Fitting it all in…

At the end of April our Young Naturalists were joined by Paul from Strong Island Media, who had come along to take photos and film them during a session. As a result we managed to fit in a number of different activities to showcase what we get up to and enjoyed a very varied day!

Whilst Joel and Vaughan headed off to the Woodland Hide with Nigel to photograph birds the rest of the group opted to pond dip, something we hadn’t actually done in some time. We caught a number of dragonfly nymphs, water stick insects, some fabulous cased caddis fly larvae and a smooth newt. We also spotted a large red damselfly on the edge of the boardwalk, so moved it to a safer spot away from our tubs, nets and feet.

We then had a look through the light trap which we had begun to put out more regularly with the weather warming up. The trap unfortunately didn’t contain an awful lot as it had been cold the night before, but there were a couple of very smart nut tree tussocks along with two Hebrew characters and a common quaker.

Volunteer Geoff had very kindly made up some more bird box kits for the group to put together, so we tidied away the pond dipping equipment and they had a go at building the boxes:

Brenda has been keeping us posted on the activity going on in the nest boxes the group made in October and we put up in January, using them to replace some of the older boxes on the reserve. Out of the twelve boxes made, six are active with the others either containing a small amount of nesting material or nothing: Poppy’s box contains 11 warm eggs and the female is incubating them; Geoff’s box contains 7 hatched, naked and blind blue tit chicks along with 2 warm eggs hopefully to hatch; Ben’s contains 3 downy and blind great tit chicks which will hopefully be large enough to ring when Brenda next checks; Will H’s box contains 7 naked and blind great tit chicks and 2 warm eggs hopefully still to hatch; Megan’s box contains 7 downy and blind blue tit chicks and 1 warm egg which may not hatch and finally Thomas’ box contains 9 warm great tit eggs.

Brenda has also been taking photos of some of the boxes for us to share with the group:

Thank you Brenda for continuing to update us on the progress of our nest boxes, we look forward to the next one!

After lunch we headed down to the river to see what else we could catch. Again we haven’t done this in quite a while so it was nice for the group to get in and see what they could find. We caught a stone loach, a dragonfly nymph, a number of bullhead and a very smart demoiselle nymph:

Finally, those who joined us in February were delighted to see the willow dome is sprouting. As the shoots get longer we will be able to weave them into the structure, giving it more shape and support.

willow dome

Thanks to Geoff and Nigel for their help during the session and to Paul from Strong Island Media for joining us, we look forward to seeing his footage of the group and being able to share it to promote the group and our work.

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

Advertisements

30 Days Wild – Day 6: And the Wind did Blow

And how it blew! And how it rained too, very unseasonal gales to tear at the trees and soak fluffy wader chicks. So it was with some trepidation that I got to Blashford today. Looking from Tern hide when I opened up I saw at least two of the small lapwing chicks and spotted one of the oystercatcher offspring too, although they should be well able to survive a bit of weather by now. A few of our trees had not done so well, no major fallers but several branches down, at this time of year, in full leaf and soaked with rain, the wind can really get hold of a branch twisting and breaking it off. Luckily the volunteers were in and between us we were able to walk the full length of all the paths clearing branches as we went and then returning to saw off the few larger leaning stems.

At lunchtime a smooth newt was spotted on the surface of the Centre pond, Jim then realised that it had been caught by a great diving beetle larva, these are ferocious predators but I was surprised that one would tackle a full grown newt.

newt and diving beetle larva

Newt being attacked by great diving beetle larva.

The newt was struggling but it was hard to see how it was going to get the beetle larva off as it had its jaws firmly embedded. As we watched a second, equally large larva closed in and joined the attack, I don’t think the newt had any chance against two attackers. I knew they would tackle prey larger than themselves but this was the first time I had seen one take on something so large. The picture is an example of “Digi-binning” that is holding the digital point and shoot camera up to one eyepiece of the binoculars.

Unsurprisingly the moth trap was very quiet, I doubt many moths tried to fly and those that did probably had trouble getting anywhere they wanted to go. Amongst the few that did get out and into the trap was a very fresh mottled beauty.

mottled beauty

mottled beauty

The weather did improve a bit in the afternoon and there were quite a few insects flying as I went to lock up, lots of damselflies and various things nectaring on the flower heads of hemlock water-dropwort, one of the best food sources for lots of species at this time of year. I cannot identify them but the many insects include a number of sawflies.

sawfly

sawfly (unidentified)

Looking after a nature reserve can be rewarding, especially when you can work to improve habitats, allowing them to support more species and individuals, in the jargon increasing biodiversity and biomass. On a reserve such as Blashford Lakes there is the additional goal of increasing the accessibility of this wildlife to allow appreciation and enjoyment for people. Increasingly it is being realised that this is good for our health, diverse green space really matters to our wellbeing, individually and as a society. It is also a small push back against a tide of mass declines in species abundance and variety, to make a real difference to that needs action on a much larger scale than just a nature reserve.

So on Day 6 of  my 30Days Wild I have to confess to getting a little wild myself. I have already blogged about my tiny back garden meadow and we are doing work at Blashford to enhance the grassland to support more species. Species rich grasslands and meadows have been one of the fastest declining habitats in recent decades, with the accompanying loss of wild flowers, butterflies and the rest of the species such places support. Local Authorities and Government Agencies have a duty to enhance the environment where possible. There has recently been much publicity about the importance of grass verges for wildflowers, it has made national radio and some species are now almost only found by roadsides.  The Highways Agency publishes very good guidelines for the management of verges, round-abouts and other roadside grass areas, with the idea that managers of such places will have a best practice guide to follow.

So what made me wild? It was the close mowing, for the second time this season, of the large (probably 0.5ha or so) round-about at the end of the road where I live. This does not improve safety, to do this at most a couple of metres around the edge would need mowing, nor was it tall, no more than 30-40cm and the mass of corky-fruited water-dropwort was just coming into flower. The first cut dealt with the cowslips and much else besides, this is a relatively herb-rich grassland that is being systematically destroyed by close mowing and swamped by a layer of mulched cuttings each time. Eventually this will ensure it has only a tall coarse sward of cocks-foot, thistle and nettle and another vestige of our grassland heritage will have gone. I don’t know which particular arm of authority undertakes this mowing, but the guidelines have evidently not reached them! So long as there is careless disregard for such places the march to environmental mediocrity will continue and we may as well lay Astroturf and be done with it!

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow, unless the “Wild” part of 30 Days Wild takes hold again!

Water world

On Sunday our Young Naturalists joined us for a watery session, discovering the life lurking at Blashford in the pond and the Dockens Water.

We began the day though with a rummage through the moth trap, a task greatly enjoyed by the group last year so it was great to have the opportunity again now the weather has warmed up and there are more moths on the wing.

Emptying the light trap

Emptying the moth trap

Moth id

Moth identification

We only had five different species to identify so our task didn’t take too long, but there were plenty of moths in the trap: 25 Hebrew character, ten Common quaker, five Small quaker, 6 Clouded drab and one very smart Lunar marbled brown:

Lunar marbled brown resized

Lunar marbled brown

After carefully putting the moths back in the trap to be released at the end of the day, we spent the rest of the morning having a closer look at the life lurking in the Education Centre pond.

Pond dipping 2

Inspecting our catch2

pond dipping

Pond dipping

The pond has certainly sprung to life with the warmer weather and after a lot of dipping, it was time to take a closer look at our catch.

Inspecing our catch

Having a closer look

Having a closer look at some of our smallest finds

We were lucky enough to catch a number of newts, both adults and newt tadpoles, known as efts. The efts breathe through external feathery gills located just behind their heads, which really make them look like miniature dragons!

Adult newt and eft by Talia Felstead

Adult newt with eft by Talia Felstead

Male smooth newt

Male smooth newt, with its frilly crest extending from its head to the tip of its tail

Newt handling

Careful newt handling, with very wet hands!

We also caught a number of cased caddisfly larvae. Cased caddisfly are probably my favourite of all the pond (and river!) creatures as they construct the most amazing cases to live in, providing themselves with excellent camouflage. They use whatever materials they have available to them in the pond or river, which could be sand, tiny stones, segments cut from weed or other water plants, old snail shells, seed pods, the list is endless! They really are the ultimate swimming stick:

Cased caddis

Two cased caddisfly larvae by Talia Felstead, these two have used plant material to create their cases

One of the many different caddis

Another cased caddis, this one has used older pieces of plant matter and old seed pods

We also caught a number of water stick insects:

Water stick insect

Water stick insect

Finally, after exhausting the pond we headed down to the river in search of other aquatic life, including fish. We had to search a little harder, as the invertebrates in the river along with many of the fish will hide in amongst and under stones and rocks on the river bed to avoid being picked up by the current and taken downstream. We did though manage to catch a number of bullhead and brook lamprey:

Bullhead

Bullhead by Talia Felstead

Brook lamprey

Brook lamprey by Talia Felstead

The brook lamprey are often confused with small eels, but instead of having jaws they have a sucker disc with their mouth in the centre. Now is definitely the time of year to look for them as they spend most of their time buried in the sand or silt on the river bed, emerging in spring to spawn and dying soon after.

If you look closely in shallower stretches of the Dockens Water when passing, you might be lucky enough to spot some!

 

Arboreal Newt?

After what has seemed weeks I actually got out onto the reserve to do a bit of management work on Friday. Recent days have been taken up with First Aid training, meetings and miscellaneous other off-site tasks, so it felt really good to get out and do something practical. I spent a good bit of the middle part of the day strimming young bramble and nettle off the western shore of Ibsley Water, this is an area we try to keep as fairly short grassland suitable for grazing wildfowl in the winter and breeding lapwing in the spring. Most of this work is done by the ponies, but they are not keen on the bramble or nettle.

Working on the shore of Ibsley Water does disturb the wildlife, but the lake is so large that it just moves things across to the other side and so closer to the hides. In fact there were not a lot of birds to see, 21 shoveler being about the best. The highlight of the day was yet more sightings of the otter, this time from both Goosander and Tern hide in mid-morning.

Later in the day I was near the store when I spotted something roll down a sloping willow trunk, at first I thought it was a dead willow leaf, but then I realised it was a smooth newt! It had come to rest upside down on the lower part of the trunk and lay completely still, possibly stunned or perhaps “playing dead” as predator avoidance.

smooth newt upside down

smooth newt upside down

Eventually it woke up and started walking down to the ground.

smooth newt

smooth newt

The afternoon sunshine also brought out lots of common darter dragonflies.

common darter

common darter

Locking up at the end of the day I saw a couple of kingfisher and the great white egret was, as it often is, perched on one of the sticks outside the Ivy North hide.

Black-necks, Yellow Horns and Carpet Moths

Bird News: Ibsley Water black-necked grebe 2+, Mediterranean gull 1. Ivy Lakebittern 1, Cetti’s warbler 1, Egyptian goose 2. Ivy Silt PondCetti’s warbler 1.

Another mild night and another good moth catch with yellow horned new for the year.

yellow horned

There were also several micro moths, they fly well on calm nights, including 2 Acleris literana, although they looked quite different, one very fine grey and black one and the other looking like it was made of carpet.

Acleris literana

 

Acleris literana, but made of carpet

Blashford was hosting a meeting of the Wildlife Trust’s Great and Good today, which is to say the trustees and vice chairs. Obviously it is always good to be able to showcase the reserve and we were quietly confident, but it is always a bonus when things actually work out. The weather was with us and our theme of the reserve as place to encounter wildlife was nicely exemplified with a good show by the bittern at Ivy North hide, allowing some their first ever sighting.

bittern fishing

I actually got this picture as I opened up the hide, when it was hunting. There was also a singing Cetti’s warbler there and a second was signing by the Ivy Silt pond. It would be good if they stayed to breed, I am sure they will one day.

I looked hard for a February sand martin, I have never seen one and still haven’t, but they can only be days away.

There were several common toads out and about today and smooth newts swam by on Pondcam. On Ivy Lakecam there was another TV “tick”, although perhaps not one I welcome, a pair of Egyptian geese.

A Day of Two Halves

Bird News: Ibsley Water Bewick’s swan 6, shelduck 11, goldeneye 14, goosander 70+. Ivy Lakebittern 1, ferruginous duck 1, great white egret 1.

A very flat, grey morning, but the gloom seemed to have fooled the roosting birds on Ibsley Water into staying rather longer than normal this morning. There were still at least 2000 black-headed gull and goosander all over the lake, I counted at least 70 in scattered groups, often displaying. The 6 Bewick’s swans were still asleep when I first looked out, but soon woke up and flew off to the valley, although evidently not going to Harbridge to joint the mute swans, where they were looked for without success, although there was the bonus of a report of a whooper swan there, a real rarity in Hampshire. Also on Ibsley Water were 11 shelduck, a good count and at least 17 goldeneye, including 8 adult drakes.

So a good start to the day by any standards. I opened the Centre and then off to the remaining hides. At the Ivy North hide I looked out and a bittern was hunting just below the hide and I had not even raised my binoculars! I now wondered if I was going to complete the round with the ferruginous duck, but a quick check of the few pochard at the Ivy South hide soon answered that with disappointment.

I spent much of the morning path trimming, a noisy activity which makes it pretty certain that no wildlife will be seen, an afternoon in the office did not improve my wildlife sightings although I did come across the latest report on the ruddy duck cull, an issue that I know interests a good few of our visitors. A link to this, for those that are interested is:

https://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/nonnativespecies/index.cfm?pageid=244

It was very mild and this was brought home when I was walking through the lobby and glanced up at the Pondcam and saw a male smooth newt, actively looking for food. I had been pondering that the first common frog spawn was probably not too far away, but perhaps the newts will not be far behind.

As it got towards dusk I set out to lock the hides and arriving first at the Ivy South hide the great white egret was perched in one of the trees on the long peninsula opposite the hide and looking south, the ferruginous duck was also on view, although sleeping. All in all, a good day with some excellent birds.