Making Preparations

Although it feels very much like winter there are preparations for the coming spring afoot. At Blashford Lakes I spent Tuesday working with our volunteer team clearing the Long Spit island and the open ground of the old Hanson plant making the ground ready for nesting lapwing, little ringed plover, common tern and black-headed gull. Lapwing can settle down to nest as early as the start of March and will be pairing up at nest sites well before then if the weather is suitable.

before

The Long Spit before clearance

after

Long Spit after clearance

It was very cold and we had feared we would also get wet as there were some fierce showers, luckily they mostly missed us and by the time we had finished the sun was out.

By way of proof of approaching spring I spotted a pair of blue tit checking out a nest box outside my kitchen window, luckily the Blashford boxes have all been cleaned out, a reminder for me to do mine at home.

blue tit investigating

Blue tit checking out the nest box outside my kitchen window at the weekend.

Today we were working with our new volunteer team at Fishlake Meadows, again we were making preparations for later in the year. This time it was scrub cutting in preparation for grazing parts of this new reserve. Although much of the reserve is open water and reedbed there are areas of wet grassland that is gradually getting ranker and invaded by willow and bramble. To arrest this we plan a light grazing regime to maintain the mix of grass, fen and small patches of low scrub. Today we removed some young willow and cleared small alder to leave a few larger trees that will provide valuable shade for cattle in the summer sun.

start

Making the first cuts – the Fishlake volunteers starting out.

We were lucky with the weather, it was cold, but we managed to stay out of the wind and in the sun making it feel rather pleasant, hopefully we will be as lucky next time.

finish

With the scrub removed these trees will provide valuable shade for the cattle later in the year.

As we walked out to the worksite I saw a distant great white egret and on the way back we watched 2 red kite sparring with a pair of crow.

In the afternoon I returned to Blashford Lakes and got a quick picture of a water pipit outside Tern hide, nit the best I have seen but the best picture I have managed,

water pipit

water pipit

I am very lucky to be able to see quite a lot of wildlife as I go about my working day, however there are times when I should definitely have been looking the other way. As we headed out to work on the Long Spit on Tuesday we apparently disturbed an otter from the lakeside and it then swam by the Tern hide, somehow none of us saw it!

At Blashford we are also at the start of preparations of a different kind, we are planning a number of improvements around the reserve. To fund this we are hoping to apply for a grant and part of this process involves sounding out our visitors for their experience of the reserve. If you have visited recently it would be very useful to have your views, a questionnaire is attached here: Blashford Lakes Questionnaire if you are able to complete it and email it to us it would greatly help us with our grant application.

 

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A Trip to Kitts

A quick bit of catch-up. On Thursday we did not do a volunteer task, but instead went up to Kitts Grave, the part of the Martin Down National Nature Reserve that belongs to the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. The site is managed as part of the wider reserve by Natural England, but we do a couple of tasks there each winter and it is always good to go an see how the habitat is developing. We have been helping with scrub clearance there to reinstate chalk grassland patches and rides within the scrub. It seems to be working well and the area is fabulous for a wide range of insects. Unfortunately Thursday was mostly dull but luckily warm enough for some insects to be about. Very obvious, as they sat around on the foliage in full view, were several scarlet tiger moth.

scarlet tiger

scarlet tiger moth

The mix of scrub and grassland is very good for ringlet and they don’t mind flying even in very overcast conditions.

ringlet

ringlet

As the grassland area grows we will no doubt be seeing more and more marbled white, the dull conditions meant they were basking with their wings wide open, something they rarely do in sunshine.

marbled white on creeping thistle

marble white on creeping thistle

30 Days Wild – Day 21

At last summer seems to have arrived! The Tuesday volunteers and I were working along the western shore of Ibsley Water and for what seemed like the first time this year we were surrounded by butterflies and other insects. We have been working for the last few years to try to reduce bramble, nettle and willow scrub and encourage a flower rich grassland in this area and it finally seems to be paying off. Last winter we cleared some new bramble and willow patches and our task was to cut the young growth that was coming back in advance of the arrival of the ponies.

P1050350

grassland on the shore of Ibsley Water

As we worked we saw lots of meadow brown and marbled white butterflies and over the lake egg-laying black-tailed skimmer dragonfly. In places we are now seeing increasing quantities of wild flower including several patches of ox-eye daisy.

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ox-eye daisy patches

The transformation of this shore in the last ten years has been considerable. when the gravel pit was finished there was a large spoil bank running the whole length of the lake and this was colonised by an almost impenetrable stand of creeping thistle and ragwort. This was cut and eventually replaced by nettle, and now, with further cutting it is becoming grassland at last.

Over the last few days I have seen a number of young wader chicks around the reserve. Near the Tern hide there are two pairs of lapwing each with broods of three chicks. Out on gull island there is at least one well grown oystercatcher chick and again near the Tern hide I saw a fledged little ringed plover chick a couple of days ago and today two chicks that should fly in the next couple of days. If we add the apparent success so far of the terns it is looking like quite a good breeding season.

You may remember an earlier blog about lime hawk moth, the female laid some eggs and since they hatched we have been rearing them, not on lime but birch, which they seem to eat quite willingly. We started with about forty larvae, but when they were a week or so old all but three suddenly died, I have no idea why as the remaining ones continue to grow well.

lime hawk caterpillar

lime hawk moth larva