Damp Days

The long, hot summer seems an age away now, with most days dominated by drizzle (Friday excepted). It is still very mild, but the combination of damp and mildness makes for difficult working conditions. Winter work on the reserve is mostly fairly heavy, with lots of protective clothing and machinery, things that do not go well with mild damp weather. Despite this we have been busy with the volunteers clearing sites and generally preparing for the planned updates to the reserve. Alongside this there is still the usual maintenance to be done and today I was out with the team repairing the boardwalk and trimming back the path sides.

The Pop-up Cafe was in the Centre again today, sadly things were rather quiet, probably a result of the poor weather, the cakes were as good as ever, if you missed them, they will be back on the 16th of December and New Year’s Day with more.

Out on the reserve things seem fairly quiet, I say this but there was quiet a lot to see. On Ibsley Water there was a black-necked grebe, 2 dunlin, green sandpiper, a variety of duck including pintail, wigeon, pochard, goosander, goldeneye and at dusk the gull roost and starling murmuration. I just missed seeing a peregrine take a drake pochard, I would have thought rather a bulky prey item for this falcon. Other birds today included red kite, chiffchaff, Cetti’s warbler and at dusk on Ivy Lake three roosting great white egret, all in all not bad for a “quiet day”!

 

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30 Days Wild – Day 19 – Back on the Road

On Tuesday morning I was in Manchester, not a wildlife hotspot compared to the New Forest but like many cities a great place for swifts. Area with lots of Victorian housing are especially good as there are usually lots of gaps into roof spaces where the swifts love to nest. I did not see many birds, but I did hear quite a few.

I was awoken by a singing blackbird at 03:42, then heard the distinctive screech of a ring-necked parakeet. It turned out there were several parakeets int he the nearby park. I knew they were well established in SW London but was unaware they were in Manchester. These parakeets originally come from South Asia and arrived here in the pet trade and having escaped or been let free are now doing well in urban areas, not just in the UK, but across a wide area of the world. They are very adaptable, quiet aggressive and will exploit new food sources easily, all very useful traits for survival in new environments.

I then hit the road again to make my return journey, wildlife was limited to the usual travellers sightings of fly over buzzard, red kite and just a couple of kestrel. This last species used to be regarded as the classic roadside bird, exploiting the rodents that thrived in the long grass of the verges. They seem to have declined in recent years, just as the fortunes of buzzard and red kite have been improving.

I got home in time to take a late look at the meadow………..

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Not all the tall yellow flowering plants you see in fields at this time of year are ragwort, quite often it is St.John’s-wort.

perforate St John's-wort

perforate St John’s-wort

There are several species of St, John’s-wort, is named because if you look very closely at the leaves against the light they have tiny, pin-prick holes through them. I have a number of plants of it growing in my meadow, where it tops out at just about the same height as the seeding grasses.

30 Days Wild – Day 18 – On the Road

I ran the moth trap at home overnight, the catch was modest and as follows: barred red 1, heart and dart 8, heart and club 3, Chrysoteuchia culmella 1, Crambus pascuella 1, buff-tip 1, elephant hawk-moth 1, marbled/tawny marbled minor 1, privet hawk-moth 1, willow beauty 1. The two with only Latin names are micro-moths or a type collectively known as “Grass moths” as they are often found in grasslands an sit head -down on grass stems. The “Marbled minor” is lumped with with tawny marbled minor as they cannot reliably be separated by just looking at them.

After this slightly wild start to the day I was off on the road, heading north. As a result wildlife was in relatively short supply but these days heading north from here will inevitably mean seeing red kite. The re-establishment of red kite has been one of the most remarkable changes of fortune of any of our wildlife. I remember seeing them in mid-Wales as a young birder in the 1960’s when they were very rare indeed, perhaps under 20 pairs in all when I saw them and not doing very well. Mid-Wales is relatively unproductive land and the weather can be poor in the mountains, even in summer and  in those days there were still numbers of active egg-collectors around as well.

Establishing a population in the more productive lowland farmland around Oxford quite quickly showed that this is a species that could do very well in UK conditions when it was allowed to live in more promising habitat. The UK is evidently very good habitat for red kite and their ability to spread and thrive across most of the country has been quiet extraordinary. During my birding lifetime they have gone from supper rarity to an everyday bird  for millions of people across the country, proving that not all conservation stories are one of gloom, doom and extinction.

30 Days Wild – Day 8 – An Early Start

I was out early doing a farmland bird survey up on the Hampshire chalk, it was calm, which is good for surveying. The low cloud got lower and lower as I was surveying and just as I was finishing it started to rain. I like surveying in a very different area from my usual haunts as it means I see species I don’t normally encounter. Visiting chalk farmland meant that yellowhammer was frequent, a bird I very rarely see these days. My previous visit had also produced corn bunting and grey partridge, missing today, although I did add red kite this time.

At this time of year an early survey means that I can get home in time for breakfast, which I did today. I was having a day off, so most of the rest of my wildlife for the day was seen in the garden.

I started with the moth trap, the pick of the day was a very fresh beautiful yellow underwing. These tiny moths regularly fly by day as well as at night and so often fly from the trap as it is opened, luckily for me this one stayed put for a picture.

beautiful yellow underwing 2

beautiful yellow underwing

It does have yellow underwings, but they are covered by the upper-wings, however the upper-wings are beautifully marked.

The spring solitary bees have mostly finished now but the summer ones are just starting, one of these is, if I have identified it correctly, Willughby’s leafcutter bee. These bees collect pollen on brushes of hairs underneath their abdomen rather than on their legs as many species do. It is on the orange hawkweed often known as fox-and-cubs here.

Willughby's leafcutter bee

Willughby’s leafcutter bee

During the day I saw single green-veined white, red admiral and painted lady butterflies the latter two indicating migrant arrivals.

I came across a couple of new species for the garden today, a mullein moth caterpillar that I spotted from indoors when I was washing my hands after being in the garden and, rather less welcome, a forest fly which chased my around.

mullein moth caterpillar

mullein moth caterpillar

As the name suggests mullein moth caterpillars usually feed on mullein, however they sometimes eat other related plants such as figwort, which is what it is eating in my garden. It is another species with bad tasting larvae, which is why they can afford to perch in the open and be brightly coloured. Despite running a moth trap I have never caught the adult moth in the garden, but this is one moth species that very rarely comes to light.

The forest fly is a biting species that mostly feeds on ponies and deer, it is one of the flat-flies, which scuttle over their hosts and are very resistant to being swatted.

forest fly

forest fly

What’s in My Meadow Today?

For the first time thus year I have bird’s-foot-trefoil flowering in the meadow this year, for some reason it has taken some time to get established, but hopefully is now in place to stay.

bird's-foot-trefoil

bird’s-foot-trefoil

A feature of the meadow from the first year has been a large population of lesser stitchwort, focus down through the grass stems and there are masses of tiny white star-like flowers.

lesser stitchwort

lesser stitchwort

Finally I also found a further new species for the garden in the meadow, it was a small species of chafer beetle, if I am correct it is Welsh chafer Hoplia philanthus , despite the name it is not confined to Wales having a rather scattered distribution across the southern half of the UK.

Welsh chafer maybe

Welsh chafer beetle (I think)

  

Back to some birds

I have been off for the week and today was my first day back. In my absence the reserve has turned green! Many of the trees have leaves bursting through and around the lakes emergent plants are doing what they do best and emerging.

The change of seasons is very apparent, with Ibsley Water having swallow, sand martin and a few house martin swooping over at least 47 wigeon and a goldeneye, reminders of winter. A fine adult little gull was hunting insects over the lake in the morning, but seemed to have gone in the afternoon. The rain of early afternoon brought in a flock of 25 Arctic tern, always a treat and at the end of the day some of them had joined the 4 common tern on the shingle near Tern hide giving a great comparison.

Migrants generally are still rather few apart from chiffchaff and blackcap, which are both around the reserve in good numbers. Today I found just singles of willow warbler and reed warbler, we usually have just one pair of willow warbler but there should be many more reed warbler to come.

Other more random sightings I had today included a red kite, a pair of mandarin duck, 4 goosander and 3 snipe. I also had reports of 2 white wagtail and a common sandpiper.

Listing, Lessons and Speculations

Like lots of people who look at wildlife I cannot resist keeping lists, not usually very thorough and I usually lose interest in about mid-February each year. So far I have kept going and find that I have seen 116 species of birds so far this year, all of them in Hampshire and at least 105 of them on visits to Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust reserves.

Of the 116 species I can see that five of them are introduced alien species (Canada goose, Egyptian goose, Mandarin duck, pheasant and red-legged partridge) and another an introduced population of a former native (greylag).  All of these  have been either introduced for “sport” or escaped from parkland collections.

Of the native species I am struck by the many species that have changed their status radically since I arrived in Hampshire. There are various reasons for this, the white trio of little egret (now breeding), great white egret (soon to be breeding here?) and spoonbill (perhaps likewise), have increased in number and range right across western Europe. The same could be said for Cetti’s warbler, avocet, yellow-legged gull and Mediterranean gull.

Birds of prey have increased, more or less across the board and seeing red kite, marsh harrier and peregrine is not now especially notable and buzzard has spread right across the county rather than being a New Forest bird. All of these species have benefited from a more benign environment, in which they are less exposed to harmful chemicals and suffer less persecution, at least in lowland England. One other species has gained from the same change is the raven, which now nests across most of the county. Goshawk has also colonised the county and benefited similarly, although the population is of escaped , or released, origin.

When I first came to Hampshire in 1978 there was no accepted record of ring-billed gull and I am not sure there was even such a thing as a Caspian gull thought about.

I estimate that if I had been doing the same thing forty years ago my list would most likely not have included at least 14 of those I have seen this year, so more than 10% of my list are birds that would have seemed remarkable then. Of course there would have been some species that I would have expected to see then by mid January, that we have now more or less lost, or at least which now need more particular seeking. For example Bewick’s swan, white-fronted goose, grey partridge, willow tit, corn bunting, yellowhammer and tree sparrow.

So listing may well be a rather pointless exercise in many ways but reflecting upon my list so far certainly tells a story of how much has changed and of course makes one think how much might change in the future. So what might a list in another forty years include?

I suspect we will have established populations of additional alien species, most likely is ring-necked parakeet (I suspect this will happen quite soon), but I think black swan may also get a firmer foothold too and Egyptian goose could become very common. Who knows perhaps even sacred ibis could make it over here in time if the continental populations develop uncontrolled.

Natural colonists that look like becoming regulars include, cattle egret and glossy ibis, both already occasional visitors. It is interesting to note the preponderance of wetland birds that are expanding their ranges. A bit of a wildcard might be the potential for a whole range of essentially  Pacific Arctic species to turn up as winter vagrants. The ice melt along the northern coast of Russia has opened up a route for many previously unconsidered species. The occurrence in Europe in recent years of slaty-backed gull hints at the potential for species to come via this route in years to come.

Unfortunately I think a lot of species are going to get much rarer. Coastal species will be under particular pressure, in forty years time there will be little or no saltmarsh along most of the Solent shoreline and much reduced mudflats, so wintering coastal wader populations will surely be much reduced. Couple this with and increase in “short-stopping”, which means that wintering birds coming from the north and east just don’t come so far in the increasingly mild winters. Overall I think it certain that the Solent will not be nearly so significant for wintering wetland birds.

This discussion of change is only considering the winter, our breeding birds could be in for at least as great a change, who knows I might speculate on this in a later blog.

 

Making Preparations

Although it feels very much like winter there are preparations for the coming spring afoot. At Blashford Lakes I spent Tuesday working with our volunteer team clearing the Long Spit island and the open ground of the old Hanson plant making the ground ready for nesting lapwing, little ringed plover, common tern and black-headed gull. Lapwing can settle down to nest as early as the start of March and will be pairing up at nest sites well before then if the weather is suitable.

before

The Long Spit before clearance

after

Long Spit after clearance

It was very cold and we had feared we would also get wet as there were some fierce showers, luckily they mostly missed us and by the time we had finished the sun was out.

By way of proof of approaching spring I spotted a pair of blue tit checking out a nest box outside my kitchen window, luckily the Blashford boxes have all been cleaned out, a reminder for me to do mine at home.

blue tit investigating

Blue tit checking out the nest box outside my kitchen window at the weekend.

Today we were working with our new volunteer team at Fishlake Meadows, again we were making preparations for later in the year. This time it was scrub cutting in preparation for grazing parts of this new reserve. Although much of the reserve is open water and reedbed there are areas of wet grassland that is gradually getting ranker and invaded by willow and bramble. To arrest this we plan a light grazing regime to maintain the mix of grass, fen and small patches of low scrub. Today we removed some young willow and cleared small alder to leave a few larger trees that will provide valuable shade for cattle in the summer sun.

start

Making the first cuts – the Fishlake volunteers starting out.

We were lucky with the weather, it was cold, but we managed to stay out of the wind and in the sun making it feel rather pleasant, hopefully we will be as lucky next time.

finish

With the scrub removed these trees will provide valuable shade for the cattle later in the year.

As we walked out to the worksite I saw a distant great white egret and on the way back we watched 2 red kite sparring with a pair of crow.

In the afternoon I returned to Blashford Lakes and got a quick picture of a water pipit outside Tern hide, nit the best I have seen but the best picture I have managed,

water pipit

water pipit

I am very lucky to be able to see quite a lot of wildlife as I go about my working day, however there are times when I should definitely have been looking the other way. As we headed out to work on the Long Spit on Tuesday we apparently disturbed an otter from the lakeside and it then swam by the Tern hide, somehow none of us saw it!

At Blashford we are also at the start of preparations of a different kind, we are planning a number of improvements around the reserve. To fund this we are hoping to apply for a grant and part of this process involves sounding out our visitors for their experience of the reserve. If you have visited recently it would be very useful to have your views, a questionnaire is attached here: Blashford Lakes Questionnaire if you are able to complete it and email it to us it would greatly help us with our grant application.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 30: At Last!

Sorry for the late post of this the last day of 30 Days Wild, but my 30th day was spent on the road. On my travels I passed through areas of the country that I have lived in during years gone by. It was interesting to see that there were buzzard almost everywhere, I remember when it was necessary to go west to at least the Welsh borders to see one. I also saw red kite, once so rare that a special trip was the only option if you wanted a glimpse of one.

As my post is late it coincides with National Meadows Day, so I will mention one of the other things I noticed on my travels, the verges and how they were managed. I was mostly on the motorway network so much of the grass was long, with scattered banks of scrub. I was disappointing to see the particularly wide banks of grassland beside the M6 Toll road being mown short even right to the top and the cuttings left lying, it looked very “neat” but was a disaster for wildlife. I don’t know if it was because it was a toll road but this was thankfully the only section I saw getting quite such brutal treatment.

Incidentally I make no apology for not applying the strict definition of a meadow, that is a field where herbage is cut as a crop, dried in the sun and removed to feed livestock, there are rather few of these now. For my purposes, if it is a grass and hopefully, herb mix that is maintained with little or no spring grazing, it could be a meadow as far as most of the species that use meadows are concerned. So wide verges, roundabouts, golf course rough and corporate greensward all count.

As I said I spent the day on the road, in fact it was also part of the night as well, due to road closures and subsequent detours. On the nocturnal part of my journey I saw a couple of foxes and another recent addition to south-east England, a polecat, which trotted across the road in front of me as I was navigating a back route alternative to the A34.

Today I was at Lepe Country Park, where they were opening a new sensory garden, put together by staff and the Friends of Lepe, it is very fine and well worth a visit. Many years ago I used to work at Lepe and one of the projects I did then was to add what is now the meadow area at the north of the site onto the Country Park. It had been a deep ploughed cereal field but we seeded it and thirty years on is a meadow afforded SINC (Site of Importance for Nature Conservation) status. I took a quick look today and it was alive with butterflies, maybe not an old meadow but a great one for wildlife. This is one of the wonderful things about grassland, a relatively few years of good management can produce something of real value for wildlife. Despite this it is trees that get planted all the time as good for nature conservation, yet most of these secondary woodlands will still be struggling to reach anything like their potential in a few centuries. Plant a tree if you must, but make a meadow if you can or persuade someone who manages grass to step back and appreciate that they manage a wonderful habitat, not a green carpet. With a little imagination we could be surrounded by meadows.

The martins have landed…

Sand martins that is, yesterday in fact, although they didn’t hang around long, not being there at the start or the end of the day, or indeed, this morning! Good to know that Spring is definitely here though and further demonstrated today by the little ringed plover on the bank east of Tern Hide.

Not sure if it has been around today, but earlier in the week the water pipit was still being reported – thanks to Steve Farmer for sending in this picture to blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk :

water-pipit by Steve Farmer

Water pipit by Steve Farmer

An adult drake scaup was also seen again on Ibsley Water yesterday where up to two red kites have also been seen, possibly attracted to the road kill roe deer that has also drawn in raven – indeed yesterday there was a raven there throughout the day that hardly moved at all!

At the Woodland Hide visitors are still seeing brambling and lesser redpoll, and chiffchaff arrived earlier in the week – not sure when exactly but certainly on Tuesday morning there were chiffings and chaffings from all across the site! The winter wildfowl on the other hand have all but left us, as apparently, has the tawny owl that delighted all that saw him by perching out in the open south of Ivy Lake. He, I’m sure, is still there, but probably in a more discrete, and typical location. David Cuddon rose to the challenge set in one of my previous blogs and e-mailed this picture in last week (thanks David!):

Tawny owl by David Cuddon

Tawny owl by David Cuddon

Tomorrow see’s the penultimate “Pop-up café” of the winter so don’t miss out on Christine’s home-baked treats in the centre classroom from 10.30am-3.30pm.

And finally, if you have children or grandchildren aged 5-12 years don’t let them miss out on a “Wild Days Out!” this Easter – bookings are being taken now via the Trusts online shop for this holidays pond and river themed children’s activity days:

For 7-12 year olds on Tuesday 11th April: https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product/wild-days-out-wet-n-wild-7-12s/

For 5-8 year olds on Wednesday 12th April: https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product/wild-days-out-wet-n-wild-5-8s/

And a final finally, if you don’t have children/grandchildren or even if you do and you are wondering why they should have all the fun then wonder no more… Instead call 01425 472760 or email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk and book onto our “Pond and River Dipping for Grown Ups – Adults Only!” session on the morning of 1st April, 10.30am-12pm!

 

 

 

 

 

Walter Returns!!

I am delighted to say that I was wrong to suggest that we might have seen the last of our returning great white egret “Walter White” as today he appeared, way beyond his usual return time but here none the less. It was good to see him back at about 13 and a half years old he is a grand old bird now.

great-white-egert-walter-is-back

A rather distant Walter but with his distinctive set of rings, so we know it really is him (you can’t see the rings in this shot though).

It was actually quite a good day to be looking at birds on the reserve today. When I arrived Ibsley Water was alive with house martin, at least 1500 by my estimate and lots perching in the bushes around the main car park too.

house-martins

House martins around the bushes in the main car park.

During the afternoon there were 3 garganey on Ibsley Water, they spent a good bit of their time well out in the centre picking insects off the surface, it seems that they were first seen on Friday, although not noted yesterday. Other ducks were few in number but included a pochard, shoveler, wigeon and teal. There were also still 2 ringed plover and 2 dunlin as well as single common sandpiper and green sandpiper. It was also a good day for birds flying over with red kite, peregrine, raven and marsh harrier being seen. We also saw the first common gull of the season as well, despite their name not usually a common bird at Blashford. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the most unusual record of the day was probably a female house sparrow in the bushes beside the Main Car Park.

In the morning there was a volunteer working party, we were working on the grassy bank near Ivy North hide, mending the fence and digging out Turkey oak saplings. This is an interesting area and gets very warm as the bank faces south and is angled at about 30 degrees, as the sun warmed up we counted at least 5 small copper butterflies.