Nest box news!

At our last Young Naturalists session we were lucky enough to join Brenda, who voluntarily monitors the nest boxes on the reserve, so we could see at close hand the processes and survey work involved as well as having a peek inside some of the boxes the group had made themselves. They thoroughly enjoyed it!

 

We were often watched closely:

Being watched

Being watched by a Blue tit

The following week Brenda returned for more nest box checks and was very pleased to report the following:

YN 1 – Poppy’s box – 10 Blue tits fledged and were being fed by parents in the trees close to the box

YN 3 – Geoff’s box – 10 Blue tits fledged

YN 4 – Ben’s box – 3 Great tits fledged

YN 9 – Will H’s box – 6 Great tits fledged

YN 10 – Megan C’s box –  9 Blue tits fledged

YN 11 – Thomas’ box – 9 Great tits fledged

Not all of the boxes the group made were used this year, but there is always next year! It was great to see how well their boxes did this year after a late start. The warm weather meant there has been plenty of food and although we have had a few days of rain the parent birds have managed to cope well and provided enough food for excellent numbers of chicks surviving, growing and fledging from the boxes. Brenda shared some photos with us of the ringing stages and box pictures:

 

The group made more boxes during April’s session which Brenda is looking forward to using next year, again to replace some of the older rotting boxes which are very wet and not so good for nesting. Brenda was keen to say a big thank you to the group for making the boxes and we would like to say a big thank you to Brenda for letting the group help out with the monitoring and surveying that day, I know it meant she was here quite a bit longer than she usually is as everyone, in particular Thomas and Lysander, were so keen.

After our nest box monitoring we had a look through the moth trap, which held a number of great moths including a Lobster moth, Pale tussock, Poplar hawk-moth, Fox moth, Buff-tip and May bug, which Ben took a particular liking to:

 

We did a few odd jobs, cleaning out the tank of tadpoles we were keeping in the Education Centre to show visiting school groups, watching the pond life below the water when we released the young froglets, and tidying up an old planter outside the front of the building.

Newt

Swimming newt

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. Thank you to Roma and Geoff for your help during the session and of course to Brenda for letting us assist with the nest box monitoring.

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On Show and No Show

When I arrived at Blashford on Friday afternoon to join our brilliant volunteer team for the annual “Thank you” event I was greeted with news that there had been a water shrew seen on “Pondcam”, I was a very envious! Water shrews are aquatic hunters of invertebrates and even small fish. They have long hairs on their feet and under-tail which aid swimming and are as frantic underwater as their terrestrial cousins are on land.

They are not uncommon, but not easy to see and so probably very under recorded. Just as I was bemoaning my bad luck there was a swirl of debris in front of the camera and it was back! A frenetic silver predator scattering everything before it. They look silver underwater due to the layer of air trapped in their fur. Although great swimmers they also hunt on land taking larger prey than other native shrews as befits their greater size, they are about twice the weight of a common shrew.

Blashford Lakes clocked up another “First” for Hampshire this weekend when a Thayer’s gull was found in the roost on Ibsley Water at dusk on Sunday. The finder was also responsible for the last county first found at Blashford, last autumn’s lesser scaup. Both of these species are from the western side of the Atlantic. The gull breeds in high Arctic Canada and mostly winters on the Pacific coast of Canada and the USA. Although considered as having a population of only a few thousand pairs it has been occurring with increasing frequency on the east coast of N. America and very rarely in W. Europe. Although usually listed as a full species it seems quite possible that it will be “lumped” in with Iceland gull and Kumlien’s gull, they are structurally very, very similar.

Not unexpectedly when I returned to Blashford this evening, after spending most of the day at Fishlake Meadow, there was a good crowd gathered in the hope of seeing the Thayer’s gull. Sadly they were disappointed, as it never showed up. I was not too surprised as the few Iceland gulls that have appeared in the roost over the years have almost always only been there on one evening, still it was a shame and there is still a chance it is around somewhere locally.

 

Who would live in a house like this…

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

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

Nest boxes

Nest boxes built by our Young Naturalists group in October

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

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

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

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

Blue tit

Blue tit checking out one of the nest boxes on site

 

 

Operation Wallacea!

One of our Young Naturalists, Talia, spent two weeks over the summer taking part in Operation Wallacea. Operation Wallacea is a conservation research organisation that is funded by, and relies on, teams of student volunteers who join expeditions for the opportunity to work on real-world research programs alongside academic researchers.

Talia signed up to the programme through college, with this year being the first year this particular trip was being offered to college students. She raised funds for the expedition to Africa through working part time, running photography workshops with her dad and asking participants for a donation towards the trip and also received sponsorship directly from the Cameron Bespolka Trust, who kindly fund our Young Naturalists project.

Talia always takes fantastic photographs whilst on our Young Naturalists sessions, so after a lot of trawling through the many images taken whilst away, she has shared some of them with us along with a write up of her experiences.

So, for something a little more exotic than our usual Blashford wildlife, please read on!

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Zebras – Liwonde

During the first 5 days I was in Tanzania, near one of the crater lakes known as Lake Kisiba. We stayed at the local school, getting to work with the students to teach them about England and learning about their culture as well.

The conservation team in Kisiba are working to survey the species present in the lake. This will help to protect them in the future. The first task my group had was to collect invertebrate samples from the lake and from a nearby stream. Using kick sampling we collected the invertebrates in nets before identifying them. Unfortunately some had to be preserved in ethanol to be studied in the lab but the majority were released. We found a variety of species including cichlid fry, dragonfly nymphs and some freshwater crabs.

The other sampling we did around the lake was taking water and plankton samples. We then analysed these in the lab, finding the different plankton species in Lake Kisiba.

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Zooplankton – Kisiba

After doing this we got a chance to look around the lake shore, a few of the group taking the opportunity to find some of the land invertebrates at the lake. We succeeded in finding a dragonfly, butterflies and a stalk-eyed fly. A small skink even showed itself to us long enough to get a quick photo before disappearing again!

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Dragonfly – Kisiba

Pea Blue Butterfly- Kisiba resized

Pea Blue Butterfly – Kisiba

Stalk-eyed Fly- Kisiba resized

Stalk-eyed Fly – Kisiba

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Yellow Banded Acraea – Kisiba

We also discovered some less welcome ‘bugs’ when we returned to our dorm rooms. African Wolf Spiders the same size as an adults hand, luckily they aren’t venomous and we caught them in a cup to take them away from the dorms.

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African Wolf Spider – Kisiba

One of the other activities I took part in at Kisiba was a bird survey. After helping to set up two mist nets to catch the birds it took just 20 minutes before six birds had been caught, a pair of Little Bee Eaters, a pair of an unidentified species of Greenbul, an Olive Sunbird and a Variable Sunbird. The birds were weighed, measured and photographed before being released, with the larger species being released by my group. I got to release one of the Little Bee Eaters, a bird that has always been one of my favourites!

After the 5 days at Kisiba we moved to Nkhata Bay, on the shore of Lake Malawi. Here we took part in fish surveys, gaining our PADI dive certificate in the process. Lake Malawi is the eighth largest lake in the world and holds more species than any other lake. In particular the scientists are studying the cichlid species that are unique to the lake. Currently Lake Malawi is being severely overfished, many of the large fish species are no longer caught and the majority of fish sold at the local markets are tiny. Because of this it is important to know what fish are in the lake, with the cichlids being the most important for scientists as they are found only in Lake Malawi. To survey the fish we used both GoPros and underwater writing equipment to record fish as we saw them.

DCIM100GOPRO

Cichlids – Nkhata

As well as surveying fish in the bay we went out to a nearby beach to take some invertebrate samples, using the same techniques as we used at Kisiba. While going on this trip we got to feed a pair of wild African Fish Eagles, an experience I believe will never be matched. They are massive birds with 2 meter wingspans and they were just meters from the boats!

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African Fish Eagle – Nkhata

Another thing I loved about Nkhata Bay was the lizards. I couldn’t go anywhere without finding a few on the path ahead. Both Five Lined Skinks and a species I suspect is a Rainbow Skink could be found sunning themselves on the rocks at any time of the day. My dive group also had the experience of swimming with a Rock Monitor, one of the larger reptile species in the area.

Five-lined Skink- Nkhata resized

Five-lined Skink – Nkhata

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Rainbow Skink – Nkhata

After a week at Nkhata Bay we moved down to Liwonde National Park for a bit of a holiday. We went on a land safari and a river safari, even being lucky enough to see a large herd of elephants along with the other species in the park.

Overall, Operation Wallacea was an amazing experience and one I would love to take part in again. If I ever get the opportunity to go on a similar trip I will definitely take it! Doing this trip has taught me much more about conservation and how is it done as well as giving me important skills and experience for the area I want to work in, wildlife conservation.

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Free Time in Nkhata