30 Days Wild – Day 4 Far and Wide

A very varied day for me today, I started with a farmland bird survey on the Hampshire chalk, almost on the Wiltshire border, then to Blashford working with the volunteers and finally a guided walk at Hurst Spit.

The farmland survey is always enjoyable as I get to see species that I otherwise rarely come across, in this case yellowhammer, corn bunting and grey partridge. It was a fine, if cloudy morning and it would have been completely enjoyable, if it had not been for getting soaked by the heavy dew as I pushed my way through waist-high goose-grass.

At Blashford we were working on the design of a new tern raft, I think we have more or less cracked it now! I also had to check the fences for the soon to arrive ponies and in doing so I found over 100 bee orchid! They grow in several places around the reserve but typically in small groups.

bee orchid

bee orchid

After a speedy lunch it was off to Hurst Spit to lead a guided walk. I walked the length of the shingle rather than going by ferry, this seemed a mistake as light rain started to fall. Fortunately the rain eased and then stopped allowing us to see at least some of the wildlife of the stabilised shingle at the end of the spit.

The stabilised shingle has a very distinctive flora with zonation from the high tide line back into the grassy areas via damper dips with areas of saltmarsh vegetation. We found a good few broomrape plants, seemingly parasitic on wild carrot, so I assume the coastal version of common broomrape.

common broomrape

common broomrape

Broomrapes are weird plants, they have no chlorophyll so cannot produce their own food, they live parasitically on other plants, tapping into their root systems. There are a number of species and some are very specific about the hosts they exploit, the common broomrape is one of the less fussy ones.

More typical shingle beach plants included some magnificent sea kale, huge, glaucous, leathery leaves and a great froth of white flowers.

sea kale 4x3

sea kale

We also saw lots of sea beet, and yellow-horned poppy.

yellow-horned poppy

yellow-horned poppy

As you can see it is a yellow flowered poppy, the “horn” is the seed pod, which can extend to 20cm or more, quite different from the typical, more spherical, seedhead of most other species of poppy.

It was not all plants though, we found three cream-spot tiger moths, a pale form of mullein wave and lots of the small coastal Pyralid moth Platytes cerussella. The area around the castle has lots of rock pipit, I am sure they have become more common  since I was last out there.

Walking back up the beach I came across a jellyfish in the tideline. I have not heard of many along the coast, but perhaps this is going to be a “jellyfish year”, one of those when they arrive in hundreds of thousands. I have always dreamt of seeing a leatherback turtle in such a year, as these huge reptiles will follow their jellyfish prey as far as our shores. Although reptiles, it seems they have the ability to regulate their body temperature, keeping it at around 26 degrees Celsius, allowing them to come into colder waters than their smaller cousins.

jellyfish 4x3



Busy Badgers and Disgruntled Wasps

Every day seems very busy at the moment at Blashford, not necessarily with lots of visitors, just a very great number of things going on. Today I had the Lower Test volunteer team clearing willow regrowth on the western shore of Ibsley Water,  the contractor working in the old concrete plant, a visit from the two Apprentice Rangers who will be working with us in the New Year as well as all the usual coming and goings. There were also quiet a few birds of note to be seen and a moderate number of visitors seeing them.

When I opened up the hides I came across a scatter of wasp nest debris on the path just before the Ivy South hide.


wasp nest debris

A sure sign that a badger had been at work, badgers love eating wasp grubs and will dig out the nests to get at them, the wasps are not so keen, but badgers have thick skins and seem to be able to put up with mass attacks. The nest is now open to the elements but still quite full of wasps, one good rain shower may well destroy now though.


Opened up wasp nest, complete with rather discontented wasps.

Although wasps make similar hexagonal cells for their larvae to develop in they are made of paper rather than wax as the brood cells of honey-bees are. They make the paper by chewing up dead wood, summer visitors to the reserve will probably have heard them gnawing at the hides and I wouldn’t mind betting some of this nest was made from chewed up Ivy South hide.

During the day various wildlife reports came in. The osprey was seen again at Ivy Lake, this time perched outside Ivy North hide for about 10 minutes. I was shown some very good video of it by a visitor, it apparently flew in just after I had left the hide with the visiting apprentice rangers. Also from Ivy North came reports of water rail and Cetti’s warbler. Meanwhile over on Ibsley Water the great white egret was on show and a black-necked grebe was seen, the latter a very clean bird, so probably an adult that has wintered with us before, if so it should stay around. Other birds includes a few lingering swallow, a green sandpiper and, right at the end of the day, 2 rock pipit on the shore in front of Tern hide. I got a rather poor picture of one of them, my excuse is that the light was already going, at least you can tell it was a rock pipit.


Rock pipit outside Tern hide

Although these pipits usually live on the seashore we have had one spend a fairly long stay with us before and I would guess these birds are most probably the same ones I saw the other day, when I could only be sure that one of them was actually a rock pipit. British rock pipits tend to stay close to home, particularly once they have a territory, youngsters move further but many of the birds that winter on our saltmarshes, where they do not breed, will be from Scandinavia. If I am right this looks like an adult, with very worn inner-tertials, the outer one looks to have been moulted, juveniles should be neater than this and with all these feather of the same age. As a British adult is unlikely to be migrating overland my guess is that this is probably a Scandinavian bird.

Star Turn

I was at the reserve on Sunday for an Autumn Moths event, unfortunately nobody told the moths, which were outnumbered by the event attendees! To be fair it was not really the moths’ fault, 28mm of rain overnight was excuse enough.

As I opened up it was tipping down and for a while I did not dare open the main car park as water was flooding in and I feared it would quickly become too deep to be crossable. Luckily the rain stopped just after I opened the Centre and, in the end, the day was not too bad, mainly sunny with just the odd shower.

Out on the reserve the highlight of the day was the autumn’s first sighting of a bittern, with one being seen flying over the Ivy Silt Pond. In recent year’s they have been arriving earlier and earlier, they used to turn up around Christmas, but now late October has become the norm. I suspect this is because we used to get mainly birds arriving from the near continent, forced to move by icy weather, nowadays they are probably mainly dispersing British birds, a reflection of the growth of our population following concerted conservation efforts.

The only other significant bird sighting was of a rock pipit, or possibly two, that dropped down in front of the Tern hide from the north, stopped for perhaps two minutes to bathe and preen then flew off high to the south. The second bird landed behind a stone, so could not be seen on the ground, but I strongly suspect it was also a rock pipit. Rock pipit winter and breed on the coast, British birds move very little, but in winter we get migrants from Scandinavia and I would guess it is these that we sometimes see at Blashford.

Returning to the Centre in the rain first thing it occurred to me to check if there were any earth star  in their usual place beside the path, I was rewarded with one very fine specimen.


earth star (Geastrum triplex)

During the last weeks we have been doing lost of work around Ibsley Water, preparing the shore for arriving winter wildfowl and work associated with the restoration of the former Hanson concrete block plant. One of the biggest jobs has been clearing a huge bramble bank on the shore of the lake that would otherwise cut off the open former plant site from the lakeshore. The long-term goal is to get grass to grow on this area to make it suitable for feeding wildfowl and breeding waders. The latest efforts of the Tuesday volunteers are below.


Bramble clump before work (third session)


By the end of the day the difference is finally becoming clear! The brambles would have filled the open ground in this shot when we started work three sessions ago.

The old concrete plant will be a challenge to turn into useful wildlife habitat, but I think it has real potential. The open ground has already been used by nesting lapwing and little ringed plover and we can enhance the habitat for these species. I also think there is potential for developing some interesting flower-rich grassland, the very poor soils of the old plant site are actually a plus in this regard. It is going to take some years to come to fruition but I am hopeful it will eventually be a valuable addition.



Angry Birds

Bird News: Ibsley Watersand martin 40+, swallow c10, house martin 2+. ruff 1, little ringed plover 2+, water pipit 1 (reported), rock pipit 2 (reported).

I arrived to see that the bird feeder beside the Centre car park was missing, I wondered if it had just been taken in for some reason, but when I looked in the diary I found out what had happened. Overnight Tuesday to Wednesday it and the other two large feeders at the Woodland hide had been stolen, clearly not an opportunist theft but a planned visit with the intention of stealing all three. Each one was taken along with the pole and seed tray, making the total cost of replacement about £250. In theory we could take them all in every night but this takes time, leads to them getting damaged and means they are not available for periods at the start and end of the day. I am not sure at present what is the best course of action, clearly we cannot accept this kind of loss too often, we have now lost five feeders in the last couple of years, despite them being marked with permanent marker and usually in less than new condition. The feeders and the birds they attract are a really feature of the reserve and a key attraction for many visitors, so I don’t want to be forced to stop feeding, but I am going to have to find some way of addressing the issue. Michelle reported that yesterday when she went round the hides there were lots of birds hopping around where the feeders should have been, hopping mad I shouldn’t wonder.

On a cheerier note there was a good turn out of volunteers today and we worked around the Woodland hide, generally spring cleaning the hide and the area around it, removing nettles, clearing the pond and preparing to set up a new “woodpeckercam” by putting in the cabling. I hope that this time it will be “Green woodpeckercam”, so fingers cross that they will use the hole that I can set the camera on.

There were a few swallows and martins about today, not large numbers, but they did include my first house martin of the year and my first flock of swallows, albeit not a large one. At least 1 ruff was still on Iblsey Water and the water pipit was reported as were 2 rock pipits. I saw a pair of little ringed plover and 2 Mediterranean gulls flew over in the morning.

On an especially sunny bank near the Dockens Water I also saw my first bluebells in full bloom and near the bridge at the Tern hide crossing the leopard’s bane is now out, not a native but an old introduction from the near continent with bright yellow flowers like sunbursts.

Although the day was not busy with general visitors, it was a hive of activity with a “Roamability” group and a family pond dip event in addition to the usual Thursday volunteers. It also proved necessary to get the cess pit emptied, all in all the car park was very congested for a good part of the day.


Saturday Sightings

As I was not actually at Blashford today I have only reports received to present, but there were several notable sightings. On Ibsley Water the 2 black-necked grebe, water pipit and rock pipit were all seen again today. In addition the first white wagtail of the spring was seen as was a wheatear. By contrast my attempt to find one on the coast failed, disappointing as I usually reckon to see one by St Patrick’s Day.

It was not only Ibsley Water that had the birds though, a bittern was seen again from Ivy North hide and a mealy (common) redpoll was reported on the feeders.

Departures and Arrivals

Bird News: Ibsley Waterblack-necked grebe 3, sand martin 25+, Egyptian goose 2, water pipit 1, rock pipit 1. Whole Reservechiffchaff 7+.

Well I had a good look round the whole area as I did the last wildfowl count of the season and the overwhelming thing that became apparent was that most of the wildfowl have gone. I saw just a handful of wigeon, gadwall and pochard in fact the only species still present in good numbers were shoveler and goldeneye. There were 2 black-necked grebe, both in more or less summer plumage and it seems I missed one as there were three later in the day, easily done as they spend so much time underwater, either that or I just did not look hard enough! Several species are now back at Blashford getting ready to breed, I saw two pairs of oystercatcher and two pairs of shelduck, both birds usually associated with the coast, but which breed on the reserve every year.


Not the best picture in rather poor light but it does show the large red knob at the base of the bill which confirms it as a drake. Shelduck are unusual in a few ways, but one of them is that the sexes look more or less alike, unlike other ducks where the duck is in camouflage. The only obvious difference at a distance is size, the shelduck is obviously smaller than the drake. These things are related, shelducks nest down burrows, usually old rabbit burrows, so there is no need for camouflage, but it is important that the duck is not too big or she won’t get down the hole.

On my walk round the site I came across about 7 chiffchaff, more than I have seen this spring, but still not many. I saw no other migrants, certainly there were no martins over any of the lakes during the morning. However by the afternoon there were a few sand martins over Ibsley Water and these built to at least 25 by the time I was locking up. I was also told of singles of both rock and water pipit with the mixed group of small birds that have been ranging around the southern shore of Ibsley Water and periodically wander past the Tern hide. Both of these pipits along with their accompanying meadow pipits and pied wagtails will be migrants, although we don’t perhaps always think of them as such. Many of the pied wagtails will be Scottish breeders on their way back from wintering either in southern England or on the near continent. The majority now are males and in a week or so most will be females as they migrate a bit later.

The night was very mild and this resulted in a good moth catch including a smart pine beauty.

pine beauty

As usual at this time of year small Quaker was by far the most abundant species, but there was a good showing by common Quaker and twin-spot Quaker, with a scatter of Hebrew character, clouded drab, dotted border, oak beauty, a lead-coloured drab and a few micros including 2 Acleris notana, one of them very spotty.

Acleris notana


A New Look

This is my first post on the new blog, but the “New look” referred to above is actually a new camera position overlooking Ivy lake. I spent this morning running out the cable ready to take a camera sometime later in the week. It will give a view into the hidden area that is behind the reeds from the North hide or behind the spit from the South hide. This is a favourite sheltering place for teal and other ducks in the winter, so I have high hopes. The camera should go live either at the end of this week or the start of next.

So far today has been very quiet on the wildlife front, with the moth trap almost empty and the only birds of note a  rock pipit, which flew off northwards, a green sandpiper and 4 dunlin on Ibsley Water as I opened the Tern hide. There was no sign that I could see of yesterday’s red crested pochards, so perhaps they have moved on.

I will try another post this evening if I get anything further to report, who knows, perhaps even with a picture, although it is very dull indeed here at present.