Some Seasonal Firsts!

Things are getting increasingly wintery, there was a frost on the grass this morning, 2 brambling were visiting the feeder by the car park and the Pop-up Café returned! Although the brambling have been around for a few day today was the first time that I had seen them, in fact I saw a few things for the first time this season today, I caught up with the pink-footed goose and saw a very smart first winter Caspian gull at dusk. Other firsts were mostly cake!

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The first marbled chocolate cake of the winter.

Others were personal firsts and very tasty too.

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Apricot, lemon and pistachio cake – a “tick” for me.

The Pop-up Café is once again being operated by Walking Picnics, just a sit was last winter and will be at Blashford on the first and third Sunday of each month and New Years Day.

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The Walking Picniceers and happy customers.

There was no sign of the lesser scaup today as far as I know, possibly put off by fireworks last night but the ferruginous duck was spotted, distantly by the northern shore of Ibsley Water, somehow I avoided it when I counted the pochard flock in that very area, there were 66 by the way, quite  a lot by the standard of recent years.

Elsewhere a couple of chiffchaff and a raven flying over and a few goldeneye and goosander on Ibsley Water were the best I could find. The sun did tempt out a few red admiral butterflies but I saw no dragonflies, which surprised me, as the sun was quiet warm.

All of the above actually happened in the afternoon as my morning was spent with the first Sunday of the month volunteers widening the margins of the path beside Ellingham Lake to provide more sheltered areas for insects and, hopefully reduce the tendency for brambles to overhang the path next summer. Increasing the area of transition between the path and the scrub by having  a margin of grass and herb species should provide habitat for butterflies and other insect next year, in effect we have made a miniature woodland ride. As ever the team did a load of work even though we only worked for a couple of hours or so.

 

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A Lull

The last few days have been quiet, we are in an interim period, almost all the summer visitors and migrants have gone, but as yet, most of the wintering birds have yet to arrive. This reflected in this week’s sightings, a few chiffchaff remain, especially around the main car park. A juvenile ruff dropped into Ibsley Water for a day, but there are still only a few tens of wigeon around.

This does not mean there has been nothing to see though. Opening up Tern hide this week I have twice seen an adult peregrine perched on the small shingle island near the hide.

peregrine

adult peregrine

peregrine stretch

peregrine, stretching before heading off

During the day on Friday the two New Forest National Park apprentices paid us a visit, they will be working at Blashford for three months from November. As it was their first visit we took a look around the reserve to see some of the areas they will be working in. The sun was out and it was remarkably warm, along the way we saw lots of butterflies, at one spot on the Dockens Water path we could see 4 red admiral, 5 speckled wood and a comma and we saw many more elsewhere along with a single peacock. There were also a few reptiles, including this very small adder, proof that they have bred successfully on the reserve again this year.

young adder

“adderling”

Our best sighting though was when we visited the Tern hide, there was very little to see as all there attested and the lake looked at best sparsely dotted with birds. However I glanced at the shingle just in front of the hide and realised that with the couple of meadow pipit strolling around was a woodlark, my best views ever of this species.

I will end with a plea, at this time of year rats will be spreading out looking for a good place to winter, something we do not want them to do on the reserve if we can avoid it. To this end we try not to have food lying on the ground during the autumn, we only ground feed in the late winter. Recently I have found a number of piles of bird food on logs and seats, or just on the ground as I have been going to lock up at the end of the day. This shows that the birds are not eating it, so it will be consumed by rodents overnight, potentially by rats. If any rats find enough food for them to decide to settle with us we will be unable to ground feed in the late winter when the finches are at their best. So my plea is for visitors to please not leave bird food around the reserve where rats and rodents can get to it.

 

We’ve Got the Blues, Again

Tomorrow I have a moth event at Blashford, we will be opening two moth traps and looking through at the catch, identifying and photographing them. Over the last few days we have caught three Clifden nonpareil moths, also known as the blue underwing, this is a spectacular species and probably the UK moth with the largest wing area. In fact there was one yesterday and another today, obviously it would be great if there was one tomorrow, but things being what they are I suspect there won’t be! It is also still quite rare nationally, having only recently recolonized the UK, luckily for us the New Forest area is probably their stronghold.

Clifden nonpareil

Clifden nonpareil, or blue underwing.

The caterpillars feed on aspen and probably other poplar species, as it happens we have a number of aspen at Blashford Lakes, which is probably why they seem to be established on the reserve. Aspen is an interesting tree as is has quiet a lot of insect species associated with it. It is a tree that can grow very tall, but also produces lots of suckers, so there can be niches for species that prefer the canopy and shrub layer provided for by a single tree. It is very prone to being browsed and the suckers are often eaten off, increasing numbers of deer are probably one reason that aspen is in decline in many areas.

We may not see a Clifden nonpareil, but I hope we will see a good few moths and one thing that I am fairly sure about is that a number of them will be yellow or orange, autumn is the season for yellow moths, probably because it is the time for yellow leaves.

sallow and pink-barred sallow

pink-barred sallow and sallow

Although autumn is well underway now there at still quite a lot of insects about when the sun comes out, southern hawker, migrant hawker and common darter dragonflies are still around in fair numbers and butterflies include red admiral, comma and a lot of speckled wood. As I was eating lunch yesterday I noticed a fly on the picnic table next to me and realised it was one of the snail-killing flies.

Elgiva cucularia

Elgiva cucuaria a snail-killing fly.

It is the larvae that kill the snails, in the case of this species , aquatic snails, which is probably why it was close to the Education Centre pond.

Unexpected Events

It has been a mixed few days, on Monday we briefly had only four of our six hides accessible, a fallen tree had blocked the route to Ivy North hide and Tern hide had been damaged. We are relatively lucky in that we have not had much vandalism at Blashford, but it does happen. In this case someone had been round onto the lakeshore in the evening and smashed three of the hide windows, luckily the breeding season has more or less finished so the damage was only to property. I know some of our visitors do walk the reserve in the evening and should anyone ever see anything suspicious please do let us know.

Surprises can be welcome as well though and there have been a couple of nice ones in the moth trap. It is not always moths that get caught, we get lots of caddisflies, but not many damselflies and when we do they are usually freshly emerged like this one.

common blue

freshly emerged common blue damselfly

The moth number shave been quiet good this year and have included a couple of new species for the reserve, yesterday there was a gothic, not a rare species, but one I have not seen before at Blashford.

gothic

Gothic

The generally warm weather has been good for insects as a while this summer and butterfly numbers at every good at the moment, with peacock and red admiral around in good numbers alongside the many browns.

red admiral

red admiral

The next generation of small copper and common blue are also out now.

common blue female

common blue, female

Earlier in the season I tried using some pheromone lures for clearwing moths, with some success. As a rule these moths don’t get seen without using these lures, but sometimes you can get lucky and after the Tuesday volunteer task we spotted a red-tipped clearwing nectaring at marjoram flower near the Education Centre.

red-tipped clearwing on marjoram

red-tipped clearwing

There have not been many birds of note recently, although there has been a great white egret seen a few times. As yet we do not know for sure if it is ringed, so it may, or may not be Walter, if it is he would now be over 14 years old!

Bee-flies, Butterflies and a Good Tern

Another very warm spring day at Blashford today and the air was full of all the sights and sounds of the season. There are now chiffchaff and blackcap singing in many parts of the  reserve and there were reports of a willow warbler singing near the Ivy North hide.

The volunteers were working near the main car park today, where we were buzzed by bees as butterflies floated by. As were headed back for cake, we also saw a bee-fly, it turned out not to be the usual Bombylius major or dark-edged bee-fly, but the much rarer Bombylius discolor  or dotted bee-fly, a new species for the reserve.

And so onto cake, cake is not a rarity at Blashford, less common than biscuits, but not rare. In this case it was to honour the departure of Katherine, an Apprentice Ranger with The New Forest National Park scheme run as part of the Our Past, Our Future Heritage Lottery Project. But it was not for this reason alone, but also to mark the last day of our own Volunteer Trainee, Emily, who also made the cakes, a valuable extra skill. Katherine had spent three months with us and Emily six, remarkable staying power by any standards. In fact Emily has volunteered to stay on, so is not going to be lost to the reserve yet. Katherine has moved on to spend a time with the Forestry Commission team locally.

After cake we headed out to look at the changes to the butterfly transect routes, it was a shame that it was still March, the transect counts don’t start until the 1st April and it is often hard to find many butterflies in the first few weeks. Today they were everywhere and altogether we saw seven species between us. There were lots of peacock, a few brimstone and at least 3 speckled wood, but also singles of comma, small tortoiseshell, red admiral and orange-tip.

red admiral

A rather battered red admiral, probably one that has hibernated here and so is perhaps five or six months old.

Of the seven species five are ones that hibernate as adults, just the speckled wood and orange-tip will have emerged from pupae this spring. There is a small chance that the red admiral was a recent immigrant as they do also arrive from the south each spring, although usually later than this.

A different sort of life form is also in evidence on the reserve at present and I do mean a very different life form, slime mould. These are a bit of a favourite of mine and the one on a log towards the Ivy South hide is certainly living up to the name and is now oozing slime.

slime mould

slime mould, with slime

Locking up at the end of the day there was one last surprise, looking over Ibsley Water I saw a tern amongst the many black-headed gull, not as I expected an early common tern but a very fine sandwich tern, something of a rarity away from the coast.

sandwich tern

Sandwich tern, an unexpected visitor.

 

A little bit of everything…

Yesterday our Young Naturalists were back at Blashford for a varied session in search of birds and fungi and a practical task in our camp fire meadow. Kevin and Jack, BTO bird ringers, were ringing at Goosander Hide in the morning so we headed straight up there to try and catch them before they had finished. Whilst we were there, we were lucky enough to watch Jack ring a robin and a chiffchaff and talk us through the process.

Thank you Kevin and Jack for taking the time to chat to the group and explain what you were up to and looking for, giving a great overview of bird ringing.

Whilst in Goosander Hide, Young Naturalist Talia took some great photos of some of the birds on Ibsley Water:

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Grey Heron with six Little Egrets by Talia Felstead

It was then time to rummage through the light trap which revealed a really nice variety of moths for us to identify, including this lovely Feathered Thorn:

The most abundant moth by far was the November moth sp. but we also had the following:

Close to the Education Centre we found this fantastic Shaggy Ink Cap, which sadly by this morning had become too top heavy and is now in two bits! Unfortunately this photo doesn’t do its size justice, it was super tall!

shaggy-ink-cap

Shaggy Ink Cap – ‘Coprinus comatus’

After lunch it was time to do something practical and we spent the afternoon in our camp fire meadow, raking up the vegetation strimmed by volunteers Emily and Geoff in the morning. We also cut up some of our old den building poles to use as firewood, as these will be replaced with new poles cut over the Winter.

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Cameron and James raking the cut grass

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Cutting up the old den building poles for firewood

We finished our time in the meadow with more toffee apple cooking over the fire, with newcomers Gregory and Jodie having a go at fire lighting and old hands James, Cameron and Talia showing how it’s done.

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More toffee apple cooking!

With time left at the end of the session, we checked our mammal traps in the loft which revealed two wood mice, who had ventured into the building where the nights are now cooler.

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Two wood mice, being well photographed by the Young Naturalists

woodmouse

Finally, we went on a short walk to Ivy South Hide, spotting fungi on the way and a Red admiral butterfly making the most of the October sun’s warmth:

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

A Record Broken

We have been very busy mowing and generally cutting back before the winter birds arrive. Today it was the turn of the western shore of Ibsley Water to receive a haircut. We have been working for some years to get this shore into a largely grassy state. Much of it started out as 1.5m high ragwort, then it became dominated by nettle and now, after many years of mowing and grazing it is mostly grass. As I was mowing I saw lots of bank vole, several common frog and a few common toad. The sun was out and it was rather warm for late September, although the many red admiral were not unhappy.

Out on the lake this afternoon there was a large arrival of cormorant, there have been good numbers for a while now, with a few counts around the 200 mark, but today we reached new heights, these extra flock took the total to at least 308! and I am pretty certain there were some I could not see behind the islands. I am sure this is a new record count for the reserve.

The highlight of the day though was a juvenile garganey out on Ibsley Water first thing in the morning. although it did not seem to stay, as nobody else saw it all day.

A “wow” morning

I love wildlife. Guess that stands to reason and I wouldn’t be doing the job I am if I didn’t. Of course lots of people do, but they do so in different ways. For some it is the satisfaction of capturing nature or a landscape on film or canvas, for others it is tracking down and identifying a rarity, or working on a nature reserve, a farm or even in a garden and managing it in such a way that benefits a greater diversity of plants or animals and for others, including myself, it is seeing the beauty in the common place.

At this time of year there is a lot of bird movement taking place and at Blashford at the moment it is the Hirundines that particularly stand out in this regard, with lots of them massing and feeding on the insects around the lakes as they fuel up for their southward journey, and it was this this morning that provided me with my first “wow” moment as I pulled into the car park to open up Tern Hide and ducked instinctively as I got out of the car as house martins darted and swooped all around. Periodically landing or taking off from the car park itself or the small willows growing on the banks around the car park, feeding immediately over the lake and at great heights there were thousands of birds. And for all I’m pretty sure I didn’t actually need to duck in order to avoid them and them avoid me, I really couldn’t help it! As always with these things a picture really doesn’t capture it, but here is my rather weak attempt to do so! The “white bits” in the first picture are house martins – honest!

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I did say they weren’t great, you really had to be there!

And talking of pictures not really doing something justice I had another “mini wow” moment when I opened Ivy North Hide – I’d spoken to Bob after the work party yesterday and of course I’d read his blog, but again, the pictures of what he and the volunteers achieved yesterday really didn’t do the work justice. Views across the reed bed to the west of the hide have been opened right up and bode well for views of bittern flybys this winter.

Today and yesterday I was struck by the number of red admirals. The weather has not been brilliant for many insects, including some butterflies and dragonflies (in fact whilst having lunch yesterday we were mulling over the relative dearth of damselflies) so it’s nice to see that the red admirals at least seemed to have fared relatively well, or at least have all emerged from their pupa at about the same time to add a splash of colour to the woodland edges. Couldn’t get near enough to get a picture of most of them but this one perched with another on the play boat at the back of the centre when I was doing my weekly safety checks was more obliging:

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Having topped up the bird feeder in the car park I recalled someone mentioning their concern that visitors had been abusing the wild play / bushcraft education area in the willow coppice so went to investigate.

We work hard to keep the site in a condition ready for use with a group so it is frustrating when we turn up to use it to find that out of hours users have burnt our stock of logs, pulled branches of the tree’s or scattered our den building materials across the site. Thankfully, although not an uncommon occurrence, this does not happen regularly so it was a bit alarming to hear that a small fire at our den building poles stack at the base of a tree was suspected, and as I investigated I could see why they were concerned:

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Charred poles and burnt leaf litter?

Fortunately closer inspection revealed that foul play was not the cause. The trunk of the adjacent tree had a very obvious “sap” run down it:

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A sap run?

However following the trail of liquid up revealed that the true cause of the “charred” wood and leaves was actually a result of the sticky sweet “honey dew” secretions of an absolute mass of willow aphids, arguably the largest of the worlds aphid species it is a common insect at Blashford Lakes and is particularly common – or perhaps obvious – at this time of year:

willow-aphid-by-jim-day

Willow aphids – if you look closely you can see the distinctive black “shark fin” on the back of some of the insects.

So mystery solved! The “charred logs” are actually covered in honey dew and this has in turn developed a sooty mould. As well as the mould the honey dew also feeds other insects, in particular wasps and hornets which were much in evidence this morning.

And although not on the scale of the house martin spectacle with which I started this blog, it is still pretty impressive none the less!

 

 

 

One Day, Two Reserves

I am not often at Blashford on a Saturday, but this weekend I was, I managed to intersperse catching up on paperwork with a walk round all the hides. Getting around the reserve is very pleasant but also highlights all the tasks that need planning into the coming winter season, I think an eight month winter would just about be enough!

Opening up the hides I saw a greenshank and three wheatear from the Tern hide, which suggested that there might well be migrants about and with luck “something” might turn up.

As usual the day proper started with a look through the moth trap. This contained no rarities but one unexpected moth, a very fresh dark form coronet, this is an attractive moth and one we see quite often, but it flies in June and July. If I was to get one at this time of year, I would have expected it t be an old, battered one on its last legs, not a pristine newly emerged one.

coronet late season

coronet

The cumulative results of my wanderings throughout the day indicated that there were indeed a reasonable scatter of migrants around the reserve. Chiffchaff were frequently to be seen, although willow warbler were many fewer than last week. In one mixed flock of birds near the Lapwing hide I saw a very smart juvenile lesser whitethroat, a rather rare bird at Blashford these days. On the south side of the main car park a spotted flycatcher was catching insects from the small trees and there were several blackcap eating blackberries.

In the early afternoon I was in Tern hide when I spotted an osprey in the distance flying towards us down the valley, it looked as if it was going to come low over Ibsley Water, but as it came over Mockbeggar North lake a large gull started to chase it and, rather than brush off this minor irritation, it gained height and headed off at speed to the south. It was a young bird and is going to have to learn to tough out such attention.

It was not a bad day for insects, I saw red admiral, painted lady, small white and speckled wood, despite almost no sunshine and there were good numbers of migrant hawker and brown hawker about. I also saw more hornet than I had noticed so far this summer and very widely about the reserve too.

Other birds of note were mostly signs of approaching autumn, a single snipe near the Lapwing hide was the first I have seen since the spring here and later wigeon, one on Ivy Lake and 4 on Ibsley Water were also the first returns that I have seen.

For a couple of years now I have been noticing increasingly large floating mats of vegetation in the Ivy Silt Pond and kept meaning to identify the plant species involved. I finally did so yesterday and one of them, the one with the rosettes of pointed leaves, is water soldier, a rare plant in Hampshire and mostly found on the Basingstoke canal!

water soldier

water soldier

It is probably most likely to be here as a result of escaping from a local garden pond, but might be wild, anyway it seems to be a notable record and as far as I know it has not been recorded here before.

In the evening I went out to another reserve in my area, Hythe Spartina Marsh, it was close to high water and I was interested to see if there was a wader roost. There was, not a large one but interesting, it included 74 ringed plover, 30 dunlin, 2 turnstone, 3 grey plover and a single juvenile curlew sandpiper. In addition 2 common sandpipers came flying north up  edge and on the way across the marsh I saw a clouded yellow butterfly nectaring on the flowers of the sea aster. I also saw that on e of the juvenile ringed plover had got colour rings on its legs, however it would only ever show one leg so all I could see was a white ring above a red ring on the left leg, not enough to identify where it had come from. Ringed plover can breed locally on our beaches or have spent the summer way off in the high Arctic of Canada, so it would have been good to see all the rings.

Mothless, well Almost

Yesterday I ran a “Moth event” at Blashford, unfortunately I forgot to tell the moths and there were probably more human participants than moths! Usually late August is a good time for catching large numbers of moths, but big catches require warm, calm nights following warm settled days. What we had was a windy, mostly clear night following a rather stormy day.

Luckily the day got more settled as it went on, at least until late afternoon anyway. This brought out good numbers of insects, including as many dragonflies as I have seen this year. Around the reserve I saw several brown hawker, southern and migrant hawkers, an egg-laying emperor dragonfly and a fair few common darter. Damselflies included common blue, azure, red-eyed, small red-eyed and blue-tailed.

Butterflies were rather fewer, most that I saw were whites, with all three common species near the Centre. Out on the reserve a few meadow brown and gatekeeper are still flying and speckled wood are increasing again. Near the Lapwing hide I saw both red admiral and painted lady, perhaps indicating some continued arrival of passage insects.

The sunshine in the middle of the day brought out reptiles as well and I saw two grass snake and an adder. The adder was very fat and I suspect a female which will shortly be giving birth, since adders have live young rather than laying eggs as grass snakes do.

adder

adder

I have heard reports of wasp spider being seen around the reserve recently and today I finally saw one.

wasp spider

wasp spider

This is a female, the males are much, much smaller and wander about seeking the females.

I had hoped for a few different birds, following the rough weather, perhaps a few terns, but there was little change form the past week. A few extra waders were the best that could be found, 2 dunlin, 2 oystercatcher, 2 common sandpiper, 1 redshank and the pick of the day, 3 greenshank, although they only flew through. There are starting to be a few more ducks around, I saw 8 shoveler and 3 teal, but there are still no wigeon on the reserve, although they should not be far away. Away for the water looking up there were 2 raven, and single hobby and peregrine. Whilst low over the water before the day warmed there were 1000+ sand martin and c200 house martin.

Perhaps the sighting of the day for many visitors though was the female roe deer that spent part of the morning in front of the Woodland hide.

roe deer at Woodland hide 3

roe deer doe at the Woodland hide