Very Different Days

I was at Blashford again today after a couple of days off. I was last in on Thursday, when it rained all day and I left in a thunderstorm with hail and torrential rain. Today was quite different, warm, often sunny and altogether very pleasant. Both days produced notable migrants though, despite the very different conditions. On Thursday I arrived to find an osprey perched on the stick in Ibsley Water, the one that Ed Bennett and I put out there for the very purpose of giving an osprey somewhere to rest, it is always good when it works!

osprey in the rain

an osprey in the rain

Also in the rain a pair of Mandarin landed outside the new Tern Hide, they did not look much happier than the osprey.

mandarin

Mandarin in the rain

Today was more about butterflies, I saw good numbers of peacock, speckled wood, brimstone and orange-tip. But there were still migrant birds too, today’s highlight was a flock of 12 adult little gull, some in full breeding plumage and with a pink flush to their underparts, surely one of the best of all gulls in this plumage.

The other top birds today were the brambling, with 100 or more around the Centre and Woodland Hide area, many were feeding around the Woodland Hide giving great views, even I could get a half decent picture.

brambling male

male brambling

There are still small numbers of all the winter duck around, although numbers are declining day by day now. Today I saw nine goldeneye, although I am pretty sure there are still 11 around, there were also goosander, wigeon, teal and shoveler in small numbers. A few pairs of shoveler have been regularly in front of Tern Hide allowing the chance of a picture.

shoveler male

drake shoveler

Next week will see some further work at the Centre, with car park resurfacing and landscaping. There will also be some work at the Tern Hide at the end of the week, which is likely to mean that it will be closed for a day or so.

Also next week, In Focus will be doing optics sale in the Tern Hide on Tuesday.

Odd jobs and enjoying the view

On Sunday it was time again for our monthly Young Naturalists session, and we began the day by choosing a few items for our new Welcome Hut. These would hopefully be a talking point for both our new welcome volunteers and visitors, both young and old, and make the hut look more inviting. As we are still waiting for the interpretation we didn’t get too carried away and the group chose one item each. As a result, the hut does still look pretty empty, but we’re looking forward to filling it properly once the signage is all in place.

They selected a nice mix of items, including a pike jaw bone, roe deer skull, barn owl, fallow deer teeth, long tailed tit nest, badger skull, sea urchin fossil and three ducks, a widgeon, mallard and teal. I think they managed to convince Bryn and Jan that all the items were worthy of a place in the hut! We also gave the volunteers a peacock butterfly which was perfect for looking at in more detail under the microscope and popular with visitors throughout the day.

With the weather warming up we are running the light trap more regularly. Looking at and having a go at identifying moths has always been a popular activity with our Young Naturalists so it was great to have a rummage through the trap and see that they were still as enthusiastic as ever.

We had a number of different species including Hebrew character, Clouded drab, Common quaker, Small quaker, Twin-spotted quaker, Frosted green and Brindled beauty.

The group then treated the willow dragonflies they had made last month with artist Kim Creswell. The wasps made with the Home Education group and the dragonflies have now had two coats of a natural preservative so are ready to be positioned around the reserve on our ‘Wild Walk’. Watch this space to find out when and where you can see them.

Treating the dragonflies

Treating the willow dragonflies

We then headed over the road to see the new Tern Hide, and check out the view over Ibsley Water from the new viewing platform.

After lunch we spent a bit of time pollarding willow and bundling it up to store and use at a later date. It was getting a bit late in the year to harvest the crop but as last summer had been so dry it had not grown as well as previous years, so we just concentrated on the larger, longer whips and left the smaller ones. We will see how it grows this year, but I think there will be plenty for us to pollard next Winter.

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly funded by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. The Trust is sponsoring another Wildlife Camp in the New Forest from 31st May to 2nd June and spaces are available. The camp is aimed at young wildlife enthusiasts between 12 and 17 years and details can be found on their website here.

Our new Tern Hide, viewing platform and Welcome Hut have been funded by public donations and Veolia Environmental Trust (with money from the Landfill Communities Fund).

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Some Birds and Some Bees

I had my first proper look out of the new Tern Hide when I arrived to open up this morning and was greeted by something between 600 and 1000 sand martin swooping over the water, the first serious arrival of hirundines this spring. I saw only one swallow though and no sign of any house martin.

Along the shore in front of the hide there was a pair of little ringed plover and a fine male lapwing.

lapwing

male lapwing from Tern Hide

There were several ducks feeding close in too.

gadwall drake

drake gadwall, not just a dull, grey duck as some would have you believe

shoveler pair

shoveler pair

tufted duck pair

tufted duck pair

I spent a good part of the day trying to complete the annual report, which kept me in the office on a day when outside would have been far preferable. However I did have an excuse to get out for a while and enjoy the sunshine as we had a visit from a small group of top entomologists to look particularly at solitary bees, of which we saw many species including a few new reserve records. Incidentally we also saw several orange-tip, including one female, speckled wood and peacock.

Locking up the weather was still sunny and at the Woodland Hide finches were still feeding, including a good number of brambling.

brambling male

male brambling

There were also several reed bunting, almost all males.

reed bunting male

male reed bunting 

15th Dec – Rain

A wet day from start to finish making getting around the reserve unpleasant and seeing wildlife difficult. It was no surprise that there were few visitors, but those that did venture out could still see something.

Ibsley Water: Water pipit at least 2 and probably 3, but as usual scattered around the lake shore. The single black-necked grebe was along the north-western shore of the lake, but lost to view in the heavier rain. Otherwise the continue to be more pochard than usual, over 60 sheltering in the south-west corner of the lake, three drake pintail did circuits of the lake all day and there were a few wigeon, shoveler and teal about. Close to Tern hide three snipe were feeding on the shore and at least 70 linnet were picking seeds from amongst the gravel.

Ivy Lake: A single great white egret was present in the morning and at dusk two were roosting, unsurprisingly the bittern was not seen and other birds of interest were confined to hearing Cetti’s warbler and water rail.

News has dribbled out of a white-tailed eagle not far from the reserve in the New Forest, these eagles often frequent wetlands so it is certainly worth keeping an eye out, no doubt it will cause a stir should it drift our way!

Sightings

Although there has not been a lot of migrant activity over recent days there are lots of birds around on the reserve at present. As someone said to me today “It is great if you like coots”, yesterday I counted 908 of them on Ibsley Water alone.

Rather more interesting to most visitors though will be the juvenile black tern which has been over Ibsley Water for the last four days. Both great white egret have been seen daily, but the cattle egret seem to have departed, without my ever managing to see one. A few wildfowl are starting to arrive with up to 12 wigeon on Ivy Lake and a few teal and shoveler to be seen on both Ibsley Water and Ivy Lake.

Locking up this evening I estimated at least 800 house martin over Ibsley Water with a very few sand martin, if there were any swallow I could not find them.

Birds, Beetles and Butterflies (and a bit more besides)

We are slipping into autumn, despite the weather remaining warm the signs are everywhere. Berries are ripening and birds are on the move. Over the last few days there have been between 500 and 1000 house martin over Ibsley Water, gathering before migrating south. On Ivy Lake numbers of winter wildfowl are starting to rise, at least 12 wigeon and 18 shoveler were there on Sunday and last week 3 pintail dropped in. In fact overall numbers of wildfowl are very high for the time of year, probably due to good weed growth.

Any visitor to Ibsley Water recently cannot have failed to miss the large numbers of cormorant and heron. They are feeding on the huge numbers of small common carp, a fantastic spectacle, but a sign of problems ahead. Such large numbers of small carp will grow into a very large population of medium sized fish which are likely to largely eliminate the weed and eventually most of the food for wildfowl.

Another very obvious feature at present is the lace-like leaves of the alders, they have been eaten away to skeletons.

alder leaves eaten

alder leaf eaten away by alder leaf beetle

The alder leaf beetles that are responsible are a striking metallic blue and were considered as an extinct species in the UK until just a few years ago, however their status has changed dramatically in the last few years and they are now not just present but super abundant. They seem to be everywhere at the moment and almost every alder leaf has been eaten away and they seem to have been eating hazel and even birch as well. Quiet why they have undergone such an extreme change in fortunes is something of a mystery.

alder leaf beetle

alder leaf beetle Agelastica alni

We are now heading into autumn and the moth trap is starting to catch species typical of the season, perhaps none more so than the aptly named autumnal rustic.

autumnal rustic

autumnal rustic

Another autumn favourite of mine is the intricately marked feathered gothic.

feathered gothic

feathered gothic (male)

The males use their feathered antennae to test the air for female pheromones, in effect using them to smell.

The main butterfly on the wing at present is speckled wood and they are very abundant this year, they are one of the few species that you can see throughout the season as they have a series of overlapping broods. Sometimes the first are on the wing before the end of March ans they can still be flying in November.

speckled wood

speckled wood

Autumn is also the fungi, actually they are to be found all year but many species are most abundant at this time of the year. When we were working today we came across a bright yellow patch on a log near the Woodland hide, but although many of the logs in that are are covered in fungi, this was not a fungus, but a slime mould called troll butter.

troll butter

troll butter slime mould

For those that like to venture up to the Lapwing hide in the winter or spring I have good news. The need to take the long way round or risk getting wet feet when the route through the reedbed floods will soon be a thing of the past, we are having a boardwalk constructed!

new boardwalk to Lapwing hide under construction

new boardwalk to Lapwing hide under construction

The White Stuff

A Red Letter Day for Fishlake Meadows today, we finally have some cattle on site! We had hoped they would be on much earlier and next year I am sure we will. They will be grazing in Ashley Meadow for the next few weeks, hopefully helping us to maintain the rich fen habitat.

English White cattle on Ashley Meadow

British White cattle on Ashley Meadow

As we were unable to graze the meadow earlier in the year we did take a hay cut from about half of the field.

Ashley Meadow

Ashley Meadow showing the boundary between the cut and uncut areas

The intention is to maintain a mix of tall and slightly shorter herbage with very few trees and shrubs. Such habitats are very rich in plants and as a result invertebrates. Mowing certainly can deliver this, but the act of mowing is rather dramatic, eliminating large areas of habitat at a stroke, by contrast grazing achieves a similar result but at a more gradual pace. Gazing animals will also favour some areas and species over others so the variability in height, what is known as the “structure” of the grassland will be greater.

When I was in Ashley Meadow preparing for the arrival of the cattle today I saw a good range of species including several very smart small copper.

small copper

small copper

There was a very interesting article in a recent issue of British Wildlife magazine which highlighted the effects of different grassland management regimes on spider populations and species. I have not managed to identify the one below yet, but I saw it lurking on a flower waiting for an unwary insect to be lured in.

spider

crab spider on fleabane flower

When looking at grassland management there are many considerations, should it be mown or grazed,or both, most hayfields are cut for the hay crop and then grazed later in the season. Traditional hay meadows were cut around or just after mid-summer and this favoured plants that set seed by this time like yellow rattle or which spread vegetatively. Modern grass cropping by silage making produces a much larger grass crop but the grassland is more or less a mono-culture, the land may be green but it is certainly not pleasant as far as most wildlife is concerned.

Once the cutting regime is settled there is grazing to consider, but not all animals graze in the same way, sheep and horses cut the grass short using their teeth, cattle rip the grass in tufts using their tongue to gather each bunch. The resulting grassland will look very different and be home to very different wildlife. Timing of grazing will also make a big difference, mid-late summer grazing tends to produce the most diverse flora, but this will vary with location and ground type.

Lastly different breed of animals will graze in different ways, our cattle at Fishlake are British Whites, a traditional bred that will eat grass but also likes to mix in some rougher sedge and other herbage as well as some tree leaves and twigs, ideal for a site such as Fishlake Meadows.

It was not only a white themed day at Fishlake, as I locked up at Blashford Lakes the view from Tern hide was filled with birds, in particular 13 brilliant white little egret and 2 great white egret.

herons egrets and cormorants

egrets, herons and cormorants

Ibsley Water has been attracting huge numbers of fish eating birds recently, with up to 300 cormorant, over 100 grey heron and the egrets, although I have failed to see them there have also been 2 cattle egret seen.

Ivy Lake has also produced a few notable records int he last few days, yesterday a bittern was photographed flying past Ivy South hide, far and away our earliest reserve record, but with the British population doing much better these days perhaps something we will get used to as young birds disperse. There have also been a few notable ducks, yesterday a juvenile garganey and today 4 wigeon , 3 pintail and a few shoveler as well as good numbers of gadwall and a dozen or so teal.

Just the Job

The Pop-up cafe was back and so were our splendid Blashford volunteers, for their first task of the new year. I had planned a hedge-laying task but the cold morning and brisk north-east wind caused me to rethink and look for a more sheltered work site. So we ended up clearing a patch of small willow, birch and alder that have invaded the boggy reeds at the top end of the Ivy Silt Pond. I had been meaning to do this task for a while but somehow other things kept pushing this down the list.

start

At the start

This is one of rather few boggy habitats we have on the reserve and it is home to a few species we do not have elsewhere, such as royal fern, bog myrtle and Sphagnum moss. I suspect all arriving there via the Dockens Water. It is amazing what five people working for a couple of hours can do!

end

At the end of a couple of hours work

We dead-hedged the material we cut, much quicker and less damaging than burning. Perhaps the most obvious thing int he second picture is the tall stumps, we usually cut at between knee and waist height, I know this will seem strange to many trained to cut stumps as low as possible, but I do have my reasons.

If we are working with handtools it is very difficult to cut very low to the ground, so cutting at this level is just easier. Low stumps are also hard to see when dragging cut material away so there is a trip risk, the taller stumps are easier to avoid. If I want to I can go round and cut them really low with a chainsaw once the site is clear, or I can treat them with less chance of missing any.  For some species such as birch and alder I have also found that fewer grow back at this height than if cut flush to the ground and then the remaining stump becomes a useful bit of standing deadwood.

Surprisingly on a day when visitors were complaining of the cold, it was very pleasant working int he sunshine and out of the wind and we all had to shed a layer or two to avoid overheating!

The reserve was busy with visitors all day and a good range of birds were to be seen, despite the wind. On Ibsley Water one of the black-necked grebe was close to Goosander hide for most of the day and I counted 129 pochard, a good count these days. A ring-billed gull was reported, but most of the duck were sheltering close to the northern shore.

Ivy Lake is much more sheltered and held at least one thousand wildfowl, including about 250 teal. There were also good numbers of gadwall and wigeon along with a few shoveler, pintail, mallard, coot and diving ducks. Walter the great white egret was also there during the day but seems to have found a more sheltered roost site than his usual exposed dead alder.

At the Woodland hide several brambling and a good range of other woodland species are increasingly evident. I suspect we may get good numbers later on in February and March.

Birds and a (mini) Beast

As promised here are a couple of excellent pictures of the avocet that dropped into Blashford Lakes on Monday, many thanks to Keith Beswick for sending them in.

DSC_0863 ps

Avocet by Keith Beswick

DSC_0922 ps

Avocet by Keith Beswick

What is immediately obvious is that this is a juvenile bird, the brownish feathers would be black in an adult. Juvenile birds tend to turn up in slightly unusual places as they learn about their environment and where best to be, this one will probably join the large wintering flock in Poole Harbour.

Signs of the changing season are all around now, opening the Tern hide yesterday I saw 8 shoveler, 7 teal, a wigeon (although this was probably the bird that summered with us), a shelduck and a garganey. There were also at least 3 common sandpiper and a green sandpiper. At the end of the day the lake was dominated by fish-eating birds with at least 50 grey heron, 6 little egret, 1 great white egret (“Walter”) and 195 cormorant.

During the day I was working with the volunteers on efforts to establish a grassland in the old concrete plant site, we are making good progress and I think it will be a valuable addition to the reserve. The new path is still not open yet as the necessary agreements with our landlords are still not in place. On our way back for lunch the volunteers found a splendid caterpillar, it reminded me of Dougal the dog, a reference that will date me for those who recognise it.

sycamore caterpillar

sycamore caterpillar

The sycamore moth is rather a dull pale grey species but the caterpillar is a wonderful creature.

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017…

Another misty start to the day this morning, although by no means as misty as yesterday when from Tern Hide all that could be seen were the silhouettes of coot and a couple of pairs of goldeneye which were feeding close to the shoreline immediately in front of the hide.

This morning all of Ibsley Water could be seen, albeit through a misty haze, but most of the wildfowl was further offshore towards the north of the lake among the feathered leavings of the overnight gull roost which is now very extensive and covering a huge proportion of the lake by dusk. Evenings are also still seeing a “mini-murmuration” of a couple of thousand or so starlings, currently often settling in for the night in the reedbed in Ibsley Pond north of Lapwing Hide. What was immediately in front of the hide today, furtling around in the gravel for invertebrates, was a very obliging green woodpecker who would have posed beautifully for anyone armed with a camera had they been there (I just had a ‘phone)… Unfortunately by mid-morning what had started as a relatively clear day had soon disintegrated back into dense mist again… from Lapwing Hide you could just see past the end of the “spit” by about 11am!

A misty start. It didn't last!

A misty start. It didn’t last!

Look closely for the green woodpecker!

Look closely for the green woodpecker!

Ivy Lake was equally misty. No bittern or water rail when I opened up Ivy North Hide, although both species were obliging yesterday and later on in the day today. The water rail in the alder carr  opposite the Woodland Hide that Bob reported in the previous blog entry has also continued :

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At the Woodland Hide itself reedbunting and brambling (at least two) are still present along with the usual multitude of other species which makes a visit to this hide consistently enjoyable. Not that many decided to visit the feeder when I tried taking a picture during my “rounds”:

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There were mallard and shoveler in Ivy Silt Pond on the way down to Ivy South Hide where from the hide itself all the regular wildfowl could be seen, with some gadwall, wigeon and tufted duck all feeding (and in the case of the gadwall and mallard, very noisily and “splashily” displaying and setting up/defending pairings):

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The relatively mild weather and now lengthening daylight hours are also bringing with it other signs of spring and the New Year – as well as ducks pairing up, the great crested grebes are apparently setting up territories on Ivy Lake and a great tit has been stridently calling out “teacher” on and off all day around the centre. A lovely early introduction of the bird song that is still to come and with that I’ll leave you with the welcome sight of the recently emerged snowdrop shoots ushering in 2017, a New Year and new beginnings….

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I shall post this now and update at the end of the day as necessary with anything particularly noteworthy for anyone heading out this way tomorrow to kick start their year-lists. I’ve been office bound this morning and for the early part of the afternoon but will be heading out a little earlier than usual to stretch my legs, beat the bounds and swap the 2016 sightings record books for 2017’s. Hopefully the mist will lift again so I can see something! Who knows, I could even finish the year with an otter! But probably not!

Unfortunately the weather is not looking too favourable for tomorrow so what is traditionally the reserves busiest day of the year visitor wise may not be…

However for anyone who does make it out tomorrow don’t forget that Nigel and Christine will be in the centre classroom with their Pop-up cafe from 10.30am-3.30pm tomorrow with hot drinks and home baked cakes, a proportion of the takings from which goes into supporting our conservation and access work on the nature reserve.

Happy New Year everyone!