Substitutes and Declines

It was feeling very spring-like today, I got very warm as I worked with the volunteers felling some grey alder beside the path to Lapwing Hide. These trees were planted as a “substitute” for native alder, which is not a hard tree to source, when the restoration planting was done after the gravel working ceased. Sadly truly native trees are not always specified in planting schemes, even when they are supposedly done for nature conservation and even when they are, substitutes are often allowed. Often even if the tree species is native they are not from a UK source, importing trees has brought us several diseases that have significantly impacted upon native woodland. These imports are also often adapted to a different climate so will flower or leaf earlier out of sync with native insects. Let’s have more native trees that are really native, ideally grown from the seed of trees as local to the planting site as possible.

wild daffodil

Wild daffodil just coming into flower, a good indicator of remaining ancient woodland at Blashford Lakes.

Having said all this planting trees is an often seriously over rated activity, if they establish well we end up with secondary woodland that will not be more than a pale shadow of an ancient woodland in even a thousand years. The best way to extend woodland cover is to allow existing ancient woods to grow outwards, letting them seed into neighbouring open ground, something that will happen naturally in most places if grazing or mowing are stopped. This way we will get locally adapted trees establishing where they will do best and other species can move out from the old wood into the new. It will also serve to buffer the older woodland and reduce the distance to the nearest neighbouring wood. I am prepared to make an exception for hedges though, so many of these have been lost that replanting is the only practical way to get them back, but the need for locally plant stock remains important.

There has been a good bit of coverage of the severe global decline in insect numbers in the media over the last few days and it is very alarming. A series of studies are now coming to very similar conclusions and these are that insects are in trouble globally with significant declines not just in developed western Europe but in tropical forests as well. Insects may be small but their abundance and diversity mean they are vital to the effective functioning of almost all terrestrial ecosystems. They are predators and prey, decomposers, pollinators and grazers, in fact they are almost everywhere and everywhere they are, they perform essential functions. I have run a moth trap for many years monitoring the species caught before releasing them and I can attest to a great drop in numbers over the years, I see as many species but none in great abundance as I used to.

pale brindled beauty

Pale brindled beauty, a typical late winter species, there were two in the trap last night.

Over the last few weeks things have been a bit hectic on the reserve with work going on all over the place, the new pond is being dug behind the Education Centre and preparations continuing for the installation of the new Tern hide next month. We are doing our best to keep the reserve up and running in the meantime, but there will be occasional interruptions to normal service, such as temporary closure of the main car park or limitations on the use of parts of the car parks.

Out on the reserve two bittern have been seen a number of times recently at Ivy North hide as have two great white egret. I am especially keen to try to record the last sighting of “Walter” our colour-ringed great white egret, he usually heads off back to France around this time of year so any definite sightings gratefully received. At the weekend an otter was seen at Ivy North hide and this morning I have very, very, brief views of one near Ivy South hide, so it is well worth keeping an eye out.

roost

A roosting great white egret with lots of cormorant, it might have been “Walter” but I could not see the legs to check for rings.

 

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Caught on Camera

The day was rather dull for more camera practice, but I had to take it with me on the off chance when I went to open the hides. At Ivy North I could see no sign of the bittern in a scan across the vegetation and up and down the channels, so I got up to leave and glancing back there it was. So I had to try and see if I could get a picture, although it showed well, the poor light made things difficult and this was my best result.

bittern 1

bittern at Ivy North hide

All things considered I am reasonably pleased with it.

I ran the moth trap last night and it was certainly mild enough for moths to be flying. Most of the moths flying now are winter moth, however these rather rarely get attracted to moth traps and there were none in the trap. Two species were caught, one a species that over-winters as an adult, the chestnut.

chestnut

chestnut

The other was a pale brindled beauty, another winter-flying species with wingless females, just like the winter moth.

pale brindled beauty

pale brindled beauty, male

Pictures again taken with the new camera and I think the macro works well. So all in all as a multi-purpose camera for taking blog pictures I think I am happy with my choice. It will be interesting to see how much better the images are on a day with good light.

Finally and perhaps most impressively of all, Pondcam caught a water shrew on camera! These fantastic little mammals are rarely seen but spend much of their time underwater hunting aquatic insects. As they do so their thick fur traps a film of air making them look silver. So they appear as a frantic, silver creature surrounded by a cloud of leaves and sediment that they kick up as they vigorously swim through the shallows.

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.

 

 

 

Could you be a Wildlife Watch-er?

Pond dipping with Wildlife Watch at Blashford Lakes today

Pond dipping with Wildlife Watch at Blashford Lakes today

 

The Blashford Lakes Wildlife Watch group were in this morning – and following what has been a bit of a theme for the week so far, they were pond dipping!

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The children’s favourites were undoubtedly the large dragonfly nymphs in the catch, but mine was this intriguing sub-aqua caterpillar which I can only assume is some kind of caseless china mark moth, but more learned readers of this blog may be able to tell me otherwise or more precisely what it may be:

A china mark moth caterpillar?

A china mark moth caterpillar?

In no way connected to the pond dipping, or the suspected moth caterpillar, afterwards we had a look through the light trap. Surprisingly it wasn’t a great catch last night, (clouded drab, Hebrew character, common quaker, pale brindled beauty, herald and nut-tree tussock; pictured below), but the children (and accompanying parents!) enjoyed seeing them none-the-less:

Nut-tree tussock

Nut-tree tussock

Wildlife Watch is the junior branch of The Wildlife Trusts and the UK’s leading environmental action club for kids. If you care about nature and the environment and want to explore your local wildlife – this is the club for YOU!

There are 150,000 Wildlife Watch members around the UK (and the Isle of Man and Alderney too) and hundreds of local Watch groups where young people get stuck into environmental activities. Taking part in Wildlife Watch is an exciting way to explore your surroundings and get closer to the wildlife you share it with.

Watch groups are run by registered leaders who enjoy working with children and have an enthusiasm and concern for wildlife and the environment.

 There are five principles which underpin all Watch activity:  

 • increasing understanding of our whole environment
• fostering awareness and feeling for the world we live in
• encouraging a caring attitude towards wildlife and participation in conservation
• creating factual, informal, fun ways to investigate our surroundings
• ensuring that young people’s environmental concerns, ideas and opinions are recognised and developed, and opportunities are created to act upon them.

 Across the UK hundreds of adult volunteers are dedicated to running Wildlife Watch groups where children can meet and enjoy exploring their environment. Going regularly to a group, along with their peers, enables young people to have lots of fun and make new friends whilst they develop real understanding and commitment.

 Watch groups give children opportunities to discover local wildlife and get stuck into practical activities likely to encompass anything from environmental artwork and waste recycling, to barn owl surveys, pond dipping and wildflower fun days. All groups operate within a monitored framework of child welfare and safety and all Watch leaders undergo a thorough recruitment process to check their suitability to work with young people.

And why am I telling you all this? Because the popular and successful Blashford Lakes Wildlife Watch group needs more Leaders! The current leaders, Carol, Imogen and Jaime do a brilliant job (the group has even been “Wildlife Watch Group of the Year Regional Winner and even UK Runner Ups several times in recent years!), but at times they can be stretched, especially if someone is ill or on holiday and they are therefore looking for volunteers to join them as Group Leaders.

If you’ve read this blog this far then you’ve obviously got some interest  in wildlife and in helping children learn more about our natural world, so go on, take the next step and find out more about becoming a Wildlife Watch Leader!

For information about the Blashford Lakes group specifically e-mail Imogen (imogen_fidler@yahoo.co.uk) or if this blog has piqued your interest but you would like to find out if there is a Wildlife Watch group nearer to where you live (or even find out how to set one up if there isn’t!) contact Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trusts Wildlife Watch Co-ordinator, Dawn Morgan (dawn.morgan@hiwwt.org.uk). You won’t regret it!

Alternatively if you love the sound of Wildlife Watch for your own children you can be sure of a welcome at the Blashford Lakes group (and all of the others too I am sure!) – for details of the next group meeting see the website or get in touch with Imogen or Dawn!

 

A warm welcome at Blashford Lakes

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I mentioned the general increase in bird song a few blog entries ago, and this trend has continued. The last couple of mornings it has been this song thrush that has been particularly making itself heard, not least because it is favouring a song post in an old elder immediately above the entrance gate that we unlock every morning. A warm welcome in the morning indeed.

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Bittern continue to cavort across Ivy Lake and the surrounding environs, the green-winged teal has been showing well, this morning at least, and wigeon, like those pictured here outside Ivy South Hide continue to dominate the wildfowl.

As promised, I did run the light trap last night, though I had not anticipated the rain that fell and which sadly kept the catch down. So pictured here is the catch in its entirety! One pale brindled beauty and one Tortricodes alternella (thanks to Hants Moths for my identification of the latter):

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Pale brindled beauty

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Tortricodes alternella

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I spent the morning finishing off the reconstruction work to the upper Dockens Water debris dam that was started with the Thursday volunteer team – here’s the end result, unfortunately I missed the “before” photo. Originally constructed as part of a river restoration project in 2006 the constant and extreme flood conditions of the last few months had wreaked havoc, punching a fair-sized hole through that was flowing down the old canalised channel even at normal water level. We have now completed a willow “fedge” in front and behind the original log jam that will allow water to flow through for the time-being, but prevent the situation from worsening and then trap silt, sticks, leaves and other water-borne debris in the autumn, thus effectively re-sealing the gap.

After a short talk to a visiting group after lunch I headed out to see what else the volunteers have been up to in the willow scrub/reed bed on the way up to Lapwing Hide. I was impressed! Continuing the willow clearance begun with Bob last winter they have cleared significantly more over the last few weeks:

Before:

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After!

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The clearing that results will hopefully encourage a re-growth of reed and/or flowering plants, which, sheltered by the surrounding tree’s will in turn favour invertebrates and reptiles. The cleared willows themselves have been formed into a very neat (and photogenic – see below!) dead-hedge which will provide cover for both those animals, small mammals and birds. As it decomposes the dead wood will also provide suitable conditions for deadwood fungi and invertebrates.

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On the way back to the centre I stopped off to look for green-winged teal unsuccessfully, but did catch up with visitors who had seen redhead smew on Ivy Lake (from the southern-most screen). I missed that too, but was delighted by both views of a kingfisher fishing, first in Rockford and then Ivy Lake and by this view of great crested grebes courting:

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An awful picture of a special sight, which included the full-blown neck stretching, head shaking, weedy gift proffering, body-up-out-of-the-water dancing courtship works!