30 Days Wild – Day 1

It’s that time of year again and after a rather slack time for blogging I will try an pick up the baton again. Although we are moving close to Mid-summer’s Day, it actually still feels quiet spring-like, despite the weather having finally turned warmer. So I will start with bluebell, still in flower in lots of places at Blashford Lakes, although just starting to go over in places.

Bluebell

Ferns are a feature of the woods around the Centre, especially those self-sown on the old spoil heaps left by the gravel workings. Perhaps the least “ferny” is the hart’s tongue fern, which completely lacks the pinnatifid form that is normally associated with a fern

Hart’s tongue fern

Despite getting warmer the moth trapping remains very poor, but the trap does not only catch moths, one of last night’s non-moths was this rather cute looking brown lacewing, I am not sure of the species as they are rather difficult to identify in life.

Brown lacewing

Warm and dry conditions at this time of year can result in “snowfall” at Blashford, or at least that is what it can seem like, as the willow seed is shed in clouds and collects in drifts along the paths.

Seeding willow

Having said the moth trapping has been poor, I did catch one rarely seen species last night in my garden trap, a buttoned snout, not a lot to look at perhaps, but a new record for my garden. It had been though they were in steep decline, having been regularly found by earlier naturalists. However it seems our modern reliance on light traps for recording moths maybe to blame. They do not often come to light, so were considered scarce, but if you look for the caterpillars, as entomologists did before they had light traps, it turns out they are not so hard to find. How you look is important, especially if you want to infer change.

Buttoned snout

On the first day of Spring…

A drift of wild daffodils near Woodland Hide

…what better way to celebrate and welcome it in than with, yes, you guessed it, more wild daffodils! If you’re fed up of seeing wild daffodils on these posts you may want to skip the next bit, but if like me you look forward to their blooming each year and mourn their passing, have a look at this short film I recorded a couple of weeks ago on behalf of a colleague:

Although the wild daffodil is unquestionably my favourite wildflower of late winter/early spring there are a number of close runners up, one of which is the tiny and so easily overlooked moschatel, or town hall clock:

It is tiny, and I think that’s why I like it so much. A bit like the scarlet male flowers of the hazel, seeing and appreciating their diminutive, perfectly cubic, flower heads is like discovering a secret known only to a select few every year.

Like the wild daffodil, and the bluebell whose leaves are becoming more prominent week by week around the nature reserve, moschatel is an ancient woodland indicator; i.e. a flower which indicates that you are in a woodland habitat that has survived as continuous woodland cover for a period of at least 400 years. The biodiversity of such a woodland is far, far greater than that of a newly planted woodland. The more ancient woodland indicator species there are present, the more likely that it is that that woodland is “ancient “.

As well as being Spring, today, the 20th March, also marks the first ever “World Rewilding Day”.

Rewilding is a relatively new term, but it is a concept whose value in helping to achieve the reversal of the climate change crisis through carbon capture, as well as, of course, helping to conserve biodiversity and reverse the terrible decline of so many species, has very quickly become a mainstream concept, no longer the preserve of a few scientists, radical landowners or guerrilla conservationists. Those few individuals in this at the start must today be incredibly pleased and surely also not a little surprised, that rewilding is now a world wide celebration!

What has the moschatel pictured below got to do with rewilding? Well, growing where it is within a small woodland amidst what was an aggregate quarry it is itself probably a rewilded plant. The Dockens Water river which flows through Blashford Lakes has retained and protected a narrow belt of ancient semi-natural woodland while all around it over the years man has farmed, constructed a WWII airbase and extracted sand and gravel. Once the quarrying activity stopped plants, animals, fungi and all the many other life forms which comprise our woodland ecosystem, are slowly, but steadily, recolonising the land.

It’s been rewilded.

The last couple of years has seen a huge drive to plant trees across the UK in a bid to slow or reverse the effects of climate change through the capture of carbon by trees. Planting tree’s is no bad thing, particularly in an urban environment. But in a non-urban setting nature can, and will, “plant” trees far better. Tree’s plant themselves if allowed to do so and if they are protected from intensive grazing or trampling. The resulting woodland will be more natural, more resilient and more diverse. And that is exactly what you can see happening on a small scale in the secondary woodland habitat around BlashfordLakes. It is far from being as biodiverse as the woodland along the Dockens Water, but, give it time… the moschatel and wild daffodils, and everything else, will come!

Of course in this time of enheightened awareness of climate change and rewilding we must remember that biodiversity is about far more than trees. Heathland, wetland, bog and grassland habitats can, and do, all sequester carbon and can, and do, all provide habitat for many rare species. Planting tree’s, or even allowing a woodland to develop naturally, in one of our few remaining ancient meadow habitats for instance would be as catastrophic for wildlife as ploughing it up or building on it. Indiscriminate tree planting, albeit with all of the best intentions, is not always the best or right thing to do.

Moschatel: the flowers are only just starting to open. Most are still just small green “pom-poms” and even the open one in this picture has yet to open fully. Well worth looking out for over the next few weeks – and “getting in” on the secret!

Filling in the gaps

It has been some time since my last blog… I’m sorry about the gap! I had a bit of time off over New Year – which seems like a super long time ago now – and since the lockdown I have been part time furloughed (and spending more time exploring more locally to me in Salisbury), so I’m at Blashford three days a week at present.

So, after Christmas I had a break from weaving willow wreaths – our final wreath total was a whopping 94 (out of 100) sold for a donation, which was a fantastic response to the activity and we hope those who bought them enjoyed decorating them. I think we may have to offer it again next year…

This was briefly replaced with a ‘Forest Folk’ activity for our younger visitors, where they could make their own forest friend or stickman then enjoy some simple activities along the wild walk loop. Although short lived, due to the lockdown, a number of families took part and we will be able to put the activity and signs out again when restrictions are lifted.

I’ve also been out and about helping Bob more, mainly to provide first aid cover whilst he’s chainsawing, and it’s been nice to spend time on other bits of the reserve. We’ve spent a bit of time widening the footpath up by the screens on the approach to Lapwing Hide:

Whilst out and about it’s easy to get distracted by the signs of spring – it’s nice to know it’s on its way! I’ve seen my first scarlet elf cups and primroses are also in flower. The snowdrops near the Centre have emerged and the buds are very close now to opening fully.

I also found a nice clump of jelly ear fungus along the Dockens Water path…

… and a very nice blob of Yellow brain or witches’ butter:

yellow brain

Yellow brain fungus or Witches’ butter

According to European folklore, if yellow brain fungus appeared on the gate or door of a house it meant a witch had cast a spell on the family living there. The only way to remove the spell was to pierce the fungus several times with straight pins until it went away, which gave it the common name ‘witches’ butter’. In Sweden, it was burnt to protect against evil spirits.

Another sign of spring I like to look for each year is on the hazel trees. If you look really closely at the hazel you might be able to spot some of its incredibly tiny pink flowers, which look a bit like sea anemones. Hazel is monoecious, with both the male and female flowers found on the same tree. The yellow male catkins appear first before the leaves and hang in clusters, whilst the female flowers are tiny, bud-like and with red styles.

Once pollinated by pollen from other hazel trees, the female flowers develop into oval fruits which then mature into hazelnuts.

On the insect front, the only moth I’ve seen recently was this mottled umber, which greeted me on the Centre door as I was opening up one morning:

mottled umber

Mottled umber

The robins near Ivy Silt Pond continue to be very obliging, posing for photos, and I’ve also been watching the kingfisher by the pond outside the back of the Centre. It seems to prefer this spot when the lake levels are higher and visibility poorer, making it harder to fish for food.

robin

Robin

kingfisher

Kingfisher

And we have on occasion had some rain! These photos were from the heavy downpours last week:

On Sunday I was half expecting to arrive to a snowy scene, but it seemed to just miss the reserve. On my drive in it became less and less wintery and I arrived to a thin layer of melting slush, having left behind a rather white Salisbury. Given I had to get home again it was probably a good thing, but I admit I was slightly disappointed! It was though a good day for photographing water droplets, as everything was melting and there were plenty around!

I will finish with a blue tit enjoying the sunshine up by Lapwing Hide, and will endeavour to blog again soon… I’m woefully behind with my Young Naturalists updates…

blue tit

Blue tit enjoying the sunshine

Accommodation Crisis

The common tern are back at Blashford Lakes, or at least the first few pairs are. It is always good to see them back and the reserve has proved very good for them. We do not have a large population, typically around 20 pairs, but they are very successful, sometimes rearing an average of more than two chicks per pair, an exceptional fledging rate.

common tern

common tern

Our terns nest on rafts that we put out for them, but this year we cannot mobilise the staff and volunteers to do this due to the impossibility of maintaining social distancing when doing the launching. We do have one raft out and there are some shingle patches on one or two islands, so we will have to hope these will be enough to allow them to nest.

I posted a picture of the camera view inside our tawny owl box the other day, full not of owlets, but grey squirrels. The young squirrels have now moved on and the box has immediately been occupied by a pair of stock dove, showing the premium there is on large tree cavities.

stock doves in owl box

stock doves in owl box

Other species are less constrained for nest sites and for them the breeding season moves on. Coot are nest building all around the lakes, or at least anywhere there is something to secure a nest to with some cover.

coot

coot

I have been going into work less frequently than usual and trying to work from home, however there is only so much paperwork a reserves officer can do and site tasks are starting to become more pressing. One in particular has become rather horrifyingly apparent as the spring has unfolded and that is the extent of progress made by ash die-back disease in the last few months. It is now obvious that large numbers of trees have died and will need to be removed. I will leave any that are away from paths as standing dead wood, but unfortunately this still leaves a lot that will need to be felled.

ash die-back

As the trees have come into leaf the full extent of ash die-back has become apparent

Spring has definitely sprung

Yesterday I was keeping an eye on things at Blashford and after a bit of time finishing things off in the office (the last couple of days have been filled with emails, creating signs and cancelling events and school visits) I had lunch outside the back of the centre with one of our very friendly robins for company and decided to make the most of the glorious weather and venture out onto the reserve.

P1160843

Lunchtime company

Being at Blashford with the car park empty and the sun shining did remind me of the very quiet days we have on the reserve in the summer, when you know everyone has headed to the beach and the coast to stay cool. The main reminder of spring was the increase in birdsong, it was lovely to hear chiffchaff calling, and also the new growth on the trees.

willow leaves

New growth on the willow 

willow catkins

Willow catkins

Nearing the entrances however it was apparent people were very much still out and about and there were a fair few cars parked up. Fortunately most people were respecting social distancing, however I did have to stand in vegetation at one point to allow a group to pass who were quite happy to walk, albeit in single file, down the middle of the footpath. Out footpaths are not that wide… so please do take care out there and give people space!

Keeping the car parks closed does encourage fewer people to visit the reserve, which gives everyone a chance to keep their distance, but it does also reduce the risk of fly tipping on the site. Between me leaving on Friday and arriving back on Sunday a large amount of rubbish, including a couple of single mattresses, had been dumped in the first lay by on Ellingham Drove, if coming from the A338, and although this may have happened over night we have in the past had fly tipping occur during day inside our gates on the approach to Tern Hide and also on the nature reserve itself, near the water treatment works. Although those who fly tip will always sadly find somewhere for it to go, at least having the reserve secure at all times will reduce the opportunities available for fly tipping on the reserve itself, where the site is now generally quieter and our staff presence lower. Unfortunately with quieter roads this issue is something that may sadly increase over the next few weeks and months.

My real reason though for venturing close to the entrance was to stare at the very fine display of moss growing on the top of the wooden fence by our gate. I had been waiting for a sunny day to photograph it and usually when I am passing I am driving, either having just arrived or heading home. After a bit of searching, I think it is capillary thread moss, but am happy to be corrected if wrong!

capillary thread moss

Capillary thread moss

The hazel trees near the entrance are also displaying fresh bright green leaves and lesser celandine carpets the woodland floor below them.

hazel leaves

Hazel leaves

lesser celandine

Lesser celandine

I followed the path along the Dockens Water, spotting a brimstone butterfly but it did not settle for a photo. On my way up to Lapwing Hide I saw great tit and blue tit feeding amongst the willows and nearer to the hide itself chiffchaff, Cetti’s warbler, water rail and little grebe were all calling and I saw a reed bunting in the trees.

I also spied my first adder of the year, something I wasn’t necessarily expecting as it was now mid afternoon and had warmed up considerably.

P1160887 2

Adder in amongst dead wood

On the edges of the paths colt’s-foot is flowering. It looks like a short dandelion but has a much rounder middle. Flowering early in spring, the flowers appear before the leaves do which has led to the plant getting the name ‘Son-before-father’.

coltsfoot

Colt’s-foot

Blackthorn is also blossoming and looking very pretty against a bright blue sky:

blackthorn blossom

Blackthorn blossom

After walking round to Goosander Hide I cut back across to Tern Hide via the closed Hanson path and saw my first peacock butterfly of the year, which was more obliging than the brimstone and paused just long enough for a photo.

peacock

Peacock

I popped in to Tern Hide to check all was well and see if there were any little ringed plover yet on the shore line. I couldn’t see any, or the common sandpiper which had been quite frequent, but did see teal, wigeon, tufted duck, goldeneye, shovelar, goosander and good numbers of pintail out on the water.

ibsley water and tern hide

Tern Hide and Ibsley Water from the viewing platform

On heading back to the Centre I decided to keep following the path along the Dockens Water to see if there were any signs of flowers on the bluebells (not yet, but it won’t be long!) and also to check the boardwalk was still taped off at either end where it is currently closed.

The hawthorn along the path is another tree coming into leaf. Its flowers are similar to blackthorn, however hawthorn comes into leaf first, and will not flower until May, whereas the flowers of blackthorn appear before the leaves, as seen in the photo above.

hawthorn

Hawthorn leaves

All in all it was a very nice wander around the reserve in the sunshine. I am working from home today, listening to the chaffinch and dunnock singing outside, and will be doing so more over the coming weeks and months so it was good to get out on the reserve while I still could. I will be spending more time in my little garden and walking my dog down to the closest stretch of the River Bourne in Laverstock, or possibly up to the Laverstock Downs themselves if they remain quiet. So I will finish this blog with a photo of a primrose, as there are still plenty flowering on the reserve:

primrose

Primrose

The World Still Turns and Birds and Bees are Still Doing What They do Best

Despite all that is going on in our world, the seasons are moving on, and today this was very noticeable with the first sand martin of the spring being seen on the reserve. There are also several chiffchaff singing and at least 2 blackcap. Long-tailed tit are building in lots of places, I don’t think I have ever known so many pairs, probably a result of a very mild winter.

I saw my first grey-backed mining bee a few days ago, as is typical they were all males, who emerge earlier than the females. Today I saw the first female, she had not long emerged but was already attracting the attention of several males.

Andrena vaga female

Grey-backed mining bee (female)

This bee has only recently recolonised the UK and so far has only a few sites, Blashford having one of the larger known colonies. It is one of the earliest solitary bee species to emerge and specialises in feeding on willow flowers, which are one of the very earliest sources of pollen and nectar.

Andrena vaga pair 2 5x8

Grey-backed mining bee female with attendant male

The males wait around the nesting banks for the first females to emerge and try to mate as soon as they come to the surface. Mating itself seems to be a swift affair from what I saw today.

Andrena vaga pair

Grey-backed mining bee mating pair

Over the next few weeks I will try to blog as regularly as I can, I am conscious that many people will not be able to get out and about, indeed it is quite possible these blogs may become about my garden or even just what I can see from the window before things are resolved. I will also be putting posts on Twitter, Bob Chapman @bobservablelife

Our human centred world may be tumbling about us as things we rely upon turn out to be nothing like as robust as we might have hoped. At the same time nature, much of which we have sacrificed in pursuit of growing what is now falling about us, will be carrying on, I will try to record some of that continuity as I come across it for as long as I can.

 

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!

Spring showers

Yesterday morning after opening up the hides, welcome volunteer Hilary and I were treated to views of a Common or Lesser redpoll close to the Welcome Hut. It was hopping around on the ground looking for food before flying up onto the feeder base where it investigated the hole the feeder usually sits in, unfortunately not currently there in an attempt to deter the rats from getting too at home, pausing long enough for me to get an ok-ish photo then flew off.

redpoll

Redpoll disappointed by the lack of a bird feeder!

Redpoll have been noticeably absent this winter and early spring, my only view prior to this being two feeding on the bird feeder station outside the Woodland Hide from the TV in the Education Centre lobby – admittedly a very good view but not quite the same! Two have been coming to the feeders by the Woodland Hide regularly now for a few days, today there was a record of three in the hide diary, so it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re at the reserve and haven’t managed to spy one yet this year.

After this rather exciting sighting, I got ready for a willow weaving event and spent the morning helping participants have a go at making fish and snails using willow from the reserve and adding in a bit of soft rush to the fish to make them nice and stripey. The finished results looked brilliant, especially the fish as they were so colourful. A fun time was I think had by all!

Yesterday was a very mixed day weather wise, when the sun was out it was lovely, but we also had a hail shower and another couple of showers which did pass through quickly but were very heavy. I had gone out to re-write a couple of temporary signs when I got caught out by one of these, and seeing blue sky in the distance decided to shelter under a holly tree and wait it out, where I was joined by the Saunders family who decided to do the same thing.

We were talking and they rather excitedly said they had just seen a duck sat high up in a tree, something they had heard of but never actually seen before. I have never seen a duck up in a tree either, and when it stopped raining they very kindly walked back along the path to show me. I had walked straight past her, so it was a brilliant spot!

Mallard

Female mallard

She is quite high up, so I assume she is nesting, and fingers crossed she’s successful. She was certainly looking content!

As well as being lucky enough to see the mallard yesterday, I also watched two treecreepers having what I assume was a territorial dispute. They were both making their way up to the tops of two separate but very close to each other trees, then on reaching the top flew at each other before tumbling down to the ground together. They then went back to the trees, climbed to the tops, did it all over again before flying further apart. If it wasn’t a territorial dispute, perhaps it was some kind of courtship behaviour, but either way it was fascinating to see. Treecreepers seem to be particularly visible and easy to spot at the minute, partly because the trees are yet to be covered in leaves, and they are a lovely bird to watch. I was too busy watching their fluttery tumbling to get a photo but did manage this one afterwards:

treecreeper

Treecreeper

A heavy shower is enough to form a rather large puddle in the main nature reserve car park at present where the ground water levels are so high, and although yesterday you could skirt the edge after a heavy downpour without wellies it is worth bearing this in mind if you visit after a heavy shower. After checking the water levels in the car park I spent a short while in the hide watching a pair of Pied wagtails moving on the shore of Ibsley Water.

wagtail

Pied wagtail

The Long-tailed duck was still present yesterday, along with a Common sandpiper on the shoreline and two Marsh harrier. Pintail are still present on Ibsley Water in large numbers and the male Goldeneye have been displaying, tossing their heads back before stretching their necks up and pointing their bills to the sky.

Today work experience student Megan and I ventured up to Lapwing Hide to cut some of the more colourful willows that are growing in the reedbed and spotted a Common snipe hiding amongst the soft rush. Its stripes and barring provide excellent camouflage:

snipe

Spot the snipe!

We were also ever so slightly distracted by the Kingfisher which returned to the Education Centre pond today, it seems to prefer this spot it when its wet! It did perch briefly on one of the antlers of the willow deer:

Kingfisher

Kingfisher perched on the willow deer

Kingfisher 2

Kingfisher by the Education Centre pond

Finally, jumping back to yesterday and just to prove it was a very showery kind of day, there was a lovely double rainbow over Ivy Lake when I locked Ivy South Hide. If I’d had my camera on me I might have got it in one photo, but had to make do with two instead:

 

Signs of Spring…

Yesterday was grey, murky and pretty miserable – this morning the sun is out and everywhere is looking beautiful, and yes, despite an apparent lack of winter so far this year, Spring does seem to be drawing near, if not upon us already.

Although we have yet to encounter any on the nature reserve earlier in the week I found some frogspawn in a shallow pool near home in the New Forest and the last couple of evenings I have encountered “toad patrols” out helping  migrating toads cross roads safely outside Poulner and Sway – these volunteers do an amazing job under difficult, and, at times, dangerous conditions in the dark, saving many thousands of toads from an untimely and unnatural demise under the wheels of our cars. Readers of this blog are likely to be considerate, respectful and appreciative of their efforts, but of course many motorist’s are not and quickly succumb to “road rage” if required to slow down on their commute home so do watch out, take care and vouch for the toad volunteers where ever and whenever you can!

On the reserve itself the great spotted woodpeckers are drumming on their favourite drumming posts, including the usual dead “stag head” branches of the large oak between the river and the centre car park, tits are being seen investigating nest boxes and although the snowdrops have been flowering for some weeks, and scarlet elf cups fruiting for some weeks, this week they have been doing so in force and, down by the Woodland Hide, the first of our wild daffodils is now flowering too:

A more unusual, or at least early, first sighting of the year was that of a large female grass snake outside Ivy North Hide this morning and reported to me by visitors Mark & Alison as I wrote this blog post! Mark very kindly emailed me his picture:

First grass snake of 2020 by Mark Dartnall

First grass snake of 2020 by Mark Dartnall

Elsewhere it is really business as usual with not much changing – still no bittern, still a kingfisher at Ivy South Hide, still loads of wildfowl on Ivy Lake and still a starling murmurartion in the valley, although this does now seem to have moved from Mockbeggar to a roost site west of the A338 just north of Ellingham Village and best viewed (hopefully against a stunning sunset!) from the viewing platform at the back of the main car park.

With the lighter evenings the starlings are now starting to gather shortly after 4.30pm and going to roost by about 5pm. It’s not often the car park is closed bang on 4.30pm, but it does happen on occasion and although we are as flexible as possible sometimes the staff or volunteers locking up do need to leave when they need to leave. As the evenings continue to draw out do consider parking the car outside the car park gates, safely off the roadside, so you can watch  the starlings perform without interruption should the site need securing in a more timely fashion!

Bluebells to Beaulieu

I have been very absent from the blog this last few months, so this is another quick round up of what our Young Naturalists group have been up to since April – it seems like such a long time ago now!

At the end of April we visited another Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust nature reserve, Roydon Woods.  Spring is a great time to visit and we had timed ours perfectly with the flowering bluebells.

Bluebells

Bluebells

The group also enjoyed photographing and identifying some of the other spring flowers, including Bugle, Greater stitchwort, Wood spurge and Wood anemone:

We also saw Primroses, Lesser celandine, Arum maculatum or Lords-and-Ladies, Speedwell and Wild strawberry. There were also a number of Dor beetles on the paths:

Dor beetle

For the birds, we saw Song thrush, Buzzard, Redstart, Black cap, Great tit, Blue tit, Blackbird, Swallow and Raven and heard Great spotted woodpecker and Chiffchaff.

It was great to discover a different part of the forest with the group, and perhaps we could return again in the Autumn to experience the nature reserve at a different time of year.

During May we met twice, once for the Bird Trail and again at the end of the month to carry out some nest box monitoring with British Trust for Ornithology volunteer Brenda, who keeps a watchful eye over all of the nest boxes on the reserve.

The Bird Trail was organised by Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust in partnership with Hampshire Ornithological Society, with each competing team vying to be the one which saw, identified and recorded the most species of bird (and other wildlife – the number of which would be critical in the event of a tie in the number of birds seen).

Following a set route that took in Tern Hide, Ivy South Hide, Woodland Hide and Ivy North Hide, we were also kept busy with a range of other wildlife activities throughout the day including a bird ringing demonstration, pond and river dipping, looking at the moths caught in the light trap, owl pellet dissecting, a static birds of prey demonstration by Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre and a bird feeding strategy activity provided by New Forest National Park Authority Rangers.

Jim was able to blog after the event, and our Young Naturalists team did manage to improve on last time’s second place to come first, recording 44 bird species over the course of the day. Our highlights were probably the Hobby, which flew over the Education Centre whilst we and some of the other teams were having lunch, along with the Chaffinch, simply because it took us all day to see one – we had to wait until we had completed our circuit of all the bird hides and had walked back up to the feeder by the Welcome Hut.

At the end of May, Brenda offered to once again take the group round a number of the nest boxes on the reserve as she checked them and ringed the young. They were delighted to be able to peak inside the nest boxes, a couple of which had been made by older members of the group, see the birds being ringed and handle them carefully before putting them back in their nests.

The nest box monitoring and checking on the reserve by Brenda is carried out following the BTO’s Nest Recording Scheme Code of Conduct and we ensured at all times that nest disturbance was kept to a minimum and our observing did not have a negative impact on their chance of success. The group were incredibly quiet, careful, asked lots of great questions and knew how lucky they were to get the opportunity to join Brenda for a closer look inside the boxes. 

After spending time with Brenda we headed off down to the river in search of two invasive species, Himalayan balsalm and Pink purslane, which when found we pulled up. Hopefully we made a little bit of a difference!

At the end of June, which doesn’t seem quite so long ago, we returned to the Beaulieu River for another canoe safari, an activity the group did a couple of summers ago and really enjoyed. It was brilliant to see the wildlife from a different perspective.

Group

Receiving our briefing

Whilst out on the water we saw Little egrets, Oystercatchers, a Common tern, lots and lots of Canada geese, Swallows, Black headed gulls, a Buzzard, Marbled white butterflies, dragonflies and a Bee which we rescued from the water.

We tried samphire (not popular with all!), watched fish jumping and stuck our hands in the Mermaid’s hair.

The highlight though had to once again be the thousands upon thousands of Moon jellyfish which we paddled through along one stretch of the river:

We had a great day wildlife watching from our canoes, but only Alex opted to jump in off the jetty at the very end:

Alex

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