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.

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Brilliant Volunteers

As I have noted many times on this blog, Blashford Lakes would not be anything like as good a site without the invaluable input from our great volunteer team. Our volunteers help out with a range of tasks and do some projects in their entirety.

Over the last week we have had volunteer educators helping with school groups river dipping in the rain, reptile and butterfly surveyors, office administration and our Tuesday and Thursday working parties.

The rarest habitat at Blashford Lakes is the Lichen Heath, perhaps because of its industrial origin it is not actually designated, but it is home to many nationally rare species which form an assemblage which needs looking after.

lichens

Lichen Heath close-up

The importance of the area rests on it having very low nutrients, but over time nutrients fall from the sky and collect in the upper layers of the soil as mosses, lichens and small plants die. The obvious conclusion is that it will slowly disappear and turn into nutrient poor acid grassland. So how to keep some areas to true Lichen Heath? The answer is probably to strip off the surface layer and get down to the bare sandy surface and let it colonise once more. This seems very drastic and it feels wrong to be stripping off what is still a diverse sward with lots of interesting species. We started doing this in a small way on Tuesday, doing six small trial plots which we can monitor, if it looks a good technique we can extend it more widely in the years to come.

Lichen heath before

Lichen heath before surface stripping

Lichen heath after

Lichen heath after surface stripping

We chose sites where there were small bramble or birch trees that needed removing anyway and piled up the material on the northern side of the scraped area to provide some variation in the surface topography and potentially warm nesting sites for the many species of bees, ants, wasps etc. that call the heath home.

The rain this last week is what allowed us to work on the heath as it meant the lichens absorbed water and so could be walked on gently, in dry conditions they would just crumble to dust under foot, which is why we ask visitors not to walk on it. Even in wet conditions it is intolerant to trampling so we do as little as possible out there. So it was a treat whilst we were there to see some of the special species that grow on the heath including the two rare bird’s-foot trefoils.

hairy bird's foot

Hairy bird’s-foot trefoil

 

slender bird's foot

slender bird’s-foot trefoil

On Thursday the volunteers were back on the task of clearing Himalayan balsam and pink purslane from along the Dockens Water. These two invasive alien species can muscle out native species, but can be controlled by pulling them up to prevent seeding. After several years of doing this we have made great progress and balsam is now no more than occasional where once it was the dominant plant. Along the way when doing such tasks we come across other things of interest, one such find was a mating pair of lime hawk-moth.

lime hawk pair mating

Lime-hawk moth pair

Some discoveries though are less welcome and one such was an American skunk cabbage plant, the first I have ever heard of along the Dockens Water. This plant has been a big problem in wetland sites across the New Forest and the subject of an eradication program, so finding it here is a worry. I suspect that somewhere up stream someone has it planted around their pond and the seeds are escaping to grow in the wild.

skunk cabbage

skunk cabbage, a young plant without the huge leaves and yellow flower that attracts water-gardeners.

Our last chance find was made by Geoff, one of our most regular volunteers who photographed this crab spider which had ambushed a bee visiting a daisy flower.

spider

Crab spider with bumble-bee prey on ox-eye daisy.

I will endeavour to do a wildlife update for the week later, I know we have received a number of fabulous photographs from visitors.

 

From Around the World to Blashford (unfortunately!)

It is the time of year when reserve officer’s thoughts turn to invasive plants, yes we can be a bit boring like that! Anyway after weeks of building tern rafts today the volunteers had a walk along the Dockens Water to look for Himalayan balsam. This plant used to dominate long stretches of the stream shading out other species but several years of pulling it up is showing real dividends, it is not gone, but for long stretches there is little or none to be found now. The seed are only viable for two or three years so pulling it up before it flowers for this time should have seen it gone, but a few always seem to hide away and get missed, so it never quiet disappears.

Although the balsam has got much rarer it is noticeable that we are seeing more of another invasive alien plant, the pink purslane, this time hailing from North America. Hopefully it will not become as much of a problem as the balsam, but we are pulling it up, just in case it has plans for a take over!

pink purslane

pink purslane

We came across a few other plants that do not belong, highlighting that garden plants are getting thrown out and establishing themselves all the time and, probably some of them will become invasive in time. One of the new ones today was star of Bethlehem, I doubt this will become a problem, but you never know and every garden escape is growing where a native plant could have been, so in a small way they all impact upon out native flora.

 

There should have been a picture of star of Bethlehem here , but it would not load!

Of course alien plants do not just impact upon other plants, they also reduce the native plants available for insects and other species to feed upon. Plants support lots of other wildlife, often specific to single species, native plants support a native fauna. By contrast alien plants tend to support a range of species that live in that plant’s native range and usually do not occur here. Some alien species will support some of our native fauna, but usually not much, which is why they do so well, there is not much eating them!

The warm sunshine today did bring out quite a few insect, I actually saw two species of dragonflies for the first time this year, which just shows how slow the season has been so far. The species were broad-bodied chaser and downy emerald. I did not get pictures of either of them though, but I did get one of a snail-killing fly,

snail killer

snail-killing fly

and a weevil.

weevil

weevil