15th Dec – Rain

A wet day from start to finish making getting around the reserve unpleasant and seeing wildlife difficult. It was no surprise that there were few visitors, but those that did venture out could still see something.

Ibsley Water: Water pipit at least 2 and probably 3, but as usual scattered around the lake shore. The single black-necked grebe was along the north-western shore of the lake, but lost to view in the heavier rain. Otherwise the continue to be more pochard than usual, over 60 sheltering in the south-west corner of the lake, three drake pintail did circuits of the lake all day and there were a few wigeon, shoveler and teal about. Close to Tern hide three snipe were feeding on the shore and at least 70 linnet were picking seeds from amongst the gravel.

Ivy Lake: A single great white egret was present in the morning and at dusk two were roosting, unsurprisingly the bittern was not seen and other birds of interest were confined to hearing Cetti’s warbler and water rail.

News has dribbled out of a white-tailed eagle not far from the reserve in the New Forest, these eagles often frequent wetlands so it is certainly worth keeping an eye out, no doubt it will cause a stir should it drift our way!

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A Full House

The poor weather over the last couple of days has brought in huge numbers of hirundines, that is swallows and martins, to Ibsley Water. there are especially very large numbers of house martin, they are impossible to count but I estimated at least 5000 today with probably 1000 swallow and at least 500 sand martin. Everywhere you looked over the water there were birds and then, scanning upward against the clouds there were many, many hundreds more. These higher birds are mostly house martin the swallow and sand martin tend to keep lower. They gather over water in an effort to find insects in weather when there are few flying elsewhere, often they pick prey directly from the surface of the lake.

The other aerial plankton feeder of summer is the swift, they mostly leave around the end of July, but a few can linger and searching through the hirundines can sometimes result in finding one and today was just such a time. Swift in September is a scarce bird, in fact in some years I don’t see one after mid August.

Other birds today included a hobby, lured in by the masses of martins as potential prey, although I did not see it catch one. The great white egret was around on and off, the ruff of the last few days was joined by another by the end of the day, when there were also 2 juvenile Arctic tern. A single black-tailed godwit dropped in for a while and there were 2 sanderling reported.

This is really not the weather for moths, so tomorrow’s planned “Moth Event” promises to be a bit of a damp squib. Today’s catch total a massive two moths! I suspect tonight may well be worse. The highlight was a fresh frosted orange, always a nice sight.

Frosted orange

Frosted orange

Several people mentioned the very good show of flower put on by our small patches of heather near Ivy North hide this year, in fact there at small patches of heather in several places across the lichen heath and I suspect these will expand in the coming years. All of this heather is the common ling, but we do have one plant of bell heather Erica cinerea on the reserve and this is in full flower now, somewhat after the ling has finished.

bell heather

bell heather

Although it is feeling very like autumn already there are still some reminders of summer out there, such as grasshoppers, I found this somewhat atypically coloured field grasshopper near the bell heather at the end of last week.

field grasshopper

field grasshopper

30 Days Wild – Day 28: Good for Snails?

This maybe the time of year when the sun is at its highest but it was hard to tell today as it never actually stopped raining, it eased to drizzle at times, but never stopped.  It seemed that the return of wet weather had every froglet, toadlet, slug and snail out and about in celebration of the end of the hot, dry days.

The night was damp but warm with the cloud overhead and the moth trap was quite busy again, I had only one out last night. Although it is a “Moth trap” it would be more correct to call it a nocturnal flying insect trap as it catches many other insects, in fact sometimes many more non-moths than moths. One of last night’s non-moths was a fly and one that probably also benefits from damp conditions as it was a snail-killing fly. It is actually the larvae that are the killers of snails and slugs. Considering I have so many slugs and snails in my garden it is surprising I have never found a snail-killing fly there, although the reason for this is that they do not generally prey on the common garden species.

snail killer

snail-killing fly

I also realised that yesterday’s moth catch included one that was new to the reserve, although all the books describe it as “common”, I had never seen one before. It was a green arches. Looking at the distribution map for Hampshire it is apparent that it avoids the New Forest area for some reason, despite being a moth of damp woodland, perhaps it does not like acid soils.

green arches

green arches

The heavy rain in the morning did present one surprise, as I opened up the Tern hide there was a flock of 20 black-tailed godwit flying around, eventually landing to the east of the hide. They were all in fine, red breeding plumage, these were Icelandic godwits returning to the south coast for the winter, or at least to moult. They had all their wing feathers too, which would indicate that they had probably arrived straight from Iceland and just been forced low by the rain. This early in the “autumn” they will be birds that have failed to breed successfully so head to the south coast of England to undergo their post-breeding moult. This will start only once they get here so they can make the journey fully feathered, having arrived they will start to moult their wing feathers almost immediately. Moulting is an energy intensive business, but there is lots of food in the mud at this time of year and not many waders around competing for it, so their strategy is a good one. A lot of godwits from this population have been given colour-rings, so when they landed I checked through the flock, but there were all unadorned.

Water, Water

Everywhere! Rainwater ran through the main car park and all through the woodland, and topped up the lakes. Since Friday we have had over 70mm of rain! I went to retrieve a trailcam I put out on Friday, and the lake had risen right up to it although I had set it at least 30cm above the water at the time. I am not sure if the water had actually reached the camera – it was certainly wet, but after all the rain everything was. Fortunately the flash card still had the pictures on it. It turns out that Ivy Lake is very popular with teal after dark.

night-time-teal

Teal on Ivy lake after dark

Perhaps not surprisingly I also caught the great white egret.

gwe-on-trailcam

great white egret

There was also a little egret, but I only got it in reflection.

reflected-little-egret-on-trailcam

little egret in reflection

You can see it is a little egret as the yellow feet are clearly visible.

I saw very little until the very end of the day today when locking up I saw the great white egret perched on a branch in the Ivy Silt Pond; it then flew over the trees to Ivy Lake. Almost immediately a bittern flew up and circled the pond twice before also flying over to Ivy Lake.

Lastly and when it was near enough dark, I could just see over Ibsley Water where there were lots of gulls, but curiously very few lesser black-backed gull. Usually the most numerous, there were fewer than 500. By contrast there were 7000 or more black-headed gull, more than usual – presumably the stormy weather, or flooding, has prompted a change in roosting behaviour.

 

Star Turn

I was at the reserve on Sunday for an Autumn Moths event, unfortunately nobody told the moths, which were outnumbered by the event attendees! To be fair it was not really the moths’ fault, 28mm of rain overnight was excuse enough.

As I opened up it was tipping down and for a while I did not dare open the main car park as water was flooding in and I feared it would quickly become too deep to be crossable. Luckily the rain stopped just after I opened the Centre and, in the end, the day was not too bad, mainly sunny with just the odd shower.

Out on the reserve the highlight of the day was the autumn’s first sighting of a bittern, with one being seen flying over the Ivy Silt Pond. In recent year’s they have been arriving earlier and earlier, they used to turn up around Christmas, but now late October has become the norm. I suspect this is because we used to get mainly birds arriving from the near continent, forced to move by icy weather, nowadays they are probably mainly dispersing British birds, a reflection of the growth of our population following concerted conservation efforts.

The only other significant bird sighting was of a rock pipit, or possibly two, that dropped down in front of the Tern hide from the north, stopped for perhaps two minutes to bathe and preen then flew off high to the south. The second bird landed behind a stone, so could not be seen on the ground, but I strongly suspect it was also a rock pipit. Rock pipit winter and breed on the coast, British birds move very little, but in winter we get migrants from Scandinavia and I would guess it is these that we sometimes see at Blashford.

Returning to the Centre in the rain first thing it occurred to me to check if there were any earth star  in their usual place beside the path, I was rewarded with one very fine specimen.

earth-star-geastrum-triplex

earth star (Geastrum triplex)

During the last weeks we have been doing lost of work around Ibsley Water, preparing the shore for arriving winter wildfowl and work associated with the restoration of the former Hanson concrete block plant. One of the biggest jobs has been clearing a huge bramble bank on the shore of the lake that would otherwise cut off the open former plant site from the lakeshore. The long-term goal is to get grass to grow on this area to make it suitable for feeding wildfowl and breeding waders. The latest efforts of the Tuesday volunteers are below.

before

Bramble clump before work (third session)

after

By the end of the day the difference is finally becoming clear! The brambles would have filled the open ground in this shot when we started work three sessions ago.

The old concrete plant will be a challenge to turn into useful wildlife habitat, but I think it has real potential. The open ground has already been used by nesting lapwing and little ringed plover and we can enhance the habitat for these species. I also think there is potential for developing some interesting flower-rich grassland, the very poor soils of the old plant site are actually a plus in this regard. It is going to take some years to come to fruition but I am hopeful it will eventually be a valuable addition.

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 19

Sunday and almost mid-summer and I was at Blashford where we were hosting Fordingbridge Astronomical Society’s Sun Day. They had telescopes set up so that the sun could be safely viewed and some of its usually hidden secrets seen. However, the clouds did not play along and the sun remained hidden resulting an early end to Sun Day.

However Sunday continued and in the afternoon I was leading a walk to look for dragonflies, damselflies and miscellaneous other bugs. Unfortunately the clouds had continued to gather and light rain started to fall, making insects hard to find.

wet damselfly

soggy damselfly

Despite the rain we did see four species of butterflies, an optimistic migrant red admiral at the Centre Pond, common blue and meadow brown hiding in the meadow and a hundred or more peacock caterpillars in front of the Ivy North hide.

In the morning it had been a little less wet and I had found a few more insects and other invertebrates out and about, including this snipefly, with huge eyes.

fly

snipefly

There are also a lot more siders about now.

spider

spider

Mid-summer is also a time for flowers, perhaps a surprise to some of our visitors, but Blashford is actually quite a good site for orchids, we have several species and sometime sin quite large numbers. This despite most of the being a “Brownfield” site, we tend to think of orchids as plants of ancient downland sites, but many will colonise freely if they get the chance. The bee orchids are at their best now and some can be seen on bank on the side of the main car park.

bee orchid flower

bee orchid flower

 

A Bit of Drizzle!

A pretty quite day at Blashford on Monday, the heavy showers kept people indoors and I can’t say I can blame them!

heavy rain!

heavy rain!

Despite the rain there was warm sunshine in between and this brought out a good few butterflies around the Centre, including silver-washed fritillary, red admiral, comma and small tortoiseshell, but best of all there was a humming bird hawk moth.

I walked the paths to clear any fallen branches brought down by the rain and strong winds of the weekend, approaching the Ivy North hide I saw a stick across the path, then realised it was moving, it was a large grass snake.

By the time I locked up the rain had passed and looking from the Tern hide I saw this black-headed gull, it was perched on the weed mat in front of the hide. As I have mentioned before I don’t think I have ever seen so much weed on Ibsley Water, or such thick mats of it, in fact this gull was perched on weed floating in 4 metres or more of water, although it looks pretty relaxed about it!

black-headed gull on weed

black-headed gull on weed

The gulls are starting to gather on Ibsley Water now, not in the numbers they will be later in the autumn but today I saw at least four yellow-legged gull (3 juveniles and 1 first summer), a pair of great black-backed gull with a fledged juvenile in attendance, and the usual scatter of herring gull and lesser black-backed gull. The lesser black-backs included one with an almost black, rather than dark grey back, so probably a bird from Scandinavia already on the move to wintering areas on the West African coast.

A Damp Day

The day started slightly damp and got much wetter, any hopes I may have had that the rain would bring in some passing birds were dashed by the fact that the wind was a light northerly, rather than the wished for southerly. The result was a day on which I was inside for more or less the whole day, the poor weather and not being outside meant,  unsurprisingly, that I saw very little. I did manage to get one picture of a redshank in the rain in the morning when I arrived though, the rain on its back is testament to the waterproof quality of well maintained feathers.

a wet redshank

a wet redshank

If It Rains All Day

Bird News: Ibsley Waterswift c50, house martin c15, swallow c40, goosander 1.

It rain very nearly all day, a couple of brief spells of dry weather being the only respite. The combination of rain and the strong wind, especially in the morning made views from almost all the hides difficult or downright unpleasant. After a quick look as I opened up I confined myself to the office to do, what seems to be a rather large backlog of miscellaneous paper, or more accurately, paperless-work.

At lunchtime I decided to take a look at Ibsley Water, so went over to the Tern hide, where I could find only a couple of swifts and a few swallows and martins. However after a short time a great battle started between four male lapwings. They sparred with each other in the air at first, tumbling, climbing and diving, each one trying to outdo the others in aerobatic skill. One bird then departed and the other three switched arena to the ground. They were on the shingle just in front of the hide, so I had a great view, albeit through a veil of rain. They were calling and facing away from one another with tails high revealing their undertail coverts which were spread wide, all the time flicking their wings. From time to time two would come to within less than a metre and start to do exaggerated nest scraping flicking stones backwards and so towards their opponent. The last phase involved coming alongside at about half a metre and then jumping in the air in short flights, the point seemed to be to get just above the opponent so preventing them from getting properly airborne. This last phase resulted in one obvious winner who always seemed to, literally, come out on top. It would have made a great film, if there had been any light and I had had a camera with me!

I went to check the flow of water into Ibsley Water via the sluice from Mockbeggar Lake and found that there was almost no flow, clearly something was wrong. After some messing about I found the intake was blocked with debris which, fortunately, was easily cleared and normal flow was restored. Hopefully we can get the level of Ibsley Water up to at least get some water to the base of the sand martin wall, although the recent rain will help a bit the level is still at least half a metre down on the usual for this time of the year. A look from the goosander hide showed that  there had been a slight arrival of swifts with about 50 flying over the lake, there was also a single drake goosander asleep on the bank.

All the rain did rather transform the Dockens Water corridor woodland into a river with tree emerging from it, as the few pictures below show.

Dockens Water "woodland"

The boardwalk was also shortly to become more of a wadeway.

the boardwalk

There has been one very unfortunate consequence of all this wet and windy weather. On Thursday we set up the tern rafts, but were unable to tow them out to the moorings so had to tie them up under the trees for later deployment, unfortunately, the forecast for the next few days does not look any better. I always try top leave putting the rafts out as late as possible to allow the gulls to get settled and the terns to arrive so that they can occupy the rafts and keep any gulls away, but this tactic may have come unstuck this year.

tern rafts moored under trees

To make matters worse as we were preparing the rafts on the slipway, spreading the shingle and laying out the chick shelters, we had terns swooping around above us calling as though admonishing us for our failure to get them out in good time. Although this may sound rather anthropomorphic, I have no doubt from their behaviour that they did know exactly what the rafts were and were taking an interest in what we were doing.

 

 

A Rainy Night in Ringwood

Bird News: Ibsley Watergoldeneye 1 pair, common tern 7.

Very little bird news today, although I was only on site briefly first thing I had still expected a few birds given the brisk south-east wind and occasional very heavy showers, the kind of conditions that I associate with migrants dropping in at sites like Ibsley Water. The rain of the last few days have given the reserve a very green look with many trees coming into leaf and the ground getting rapidly covered with a fresh growth of nettles, lords and ladies and ground-ivy, among many other plants.

path beside Ivy Silt Pond

The reserve is a good site for a wide range of lichens and the rain has allowed them to soak up water and look their best, the lichen heath is obviously a good site but there are many growing on the trees as well.

lichen on twig

On the heath they grow with mosses and a range of tiny higher plants.

lichen and moss on the heath

I am pleased we have finally had some rain, although I doubt we will have enough to make the sand martins safe, for that we would need enough to get the lake up over the dry shore below the nesting bank, a rise of 20cm or so. A couple of years ago the level was something like 75cm above the present level, I needed waders to get along the base of the nesting bank then!

Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve, as many will know, actually belongs to two water companies, Sembcorp Bournemouth Water and Wessex Water, they too will be happy to see some rain falling, although it will take some months of above average rainfall to make them really happy. The problem for both water companies and wildlife habitats is the drop in ground water levels that a prolonged dry spell produces. It reduces river flows and dries out ditches, ponds, bogs and marshes, all habitats with specialised wildlife dependant upon a good water supply. More rain will help but taking less for human use will also play a part. For more on this see:  http://www.wessexwater.co.uk/water-and-sewerage/twocol.aspx?id=8052 One thing that surprised me when I heard it recently, was that we are actually using less water per head today than we were ten years ago and that usage is still falling. I get so used to hearing that despite knowing that resources are finite we cannot take this in as a reality and go on consuming at an ever greater rate. This water use story significantly bucks this trend. just maybe we can learn to live within the planet’s means after all.