Bee-flies, Butterflies and a Good Tern

Another very warm spring day at Blashford today and the air was full of all the sights and sounds of the season. There are now chiffchaff and blackcap singing in many parts of the  reserve and there were reports of a willow warbler singing near the Ivy North hide.

The volunteers were working near the main car park today, where we were buzzed by bees as butterflies floated by. As were headed back for cake, we also saw a bee-fly, it turned out not to be the usual Bombylius major or dark-edged bee-fly, but the much rarer Bombylius discolor  or dotted bee-fly, a new species for the reserve.

And so onto cake, cake is not a rarity at Blashford, less common than biscuits, but not rare. In this case it was to honour the departure of Katherine, an Apprentice Ranger with The New Forest National Park scheme run as part of the Our Past, Our Future Heritage Lottery Project. But it was not for this reason alone, but also to mark the last day of our own Volunteer Trainee, Emily, who also made the cakes, a valuable extra skill. Katherine had spent three months with us and Emily six, remarkable staying power by any standards. In fact Emily has volunteered to stay on, so is not going to be lost to the reserve yet. Katherine has moved on to spend a time with the Forestry Commission team locally.

After cake we headed out to look at the changes to the butterfly transect routes, it was a shame that it was still March, the transect counts don’t start until the 1st April and it is often hard to find many butterflies in the first few weeks. Today they were everywhere and altogether we saw seven species between us. There were lots of peacock, a few brimstone and at least 3 speckled wood, but also singles of comma, small tortoiseshell, red admiral and orange-tip.

red admiral

A rather battered red admiral, probably one that has hibernated here and so is perhaps five or six months old.

Of the seven species five are ones that hibernate as adults, just the speckled wood and orange-tip will have emerged from pupae this spring. There is a small chance that the red admiral was a recent immigrant as they do also arrive from the south each spring, although usually later than this.

A different sort of life form is also in evidence on the reserve at present and I do mean a very different life form, slime mould. These are a bit of a favourite of mine and the one on a log towards the Ivy South hide is certainly living up to the name and is now oozing slime.

slime mould

slime mould, with slime

Locking up at the end of the day there was one last surprise, looking over Ibsley Water I saw a tern amongst the many black-headed gull, not as I expected an early common tern but a very fine sandwich tern, something of a rarity away from the coast.

sandwich tern

Sandwich tern, an unexpected visitor.

 

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A Sandwich to End the Day

Bird News: Ibsley Waterwhimbrel 10, dunlin 1, black-tailed godwit 2, white wagtail 1, common tern 10, common sandpiper 2, Sandwich tern 1. Ivy Lake – Cetti’s warbler 1, pochard 1, water rail 1.

The day started brilliant and blue, there was nothing for it but to stand in a sunny spot and take in the bright and song filled morning, at least for a minute or two, every day should start this way.

trees and blue sky

My day actually started at the tern hide, at first there seemed nothing of note, then I realised there were some waders on the islands, in fact 10 whimbrel, mostly roosting, our first passage group of the spring and my first of the year apart from a single wintering bird on the coast back in January.

Much of the morning was spent  checking some of the nest boxes. A good few were occupied, mostly by blue tits, which were still laying and great tits most of which are now incubating clutches. Some were occupied by wood mice and one by grey squirrel and several showed signs that something had been inside but what was unclear.

We did come across several insects int he course of our wanderings including a mating pair of leaf beetles, I think this is the species which makes lace out of dock leaves a little later in the season.

beetles on nettle

One particular sycamore tree had columns of ants marching up and down it, I could not obviously see why there were so many on this one trunk, unless there was a sap run somewhere higher up.

ants on sycamore trunk

Looking closely to try to work out why there were so many ants and just what they were up to I spotted several ants checking out a beetle, at first I thought the ants were attacking it, but this was not so. The beetle did not seem to be enjoying the attention but each ant that approached wandered off after a few seconds once their curiosity was satisfied.

ant and beetle

The clear blue start to the day sis not last, cloud slowly built during the morning and developed into heavy showers by lunchtime and pretty general rain by the mid afternoon. The rain drove most visitors away, but this can be a mistake at this time of year. Very heavy rain forces down any birds flying over and in extreme conditions birds can almost drop out of the sky. The effect was not strong today but the intense showers did seem to produce a couple of black-tailed godwit, a dunlin and a 2 or 3 common terns. At the end of the day I just made it to the Tern hide ahead of another squall and was rewarded with the sight of a Sandwich tern flying down Ibsley Water as the rain cleared again. Sandwich terns do not often venture inland and this was my first sighting at Blashford, no doubt blown in with the squall. I also noticed a female white wagtail in the small flock of pied wagtails on the shore of the lake, only the second I have seen this year, although there is still time for more. The white wagtails, like the black-tailed godwits will be on their way to Iceland.