30 Days Wild – Day 15

The summer is moving on and I am delighted to say that I have seen the first common tern chicks of the year, under a month from the day the rafts went out. They will usually lay three eggs on consecutive days and then incubate them for about 21 days. They have had 28 days since the rafts went out so they got down to nesting very quickly! Some have not yet hatched and the off-duty birds can still be seen taking it easy before the real work of feeding the chicks starts.

common tern - Copy

common tern having a good preen whilst there it still has some “Me time”

The black-headed gulls are much more advanced and a few chicks are flying now, with a lot more to come.

gulls on raft - Copy

Gulls on a raft with lots of chicks

There have been a lot of mallard broods about for a while, but I saw my first brood of gadwall yesterday, although they were already fairly well grown. They breed much later than mallard and prefer a warm dry summer, so this should be a good year for them.

gadwall

gadwall and brood, there were actually 8 ducklings in all.

Grasses don’t get much attention, but Blashford does have a large population of one particularly distinctive species, the annual beard grass, it normally grows near the coast but finds conditions on the reserve quite suitable, despite being inland.

annual beard grass - Copy

annual beard grass

 

30 Days Wild – Day 6

A distinct chill in the air today, with a brisk north-west wind, such a contrast to just a week ago. The large raft we put out on Ibsley Water last year was taken over by black-headed gulls this year, I had hoped to cover it to encourage terns, but circumstances did not allow this. The gulls now have chicks and they seemed to be getting on okay despite the winds today.

black-headed gulls on raft

black-headed gulls on raft, with a few chicks just visible.

The cool conditions made for a poor day for insects, but one of the few I did see was a green-eyed flower bee resting on one of the Salvia flower heads in the planter outside the Education Centre. These bees are very fond of nectaring on the flowers and I suspect this one was feeding when it got  caught out when the brief sun went behind the clouds.

green-eyed flower bee male 4x3

green-eyed flower bee male

I spent a fair part of the driest bit of the day trimming path edges and passing places to enable people to walk round and maintain the required 2 metres social distancing. The car park is not yet open, but the paths are walkable, although we are asking people to follow the one-way signs we have put out to make distancing easier on narrow paths. The brambles are growing fast and I am now doing a light trim at least every fortnight, in amongst the brambles there are also other plants, including some roses such as this field rose.

field rose

field rose

 

 

The Tern and the Turtle

 

About ten days ago we put out the first two tern rafts in the hope that the twenty or so terns present then would quickly occupy them. We kept two back to go out after the first had attracted a core group. The idea of leaving it late to put them is to give the best chance against the black-headed gulls, which start nesting earlier so would get in before the terns arrive. The plan does not seem to have worked this year, although common terns were the first to land on the rafts they were quickly replaced by gulls, at least keeping two rafts in reserve allows us to try again with unoccupied nesting sites, we will see if the gulls take over ahead of the terns. A lot of the gulls are probably first time breeders, they mess about a lot, make nests but don’t necessarily ever lay or if they do, they don’t know what they are really supposed to do, they do keep the terns off though!

tern rafts

tern rafts

There were a few terns around as we towed the rafts out and a few gulls as well.

gulls and terns

gulls and terns

We put the rafts out first thing in the morning and a s I walked back to the Centre the sun was getting really warm along the path beside Rockford Lake, with the west wind the blowing the path was really sheltered and there were swarms of recently emerged common blue damselflies. They take a few days to get the intense blue colouration.

common blue damselfly uncoloured

common blue damselfly uncoloured

The male above will be brilliant blue in a couple of days, a few slightly older ones were also about, but in the sun they were hard to get close to without them flying away.

common blue damselfly. male

common blue damselfly, male

Despite the sun I only saw one other Odonata species, large red damselfly and not very many of them.

large red damselfly, male

large red damselfly, male

Ed and I went up to Kitts Grave later in the morning to take a look a the work done in the winter clearing scrub. The site is a mosaic of grassland, scrub with some true woodland, all the these elements are rich habitats in their own right, but the scrub has been spreading at the expense of the grassland in recent years. As we arrived at the gate we spotted a small blue, the first I had seen this year.

small blue

small blue

It was a morning of sunshine and sharp showers are we dodged in and out of the trees trying to keep dry. Along the way we saw good numbers of common spotted orchid and twayblade, although both were a couple of weeks or so from flowering, unlike the early purple orchid which were just about at their peak.

early purple orchid

early purple orchid

The area of scrub we cleared in the winter now looks green and there are remarkably few areas of bare ground.

Kitts Grave area cleared by volunteers last winter

Kitts Grave area cleared by volunteers last winter

When the sun came out it was very warm and we saw a fair few butterflies, including  a lot of brimstone, orange tip, green-veined white and a few peacock. We also saw there or four dingy skipper, although I did not manage to get a picture of any of them as they were much too fast for me. A bit easier was the scarlet tiger moth caterpillar that we came across.

scarlet tiger caterpillar

scarlet tiger caterpillar

As we headed back to the car park that once common and so evocative summer sound, the purring of turtle dove. It is extraordinary and very frightening how the status of these beautiful birds has changed in my lifetime. They were genuinely common birds in hedgerows and copse edges and now it needs a special trip for even the chance of hearing one. We also saw a fair few yellowhammer, another bird so familiar thirty years ago that everyone knew them as the bird that sang “A little bit of bread and no cheese”, one of the most familiar sounds of the countryside then.

Obviously there have been gains, with some species colonising over the same period, but the declines in some species that were so common that they were generally known to anyone who ventured out into the countryside to a condition of scarcity, or even rarity, is a warning to us all.

Eventually we retreated as a particularly heavy squall approached and headed back to Blashford.

storm clouds gathering

storm clouds gathering

The loss of once common and widespread species tells of the limitations of relying on nature reserves to look after wildlife, reserves can do valuable work but it is the way we live in and use the country that really determines what our future wildlife will be like and how many species will be common enough for the next generation to just take them for granted, as I did the turtle dove and yellowhammer.