What a difference six months makes…

At the end of September we headed back to the Purbecks with our Young Naturalists to repeat March’s snowy residential, and the weather was glorious!

Staying once again at Brenscombe Activity Centre, just outside Corfe Castle, we headed over on the Friday evening to make the most of the weekend. On Saturday we once again visited Brownsea, with the weather a stark contrast to the freezing cold of our last visit.

Brownsea

Brownsea Island from the Studland to Bournemouth Ferry

We met up with Dorset Wildlife Trust staff member Nicki and volunteer Claire, who took us on a guided walk around the part of the Island managed by the Wildlife Trust.

Brownsea 2

Start of our guided walk

From Low Hide we had great views of the birds on the Lagoon, spotting Cormorant, Black-headed gull, Spotted redshank, Avocet, Common redshank, Spoonbill, Little egret, Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Grey heron, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Moorhen, Little ringed plover, Starling, Great black-backed gull and Dunlin.

We then headed further in to the reserve on our walk, past The Villa Wildlife Centre and through Venetia Park up to the viewpoint. This was the view we missed out on last time:

The view

On our way we spotted Wood pigeon, Magpie, Coal tit, Great tit, Chaffinch, Blue tit, Pheasant, Nuthatch, Buzzard, Canada goose and on stopping to break for lunch we had great views of a Sparrowhawk overhead. We were now on our way to the beach and on a part of the reserve not open to the public – it was great for red squirrel spotting and we saw a number up in the tree tops.

After exploring the old buildings we headed down to the beach. At first look it was fairly clear of litter, but on closer inspection we managed to collect a fair amount of rubbish from the shoreline and spotted a few natural finds too, including crab claws, oyster shells and pottery fragments. Given this part of the reserve is not open to visitors, all of the litter we collected had washed on to the beach from the harbour.

After carrying the litter closer to the path for Nicki and Claire to collect later, we carried on with our walk and headed back towards The Villa, again red squirrel spotting along the way. We also spied a female Common darter basking in the sunshine.

On reaching The Villa we thanked Nicki and Claire for their time and made our way to the area by the Church. This spot had given us some great close up views of red squirrels last time we were here and we had about 45 minutes to spare before having to catch the boat back. We were lucky enough to get quite close to a Sika deer that wasn’t at all worried by all the people around her as well as peacocks and red squirrels.

We were enjoying the weather so much we decided to spend some time on the beach at Shell Bay after leaving Brownsea, paddling in the sea, beach combing and having a wander along the shoreline.

On the Sunday we headed up onto the ridge above the activity centre and walked towards Corfe Castle.

We then headed back to the coast, this time heading over to Kimmeridge Bay for some fossil hunting and rock pooling. Before going down to the beach we visited Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Fine Foundation Wild Seas Centre. We loved the indoor rock pool and the centre is well worth the visit if you are ever in the area.

To give the tide more time to go out we then walked up to Clavell Tower, enjoying the view down to Kimmeridge Bay below.

After lunch on the beach we began fossil hunting for ammonites, something the group really enjoyed as they constantly tried to find an ammonite to better than the one they already had.

Finally we finished off with some rock pooling and a walk back along the beach, looking for shrimp, anemones, fish, shells and larger ammonites still under the water:

Admittedly it was a while ago now, but we had a fabulous time in the Purbecks and certainly enjoyed the sunshine on the Saturday. The group really enjoyed spending time on the coast, spotting red squirrels on Brownsea and the beach clean, an activity they are very good at!

Thank you to Nicki and Claire for showing us around Brownsea on the Saturday and to our brilliant volunteers Geoff, Nigel and Michelle for again giving up another weekend to join us, we certainly couldn’t run the weekends away without them!

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

Shell bay 3

Shell bay

 

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Whittling wands…

If you have children or grand children you will be well aware that it’s half term holidays for Dorset and Hampshire children this week – and to be honest even if you haven’t by now you have probably worked out that it is given the increased number of children at the swimming pool/around town!

So that’s our excuse for the reduction in blog activity this week – I was off the first half of the week, Bob’s been off all week and Tracy has been holding the fort solo much of the week and dealing with everything that comes up on a daily basis and therefore not managed to find time to blog as well…

On the wildlife front the most remarkable thing really to happen this week so far is that as of the latter half of this week, and today in particular, Autumn really has settled in. I even put the heating back on in the Education Centre yesterday! That said earlier in the week we were still seeing common darter dragonflies and the odd peacock butterfly on the wing in the sunshine and there has been up to two swallows around Tern Hide most of the week as well. I didn’t see one this morning, but was welcomed by one huddled up on the hide roof yesterday. Bird wise there has been marsh harrier around on and off, including two individuals earlier in the week and we still have three great white egrets (including Walter of course…). Wildfowl numbers continue to creep up, most noticeably with an arrival of pochard and up to five goosander recorded in the Tern Hide sightings book too. Elsewhere there have been one off sightings of both bittern and otter in Ivy Silt Pond…

As usual half term holidays allow opportunity for Tracy and I to get out on site and play… this weeks “Wild Days Out” were themed “Wild Witches and Wizards” and we both had a lovely time – I’m reasonably confident that the children did too!

Beginning with an indoor craft activity whilst everyone arrived and was signed in origami bats, cobweb making and general colouring in were all well received. I was particularly impressed by the small group of boys who took the bat template and then diligently both up and down scaled it:

Then we headed out in search of magical ingredients for our cauldron… who would have thought that we might find troll fur, fairy goblets and goblin eyeballs on our walk, but we did! These were then supplemented with other special finds which Tracy had hidden earlier and marked on a map to test the children’s (and Tracy’s!) orienteering skills… ground unicorn horn, dragons blood, pixie juice, troll snot, charred bone and more all discovered all of the ingredients went into the cauldron and were stirred. All very exciting, but definitely time for lunch afterwards. Must have been the troll snot whetting our appetite…

Post lunch we turned our attention to wand whittling and broom making with one enterprising individual foregoing a broom in favour of a “Gandalf staff”, complete with clay and plant decorated head and ornamentation. Not sure he’s ever been so quiet and it has to be said the same was true of all the children while they carefully whittled their wands. Such concentration!

181025WDO_WildWitches by J Day (8)

Finally there was just time (okay, actually there wasn’t quite time but we did it anyway and over ran by a few minutes!) to light the fire to bake some campfire “toffee apples” to finish our day. They looked pretty awful but did taste delicious (trouble with running a bit late and trying to cook on the fire while it was still blazing rather than having died down to perfect cooking embers). Tracy and I were more than happy enough to polish off the spares anyway!

181025WDO_WildWitches by J Day (10)

No Wild Days Out over Christmas but they will be back at February half term with a bird theme… bookings will be taken online on the Trusts “shop” from mid January:  https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product-category/events/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dots of Green

The prolonged dry conditions have caused the grass to go brown almost everywhere you look at the moment. Grasses are a group of plants that are drought adapted and when it rains you can be confident that it will green up again quite rapidly. Other plants respond differently, most annuals are as crisp as the grass, often growing less than usual and seeding earlier before the lack of water kills them. What is obvious though is that even in the brownest grass there still dots of green, these are the deep rooted perennial plants. In my mini-meadow the field scabious in particular still has green leaves and is covered in flowers.

The plants that can keep growing in these conditions provide valuable nectar sources for insects. At Blashford Lakes one plant that just carries on is burdock and the plants near the Education Centre are a magnet for insects.

sil;ver-washed fritillarysilver-washed fritillary

Most butterflies have had a good season, numbers overall have been higher than in recent years, although many are not flying for very long. The species that over-winter by hibernation such as peacock and small tortoiseshell have disappeared, they will be hiding away in sheds and cellars, before they fly again in the early autumn.

One group of butterflies that don’t seem to mind the conditions are the whites, perhaps being white their colour reflects the heat better than the dark browns, which hide away in the shade during the hottest part of the day.

small white

small white

As well as butterflies the same flowers are attracting bees as well, at Blashford Lake, a swell as the bumble-bees, I have seen lots of green-eyed flower bee on the burdock flowers. These smallish, compact bees are very fast flyers and have a distinctive, high pitched buzz.

green-eyed flower bee

green-eyed flower bee

In general the reserve remains quite for birds. On Ivy Lake over a hundred gadwall is a good count for the time of year and on Ibsley Water there are good numbers of coot and tufted duck, although counting them is proving tricky. A few migrant waders are turning up, a common sandpiper or two and the occasional black-tailed godwit are witness to approaching autumn. The ringers have reported catching willow warbler, whitethroat and grasshopper warbler recently, almost certainly all migrants rather than local birds.

Busy in the Sunshine

Sorry for the lack of posts, we seem to have been very busy and by the end of the day exhaustion has taken over. It is the time of year when there is lots of growth to cut back, bramble regrowth to cut off and nettle to remove from potential grassland areas. Today I spent the morning removing ragwort from one of the areas due to be mowed later this month and the afternoon mowing bramble regrowth from a bank beside Ibsley Water where we are trying to establish grassland. Hot and heavy work, there are times when I think I am getting too old for it! Being out in the sun did mean I saw lots of butterflies, meadow brown and gatekeeper are probably the most abundant now.

gatekeeper

gatekeper

There are also a number of summer broods out, I saw peacock, small tortoiseshell, common blue, brown argus and small copper. Possibly a side effect of the hot weather is the number of common blue that are unusually small, some as small or smaller than brown argus. I think this happens because the food quality of the plant the caterpillar was on was not good enough or in sufficient quantity for it to grow to full size.

When I had lunch I took a look at the Centre pond and there were dozens of pairs of azure damselfly pairs, egg-laying in tandem. They do this so that the male can be sure that the eggs being laid are the ones that he has fertilised. Some dragonflies do the same and others will stay hovering close tot eh female whilst she lays.

azure damselfly pairs

azure damselfly pairs

I know that I was only doing “What’s in My Meadow Today” during 30 Days Wild, but I will end with a picture from there anyway. One thing that is very noticeable as the grass has gone brown and then yellow is that some plants remain green, field scabious is one of these, which is not just green but flowering well.

small skipper on field scabious

small skipper on field scabious

Oh, to Bee in England…

As though to emphasise the change in season today was one of those rare days when it was possible to see both brambling and swift at Blashford Lakes an opportunity that lasts for only a few days.  When I started birdwatching in the Midlands our equivalent was seeing fieldfare and swallow in the same place, on the same day. The brambling were at least 2 males at the feeders and the swift at least 14 over Ibsley Water.

Despite the remaining reminders of winter it felt very spring-like, with orange-tip, green-veined and small white, comma, peacock, brimstone, holly blue and several speckled wood butterflies seen, along with the year’s first damselfly, the large red.

After last night’s thunder storm I was not surprised that the moth trap was not over-filled with moths, although the catch did include a lesser swallow prominent, a pale prominent and a scarce prominent, the last a new reserve record, I think.

The warm weather has encouraged a lot of insects out, I saw my first dark bush cricket nymph of the year near the Centre pond. Nearby I also saw my first dotted bee-fly, this species used to be quite scarce but can now be seen widely around the reserve, although it is well outnumbered by the commoner dark-bordered bee-fly.

dark bush cricket nymph

dark bush cricket nymph

The wild daffodil are now well and truly over but the bluebell are just coming out.

bluebell

bluebell

A lot of trees are in flower now or are shortly to be, the large elm on the way to Tern hide is still covered in flower though.

elm flowers

elm flower

Trees are a valuable source of food for a lot of insects and the find of the day was a species that makes good use of tree pollen. I had spotted what I at first thought were some nesting ashy mining bees Andrena cineraria, but they did not look right. That species has a dark band over the thorax and black leg hairs. This one had white hairs on the back legs and no dark thorax band. I took some pictures and it turns out to be grey-backed mining bee Andrena vaga, until very recently a very rare species in the UK which seems to now be colonising new areas.

grey-backed mining bee 2

grey-backed mining bee

They make tunnelled nests in dry soil and provision them with pollen from willows for the larvae.

greybacked mining bee

grey-backed mining bee with a load of pollen

The same area of ground also had several other mining bees, including the perhaps the most frequent early spring species, the yellow-legged mining bee.

yellow-legged mining bee 2

yellow-legged mining bee (female)

 

Brilliant Brownsea

It seems like a long time ago now, but mid-March we headed with our Young Naturalists to the Purbecks, to hopefully explore and discover some different habitats and visit some new places. Unfortunately the weather was partly against us, and whilst I had hoped the snow from the start of the month would not return, it unfortunately did and cut our weekend short. A weekend away at the start of the year before many of the group became focussed on exams and revision had seemed a good idea at the time!

After meeting at Blashford on the Friday night, we headed over to Brenscombe Outdoor Centre just outside Corfe Castle which was to be our base for the weekend. On Saturday morning we were up bright and early and drove the short distance from the centre to the chain ferry, crossing the entrance to Poole Harbour for the ferry to Brownsea Island.

Brownsea map

Brownsea Island

A short boat trip later and we had arrived, meeting up with Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Poole Harbour Reserves Officer Luke Johns. Whist the island is owned by the National Trust, the northern section is managed by Dorset Wildlife Trust and Luke took us on a guided walk around this part of Brownsea.

Do we look cold

Beginning our guided walk, only ever so slightly cold!

It was bitterly cold and the group did brilliantly to keep focussed and answer Luke’s questions. There were also a number of bird hides for us to visit and shelter in, which gave us excellent views of wetland birds in the lagoon including avocet.

We had planned on taking part in a beach clean with Luke, but by midday the snow was falling fairly heavily, most of us had lost all feeling in our fingers and toes and the beach in question was fully exposed to the elements, so we abandoned that plan. Luke very kindly let us warm up and have lunch in The Villa Wildlife Centre, where the group were delighted to be able to red squirrel watch from the window – we had thought our chances of seeing any were now incredibly slim, given the inclement weather.

After lunch we headed to the Church, in search of more red squirrels – we had been advised this was the best place to try and weren’t disappointed. Distracted by the peahens which were too busy sheltering to worry about our group, we soon spotted two red squirrels, one of which came incredibly close to the group, in fact too close for most cameras!

Red squirrel by Talia Felstead

Red squirrel by Talia Felstead

Thomas was very pleased to find a peacock feather in the woodland, a fitting souvenir for our visit to the island.

Deflecting questions along the lines of ‘which boat are we getting back’ we headed across the island and managed to get down onto the beach on the southern side of Brownsea. It was a lot more sheltered down here and you could feel the change in temperature. We followed the shoreline watching oystercatcher and brent geese and looking for other things of interest, warming up in the process.

Whilst on Brownsea we had noted 27 different species of bird: avocet, shelduck, redshank, black-tailed godwit, black-headed gull, cormorant, gadwall, oystercatcher, wigeon, great black-backed gull, pintail, dunlin, curlew, mallard, moorhen, bar-tailed godwit, brent goose, great tit, chaffinch, tufted duck, great spotted woodpecker, great crested grebe, robin, blackbird and crow, as well as of course peacock and peahen.

We then headed to the site of Lord Baden-Powell’s experimental camp which was held on 1st August 1907 and set the foundation of the Scouting and Guiding movements today.

Whilst there we spotted a small number of Sika deer, which on spotting us headed off rather quickly, leaving good tracks in the soft mud. Britain’s second largest breed of deer, they were introduced to the island from Japan in 1896. They soon discovered they could swim across the water to the Isle of Purbeck and once here established new herds.

Finally, after exploring most of the island we headed back to the church to see if we could catch another glimpse of the red squirrels, which we managed, then headed back to the ferry. We’d had a brilliant day on Brownsea and, despite the freezing cold the group thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Unfortunately after waking on Sunday morning to spectacularly snowy scenes, the group enjoyed a snowball fight then we packed up and slowly headed back to Blashford for some snowy bird photography at the woodland hide instead. We didn’t want to get stranded anywhere in the minibus and equally weren’t entirely sure how easy it would be for all the parents to get to Blashford to pick the group up.

Although cut short, it was a great weekend and one we will hopefully repeat properly at a more sensible time of year! Thank you to Luke for our guided walk around Dorset Wildlife Trust’s reserve on Brownsea and to volunteers Kate and Geoff for giving up their weekend to join us.

Young Nats Brownsea

Young Naturalists at Brownsea Island

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

 

 

Garganey!

When I opened up the Tern hide this morning I was greeted by the sight of a pair of garganey feeding just to the right of the hide. It is always a treat to see these small ducks, our only duck species that visits for the summer having wintered in Africa. They used to be called “Cricket teal” after the call of the drake, or “Summer teal” because they are about the size of a teal and come here for the summer. The only other notable birds was a another common tern, at present they seem to be adding one a day.

Later in the morning I was amazed to hear that there were now 7 garganey on Ibsley Water, some years we don’t even record a single one, clearly there had been a significant arrival of these ducks.

It has been much more spring-like in the last two days and there have been lots of butterflies seen, including brimstone, peacock, small tortoiseshell and comma in some numbers. Adder have been spotting basking by the paths north of Ellingham Drove and the great tit are nest building in earnest. Perhaps spring has finally arrived.

common dog violet

common dog violet, one of the real signs of spring.

A Lull

The last few days have been quiet, we are in an interim period, almost all the summer visitors and migrants have gone, but as yet, most of the wintering birds have yet to arrive. This reflected in this week’s sightings, a few chiffchaff remain, especially around the main car park. A juvenile ruff dropped into Ibsley Water for a day, but there are still only a few tens of wigeon around.

This does not mean there has been nothing to see though. Opening up Tern hide this week I have twice seen an adult peregrine perched on the small shingle island near the hide.

peregrine

adult peregrine

peregrine stretch

peregrine, stretching before heading off

During the day on Friday the two New Forest National Park apprentices paid us a visit, they will be working at Blashford for three months from November. As it was their first visit we took a look around the reserve to see some of the areas they will be working in. The sun was out and it was remarkably warm, along the way we saw lots of butterflies, at one spot on the Dockens Water path we could see 4 red admiral, 5 speckled wood and a comma and we saw many more elsewhere along with a single peacock. There were also a few reptiles, including this very small adder, proof that they have bred successfully on the reserve again this year.

young adder

“adderling”

Our best sighting though was when we visited the Tern hide, there was very little to see as all there attested and the lake looked at best sparsely dotted with birds. However I glanced at the shingle just in front of the hide and realised that with the couple of meadow pipit strolling around was a woodlark, my best views ever of this species.

I will end with a plea, at this time of year rats will be spreading out looking for a good place to winter, something we do not want them to do on the reserve if we can avoid it. To this end we try not to have food lying on the ground during the autumn, we only ground feed in the late winter. Recently I have found a number of piles of bird food on logs and seats, or just on the ground as I have been going to lock up at the end of the day. This shows that the birds are not eating it, so it will be consumed by rodents overnight, potentially by rats. If any rats find enough food for them to decide to settle with us we will be unable to ground feed in the late winter when the finches are at their best. So my plea is for visitors to please not leave bird food around the reserve where rats and rodents can get to it.

 

Unexpected Events

It has been a mixed few days, on Monday we briefly had only four of our six hides accessible, a fallen tree had blocked the route to Ivy North hide and Tern hide had been damaged. We are relatively lucky in that we have not had much vandalism at Blashford, but it does happen. In this case someone had been round onto the lakeshore in the evening and smashed three of the hide windows, luckily the breeding season has more or less finished so the damage was only to property. I know some of our visitors do walk the reserve in the evening and should anyone ever see anything suspicious please do let us know.

Surprises can be welcome as well though and there have been a couple of nice ones in the moth trap. It is not always moths that get caught, we get lots of caddisflies, but not many damselflies and when we do they are usually freshly emerged like this one.

common blue

freshly emerged common blue damselfly

The moth number shave been quiet good this year and have included a couple of new species for the reserve, yesterday there was a gothic, not a rare species, but one I have not seen before at Blashford.

gothic

Gothic

The generally warm weather has been good for insects as a while this summer and butterfly numbers at every good at the moment, with peacock and red admiral around in good numbers alongside the many browns.

red admiral

red admiral

The next generation of small copper and common blue are also out now.

common blue female

common blue, female

Earlier in the season I tried using some pheromone lures for clearwing moths, with some success. As a rule these moths don’t get seen without using these lures, but sometimes you can get lucky and after the Tuesday volunteer task we spotted a red-tipped clearwing nectaring at marjoram flower near the Education Centre.

red-tipped clearwing on marjoram

red-tipped clearwing

There have not been many birds of note recently, although there has been a great white egret seen a few times. As yet we do not know for sure if it is ringed, so it may, or may not be Walter, if it is he would now be over 14 years old!

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!