurfacing paths and doing much other refurbishment at Blashford over the last few days,. With this in mind I will mention that the car parking on the southern (Education Centre) side of Ellingham Drove will be closed tomorrow whilst the entrance track is being resurfaced. Hopefully we should be more or less back to normal on Friday, so everyone who has been putting up with the bumpy track should notice a significant change.

I had a moth trap opening public event this morning, there were not a lot of moths, but a better catch than we have had for a while. There was common swift, poplar hawk, alder moth, treble lines, light brocade, may highflyer, green carpet, brindled beauty, pale tussock,

pale tussock

pale tussock

silver Y, clouded border, white ermine, buff-tip, common carpet, common marbled carpet, spectacle, pale prominent, sharp-angled peacock, fox moth, flame shoulder and Apotomis betuletana (a micro moth that looks like a bird dropping).

buff-tip

buff-tip

Yesterday I found a dead bird on the path as I went to open up the Ivy North hide, it was not freshly dead, so I am not quite sure why it had appeared there now.

IMG_2625

a very dead bird!

As you may have spotted, it is interesting as it has a metal ring on the leg. Although there is not much to go on I think it is a chiffchaff, the ring is one from the British ringing scheme run by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), it could be one ringed at Blashford or maybe it is from elsewhere, I will find out soon.

IMG_2626

The ring on what might be a chiffchaff

The ringing of birds tells us a lot about where they go to and how they get there, how long they live and much more. With this in mind I have a challenge for all the photographers out there that visit Blashford Lakes. At present there is a pair of oystercatcher with two chicks near Tern hide, one of the adults has a ring, but I cannot read it properly, I have three of the numbers but need more to find out where it came from, if you get a picture that shows any of the numbers or letters please let me know, we may just be able to piece the number together. I have also noticed that two of the common tern have rings, if they ever land on the posts near the hide we may be able to get the numbers off these too. What I know for sure is that neither was ringed at Blashford as we have never caught one at the reserve.

The Blues

The last few days have seen warm sunshine by day but chilly nights, meaning it has been poor for moths but good for day-flying insects. Today at Blashford Lakes I saw my first scarce chaser and downy emerald of the year and there were other dragonflies about too with reports of emperor, broad-bodied chaser and hairy dragonfly.

Most of the butterflies that over winter by hibernation as adults are getting scarce now and spring species such as orange-tip are dropping in numbers. there are a few whites around with all three of the common species, but the highlight today was the emergence of  blues. The small meadow near Ivy North hide had six or more male common blue as I went to lock up and at least three brown argus as well, the argus is brown, but an honorary “blue” all the same..

common blue male

common blue (male), freshly emerged.

The brown argus look very like small female common blue, and the male common blues will get up to chase one if it flies by, however they quickly realise their mistake and give up. The first emergences are all males and the females will follow in a day or so. The reason for this is the same as that for male migrant bird arriving just ahead of the females. Evolution will push the males to be in place and ready for the first females to arrive, it does not pay to be late, so the pressure for males to be early is greater than that on females, who can afford to wait until they know there will be males to mate with.

The spring solitary bees are starting to disappear now, many species collect pollen from just a few plants and as these cease to flower they need to wrap up their breeding cycle. I did come across one interesting species today though, it was one of the nomad bees and the smallest species of them to be found in Britain, Nomada sheppardana.

Nomada sheppardana

Nomada sheppardana on forget-me-not

Visiting flowers is something many insects have to do to feed, it may sound an unproblematic things to do, the flowers want to offer a nectar reward, or perhaps bribe might be a better description, to the insects that will pollinate them. However it is not as safe as it might sound, flowers can hide predators, especially the camouflaged crab spider which match their colour to the flowers they sit on.

crab spider with hoverfly

crab spider with hoverfly prey

The crab spider here matched the hawthorn flowers so well that I missed it and initially set up to take a picture of the hoverfly, only then did I see the spider!

It has not been a good year for ground-nesting birds so far this spring, with most lapwing and little ringed plover losing their eggs to predators. I suspect mammals at night as the ones nesting on the islands are doing much better. Or at least they were, on Thursday might all the black-headed gull on Long Spit abandoned their nests. Although I don’t know for sure I suspect that something swam out there and ate their eggs, probably a fox or a badger. These mammals are usually not that keen on swimming, but if they are hungry they will go to great lengths to get the food they want, I think small mammals, which are their preferred prey, are in short supply this year, which might be why they are seeking birds eggs more actively.

Despite a bad time for some ground-nesters the pair of oystercatcher are still doing well, with their two chicks growing well. They hatched on Long Spit, moved off to the shore near Tern hide and have now returned to Long Spit, this meant they were not out there on the night of the predator raid. So far the main gull colony on Gull Island shows no sign of being attacked and neither do the tern rafts on Ivy Lake.

 

Preparations for Spring

It was a properly frosty morning, but walking round to open up the hides this morning signs of approaching spring were everywhere.

Frosty thistle

Frosty thistle

The snowdrops near the store are well out now and primroses are flowering around the car park edge, near the Woodland hide the leaves of the wild daffodils have been up for  a while, but now the flower buds can be seen. Along the path sides shiny, bright green wild arum leaves are showing everywhere and near the alder carr there are the brilliant red spots of colour provided by scarlet elf cup fungi.

As it was Tuesday we had a volunteer task today and we were also looking forward to the warmer days. Our task was clearing back the path sides on the way to the Ivy South hide to open up sheltered scallops to give something of the feeling of a woodland ride. This path runs almost exactly north-south and so has many sun-traps beloved of insects and reptiles. Out plan was to create more such spots in the hope of making more encounters with these creatures later in the year.

pathside clearance

Cleared path sides to create sunny “scallops”.

The end of the day saw rather fewer birders at the Tern hide hoping for a sight of the Thayer’s gull, they were disappointed again. There was the usual ring-billed gull, several yellow-legged gull, a first winter Caspian gull and an adult Mediterranean gull in the roost. My own sightings were rather few, “Walter” our great white egret was fishing in Ivy Lake and on Ibsley Water 2 shelduck and 3 oystercatcher were the most interesting records.

Tomorrow we are working at Fishlake Meadows again, clearing cut willow into dead hedges to create new views across the reedbeds and pools.

 

Messing around on the water…

Last Sunday fourteen of our Young Naturalists met up again for our usual monthly meeting, and this time we were back in Beaulieu and heading out onto the water on a canoe safari with New Forest Activities. We were hoping to get a different view of some of the river birds and spot some of the moon jellyfish we had heard so much about. Moon jellyfish can often be seen in large numbers in the Beaulieu River during the summer months and are easily identifiable by the four rings visible in the centre of their transparent bodies.

After a briefing from our instructors we sorted ourselves out into canoes and headed out onto the water.

Briefing

Receiving our briefing

The weather wasn’t as hot and sunny as it had been, possibly a good thing for being out on the water, but it was warm and the group didn’t appear to mind getting a bit wet. Some got wetter than others!

After getting used to our canoes we headed upstream, foraging for wild samphire along the way and spotting lapwing. We also looked at a nesting platform which hopefully may one day tempt a passing osprey to stay in the area for longer.

We soon noticed lots of small jellyfish in the water, which the group were particularly excited by. We had a go at scooping up some of them to see what they felt like before quickly returning them to the river. They were quite hard to catch but Annabel in particular seemed to have the jellyfish catching knack.

A lot of the creeks and inlets were out of bounds due to nesting birds but we were able to explore one, spotting crabs in the shallower water and watching the jellyfish drift by. Turning back round at the end was entertaining.

Heading up the creek

Heading into the creek…

On the lookout for crabs

On the lookout for crabs…

After a picnic on the shore at Beaulieu, it was time to head back down river and back to Bailey’s Hard. Although the sun had by now come out, the wind had also picked up and getting back was definitely harder!

The group had a great time, spotting lapwing, oystercatcher, mute swans, mallards and swallows on and over the water, but the wildlife highlight was definitely the jellyfish!

Thank you to New Forest Activities for a fun day out and to volunteers Nigel, Geoff and Emily for joining us.

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

30 Days Wild – Day 21: More Dragons than Game of Thrones

Although thankfully less death and destruction and all the dragons are dragonflies, they are really enjoying the hot weather. From a photography point of view the heat makes it very difficult to get close to them as they are extremely active. I saw lots of emperor dragonfly today, there have been a number of reports of  the migrant lesser emperor in recent days, although none from Blashford as yet. I did manage to get a picture of a male black-tailed skimmer today though, perched along the path to Ivy South hide as I went to lock up.

black-tailed skimmer

black-tailed skimmer male

The butterflies are also liking the conditions although avoiding the very hottest part of the day. I did see my first ringlet of the year, again on the path to Ivy South hide, they are usually most frequent on the northern side of the reserve, it was too active for me to get a picture this time.

In recent days I have noticed that there almost always seem to be stock dove on the lichen heath, yesterday there were at least eight there. They seem to be picking at the vegetation, or possibly seeds, often they don’t immediately notice me on the path allowing some good views until they suddenly realise I am there and race off with a clatter of wings. Otherwise it was generally quiet, from Tern hide it was good to see two little ringed plover chicks as I opened up along with the single oystercatcher chick.

30 Days Wild – Day 15: Trying to Impress

I was out on the eastern side of Ibsley Water with the volunteers this morning to clear the areas we cut and which are grazed by ponies of ragwort. It is toxic to animals, but they will usually not eat when it is growing, however they will if it is cut and gets mixed with grass or hay. At one time it was one of the commonest plants in this area but now it is much reduced and overall the grassland is looking much better, with quite a good range of species. A couple of highlights this morning were several patches of corky-fruited water-dropwort.

IMG_1455

corky-fruited water-dropwort

Corky-fruited water-dropwort is an Umbellifer, one of the carrot family and is very attractive to insects, this one had lots of pollen beetles on it. It is quiet frequent in unimproved grasslands in a swathe roughly south of the M4, so it is pleasing to see it at Blashford where the grassland is still recovering from the ravages of mineral extraction. Another find was knotted clover, a plant of dry sandy places, often near the coast, I am not sure if I have found it at Blashford previously.

knotted clover

knotted clover

At lunchtime I tried the pheromone lures for clearwing moths again, completely without success. However I did spot a handsome black-and-yellow longhorn beetle.

black-and-yellow longhorn beetle Rutpela maculata

black-and-yellow longhorn beetle Rutpela maculata.

After doing various odd jobs in the afternoon I went to lock up the hides and found a pair of crab spiders on a hemlock water-dropwort flower head, The male is quite different from the female and a lot smaller so he has to tread carefully if he is not going to get eaten.

crab spider pair

crab spider pair

It seemed it was not only the spiders that were making plans, on a nearby ox-eye daisy I saw a female hoverfly Eristalis horticola, with a male hovering low over her and darting from side to side. I am not sure if she was impressed but he was trying hard to dazzle her with his advanced hovering skills.

Eristalis horticola pair

Eristalis horticola pair

I also found another slime mould, on the same log as the one the other day, although this was clearly a different species.

slime mould

slime mould

The only new bird sighting of note today was of a first summer little gull as I locked Tern hide. It was pleasing to see that the single oystercatcher chick from gull island has fledged and that the remaining one near Tern hide is close to doing so. In additions the single large lapwing chick is also close to flying and two of the smaller ones are still going strong. Even better was a sighting of two well grown little ringed plover chicks today. On Ivy Lake the common tern chicks are growing well and most broods seem to still be of three chicks.

30 Days Wild – Day 14: Getting Brown

A hot day and at this time of year one when you need to take care in the full sun. I was in the office for much of the morning, which was at least cooler. At lunchtime I went outside, hoping to see some hoverflies and soldierflies on the hemlock water-dropwort, but all I saw was bees. I think it was too hot for many insects, on these kind of days they often sit out the hottest part of the day in the shade and can be found clinging to the underside of leaves.

A number of people have commented on the lack of butterflies in recent days, it is true there are not a lot, but this is not that unusual at  this time of year. The spring species have mostly finished and the high summer species are just starting, the “gap” is often bridged by lots of white butterflies, but this year they have been quiet scarce. At Blashford the mid-summer butterflies are the browns and the meadow brown are just starting to appear in numbers now. They do not bask with wings open very much once the day has warmed, up so it was no surprise that they were all sitting with wings closed today.

meadow brown

meadow brown

Meadow brown has just one generation a year and they will fly from now until early September. Some species, like small tortoiseshell and comma have two generations, with the second over-wintering as an adult hidden away out of the worst of the frost. Another of the browns, the speckled wood has three overlapping generations so can be seen from late March to early November, it can also over-winter as ether a caterpillar or a pupa.

speckled wood

speckled wood

In other news, I saw the larger of the lapwing chicks today from tern hide and it must be getting close to fledging now, as is the one remaining oystercatcher chick. The three smaller lapwing chicks seem to have been reduced to two, but they at still growing well. Out on the rafts most of the common tern eggs have now hatched and generally they seem to be in broods of three, with lots of small fish being brought in, so they are growing fast. Today many of the chicks were using the shelters to get out of the strong sunshine, over-heating can be a real problem for small chicks, so shade is important.