Nest box news!

At our last Young Naturalists session we were lucky enough to join Brenda, who voluntarily monitors the nest boxes on the reserve, so we could see at close hand the processes and survey work involved as well as having a peek inside some of the boxes the group had made themselves. They thoroughly enjoyed it!

 

We were often watched closely:

Being watched

Being watched by a Blue tit

The following week Brenda returned for more nest box checks and was very pleased to report the following:

YN 1 – Poppy’s box – 10 Blue tits fledged and were being fed by parents in the trees close to the box

YN 3 – Geoff’s box – 10 Blue tits fledged

YN 4 – Ben’s box – 3 Great tits fledged

YN 9 – Will H’s box – 6 Great tits fledged

YN 10 – Megan C’s box –  9 Blue tits fledged

YN 11 – Thomas’ box – 9 Great tits fledged

Not all of the boxes the group made were used this year, but there is always next year! It was great to see how well their boxes did this year after a late start. The warm weather meant there has been plenty of food and although we have had a few days of rain the parent birds have managed to cope well and provided enough food for excellent numbers of chicks surviving, growing and fledging from the boxes. Brenda shared some photos with us of the ringing stages and box pictures:

 

The group made more boxes during April’s session which Brenda is looking forward to using next year, again to replace some of the older rotting boxes which are very wet and not so good for nesting. Brenda was keen to say a big thank you to the group for making the boxes and we would like to say a big thank you to Brenda for letting the group help out with the monitoring and surveying that day, I know it meant she was here quite a bit longer than she usually is as everyone, in particular Thomas and Lysander, were so keen.

After our nest box monitoring we had a look through the moth trap, which held a number of great moths including a Lobster moth, Pale tussock, Poplar hawk-moth, Fox moth, Buff-tip and May bug, which Ben took a particular liking to:

 

We did a few odd jobs, cleaning out the tank of tadpoles we were keeping in the Education Centre to show visiting school groups, watching the pond life below the water when we released the young froglets, and tidying up an old planter outside the front of the building.

Newt

Swimming newt

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. Thank you to Roma and Geoff for your help during the session and of course to Brenda for letting us assist with the nest box monitoring.

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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.

Dumping and Cutting, a Tale from the Roadside

There seems to be a lot going on at present. At Blashford we are resurfacing a lot of the paths, the entrance track and a few other improvements will follow.

We have also been putting out the tern rafts, so far the gulls have been taking most of the space but hopefully the terns will get their act together soon.

Out on Ibsley Water the lapwing have not been doing well, with most nests failing at the eggs stage, I suspect fox or badger, as the birds nesting on the islands seem unaffected.

I was at Fishlake briefly today and saw my first hairy dragonfly of the year, it was beautifully perched, but I did not have a camera with me!

Meanwhile back at Blashford we received an overnight donation of two large tractor tyres, several car tyres and the remains of a trailer. Not the kind of donation we want as it will cost a fair bit to dispose of. Fly tipping in the countryside is an increasing problem as the cost legitimate disposal increases.

Another increasing roadside problem is the decline in the the diversity of flora found on verges. I remember a series called “Wayside and Woodland” books, I always took the implication of the title was that much of the wildlife featured was to be found on waysides, that is path and road verges. The reason is the accumulation of nutrients, in fact this is probably one of the greatest threats to wildlife diversity in almost all habitats. It is no accident that habitats that are very poor in freely available nutrients are rich in species, they have to fight it out for resources and tiny differences in adaptations mean that one species will win over if even a very small change in the environment happens. Thus a thin chalk soil can produce an incredibly rich sward with huge species diversity. Where nutrients are easy to come by a few very vigorous specie swill overwhelm the competition and species diversity is low and growth vigorous.

Road verges suffer the twin threats of car exhausts, which are rich in nitrogen a key nutrient for vigorous plant growth. This growth then gets cut, often many times a year and the cutting left as a “mulch” further aiding the building up of nutrients. Cutting once  later in the year and removing the cuttings would reduce the nutrients, reduce the vigour of the growth and promote plant diversity. In fact Plantlife have just produced an excellent guide to managing road verges The Good Verge Guide

The Highways Agency also produced quiet good guidelines for highways managers, but these do not seem to have been widely taken up by the people that set the contracts for the work. A case in point is a very fine round about close to my home, this morning I admired the good show of ox-eye daisy and could make out the soon to be flowering stems of corky-fruited water dropwort as I waited at the traffic lights. On my way home tonight I see it has been mown and the cuttings left as a deep green mulch, it is large round about and easy to see across so there is little need for cutting for safety reasons. Slowly but surely this fine area of herb-rich, semi-natural grassland is being destroyed by the state, an act of causal degradation of our biodiversity in the midst of an extinction crisis.

I will end with a couple more moths form yesterday, the catch was small but included perhaps the smartest pebble prominent I have ever seen.

pebble prominent

pebble prominent

There were also three very fresh poplar hawk.

poplar hawk 2

poplar hawk

30 Days Wild – Day 22: Punctuated

It was thankfully cooler today which allowed us to do some work along the open western shore of Ibsley Water. As it was Thursday the “us” was the famous Blashford volunteer team. We were trimming brambles and pulling ragwort. I know ragwort is a great nectar source, but in this case we are trying to establish grassland where there has been bramble, willow and nettlebeds, this means mowing, but as we have ponies on site we need to remove the ragwort first. Ponies will rarely eat growing ragwort, but if cut and mixed in grass they will and so can get poisoned.

This shore was dominated by huge beds of ragwort and nettles but years of cutting and light grazing are taking effect and we now have mostly grassland with patches of ox-eye daisy, bird’s foot trefoil and other more desirable species. In turn this is attracting insects such as long-winged conehead.

IMG_1898

long-winged conehead, female nymph

We saw a good few butterflies including good numbers of comma. It seems they are having a very good year and the fresh summer brood emerging now is particularly strong. This generation will breed and produce another generation of adult in the autumn which will them hibernate.

IMG_1916

comma

They get their name from the white comma-shaped marking on the under-wing, which is not visible in this shot. Their ragged wing outline makes them less butterfly-shaped and so harder for predators to find, this is especially so when the wings are closed.

I ran two moth traps last night, only about 50m apart, but one under trees and the other in the open. An illustration of what a difference location makes is seen from the number of hawk-moths caught. The one in the open contained 8 elephant hawk-moth, a pine hawk-moth and 2 poplar hawk-moth, whereas the one under the trees contained just one eyed hawk-moth.

As you will have gathered from this blog, I am a fan of insects in general, even horseflies, although I am less keen on them when they come into the office as this one did today.

IMG_1922

Chrysops relictus female

It is the females that bite, so it would be better if this one went outside again.

 

It’s Good to have a Hobby

And even better to have two! Which is what we saw today hunting insects over Ivy Lake when we went to put out another of the tern rafts. These sickle-winged falcons winter south of the Sahara and fly north to breed along with their favourite prey, swallows and martins. Watching them swooping to catch flying insects is a fantastic experience, you can only marvel at their mastery of the air, one of the great sights of summer.

The tern rafts are gradually being deployed, so far the terns have looked interested but failed to occupy any of the rafts before they have been dominated by pairs of  black-headed gull. It is always a problem getting the timing right and this is why I deploy the rafts one or two at a time, at some point the terns must surely be ready to take control of one.

preparing the tern raft

Preparing a tern raft

There have been at least 30 common tern around regularly and they have been doing courtship flights and bringing food, so I think they should be ready to settle soon. So far there has been little sign of much tern passage, apart from a few beautiful black tern, the biggest group so far being 5 on Sunday afternoon. Little gull are usually birds of passage that stay at most a day or so , which makes the fine adult that has been frequenting  Ibsley Water for several days something of an exception. It was there again today, although I don’t think anyone saw the Bonaparte’s gull. Other birds have included a few dunlin and common sandpiper and last week a bar-tailed godwit.

Barwit

Bar-tailed godwit

In recent posts we have featured a number of pictures of lapwing chicks, sadly I don’t think any of them have survived. This season has been a good one for the number of pairs and in general hatching success has been quite good, but the chicks have been disappearing fast. I think a combination of dry weather and predators is the cause. Dry conditions mean the chicks get brought to the lakeshore to seek food, as all their favoured puddles are gone, unfortunately the shore is regularly patrolled by fox and other predators, as it regularly has washed up food in the shape of dead birds and fish. The foxes may not be actively seeking the chicks but they will not refuse one should they come across it. Sadly a similar lack of success is befalling the little ringed plover, but at least they will continue to try and may yet succeed before the summer is out.

LRP

Little ringed plover near Tern hide.

The cold winds are making moth trapping a slow business, with few species flying, although we have caught an eyed hawk-moth and a couple of poplar hawk-moth recently.

poplar hawk

Poplar hawk-moth

Row, row, row your boat

As yesterday was so gloriously sunny, our Young Naturalists enjoyed a day exploring the further reaches of the reserve and finishing off a fun task started back in January at our volunteer get together.

We began the day though with our usual rummage through the light trap, where the group were thrilled with a good selection to identify, their best so far this year. Our haul included the following: white ermine, cinnabar, treble lines, poplar hawkmoth, common marbled carpet, marbled brown, orange footman, common white wave, angle shades, light brocade, brown silver lines, common pug and marbled minor. Here are a few photographs taken by Young Naturalist Talia Felstead:

Common marbled carpet

Common marbled carpet

Cinnabar

Cinnabar

Poplar hawkmoth

Poplar hawkmoth

Light brocade

Light brocade

Marbled brown

Marbled brown

White ermine

White ermine

IMG_1543

Angle shades

It was then time to undertake a practical task with a difference, the lining of the coracle made earlier in the year at our volunteer get together. Coracles are small oval shaped boats traditionally used in Wales, but also in parts of western and south western England, Ireland and Scotland. Designed for use in swiftly flowing streams they have been in use for centuries, primarily by fishermen.

The structure is usually made up of a framework of split and interwoven willow rods, a material which we have plenty of here on the reserve, so it seemed silly not to take the plunge (literally) and attempt our own Blashford coracle.

Coracle frame

Our willow framework and wooden seat

The group were up for the challenge of finishing it off, cutting a slightly less traditional liner out of some left over pond liner from Testwood Lakes – thank you Testwood! This outer layer would have originally been an animal skin, covered with a thin layer of tar to make it fully waterproof. Today this has been replaced with tarred calico or canvas, with the Blashford way being whatever we could lay our hands on. So pond liner it was!

We carefully cut the liner to size, before Bella came up with the idea of looping cord through slits cut in the liner and weaving it in and out of the liner and willow rods. It was then time to take it down to the river for the all important will it float test…funnily enough no one else was brave or silly enough to give it a go:

She floats

Looking slightly dubious

Looking concerned

Getting ready…

 

Excitingly, it floats rather well, I think to the disbelief of some of the Young Naturalists, and possibly volunteers! So now we can get cracking with the rest of the flotilla…with plans already in place for a coracle themed Wild Day Out for the older children in the summer holidays.

After lunch we headed over to the northern side of the reserve on a wildlife hunt. We quickly spotted large numbers of Common blue damselflies sunning themselves on the gravel, moving a little further ahead as we approached them:

Common blue 3

Common blue damselfly

We headed up to Lapwing hide where on entering we were greeted with this view of a Canada goose with seven goslings:

Canada goose goslings 2

Canada goose goslings

Canada goose goslings 3

Canada goose with goslings

We stayed for a while, spotting a couple of herons, a little grebe and watching a Common tern fishing over Ibsley Water before perching on one of the posts:

Common tern

Common tern

On our way back, Edie somehow spotted this Elephant hawkmoth in the long grass to the right of the path:

Elephant hawk moth

Elephant hawkmoth

Finally, our last wildlife spot was this Beautiful demoiselle, which perched beautifully for a photo:

Beautiful demoiselle 2

Beautiful demoiselle

Thanks Talia for taking the photos!

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

A Few Moths (at last)

Although it is still very quiet for moths an increase in the overnight temperature has resulted in a few more species emerging. Today I saw my first May highflyer and poplar hawk of the season.

poplar hawk moth

poplar hawk moth

There were also a couple of species that are now coming towards the end of their season, although both were in quite good condition, perhaps because the cold April delayed their emergence. These were a brindled beauty,

brindled beauty

brindled beauty

and a great prominent.

great prominent

great prominent

The Tuesday volunteers were in today and we spent most of the time preparing some more materials for the common tern rafts. We have already put out six rafts and so far we have about eight to ten pairs looking settled, hopefully there will be more to come. I had hoped to put two more out on Thursday but calamity struck at the end of the day, when I got a flat tyre on the trailer as I was taking materials down to the shore of Ivy Lake. Unfortunately it will need a new wheel, so we may not be mobile in time for Thursday.

Generally bird sightings were rather few today, a single common sandpiper on Ibsley Water and a hobby high over the Centre as we ate lunch were the highlights.

 

 

May bug and an ex-miner

Jim put the light trap out last night, it was its first use for quite a few weeks as we had been having problems with an avian predator. Unfortunately this still seems to be an issue and there were a few unattached wings in the trap, but also a reasonable selection of moths that had managed to avoid being eaten.

One of the first insects seen was this magnificent beetle,  May bug or cockchafer, which I believe can be a bit of an agricultural pest.

May bug or cockchafer

May bug or cockchafer

I have in the past seen up to twenty of theses beasts in the trap. They have been known, historically, to emerge in their thousands, so much so that they have even be considered as a dietary supplement – I quote from Wikipedia:-

“In some areas and times, cockchafers were even served as food.  A 19th century recipe from France for cockchafer soup reads: “roast one pound of cockchafers without wings and legs in sizzling butter, then cook them in a chicken soup, add some veal liver and serve with chives on a toast.” ….delicious!!!

Possibly slightly less nutritious, but more welcome, were some of the other inhabitants of the trap.

Poplar hawkmoth

Poplar Hawkmoth

 

 

Pebble Hook-tip

Pebble Hook-tip

 

Cinnabar

Cinnabar

The depletion of the trap, in terms of numbers of moths might well have been due to the attention of a robin which watched me closely whilst I was checking the moths. A bit later this same robin spent a few minutes flaked out on the decking by the pond, apparently sunbathing,  in an activity which is, I believe, called ‘anting’.

Robin 'anting'

Robin ‘anting’

I think the theory is that they are allowing ants to crawl through their feathers and remove parasites. As there weren’t any obvious ants in the vicinity perhaps the sunbathing has some other beneficial effect – does anyone out there  know???

Saddest encounter today was this dead mole not far from the Tern Hide and quite some way from obvious ‘mole territory’. This is the second dead mole I’ve seen on the reserve in the space of a fortnight and am wondering if this is just coincidence or is some disease affecting them?

Ex-mole

Ex-mole

 

On Not Making a Splash

Bird News: Ibsley Waterblack tern 1, black-tailed godwit 36, dunlin 2, bar-tailed godwit 1, swallow c250, house martin c100, cuckoo 1.

A rather grey start to the day, but as is often the case with such weather at this time of year there were some migrants associated with it. Another black tern was good, they are always a treat in spring and a flock of 36 black-tailed godwit is the most I have seen at Blashford this year, although they looked more like first summer birds than adults and may just have been visiting from the coast to feed in the flooded fields of the valley, first summer birds do not usually return to the breeding grounds in Iceland. There were also two dunlin and later, a single bar-tailed godwit. First thing in the morning there were a good few swallows, martins and swifts over the lake, the numbers built during the day and by the end there were at least 250 swallows, the most I have seen this spring.

The milder and drier nights have made it worthwhile to run the moth trap again. A fair few new species for the year have turned up as a result including spectacle, poplar hawk-moth, muslin moth, sharp angled peacock and brindled beauty.

brindled beauty

There were also a few other insects including water beetles, a carrion beetle and a mottled sedge caddisfly, Glyphotaelius pellucidus.

Glyphotaelius pellucidus

As it was Thursday the volunteers were working today and the turn out was impressive for such a dismal day. We planted some donated willows around the main car park, normally I would regard this as a pretty crazy thing to do in May, but it has been so wet that I think they have a good chance of survival. This only involved a few of us though, the rest made a circuit of the main paths dealing with the many trees and branches that have drooped over the paths during the recent wet and windy weather, we also dealt with a good few dead branches and general obstructions.

After this a few accompanied me to Ivy Lake to try to get the last of the tern rafts put in place. This required that a mooring weight was put in place first.

Taking out mooring weight

I am please it was almost calm as even the light northerly wind was enough to make getting the weight placed correctly proved quite difficult, every time I got to the right spot the breeze blew me off station before I could deploy it. I got there in the end and then it was just a matter of getting the raft out.

towing the raft out

Obviously I was pleased that so many of the volunteers stayed to assist me with this task and watched as I put out the mooring and tied the raft in place, but the keenness to ensure that they had cameras with them did make me wonder if there was also at least a sneaking hope of my falling in at some point! I am delighted to say I disappointed them all, I did not even so much as top up my boots. The common terns, of which there were at least twenty today, certainly seemed pleased with the return of their nesting sites for another season.