A Black and Grey Day

That is black as in the tern, as there was another juvenile black tern today and even better, grey as in grey phalarope!

grey phalarope

Grey phalarope, juvenile

Yet another in a proud line of “record shots” of wildlife at Blashford, my excuse is that it was a long way off and I have to say to is much better than my efforts the last time we had a phalarope at Blashford. Of course it should not be here, it has been blown in by the north-westerly gales and Ibsley Water was just the nearest thing to the open sea that it could find.

Despite the phalarope and black tern and a supporting caste of 2 ruff, 2 dunlin a ringed plover and Walter the great white egret my personal show-stopping wildlife spectacle of the day was actually the house martins. Thousands and thousands of them, I think at least 8000, possibly even more than 10,000 at the start of the day. They swarmed over the water like gnats with a 1000 or so swallow a few hundred sand martin and still a single swift.

I had an autumn moth event this morning, I was a little concerned we might have no moths to look at after yesterday’s paltry two moths, luckily it was not quite that bad. The highlight were 2 feathered gothic, the first of the year, others included snout, pinion-streaked snout, frosted orange, canary shouldered thorn, square spot rusticautumnal rustic and a few micro-moths.

feathered gothic

Feathered gothic, male

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A Full House

The poor weather over the last couple of days has brought in huge numbers of hirundines, that is swallows and martins, to Ibsley Water. there are especially very large numbers of house martin, they are impossible to count but I estimated at least 5000 today with probably 1000 swallow and at least 500 sand martin. Everywhere you looked over the water there were birds and then, scanning upward against the clouds there were many, many hundreds more. These higher birds are mostly house martin the swallow and sand martin tend to keep lower. They gather over water in an effort to find insects in weather when there are few flying elsewhere, often they pick prey directly from the surface of the lake.

The other aerial plankton feeder of summer is the swift, they mostly leave around the end of July, but a few can linger and searching through the hirundines can sometimes result in finding one and today was just such a time. Swift in September is a scarce bird, in fact in some years I don’t see one after mid August.

Other birds today included a hobby, lured in by the masses of martins as potential prey, although I did not see it catch one. The great white egret was around on and off, the ruff of the last few days was joined by another by the end of the day, when there were also 2 juvenile Arctic tern. A single black-tailed godwit dropped in for a while and there were 2 sanderling reported.

This is really not the weather for moths, so tomorrow’s planned “Moth Event” promises to be a bit of a damp squib. Today’s catch total a massive two moths! I suspect tonight may well be worse. The highlight was a fresh frosted orange, always a nice sight.

Frosted orange

Frosted orange

Several people mentioned the very good show of flower put on by our small patches of heather near Ivy North hide this year, in fact there at small patches of heather in several places across the lichen heath and I suspect these will expand in the coming years. All of this heather is the common ling, but we do have one plant of bell heather Erica cinerea on the reserve and this is in full flower now, somewhat after the ling has finished.

bell heather

bell heather

Although it is feeling very like autumn already there are still some reminders of summer out there, such as grasshoppers, I found this somewhat atypically coloured field grasshopper near the bell heather at the end of last week.

field grasshopper

field grasshopper

A Clear(er) View

On Thursday the volunteers cleared the annual vegetation from in front of the Tern hide, we do this each year for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is that it improves the view of the nearest shore from the hide. Another is that it clears the ground for the nesting lapwing and little ringed plover next spring. There are also always some seedling bramble, birch and willow that need pulling out before they get established.

before

The shore before we started

after

and after a couple of hours of hard weeding

Looking out from the hide today this did not make much difference as visibility was seriously reduced due to persistent heavy rain. Despite this there were some birds to see, including at least 800 sand martin, 3 swift, 2 dunlin, a little ringed plover, 3 common sandpiper, 33 mute swan and 3 pochard. Ivy Lake was quieter with just a few coot, gadwall and great crested grebe, there are also still two broods of two common tern chicks on the rafts.

Today was not a day for invertebrates, but I do have one more picture from Thursday, spotted in long grass as I went round locking up, a wasp spider, my first of the year.

wasp spider

Wasp spider female with prey.

 

Resisting the Chill

Despite the cold blast, so far the nesting waders on Ibsley Water seem to be continuing to do well. The stretch of shore in front of Tern hide has a lone parent lapwing with two chicks now two weeks old and to the west of the hide there are two more broods of smaller chicks. One of these broods walked across from the restored concrete plant where they had nested. Unfortunately they did it during the middle of the day when the car park was busy and they got split up and wandering about under the brambles. I had to rescue them and carry the brood over the bank, luckily their parents were watching and quickly joined them.

As well as lapwing the shore outside Tern hide looks as though it will be hosting a pair of little ringed plover again, after a couple of years when the have been rather further away. There were a pair displaying vigorously just a few metres from the hide yesterday.

little ringed plover male

Male little ringed plover

Although it was woolly hat and gloves weather yesterday the sun is now pretty strong, so out of the wind it was not too bad and at lunchtime I even saw a male orange-tip near the Centre.

orange-tip male on Jack-by-the-Hedge

male orange-tip

The cold wind had kept the swallows, martins and swifts low over Ibsley Water in their hundreds all day, although I find it hard to imagine there were many insects even there.

The Bonaparte’s gull continues to attract visiting birders, with a supporting caste of black tern and three little gull. Remarkably another Bonaparte’s gull turned up yesterday on Bournemouth Water’s Longham Lakes site, just a few miles away. I still have not managed to better my remarkable “Record shot” of the gull, so I will sign off with one of the moth-stealing robin.

robin

The Moth Thief

Wider Views and New Surfaces

It seems to have been a week with a lot going on, the phalarope’s three day stay has pleased the birders, although it has now left us. Meanwhile we have been clearing fallen trees from near Ivy North which should please everyone who uses the hide as it should be possible to see quite  a lot more. Further and perhaps even more widely welcomed, will be the news that the main track to the Centre and path to Ivy North and Woodland hides have been improved with a newly rolled surface.

The view from Ivy North was:

view-from-ivy-north-before

View from Ivy North before

It is now:

view-form-ivy-north-after

View from Ivy North after clearance of fallen trees.

The path surface is now as good as new.

p1050898

Resurfaced path to Ivy North

Although the phalarope has gone and I managed to miss the reported osprey, garganey and common swift, my day was not entirely without wildlife. We had lunch accompanied by our regular, and now very smart looking robin.

robin

Freshly moulted and now very smart

There was also a fine southern hawker flying about us and it briefly landed, allowing a quick shot.

migrant-hawker

southern hawker

The last few nights have been very warm and numbers of moths have picked up, although the range of species has not been that large. A few autumn species are starting to show up, with rosy rustic and pink-barred sallow a sure sign of the moving seasons.

 

Remaining Wild

A bit of  a lull for a couple of days due to computer problems, perhaps now sorted? But only time will tell.

Over the last couple of days, and say this quietly, it has been rather more summery. Although it is clearly already moving into late summer as many migrant birds are on the move, starting their southward journeys. On Ibsley Water there are returning common sandpiper, at least two on recent days, also a fine male black-tailed godwit yesterday, returned from trying to breed in Iceland. There have also been large gatherings of sand martin stopping to feed on their was south to Africa for the winter, likewise I suspect that some of the swift are on the move too. The cuckoo have stopped “cuckooing” and most will be gone, just the juveniles left to give us records into autumn. Although the blackcap still sings it is now the late summer song, which is subtly different form their spring one, still recognisably blackcap, but with  a more melancholy sound.

It is not all downbeat though, lots of butterflies are coming out, “Brown season” is in full swing with loads of meadow brown and marbled white (they are browns really, honest) and the first gatekeeper too. It is also getting towards peak horsefly season, okay perhaps not such a cause for celebration, but most species do not bite humans. Today I came across one such species Hybromitra distinguenda, also known as the bright horsefly. It was also a male, so no risk at all of being bitten as it is only the females that bite. He was hovering at about 75cm, swinging from side to side and back and forth, above the track to Ivy South hide as I went to open up. I have seen other Hybomitra species doing this, sometimes as early as 06:00am and often in small groups, I assume it is some sort of display to attract passing females, but I have never seen a female fly in. Here are a couple of pictures I managed to grab.

Hybomitra distinguenda 2

bright horsefly male

Hybomitra distinguenda

bright horsefly male, front view

Horseflies are remarkable creatures, they are probably the fastest of all flies, capable of 30 or 40 kilometres per hour and incredibly manoeuvrable being able to make a 180 degree turn in just a few metres, even at that speed. They have huge eyes that give them close to a 360 degree view of the world and a visual processing speed that makes catching them fantastically difficult unless they are not paying attention.

 

A Sticky Day

I had a public event to look at moths today, a pretty tricky thing to do as there were almost no moths in the trap! Luckily Jim had kept a few back in the fridge from yesterday. Still it was thin fare, as sometimes happens at this time of year when the nights can still be cold. Despite this by the time we had finished the sun was out strongly and there were lots of insects about, although few of them were moths.

Near the Centre pond there were a few hoverflies including the common marshland species Tropida scita.

Tropida scita

Tropida scita, male

Rather less common and possibly a new species for the reserve, but I will need to check the list, was Pipizella virens.

Pipizella virens

Pipizella virens, male

Just when I thought it was going to be a really good insect day, the rain arrived and when it rained it really poured! I retreated to the office, probably something I should have done anyway.

It did clear up somewhat later and a visitor called my attention to a water stick insect in  the Centre pond, it had pulled itself out of the water onto the top of a floating bit of plant stem. Close by were several two-pronged “things” sticking out of the stem, I had noticed these earlier and not known what they were. It slowly dawned that they were water stick insect eggs and this was a laying female inserting her eggs into the floating stem.

water stick insect egg-laying 2

water stick insect egg-laying

Each egg has two white “wires” sticking up from it, their function is apparently unknown, but could be a sort of breathing tube for the developing embryo. This female did not get to lay eggs for very long, before a male came along and disturbed her, as she tried to get away he grabbed her breathing tube with his front legs, he seemed very keen not to let her free.

stick insect pair

stick insect pair, although the female did not seem that interested.

I had never seen any of this behaviour before, although I have looked into this pond probably thousands of times, it just shows that you don’t need to go very far to see interesting and new things.

Apart from insects the day was quiet, certainly the birds seen were mostly unremarkable. There were about 300 swift over Ibsley Water during the lunchtime rain and 2 yellow-legged gull in the large group of, mostly immature, large gulls loafing around on the shingle spit and islands.

Black Kite is a Long Way from Home

It has been a very hectic week and one way or another I have not managed to get any posts done, so this will have to serve as a round-up of the last few days.

The big news of the week was of a black kite, seen and photographed well on Saturday afternoon, pictures can be seen on the HOS go-birding website, just click on “photos” at the top and you will see them. Blashford seems to be a bit of a local hot spot for black kite with several records in recent years, although all of them have avoided me! Unlike red kite , which are becoming ever more frequent as a resident, the black kite migrates to Africa for the winter. They breed commonly across southern Europe and regularly into central France, although they are pushing slowly northward they remain rare in Britain, being just an occasional over-shoot migrant.

Other bird news included a pied flycatcher seen by the Goosander hide on the 25th, up to 3 yellow wagtail, a male white wagtail and an arrival of garden warbler, sedge warbler and swift, the last reaching at least 200 over Ibsley Water today. A few waders have passed through too, with up to 6 dunlin, 5 common sandpiper and a greenshank.

The main task that has been occupying the volunteers has been the construction and deployment of tern rafts and just in time too as the common tern numbers have crept up to at least 18. On Thursday we put the first one out on Ivy Lake and it was immediately investigated by a pair of terns and today we put one out on Ellingham Pound, in both cases using the shelters built by the Young Naturalists last Sunday. The next ones to go out will be the first of the new ones built with a grant from HOS (Hampshire Ornithological Society), they are much easier to move about than the old ones and should last longer too.

I will do a full post on the rafts soon, including a “How to make one at home” easy guide to making one.

On the way over to the main car park this afternoon I was passing the lichen heath when I noticed the masses of early forget-me-not flowering by the tarmac roadway.

Forget-me-not constellation

early forget-me-not flowers

They are really tiny flowers, just a millimetre or two across, but there are hundreds of them, almost like a cloud of stars when viewed from a distance.

early forget-me-not

early forget-me-not flowers in close-up

I am hoping the promised warmer weather will bring a pick-up in insect numbers next week and perhaps even a few more butterflies and moths to report, so watch this space for more news.

 

A Quiet Spring Day

It felt very pleasant in the sunshine this lunchtime and as I was sitting eating at one of the picnic tables behind the Education Centre I spotted my first orange-tip butterfly of the year. He very obligingly settled on a flowering head of pendulous sedge, making for quiet a pleasing picture.

orange tip

The wild daffodil are almost all spent now, but the bluebell are coming out. It is interesting that our bluebells are always about a week or so later than the ones inland and on higher ground, on the chalk, I am not sure why this is.

bluebell

After yesterday’s red-rumped swallow excitement, today was rather quiet on the bird front. A few swift and, a scatter of hirundines were over Ibsley Water. While a report of a dunlin and a ringed plover hinted at some wader movement as did the 2 common sandpiper but that about sums things up.

common sandpiper

 

 

Not an Osprey and a Bit of a Stink.

I was over at Blashford all day today and started with a walk out to the Goosander hide, it was a bit cold and there was light rain and perhaps this was why the sand martins seemed rather few. However on the way there I saw a patch of columbine near the path, this is a native plant, but these were garden escapes. In fact they are quiet common as escapes and are to be seen on roadsides all over the place. Unfortunately the garden forms are often doubles or pale colour varieties and they cross with wild plants diluting the “true” wild plant’s genes in the process.Columbine

In the same part of the reserve I was pleased to see that the seasonal ponds we put in a couple of years ago are holding water, admittedly with the weather we have had perhaps this is not a surprise, but still gratifying.

seasonal pond

seasonal pond

Up at the Lapwing hide I was impressed by the huge numbers of swift feeding over the lake, at least 550 by my estimate, forced to feed low over the water by the poor weather. If it continues they will delay or even fail to breed, so I hope things improve soon. I also saw the Egyptian geese that have taken up residence on the osprey pole, the male was stood up and while the female was sitting out of sight.

not an osprey!

not an osprey!

I was working in the office pretty much all day, but I did get out around lunchtime and found lots of damselflies resting up on the foliage.

damselfly head on

damselfly head on

I also caught the distinctive whiff of a stinkhorn fungus and quickly found two, of which this was the best.

stinkhorn

stinkhorn

The smell attracts insects, mainly flies, but in this case also a small click beetle.

small click beetle on stinkhorn

small click beetle on stinkhorn

I then realised there was something odd about the fly that at first I thought just was resting there.

stinkhorn with fly

stinkhorn with fly

It was dead and seemed to have been overwhelmed by some sort of fungus.

dead fly on stinkhorn

dead fly on stinkhorn