Wildlife encounters of the furlough kind

I returned to work on Sunday after eight weeks away from Blashford (it is so green now!) and six weeks on furlough along with around 40% of my Trust colleagues, most of whom are still off. Whilst I’m back to help Bob with the reserve tasks he cannot do by himself and engage with visitors on site from a safe distance, following on from the easing of restrictions last week, we are still closed whilst we look at what we can safely offer in the coming weeks and months. We will keep you updated as and when things begin to change!

A Blashford blog will follow shortly, but I thought I would share what I have been getting up to whilst off.

Spending so much time at home meant I was able to discover what wildlife visits my garden, a bit of a distraction whilst I was supposed to still be working, but it was really nice to be there during the day and have more time to appreciate my outside space. My garden is only small, with two patio areas which contain a number of plants in pots and a lawn which has struggled as a lawn and now has a few flowers planted into the patchier bits as I slowly tun it into a much wilder space. I have lived there for a couple of years, and this year the garden really seems to have come to life with birds and insects, which has been really nice to see.

Whilst at home I had blue tits, wood pigeons, dunnocks and blackbirds frequently visiting the garden along with a wren, great tits and a goldfinch. I have a willow bird table and the blackbirds seem to really like this, launching themselves onto it from the hedge and swinging around whilst they fed.

I have two hedges in the garden and this year the blackbirds successfully nested in one (I did a fair amount of cat chasing whilst off, if they have another brood they’re on their own!) which was lovely to watch. I saw four fledglings at the same time, two sunning themselves in one hedge and two in the other and both adults worked really hard to feed them with the male bringing back huge beak fulls, including a garden centipede in the photo below:

Blackbird 2

Male blackbird with a beak full

They fledged last Thursday so I was able to enjoy their company for a few days, with one of the young staying in the garden until Sunday morning. It was very amusing to see it sat swinging on the bird table calling mum for food.

I had written a rather long list of things to do to keep me busy, and one of those things was to dig a pond. Digging a pond was definitely more exciting than decorating the bathroom, re-pointing some dodgy brickwork to hopefully solve a damp issue in the kitchen and damp proofing and repainting the kitchen wall, so it was one of the first things I did and it’s been really nice to see it change over just a few weeks. The less exciting jobs were left until last week when I knew I was returning to work…

The photos below show the garden before and after, then the pond full of mud as the female blackbird decided the moss I had placed round the edge would make really nice nest building material (she had ignored it the entire time it was elsewhere in the garden) and later on with some plant additions (all native) I had been able to order online.

Whilst digging the pond I unearthed the snake millipede below, along with centipedes that were too fast for a photo, and the stones placed around the edge quickly became resting spots for hoverflies:

The blackbirds had been using a bucket of water with some willow sticks in to drink from and bathe in, but they now both use the pond which is really nice to watch. The female didn’t mind me being around at all but the male was a lot more wary of me to begin with and would fly off even if I was watching from the window, but now he is quite happy for me to be out in the garden whilst he’s there feeding.

As well as the birds it was great to see which insects were visiting the flowers and which flowers were growing really well, the ragged robin in particular has seeded so well from one plant in a pot last year I was able to plant it out in different places in the grass.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I live on the edge of Salisbury so on my daily walks I walked my dog from home to either a little stretch of the River Bourne in Laverstock or up to the Laverstock Downs, enjoying the fact there were fewer cars on the road.

These photos were taken in the little patch of woodland down by the river:

I had hoped to see some bluebells on my wanders but sadly all those I did see were garden escapees.

I spent a lot more time up on the Downs as although they were further to walk to, it was much easier to practice social distancing up here than it was down by the river which tended to be busier with people and had a stretch of boardwalk to contend with.

It was a great spot for bird watching and I had some brilliant views of both blackcap and common whitethroat, especially early spring when the whitethroats were displaying and establishing territories.

I managed a total of 47 bird species whilst off, either in my garden, flying over my garden or on my daily walks: blackbird, blue tit, dunnock, wren, great tit, wood pigeon, collared dove, jackdaw, starling, long-tailed tit, yellowhammer, carrion crow, buzzard, pheasant, song thrush, chaffinch, chiffchaff, red kite, blackcap, common whitethroat, swallow, linnet, goldfinch, red-legged partridge, little egret, mallard, shoveler, kingfisher, magpie, skylark, great spotted woodpecker, robin, Canada goose, mute swan, raven, sparrowhawk, rook, bullfinch, house sparrow, Cetti’s warbler, grey heron, moorhen, mistle thrush, swift, house martin, peregrine falcon and mandarin duck. They were quite a good mix!

The Downs were also a great spot for butterflies, with orange tips, brimstones, small tortoiseshells, green-veined whites, small heaths, peacocks and dingy skippers all on the wing. I also found lots of green-veined orchids and other flowers on the chalk grassland.

The most exciting spot though was probably to see glow worm larvae on three separate occasions, so I must go up there over the summer in search of glow worms.

Glow worm larvae

Glow worm larvae

I was very lucky to have my garden to enjoy and also have some lovely spaces within walking distance to explore (it was also quite nice to use my car less!), so I had plenty of nature to keep me company during the pandemic, whilst a list of house and craft projects also kept me busy. I might be heading back up to the Downs at the weekend…

A Fine Day on the Reserve

Thursday dawned calm and slightly misty with a promise of sunshine to come.

Misty morning at Ivy North

Early morning over Ivy Lake

I am not sure if they were doing the Wildlife Trust’s 7 Days of Wild Christmas, checkout #7DaysofWildChristmas for more on this, but there were lots of visitors on the reserve on Wednesday and they certainly saw a lot of wildlife.

From Ivy North hide the bittern was seen by most who were willing to spend a little time looking and some had excellent views. The picture below was sent in by John Parr after he took it on Saturday from Ivy North hide.

Bittern by John Parr

Bittern by John Parr

As well as the bittern, water rail and Cetti’s warbler were also frequently on show from Ivy North hide. Further out on Ivy Lake a good variety of ducks were on view, there remains an unusually large number of pochard around, with up to 100 on Ivy Lake alone at times. At dusk a single great white egret roosted in the trees.

At the Woodland hide the usual common woodland birds have now been joined by a few reed bunting, attracted by the seed spread on the ground, we have still yet to see any brambling though.

On Ibsley Water the flock of linnet was again feeding on the shore near Tern hide whilst out on the lake up to a dozen goldeneye, over 40 pintail, 200 or so wigeon and the single black-necked grebe. In the late afternoon the gull roost included a Caspian gull, but there was still no sign fop the ring-billed gull, which looks increasingly likely to have moved on somewhere.

As it was Thursday there was a volunteer task on the reserve and six volunteers joined me in doing some willow scrub clearance and pollarding in the reedbed area between Goosander and Lapwing hides. The area is a former silt pond and had grown up with a very uniform cover of closely spaced and rather weakly growing willows, not a habitat with great wildlife value. By opening up clearings and making pollards of the stronger growing willows we can diversify the habitat, making it suitable for a much wider range of wildlife. In particular the open clearings have proved very popular with the areas strong adder population.

The mild weather continues and there are signs of this all around the reserve. On the path to Ivy North hide I found a red campion still in flower.

red campion flower

red campion in flower

Nearby the leaves of lord’s and ladies are well up through the leaf litter.

lords and ladies

lords and ladies

Near the Centre there are patches of speedwell in the gravel and many are in flower.

speedwell

speedwell

The mild conditions, along with the damp conditions are proving good for fungi, with many particularly small species to be found if you look closely. One of the commonest species on well rotted wet logs is the candle snuff fungus.

candle snuff

candle snuff

 

 

Words and Birds

Hello again.  It’s been a while (three weeks) since I posted on this blog, having been away and then, last week, after spending a time trimming back seed heads from buddleia to prevent them overrunning the reserve, and afterwards not feeling inspired enough to write anything.  I was berated, earlier this week,  by one of our regular volunteers and reader of the blog (you know who you are!!!) for not writing anything last Sunday, so I thought I’d better make an effort today.  Those of you who do any writing will probably recognise the problems of either  not feeling they have anything to say and/or struggling to find the words.     Along those lines,  I remember the tale of one professional writer who couldn’t think of a particular word for two weeks – but then it suddenly came to him….’fortnight’!!!

Having said all this, I guess most of you will want to read some news from Blashford, so here goes.

The bittern(s) is still in being seen regularly from Ivy South Hide, but has also been viewed, in its more usual habitat, in the reed beds outside Ivy North Hide. Whilst closing the reserve last Sunday,  I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this bird in the left hand side of the reeds, far off to the right side of the Ivy North Hide. As no one else has posted any pictures of this bird yet, I’ll start with this rather poor, distant image, taken in low light conditions ( getting all my excuses in first!!)  as evidence that the bird is here. P1460717 bittern Recent addition to the avifauna n the form of a ferruginous duck reported yesterday from Ivy South Hide. Otherwise the red-crested pochard is still around as are good numbers of many of the other ducks such as  mallard, shoveller, gadwall, wigeon, teal, pochard, goldeneye and tufted duck. A few green sandpiper  are scattered around the margins of the lakes.

For the gull fans (I know there are a few of you out there) up to nine yellow-legged gulls were seen coming in to roost on Ibsley Water yesterday.  Roost time can also produce increased numbers of goosander as they fly in from the Avon Valley to spend the night here.  Also in residence in and on the water, in roughly decreasing size order, we have mute swan, Canada goose, greylag goose, Egyptian goose, great-crested grebe, lapwing, coot, moorhen and little grebe. 

The alders are providing enough food to keep a regular flock of siskin in and around the Woodland Hide area.  This abundance of natural food means that many of the  winter visitors to our seed feeders haven’t yet put in much of an appearance although some lesser redpoll have been reported.  otherwise the usual collection of tit species including marsh tit as well as nuthatch and treecreeper are being seen from the Woodland Hide.  A water rail was seen, by some lucky visitors,  feeding on a fish (the rail feeding, not the visitor!), just outside the Ivy South Hide for about twenty minutes in the mid-afternoon.

A party from an RSPB local group have chosen Blashford for a day trip. One of the party reported seeing a large bird of prey flying low over the heath and going into the trees, from the description one of ‘our’ buzzards.

To finish here is a picture of what must be one of but maybe not the last ‘summer’ flowers to be seen on the reserve

red campion

red campion

Blashford Blues

Once again bird news was hard to come by today, a report of a hobby was about the best. The main event by far was that the temperature finally reached such dizzy heights as to exceed that achieved in late March! The reason was not hard to find, the sky was cloudless all day, I am not sure when I last failed to see a cloud for a whole day.

blue sky!

The sky was not the only blue thing today though, I still have not seen a dragonfly this year but I did finally catch up with some common blue damselflies, although none that had fully coloured-up yet.

common blue damselfly

Even this was not the last of the blues. I was looking at some of the oak trees with their fresh, bright green leaves, all perfection. Then I realised that of course they should not look perfect, this first flush of leaves is usually eaten away by winter moth caterpillars, the main food of great tit and blue tit nestlings. From the work being done on the nestlings in the boxes we have seen that many have not done at all well this year and Jim tells me that tree beating for caterpillars has been very hard work. It seems clear that the warm March followed by cold wet April have messed up the normal order of things and resulted in many fewer moth larvae than usual. Having had this thought I checked one of the nest boxes and was pleased to see that there were young blue tits inside, along with the adult male.

blue tit family

The breeze was filled with willow seeds as Steve observed the other day it looks very like snow as it drifts about. Even when it lands it will often get lifted again if the surface is dry, however wet ground or ponds will hold onto the seeds. This makes a lot of sense as these are just the places a young willow will grow well, it is not just that willows do well in damp locations, it is also where a disproportionate amount of the seed will end up. The ones that land on water will tend to get washed up on the shore, again just where they want to be.

willow seeds collected on the pond surface

In the afternoon I went for a brief look along the Dockens Water to assess the amount of Himalayan balsam that will need pulling, the answer seems to be rather little, despite my seeing a lot of newly germinated seedlings in late March. I think a combination of frosts and flooding have removed a lot fo them, for now most of the plants seem to be recent seedlings. I did come across a beetle, one of the burying beetles, but one that is a predator of snails. This i snot the greatest picture but it does show the elongated head that allows it to reach into snail shells to get at the occupant. This one is the commonest of a few similar species called Silpha atrata and I would think it must be a female with the abdomen extended by eggs.

Silpha atrata

The warmer night had led to hopes of more moths, but so far this has not really come to pass, I think we need a few more warm days. The nearest thing to a surprise int he trap was a silver Y, a migrant species. Many of the moths that should be flying now feed at flowers, a particular favourite with a lot of species are campions and the red campion is particularly obvious in lots of places at Blashford at the moment.

red campion flower