Out and About in the Sunshine

It has been very, very dry recently and reasonably sunny, however it has also been quite cold for a lot of the time, with north or north-east winds. This has made for quite a good spring for insects, certainly better than for several years, although it could do with warming up a bit and we will need some rain, not too much, just enough to keep the vegetation green. Yesterday it was warmer and the wind swung round to a more southerly direction.

I finally saw my second dragonfly of the year, I have seen lots of damselflies but dragons have been in very short supply. Although the view was brief I think it was a hairy dragonfly. I also found several of one of my favourite insects, groundhoppers, small relations to grasshoppers that get easily overlooked as they are adult in spring. There are three species in Britain and we get two of them at Blashford, or at least sop far I have only found two species. They favour damp, bare ground and can both fly and swim! The one below is a slender groundhopper.

slender groundhopper 2

Slender groundhopper

I was out bird surveying at the start of the day at Linwood reserve and noticed that the leaves on the oak there are mostly brown, almost all the first flush of leaves dead. Linwood lies in the valley of the Dockens Water a well known frost-hollow, these leaves had all been killed by the late frost that also had my early potatoes. This will be bad news for the nesting blue tit on the reserve as they mainly feed their chicks on winter moth caterpillars and these eat the first flush of oak leaves.

Hawthorn, or may, traditionally flowers in May, although often it seems to be earlier, this year it has lived up to the name and was in full bloom in the first week of the month. Although it has lots of flowers they do not seem to attract as many insects as the earlier blackthorn flowers, however one in a good sunny spot can still be worth checking for bees, hoverflies and beetles. I spotted this leaf beetle nectaring on the bush close to Ivy South hide as I locked up yesterday afternoon.

leaf beetle

leaf beetle on hawthorn

Yesterday’s birds included a male wheatear on the Lichen Heath and the long-staying Bonaparte’s gull on Ibsley Water.

 

 

A Few Sightings

The last few days have had a few good sightings around the reserve. On Saturday 3 otter were seen in the Ivy Silt Pond, a group of three was probably a female and her two off-spring, let’s hope they become regulars.

The great white egret has been seen on most days, including today, when it was briefly on Ibsley Water. Both yesterday and today a single curlew was also there. Other birds have included a wheatear on Sunday and a merlin today, which had go at catching one of the flock of meadow pipit currently frequenting the shore of Ibsley Water. However the undoubted star bird of the last few days was the yellow-browed warbler seen and photographed outside the Woodland hide today by John Hilton.

yellow-browed-warbler-by-john-hilton

yellow-browed warbler at the Woodland hide, by John Hilton

These tiny warblers breed in Siberia and used to be scarce vagrants to Western Europe, however they have undergone a remarkable change of status in the last few years and we now more or less expect to get an arrival of them each autumn, especially on the east coast of England. This autumn’s arrival has been on a very large scale, on one day there were over 130 on the Yorkshire coast around Flamborough Head.

Interestingly these warblers are not the only Siberian birds that are arriving in far greater numbers these days, a whole variety of previously very rare visitors are turning up more and more often. These include species like pallid harrier, brown shrike, red-flanked bluetail, citrine wagtail and others, who knows maybe one day we will see one of these at Blashford too, (well I can dream!).

On a more down to earth note, the moth trap contained a good, if small, collection of autumn moths, including merveille du jour, red-line Quaker, large wainscot and chestnut.

chestnut

chestnut

Locking up this evening it was noticeable that Ivy Lake has a good selection of wildfowl now and these included at least 139 wigeon, by far my largest count so far this autumn.

 

One Day, Two Reserves

I am not often at Blashford on a Saturday, but this weekend I was, I managed to intersperse catching up on paperwork with a walk round all the hides. Getting around the reserve is very pleasant but also highlights all the tasks that need planning into the coming winter season, I think an eight month winter would just about be enough!

Opening up the hides I saw a greenshank and three wheatear from the Tern hide, which suggested that there might well be migrants about and with luck “something” might turn up.

As usual the day proper started with a look through the moth trap. This contained no rarities but one unexpected moth, a very fresh dark form coronet, this is an attractive moth and one we see quite often, but it flies in June and July. If I was to get one at this time of year, I would have expected it t be an old, battered one on its last legs, not a pristine newly emerged one.

coronet late season

coronet

The cumulative results of my wanderings throughout the day indicated that there were indeed a reasonable scatter of migrants around the reserve. Chiffchaff were frequently to be seen, although willow warbler were many fewer than last week. In one mixed flock of birds near the Lapwing hide I saw a very smart juvenile lesser whitethroat, a rather rare bird at Blashford these days. On the south side of the main car park a spotted flycatcher was catching insects from the small trees and there were several blackcap eating blackberries.

In the early afternoon I was in Tern hide when I spotted an osprey in the distance flying towards us down the valley, it looked as if it was going to come low over Ibsley Water, but as it came over Mockbeggar North lake a large gull started to chase it and, rather than brush off this minor irritation, it gained height and headed off at speed to the south. It was a young bird and is going to have to learn to tough out such attention.

It was not a bad day for insects, I saw red admiral, painted lady, small white and speckled wood, despite almost no sunshine and there were good numbers of migrant hawker and brown hawker about. I also saw more hornet than I had noticed so far this summer and very widely about the reserve too.

Other birds of note were mostly signs of approaching autumn, a single snipe near the Lapwing hide was the first I have seen since the spring here and later wigeon, one on Ivy Lake and 4 on Ibsley Water were also the first returns that I have seen.

For a couple of years now I have been noticing increasingly large floating mats of vegetation in the Ivy Silt Pond and kept meaning to identify the plant species involved. I finally did so yesterday and one of them, the one with the rosettes of pointed leaves, is water soldier, a rare plant in Hampshire and mostly found on the Basingstoke canal!

water soldier

water soldier

It is probably most likely to be here as a result of escaping from a local garden pond, but might be wild, anyway it seems to be a notable record and as far as I know it has not been recorded here before.

In the evening I went out to another reserve in my area, Hythe Spartina Marsh, it was close to high water and I was interested to see if there was a wader roost. There was, not a large one but interesting, it included 74 ringed plover, 30 dunlin, 2 turnstone, 3 grey plover and a single juvenile curlew sandpiper. In addition 2 common sandpipers came flying north up  edge and on the way across the marsh I saw a clouded yellow butterfly nectaring on the flowers of the sea aster. I also saw that on e of the juvenile ringed plover had got colour rings on its legs, however it would only ever show one leg so all I could see was a white ring above a red ring on the left leg, not enough to identify where it had come from. Ringed plover can breed locally on our beaches or have spent the summer way off in the high Arctic of Canada, so it would have been good to see all the rings.

First Flowering

I was acting as substitute Jim today as he is on leave, it made a change to be on the reserve on a Saturday and a very pleasant one, in the fine spring sunshine. After a morning spent tying up various loose ends from the year end, I took the chance to get out tin the sun after lunch. I wanted to check out a few of the projects we have done over the years and see how they have worked. First I went to an area we cleared of rhododendron some five years ago, it had been one of the few areas not dug for gravel and still had a few large, old hazel stools growing up through it. We cleared the rhododendron and planted  a few hazel in their place. The ground flora had all been killed off by decades of deep shade from the rhododendron, so we decided to try collecting some wild daffodil seed from near the Woodland hide and spreading it on the bare ground, to see if we could establish some new plants. The seedlings came up and today I found the first flower!first daffodil

Wild daffodil are a feature of the reserve, or at least the areas that were not destroyed by gravel extraction, so re-establishing them to places they would once have been and removing planted garden daffodils is a thing we have been to do for some time.

I then went to the western side of Ellingham Lake to look at the hedge we laid last winter. It has suffered somewhat from being nibbled by rabbits, but is not looking too bad on the whole.hedge

The sunshine had brought out lots of butterflies, I saw good numbers of brimstone, a few peacock and a single small tortoiseshell.small tortoiseshell

Most of the butterflies were nectaring, as this small tortoiseshell was, on ground ivy, one of the best sources of food for butterflies and bees at this time of year.ground ivy

I also found a fine grass snake enjoying the sunshine, it was on very open ground so rather than slip off to cover it reared up in threat and then froze, allowing me to get some shots.grass snake

With a little effort I managed to creep really close and get some headshots, when I did it became apparent that it had some sort of damage around the upper jaw, it looks quite nasty, but the snake seemed to be in otherwise good shape.snake head

There had evidently been some arrival of migrants overnight, with a couple of willow warbler singing near the main gate as I opened up and there were noticeably more chiffchaff and blackcap. The highlight though, was a male wheatear on the lichen heath near Ivy North hide.

As I ate my lunch I watched a pair of long-tailed tit collecting spider’s web for their nest from under the eaves of the Education Centre and the resident pair of robin were courtship feeding on the picnic tables.

Closing up the Tern hide a sudden commotion flushed all the shoveler from the south-east part of Ibsley Water out into the centre of the lake, allowing me to get a good count, the total was 283, pretty good for April. There was little else to report, although the Slavonian grebe was still there somewhere apparently, although I failed to see it myself.

 

More Warblers than in an Opera

The day started well with a fanfare of song from a chiffchaff as we unlocked the gates to the Reserve. On the way round to open up the hides there were quite a few more chiffchaff and several blackcap, busy carving out territories with their song. Near the Ivy North Hide and again near the settlement pond Cetti’s warbler were chanting their piercing call. Also by the settlement pond a few trills coming from the direction of the reeded area at first sounded like a reed warbler, but after a break in song the next twitterings were almost certainly those of a sedge warbler. As is usually the case,  getting sight of these birds is not so easy, even though the leaf cover is only just starting to appear, but I did manage to get a half-way reasonable image of a blackcap.

Male blackcap

Male blackcap

With the spell of warmer weather it’s about time for some of the invertebrate fauna to be putting in an appearance. With that in mind, Jim set up the light trap last night which  managed to attract 27  moths of seven different species.    Mostly Common Quaker (11) and Small Quaker (7) plus two Twin-spot Quaker there were also some nicely marked Hebrew Character (4) and   single Oak Beauty, Engrailed and a pug species which after some argument we eventually decided must have been a Brindled Pug. 

Hebrew Character

Hebrew Character

Engrailed

Engrailed

Oak Beauty

Oak Beauty – a well marked moth, but notice how well it blends into the background

Such a relative abundance of insect life, compared with the last few attempts at moth trapping this year, herald the start of a proper spring period.      Looking around elsewhere on the reserve it was appropriate to see, from the Tern Hide, a common tern hunting  over Ibsley water (sorry no picture – much too distant and mobile). Another first  for the year, and for me a real herald of Spring – this wheatear posing on the shingle out to the side of the Tern Hide.

Wheatear seen from Tern  Hide

Wheatear seen from Tern Hide

A Long Nose and a Mystery Almost Solved

Bird News: Ibsley Watercommon gull 2, Mediterranean gull 4, wheatear 1.

Very little to report today as I was not on site for long. Two first summer common gulls on Ibsley Water first thing were unusual for Blashford at this time of year. Later in the morning 4 Mediterranean gulls flew over, 2 adults and 2 first summer birds, there have been several just visiting this year but so far they do not seem to be hanging around.

The day started decidedly iffy, but improved steadily until by lunchtime the sun was out and it was really warm. This tempted a good variety of insects out, including several first sightings of the year. The hawthorn blossom is well out now, may blossom in May for a change. The flowers had attracted a range of beetles and other insects including this sawfly.

sawfly

A variety of hoverflies were out including the first one of a peculiar species with a long “snout” called Rhingia campestris, a common species with a long season.

Rhingia campestris

Before I left also saw a female wheatear beside the Tern hide, always a good bird to see.

I also made some progress identifying the beetle larva from Sunday, it is one of the case-bearing flower beetles. It seems the “case” is actually made out of the droppings of the larva. I think identification to species will not be possible, but I am impressed to have got this far. Needless to say this was not the result of my own work, but achieved via the wonders of the internet, I put the picture out there and asked the question and got a reply including a web link.

 

 

Migrants and a Tipster

Bird News: Ibsley Watercommon tern 7, common sandpiper 1+, goldeneye 2, little ringed plover 2+, house martin 2, swallow 2+, sand martin 40+. Lichen Heath wheatear 2. Ivy Lakewillow warbler 2+, reed warbler 1.

Although there have been a few reports in recent days, I had not seen a common sandpiper this spring until the one on the shore outside the Tern hide this morning.  There was also a pair of little ringed plover displaying and two pairs of lapwing both competing for the shingle area in front of the hide. The lapwing dispute got quite heated but when it quietened down the female of the resident pair settle to preen in the sunshine.

female lapwing

Crossing to Ivy Lake to open the hides I saw a female wheatear on the Lichen Heath, my first at Blashford this spring, it remained all day and when I went to lock up had been joined by a fine male. It was evident that there had been an arrival of migrants overnight as there were 2 or more willow warbler singing and int he Ivy Silt Pond a singing reed warbler, another first for the year.

The night had been quite cold so I was not expecting much from the moth trap and the catch was small, but included an angle shades.

angle shades

It was a very fine morning and so we went for a short walk on the reserve before doing the work rota for the next few months. It was the first time I had seen the sand martins actually over the nesting bank this year, although there are still not many around, whilst at the Goosander hide we saw 7 common tern over Ibsley Water, although they seemed to have gone by the time I locked up so perhaps they were not our nesting birds. There was also a pair of goldeneye, seemingly the last ones left over from the winter. On the way back to the Centre we passed a male orange-tip, that for once was not resting with wings closed and I managed to get a picture that shows the “orange-tips”.

male orange-tip

The woods on the reserve are very noisy with bird song just now. I was standing briefly just south of the Woodland hide on my way around to lock up at the end of the day and I could hear garden, reed and Cetti’s warblers, blackcap, wren, robin, song thrush and dunnock all at once.