Two for one

I am behind with our Young Naturalists updates, I think mainly because New Year and time off got in the way after our December session, so here’s a quick update from the last couple of months.

We met in between Christmas and New Year for a festive campfire cookout, something the group had enjoyed doing at the end of 2017 and requested again. We had a slightly random feast, depending on what food items each of the group had brought along, including crumpets, sausages, bacon, a very festive and warming fruit punch and of course marshmallows.

After tidying everything away we headed off for a wander and decided to go down to the Dockens Water to see if we could spot any tracks in the soft ground. We found plenty of signs of deer and some much smaller tracks which we decided could have been squirrel, I should have taken something for scale!

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Walking along the Dockens Water

Corinne from the Cameron Bespolka Trust, who very kindly sponsors our Young Naturalists group, enabling us to run the sessions, venture further afield and enlist the help of specialists, had called in to leave Trust t-shirts and Great grey shrike pin badges for the group. The group were delighted with both, and we handed them out again in January to those who couldn’t make it in December. Despite the cold, I managed to convince a number to put them on straight away for a photo:

At the end of January we once again took part in the Big Garden Bird Watch, a survey we have now taken part in for three years. We spent an hour in the woodland hide, recording the greatest number of each species seen at any one time, no mean feat where the chaffinch were concerned!

In total, after comparing results from each pair, we had counted 91 birds and 18 different species, along with three grey squirrels. They were: 38 chaffinch, 9 reed bunting, 6 goldfinch, 5 siskin and blackbird, 4 great tit, blue tit and dunnock, 3 long-tailed tit, 2 greenfinch, robin, jackdaw and woodpigeon, and 1 coal tit, nuthatch, brambling, great spotted woodpecker and jay.  Both the chaffinch and reed bunting were hard to count where they were mostly feeding on the ground, and I’m sure we missed a few. In addition, and not included in our results as they were flying over, Will spotted a cormorant and herring gull, so it was a good bird watching hour!

Compared to the past two years, our number of species has gradually increased, with 15 different species recorded in January 2017 and 16 recorded in 2018. Interestingly chaffinch numbers have risen from 16 to 23 to 38 whilst no reed bunting were recorded in 2018 and only 1 in 2017. Greenfinch numbers have decreased with 2 recorded this year compared to 4 in both 2018 and 2017, whilst 2017 saw 10 blackbird out in front of the hide, compared to 4 in 2018 and 5 this year. Finally, last year we picked a good hour and saw 1 lesser redpoll, something I had been hoping for this year, but it really does just depend on what is about on the day. It will be interesting to see what results we get next year.

After lunch we headed back out to lay a short stretch of hedge along the reserve boundary, past Ellingham Pound and by the A338. Stretches of this hedge have been laid at different times over the past few years and it has been laid with wildlife in mind rather than traditionally. A nice, thick, denser hedge is the perfect sanctuary for smaller mammals and birds, giving them a safer place to nest and hide from predators. As it continues to grow it will thicken out and grow up, with the new growth providing the perfect cover.

The two photos below show Geoff explaining to the group how to cut at an angle into the tree so it will bend and lay over those previously cut without breaking, and the stretch of hedge before we began working.

As well as laying the trees, we did a bit of ‘tidying up’, so to speak, clearing the many brambles growing in between and entwining around them to make them easier to lay and also more comfortable for us to get to them, and also as this hedge is hawthorn and blackthorn, cutting back any of the branches likely to again impede our task.

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Cutting back

We managed to lay a good stretch whilst we were out, leaving the odd tree still standing and working in from both ends. There is not much left now to lay, so perhaps we will get a chance to head back to it again another time or the volunteers will be able to lay the final bit. The weather had changed for my ‘after’ photo, but hopefully you can see the difference. The gravel mound across the road is certainly more obvious!

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The hedge after

Thanks to Geoff, Nigel and Roma for your help on Sunday.

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

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Who would live in a house like this…

On Thursday I joined volunteers Brenda, Jacki and Sarah to put up the twelve nest boxes made by our Young Naturalists last October.

Brenda had made a few changes to the boxes for us: attaching a metal plate to the entrance hole which will prevent larger birds and other predators from enlarging the hole to gain access; adding a couple of drainage holes to the bases of each box; drilling fixing holes to allow wire to be passed through so the top of the box can be secured firmly to a tree; and finally extra hooks to ensure the box lids closed firmly.

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Nest boxes built by our Young Naturalists group in October

The boxes were used to replace some of the older ones on the reserve that had seen better days, rather than increasing the number on site as checking them all takes time! Once they were positioned on to a tree, Jacki recorded the direction the box was facing, the height of the box, its GPS, the species of tree it was attached to and the number of the box.

Most of the boxes were attached quite low to trees – bird boxes do not need to be high and fixing them low means they can be easily checked by volunteers without the need for a ladder, speeding up the process. We did however attach one box higher than the others, in the hope of enticing a pair of nuthatch to make it their home, so low boxes don’t suit all species.

Brenda and Jacki are going to keep us updated with our Young Naturalist nest boxes, fingers crossed they will be put to good use and we can follow what happens, who moves in and how many chicks fledge successfully. All of the data they collect is passed on to the British Trust for Ornithology and helps to build a better picture of the breeding success of our birds across Britain.

We look forward to our updates and hopefully later on in the Spring when there is less chance of us disturbing any activity we will be able to assist Brenda and Jacki with some of the monitoring.

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Blue tit checking out one of the nest boxes on site

 

 

Out and About in the Sunshine

It has been very, very dry recently and reasonably sunny, however it has also been quite cold for a lot of the time, with north or north-east winds. This has made for quite a good spring for insects, certainly better than for several years, although it could do with warming up a bit and we will need some rain, not too much, just enough to keep the vegetation green. Yesterday it was warmer and the wind swung round to a more southerly direction.

I finally saw my second dragonfly of the year, I have seen lots of damselflies but dragons have been in very short supply. Although the view was brief I think it was a hairy dragonfly. I also found several of one of my favourite insects, groundhoppers, small relations to grasshoppers that get easily overlooked as they are adult in spring. There are three species in Britain and we get two of them at Blashford, or at least sop far I have only found two species. They favour damp, bare ground and can both fly and swim! The one below is a slender groundhopper.

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Slender groundhopper

I was out bird surveying at the start of the day at Linwood reserve and noticed that the leaves on the oak there are mostly brown, almost all the first flush of leaves dead. Linwood lies in the valley of the Dockens Water a well known frost-hollow, these leaves had all been killed by the late frost that also had my early potatoes. This will be bad news for the nesting blue tit on the reserve as they mainly feed their chicks on winter moth caterpillars and these eat the first flush of oak leaves.

Hawthorn, or may, traditionally flowers in May, although often it seems to be earlier, this year it has lived up to the name and was in full bloom in the first week of the month. Although it has lots of flowers they do not seem to attract as many insects as the earlier blackthorn flowers, however one in a good sunny spot can still be worth checking for bees, hoverflies and beetles. I spotted this leaf beetle nectaring on the bush close to Ivy South hide as I locked up yesterday afternoon.

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leaf beetle on hawthorn

Yesterday’s birds included a male wheatear on the Lichen Heath and the long-staying Bonaparte’s gull on Ibsley Water.

 

 

A bird in the hand…

Yesterday our Young Naturalists were privileged to be joined by British Trust for Ornithology bird ringers for a special ringing demonstration here at Blashford Lakes. The ringing scheme organised by the BTO aims to monitor the survival rates of birds whilst collecting information about their productivity and movements, providing vital support for conservation efforts. A lightweight, uniquely numbered metal ring is placed around the bird’s leg, enabling birds to be identified as individuals in a reliable and harmless manner.

BTO volunteer bird ringers Trevor Codlin, Chris Lycett and Kevin Sayer arrived bright and early to set up their nets and begin ringing in our willow wood, where we had put up an additional feeder to entice the birds in. Luckily they did not need much enticing, and by the time the group arrived we had a nice variety of birds to look at.

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Ringing demonstration with Chris and Kevin

Trevor, Kevin and Chris demonstrated and talked through the processes involved, including catching the birds using a mist net, ringing the birds, the different measurements taken and how to carefully release them.

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The Young Naturalists were even able to release some of the smaller birds themselves, with Chris keeping a watchful eye. This was definitely the highlight and something they all thoroughly enjoyed!

We were really lucky to see a great variety of birds up close, including reed bunting, firecrest, goldcrest, great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, long tailed tit, coal tit, blue tit, great tit, robin and greenfinch. Holding a bird is definitely not something you get to do every day and it was fabulous to give the Young Naturalists the opportunity to release them after they had been ringed, measured and weighed. To see the birds this close was a real experience and we all thoroughly enjoyed the demonstration, so thank you again to Trevor, Kevin and Chris for your patience, expertise and for giving up your Sunday morning!

To find out more about bird ringing please visit the BTO website.

After lunch we carried out a bird survey of the woodland birds from Woodland Hide. We spotted 15 different species, including at least 16 chaffinch, 10 blackbird, 5 siskin, blue tit, goldfinch and long-tailed tit, 4 greenfinch, 3 robin and great tit, 2 brambling, dunnock and great spotted woodpecker and 1 reed bunting and nuthatch.

We also found time to visit Ivy South hide, where the bittern was showing nicely in the reedbed to the south of Ivy Lake and three goosanders were also present. Hopefully you can make out the bittern in Talia’s photo below, just above the two Canada geese!

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Bittern spotting by Talia Felstead

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