30 Days Wild – Day 18 (already!)

Quite a rare event today, it rained from the time I arrived at the reserve until I left, admittedly it was not raining much by late afternoon, but still enough to get damp.

a rainy day at Blashford

The moth trap was fairly busy although with few moths of particular note, there was one migrant, which was also one of the smallest moths in the trap, a diamond-backed moth. They migrate here each year, sometimes in mind boggling numbers.

diamond-backed moth

This year has already been quite good for migrant moths with several rare species turning up around the country, although so far, none in any trap that I have run!

There were lots of caddisflies and a single click beetle. This is a species I first knowingly saw only recently at Linwood and like most “new discoveries” when I look them up the books say something like “common and widespread”. Of course once you have seen one you start seeing more, and so it is with this rather smart little beetle.

Denticollis linearis

I grappled with office work all morning, but had to get out in the afternoon. The recent weather has resulted in a growth spurt by vegetation all around the reserve and today’s heavy rain has caused a lot of it to collapse over the paths, loads of work to do in the next few days. I have worked in nature conservation more or less all my working life, you might imagine this is mostly about managing habitat for wildlife, but in reality it is mostly about managing access for people, but trying to do it with proper consideration for nature. Hopefully maximising the opportunity for people to experience nature whilst keeping the chance for wildlife to thrive. Personally I regard this as just good land management, a standard that we should expect to see everywhere, nothing at all special. Some places will have more people and some more wildlife, but the idea sometimes put around that there is no need to consider nature in, for instance a park, because it is for people and okay because nature can live on nature reserves, seems to me ludicrous. People need nature and nature should be everywhere in all its variety and abundance.

My afternoon walk was decidedly damp, but it was interesting to see a few of the plants adapted to life in environments where freshwater is short looked in the rain. Hare’s foot clover often grows on dry seawalls or gravels, where they can withstand extremely dry conditions.

hare’s foot clover

The hairy leaves and flowerheads all had huge water droplets, presumably an adaptation to enable it to gather as much water as possible when it is available and channel it towards the plant base, it would work with mist or dew as well as rain. We have a good population of the typically coastal annual beard grass, a species that is able to grow in places wet in winter but very dry in summer.

annual beard grass

30 Days Wild – Day 18

Day 18 was the day the rain came to Blashford, now that we are open, at least in a limited way, it also brought a few visitors, although not many. The rain is welcome after a very long dry spell, but it is unfortunate that it has come just as we reopen.

rain

rain

Planning for how we are able to carry on providing environmental education and safe access to wildlife continues. At present with 2 metres distancing things are very difficult, especially as our paths are under 2m wide, which is why we have a one-way system on the path network.

On Ivy Lake the mute swan pair hatched three cygnets and while ago, the swans that have nested there in recent years have proved very bad at rearing their young, so I did not hold out much hope they would survive. However, although there is  along way to go, they are still alive and thriving.

swan and cygnets

swan and cygnets

I am also delighted to say that the common tern on the raft are still going strong, most, possibly all, have now hatched their chicks and they are sometimes being left alone in groups when their parents go off to find food. With a bit of luck you will just be able to  see the chicks in the picture below.

terns on raft with chicks

terns on raft with chicks

There is a group of small chicks near the shelter on the left-hand side of the raft. Hopefully they will continue to grow well and fledge, over the years our fledging success has been very high, fingers crossed it will be again this year.

I have slipped a bit behind, but will try and catch up.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 3

After the sunniest and one of the driest springs on record today it finally rained! I felt obliged to have a little walk about in it, not to get soaking wet, but just to experience the feeling, the sound of the raindrops, the smell of the dampening vegetation and witness the toning down of the colours. I bet I was not the only person to have gone out to get the feel of rain today, we might complain about it but we miss it when it is away for too long.

ox-eye daisy with rain

ox-eye daisy clinging onto the rain

Many plants have water repellent leaves, which result in beads of water and others hold the drops with hairy leaves. The leaves of perforated St John’s-wort are obviously very good at this, holding large droplets.

water on perf St John's wort

Perforated St John’s-wort

As it rained, even if lightly, pretty much all day, I got few pictures at Blashford, but by evening it had stopped and the garden offered the chance of pictures of two species of butterflies, a brimstone,

brimstone

brimstone

and large white, one of a few on dame’s violet.

large white

large white

As you will have noticed both are the caterpillars of butterflies rather than the adults, it was not really the weather for adult butterflies.

Wet and Wild

I think that about sums up the conditions at present, the rain seems to have been fairly continuous since September! The lakes have gone from almost the lowest I can remember to as high as I have ever seen.

flooded boardwalk

Flooding under the boardwalk south of Ivy South Hide

The flooding has been widespread and the Avon Valley is awash, this encourages wildfowl to come up from the coast to feed on the flooded fields. They mainly feed there at night spending the day on the lakes, but as they, which is why there are over 340 pintail regularly on Ibsley Water just now and today I counted 1470 wigeon on Ivy Lake alone!

The floods mean the gull roost has declined as many are now roosting in the valley rather than on Ibsley Water. But this does not mean there is no roost spectacle to be seen as there is a large starling roost just to the north which is best seen from the viewpoint at the rear of the Main Car Park. Although this at some distance from the roost it does give a full view of the whole gyrating flock once a real murmuration gets going as it frequently has with two or more peregrine trying to catch a late meal most evenings.

starlings 2

Starlings

starlings 1

More starlings

It is very difficult to guess at numbers, but I would say there are at least 25000.

The high water levels have meant we have seen very few snipe this winter, I think they have all gone off into the valley, although I did spot one the other morning from tern Hide.

snipe

common snipe, more or less hiding

The most regular wader this winter has been the unseasonal common sandpiper, these usually migrate well to the south for the winter and the few that do stay in the UK are almost all on the coast. It was around daily until around the New Year when it disappeared, I thought the chancy strategy of wintering so far north had caught up with it, but on Sunday it reappeared on the shore outside Tern Hide again.

common sandpiper

common sandpiper

A less welcome sight outside the same hide, and all along the southern shore were two dogs, it seems they stray from a garden nearly a mile away, bad for wildlife and a real risk to the dogs as they cross or run down the road on their way here.

dogs!

Dogs!

We also had an incident of people on the reserve with dogs in circumstances suggestive of attempted poaching, luckily they were seen by an eagle-eyed visitor and reported to us. If you are visiting and see anything that seems untoward, please let us know, if possible at the time, our numbers are posted in the hides. Whilst the reserve is well respected by almost everyone and this is key to its success there is always the chance that the actions of a few can spoil things for the many.

As you may know the reserve is dog-free apart from the public footpaths, so on most of the reserve the wildlife does not associate people with dogs. One consequence of this is that the roe deer are relatively approachable, often just spotting to look at you before wandering off rather than racing away in panic.

roe deer

Three roe on the path to Ivy North Hide on a gloomy morning

As we passed into 2020 I had to admit that we seem to have no bittern for the year-listers this winter as last autumn’s bird has not been seen for some time. We do still have Europe’s oldest great white egret though, “Walter” has made it into 2020 and now has just about four and a half months to his 17th birthday.

Walter

Walter, and gull – again in the gloom, the light has mostly been terrible for taking pictures!

Even though it has felt like it has rarely stopped raining and right now it is blowing a gale outside there has been some respite and even a bit of sunshine, as when this rainbow appeared over Ibsley Water on Sunday, when we were also visited by the ferruginous duck on a brief foray away from its hiding place on Kingfisher Lake.

rainbow over Ibsley Water

rainbow over Ibsley Water

 

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!

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