Early birds…

Over the weekend ten super keen Young Naturalists enjoyed a night on the reserve in order to appreciate the dawn chorus at it’s best.

To avoid any ridiculously early drop offs by parents, we met at the Education Centre at 7pm on Saturday night then headed straight over to Tern Hide in the hope of a glimpse of the lapwing chick before it got too dark. We had to wait a while but got lucky!

Lapwing chick by Talia Felstead resized

Lapwing chick by Talia Felstead

In the fading light, we also spotted Lapwing, Greylag geese with three goslings, Redshank and a Pied wagtail.

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We then headed up to Goosander and Lapwing hides in search of deer, getting out the bat detectors for the walk back and picking up lots of Soprano and Common pipistrelles. The bats put on a great show!

It was then time to head back to the Centre for a drink and a snack and to make ourselves comfortable for the night, picking our spots on the Education Centre floor. Whilst getting ready for a night in the classroom, we looked at the footage picked up on the trail cam we had put out at last month’s Young Naturalists session in the hope of a glimpse of some of the reserve’s more secretive wildlife.

Rather excitingly the trail cam revealed images of badgers and deer along with videos of badgers, deer and a fox.

Badger 1

Badger!

deer 1

Deer

After setting the alarm for 4am, we attempted to get some sleep!

In the morning we were joined incredibly bright and early at 4.30am by Bob and volunteer Liz, who had declined the offer to join us overnight but were still happy to be here super early. After a cup of tea and a snack we headed outside at about 4.45am to enjoy the dawn chorus at its best.

Our early bird of the morning was the robin, who we heard just outside the Centre. We then headed towards Ivy North hide before following the path round to the Woodland hide then Ivy South hide, crossing the river and following the path along the Dockens to our river dipping bridge then back to the Centre. Unfortunately it was a bit windy but we still heard 19 species of bird, with Bob’s expert help, and the crescendo of bird song was fabulous.

Our 19 species of bird were heard in the following order: robin, wood pigeon, blackbird, Canada goose, song thrush, wren, blackcap, reed warbler, garden warbler, Cetti’s warbler, chiffchaff, black-headed gull, Egyptian goose, mallard, blue tit, great tit, chaffinch, jackdaw and goldcrest.

Group on dawn chorus walk resized

A very early dawn chorus walk! We are excited, just a little sleepy…

We then had a look in the light trap which revealed two May highflyers, a Great prominent, a Sharp angled peacock, two Hebrew characters, three Flame shoulders, a Pale tussock and a Common quaker. We also saw a Brimstone moth fly past.

It was then time for second breakfast, so we got the fire going and tucked into our sausage and bacon rolls.

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After tidying away from breakfast we headed back over to Tern hide to see if we could spot the Lapwing chick in a better light. Unfortunately luck was not on our side this time, but we did see a black tern, bar tailed godwit, ringed plover, little ringed plover, redshank, black-headed gull, Egyptian geese, greylag geese, tufted duck, coot, pied wagtail, common tern, lapwing, swallows, cormorant and both house and sand martins.

Whilst waiting for the parents to arrive we had time to pond dip at the Centre, catching a newt (the kingfisher hasn’t eaten all of them!) and a brilliant great diving beetle:

Thank you to volunteers Geoff, Emily and Harry for joining us for a night on the Education Centre floor in preparation for our brilliant dawn chorus experience, to Liz for joining us in the morning and to Bob for coming in to lead the walk with his wealth of bird song knowledge.

Thanks too to the Young Naturalists eager for such an early start – Lysander, Megan C, Megan Y, Talia, James, Cameron, Poppy, Ben, Will H and Jodie, we hope you all enjoyed it and have managed to catch up on some sleep…

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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A Dry Spring

Lots of visitors are coming to the Tern hide at present, drawn in roughly equal measure by the Bonaparte’s gull and great views of the lapwing chicks. The gull was present on and off again yesterday as were 3 little gull (2 of them beautiful adults), up to 27 or more Mediterranean gull and at least a dozen common tern.

The two lapwing chicks in front of the hide are doing well and approaching two weeks old now, this is especially pleasing as they are only protected by their mother, dad having gone missing a while ago. She is driving off all comers, but especially redshank, common sandpiper and little ringed plover, not perhaps the greatest threats to her chicks.

lapwing chicks

lapwing chicks sheltering from a cool north wind.

So far lapwing are having a remarkable year and we have something like 20 pairs nesting with at least five already hatched. Of these three can be seen from Tern hide. The lake shore has the lure of water, where the chicks can find small insect prey, but it is not that safe as it is frequented by many predators. They would be better staying around puddles away from the shore, but the recent long bout of dry weather has meant almost all of them have dried out now, we could really do with some rain!

The good weather has been brilliant for early butterflies though; the reserve has had lots of orange-tip and large first broods of speckled wood and small copper.

small copper

small copper, one of many first brood ones seen this year.

As spring moves on we are now entering “Willow snow” season, when the woolly seeds of the willows are blown around and collect in drifts. It is these light-weight seeds that allow willows to colonise so well as they are carried long distances by the wind.

willow snow

willow seeds

Despite the dry weather there have been a few fungi around and I came across the one in the picture below growing on lichen heath on Sunday, I have failed to put a name to it though.

fungus

fungus on lichen heath

Recent days have seen a good range of birds around the reserve. Both garden warbler and common swift have arrived in numbers and there has been a good variety of migrants. On Sunday a fine male ruff was on Ibsley Water and other passage waders in the last few days have included whimbrel, greenshank, dunlin and common sandpiper.

April Catch-up

April is flying by and we’ve been busy! We’re sorry for the rather long gap between this and the last blog, but hopefully this one explains a little of what we’ve been up to and what’s currently out and about on the reserve.

The sunshine brought plenty of visitors to our local craft event, who enjoyed the excellent refreshments provided by Nigel and Christine’s pop-up café (which will return in November) along with basket making, hurdle making and wood turning demonstrations and the chance to have a go at making bird feeders from willow.

Willow bird feeders

Willow bird feeders made at our craft event

This was swiftly followed by Wildlife Tots, who got into the spirit of Spring by making excellent nests for our cuddly birds.

Jessie with nest

Jessie with her nest for a Teal

We then entertained a holiday club visiting from London with den building and fire lighting activities, followed by a night walk. We’ve welcomed new six-month volunteer placement Harry, who is with us now until September and thrown him in at the deep end with a group of beavers who were here to enjoy a river dip. Luckily that didn’t put him off and Emily and the other volunteers have been busy showing him the ropes.

This week we’ve had two wet Wild Days Out, pond and river dipping in search of newts, fish and other monsters, rescuing ducks, floating boats, building dams and enjoying a balloon free water fight. Our most monstrous find was this awesome Great Diving Beetle Larva, which tried to devour anything in its sight:

Great diving beetle lava 2

Great Diving Beetle larva ready to pounce

Our volunteers have been super busy, with the warmer weather bringing with it the start of our butterfly transects and reptile surveys. The butterfly transects have had an excellent start, with Peacock, Orange Tip, Brimstone, Speckled Wood, Comma and Small White all recorded and Holly Blue, Green Veined White and Small Tortoiseshell also seen around. They have already recorded more than they did in the whole of April last year, so fingers crossed numbers will continue to be good!

Grass snakes and adders have started to venture into areas accessible to visitors so if the cloud disappears and the temperature warms up again keep your eyes peeled! Two grass snakes were seen recently from Ivy South hide, but out of the window at the far end rather than their usual basking spot on the log outside the front; whilst the grass verges too and from Lapwing hide are usually good places to try for a basking adder.

In bird news, Lapwing, Common sandpiper, Redshank and Little ringed plover have all been showing nicely in front of Tern Hide, along with the Black headed gulls which are getting more and more vocal! An osprey reportedly flew over the reserve on Wednesday and a Common tern was also seen on Wednesday from Tern Hide.

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Thank you to Richard Smith for emailing across a photo of two very busy Little ringed plover:

Little Ringed Plovers by Richard Smith

Little ringed plover by Richard Smith

A Great spotted woodpecker has been busy excavating a hole in a tree trunk near Ivy Lake and best viewed from the far right hand window in Ivy North hide. Brambling were also still being spotted from the Woodland Hide this week, looking very smart as they develop their summer plumage and our first fledglings have been seen too – Robin and Dunnock – so keep an eye out for parent birds feeding their young.

Thanks to Lyn Miller and Steve Michelle for also sending in some great photos from recent visits to the reserve:

Kingfisher by Lyn Miller

Hungry kingfisher devouring a newt by Lyn Miller

Redpoll by Steve Michelle

Lesser redpoll by Steve Michelle

Black Headed Gull by Steve Michelle

Black headed gull by Steve Michelle

Finally thank you to everyone who’s popped in to tell us what they’ve seen, Jim and I have unfortunately been slightly office bound when not out and about leading events and group visits, so it’s great to know what’s going on out on the reserve!

We will try not to leave such a long gap between this and next blog, Bob’s back from leave soon so fingers crossed!

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

 

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

Blashford Rarities

When it comes to what constitutes a notable wildlife record it I soften the context that matters. As proof of this I will offer a couple of sightings I made at Blashford Lakes today. I was at the reserve early so I opened up the hides, I had a good look across Ibsley Water from the Tern hide, hoping for an early sand martin as I have never seen one in February, and I still haven’t! Scanning the lake I did see at least 11 goldeneye, including 5 adult drakes, but it turned out the most notable bird was standing just to the east of the hide on the shore, a single brent goose. It was an adult dark-bellied brent, a common bird just a few miles away on the coast but they very rarely go far inland, at least in winter.

brent goose and redshank

brent goose and redshank

When I told Ed about the goose I found out that the redshank was also of interest being the first one reported this year. As I mentioned brent are coastal birds in the winter, perhaps venturing a mile or so inland to feed on grass or winter cereal fields at most. At about this time of year, especially in a mild winter they will start to move off eastwards, heading to Holland and N. Germany, where they will feed up until mid May, when they head into the eastern end of the Baltic Sea. They breed about half-way along the northern shore of Siberia and get there by flying overland across Finland from the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic to the White Sea in the Arctic Ocean. On occasion over half the total population have been watched heading off overland in a single day, this is perhaps 200,000 birds or more in a single day. My guess is that today’s bird was at the start of the first leg eastwards, perhaps to Essex and got parted from the rest of the flock in the night and in wandering about lost found its way to Blashford.

This year’s mild winter is in strong contrast to last year, when winter stayed with us into April as did most of the winter birds, this year many have already gone and the first summer visitors will be with us by the end of next week.

Amazingly the brent goose was not my only notable sighting of the morning, outside the Lapwing hide there was a male stonechat, again hardly a rare bird and a species that you can see with ease all winter no more than a mile away, but actually on the reserve they are very rare visitors. This was only the third that I have ever seen at Blashford, I have no good explanation for their rarity, much of the grassland with brambles along the eastern shore of Ibsley Water looks fine for them, but evidently I do not see things as a stonechat does.

I will end with some wild daffodil, taken near the Woodland hide, they are looking very good, just in time for St David’s Day.

wild daffodils

wild daffodils

 

Common terns vs. blackheaded gulls – and other news

130518 Blashford by J Day (13)_resize

A beautiful morning this morning – the above picture of a mill pool calm Ibsley Water in  morning sunshine is not a view that we have been able to enjoy many of over the last year or so! A redshank was patroling along the shore when I opened up, but was quickly seen off by a territorial lapwing. A few minutes later the same lapwing put up this little ringed plover which conveniently flew closer to, rather than further away from, the hide:

 130518 Blashford by J Day (12)

Unfortunately there was no sign of the otter which someone has recorded as having seen from Lapwing Hide earlier in the week. I await my first view patiently!

The black headed gull colony seems to be doing very well – to the extent that, coupled with the unusually high water levels, nesting sites are at a premium and they are therefore seeking out new alternative sites both around Ibsley Water itself and elsewhere.

Unfortunately one of the “elsewheres” are the tern rafts deployed out on Ivy Lake. Two went out on Monday this week and the remainder on Thursday – on both occasions they were immediately descended upon by the common terns who have clearly been on the look out for them since they arrived and were no doubt perplexed by their absence before-hand. They are not made of as stern a stuff as in previous years though and on both occasions by the following morning they have been supplanted by the black headed gulls. However six plucky terns have stuck to their guns and so far are holding their own against a single pair of gulls on the left-most raft and this morning their were another 3 pairs of terns hanging around looking hopefull so with a bit of luck they’ll pluck up the courage to gang up and see off the interloping pair and perhaps even the rest that are currently monopolising the other rafts. At least one of the pairs of terns on the raft were mating this morning, so they mean business!

 

Common terns stand off against black headed gulls on Ivy Lake

Common terns stand off against black headed gulls on Ivy Lake

 

Other recent news on the bird front is an update from the BTO ringers running the CES site on the reserve who were pleased to ring their first willow warbler of the year (pictured below, thanks to Kevin Sayer):

Willow warbler

Willow warbler

Also caught and rung were: Reed Warbler 19, Reed Bunting 6, Garden Warbler  1, Great Tit 1, Blackbird 4, Long-tailed Tit 2, Blue Tit 1. Particularly exciting news from the ringing team were reports of what appeared to be a whitethroat territory, which if it was and they do nest, is possibly the first record of nesting whitethroat for the reserve.

I was out until dark digging over a much neglected allotment last night and being well and truly “midged” so I was  anticipating a bumper moth catch this morning – or at least more moths than there have been of late. I was therefore disapointed to find just two hebrew character, one flameshoulder, one common quaker and one lesser swallow prominent (flameshoulder and prominent pictured below):

130518 Blashford by J Day (19)_resize 130518 Blashford by J Day (2)_resize

Also in the trap, and the first of the year for me, if not the reserve, was a single May bug:

130518 Blashford by J Day (17)_resize

In the pond a lovely grass snake (other visitors photographed a grass snake eating a toad in the reed/scub between Lapwing and Goosander Hides today):

130518 Blashford by J Day (14)_resize

And the bluebells are looking (and smelling!) wonderful all along the Dockens Water:

The wonderful and uniquely British bluebell wood!

The wonderful and uniquely British bluebell wood!

There are lots of woods with more extravagant displays of bluebells than Blashford Lakes, but even so I look forward to seeing them every year. One of the best (if not the best!) places to enjoy bluebells locally is the Trusts Roydon Woods Nature Reserve between Lymington and Brockenhurst which I will be heading to soon with the family!

Sadly not everyone who visits our Nature Reserves do so with the same sense of awe, wonder and responsibility as we do. Ed and I had the unpleasant task of removing the fly-tipped waste (apparently the contents of a house clearance judging by the amount and type of assorted rubbish that had been dumped) left by one such visitor. No doubt tipped by a “business” involved in commercial removal of domestic waste for a ludicrously cheap price who avoids paying any waste trasfer duty (and no doubt saves a bit of diesel) by dumping in the nearest secluded green space – then to be removed at the expense of the landowner unfortunate enough to be the recipient of the rubbish, in this case us. Fortunately there were no farm animal carcasses or asbestos dumped this time, but sadly that is not an uncommon occurence either.

Here’s Ed with what was a very full trailer of rubbish at the end of the day yesterday (we were both as disgusted as he looks):

Fly tipped rubbish - not one of the more glamorous aspects of work at Blashford

Fly tipped rubbish – not one of the more glamorous aspects of work at Blashford

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? ( or Fungus?)

Those of a certain age may remember a TV programme , having (nearly) the same title as this posting, in which a panel of ‘experts’ were challenged to identify an object from a museum collection.   It sometimes feels like I’m on the panel when a visitor asks questions about something they have seen on the Reserve.  Fortunately, for the most part, I’m usually able to give a plausible (if not invariably correct) answer or direct them to somewhere or someone who can.  I don’t pretend to be an oracle and mis-identifications are always possible. (Thanks to those who pointed out that the long-tailed tit’s nest of last week is almost certainly that of a wren)

For the most part these questions concern the animal or vegetable (fauna and flora) on the reserve, not too many people are concerned with the minerals,  the extraction of which (sand and gravel) created what we have today.   One such question, from a conservation volunteer the other day, concerned a plant/fungus that he’d seen. From the description given both Jim and I concluded that he’d been looking at the young, emergent stage of the Horsetail or Marestail. Just like these on the reserve…

Horsetail - looking rather like an alien invader

Horsetail – looking rather like an alien invader

 I believe these are variously known as Common Horsetail, Giant Horsetail or Field Horsetail or sometimes Marestail – probably Equisetum arvense ( or perhaps you know different??).  More interesting than the name is that they are among the few remaining species of a genus which for more than 100 million years was the predominant type of land based plant life, some of which reached over 30 metres tall and eventually formed the coal measures.  So they certainly have ‘staying power’ which is probably why they are a persistent weed and are much un-loved by gardeners .

Talking of strange organisms, I’m sure many of you will have spotted strange excrescences, often white or yellow though sometimes pink, on logs and tree trunks in the woods. One such caught our eyes the other day and we went back to investigate, and take a picture of this rather magnificent slime mould   

Slime mould

Slime mould

Looking superficially like a fungal growth, I’d always bracketed them in with this group of organisms.  I did, however, know that the lump you see is really a sort of super ‘love-in’ where millions ( billions?) of single-celled organisms had grouped together to form this fruiting body.  They normally live thinly spread in the forest floor and at some signal migrate to one spot to swap DNA and reproduce via spores.  Quite how this is organised or triggered is still a bit of a mystery and the things themselves are, I believe, no longer classified as fungi – probably more like amoeba, feeding on algae and bacteria in the soil.   Also nearby was one of the resultant spore masses ….

Slimemould spore mass

Slime mould spore mass

Truly the more one sees the more mysterious are some of the things around us and just to round off this section I’ll include a picture of an outgrowth on the branches of a tree close to the small car-park near the entrance. I think they’re called ‘Witch’s Broom‘ and I believe they’re caused by insects or a virus – but perhaps someone out there knows better.

Witch's Broom - just one of many such clusters of tiny twigs growing on one tree

Witch’s Broom – just one of many such clusters of tiny twigs growing on one tree

 On a more prosaic level the warblers reported last week have been augmented by at least two garden warblers, one of which was bold enough to perch out on the side of  a bush, giving reasonable views and a so-so image was possible at extreme range..

Garden warbler

Garden warbler

Although not a spectacular breeding site for wading birds we do get our fair share through the winter and it’s always nice to see some at this time of year. From the Tern Hide there were little ringed plover, redshank common sandpiper,  lapwing  and  a snipe has been seen. 

Redshank on edge of Ibsley Water

Redshank on edge of Ibsley Water

As well as many black-headed gulls, tufted duck  and thirteen mute swan , Ibsley Water was hosting at least six common tern and little grebe nesting close by the Goosander Hide.   At the Woodland Hide a lone brambling (doesn;t he know it’s time to go?)  was still in evidence  and we still have some magnificent siskin on display.

Two fine male siskin - getting food for their mates?

Two fine male siskin – getting food for their mates?

Ospreys and a Jewel of a Beetle

Bird News: Ibsley Waterosprey 1 (on Wed & Thurs), common sandpiper 2, common tern 4, dunlin 1. Ivy Lakegreen sandpiper 2, scaup 1 (Wed).

No blog last night and I was not in on Wednesday, so two days missed, so time for a quick update. An osprey was seen on both days and when I was out on Wednesday one flew passed me apparently, so five at Blashford so far this spring and I still have not seen one this year! There have been more arrivals of migrants, with common terns newly in, they may be migrants or “our” birds, if the latter we will have to get the rafts out next week.

On Thursday I was at the reserve and the volunteers laid some new wire mesh on the boardwalk by the Centre pond and Jim nearly fell in just after it was put down, so much for making the surface safer! We also tried to work out how to construct a new generation of tern rafts for our, hopefully growing, tern population. After much deliberation I think we have developed an improved design for a longer life raft, all we have to do now is build it.

Ibsley Water has several pairs of lapwing establishing territory and at least 3 pairs of redshank as well. one pair is regularly outside the Tern hide giving a chance of a picture, although they rarely stand still. 

redshank from the Tern hide

I also had a look in one of the areas beside Ivy Lake that we had cleared during the winter to see how the habitat was developing and I think the answer was well, although it will need a couple of years before we will see how much new reedbed we get. The marshy ground was alive with insects, including lots of slender groundhoppers and a very smart type of ground beetle, Elaphrus cupreus.

                                                                                                                                                                               The elytra look as though they are jewel encrusted