30 Days Wild – Day 16 – Dealing with Uncertainty

After writing yesterday’s blog I was out at dusk surveying nightjar again. I did find some nightjar, I heard at least four churring males, but the highlights were actually a roding woodcock and drumming snipe. The churring of nightjar is an extraordinary sound, much more reminiscent of machinery than a bird. Woodcock make a strange squeaking call as they fly around their territory and, if they fly right overhead you will also hear a short croak between the toy-like squeaking. Snipe are closely related to woodcock and also fly around at night on display flights, they make a weird sound called “drumming”, this is not a call but a noise made by the bird diving at speed so that the air causes the outer tail-fathers to vibrate. A walk on a New Forest heath at night is a fabulous experience filled with strange sounds.

Day 16 started with a look at the moth trap, there were 2 privet hawk-moth, but the only new species for the year was an uncertain, or was it? It might have been a rustic, because these two species cannot reliably be distinguished and are best recorded as an aggregate.

uncertain

perhaps an uncertain and not certainly a rustic

What’s in My Meadow Today?

There are several dandelion like yellow flowers in my meadow, but a lot of them are not dandelion. The Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon is one as are the hawk’s-beards. The smallest is smooth hawk’s-beard.

smooth hawk's-beard

small bee on smooth hawk’s-beard

They are very attractive to nectaring bees and these small bees, which I have not identified so far, like them all and often move from the smooth hawk’s-beard to the other common species, beaked hawk’s-beard.

beaked hawk's-beard

beaked hawk’s-beard

Looking into the meadow is always worth a second and a third look. As though to confirm its status as a meadow I spotted two meadow bug Leptopterna dolbrata.

Meadow bug (Leptopterna dolabrata)

Meadow bug (Leptopterna dolabrata)

I think these are a pair, although the females typically have short wings and both of these are fully winged. I also found a brilliant green beetle on the wild carrot flower head, it was a rose chafer. This was at about five in the afternoon on Day 16, as I write this now, at just after seven in the morning on Day 17, looking out of the window I can see the beetle still on the same flower head.

rose chafer on wild carrot

rose chafer on wild carrot

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30 Days Wild – Day 11 – Land of Giants

Another great night for moths, as anyone trying to sleep will have noticed, good moth nights tend to be too hot and windless for sleeping.  I caught 31 species in the garden and an impressive 46 at Blashford Lakes. I say impressive, but this is just for these days, catches of 80 or even 100 plus species were more common in days gone by and can still be achieved on the very best night at the best sites. There now seems to be no doubt that moths, along with perhaps all insects, have become less common. This seems to be a gross decline in numbers across the board, rather than a the extinction lost of species, although rarity does precede extinction.

It is very hard to say exactly why insects have declined but I think it is to do with human n=intervention in the environment, perhaps not a single cause but a combination of habitat degradation, nutrient enrichment, habitat fragmentation, chemical use etc. The sum of our many and various impacts on the world around us. I have run traps in more out of the way places where human impact is less obvious and have been impressed by the large number of individuals, even if not species that I have seen. Once in the far west of Ireland I saw several hundred garden tiger moths attracted to a single light trap, it was an extraordinary sight!

A 25 year long study of 63 nature reserve in Germany using a standardised collecting method concluded that flying insects of all types had declined by 75% during the study period, a truly shocking statistic an done that supports the gut feeling of most that look at insects here too. You can find out more on  Naturespot an excellent site that records wildlife across Leicestershire and Rutland.

puss moth

puss moth -one of my favourites from last night’s catch.

Moth traps do not only attract moths and last night at Blashford we caught a giant lacewing, these are really big, at least for lacewings. It is a species found in damp woodland that I have only ever found at a moth light, they must be hiding out there somewhere, but they are not the most obvious creatures when resting.

giant lacewing

giant lacewing

After a morning spent mowing bramble regrowth I was off the Fishlake to do a walk for Trust members. It was very hot in the sunshine and we enjoyed seeing a hobby and hearing a cuckoo.  The cuckoos will very soon be leaving us again, work by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has shown that many of our cuckoos arrive here in mid April and leave by the end of June. How do they know? They have fitted a number of them with satellite tags and you can follow their progress at BTO Cuckoo tracking , it is a fascinating project and well worth a look.

Personally I enjoyed the sight of lots of male banded demoiselle jockeying for the best perches on the yellow water lily flowers along the barge canal.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Back home I had a wander around the edge of the meadow and it struck me that I had not mentioned clovers, perhaps because they are in almost every patch of grassland, even maintained lawns. I have just the two most common species, the red and the white clover, but both are wonderful nectar sources for insects, especially bees. Clovers, like the rest of the pea family to which they belong have the ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, which is why they were used in crop rotations before we had chemical fertilisers to increase the nitrogen content of our soils.

white clover

white clover

I think I will have a quiet night in today, last night I was tramping around a New Forest heath in search of nightjar for a survey being run by the Wildlife Trust. I enjoy a survey as much as the next person, but I confess that when I was crossing from one transect to the next and found that the “path” actually just lead into an uncrossable bog, resulting in the need for a nearly two mile detour, the appeal waned a little. I did find some churring nightjar though and heard a drumming snipe. These are two of the strangest natural sounds to be heard in this country and ones that, if you have not heard them on a dark June night, need to be added to your “Bucket lists”, a proper Wild Experience.

A Fishlake Wander, Recent sightings and Festive Opening

Work at the new Trust reserve at Fishlake Meadows is picking up, with the fencelines being cut out and plans being made for the start of willow coppicing, both to maintain some of the low scrub and to open up some new views across the reserve. As part of this planning process we were out on site at the start of the week, luckily we picked a good day.

P1090322

View across part of Fishlake Meadows

On our wandering in some of the damp fields we encountered a large number of Cetti’s warbler, the reserve has large areas of almost perfect habitat for them. We also flushed a fair few snipe including one jack snipe. Perhaps our most surprising sighting was of 2 hawfinch perched in a small tree near a flock of fieldfare. There has been a once in a lifetime invasion of hawfinches this winter with many thousands arriving from the continent. These two were probably some of these immigrants rather than local birds, but with the New Forest being the UK hotspot for the species they could have been more local.

P1090319

a view across the lower lake

 

mistletoe at Fishlake

Mistletoe on poplar at Fishlake

Around the drier margins and especially along the canal path there are still many live poplars and quiet a few of them have a festive bunch or two of mistletoe high in their branches.

Meanwhile at Blashford Lakes latest reports are that the ring-billed gull is now being seen regularly in the gull roost on Ibsley Water as is the first winter Caspian gull, with a 2nd winter bird also reported recently, the roost also includes 2 Mediterranean gull. The starlings have been putting on quite show, with some estimates of up to 50000 birds coming into roost, usually just to the west of Ibsley water so seen from the hill at the back of the main car park. On Ibsley Water itself there have been up to 104 goosander roosting, 14 goldeneye and a single black-necked grebe. At least one of the pink-footed geese can be seen on and off with the greylag. There continue to be something like 90 pochard and 25-30 pintail as well.

On Ivy Lake “Walter” the great white egret is being seen fairly regularly and was joined by a second bird the other day. From Ivy North hide water rail and Cetti’s warbler are regular, although we have yet to get a report of a bittern this winter. The Woodland hide has one or two brambling and lesser redpoll as well as the occasional and less desirable report of brown rat.

robin

Robin

CHRISTMAS OPENING: We will be open as usual over Christmas apart from Christmas Day itself when we will be closed. In addition on New Years Day we will have the Pop-up Café again in the Centre, so you can start your birdlist for the year and get a hot cup of something and some excellent homemade cakes.

 

Coppicing, Snipe and Great Whites

A brilliant sunny day, not a great surprise to Blashford aficionados, is was Thursday and so volunteer day, (it almost never rains on a Thursday morning). The volunteers continued coppicing and using the brash to make a new dead hedge in the former Hanson plant site. This hedge should grow up with bramble and so provide valuable cover and habitat. The earth bank has steep south-facing slopes and these should be great for insects and hopefully also reptiles. Unfortunately I still have no firm date on the opening of the new path but at least the preparations are progressing well.

In the afternoon I was leading a winter bird walk, it is always good to get out on site and see some wildlife and this afternoon was glorious. We started at Tern hide with good views of water pipit and 3 snipe close to the hide.

snipe-2

one of three snipe feeding along the shore near the hide

A dead gull on the shore just east of the had attracted a crow which was tucking in, but very soon it was pushed off the prize by two buzzard, and two magpie also came down to see what they could snatch.

carrion-feeders

carrion feeders

A meal of meat is always welcome to these birds but in cold weather such as we are having now could make all the difference to these birds survival. It may seem a little gory, but nothing goes to waste.

Looking further out onto the lake we managed to miss the black-necked grebe that had been reported but did find a  female red-breasted merganser, these close relatives of the goosander are usually found on the coast and it is some years since there was one on the reserve. We also saw several of our regular goosander by way of comparison, these are larger and although the females are similar, the goosander have an overall cleaner look.

At the Woodland hide we saw a good range of the regular smaller birds, but the highlight was the water rail feeding in the pool under the alder carr just outside the hide, it gave wonderful views and seemed completely unconcerned by our watching it. After failing to see a bittern, we headed back to Tern hide and were rewarded with great views of a green sandpiper on the shore below the hide, it only flew off when a second came by.

When I went to lock up I saw a great white egret roosting in the trees on Ivy Lake from the Ivy North hide, “Walter” on his usual perch. By the time I got to Ivy South hide and looked across there were two! Presumably the second bird which has been using the area just north of the reserve had joined him, it will be interesting to see if they both roost there regularly.

 

Frosty Sniping

It is a remarkable thing, but often true, that the sun always shines on the Blashford volunteers and so it was today. Admittedly it was a little chilly, but as we were coppicing willow we soon warmed up and it was a glorious day to be outside. As to my claim about the sun shining on the volunteers, it is more or less true, or at least it almost never rains. They meet every Thursday morning and it has happened a number of times that it has been raining ant 09:50, but dry by 10:00 (when we start), or been dry but started to rain just as we finish. Oddly the Sunday volunteers, who meet just once a month, not infrequently get rained on despite meeting at the same time and working for the same duration.

frosted-grass

frosted grass

The cold still seems to have had little effect upon the birds, although there were more snipe than usual feeding along the shore of Ibsley Water today, no doubt because they are finding harder to find worms now that the top layer of the ground is frozen. I had gone to Goosander hide on a tip-off that there was a jack snipe there, a bird I have very rarely seen at Blashford and never other than when I have flushed them. When I got there I could see several common snipe and an unringed great white egret.

gwe-snipe

great white egret and snipe

I scanned along the shore and eventually found 13 common snipe and the single jack snipe probing the ground beside the water to the north of the hide. More frequent readers of this blog will have seen the many excellent pictures we get sent in as well as my own, somewhat variable efforts. So in the tradition of the “Record shot” I offer my jack snipe, with a few common snipe thrown-in.

snipe-and-jack-snipe

Jack snipe (honest) with 4 common snipe

Jack snipe, unlike their common relative, do not breed in Britain, coming to us for the winter from points north and east. They are probably one of our most secretive birds, relying on camouflage and usually staying in dense vegetation and flying only when nearly stepped upon. We know very little about how many visit Britain each winter, but it will be hundreds of times as many as ever get seen. They are smaller than common snipe, with shorter bills and a peculiar habit of slowly bobbing up and down, in fact this is often what gives them away. Which begs the question, “Why be so well camouflaged and then give yourself away by bobbing up and down?” Answers on a postcard, well in a comment might be better, please.

During the afternoon a ring-billed gull and several yellow-legged gull were seen from Tern hide. I say “a” ring-billed gull as there was a suggestion that it was not the regular bird, something for the keen gull watchers to ponder. It was the case that there were at least two at the end of last winter and it is entirely possible that they will both/all return again, as gull are long-lived and often go back to places they know.

As I locked up my brief glance from Ivy North hide coincided with the bittern flying across into the long reeds to the west of the hide, a place they have roosted in previous years.

One Day, Two Reserves

I am not often at Blashford on a Saturday, but this weekend I was, I managed to intersperse catching up on paperwork with a walk round all the hides. Getting around the reserve is very pleasant but also highlights all the tasks that need planning into the coming winter season, I think an eight month winter would just about be enough!

Opening up the hides I saw a greenshank and three wheatear from the Tern hide, which suggested that there might well be migrants about and with luck “something” might turn up.

As usual the day proper started with a look through the moth trap. This contained no rarities but one unexpected moth, a very fresh dark form coronet, this is an attractive moth and one we see quite often, but it flies in June and July. If I was to get one at this time of year, I would have expected it t be an old, battered one on its last legs, not a pristine newly emerged one.

coronet late season

coronet

The cumulative results of my wanderings throughout the day indicated that there were indeed a reasonable scatter of migrants around the reserve. Chiffchaff were frequently to be seen, although willow warbler were many fewer than last week. In one mixed flock of birds near the Lapwing hide I saw a very smart juvenile lesser whitethroat, a rather rare bird at Blashford these days. On the south side of the main car park a spotted flycatcher was catching insects from the small trees and there were several blackcap eating blackberries.

In the early afternoon I was in Tern hide when I spotted an osprey in the distance flying towards us down the valley, it looked as if it was going to come low over Ibsley Water, but as it came over Mockbeggar North lake a large gull started to chase it and, rather than brush off this minor irritation, it gained height and headed off at speed to the south. It was a young bird and is going to have to learn to tough out such attention.

It was not a bad day for insects, I saw red admiral, painted lady, small white and speckled wood, despite almost no sunshine and there were good numbers of migrant hawker and brown hawker about. I also saw more hornet than I had noticed so far this summer and very widely about the reserve too.

Other birds of note were mostly signs of approaching autumn, a single snipe near the Lapwing hide was the first I have seen since the spring here and later wigeon, one on Ivy Lake and 4 on Ibsley Water were also the first returns that I have seen.

For a couple of years now I have been noticing increasingly large floating mats of vegetation in the Ivy Silt Pond and kept meaning to identify the plant species involved. I finally did so yesterday and one of them, the one with the rosettes of pointed leaves, is water soldier, a rare plant in Hampshire and mostly found on the Basingstoke canal!

water soldier

water soldier

It is probably most likely to be here as a result of escaping from a local garden pond, but might be wild, anyway it seems to be a notable record and as far as I know it has not been recorded here before.

In the evening I went out to another reserve in my area, Hythe Spartina Marsh, it was close to high water and I was interested to see if there was a wader roost. There was, not a large one but interesting, it included 74 ringed plover, 30 dunlin, 2 turnstone, 3 grey plover and a single juvenile curlew sandpiper. In addition 2 common sandpipers came flying north up  edge and on the way across the marsh I saw a clouded yellow butterfly nectaring on the flowers of the sea aster. I also saw that on e of the juvenile ringed plover had got colour rings on its legs, however it would only ever show one leg so all I could see was a white ring above a red ring on the left leg, not enough to identify where it had come from. Ringed plover can breed locally on our beaches or have spent the summer way off in the high Arctic of Canada, so it would have been good to see all the rings.

A Couple More Pictures

After doing our count mostly in the lull between the heavier rain that followed it was a surprise when, all of a sudden, the sun came out and we locked up the reserve under clear blue skies. This allowed me to get s picture of one of the snipe from Tern hide, always a pleasure to see.

sleeping snipe

resting snipe

Otherwise my only wildlife picture of the day was of a huge spider that ran across the Centre floor, it is one of the “House spiders”, perhaps T. gigantea as it was very large indeed!

Tegenaria species

Tegenaria species

Bittern again

After almost a week with no reported sightings a bittern was finally seen (for just a few minutes typically!) to the left of Ivy North Hide by a couple of visitors  this afternoon. They didn’t get a picture…

Firecrests are also still showing themselves off to our visitors – I spoke to one gentleman this afternoon who was delighted by his view of one between Ivy South and Woodland Hide. It wouldn’t hang around long enough to have a picture taken either, but we did receive this picture of a goldcrest taken earlier in the week by Corinne, as well as this nice shot of the Cetti’s warbler outside Ivy North Hide:

Goldcrest by Corinne Yarwood

Goldcrest by Corinne Yarwood

Cetti's warbler by Corinne Yarwood

Cetti’s warbler by Corinne Yarwood

Snipe are another more secretive bird that are being encountered on a regular basis around the margins of all of the lakes currently -Sally Grant e-mailed this one, again taken from Ivy North Hide:

Snipe by Sally Grant

Most of our school visits take place in the summer months, but the diversity of habitats and the facilities at Blashford Lakes means that schools can, and do, visit all year round. Indeed although classic habitat study activities (“minibeasting”, pond dipping etc.) are always going to be best done in the summer when more insects are on the wing, some areas of study are actually best undertaken in the autumn and winter months.

Having said that, even I wasn’t sure how well our first school group visit of the year would go yesterday! However the hardy 4 and 5 year olds from Verwood First School did just fine and had a brilliant day learning about birds and then using their experiences to create artistic representations of them from the clay, leaves, sticks and other natural woodland resources.

With 58 children altogether we were exploring the reserve and visiting Ivy North Hide and the Woodland Hide in  relatively large groups of about 20 children, accompanied by the teaching staff and parent helpers. Recognising that the winter is a busy time of year for visiting bird watchers we posted up signs outside the two affected hides at the start of the day to warn everyone that we would be on our way and using said hides for short periods.

Thank you to everyone that made space in the hides for us!

Sadly the whole day was marred somewhat for one of our dedicated volunteers by an encounter with a visitor who it seems was not happy to be sharing the nature reserve with a school group and who rather forcefully suggested that it was ridiculous that they were there as they were far too young to get anything out of it… although entitled to his opinion, needless to say I disagree entirely with him!

In fact the children did learn a lot about their local area and local wildlife – and had a very enjoyable day to boot.

Blashford Lakes is a great nature reserve for birds (and other wildlife) and we do what we can to help people, all people, access and enjoy it.

Sometimes that means children.

It’s a bit cheesy, but true so I’m going to say it anyway; children are the future! If we are going to keep what precious little wildlife and wild places we have left, children have to be given the chance to play and learn in outdoor wild places so they can discover for themselves how special and how amazing it is. We facilitate that at Blashford Lakes.

In light of this I make no apologies at all to the gentleman concerned, but of course I do hope that he was able to enjoy the remainder of his visit around the rest of the nature reserve.

Butterflies, Bees and a good Soaking

Friday was a warm if not particularly sunny day, apart from right at the end , but I will try not to dwell on that!

Although the reserve is known for the lakes we are lucky to have some very good woodland and small areas of heath, most of which is lichen heath. However some of the heath is the more traditional kind with patches of heather and these are now in full flower.

heather

heather

Heather not only looks good it also produces lots of nectar which attracts lots of insects and despite the lack of sunshine these included several butterflies and bees. I saw common blue, brown argus and this small copper all enjoying a good feast and sitting with wings open to gain as much warmth as they could from the weak sunshine.

small copper on heather

small copper on heather

We have probably all heard of heather honey as being one of the most sought after, and heather is often visited by honey bees, but the bees visiting these plants were much smaller, one of the solitary Colletes species.

small bee on heather

small bee on heather

Having looked it up I am pretty sure they were Colletes succinctus , a common species that especially favours heather flowers. I also saw at least one bee wolf, a wasp that hunts bees and especially honey bees, I wondered if it would take the little solitary bees but it did not seem interested in them, perhaps waiting for larger prey.

The heather was not the only plant flowering though, there was just enough sunlight to open the flowers of common centaury.

common centaury

common centaury

This attractive little plant has flowers which only open if the sun is more or less out, as this when the insects that will pollinate it will be flying.

It was quite a good day for butterflies all round, at least in terms of species seen, I also saw silver-washed fritillary and clouded yellow as well as the commoner species. I failed to get any pictures of clouded yellow or fritillary, although I did get this female meadow brown with wings open, something they don’t tend to do when the sun is fully out as they get too hot.

meadow brown female on fleabane

meadow brown female on fleabane

I locked up the hides at the end of the day as Jim and Tracey were setting up things for the Ellingham Show, if you can, go along and say hello to them, they have lots of activities with them and the show attracts lots of participants, so is well worth a visit. A feature of the locking up process was mandarin ducks, I saw two juveniles on Ivy Lake, one on Ibsley Water and no less than four on the Clearwater Pond. They have obviously had a good nesting season, as have almost all species it seems. On Ivy Lake there are still four common tern chicks to fledge and I saw several broods of tufted duck, especially on Ibsley Water.

It started to rain hard as I locked up the Tern hide, normally the last hide to visit, but unfortunately from there I could see that the windows of the Lapwing hide had been left open and I knew that heavy rain would soak the hide, so I went up to close them. By the time I got there the seats and arm rests were drenched as was the hide log book. On the plus side I did see 3 common sandpiper, a green sandpiper, 3 shoveler, a teal and a snipe, I also got very, very wet!

 

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? ( or Fungus?)

Those of a certain age may remember a TV programme , having (nearly) the same title as this posting, in which a panel of ‘experts’ were challenged to identify an object from a museum collection.   It sometimes feels like I’m on the panel when a visitor asks questions about something they have seen on the Reserve.  Fortunately, for the most part, I’m usually able to give a plausible (if not invariably correct) answer or direct them to somewhere or someone who can.  I don’t pretend to be an oracle and mis-identifications are always possible. (Thanks to those who pointed out that the long-tailed tit’s nest of last week is almost certainly that of a wren)

For the most part these questions concern the animal or vegetable (fauna and flora) on the reserve, not too many people are concerned with the minerals,  the extraction of which (sand and gravel) created what we have today.   One such question, from a conservation volunteer the other day, concerned a plant/fungus that he’d seen. From the description given both Jim and I concluded that he’d been looking at the young, emergent stage of the Horsetail or Marestail. Just like these on the reserve…

Horsetail - looking rather like an alien invader

Horsetail – looking rather like an alien invader

 I believe these are variously known as Common Horsetail, Giant Horsetail or Field Horsetail or sometimes Marestail – probably Equisetum arvense ( or perhaps you know different??).  More interesting than the name is that they are among the few remaining species of a genus which for more than 100 million years was the predominant type of land based plant life, some of which reached over 30 metres tall and eventually formed the coal measures.  So they certainly have ‘staying power’ which is probably why they are a persistent weed and are much un-loved by gardeners .

Talking of strange organisms, I’m sure many of you will have spotted strange excrescences, often white or yellow though sometimes pink, on logs and tree trunks in the woods. One such caught our eyes the other day and we went back to investigate, and take a picture of this rather magnificent slime mould   

Slime mould

Slime mould

Looking superficially like a fungal growth, I’d always bracketed them in with this group of organisms.  I did, however, know that the lump you see is really a sort of super ‘love-in’ where millions ( billions?) of single-celled organisms had grouped together to form this fruiting body.  They normally live thinly spread in the forest floor and at some signal migrate to one spot to swap DNA and reproduce via spores.  Quite how this is organised or triggered is still a bit of a mystery and the things themselves are, I believe, no longer classified as fungi – probably more like amoeba, feeding on algae and bacteria in the soil.   Also nearby was one of the resultant spore masses ….

Slimemould spore mass

Slime mould spore mass

Truly the more one sees the more mysterious are some of the things around us and just to round off this section I’ll include a picture of an outgrowth on the branches of a tree close to the small car-park near the entrance. I think they’re called ‘Witch’s Broom‘ and I believe they’re caused by insects or a virus – but perhaps someone out there knows better.

Witch's Broom - just one of many such clusters of tiny twigs growing on one tree

Witch’s Broom – just one of many such clusters of tiny twigs growing on one tree

 On a more prosaic level the warblers reported last week have been augmented by at least two garden warblers, one of which was bold enough to perch out on the side of  a bush, giving reasonable views and a so-so image was possible at extreme range..

Garden warbler

Garden warbler

Although not a spectacular breeding site for wading birds we do get our fair share through the winter and it’s always nice to see some at this time of year. From the Tern Hide there were little ringed plover, redshank common sandpiper,  lapwing  and  a snipe has been seen. 

Redshank on edge of Ibsley Water

Redshank on edge of Ibsley Water

As well as many black-headed gulls, tufted duck  and thirteen mute swan , Ibsley Water was hosting at least six common tern and little grebe nesting close by the Goosander Hide.   At the Woodland Hide a lone brambling (doesn;t he know it’s time to go?)  was still in evidence  and we still have some magnificent siskin on display.

Two fine male siskin - getting food for their mates?

Two fine male siskin – getting food for their mates?