Sunny Day

As is usual on a sunny day in August the reserve was very quiet yesterday, the birds having finished nesting and most of the migrants have yet to get moving. The human visitor too mostly go elsewhere when the summer sun comes out. However the sun does bring out the insects and there was a fair showing of dragonflies and butterflies, although tempered by the fact that numbers seem to be well down this summer across the board.

The moth trap catch was quite good, but much lower than I would have hoped, but with a warm week ahead we could be in for bumper catches by next Sunday morning when I have a moth event. To whet the appetite here are a couple of pictures of regulars from the trap.

black arches

black arches, male

brown china-mark

brown china-mark

Out on the reserve there were insects about but numbers are still rather disappointing, I did see a painted lady though, a species that has not been common this year. On the edge of the lichen heath I was looking for bee wolves when I spotted what, at first I thought was a large ant, but in fact was a true-bug nymph that was trying to look like an ant.

bug nymph

Alydus calcaratus nymph.

If anything they look even more convincing from the side.

bug nymph 2

Alydus calcaratus nymph

You can see the rostrum, that is the piercing feeding tube under the head that gives it away as a true bug, rather than the jaws that an ant would have.

One group of insects that do seem to be abundant are the grasshoppers. One species that still seems to be increasing is the lesser marsh grasshopper, a previously coastal species that has spread inland.

lesser marsh grasshopper

lesser marsh grasshopper

Although there were few birds of note around, there were significant numbers of some species. On Ibsley Water I counted 271 tufted duck and 355 greylag geese, the goose flock included what looked like an emperor goose accompanied by a barnacle goose and  a single hybrid off-spring.

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30 Days Wild – Day 25

Day 25 and I was in Portsmouth at the Lakeside North Harbour site doing a public event for National Insect Week. Looking at the pictures I have posted during 30 Days Wild it would seem I have been more or less doing 30 Days of Insects, but as they form so much of our wildlife I will make no apologies for doing so. The other reason is that I only have one decent lens for my camera and that is a macro lens! You can find out more about National Insect week at http://www.nationalinsectweek.co.uk. It is run every two years by the Royal Entomological Society with the assistance of lots of other organisations including the Wildlife Trusts.

The Lakeside site lies just beside the A27 and is a large area of offices in several blocks, perhaps it does not sound that promising for wildlife? But think again, it is constructed on chalk which was dumped onto marshes left isolated north of the road, so far so disastrous for wildlife, but the habitat that has developed is chalk grassland with lots of flowers including thousands of orchids. There is also some wetland and scrub, in short a varied and generally nutrient poor landscape, with a wide range of species, something of a biodiversity hotspot! The management has been enlightened enough not to “garden” too much of it, although the corporate love of grass like a carpet, lollipop trees and gob-stopper bushes is evident in parts. Anyone who visits a corporate HQ or similar office cannot help but be struck by how much they really baulk at the intrusion of the natural world, few tolerate any native flora and fauna and obviously spend lots of money keeping the areas around their buildings that way. An odd approach when most would say they are efficient and environmentally aware.

As I said lakeside is actually a very good wildlife site and shows what can be done, in addition the more natural areas are very popular with the staff, many of whom will walk around the grounds in their lunch break. A “Green break” is something that I am sure is good for their wellbeing and probably afternoon productivity.

The weather was not the best, my plan to run a moth trap overnight had failed as the trap had not turned on and half the people booked onto the walk did not show up, so not the best of starts. However the insects did not let us down and we were joined by as many people who had not booked as were on the original list, so we actually had more participants than  expected. Highlights were six-spot burnet, both as larvae and adult, with this one posing on a pyramidal orchid for photos.

six-spot burnet on pyramidal orchid

six-pot burnet on pyramidal orchid

We also saw several species of hoverflies, two soldierflies, robberflies, damselflies, lots and lots of true bugs, beetles and even a few butterflies. The weather was against us though and just as we were coming to the end of the event we all had to run for shelter  as the heavens opened and the thunder and lightening swept in.

the end of the insect walk

rain and lost of it!

In the afternoon I was back at Blashford, where the weather was much better, although I passed through some of the heaviest rain I have encountered in many years on the way. When you see the full force of a really torrential downpour like that it is interesting to imagine what the impact must be on creatures as small as insects, it must be significant.

Storms are local events so even if they could be devastating they should not impact whole populations. Spiders however are everywhere and the recent mass emergence of damselflies has given them more food that they can cope with, one web by the Centre pond contained three such victims. Shear numbers are what keep insects going, even if thousands die, enough can go on and each survivor can produce many offspring.

trapped damselfly

captured damselfly

As I locked up it was pleasing to see that there were still lapwing chicks on view near the Tern hide and that at least two of the little ringed plover chicks have fledged. I also spotted that the female common scoter I found with the tufted duck flock on Thursday was still there diving for food out in the middle of the lake.

3o Days Wild – Day 23

Another Thursday and we decided to tackle what is without doubt the volunteers least favourite task of the year, ragwort control around Ibsley Water. When I first started at the reserve ragwort was the dominant plant around large areas of the shore, often to the exclusion of all other plants. Over the years we have cut and pulled it to try and establish a more mixed and predominantly grassy sward. It has been back breaking work, but it finally seems to be paying off. Walking the eastern shore it is now no more that occasional and forms part of an increasingly varied sward including sedges, bee orchid and much more.

Ragwort is actually a valuable nectar source and present in small amounts in grassland that is not used for hay does not present any real risk to livestock. Although poisonous few animals will eat it when growing. Fortunately at Blashford the grassland has many other nectar sources so loss of some ragwort  probably has minimal impact upon nectaring insects. As we worked we saw a good range of butterflies, despite the overcast conditions including lots of meadow brown.

meadow brown pair

Meadow brown pair mating

I also saw my first small skipper of the year, although a few have been seen on the reserve by others.

small skipper

small skipper

The day was not entirely positive though. Arriving at the reserve and looking out onto Ibsley Water it was clear that the black-headed gull pairs with chicks and single common tern pair that had just started sitting on the small island neat Tern hide had been lost overnight, probably to a predatory mammal. Fox is probably likely, but they often get the blame when others are actually the culprit and I cannot rule out badger, mink or otter.

black-headed gulls

black-headed gull pair

I got a real surprise at the end of the day when I closed up the Tern hide I realised there was a female common scoter floating around with the tufted duck flock. There was also a black-necked grebe reported in the hide diary, although I could not find it.

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 9

I arrived at the reserve and opened the Tern hide and then had a bit of brief excitement, as there was what, at first sight, appeared to be a lesser scaup with the drake tufted duck. Lesser scaup is a North American species, rare in the UK but regular nowadays, although never yet seen in Hampshire, so was this going to “Break the duck?”. Lesser scaup look somewhere between a tufted duck and a scaup, but was this one or not?

duck 1

But is it a lesser scaup???

Sadly the answer was NO, although it looks pretty good the flanks are clean white, without any fine bars and the “tuft” is a little too prominent. the body shape is also very greater scaup in overall look and the conclusion was that I tis a drake hybrid between a tufted duck and a greater scaup. This picture was my attempt in rather poor light through the telescope, if you look at Jim’s post from the other day you will see much better shots.

As it was Thursday it was volunteer day and we spent some time distributing seeds in an area that was covered with rhododendron, in an attempt to restore the original woodland flora. Along the way we came across an especially fine example of a stinkhorn fungus, usually they are already in a state collapse by the time I find them, but this one was perfect.

stinkhorn

stinkhorn

Ringing in the New

Despite the weather being somewhat poorer than originally expected the reserve was busy with a mixture of general visitors and listers out to get a good start to 2016. I knew it would be, as there are several species that you are more perhaps likely to see at Blashford than anywhere else in Hampshire. Species like brambling, and two obliged for much of the day at the Woodland hide, Slavonian and black-necked grebe, which both showed all day on Ibsley Water and of course goosander and goldeneye. Then there are the gulls, with regular yellow-legged gulls and, albeit rather late in the day, the ring-billed gull. The only species that really let the side down was bittern, which failed to show at all, as far as I know.

I managed to see 66 species of birds on the reserve today, not a bad start to the year. Along the way I found a hibernating peacock butterfly and a very well developed group of orchid rosettes, hopefully they will cope with any frosts we do eventually get.orchid

I had the rather pleasant task of putting the new hide logbooks in each hide today, so I got to visit them all. From the Goosander hide it was pleasing to see a group of wigeon grazing the eastern shore of Ibsley Water, just reward for all the volunteers’ hard work.grazing wigeon

I also saw a colour-ringed first winter black-headed gull standing on the rails, I think it was a red ring coded 230A, but it was hard to be sure, can you make it out?ringed black-headed gull

The recent rain has also been beneficial to the ephemeral ponds, these only hold water for part of the year, but have a whole range of specialist species that depend upon them. The volunteers have been involved with these too, treading the mud in the bases so they hold water for longer, a process known as puddling. temporary ponds

As well as a good range of species there were a few notable counts during the day, mostly at dusk. I could not get into the Tern hide, there was such a crush of gull watchers, so I looked from the mound at the back of the car park. From there I saw the ring-billed gull and, after a long absence, a flock of starling. Not quite a fully fledged murmuration , but at least 3000 birds. Later on Ivy Lake there were at least 161 roosting cormorant, a new record. I also counted 239 tufted duck, a large number, but there must have been many more as I could mostly only make out the drakes with their white flanks as it was so dark.

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

 

 

 

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.

P1470877 which's broom

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.

P1470881 sycamore

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.

P1470920 catkins

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Firsts – a ‘betwixt and between’ day

In the previous two years, when it had been my task to lead our early spring walk on the reserve, the weather had been, to say the least, indifferent. Last year at this time you may remember we had recently had a brief spell of snow and it was still quite cold. But, as they say, what a difference a year makes, and today we were treated to a fabulously pleasant spell of sunshine and temperatures that were almost summer-like. Having said that, though, you can’t hurry nature and wildlife will do what it will do in its own time. We were still lucky enough to catch up with a number of duck species in the form of wigeon, teal, shoveler, goldeneye, pintail, tufted duck, goosander, mallard and gadwall. although many of their kin have left us to breed in more northern climes. Great-crested grebe are now looking splendid with their golden brown crest feathers. The common scoter, reported yesterday, was elusive or more likely has moved on. Later in the day there was a report of a  pair of mandarin seen on Ivy Lake.

Spring firsts were also a little elusive, although the increased level of birdsong was most welcome. From near the Lapwing Hide a Cetti’s warbler, one  of this country’s two truly resident warblers, was ‘tuning-up’ and giving a somewhat subdued and fragmentary version of its usual piercing song. For most of the year they are birds which are quite difficult to see, but  the next few weeks is a good time to look for them as they set up their territories and get a little bolder, sometimes perching out quite openly.

Perhaps the most evocative indication of spring were the four, or five, chiffchaff giving out their onomatopoeic song.  Another indicator of warmer conditions were the numbers of butterflies scuttling through the reserve. We must have had sightings of close to twenty brimstone  and several peacock and a couple of comma butterflies.   The brimstone were a little too active, but the other two have the good manners to settle openly on the path, inviting us to take their pictures.

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly

 

 

Comma buttterfly

Comma butterfly

I sometimes wonder what possessed the people who gave names to our wildlife. The comma is a quite distinctive orange-brown and black butterfly with scalloped wings, quite unlike other U.K. butterflies, yet its name derives from a small, almost inconspicuous, comma shaped white mark on an otherwise dark underside of the wings.

All in all a quite uplifting day with the promise of many exciting things to come in the next few weeks. The end of the day was quite unremarkable, quite unlike the dramatically coloured sunset that I saw yesterday from my home.

Sunset from yesterday

Sunset from yesterday

 

A Bittern Battle and a Paleface

Got to Blashford again today, at least for the morning, then off to a meeting at Langford Lakes, north of Salisbury. I was early so I opened up the reserve, which brought the bonus of a great view of 2 bittern in the Ivy Silt Pond, they were occupied having a scrap when I saw them and only broke off when they spotted me. The bitterns were not the only birds of note on the silt pond though, there was also a pair of Mandarin duck perched on one of the fallen branches. All in all a pretty good start to the day.

Looking from the Tern hide there were once again a few diving duck around the wooden rail outside the hide.

drake tufted duck

drake tufted duck

The typical tufted ducks included one with a white face, these birds quite often get misidentified as female scaup, which have white faces, but they are also quite a bit larger structurally different, the bird books often fail to say that tufted ducks can have white faces too.

female tufted duck

female tufted duck

Looking from Ivy South hide there were 105 pochard on Ivy Lake, which is a fairly high count for recent years, although when the lakes were newly created counts exceeded 500. There are several reasons for this decline, for one thing generally milder winters have meant many wildfowl don’t make it this far, short-stopping on the near continent unless the weather gets really cold. However the main reason is that the lakes have developed over time, the most important change has been the increase in nutrients. New lakes are very nutrient poor, or oligotrophic, as plants grow and fish and birds use them they gain nutrients and become more and more eutrophic. Pochard really like eating stoneworts which are classic occupants of nutrient poor lakes, but over time these get replaced with water plants like the Elodea, so beloved by coot and gadwall. These water quality issues are important for wildlife, but also for us as drinkers of water.