30 Days Wild – Day 1

2020-06-01 BBS site

Farmland survey plot

We’re off, 30 Days Wild 2020 is here! I started with an early morning bird survey of a farmland site on the chalk and what a way to start the 30 Days. Lots of yellowhammer, a few corn bunting and then a barn owl hunting for at least 15 minutes over the fields, a glorious morning. Just when I though tit could get no better a stone curlew flew over the ridge and passed me then alongside the owl, magical.

At Blashford it was hot and sunny, with lots of dragonflies, but still very few butterflies, although a very fresh dark green fritillary was a rare sight for the reserve. It was nectaring on Salvias in the raised beds by the Centre alongside lots of the wonderful little green-eyed flower bee.

I finished my day with a short walk out on the heath, with a distant calling curlew, nightjars aplenty and three species of bat, serotine, common pipistrelle and soprano pipistrelle.

Let’s see what Day 2 brings, it will be hard to live up to Day 1, I have to hope things have not peaked too soon.

 

Dine & discover…

Sometimes Blashford blog posts are a bit like buses – after a lull of a couple of weeks here’s your third in 2 days. Hope they’ve been worth the wait!

A  week ago, last Friday, saw me arriving at work later in the day and preparing for our evening “Dine & discover… Blashfords night life” event.

Dine & discover…” are a relatively new undertaking for us, but one that does seem to be gathering momentum gradually.

The first was trialled in the Spring with a stinging nettle theme – following some nettle sweep netting and ID-ing of the invertebrates caught, nettle tops were picked and the stems harvested. While the nettle soup simmered over the campfire our participants learnt how to prepare the nettle stems and made string from it. Since then we have run similar events learning about meadow invertebrates and freshwater invertebrates too.

“Dine and Discover…” is a monthly event for adults excited by nature and the outdoors at which we prepare and share a simple campfire meal before engaging in some kind of outdoor activity to discover and expand everyone’s knowledge and awareness of  wildlife. Septembers theme, as you may have already surmised from the title of the event, was nocturnal wildlife.

Last Friday our participants arrived as the last of our day time visitors and other staff left for the day.

After a quick welcome, a round of introductions and explanation of what they could expect, our first task was the collection and preparation of wood for the campfire.

Fire lit, we emptied the light trap and released the previous nights catch of moths, caddis flies and other insects, including the large yellow underwing pictured below:

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (2)

While the fire continued to build up heat everyone enjoyed a cuppa and fire-watching while one of the participants and I finished chopping the vegetables for our spicy chickpea and potato soup ready for it to go in the pot and on the fire.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (3)

While dinner bubbled we headed off with a jar of Bob’s moth “gloop” and a paint brush with which we daubed a number of fence posts and benches around the Centre.

Comprising a not-so-secret recipe of treacle, brown sugar, beer and rum, in theory the heavily scented sweet syrup is attractive to moths and was a common method of attracting moths in Victorian times when light traps were not an option. Although not as effective as a light trap, certainly in terms of the number of species which it attracts, “sugaring”, as the method is called, does attract a number of moths which do not normally come to light, including the Autumn flying copper underwing.

Unfortunately on this night it was not terribly successful, attracting just a few spiders a woodlouse and earwig, but, given the paucity of moths around the light trap both then and released from the trap the following day, this is probably due to the cold clear night reducing the number of insects on the wing as opposed to the quality of Bob’s brew!

Fence posts sugared, dinner was served.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (5)

It was a lot tastier than the above photo makes it  look – I certainly enjoyed it and as second and the odd third helping followed I think it is safe to assume that everyone else enjoyed it too!

As we finished our dinner darkness fell and our first bats were picked up on our bat detectors – soprano pipistrelle for certain and possibly some common pipistrelle too.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (4)

Pudding was toasted marshmallows accompanied by the staccato calls of the bats coming through on the bat detectors and punctuated by the call of at least a couple of tawny owls from nearby.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (7)

Joining in with a few “twooo’s” of my own owl call some of the group were treated to a fly past by one of the owls as curiosity (and territoriality!) drew it in to land in an adjacent oak tree. Not wanting to antagonise the bird, or cause it to waste time and energy on a nonexistent rival, I then kept stum and after a couple of minutes everyone had a great view of it flying back towards the alder carr over the pond, lit by the light of the light trap.

Definitely a highlight of the evening!

After putting the fire out we went for a short walk to Ivy Silt Pond & back, eyes adjusting to the dark and marveling at the number of stars in the clear night sky. Unfortunately although great for astronomy a clear sky at night means a cold night, a cold night means fewer insects – and fewer insects means fewer bats hunting them!

We did pick up the odd bat but it was bush crickets that we were picking up more than anything else  so, with the end of the evening drawing to a close, we returned to the Centre to finish our evening with the bats that were still flying around there, no doubt making the most of the few insects attracted to the light trap.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (1)

Thank you to David for sharing his pictures of the evening.

The next “Dine & discover…”, back in the day time, 11am – 3pm on Friday October 25th, will include a guided walk looking for Autumn fungi, birds and other wildlife – for details of this and how to book onto it and all our other events this Autumn and Winter have a look at our new “What’s on?” leaflet: 190927 BL WhatsOn Oct-Feb JD

See that blob? That’s the owl…

The much talked about/sought after tawny owl was on show again all day today with various people coming to see it having heard how regular it is (for where to look, see my description in the comments of the preceding “Pull the otter one” blog).

To avoid disappointment for anyone making a special effort to get here and expecting fabulous views thought I’d post a picture:

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So, see that vaguely owl shaped blob in the middle of the frame? That’s it – digi-scoped  this afternoon and to be fair to myself I haven’t seen pictures much better taken by visitors with decent kit so there’s my gauntlet to our readers: if you have taken a better picture you are happy to share feel free to email it in with permission for us to blog it to blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk !

Other exciting wildlife news from a little earlier in the week was the first reports of a bat flying over the centre car park. Last spring we were treated to fantastic views of up to three soprano pipistrelle over the centre and Woodland Hide from mid-afternoon onwards so hopefully we can look forward to more of the same this year. Thank you to Lauren Bissell for a) sharing the sighting with us and b) sending in pictorial proof (far better than my owl I’m pleased to say!):

soprano-pipistrelle-by-lauren-bissell-2soprano-pipistrelle-by-lauren-bissell-1

The kingfisher are still hammering the centre pond newt population – for a good chance of seeing it through the classroom window whilst enjoying a cup of coffee and slice of cake come along to the Pop up Cafe which is open  in the centre again tomorrow…

And finally, thank you to Sue Marshall for her lovely feedback and a selection of the images that she took following Bobs guided walk on Thursday:

“I went on my 3rd walk yesterday at Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve and yet again I got an image of a Bird that is new to me…  I love these walks and the  information that Bob Chapman gives out is just amazing! I don’t know how he remembers it all, he is like knowledge on legs! When I attended the February walk I saw and got my very first image of a Cetti’s Warbler  and yesterday was truly amazing.. I saw and got my very first image of a Sparrowhawk,  neither of which would I have seen if I had not been on Bobs walk, I am looking forward to attending more.. thank you” :

Cetti's Warbler Blashford by Sue MarshallMale Sparrowhawk Blashford Lakes by Sue Marshall

Thank you Sue!

Bobs next walk is “Signs of Spring”, 2-4pm on 16th March – booking (on 01425 472760) essential!

 

A night on the reserve…

Last week a number of our Young Naturalists spent the night at Blashford, camping out under shelters they had made themselves, cooking dinner and breakfast over the camp fire and embarking on a night time adventure around the reserve.

The Young Naturalists project has been shortlisted for the Young People category of Hampshire’s 10th annual Countryside Awards, organised by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). With judging taking place over the summer, they began their camp out by hosting the judges and showing them some of the activities they enjoy taking part in and some of the areas they have worked in around the reserve. We went through the light trap, looking at and having a go at identifying the moths, then wowed our important visitors with the variety of life found in the pond. After pond dipping, we headed off to the woodland to show them the log circle the group had replaced last June and the Woodland Hide.

After the judges had left us, it was time to think about setting up camp and we selected our materials and headed over to our camp area. It had been incredibly hot during the day, but we were expecting rain overnight and possibly some rumbles of thunder, so all were keen to construct a good shelter and we had a nice variety of designs:

It was then time to think about food so we gathered firewood and got the fire going, prepared an extravagant dinner of jacket potatoes, fish and a vegetable bean chilli and began cooking once the fire had died down a little.

Whilst cooking and eating dinner, and pudding, we enjoyed a stunning sunset:

Stunning sky

It was then time to head off into the night in search of some wildlife! We had already set the light trap, set some mammal traps near the Centre and locked the Woodland and Ivy lake hides, so decided to venture over the road towards the Clear Water Pond and Goosander Hide. Armed with bat detectors, torches and Bob’s homemade moth gloop (a sticky concoction of unrefined sugar, treacle and half a bottle of bitter, designed hopefully to attract moths if painted liberally onto tree trunks), we headed off into the night.

Our bat detectors soon picked up the characteristic ‘wet slaps’ or ‘smacks’ of both Common and Soprano pipistrelles as we passed the lichen heath and paused near the bridge over the Dockens Water. As we followed the path along the Dockens we painted some of the trees with our moth gloop, in the hope that on our return a little later something may have been attracted to the sweet syrup:

Painting trees with moth gloop

After carefully crossing the road we followed the path around the Clear Water Pond towards Goosander Hide and were rewarded with a bat feeding frenzy, picking up Daubenton’s bat and more Pipistrelles. Whilst Daubenton’s bat are picked up on the bat detector at the same frequency as Common pipistrelle, they can be distinguished by a different call, a rapid series of regular ‘clicks’ which resemble rapid machine gun fire. We enjoyed listening to them and spent a while watching them dive low over the water and fly overhead.

It was then time to head back to the Education Centre and we had a lot of painted trees to check on the way. On our way back we spotted slugs, spiders, woodlice (the only thing really attracted to Bob’s moth gloop) and a toad.

After not a lot of sleep (we had rain and a couple of rumbles of thunder, but luckily, with the exception of volunteer Geoff’s, our tarp shelters stood up to the test) it was time to think about cooking breakfast. Geoff had been up bright and early and got the fire going again for us, after rather a soggy nights sleep (sorry Geoff!), so we cooked breakfast then headed off to open up the hides, top up the bird feeders and check the light trap.

You may have spotted the tent in the first picture, this was Jess and Maddy’s plan D, after seeing the forecast for the night and taking three attempts to make their shelter. They retreated here at about 3 o’clock in the morning, not beaten by the weather (their shelter was bone dry, Geoff would have loved it!) but by the slugs…

Our final task of the morning, aside from taking down our shelters and tidying camp, was to check the mammal traps we had put out the night before. We were rewarded with two bank voles and two wood mice, out of the ten we had set – not a bad catch!

Thank you all the Young Naturalists who joined us for a night on the reserve, and a really big thank you to volunteers Geoff, Nigel and Emily for giving up their time too!

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