Hawks, Snakes and Terns


We had another successful Sunday with the Young Naturalists group recently, looking at three very different aspects of the wildlife at Blashford Lakes. First we unpacked the overnight light trap, which is mainly used to keep a record of the moths on site, but the first insect out of the trap wasn’t a moth at all, but a cockchafer beetle (or May Bug, if you prefer). These large and impressive beetles are only on the wing for a few weeks each Spring, and this one was sufficiently sleepy to allow us to pick it up, and feel it tickle the hand as it tried to cling on.


Thanks to Fletcher for the brilliant head‐on photo. Most impressive of the moths was a Poplar Hawk Moth, and this time Fletcher gave us a profile photo. We also managed to identify Light Emerald, Treble Bar, White Ermine, Scorched Wing, Clouded Border, Nut‐tree Tussock, May Highflyer, and a couple of what we think were Orange Footman.


The rest of the morning was spent searching for snakes. A team of Blashford volunteers has laid out a number of tin sheets and felt squares for snakes and other reptiles to use. They are tucked away well hidden around the reserve, and only checked once a fortnight to minimise the disturbance for any snakes which might use them as shelters and places to warm up. We had special permission to lift a few felts and look underneath, and we had also heard that a baby grass snake had been spotted underneath a log in the Badger Wood area, when a visiting school had been on a search for minibeasts. So we were delighted when we turned over a log, and there was a small grass snake curled up underneath. Again, Fletcher was quick enough to capture a photo before the snake wriggled away into cover.
The photo also shows the snake’s nictitating eye membrane, a translucent protective cover over its eye. We found another four grass snakes under another of the felts, all of which looked to be youngsters, but they didn’t hang around long enough for a photo.


After lunch we headed over to the north side of the reserve, to have a look at places where adders have been seen basking in sunny spots in the undergrowth. We didn’t see any adders, but while we were out we took a look at the tern rafts which have been moored in the lakes to attract breeding Common Terns. The terns don’t seem to be in charge of the rafts on Ibsley Water, where the Black‐headed Gulls have taken over, but back on Ivy Lake we counted between 8 and 10 terns which appeared to be sitting on nests on the rafts. We also checked the rafts out on Ellingham Pound, where again the Black‐headed Gulls were in charge. While we were looking at them, Geoff spotted a Hobby, hawking above the trees, and we watched as it appeared to eat a dragonfly on the wing.


This month the Young Naturalists are meeting on Sunday, 26th June, when we will be joined by Claire Sheppard, a local photographer, and we will be getting tips on improving our wildlife photography. For more details, see:
https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2022‐06‐26‐blashford‐lakes‐young‐naturalists‐picture


Nigel Owen – Young Naturalists Leader

Lockdown Impacts on Wildlife

I was on site for checks again yesterday and a good thing as it turned out as a large oak bough had fallen across a path. Presumably in the wind on Monday a branch, with no obvious decay and just coming into leaf, was ripped off and fell 8m or so to the ground, luckily nobody was under it. Fortunately Jo was also doing checks not too far away at Fishlake and was able to come over to provide my first aid cover so I could use the chainsaw to clear the problem away.

Generally the reserve is quiet now with very few people continuing to drive out and so mainly only being visited by those within walking range. I had hoped that fewer people might mean some benefit for wildlife, especially more easily disturbed species that may avoid areas close to car parks and paths under normal circumstances. I think some of this may be happening, it appears that snakes are basking beside the paths a little more than usual, they undoubtedly do so anyway, but will move away each time someone passes. I spotted this very bright adder by a path edge yesterday.

adder 4x3

basking adder

Unfortunately I think the overall effect on wildlife will be very negative, what I have found, and this seems to be getting worse, is that the few people who are still driving out to the reserve are mostly wandering well off the paths. At least four of yesterdays eight vehicles parked near the reserve for long periods were definitely associated with anglers, either wandering with bait boxes to look at fish or actively fishing. As a result there is regular and at times persistent disturbance around most of the lake shores, in areas that would usually be quiet. It was noticeable that both pairs of oystercatcher seem to have gone and the three lapwing displaying last week were nowhere to be seen.

I did see my first common tern of the year yesterday, but with little chance of getting the rafts out they will have only the islands to nest on. The main island is usually full of gulls, but these are absent this year, which would give them a chance free from the usual competition. Unfortunately I suspect the gulls are not there because of the high level of disturbance from anglers on the nearest bank, which will also put off the terns. It is also likely that angling is even more common at night so my records probably underplay the impacts.

The day was bright and sunny and it was pleasant to be out, I heard my first singing garden warbler and was able to enjoy the crab apple in all its glory.

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crab apple in bloom

As a conservationist I am an optimist, it goes with the territory, even when the evidence is against us a belief that things can be improved is essential. In life though the actions of a few can undo the good intentions of the many, whether in wildlife conservation or, as we are all now finding, in the suppression of a viral pandemic.

Stay safe, really look at your bit of the world and the other life you share it with, enjoy it and think how it could be made better.

30 Days Wild – Day 27

That unusual combination of hot and windy today, the breeze providing some, but not  a lot, of relief from the strong sunshine, although increasing the risk of getting unknowingly burnt. The volunteers were tidying up around the Centre and trimming and pulling nettles from the path edges.

The extra warmth is good for dragonflies, snakes and butterflies, although it makes them very active and so difficult to get close to. There are, at last, dragonflies to be seen in fair numbers, most though seem to be emperor or black-tailed skimmer. One species that I thought I might have missed was downy emerald, typically a late April dragonfly at Blashford, that you see through May and tails off in June. So I was pleasantly surprised to find a female beside Ivy North Hide as I locked up. It was also pleasing to get a picture as this is a species that does not often land within reach, often perching high up.

downy emerald female

downy emerald (female)

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.

An Unexpected Visitor

Another warm day on the reserve today, which is good at this time of year. Most insects prefer the warmth and there are good numbers of dragonflies out now along with hoards of damselflies and increasing numbers of butterflies. However my insect of the day was a tiny weevil I found on mullein at the back of the Centre at lunchtime, I think it is one called Cionus hortulanus.

weevil

weevil

I did also have a go at taking some flight shots, not of birds, but of a hoverfly, I think I have got some way to go before I can say I have mastered this particular type of photography! It is Volucella pellucens now sometimes called the great pied hoverfly.

Volucella pellucens in flight.

Volucella pellucens in flight.

Locking up at the end of the day the grass snakes were once again in front of the Ivy South hide and I got a shot of two coiled together that nicely filled the frame.

grass snakes coiled together

grass snakes coiled together

The big surprise of the day came at lunchtime, I went over to the Tern hide to check on the ponies grazing the shore of Ibsley Water and scanning the lake I spotted a most unseasonal visitor, a very fine adult drake goldeneye, goodness known what he is doing on the reserve in late June! Sadly he was much too far away for a picture though.