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.

Black Kite is a Long Way from Home

It has been a very hectic week and one way or another I have not managed to get any posts done, so this will have to serve as a round-up of the last few days.

The big news of the week was of a black kite, seen and photographed well on Saturday afternoon, pictures can be seen on the HOS go-birding website, just click on “photos” at the top and you will see them. Blashford seems to be a bit of a local hot spot for black kite with several records in recent years, although all of them have avoided me! Unlike red kite , which are becoming ever more frequent as a resident, the black kite migrates to Africa for the winter. They breed commonly across southern Europe and regularly into central France, although they are pushing slowly northward they remain rare in Britain, being just an occasional over-shoot migrant.

Other bird news included a pied flycatcher seen by the Goosander hide on the 25th, up to 3 yellow wagtail, a male white wagtail and an arrival of garden warbler, sedge warbler and swift, the last reaching at least 200 over Ibsley Water today. A few waders have passed through too, with up to 6 dunlin, 5 common sandpiper and a greenshank.

The main task that has been occupying the volunteers has been the construction and deployment of tern rafts and just in time too as the common tern numbers have crept up to at least 18. On Thursday we put the first one out on Ivy Lake and it was immediately investigated by a pair of terns and today we put one out on Ellingham Pound, in both cases using the shelters built by the Young Naturalists last Sunday. The next ones to go out will be the first of the new ones built with a grant from HOS (Hampshire Ornithological Society), they are much easier to move about than the old ones and should last longer too.

I will do a full post on the rafts soon, including a “How to make one at home” easy guide to making one.

On the way over to the main car park this afternoon I was passing the lichen heath when I noticed the masses of early forget-me-not flowering by the tarmac roadway.

Forget-me-not constellation

early forget-me-not flowers

They are really tiny flowers, just a millimetre or two across, but there are hundreds of them, almost like a cloud of stars when viewed from a distance.

early forget-me-not

early forget-me-not flowers in close-up

I am hoping the promised warmer weather will bring a pick-up in insect numbers next week and perhaps even a few more butterflies and moths to report, so watch this space for more news.

 

Rather More News

Tuesday was a busy day on the reserve, with volunteers working on tern rafts and a contractor improving the habitat at the base of the gravel spit on Ibsley Water. Along the way I saw the common tern reported over the last couple of days. It is a rather odd bird with an all dark bill and rather grey under-parts and contrasting white cheeks, some of the characteristics of the eastern race of this species, but much better views will be needed to clear up if it really is one of these.

Other reports were quiet exciting, an osprey was seen heading north up the valley, a duck garganey was on Ibsley Water and  a sedge warbler was singing near the Lapwing hide, all new for 2016.

My own sightings were rather less interesting, but I did see my first violet in flower near the Centre.

viiolet

The moth trap contained common Quaker, small Quaker, twin-spot Quaker, Hebrew character, clouded drab and yellow horned.

common quaker

Common Quaker.

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

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

Engrailed

Engrailed

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 – much too distant and mobile). Another first  for the year, and for me a real herald of Spring – this wheatear posing on the shingle out to the side of the Tern Hide.

Wheatear seen from Tern  Hide

Wheatear seen from Tern Hide

Finding Gold and Watching Out for Tough Ted

Bird News: Ibsley Waterruff 1, little ringed plover 2, water pipit 1, goldeneye 7, mandarin duck 1, sedge warbler 1, Cetti’s warbler 1. Ivy LakeCetti’s warbler 1, scaup 1, garden warbler 1, water rail 2+.

Apart from the odd shower the day was largely sunny, although with an increasingly brisk south-west wind. Opening the Tern hide I saw the water pipit briefly before it flew off to the south over Ellingham Drove, I have seen it do this before and I wonder if it goes to the shingle area around Ellingham Pound, I must make time to check sometime. A single ruff remains and I saw at least 2 little ringed plovers distantly up the lake. A drake mandarin duck flew west over the lake, it seems we have a pair around regularly at present, perhaps they will breed locally this year.

Over beside Ivy Lake I heard my first garden warbler of the year, just south of the Woodland hide. It was also good to see a water rail on the silt pond, there is a pair at the Ivy North hide and it seems there may also be potential for a further breeding territory ont he silt pond as well. The Cetti’s warbler was also singing by the pond and I heard a report of another singing near the Lapwing hide, another species that has not bred on the reserve in my time working here.

Despite a return to more normal weather for the time of year there are still signs of the season moving on, I saw a group of bluebells in full flower and the pendulous sedge near the Centre is coming into flower as well, the long drooping flower heads have masses of pollen.

pendulous sedge in flower

Another plant I noticed in flower today was one that I only realised even grew on the reserve earlier this year, what’s more it is easily visible from one of the paths I walk down several times each day, which just shows how unobservant I am! I am not talking about a single plant either but two large patches a few metres across, the plant is opposite-leaved golden saxifrage, a plant of damp or even wet woodland.

opposite-leaved golden saxifrage

During the day I heard reports of a sedge warbler singing near the Lapwing hide, the first this year and rather later than in most years, in fact there often reed warblers about by now, so although this has been a rather early year for most species is has not been for all. There were a few sand martin, swallow and a house martin or two about over several of the lakes at different times, although numbers of sand martin are still very low, hopefully they are still out there somewhere.

When I went to lock up the hides I was in for a surprise on Ivy Lake, the return of the drake scaup, it seems to have settled in with the local tufted ducks and was displaying to a female tufty, so perhaps it will stay all summer. I was also amused to see the logbook in the Ivy North hide, which included reference to a bird we might want to avoid, the “Tough Ted duck”.

Closing the Tern hide I saw a group of 7 goldeneye, including 2 adult drakes, I doubt they will be with us much longer.