The Empress of Blashford

Last year we raised a number of emperor moth caterpillars, which then pupated and now the first of them has hatched out. The emperor moth is the only representative of the Saturniidae to be found in Britain and can often be seen on sunny spring days flying over open ground. These fast flying individuals are males searching for females. They are attracted by pheromones, sometimes form a kilometre or more away. This one is a female and we tried putting her outside the Centre in the sunshine to see if any males would come along. None appeared, but the temperatures were not high and it was rather windy, which makes it harder for the males to track down the females.emperor moth

Spring continues to arrive, Sunday saw the first reed warbler singing on the reserve and in the rain at the end of the day there were over 100 swallow and at least 6 house martin over Ibsley Water. Despite this some signs of winter remain, 10 or more brambling are still regular at the Woodland hide and the Slavonian grebe is still on Ibsley Water, although it is now looking magnificent in full breeding plumage.


First Flowering

I was acting as substitute Jim today as he is on leave, it made a change to be on the reserve on a Saturday and a very pleasant one, in the fine spring sunshine. After a morning spent tying up various loose ends from the year end, I took the chance to get out tin the sun after lunch. I wanted to check out a few of the projects we have done over the years and see how they have worked. First I went to an area we cleared of rhododendron some five years ago, it had been one of the few areas not dug for gravel and still had a few large, old hazel stools growing up through it. We cleared the rhododendron and planted  a few hazel in their place. The ground flora had all been killed off by decades of deep shade from the rhododendron, so we decided to try collecting some wild daffodil seed from near the Woodland hide and spreading it on the bare ground, to see if we could establish some new plants. The seedlings came up and today I found the first flower!first daffodil

Wild daffodil are a feature of the reserve, or at least the areas that were not destroyed by gravel extraction, so re-establishing them to places they would once have been and removing planted garden daffodils is a thing we have been to do for some time.

I then went to the western side of Ellingham Lake to look at the hedge we laid last winter. It has suffered somewhat from being nibbled by rabbits, but is not looking too bad on the whole.hedge

The sunshine had brought out lots of butterflies, I saw good numbers of brimstone, a few peacock and a single small tortoiseshell.small tortoiseshell

Most of the butterflies were nectaring, as this small tortoiseshell was, on ground ivy, one of the best sources of food for butterflies and bees at this time of year.ground ivy

I also found a fine grass snake enjoying the sunshine, it was on very open ground so rather than slip off to cover it reared up in threat and then froze, allowing me to get some shots.grass snake

With a little effort I managed to creep really close and get some headshots, when I did it became apparent that it had some sort of damage around the upper jaw, it looks quite nasty, but the snake seemed to be in otherwise good shape.snake head

There had evidently been some arrival of migrants overnight, with a couple of willow warbler singing near the main gate as I opened up and there were noticeably more chiffchaff and blackcap. The highlight though, was a male wheatear on the lichen heath near Ivy North hide.

As I ate my lunch I watched a pair of long-tailed tit collecting spider’s web for their nest from under the eaves of the Education Centre and the resident pair of robin were courtship feeding on the picnic tables.

Closing up the Tern hide a sudden commotion flushed all the shoveler from the south-east part of Ibsley Water out into the centre of the lake, allowing me to get a good count, the total was 283, pretty good for April. There was little else to report, although the Slavonian grebe was still there somewhere apparently, although I failed to see it myself.


Seasonal Signs

Although spring has been creeping up on us for a little while now, today felt like one of the first really spring-like days. Perhaps it was because I got out of the office and around the reserve. We went on a walk around the northern part of the reserve to check on various jobs that will need doing and to seek out a reported cracked tree that might require work.

There were chiffchaff singing and a couple of blackcap and the wild daffodil and lesser celandine along the Dockens Water were putting on a good show. A few brimstone, a peacock and even a speckled wood were enjoying the warm sunshine.speckled wood

The speckled wood was my first spring butterfly, by which I mean the first of the species that emerge from the pupa in spring as opposed to the brimstone, peacock and the like that hibernate over winter as adult butterflies.

Towards the Lapwing hide we saw both grass snake and adder, also soaking up the sunshine. One sign of spring that we did not see in this area was the seasonal path that runs north to Mockbeggar Lane. This is indicated on our leaflets and elsewhere as being open from April 1st to 30th September, however it was not open today. This area is no longer part of the nature reserve and is now within Somerley Estate who manage the path. If it opens I will let you know.

Other birds we saw today included 2 red kite, at least 3 little ringed plover, good numbers of shoveler, on Ibsley Water I counted 179 that I could see from Tern hide, but later I understand 205 were seen. There are still some winter birds around though, with a group of wigeon grazing the eastern shore, until flushed by a wandering visitor and at least 13 goldeneye, including 3 adult drakes. The Slavonian grebe was reported again and is now starting to get some breeding plumage. Several lapwing are taking up territory and I saw a couple starting to make nest scrapes.



Spring is Sprung?

Well a bit maybe, at least today saw the first arrival of undoubted migrants with at least 15 sand martin over Ibsley Water this afternoon. Earlier in the week there had been a scatter of chiffchaff, more than have over-wintered, so some must have come in from somewhere.

Other signs of a slow change in the season have been a few peacock, red admiral and brimstone butterflies, although today’s cold kept them tucked up somewhere. Sunshine in mid week resulted in a good number of sightings of adder and grass snake.

Moth numbers are also picking up and this week we have seen oak beauty, yellow-horned, common Quaker, small Quaker, twin-spot Quaker, Hebrew character and clouded drab in increasing numbers.

Although many of the wildfowl have left there were still at least 431 shoveler on Ibsley Water today and the bittern continues to be seen from Ivy North hide, surely it will be leaving soon. Also on Iblsey Water the Slavonian grebe is still present as are the 2 black-necked grebe, now looking very smart in their full breeding colours.

The gull roost remains very large, although the big gulls have almost all departed they have been replaced by thousands of smaller gulls, mostly black-headed gull, but including 20 or more Mediterranean gull, tonight there were at least five second winter birds, 1 first winter and 15 or so adults. Unusually for Blashford, this winter has seen good numbers of common gull in the roost, typically we struggle to get double figures, unless it is very cold, but tonight I counted at least 412 and along the way saw an adult ring-billed gull. This last American visitor was not the one that spent the winter with us, but one that has arrived in the last few days, in fact it seems we may have had three different birds recently (some claim perhaps four!). During the afternoon there were also 3 adult little gull, these would be migrants, the smallest of the gulls we get and probably the most elegant.

At the Woodland hide numbers of finches are declining, but there are still good numbers of siskin, a few lesser redpoll and 10 or so brambling, including  a number of very smart males. There are also several reed bunting feeding there regularly and today, and this was a first for me, a drake mallard, not a species that immediately springs to mind as feeding outside the Woodland hide.

Spring may not exactly have sprung but it is slowly unfurling, at last.

A Day by the Water

By which I mean Ibsley Water, where we spent the day working with a party of staff from one of our Partners, Bournemouth Water. It was particularly fortuitous that it was a Leap Year as this allowed us to do a task willow cutting on the shore of the lake, in a normal year it would have been the 1st of March and so into the “no scrub cutting” season. This is a bit of an arbitrary date, but a fair one to choose as many birds will start to nest soon now. These low willows are not really suitable for nesting, although they might be used for feeding by some, but as they grow on the lakeshore where open grass suitable for grazing wildfowl is more of a priority, we have been removing them throughout the winter. This shows the site at the start of the task.


We disposed of the cut material mostly by building a dead-hedge, which will be a useful habitat and is especially popular with nesting song thrush. The rest we burnt on the lakeshore. After about four and a half hours work the site looked like this.


Hopefully everybody enjoyed their day out from the office , they certainly got  a lot of work done and without their help it would definitely not have been done this season. I got this team picture just before they were ready, but it does have a flock of greylag geese in shot.

not quite ready but with geese

In wildlife news, I understand the bittern was seen again today from Ivy North hide and I saw the Slavonian grebe on Ibsley Water. At the end of the day the, now huge, roost of black-headed gull included at least 52 Mediterranean gull, all but two of them adults and amongst the modest number of larger gulls I found a first winter Caspian gull.

The moth trap did not contain much, perhaps not a surprise after rather a cold night, there were just a few common Quaker, small Quaker and clouded drab.

Some Moths and No Bins!

I ran the moth trap last night for the first time in a while and caught a dozen moths of five species, all typical early spring ones, but good to see for all that. The most frequent was common Quaker.common quaker

Next commonest was Hebrew character.hebrew character

Then small Quaker.small quaker

One thing that has not changed was the need to keep a close eye on the catch and keep it away from our resident robin.robin

There were also single clouded drab and early grey, but neither posed well for pictures.

Out on the reserve today the Woodland hide was busy with the usual good numbers of siskin, lesser redpoll, chaffinch and commoner woodland birds. When I was there I also saw 4 brambling and 7 reed bunting. It is always good to see the buntings as these are probably our nesting birds and feeding up well at this time of year has been shown to increase nesting success, important for a species that has been declining in recent years.

Out on the reserve reports received suggest that both of the black-necked grebe are still on Ibsley Water as was the Slavonian grebe. I saw a single adult Mediterranean gull, but I do not know if the ring-billed gull was seen today.

Near the Woodland hide there are quite  a lot of scarlet elf cup now, perhaps a little later than usual, but as bright as ever.scarlet elf cup

Although not as prominent as the many wild daffodil in the same area.wild daffodil

I spent the afternoon dealing with various odd jobs around the reserve. Although it was dry and quite pleasant the reserve was relatively quiet so I took the opportunity of the low traffic to fill in a few more of the pot holes in the entrance track, there are still quite a few but it is getting better.

Unfortunately towards the end of the day I realised that, at some point in the afternoon, I had put down my binoculars and as hard as I looked I could not find them anywhere. Although now rather battered I will be very sad if they do not turn up, they have been my constant companions for pretty much every day of the last twenty plus years, lots of birds seen through good times and bad. If you happen to see a lost looking pair of binoculars, please let me know!

The End of Winter?

Surely it cannot be long before the cold nights end and spring proper starts. This is obviously a pleasant prospect, but it always means a bit of a scramble to get the last of the winter tasks done. Today I was working with the volunteers to coppice willows around the ephemeral ponds beside the path to the Goosander hide. We did pretty well getting the whole job done in a single session. This is before…..before… and this is more or less the same view afterwards.after

Ephemeral, or temporary ponds are very important habitats for lots of species, in fact many species are found only in them. Permanent ponds are fine habitats but their long term residents tend to dominate and exclude many species. Fish, in particular, have a huge impact on many species which just cannot live alongside them. This is why the best garden ponds for wildlife are actually the ones that don’t have fish in them. This would also be true for larger ponds and lakes but in practice it is impossible to keep fish out. Many people will tell you that fish get in as eggs on the feet of ducks and this may not be impossible, but the overwhelming majority are put there by people. In recent times the main fish that people introduce seem to be carp, unfortunately one of the most damaging species in terms of their impact upon the aquatic habitat and other species.

The day continued with us dealing with a few unsafe trees near the Woodland Hide (sorry if we scared the birds away!), laying over a few old coppiced willows and filling in a couple of the potholes in the entrance track.

In wildlife news the bittern was seen again today from Ivy North hide and the Woodland was busy with siskin, lesser redpoll and brambling along with the more regular “locals”. On Ibsley Water I saw the Slavonian grebe as I opened up but could find no sign of the black-necked grebes, so perhaps they have gone. At the end of the day the ring-billed gull was again in the roost on Ibsley Water, along with several Mediterranean gull.

With a bit of luck the first sand martin will be with us within a fortnight and then spring will really be on its way.


A Dull Day Brightened Up

It was strangely warm today, at first misty and then just very, very dull. The damp grey conditions were livened up by quite a good showing of fungi around the reserve. The logs beside the track between the Centre and Woodland Hide are particularly good, many have clusters of turkey-tail fungus.turkey tails

The moss covered, more rotted ones sometimes have candle snuff.candle snuff

There are also increasing numbers of scarlet elf-cups, a species that is always around in greatest numbers in late January.scarlet elf cup

I also found a few more conventional “toadstools”, one group on an old alder stump.fungi on alder stump

Also these tiny pale ones on a moss covered willow trunk.small fungi

The fallen branches often have various fungi on and one had a brightly coloured fungus  encrusted all along it.sheet fungus

Some fungi live in association with algae to produce lichens, spore production brings out their fungal side.lichen

With all this emphasis on fungi you might think it was autumn, but there was a distinct feel of spring with the first few of the wild daffodil near the Woodland hide already in flower.wild dafodil

You may have noticed that these pictures were taken using a flash, this was because it was so dull today that I could not get a picture of any of these without it!

Out on the reserve the bittern was at Ivy North on and off all day and out on Ibsley Water the usual black-necked grebe and Slavonian grebe had hundreds of duck for company. I counted exactly 200 pintail, my highest count so far this winter.

In the late after noon the gull roost was joined by the first winter Caspian gull which stood out on the shingle spit to the right of the Tern hide for all to see, including me, which was pleasing as I had previously failed to catch up with it.





Ducks, ducks, ducks

The recent drop in temperature has resulted in a considerable increase in duck numbers around the lakes. I did not have the chance to do complete counts but when I opened the Tern hide this morning I did a quick count of what I could see from there and got to at least 149 pintail and 208 shoveler. On Ivy Lake I saw at least 80 more shoveler and there will have been others elsewhere. There were also hundreds of wigeon on both lakes, no doubt moved here from further north where some waters will have frozen completely. There is a good chance that a lot will stay for a while as there is good feeding locally both on the lakes and out in the Avon valley now that it is partly flooded.shoveler

I was off site for most of the day, but from reports received it seems at least one bittern was seen from Ivy North hide, both the black-necked and Slavonian grebe were on Ibsley Water and in the afternoon the first winter Caspian gull, the ring-billed gull and a Mediterranean gull came into the roost there. The great white egret was also seen on Ivy Lake for a time, although had gone by the time I got there to lock up. I also heard a report that a ring ouzel had been seen with blackbirds feeding on the grass beside the road at Gorley Cross, just up the road from the reserve, something I did not get a chance to follow up before it got dark.

A Fine Day

More or less anyway and certainly a good one for visitors and birds. In fact the reserve was as busy as I have seen it in a long time, with over fifty cars in the car parks for most of the day, which probably means there were over 150 visitors.

The birds did not disappoint either with the Slavonian and black-necked grebe showing on Ibsley Water and two of the later reported. The ring-billed gull also put on a good show, sitting on the rails outside Goosander hide, posing for photographs and later in the roost from Tern hide. Elsewhere the great white egret was on Rockford and Ivy lakes, although the bittern remained out of sight.

At the Woodland hide numbers of siskin are rising fast along with smaller numbers of lesser redpoll and brambling.

I was in the office for a good part of the day, but got out later in the afternoon when the low light over Ivy lake was quiet attractive.Ivy Lake from Ivy North hide

I think I can make out quite a few species in this shot, coot, shoveler, tufted duck, great crested grebe, cormorant, Canada goose, pochard and gadwall at least. I did get a couple of counts, 98 shoveler on Ibsley Water and at least 170 cormorant in the roost on Ivy Lake, a new record.