Birds and a (mini) Beast

As promised here are a couple of excellent pictures of the avocet that dropped into Blashford Lakes on Monday, many thanks to Keith Beswick for sending them in.

DSC_0863 ps

Avocet by Keith Beswick

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Avocet by Keith Beswick

What is immediately obvious is that this is a juvenile bird, the brownish feathers would be black in an adult. Juvenile birds tend to turn up in slightly unusual places as they learn about their environment and where best to be, this one will probably join the large wintering flock in Poole Harbour.

Signs of the changing season are all around now, opening the Tern hide yesterday I saw 8 shoveler, 7 teal, a wigeon (although this was probably the bird that summered with us), a shelduck and a garganey. There were also at least 3 common sandpiper and a green sandpiper. At the end of the day the lake was dominated by fish-eating birds with at least 50 grey heron, 6 little egret, 1 great white egret (“Walter”) and 195 cormorant.

During the day I was working with the volunteers on efforts to establish a grassland in the old concrete plant site, we are making good progress and I think it will be a valuable addition to the reserve. The new path is still not open yet as the necessary agreements with our landlords are still not in place. On our way back for lunch the volunteers found a splendid caterpillar, it reminded me of Dougal the dog, a reference that will date me for those who recognise it.

sycamore caterpillar

sycamore caterpillar

The sycamore moth is rather a dull pale grey species but the caterpillar is a wonderful creature.

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A weekly round up

Firstly, please accept our apologies for the recent infrequency of posts – we are doing our best, we are still here, and if we are not managing to post more frequently it is only because we are busy!

Comedy award this week goes to our lovely Long-term Volunteer Placement Emily – with thanks to Geoff for very kindly taking and sharing the picture below:

Emily... she's got that sinking feeling...

Emily… she’s got that sinking feeling…

I’m sure Emily will be thrilled to have made it onto the blog again (it wouldn’t have been so bad if she didn’t end up doing exactly the same thing again…several times!).

Joking aside Emily has been a huge help since she started with us on a long-term basis in September and we will be sad to see her “leave” when the 6 month post finishes in March. She has in turn benefitted from a wide range of work experience across all aspects of conservation and education work on the reserve and her first job interview requests are starting to roll in. We of course hope that she secures a suitable job soon (and ideally we hope that the suitable job is local so we can continue to benefit from her hard-work and enthusiasm in the future!).

We will shortly be advertising for a new long-term (6 month) volunteer at Blashford Lakes on the website and elsewhere so if you, or anyone you know, might be interested, do check out the jobs section next week: http://www.hiwwt.org.uk/jobs

The post that Emily was trying to erect in the picture was one of several forming a deer fence in front of the old Hansons office which will (hopefully!) protect the tree’s that were then subsequently planted there by the Thursday volunteer team from the ravages of grazing deer.

Sadly we still have no news on when we will be able to finally open the long awaited footpath between Tern and Goosander Hides, but rest assured that as soon as we can we will and we will be sure to let you know on this blog when we do too…

Perhaps the biggest wildlife news of the week, and certainly today, is that of sightings of (a single male) lesser redpoll on the feeders outside Woodland Hide for much of the day – unusually for this winter the visitor who first reported it to me had seen that, but no brambling! Thanks to Niall Ferguson for his pictures of brambling and a long-tailed tit taken late last week:

brambling-by-niall-ferguson longtailed-tit-by-niall-ferguson

Ivy Lake still plays host to a large number of wildfowl, particularly notable this week after a long absence has been the arrival of teal. Both the great white egret and bittern continue to be in residence – thank you to Steve White for sending these pictures in:

great-white-egret-by-steve-white bittern-by-steve-white

The bittern clearly doing what it does best, quickly darting from one side of the clearing to the other!

This morning our Wildlife Watch group were in and todays main activity was nest box building:

The finished article!

The finished article!

170211-bl-wildlife-watch-nest-boxes5320-by-jim-day 170211-bl-wildlife-watch-nest-boxes5319-by-jim-day

Early arriving Wildlife Watch members had a fantastic view through the classroom window of a kingfisher over the centre pond where it remained on and off throughout the day delighting any number of visitors of all ages!

I was particularly pleased to be able to call a couple of visitors into my office to see it before they left this morning, as I’d been chatting with them when I opened up Ivy South Hide and they told me how much they wished to see one but had never yet managed it on a visit yet. After they had left and headed over the boardwalk I walked back up to the centre right past a kingfisher fishing from the reeds at the back of Ivy Silt Pond near the Woodland Hide!

Their view of one over the dipping pond made their morning however 😉

 

 

Water, Water

Everywhere! Rainwater ran through the main car park and all through the woodland, and topped up the lakes. Since Friday we have had over 70mm of rain! I went to retrieve a trailcam I put out on Friday, and the lake had risen right up to it although I had set it at least 30cm above the water at the time. I am not sure if the water had actually reached the camera – it was certainly wet, but after all the rain everything was. Fortunately the flash card still had the pictures on it. It turns out that Ivy Lake is very popular with teal after dark.

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Teal on Ivy lake after dark

Perhaps not surprisingly I also caught the great white egret.

gwe-on-trailcam

great white egret

There was also a little egret, but I only got it in reflection.

reflected-little-egret-on-trailcam

little egret in reflection

You can see it is a little egret as the yellow feet are clearly visible.

I saw very little until the very end of the day today when locking up I saw the great white egret perched on a branch in the Ivy Silt Pond; it then flew over the trees to Ivy Lake. Almost immediately a bittern flew up and circled the pond twice before also flying over to Ivy Lake.

Lastly and when it was near enough dark, I could just see over Ibsley Water where there were lots of gulls, but curiously very few lesser black-backed gull. Usually the most numerous, there were fewer than 500. By contrast there were 7000 or more black-headed gull, more than usual – presumably the stormy weather, or flooding, has prompted a change in roosting behaviour.

 

Walter Returns!!

I am delighted to say that I was wrong to suggest that we might have seen the last of our returning great white egret “Walter White” as today he appeared, way beyond his usual return time but here none the less. It was good to see him back at about 13 and a half years old he is a grand old bird now.

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A rather distant Walter but with his distinctive set of rings, so we know it really is him (you can’t see the rings in this shot though).

It was actually quite a good day to be looking at birds on the reserve today. When I arrived Ibsley Water was alive with house martin, at least 1500 by my estimate and lots perching in the bushes around the main car park too.

house-martins

House martins around the bushes in the main car park.

During the afternoon there were 3 garganey on Ibsley Water, they spent a good bit of their time well out in the centre picking insects off the surface, it seems that they were first seen on Friday, although not noted yesterday. Other ducks were few in number but included a pochard, shoveler, wigeon and teal. There were also still 2 ringed plover and 2 dunlin as well as single common sandpiper and green sandpiper. It was also a good day for birds flying over with red kite, peregrine, raven and marsh harrier being seen. We also saw the first common gull of the season as well, despite their name not usually a common bird at Blashford. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the most unusual record of the day was probably a female house sparrow in the bushes beside the Main Car Park.

In the morning there was a volunteer working party, we were working on the grassy bank near Ivy North hide, mending the fence and digging out Turkey oak saplings. This is an interesting area and gets very warm as the bank faces south and is angled at about 30 degrees, as the sun warmed up we counted at least 5 small copper butterflies.

Mothless, well Almost

Yesterday I ran a “Moth event” at Blashford, unfortunately I forgot to tell the moths and there were probably more human participants than moths! Usually late August is a good time for catching large numbers of moths, but big catches require warm, calm nights following warm settled days. What we had was a windy, mostly clear night following a rather stormy day.

Luckily the day got more settled as it went on, at least until late afternoon anyway. This brought out good numbers of insects, including as many dragonflies as I have seen this year. Around the reserve I saw several brown hawker, southern and migrant hawkers, an egg-laying emperor dragonfly and a fair few common darter. Damselflies included common blue, azure, red-eyed, small red-eyed and blue-tailed.

Butterflies were rather fewer, most that I saw were whites, with all three common species near the Centre. Out on the reserve a few meadow brown and gatekeeper are still flying and speckled wood are increasing again. Near the Lapwing hide I saw both red admiral and painted lady, perhaps indicating some continued arrival of passage insects.

The sunshine in the middle of the day brought out reptiles as well and I saw two grass snake and an adder. The adder was very fat and I suspect a female which will shortly be giving birth, since adders have live young rather than laying eggs as grass snakes do.

adder

adder

I have heard reports of wasp spider being seen around the reserve recently and today I finally saw one.

wasp spider

wasp spider

This is a female, the males are much, much smaller and wander about seeking the females.

I had hoped for a few different birds, following the rough weather, perhaps a few terns, but there was little change form the past week. A few extra waders were the best that could be found, 2 dunlin, 2 oystercatcher, 2 common sandpiper, 1 redshank and the pick of the day, 3 greenshank, although they only flew through. There are starting to be a few more ducks around, I saw 8 shoveler and 3 teal, but there are still no wigeon on the reserve, although they should not be far away. Away for the water looking up there were 2 raven, and single hobby and peregrine. Whilst low over the water before the day warmed there were 1000+ sand martin and c200 house martin.

Perhaps the sighting of the day for many visitors though was the female roe deer that spent part of the morning in front of the Woodland hide.

roe deer at Woodland hide 3

roe deer doe at the Woodland hide

 

Just a few Birds

I know Ed’s been really busy and hasn’t had the opportunity lately to post much in the way of pictures from the Reserve so I’ll share a few images of some of our more common species, taken last Wednesday and today.

The long view from the Tern Hide to the far side of Ibsley Water was distinctly autumnal

Across the water from the Tern Hide

Across the water from the Tern Hide

A few of the ‘regular’ birds using the feeders around the Woodland Hide were considerate enough to perch up on the nearby branches before dashing in to take a few seeds.

Male chaffinch

Male chaffinch

Female chaffinch

Female chaffinch

Greenfinch

Greenfinch

Collared Dove - normally a bird of more open areas, these have adapted their behaviour to the woodland area and taken to raiding the seed feeders.

Collared Dove – normally a bird of more open (park and garden) areas, but at Blashford they have adapted their behaviour to the woodland area and taken to raiding the seed feeders.

and a seasonal favourite…………..

A Blashford Christmas robin ?

A Blashford Christmas robin ?

Although most of the tit family only lingered long enough on the feeder for me to take their picture

Great tit

Great tit

Among the other birds seen around the woodlands are wren, nuthatch, blue and coal tits, siskin, dunnock, goldcrest and chiffchaff.  On the water there are increasing numbers of duck of several species including gadwall, mallard, tufted duck, teal, wigeon, shoveler, pochard, goldeneye and goosander, as well as the now regular long-tailed duck.  Great crested, little and black-necked grebe are all present on Ibsley water. Here also the early evening spectacle of large numbers of lesser black-backed, herring and black-headed gull  together with smaller numbers of great black-backed, common and yellow-legged gull coming to roost continues to attract birdwatchers. The starling murmuration has lost some of its previous  splendour with reduced numbers and more distant view, but on clear days, like today, can still be quite impressive.

On Ivy Lake at least two bittern have been seen and a couple of water rail were scrapping, chasing one another around outside the Ivy North Hide earlier today.

Visitors often ask where they might see particular birds around the reserve. In my experience the species most often sought is kingfisher, but I usually have to resort to rather vague advice of looking from one or other hide where a bird has been reported (but not personally seen by me!!). So it was gratifying to be privy to views of these birds perched openly and close(ish) to the Ivy North Hide, even allowing me to capture some half-decent images.

Kingfisher in reedbeds to right of Ivy North Hide

Kingfisher in reedbeds to left of Ivy North Hide

In branches to left of Ivy North Hide

In branches to left of Ivy North Hide

 

 

 

Butterflies, Bees and a good Soaking

Friday was a warm if not particularly sunny day, apart from right at the end , but I will try not to dwell on that!

Although the reserve is known for the lakes we are lucky to have some very good woodland and small areas of heath, most of which is lichen heath. However some of the heath is the more traditional kind with patches of heather and these are now in full flower.

heather

heather

Heather not only looks good it also produces lots of nectar which attracts lots of insects and despite the lack of sunshine these included several butterflies and bees. I saw common blue, brown argus and this small copper all enjoying a good feast and sitting with wings open to gain as much warmth as they could from the weak sunshine.

small copper on heather

small copper on heather

We have probably all heard of heather honey as being one of the most sought after, and heather is often visited by honey bees, but the bees visiting these plants were much smaller, one of the solitary Colletes species.

small bee on heather

small bee on heather

Having looked it up I am pretty sure they were Colletes succinctus , a common species that especially favours heather flowers. I also saw at least one bee wolf, a wasp that hunts bees and especially honey bees, I wondered if it would take the little solitary bees but it did not seem interested in them, perhaps waiting for larger prey.

The heather was not the only plant flowering though, there was just enough sunlight to open the flowers of common centaury.

common centaury

common centaury

This attractive little plant has flowers which only open if the sun is more or less out, as this when the insects that will pollinate it will be flying.

It was quite a good day for butterflies all round, at least in terms of species seen, I also saw silver-washed fritillary and clouded yellow as well as the commoner species. I failed to get any pictures of clouded yellow or fritillary, although I did get this female meadow brown with wings open, something they don’t tend to do when the sun is fully out as they get too hot.

meadow brown female on fleabane

meadow brown female on fleabane

I locked up the hides at the end of the day as Jim and Tracey were setting up things for the Ellingham Show, if you can, go along and say hello to them, they have lots of activities with them and the show attracts lots of participants, so is well worth a visit. A feature of the locking up process was mandarin ducks, I saw two juveniles on Ivy Lake, one on Ibsley Water and no less than four on the Clearwater Pond. They have obviously had a good nesting season, as have almost all species it seems. On Ivy Lake there are still four common tern chicks to fledge and I saw several broods of tufted duck, especially on Ibsley Water.

It started to rain hard as I locked up the Tern hide, normally the last hide to visit, but unfortunately from there I could see that the windows of the Lapwing hide had been left open and I knew that heavy rain would soak the hide, so I went up to close them. By the time I got there the seats and arm rests were drenched as was the hide log book. On the plus side I did see 3 common sandpiper, a green sandpiper, 3 shoveler, a teal and a snipe, I also got very, very wet!

 

The Red and Yellow and the Tufted.

The cloud last night meant that the night started warm, making it good for moths, at least until the heavy rain set in. The catch in the moth trap was large in number, although with no particular rarities. The most spectacular species did not even make it into the trap, it was a red underwing that was resting on the wall of the Education Centre.

red underwing

red underwing

I know it does not look that spectacular, but it is a very big moth and when it flies about it shows red and black hind-wings, which you cannot see here as they are covered when it lands.

The brightest sighting of the day was a group of sulphur polyphore brackets on a felled log, this is an especially spectacular species and large with it.

sulphur polyphore

sulphur polyphore

A look out over Ibsley Water showed that there are still lots of coot and a fair variety of other wildfowl, including a teal, 2 pochard and several families of tufted duck. These typically don’t appear until after mid-summer, unlike mallard which often have duckling even before winter is completely out. The family int he picture was resting on the shore outside the Tern hide this afternoon.

tufted duck family

tufted duck family

The only other sighting of any note that I made was of a single green sandpiper, also on Ibsley Water.

 

Of Nadders and Noranges

Especially early start today, with the clocks going forward. I was most impressed on my journey here, to see that the public clock in Burley had been re-set correctly. Did someone get up specially to put it forward or, being fairly new, is it adjusted automatically from a radio signal, like the clock in my car???

Given the clock change, I was expecting a fairly quiet morning, but the fine weather encouraged a goodly supply of visitors. it appears that many were here to see and photograph our adders.  Several were seen throughout the morning although by the time I got up to the Lapwing Hide only one was partially visible. There have been several good images on earlier postings so I’ve resisted the temptation to adder nother.

The early start meant that a few animals were ‘caught-out’ by my sudden appearance,  they get used to having the reserve to themselves earlier in the day. Of particular note were the pair of mandarin on the settlement pond near Ivy South Hide.

 

Pair of mandarin on settlement pond

Pair of mandarin on settlement pond

 

They get their name from the fine costume of the drake and the fact that they were imported from China. Originally in a collection at Virginia Water, in Surrey, some escaped and found the U.K. to their liking, to such an extent that there are now more here than in China.   A more common connotation of the name is with a small fruit of the orange family, and as these ducks nest in holes in trees, like the fruit they also grow on trees!!!

Regular readers will recall that I have a slightly quirky take on language – hence the title above which refers to the fact that in English both adders and oranges have changed their names over the years. They each used to be preceded with an ‘n’ as  ‘a nadder’ and ‘a norange’ , but the ‘n’ migrated across the gap to what we have today.

Spring is really sprung now and everywhere there is bird song. The sheer ebullience of the males in securing a territory and attracting a mate has made them extremely vocal and quite bold. In my early morning tour round I managed to see at least four of the many wrens, whereas normally I would only hear them. Later on, one of the three  blackcaps I heard was obliging enough to show itself well enough for me to take a halfway decent picture.

P1470972 Blackcap

an obliging blackcap

The, now, long staying red-crested pochard was causing some kerfuffle among a group of other ducks, trying to impress them with its magnificence, probably a testosterone fuelled aggression generated by the lack of females of its own species.

P1470923 Red crested pochard

red-crested pochard chasing anything in feathers

Across the lakes there are still considerable numbers of duck, although we may have local breeding populations of mallard, teal, tufted duck, goosander and others we will loose pintail, goldeneye, wigeon and shoveler for the summer. Running to their own timetable there is still a little time before they push off to regions northwards. We can only marvel at the strength of purpose that drives them on their travels several hundreds or even thousands of miles to their northerly breeding grounds.

The lovely sunshine of late encourages one to look around, sometimes spotting things that have been around all the time, but just weren’t so obvious. Such a view was the abundance of witch’s broom festooning a tree near Docken’s water.

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witch’s broom on tree by Docken’s Water

The power of the life force in humble seeds is well demonstrated by the emergence of this small tree (sycamore?) growing out of one of the drain covers on the tarmacked drive near the reserve entrance.

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sycamore(?) growing in a roadside drain

This burgeoning abundance of life provides us with some beautiful sights like these willow catkins just outside the Lapwing Hide.

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catkins in sunshine

Even a very primitive plant, mare’s tail, presents us with a startling image in its young stage.

P1470956 mare'stail

dramatic looking shoot of mare’s tail

Mare’s tail are truly ancient plants – related to the ferns that formed the backdrop to forests at the time (or even earlier) when dinosaurs ruled.  A plant of damp or even wet places they have survived  the millennia and are nowadays a bit of a nuisance, being quite difficult to eradicate if they pop up in your garden.  It’s also  difficult to ignore another gardeners’  ‘problem’ plant, celandine, its cheerful bright yellow flowers adorning the woodland areas of the reserve.

P1470980 celendine

the cheerful flower of celandine – like a beacon on the forest floor

Talking of ‘problems’, I remember being out on a wild flower walk many years ago,  with an extremely knowledgeable  local botanist, but who admitted that field identification of a lot of the little ‘dandelion like’ flowering plants was nigh on impossible at times. There are, however, a few that have such distinctive features making identification fairly easy. One such plant is the colt’s foot which is one of our earliest flowers and has a distinctive, stout stem.

P1470959 coltsfoot

Colt’s foot with its distinctive stems

A lot of the later yellow flowers in this style are a bit of a nightmare to separate.

Talking of nightmares of this sort, for me and I believe a lot of other’s interested in moths, members of the pug family can be quite difficult to identify accurately. Many of them are on the wing in the middle months of the year, so at the momenta lot of species can be  eliminated from the possibilities. Working on this principle I think the pug which turned up in the light trap this morning is a brindled pug.

P1470857 brindled pug

brindled pug

From the smallest to the largest and another brindled specimen was this strikingly patterned brindled beauty.

P1470863 brindled beauty

brindled beauty

Sitting more like a butterfly than most moths, the group known as ‘thorns’ can also exercise observational skills – fortunately this one is one of the more distinctive types and its appearance at this time of year chimes in well with the name – early thorn.

P1470854 early thorn

early thorn

As Jim reported earlier in the week, our overnight light trap has attracted the attention of avian predators, probably the robin which waited in attendance when I was emptying the trap last week. Nevertheless, last night Jim had crammed the trap full of egg boxes so that any bird would find it difficult to move around inside. I did find one pair of wings this morning and any moths that had settled around the outside of the trap had been eaten, but  there were over 100 moths in the trap.  A fitting result for Mother’s (Moth-er’s) Day!!!

The most numerous were common quakers , nearly fifty of them.

P1470851 common quaker

common quaker

Our avian predator may well be from the pair of robins  who, in an indefatigable effort are striving to create a nest in the roof of the outside shelter by the Education Centre.

A spectacular piece of avian engineering!!!

A spectacular piece of avian engineering!!!

 

P.S. If anyone has lost a rather smart looking monopod on the reserve, it has been handed in – please ‘phone to identify and arrange collection.

 

 

 

 

 

Black, Blue and Violet

Heard my first blackcap of the year today. It was just ‘tuning-up’ its song, so a bit scratchy, whilst flitting through the trees near the Ivy North Hide and fortunately as there is very little leaf cover at the moment, I  managed to see it quite well.  Not the only warbler around, there are now plenty of chiffchaff singing all around, with lots of other song from, among others, great tit, dunnock, chaffinch, blackbird and song thrush.

A colourful  sighting was a group of teal, loafing on the island to the left of the Ivy North Hide. they seemed to be taking advantage of the early sun to warm them up.  I believe there is a colour referred to in the rag trade called ‘teal green’. I’ve never been clear whether this refers to the green on the head plumage or the green patch, speculum, in the wings. In the case of theses particular birds the normal green on the head was replaced with a purple-blue colour

Teal with the 'blues'

Teal with the ‘blues’

It’s a phenomenon caused by the interference of light that produces the normal green colour. Probably, many people may have seen on mallard, where the usual green colour appears to turn  blue, but I’d never noticed it quite as strikingly on teal before.

Its the time of year when we should be expecting some more colour in our hedgerows, so I was delighted to see some violets in flower alongside the path to Ivy South Hide.

First violets

First violets