Little & (very!) large

Hope everyone is out and about enjoying some glorious Spring sunshine this Easter weekend ūüôā . The warmer more settled weather is resulting in some “firsts for the year”, including my first Orange-tip butterfly and first Garden Warbler (singing to me as I opened up the main car park gate). Yesterday it was the turn of the return of Reed Warblers, singing from the reeds outside Ivy North Hide & also Ivy Silt Pond on my morning “rounds”.

As previously reported, Sand Martins are back & volunteer Phil West photographed the first few tentatively investigating the artificial sand face at Goosander Hide earlier in the week:

Sand Martins by Phil West

Hopefully they will have a good year again as there is nothing quite like the spectacle of viewing the swirls of 100’s of martins from, and on teh approach to, the hide during the summer.

He also clocked this White-tailed Eagle passing over!

White-tailed Eagle by Phil West

Although the wonderful Wild Daffodils are now well & truly over the the very first of the Bluebells are just starting to show, the Primroses are still looking fabulous and being very much beloved by Bumblebees and one of my favourite spring flowers, Moschatel (Five-faced Bishop or Townhall Clock!), is also having a really good year this year:

Chloe & I have been busy this week with Wild Days Out school holiday activity days – we missed the best of the weather unfortunately, but it could have been a lot worse! A good time was had by all in the pond & river (including we staff & volunteers!) and a separate blog post specifically about that will follow.

No Wild Day Out next week but we are inviting families to “Go Wild!” and join us for pond dipping on Wednesday – the initial morning session is now fully booked so we have now started taking bookings for a second session in the afternoon – for more information and to book your places please see:

Families are welcome, but so too are individual adults without children who wish to find out more about some of our fascinating wetland wildlife.

Discovering pondlife on Tuesdays Wild Day Out – more pictures & information to follow in a subsequent blog!

Sadly too much of my time these days is spent in the office dealing with increasingly complicated administrative and managerial tasks when I’m not out and about teaching and one of these necessary jobs is the production of the Annual Report to our partners (South West Water & Wessex Water). Although very time consuming it is also always a good opportunity to reflect on the challenges & achievements of the previous year so not as arduous an undertaking as it might seem. Still, I am sure that having signed off on his last Blashford Lakes Project Annual Report it is one part of the job that our recently retired Bob will not miss!

Having put the work in we are keen to share it more widely than with just the Project partners so do download it and have a read for a “behind the scenes” glimpse into work at Blashford Lakes!


Site Checks in the Sunshine

I was over at Blashford again today, checking all was still well, which I am pleased to say it was. Incidental to my checks I came across a number of firsts for the year, for me at least. Speckled wood butterflies were frequent throughout the woodland areas, unfortunately we won’t know if they manage to follow up last years good showing at Blashford with another bumper year as the butterfly transects, like all our other surveys, have been suspended.

speckled wood

My first speckled wood of the year

I also saw my first large red damselfly, tree bumble bee and heard my first reed warbler.

There are especially large flocks of black-tailed godwit around in the Avon Valley at present, they seem to be feeding on the flooded fields and coming over to Ibsley Water to roost or when disturbed. I think there were as many as 2000 birds flying around at one point.

Black-tailed godwit flock

black-tailed godwit flock in flight

The cherry trees are in full flower now, looking splendid in the sunshine.

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

There have been several pheasant around the reserve recently, but until today I had only seen males, so a female was unusual.

female pheasant

female pheasant

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.

30 days Wild – Day 12: Dusk Excursion

It is always interesting to go to new places, but for lots of reasons not always possible to get to them. An alternative is to go to familiar places at different times. I quite often visit the area at the western side of the mouth of Southampton Water around Calshot and Fawley, but I don’t think I have been there at dusk in the summer before.

The area known as Tom Tiddler’s lies south of the now defunct Fawley Power Station and is reclaimed land that has lain unused for decades. In this time it has developed into a mosaic of scrub, rough grassland and reedbed habitats. It is home to lots of reed warbler, whitethroat, Cetti’s warbler¬†and a few sedge warbler, it even has nightingale on occasion. All of these species were singing as they often do at dusk when the weather is fine.

However it was the many small moths that caught my eye, there were lots of them, but as I did not have a net with me I had to wait until they landed and creep up to get a look if I was going to see what species they were. Most turned out to be small “Grass moths” mainly Chrysoteuchia culmella and most of the rest were a small macro moth, the round-winged muslin.

round-winged muslin 2

round-winged muslin

As this was more of a dusk wander than a walk I also looked in a few places I had just gone never looked previously, particularly the small shingle ridges. I was surprised to find a number of plants of stabilised shingle, including annual beard grass, sea kale, sea sandwort and sea holly. This last was a particular surprise as I know it is quiet scarce plant in Hampshire and mainly found on Hayling Island.

All in the name

Apologies for the slightly late and out of sync blog, but we wanted to still share our latest Wildlife Rangers news with you all.

February was a busy month for our teenage group, with a name change, an evening under the stars (and cloud!) and a busy work day removing willow from an area of reedbed near Lapwing Hide.

With welcome funding from the Cameron Bespolka Trust we officially launched our Young Naturalists group: the group will build upon the experiences of our Wildlife Rangers and continue to offer teenagers the opportunity to develop their interests in wildlife and nature conservation, either as a hobby or as a potential future career. The new funding however will enable us to expand upon the range of activities and sessions offered each month, including visits to other key wildlife sites and visits to us by local specialists.

We were joined at the launch by Corinne Bespolka, who set up the Cameron Bespolka Trust in memory of her son who was a keen, active birder and naturalist, representatives from the Blashford Lakes partnership and a number of young people from the group, who shared their experiences and interests.

Debbie and Corrine

HIWWT’s Chief Executive Debbie Tann with Corinne Bespolka, and the cake!


Shortly after our launch, our Young Naturalists were joined by Steve Tonkin and Tim Rawlings from Fordingbridge Astronomers,  who delighted the group with an introduction to astronomy via an indoor tour of the night sky and the chance to look at a range of useful resources and observing equipment. We then headed outside where despite a fair amount of cloud we were still able to observe the Orion constellation, Jupiter and Sirius, often referred to as the Dog Star in the constellation Canis Major, amongst others. Thanks to David Felstead for taking this group photo of us observing:

Young Naturalists Stargazing by David Felstead

Young Naturalists star (and cloud) gazing, you can just about pick some out, by David Felstead

This was followed by our usual monthly¬†session and after a quick rummage through the¬†moth trap, we headed up to an area of reedbed near Lapwing Hide to remove some of the willow.¬†The reserve’s on going project of reedbed expansion and willow pollarding in this area will benefit a range of invertebrates as well as birds like reed warblers and water rails.

As Ed also joined the group for the day, we managed to cut a lot more than usual, burning most of the brash on a bonfire (an activity greatly enjoyed by the group) and stacking the remainder to create a dead hedge. Here are some photos from our day:

Making a start

Making a start at pollarding the willow

Dragging brash

Dragging brash to the bonfire


Becky and Talia pollarding one of the willows

Felling trees

Ed working hard

Adding fuel to the fire 2

Ellie adding fuel to the fire (Geoff tended the fire whilst we all had our lunch, so is having a welcome break!)

Of course, we couldn’t have a fire without having a snack, so had a go at toasting some waffles. Some were nicely toasted, others ended up more like charcoal…

Toasting waffles

Carefully toasting a waffle

Finally, after lots of pollarding, dragging, burning and stacking we had a nice clearing within the reedbed and a new dead hedge:

The cleared area 2

The cleared area of reedbed with the dead hedge in the background

Group photo

Group photo!

Watching the fire

Watching the last of our cut material burn down

We still found time to go wildlife spotting whilst out, spying this female adder basking next to one of the tins:

Adder 4

Female adder basking next to a tin

And on investigating under a log, uncovered four juvenile newts:

Lots of newts

Oak Beauty

Oak beauty moth, the highlight from the light trap

So all in all we had a busy and varied month! And, just to make this blog even longer, here are some lovely photos taken by David Felstead of a few of our woodland birds. Thanks David!

Long tailed tit by David Felstead

Long-tailed tit by David Felstead

Blue tit resized by David Felstead

Blue tit by David Felstead

Blue tit 3 by David Felstead

Blue tit by David Felstead

Siskin 2 by David Felstead

Siskin by David Felstead

Siskin 3 by David Felstead

Siskin by David Felstead

Snap, crackle, pop…

130525 Popcorn maker 3 by J Day

Surprisingly (it surprised me anyway!) despite the strong winds last night, apart from lots of dead branches (admittedly some quite large) the only tree damage that the reserve seems to have suffered is that above – a snapped limb on the willow to the west of Ivy North Hide (SNAP).

Wildlife wise I don’t have a great deal to report other than to comment on the hundreds of swifts¬†over Ibsley Water again this morning. Pretty much a daily occurrence at the moment, one can not get tired of the sight of their aerial stunt manuevers, nor the scream that accompanies their flight. The common tern continue to hold out against the black headed gulls¬†on two of the “tern rafts” on Ivy Lake and large red damselflies were very noticeable mating and egg laying by the centre pond when ever the sun broke through the clouds to take the edge of the chilly bite to the wind.

My highlight of the day? The reed warblers to the left of Ivy South Hide – such a treat to hear and see them so close, almost oblivious of people watching them from within the hide:

130525 Popcorn maker 11 by J Day

I actually spent much of the day offsite providing a support visit to the Testwood Lakes Wildlife Watch group and volunteer leaders, but did spend a very rewarding hour or so this morning making and testing a new piece of equipment for next weeks holiday activities – we’re always looking for new ideas of things we can do with the children, particularly those who do come back holiday after holiday, year after year and I had heard about this as an idea, but never actually seen it done or tried it myself. I was very pleased with the result and I think the kids will be too!

Step-by-step instructions below:

Take one sieve and lash it to a “green” wood pole using wire:

130525 Popcorn maker 4 by J Day

Attach a second sieve to the first via a wire “hinge”:

130525 Popcorn maker 5 by J Day

Fashion a “catch” out of more wire to secure the second sieve to the first:

130525 Popcorn maker 6 by J Day

Light  small campfire fire and allow to burn down to some embers (CRACKLE):

130525 Popcorn maker 8 by J Day

Add popcorn kernels to sieve, secure sieve catch and place over fire:

130525 Popcorn maker 7 by J Day130525 Popcorn maker 12 by J Day 

After a minute or so gently agitate the kernels backwards and forwards as the kernels heat up…

And POP!

130525 Popcorn maker 13 by J Day    

Allow to cool, open popcorn maker and enjoy that smoked popcorn taste Рno other flavourings necessary!

 130525 Popcorn maker 14 by J Day

Give it a go next time you have a barbecue or campfire Рit tastes great and is worth doing if only to enjoy watching the popcorn explode!

A Couple of Prominent Visitors

Following yesterday’s weather with pleasingly warm spells, which encouraged a few butterflies to grace us with their presence in the garden,¬†¬†it was a disappointingly overcast scene here at Blashford today.¬† Birds, however, can’t afford to be put off by a little spell of cooler, damper conditions and the usual chorus of willow warbler, chiffchaff, sedge warbler, reed warbler, Cetti’s warbler, blackcap and garden warbler were all singing brightly¬†whilst we opened the reserve.

Not to be outdone by this vocal opposition, our local cuckoo has continued to call out his name for most of the morning and at least two of out regular visitors caught sight of him and managed to get a few pictures.

Cuckoo - picture courtesy of Nigel and Mara Elliott

Cuckoo – picture courtesy of Nigel and Mara Elliott

Signs of breeding success in the form of a  mallard and five, very small ducklings were seen on the path between Ivy Lake and the settlement pond.

I suspect that the largely more overcast conditions last night might have been responsible for an increase, over yesterday, ¬†in the number and range of moths and other insects, ‘visiting’ our light trap.

Among the other insects there were five¬†of the beetles that¬†Jim¬†referred to yesterday as¬†May bugs, but which I’ve always called cockchafer.¬† I don’t think I’d ever seen more than one or two of these insects before I started moth trapping, and these had been during camping holidays,often attracted to the lights by the toilet block.¬† Intrigued by the different naming (Jim’s and mine) I took a look¬†at a¬†well-known¬†on-line encyclopaedia to find out a little more about them. It would seem that there are three different species and at least two of these occur in the U,K, , one common cockchafer associated with open areas and a forest cockchafer found in more wooded areas. I’m guessing¬†it’s the forest type we get here.¬† Apparently they used to occur in huge numbers before the introduction of chemical pesticides and were a significant pest as their lava , who may spend five to seven years underground, munch their way through the roots of crops. Some years the adults emerged in their millions.

As I said there were a few more moths than on previous nights,   As if to prove that our weather has improved lately, the Dark Sword-grass is an immigrant species presumably taking advantage of southerly winds. Although they have been recorded in the U.K. throughout the year but most frequently from July to October, so the two we found were, perhaps, a little early.

Dark Sword-grass

Dark Sword-grass

Probably the most distinctive moth today was this Nut-tree Tussock, with its striking two-tone livery.

Nut-tree Tussock

Nut-tree Tussock

Not to be outdone were the two individuals who gave rise to the title of this post. Presumably not named for their importance or influence, but because they have raised tufts on their heads, were this Pebble Prominent and Great Prominent.

Pebble Prominent

Pebble Prominent

Great Prominent

Great Prominent

Pinion and Thorn

More warblers today, with chiffchaff and blackcap firmly established and the Cetti’s warbler( at least two on the Reserve) giving rise to their splendidly piercing song. ¬†Four or more reed warbler, two seen in reeds at southern end of the settlement pond and at least one each by the Ivy North and South Hides. ¬†Although not yet seen ¬†(or reported as seen ,anyway) ¬†cuckoo have been heard at various locations across the reserve as were the songs of willow warbler¬†in two different areas.

One lucky visitor saw a sparrowhawk flash past him and land briefly on the ground, then fly off with a prey item.

Out on Ivy Lake a pair of great-crested grebe were performing their courtship dance with head shaking and bobbing, whilst nearby, on one of the large buoys, a couple of common tern were pariently waiting for our tern rafts to be deployed. ¬†It’s a delicate matter to decide when these rafts are to be put out again ¬†each spring. They need top be there to encourage the terns to stay and breed, but if they are put out too early they’ll be colonised by black-headed gulls. If there are enough terns around they are, collectively, aggressive¬†enough to see-off the gulls.

The ‘catch’ from the moth trap, although still relatively small in number, has started to provide a little more variety, this time in the form of an Early Thorn and a Pale Pinion.

Early Thorn

Early Thorn

Pale Pinion
Pale Pinion

 Fairly quiet in terms of visitor numbers (where are you all?), we took the opportunity to remove and replace a few seed feeders and cleaned them and a couple of niger seed feeders as well.  Not one of the most romantic of tasks, but it needs to be done on a fairly regular basis.

More Warblers than in an Opera

The day started well with a fanfare of song from a chiffchaff as we unlocked the gates to the Reserve. On the way round to open up the hides there were quite a few more chiffchaff and several blackcap, busy carving out territories with their song. Near the Ivy North Hide and again near the settlement pond Cetti’s warbler¬†were chanting their piercing call. Also by the settlement pond a few trills coming from the direction of the reeded area at first sounded like a reed warbler, but after a break in song the next twitterings were almost certainly those of a sedge warbler. As is usually the case, ¬†getting sight of these birds is not so easy, even though the leaf cover is only just starting to appear, but I did manage to get a half-way reasonable image of a blackcap.

Male blackcap

Male blackcap

With the spell of warmer weather it’s about time for some of the invertebrate¬†fauna to be putting in an appearance. With that in mind, Jim set up the light trap last night which ¬†managed to¬†attract¬†27 ¬†moths of seven different species. ¬† ¬†Mostly Common Quaker (11) and Small Quaker (7) plus two Twin-spot Quaker there were also some nicely marked Hebrew Character¬†(4) and ¬† single Oak Beauty, Engrailed and a pug species which after some argument we eventually decided must have been a Brindled Pug.¬†

Hebrew Character

Hebrew Character



Oak Beauty

Oak Beauty – a well marked moth, but notice how well it blends into the background

Such a relative abundance of insect life, compared with the last few attempts at moth trapping this year, herald the start of a proper spring period.      Looking around elsewhere on the reserve it was appropriate to see, from the Tern Hide, a common tern hunting  over Ibsley water (sorry no picture Рmuch too distant and mobile). Another first  for the year, and for me a real herald of Spring Рthis wheatear posing on the shingle out to the side of the Tern Hide.

Wheatear seen from Tern  Hide

Wheatear seen from Tern Hide

Migrants and a Tipster

Bird News: Ibsley Watercommon tern 7, common sandpiper 1+, goldeneye 2, little ringed plover 2+, house martin 2, swallow 2+, sand martin 40+. Lichen Heath wheatear 2. Ivy Lakewillow warbler 2+, reed warbler 1.

Although there have been a few reports in recent days, I had not seen a common sandpiper this spring until the one on the shore outside the Tern hide this morning.  There was also a pair of little ringed plover displaying and two pairs of lapwing both competing for the shingle area in front of the hide. The lapwing dispute got quite heated but when it quietened down the female of the resident pair settle to preen in the sunshine.

female lapwing

Crossing to Ivy Lake to open the hides I saw a female wheatear on the Lichen Heath, my first at Blashford this spring, it remained all day and when I went to lock up had been joined by a fine male. It was evident that there had been an arrival of migrants overnight as there were 2 or more willow warbler singing and int he Ivy Silt Pond a singing reed warbler, another first for the year.

The night had been quite cold so I was not expecting much from the moth trap and the catch was small, but included an angle shades.

angle shades

It was a very fine morning and so we went for a short walk on the reserve before doing the work rota for the next few months. It was the first time I had seen the sand martins actually over the nesting bank this year, although there are still not many around, whilst at the Goosander hide we saw 7 common tern over Ibsley Water, although they seemed to have gone by the time I locked up so perhaps they were not our nesting birds. There was also a pair of goldeneye, seemingly the last ones left over from the winter. On the way back to the Centre we passed a male orange-tip, that for once was not resting with wings closed and I managed to get a picture that shows the “orange-tips”.

male orange-tip

The woods on the reserve are very noisy with bird song just now. I was standing briefly just south of the Woodland hide on my way around to lock up at the end of the day and I could hear garden, reed and Cetti’s warblers, blackcap, wren, robin, song thrush and¬†dunnock all at once.