The Turn of the Season

As autumn slips into winter and the last of the leaves get blown from the trees we are seeing the wildlife of the reserve taking on a more wintry feel too. At the weekend the goosander roost passed 100 birds for the first time, whilst the gull roost is now well up into the thousands. A black-necked grebe has returned to Ibsley Water, although as is typical, it is frequenting the extreme northern shore of the lake. The startling roost in reeds just west of the A338 Salisbury Road, but best viewed from the main car park area or Lapwing hide, had built up and is now quite a sight in a fine evening.

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Starling murmuration by Jon Mitchell

At times this gathering is attracting various predators, over the last ten days or so I have seen peregrine, sparrowhawk, marsh harrier and goshawk all eyeing up the roost for a potential snack.

Green sandpiper and water pipit are still being regularly seen at various points around Ibsley Water, but Goosander hide seems to be the most frequent place for good views of both. At least 3 great white egret are wandering the reserve and out into the valley, I have not managed to see more than three at any one time, but I strongly suspect there are more, perhaps up to five?

Visitors to the reserve may find diversions or short path closures over the next few weeks as we are doing some tree thinning, it should be possible to access all the hides though. The trees we are removing are mainly planted aliens species such as grey and Italian alder or species such as sycamore and Scots pine that are crowding more desirable species oak, elm and ash. The objective is to thin areas that were planted too densely and promote native species over non-natives, this should benefit a range of wildlife in the long run. Where possible we will be leaving standing dead trees, or lying dead wood for beetles and other invertebrates.

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Blashford’s Micro World – Taking a Closer Look

I opened up the hides at Blashford this morning in a fog that meant I could see only a few hazy birds looming in and out of the mist. The sun looked like it might break through, but in fact it took until nearly midday and then we had banks of cloud from time to time. The volunteers tried to do the butterfly transect and just about managed it, although butterflies were few in number.

When the sun did come out at lunchtime I took a walk by the lichen heath, this is a fascinating and very vulnerable bit of habitat, the lichens do not like being walked on, so I kept off the heath proper. The habitat owes its existence to the ultra-poor soil which has just enough nutrients for lichens and mosses and a few very, very small flowering plants. Amongst them two or more species of speedwells.

wall speedwell (I think)

wall speedwell (I think)

Most speedwells are small plants, this one, wall speedwell, is very small with flowers perhaps 2mm across. I also found a patch of blinks, I seem to remember being told that it was the UK’s smallest flowering plant.

blinks

blinks

There are also several forget-me-not species, two of which are especially small.

early forget-me-not

early forget-me-not

This one is early forget-me-not and has flowers about 2mm across, they are a traditional forget-me-not blue, as might be expected. The other tiny species is quite remarkable in that it cannot decide what colour the flowers should be, or rather it has flowers that change colour as the age, it is the aptly named changing forget-me-not.

changing forget-me-not

changing forget-me-not

The heath is also home to a wide range of small insects and other invertebrates, a surprising number of them seem to be either ants or spiders. I came across a number of small mounds of sand, well actually many were more like chimneys, made of sand grains pile dup and with a hole down the centre. They were evidently entrance ways into ant nests as there were ants clearly visible around the entrances. Although I describe them as entrances there did not seem to be many ants coming and going so perhaps, like termites they build them as part of an air circulation system.

ant chimney

ant chimney

My last find of interest out on the heath was a small moth, now I have had trouble identifying it with anything like certainty, I am pretty sure it is a Gelechid  of some sort, my best guess is Aroga velocella, which has larvae that eat sheep’s sorrel.

Gelechid moth

Gelechid moth

Walking round the edge of the heath I passed a Scots pine and noticed it was in flower, the male flowers release huge amounts of wind-blown pollen which fertilise the female comes, each tree is both male and female, as you can see from the picture, the large males flowers are above the smaller female cone.

flowering Scots pine

flowering Scots pine

Looking closely at the flowers I realised that many of them had a spider on them, the same species every time and seemingly only one on each flower cluster, they were also quite well camouflaged. I have failed to identify the species, if anyone can help I would be very pleased.

spider

spider

On my way back to the office I stopped by the handful of ramsons I found the other week, a plant I had not known even grew at Blashford. They are now in flower and I took a couple of pictures and in one I saw that the flowers were being visited by ants, presumably feeding on the nectar.

ants on ramsons flowers

ants on ramsons flowers

Although the sun was not out for long it did feel quite spring-like and warm, a calling cuckoo added to the feel as did 2 swifts which flew over. The 2 or 3 calling Mediterranean gull that circled over made for a rather more seaside feel, but all in all it was very pleasant.

Other birds about today were about 30 common tern, good news as we will be putting out some tern rafts tomorrow and I would like them to be fully occupied as soon as possible to stop the black-headed gulls taking over.