Weather warning news and a general catch up

Have been planning on writing a blog for a while as it has been far too long since the last post, but a yellow weather warning for wind and particularly strong winds forecast for overnight has finally prompted me to post!

If the weather is as unpleasant tomorrow as the forecast predicts it will be we don’t anticipate the reserve being particularly busy tomorrow (we’re aware of only two visitors so far today and they weren’t here long!).

If you are planning a visit here tomorrow (Thursday 11th March) do check here on the blog for site opening updates first, and do not plan to arrive first thing as even if the site does open tomorrow we will certainly be doing a site check when we arrive to ascertain that it is safe to open to visitors before opening the gates to the car park a little later than normal, assuming they open at all.

Todays weather is a far cry from that of the last few days which have been really very pleasant out of the wind in the sunshine. Nature has certainly been responding to the increase in temperatures and daylight length.

Bob reported seeing his first grass snake on Wednesday last week and indeed Tracy and I have both also seen the same snake basking in the same location on several occasions since. Adders have also now emerged and can be seen basking from the shelter of the dead-hedges along the footpath through the reedbed between Lapwing and Goosander Hide.

A beautiful and most welcome sight of Spring! One of several females seen on Monday – you can tell she is female due to the bronze colouration, males being silver.

Other animals who are stirring or making their presence felt this Spring include black-tailed godwit who have been present around Ibsley Water in significant numbers of up to 2,000 or more last week and really putting on quite spectacular flight displays at times. Although staff have yet to see one, sand martins have also been reported flying around Ibsley Water over the last few days. Green woodpecker, noticeable by their absence the last couple of years have been “yaffling” fairly consistently and the great spotted woodpeckers have also been drumming of course too. Nest boxes and natural cavities are all being investigated for their potential as nest sites by any number of birds, most conspicuous of which have been the nuthatches who have been very busy in numerous locations as they inspect the “real estate”.

Drier nights (tonight and last night being the exceptions!) have also led to our running the light trap more regularly for moths and although not teeming with moths in the morning, the rewards have generally been worth the effort of putting it out:

Yellow horned moth (is it just me or is it doing rather a good impression of a cat?!)
Oak beauty

On the mammal front the badgers, whose sett is in the vicinity of Woodland Hide, seem to have made a massive comeback – they all but disappeared from this location a few years ago for reasons unknown, but were clearly back last year and this Spring are incredibly active with any number of fresh diggings, latrines and piles of discarded bedding materialising!

One of the new (or newly “renovated” at least) sett entrances, with the old discarded bedding turfed out and visible on top of the spoil to the left of the picture.
Signs of so much badger activity!

The first of the wild daffodils started flowering 2-3 weeks ago but have only started to come into their best over the last few days:

Wild daffodils adjacent to Woodland Hide
In my opinion at least, one of our loveliest of Spring sights

Other wildflowers that have been becoming more prominent in recent days include coltsfoot, lesser celandine, primroses and willow catkins:

Coltsfoot
Beautiful lesser celandines
“Pussy” willow catkins, just now beginning to open and reveal their pollen riches.

I’ve often pondered the “yellow-ness” of Spring – certainly not all of our Spring flowers are yellow, but it is true that a great many are, as illustrated above, so I did a bit of research on this phenomena a couple of weeks ago and the general belief seems to be that this colour must be the most obvious to insects throughout the relatively low hours of daylight early in the year. Whatever the actual reason, all of these bright, colourful, flowers are a most welcome burst of colour after the greyness of winter! Another such welcome splash of colour is the vivid red of the scarlet elf cups which thrive on the decaying wood in the damp and shady areas of Blashford woodland, although having been fruiting for several months they are now starting to lose some of their vibrancy and will not be with us for very much longer:

Scarlet elf cup fungi

Other welcome signs of Spring include the slow but steady greening up of our tree’s and hedgerows, with the leaf buds of both elder and hawthorn now swelling and opening:

Elder
Hawthorn. This in the planted “lazily laid” hawthorn hedge that Bob has been working on in sections with the volunteers along the A338 for the last few years: reaping the rewards of all their hard work, it is becoming quite a fine dense hedgerow which, although not as pretty as a traditionally laid and woven hedge, is far easier to produce and at least as good for wildlife!

A less welcome sign of better weather is an increase in the number of “rogue” visitors accessing the site. Although by far the majority of visitors visit, use and respect the nature reserve as we intend a small minority do not. Illegal fishing and poaching activity has noticeably increased on the nature reserve, particularly on Ellingham Lake where it is less of a wildlife conservation issue, but also on Ibsley Water where it does pose significant risks to the ground nesting birds who nest around it and who are so readily disturbed by trespassers, be they anglers, birders or walkers who “just want to look at the lake”. Fly-tipping and of course littering, the latter of which is not usually an issue at Blashford Lakes fortunately, has also increased, and I was very saddened to see that most awful and unnecessary of modern British countryside sights for the first time at Blashford Lakes just a couple of weeks ago: that of a plastic bag of dog mess swinging from the branches of a tree along the Ivy Lake/Rockford permissive footpath ūüė¶ .

Readers of this blog are, I am sure, all respectful of our wildlife generally and of our nature reserve particularly, so please do let us know if you witness anyone behaving inappropriately. There often is no one in the office to pick up the phone but you are welcome to call 01425 472760 and leave a message, or alternatively email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk – if you could include a date, time, place and brief description of the wrong-doer and wrong-doing it would be very helpful, particularly as at least some of the inappropriate activity is undertaken on a fairly routine basis by the same individuals.

Please do not however attempt to challenge anyone directly as we would not want a more significant incident to deal with!

Sadly, like elsewhere in the County and across the country, we are seeing a small increase in antisocial behaviour at Blashford Lakes ūüė¶

With this Monday seeing us, as a nation, begin our journey out of lockdown with the children returning to school, the Trust is reviewing how we manage our work and sites alongside the easing of restrictions.

Some of our volunteer wardens will return this week adding to eyes and ears “on the ground” which will no doubt help with some of the aftermath of less welcome visitors and all being well our Welcome Volunteers will return at the end of the month and it is at the end of the month that we will review making the portable toilets available to visitors as well. For the time-being the guidance from the Government is to “stay local” and we are operating our sites under that premis.

Look forward to welcoming everyone back soon! In the meantime, stay safe.

Willow, wildflowers… and bittern!!

Yesterday we ran another willow weaving event, this time making living willow structures which were created straight into a pot filled with compost. If kept wet so they are able to root, the willow will continue to grow and once established they could be potted up or planted out into the garden.

We used common osier from our main willow bed alongside the colourful willows Megan and I harvested up near Lapwing Hide last week. Ten sets of two willow rods were pushed into the compost, with five sets angled to the right and five angled to the left, so when they were woven around each other they created a diamond pattern. The rods were then bound at the top to keep them in place. The finished structures looked great!

Willow sculptures

Fingers crossed they all grow well!

Now that the reserve is coming back to life after what feels like a very long, if mild, winter, we have been using our temporary signs to label some of the different plants and flowers that are adding welcome colour to the woodland floor, so do keep an eye out for them when you visit:

IMG_2674

Moschatel, or Town-Hall-Clock as it is also known, is flowering in a number of places along the edges of the footpath in the woodland. It is easy to miss, as it is low growing and the delicate flowers themselves are very small, growing up on a tall stalk, but they do look lovely. It is the unusual arrangement of the flower head that gives it the common name of Town-Hall-Clock, as each flower head comprises of five flowers, four of which face outwards at ninety degrees to each other to resemble a clock face. The fifth sits on top facing upwards.

Moschatel has a number of other common names, including five-faced bishop, hollowroot, tuberous crowfoot and muskroot. The latter apparently refers to the faint musk-like smell given off by the flowers as evening approaches. It is a delightful flower to find and worth keeping an eye out for, there is a label by an oak tree along the connecting path between Ivy North Hide and the path that runs down to the Woodland Hide and Ivy South, where it is carpeting the ground.

Moschatel

Moschatel flower

Yesterday, and again just now, we have had sightings of a bittern at Ivy North Hide, so if you visit this week it is well worth spending a bit of time in there and scanning the reed bed just in case it stays with us for a few days before moving on elsewhere. A group in the hide yesterday saw it fly out of the reeds to the right of the hide before going back down into the reeds to the left, whilst it was showing nicely a short while ago for those lucky enough to be in the hide at the right time.

A couple of redpoll are still visiting the feeders at the Woodland Hide and marsh harrier, common sandpiper and Mediterranean gull were all recorded yesterday on Ibsley Water. The long-tailed duck is also still present on Ibsley Water, it was there yesterday and was showing well this morning, being closer to the hide than I have seen it previously, albeit still a fair way off! There are also still high numbers of pintail, seen out on the water but also on the bank by Goosander Hide.

Pintail

Pintail

Today’s sunshine has also bought out the butterflies, on swapping the seasonal sign in Tern Hide over this morning Megan and I saw a peacock and brimstone, and we were joined by another brimstone whilst having lunch outside the Centre by the pond. A little more of today’s weather (along with a view of a bittern) would be lovely!

Yellow Days

It is often said that early spring flowers are mostly yellow and there is some truth in this, at Blashford Lakes just now it is certainly the most frequent flower colour. Although not usually actually the “Prime rose” or first flower the primrose is undoubtedly yellow.

primrose

One of the many primroses in flower near the Education Centre.

I am not entirely sure that they are native at Blashford, or at least if they were I suspect they were eradicated by the gravel workings and these are the result of plantings, however they do well and are spreading.

By contrast the wild daffodils are genuinely wild, they grow only where the original woodland ground surface remains, although they are also slowly spreading onto ground that was disturbed.

wild daffodil

wild daffodils

The surrounding area has quite a good population of wild daffodils, although they do show signs of hybridising near to the larger plantings of garden cultivars. For this reason we have removed just about all the cultivated varieties from the reserve, although we still manage to find a few hidden away somewhere every year.

One of the more important early nectar sources for insects is the lesser celandine, these are so reflectively yellow that they are difficult to photograph. They have  a dish-shaped flower which reflects the sun into the centre heating it up. The flowers also reflect ultraviolet light very strongly, especially around the flower centre, making them very attractive to bees and hoverflies which see these wavelengths very well.

lesser celandine

lesser celandine

Another very attractive flower to insects is willow, the catkins are also yellow, although this is because of the abundant pollen, which is also the main prize for many of the insects that visit.

Willow catkins

willow catkins

These are the male flowers and the trees are single sexed, so only about half have the “Pussy willow” flowers.

willow catkins with wasp

Willow catkins, look closely at one of the lower flowers and you can see a small wasp.

Although both sexes produce nectar the male trees are especially valuable for bees as they need pollen as a food source in the spring, apparently this stimulates the queens to lay eggs.

Other yellow flowers include gorse, flowering now ,although peaking usually in May and famously never not in flower hence the saying that “When gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of season”.

gorse

gorse, a very prickly member of the pea family.

In the alder carr the opposite-leaved golden saxifrage is now flowering, the flowers are not large or very obvious, but they continue the yellow theme.

opposite-leaved golden saxifrage

opposite-leaved golden saxifrage

This plant only colonised Blashford Lakes in the last ten years, I think carried down the Dockens Water, possibly from our reserve at Linwood where it is very common.

 

Getting ‘Otter

The last couple of days have really warmed up and you get the feeling that spring has really set in. The oak trees are coming into leaf and well before the ash too, so if you believe the rhyme we should be in for a warm summer. The warm weather has resulted in another one of our emperor moth hatching out, this time a male.

the Emperor

You can see the feathery antennae which are how he “smells” the air for the female’s pheromones.

There have also been  a lot more butterflies and other insects out and about, I saw several peacock and brimstone today and this slightly tattered comma.tattered comma

There are also other insects, although not as many as I would have expected, hoverflies seem very few, apart from the drone-fly Eristalis pertinax here posing on a cowslip.

Eristalis pertinax on cowslip

The spring flowers are moving on, the wild daffodil are almost all over and the bluebells are starting, less spectacular but still attractive are the tiny flowers of moschatel, or town-hall clock.

Mochattel

Yesterday I cam across a lot of tiny round growths on a tree stump, some with pale lumps on top, presumably the reproductive phase of something, I am not sure what, perhaps a slime mould? It is not a great picture,  but they were very, very small.

odd things

The winter birds have been continuing to go, I could not find any goldeneye today and the wigeon are down to a handful and even the shoveler down to a few tens. The Slavonian grebe may actually have gone as well, unusually it was asleep in the middle of the lake yesterday evening, quite at odds with usual behaviour and I am guessing it was having a good rest before flying off.¬†On the other side of the coin there was a common tern today, tantalisingly it was a ringed bird, but I could not read the ring. There has also been¬†a welcome return by Cetti’s warbler to the Ivy silt pond, after a long¬†absence.

However the highlight of the last two days came yesterday as I was heading to open Ivy South hide, I noticed some commotion in the water beside the path and guessed maybe it was a cormorant, coot or maybe a moorhen. It was close by so I stopped and looked down over a tree stump and there just 2.5m away were two otter they looked up at me for perhaps five seconds, then dived off to go under some overhanging trees, some 10m away. I phoned the office but by the time Jim and Tracy had arrived they had headed off across the pond and out of sight. I could have got a great picture, but actually would not have done, by the time I had got the camera out and ready they would have gone, so instead I enjoyed a fabulous close encounter. The only close-up picture of a mammal I can offer is this young rabbit snapped with my 60mm macro lens today.

bunny

 

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.

 

 

Upon Reflection

Today was yet another dry, sunny, early spring day, the fourth in a row. Despite the sunshine it was quite fresh, with a cool easterly breeze. Still the sunshine tempted many creatures out into the open. I saw my first grass snake and adder of the year and a peacock butterfly with red admiral also being seen. It was wise to stay out of the wind though and find ways to make the most of the sun’s warmth. The butterflies were staying on the sheltered side of lines of trees but it is possible to do more. It is well known that dark things warm up more and this is why snakes often shelter under dark rocks and why surveyors use roofing felts to attract them in. I saw a number of hoverflies out and about including several Eristalis pertinax.

Eristalis pertinax

They seemed to favour perching on very pale or white surfaces, presumably because they were reflecting the light, although they would not get as warm as a dark surface. I also saw my first large bee-fly of the year and it was also on a pale surface.

bee-fly Bombylius major

Dark insects on very pale surfaces make for difficult photography, but these were the best that I could do.

Many spring flowers are yellow, one of the first in most years is the colt’s foot, although this year the daffodils seem to have beaten it.

colt's foot

The extremely bright yellow is also very hard to capture in a photograph, but I think the yellow flowers of lesser celandine are even more difficult.

lesser celendine

These have shiny, brilliant yellow petals, in some species and perhaps in this also the petals actually concentrate the heat of the sun so that the centre of the flower is heated making it more attractive to pollinating insects. Despite colt’s foot and celandine being attractive to pollinating flies I saw none actually doing so, but then insects still seem to be in short supply, even though many flowers are now in bloom.

In bird news I hear the bittern was seen again yesterday, although not today, but it must surely be due to go soon. On Ibsley Water the Slavonian grebe and both black-necked grebe were seen and the gull roost contained at least on adult ring-billed gull and  a number of Mediterranean gull.