30 Days Wild – Day 14: Getting Brown

A hot day and at this time of year one when you need to take care in the full sun. I was in the office for much of the morning, which was at least cooler. At lunchtime I went outside, hoping to see some hoverflies and soldierflies on the hemlock water-dropwort, but all I saw was bees. I think it was too hot for many insects, on these kind of days they often sit out the hottest part of the day in the shade and can be found clinging to the underside of leaves.

A number of people have commented on the lack of butterflies in recent days, it is true there are not a lot, but this is not that unusual at  this time of year. The spring species have mostly finished and the high summer species are just starting, the “gap” is often bridged by lots of white butterflies, but this year they have been quiet scarce. At Blashford the mid-summer butterflies are the browns and the meadow brown are just starting to appear in numbers now. They do not bask with wings open very much once the day has warmed, up so it was no surprise that they were all sitting with wings closed today.

meadow brown

meadow brown

Meadow brown has just one generation a year and they will fly from now until early September. Some species, like small tortoiseshell and comma have two generations, with the second over-wintering as an adult hidden away out of the worst of the frost. Another of the browns, the speckled wood has three overlapping generations so can be seen from late March to early November, it can also over-winter as ether a caterpillar or a pupa.

speckled wood

speckled wood

In other news, I saw the larger of the lapwing chicks today from tern hide and it must be getting close to fledging now, as is the one remaining oystercatcher chick. The three smaller lapwing chicks seem to have been reduced to two, but they at still growing well. Out on the rafts most of the common tern eggs have now hatched and generally they seem to be in broods of three, with lots of small fish being brought in, so they are growing fast. Today many of the chicks were using the shelters to get out of the strong sunshine, over-heating can be a real problem for small chicks, so shade is important.

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30 Days Wild – Day 1: Weird Stuff

Here we are again, another June and another 30 Days Wild, I will try to keep up this year and post something every day.

I was at Blashford today with the volunteers tidying up on the southern shore of Ivy Lake, clearing away some old tern rafts and doing a little Himalayan balsam pulling, actually the volunteers did these things, I cut a few brambles and set up the telescope to count the nesting common tern. I am pretty sure we now have 25 pairs on the rafts with nests and eggs, possibly 26 pairs. So with five pairs on the Pound we have reached thirty pairs for the first time! This has been a really successful project and almost entirely the work of our great volunteer team. Over the last ten years the Blashford terns have consistently produced more flying chicks per pair than any other local colony, with many pairs achieving the magical 100% success rate, laying three eggs and fledging three chicks. Over the last year we have made a whole set of new rafts funded by a grant from Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS) to a design refined and honed by our volunteer team.

During the course of the work we came across two grass snake, a nest of bank vole and a number of dragonflies including an emperor, scarce chaser and broad-bodies chaser.

The weirdest thing I saw today though was an old favourite of mine, a slime mould, these are strange organisms that usually live as single cells but aggregate to form sporangia and it is this stage that we can see on old wet logs. The one I found today near the Woodland hide was a Stemonitis, possibly Stemonitis axifera. They take less than a day to aggregate, develop and produce spores and then disappear.

Stemonitis axifera

Slime mould, probably Stemonitis axifera on a damp log near the Woodland hide.

Regulars will be pleased to hear that the two lapwing chicks and the two oystercatcher chicks are still doing well outside Tern hide, with an additional and larger, oystercatcher chick in the distance on Gull Island as well.

You can see various 30 Days Wild stuff on Twitter via #30DaysWild and probably lots of other places too and it is still not too late to join the over 45,000 people who have signed up to do something wild on 30 Days. Our environment is vital to our wellbeing, physical and mental health and it is where we live, despite this it is not getting much attention

Meanwhile, Back at Blashford

Whilst Tracy was off roaming the southern side of the Forest with the Young Naturalists, I was back at Blashford where Sunday was very pleasantly sunny and warm. As the week ahead looks grey and damp, it was likely to be the best day of the week for butterflies and a good opportunity to get the transects done. Although numbers of butterflies are declining as the spring species decline there are a few summer ones starting to appear, the last couple of days have seen the first common blue and brown argus on the wing. Thanks to Blashford’s brilliant volunteers for organising and doing the butterfly transects.

brown argus

The first brown argus of the year (well my first at least).

I also finally saw my first grass snake of the year too, perhaps not strictly my first as I did find a freshly dead one a couple of weeks ago, probably killed by a buzzard. This live one was rather unexpectedly crossing the open gravel behind the Education Centre.

grass snake

grass snake on gravel

Although it has been sunny recently it was still quite cool in the persistent north or north-east wind, this changed on Saturday and the extra warmth seemed to prompt large numbers of damselflies top emerge, I must have seen many hundreds on Sunday, mostly common blue damselflies, but including large red, azure and beautiful demoiselle.

common blue damselfly

common blue damselfly (male), still not quiet fully coloured up.

It is very pleasing to see that two of our projects are showing signs of success again. The tern rafts are used every year, but it gets harder each year to stop them all being claimed by gulls, timing in putting them out is the key. By Monday there were at least 20 common tern on the rafts so hopefully this will be enough to fend of the gulls. The other project, the sand martin wall, has had more mixed fortunes. After a few years of success to start with it fell out of favour with none nesting for several years, but this year they are back! Not in huge numbers but a visit to Goosander hide is well worth the effort.

A number of people have asked me recently when the “new” path from the main car park to Goosander hide will open, regular visitors will have noted that the work was completed some months ago now. Unfortunately the answer is still “I don’t know” but rest assured I will make it known when it is open. The hold up is not of our making, but to do with the process of transfer from previous occupiers via our landlord and the meeting of various planning and other requirements.

The change to more south-westerly winds has reduced migrant activity, but the reserve has still seen a some waders passing through in the last few days, on Sunday a sanderling with a peg-leg was by Tern hide and today a turnstone was on Long Spit (as I have decided to christen the new island we created to the east of Tern hide this spring). Both these are high Arctic breeders and only occasional visitors to Blashford.

It’s Good to have a Hobby

And even better to have two! Which is what we saw today hunting insects over Ivy Lake when we went to put out another of the tern rafts. These sickle-winged falcons winter south of the Sahara and fly north to breed along with their favourite prey, swallows and martins. Watching them swooping to catch flying insects is a fantastic experience, you can only marvel at their mastery of the air, one of the great sights of summer.

The tern rafts are gradually being deployed, so far the terns have looked interested but failed to occupy any of the rafts before they have been dominated by pairs of  black-headed gull. It is always a problem getting the timing right and this is why I deploy the rafts one or two at a time, at some point the terns must surely be ready to take control of one.

preparing the tern raft

Preparing a tern raft

There have been at least 30 common tern around regularly and they have been doing courtship flights and bringing food, so I think they should be ready to settle soon. So far there has been little sign of much tern passage, apart from a few beautiful black tern, the biggest group so far being 5 on Sunday afternoon. Little gull are usually birds of passage that stay at most a day or so , which makes the fine adult that has been frequenting  Ibsley Water for several days something of an exception. It was there again today, although I don’t think anyone saw the Bonaparte’s gull. Other birds have included a few dunlin and common sandpiper and last week a bar-tailed godwit.

Barwit

Bar-tailed godwit

In recent posts we have featured a number of pictures of lapwing chicks, sadly I don’t think any of them have survived. This season has been a good one for the number of pairs and in general hatching success has been quite good, but the chicks have been disappearing fast. I think a combination of dry weather and predators is the cause. Dry conditions mean the chicks get brought to the lakeshore to seek food, as all their favoured puddles are gone, unfortunately the shore is regularly patrolled by fox and other predators, as it regularly has washed up food in the shape of dead birds and fish. The foxes may not be actively seeking the chicks but they will not refuse one should they come across it. Sadly a similar lack of success is befalling the little ringed plover, but at least they will continue to try and may yet succeed before the summer is out.

LRP

Little ringed plover near Tern hide.

The cold winds are making moth trapping a slow business, with few species flying, although we have caught an eyed hawk-moth and a couple of poplar hawk-moth recently.

poplar hawk

Poplar hawk-moth

30 Days Wild – Day 28

As I get to the end of the 30 Days it is clear that they have been far from typical and that a lot of things we took for granted at the start we can no longer rely upon. Quite what the changes to come will mean for wildlife habitats, the environment our landscape and nature conservation is hard to predict. One thing is for sure, we will continue to hold our wildlife and countryside in high regard and will remain home to many of the world’s finest naturalists.

Britain is characterised by a varied landscape and the diversity of wildlife that produces. Locally we have the New Forest, the downlands of the inland chalk and the Island, the chalk streams and the Solent coast, all uniquely characteristic of their place, fashioned by geography and human history. In various ways they have benefited from EU money and protection, with this going we will need to ensure that remain cherished landscapes with improving habitat quality and rich in wildlife, it will be a time of change but must not be a time of loss.

Whilst we ponder the future there are still all the usual things to get on with in the moment. Day 28 was a Tuesday, so we had a volunteer team working at Blashford, we continued work to improve the grassland along the western shore of Ibsley Water, removing bramble regrowth. The lakeshore is grazed by New Forest ponies and I was wondering if they might have been there today as they are due any time now. Many things have been reduced in recent days but the size of this pony still came as a shock!

pony

tiny pony!

I have absolutely no idea how a small plastic pony had found its was half way up the shore of Ibsley Water.

The sunny weather of the morning gave way to rain in the afternoon, so the grass snake that was happily basking outside the Ivy South hide when I opened up was long gone when I closed up.

grass snake

basking grass snake

Looking towards the common tern rafts it is clear that there are lots of chicks out there growing fast. I decided to take a few minutes to see what the brood sizes were. I can do this easily for the rafts with just one or two pairs, the answer for these was that each of the three pairs had three young, or put another way 100% chick survival since hatching, as they only lay three eggs. I then watched as adult terns came in with fish, once the young no longer need brooding they gather in small groups but when their parent arrives they run towards it for food, allowing the brood size to be determined. I watched as seven different broods were fed and again all had three chicks. Although this was only a sample of ten pairs, it seems clear that it would be fair to say “So far so good”. I do know that one pair that made an attempt on a shingle island in Ibsley Water last week have failed, but all the others seems to be going well.

 

Would you like Lime with that?

We over-wintered some pupae, mostly of emperor moth, but also a couple of others. I confess I did not know for sure what they were. One looked like a hawk moth and it turned out that it was a female lime hawk moth, as it emerged yesterday morning.

lime hawk female

lime hawk moth female

The moth trap was very quite, with only five moths, but these included a freshly emerged male lime hawk moth and a very brightly coloured one.

lime hawk male

lime hawk moth male

Although there were not many moths in the trap I did find a very beautiful, tiny moth running about on vegetation beside the Centre pond, remarkably I managed to get one, more or less in focus shot of it, although I have yet to be happy I have identified it.

micro moth

micro-moth

Out on the reserve there has been a lot going on recently. The volunteers have been hard at work building a whole new fleet of tern rafts thanks to funding from the Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS). By the end of Thursday we had eight rafts in two sets and I am pleased to say that we already have ten pairs settling on them with others about. So far I have  had no chance to get a picture of them, but I will try again over the weekend.

Although Blashford’s tern colony is one of the smallest in the county, it is consistently the most productive, with each pair regularly fledging more than two chicks each year. Over the last ten years we have produced about 450 chicks to flying stage, since our colony is still only about 25 pairs, so most of these must now off nesting elsewhere, probably topping up struggling coastal colonies.

Other news is that the next stage of work on the former Hanson concrete block works has started, eventually this area will be absorbed into the reserve allowing direct access from the main car park to the Goosander and Lapwing hides without crossing the road or significantly doubling back on yourself. We hope to have the access open by the autumn.

I am still trying to identify be many bees that can be seen around the reserve using the excellent new guide, some are difficult though. One thing that looking at a different group of creatures does, is open your eyes to just how many there are, once you start looking there are bees of lots of different types all over the place! Below is a picture of a very small one I came across yesterday, still not sure if I will be able to identify it though.

little bee 2

small bee sp.

 

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 varied Sunday!

Our Young Naturalists had a practical session on Sunday, building shelters to go out on the new set of tern rafts currently being put together by our volunteers. The shelters will provide excellent cover for the tern chicks once they hatch, enabling them to hopefully avoid any hungry dive-bombing gulls.

We were joined on the day by Corinne, Cameron’s mum, who together with family and friends formed the Cameron Bespolka Trust in his memory, which is supporting the Young Naturalists group at Blashford alongside other projects. It was great to have an extra pair of hands for such a practical activity!

When collecting our wood and tools, we spied this blackbird which had made her nest close to our store. We had a super quick peak before leaving her in peace, constructing our shelters at the back of the centre.

Blackbird on nest

Blackbird by Talia Felstead

The task was a great challenge for the group as we had a couple of old examples to use as a guide and lots of offcuts of wood, so making them was a good test of our team building skills – it was a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, finding the best pieces to fit and figuring out the best way to join them:

Cutting wood

Cutting wood 2

Sawing planks to make the shelters

Hammering

Hammering 2

Making the shelters

We managed to make four shelters during the morning, which I’m sure will be very well received by the tern chicks when the time comes:

Finished shelters

Chick shelters

Our four finished chick shelters

During lunch we were watched rather closely by an inquisitive jackdaw, which Talia managed to photograph:

Jackdaw

Jackdaw by Talia Felstead

After lunch we headed back down to the river as we’d enjoyed dipping so much last time and not all of the group had had the opportunity. We managed to catch more bullhead fish, brook lamprey and trout fry, along with dragonfly, mayfly and stonefly nymphs and beetle larvae.

Whilst down by the river we spotted lots of fresh deer tracks in the soft ground along the edge of the river bank, following them until they headed off up the bank and into the trees:

Deer tracks

Deer tracks in the soft ground

There were also a small number of bluebell in flower – hopefully more will follow and the woodland along the Dockens Water will soon be a splash of blue.

Bluebells

Bluebell by Talia Felstead

After river dipping, we headed over to Ellingham Pound to have a look at the prototype tern raft which had been launched a week or so ago so the group could see where their chick shelters would eventually end up. Whilst there, we were distracted by ripples on the surface of the lake which seemed to move around rather purposefully, and realised we were watching alder-fly which had recently emerged from the water. One conveniently left the surface of the lake and landed nearby, allowing us to take a closer look:

Caddis fly

Alder-fly by Talia Felstead

Finally on heading back to the centre, we spied this speckled wood butterfly sunning itself. It took a while to make sure everyone had seen it as it was so well camouflaged against the dead leaves and sticks on the woodland floor.

Speckled Wood

Speckled wood butterfly by Talia Felstead

Our Young Naturalists group offers monthly conservation tasks and wildlife activities to young people aged 13-17 years and is kindly funded by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. To find out more or join the group please telephone Jim or Tracy at the Education Centre on 01425 472760.

Swallows and More

I was out early doing a breeding bird survey off-site this morning and when I arrived at Blashford it was to be told that I had just missed a red-rumped swallow. This Mediterranean nesting cousin of our familiar swallow occurs as a regular, but still rare, migrant at this time of year, some of them migrate north with a bit too much vigour and over-shoot their intended destinations. They usually turn up in flocks of swallows and martins at places like Ibsley Water, so it was something of a surprise that we had not got a reserve record before now. It was reported again about an hour later and I did see a bird that was supposed to be it, but I could not convince myself that it was and before I could get a better look it flew off. One that got away!

However there were lots of other birds, at least 850 mixed swallows and martins, I estimated about 400 sand martin, 250 swallow and 200 house martin. There were also at least 6 swift, although I was told there were many more. Scanning around I also saw a red kite, 2 raven, at least 8 little ringed plover in an aerial dash past the hide and lots of buzzard. On the ground I saw my first common sandpiper of the spring and a white wagtail.  In addition the first summer little gull was still there as were at least 6 common tern.

The main work recently seems to have been raft related. We are building a new set of tern rafts with money from a grant given by Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS). A few days ago we launched the prototype before we get on with building the new fleet.

tern raft

Although the common tern are starting to arrive they won’t be getting down to nesting for a little while yet unlike the resident birds. In the last few days I have found nests of both blackbird and song thrush. The pictures show the differences between the two, the eggs of song thrush are clear blue with black spots, clearly distinct from the more muted colours of the blackbird eggs. You can also see the difference in the nests themselves. Blackbirds have a lining of grass whereas song thrush have a smooth render of mud that dries to a hard shell and no lining at all.

blackbird nest

song thrush nest

Afloat and Ashore

Yesterday I assisted Ed with putting out the last of the four tern rafts on Ivy Lake. We had an ideal morning, flat calm and sunny, a real contrast to what greeted us this morning!

Rafts on Ivy Lake

Rafts on Ivy Lake

There really is nothing like “messing about in boats” when the weather is good, however we had to spend most of the day ashore. Once the boat was put away there was one other, always enjoyable task, the checking of the moth trap. The catch was not large but included a very fresh coxcomb prominent,

coxcomb prominent

coxcomb prominent

and the first pale tussock moth that I have seen this year, although I suspect this is the species described to me by Michelle as being in the trap earlier in the week, “a largish, furry, grey one”.

pale tussock

pale tussock

One of the tasks we had to do was path trimming in the sweep-netting meadow. In the sunshine we saw several common blue and came across this mating pair of brown argus.

brown argus pair

brown argus pair

What a contrast today was!  Yesterday we had calm and warm sunshine, today was cold and very, very wet. Despite this there was a fair turn out by Blashford’s stalwart volunteers. The main task was again Himalayan balsam pulling, with a bit of path trimming for variety. When we eventually got back to the Centre I think everyone, even those with full waterproofs, were soaked through.

On the general wildlife sightings front the day was quiet, the best were single dunlin, greenshank and whimbrel, all on Ibsley Water. I was also very pleased to see at least twelve common tern trying to take possession of one of the tern rafts in the face of competition with the already ensconced black-headed gulls.