A Constellation of Garlic

A fairly busy day on the reserve today with a steady stream of new visitors, it is always good to encounter people who are still just discovering us after all this time! I was out with the volunteers removing brambles from a warm south-facing bank which I hope will prove popular with insects and reptiles.

It seems odd to say there was not a lot of bird news when the Bonaparte’s gull was still present, but it has been here a while now and most who were keen to see it have done so by now. The first summer little gull is also still with us, otherwise migrants were a dunlin, a whimbrel and at least three common sandpiper. Numbers of swift have increased again I think, with at least 100 zooming noisily about this afternoon.

Out on the edge of the lichen heath I saw a small copper and a grey-patched mining bee.

grey-patched mining bee Andrena nitida

grey-patched mining bee Andrena nitida

I only saw my first damselfly of the year a couple of days ago, I don’t think I have ever waited until May before I saw my first of the year before. My first was, as expected, a large red damselfly and today I saw a single female common blue damselfly.

common blue damselfly

common blue damselfly (female)

As you can see it is not at all blue, but it has not long hatched out and has yet to acquire its colour, many females do not get all that blue anyway.

The wild daffodil have long since ceased flowering and the bluebell are starting to go over, but the reserve’s only patch of ramsons, also known as wild garlic, is looking very fine and in full, starry flower. Half close your eyes and it looks like a firework display  worthy of any New Year. I was hoping to find the hoverfly that feeds on it as it would be new for the reserve, but no such luck.

ramsons 2

ramsons

Although I had not luck with the hoverfly I did find a snail-killing fly near the Centre Pond, I think it is Tetanocera ferruginea.

snail-killing fly-001

Tetanocera ferruginea

Although it was a rather cool night the moth trap did catch a few species including my first pale pinion of this year, never an abundant species, I usually see only a few each year.

plae pinion

pale pinion

 

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Bonaparte’s Again

A couple of years ago Blashford Lakes was visited by a first year Bonaparte’s gull, a small species between little gull and black-headed gull in size and looking very like the latter. They breed in North America and very occasionally get blown across the Atlantic. Most turn up in this country in spring and are first year birds. It seems probable that they are blown across in autumn storms and are following a natural instinct to migrate north after wintering well to the south of us. Yesterday the second of this species to be found on the reserve was seen from the splendid new Tern Hide and attracted a fair few birders as the news got out.

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull (right) with black-headed gull of the same age and common terns.

Although similar to a black-headed gull the differences are not too hard to see up close, although this bird is somewhat larger than our last and so less obvious. At long range and especially if feeding on the water, it is much less easy to spot. However there are some clues that might help. The most obvious is the difference in feeding action, the Bonaparte’s has a habit of up-ending and overall swims with neck very stretched looking reminiscent of a phalarope, with their faster feeding action as well.

The Tern Hide is also proving a great place, appropriately enough, to see terns, specifically common tern.

common tern

displaying common tern from Tern Hide

The last few days have seen a few migrant birds passing through or arriving, we have recorded our first swift and migrant waders like dunlin and whimbrel. I have not managed to get pictures of any of these but I did snap a red kite that flew over on Monday.

red kite

red kite

The spring is not all about birds though, as the season moves on we are seeing lots more insects such as small copper, holly blue and many spring hoverflies.

Epistrophe elegans

Epistrophe eligans – a typical spring hoverfly

We are also seeing more reptiles and I found the grass snake below basking beside the main car park!

grass snake

grass snake

Our developments are still ongoing, but are drawing to a close, however the latest job will be to resurface the car park nearest the Education Centre, meaning it will be unavailable for parking for a few days, most likely next week. We are nearly at the end of the works, so things should settle down soon! Thank you to New Forest LEADER for funding our improvements to the area in front of the Education Centre.

New Forest LEADER

 

A Great Day

I arrived at the reserve in heavy rain, always promising at this time of year and looking out form Tern hide I saw 4 bar-tailed godwit, migrants headed north grounded by the weather. Otherwise things were pretty much as the day previous day, including two very smart black-necked grebe, always a massive treat in breeding plumage.

The night had been cold (again), but there were a few moths in the trap including two new for the year, an iron prominent.

iron prominent

iron prominent

And a great prominent.

great prominent

great prominent

The moth trap does not only catch moths and looking through pictures from a few days ago I noticed a small fly I had not yet identified. It turned out to be a Tephritid fly, more often called picture-winged flies. Most of these have larvae that eat plants, especially seedheads of composites such as thistles. I identified this one as Euphranta toxoneura as species that is a brood parasite or predator on sawflies of the genus Pontania which make leaf galls on willows. It appears to be quite a scarce species and certainly one I had not seen before and a new species for the reserve.

Euphranta toxoneura

Euphranta toxoneura

Around lunchtime,as the weather cleared, an osprey flew over, it headed off east and was maybe the one seen at Lower Test nature reserve later. Unfortunately I missed it, I think at least the third one to have flown over me so far this year without my seeing any of them. The only other birds of note today were 14 black-tailed godwit and a whimbrel, briefly with the bar-tailed godwit in flight over Ibsley Water, a common sandpiper and a screaming group of about 40 swift.

A Dry Spring

Lots of visitors are coming to the Tern hide at present, drawn in roughly equal measure by the Bonaparte’s gull and great views of the lapwing chicks. The gull was present on and off again yesterday as were 3 little gull (2 of them beautiful adults), up to 27 or more Mediterranean gull and at least a dozen common tern.

The two lapwing chicks in front of the hide are doing well and approaching two weeks old now, this is especially pleasing as they are only protected by their mother, dad having gone missing a while ago. She is driving off all comers, but especially redshank, common sandpiper and little ringed plover, not perhaps the greatest threats to her chicks.

lapwing chicks

lapwing chicks sheltering from a cool north wind.

So far lapwing are having a remarkable year and we have something like 20 pairs nesting with at least five already hatched. Of these three can be seen from Tern hide. The lake shore has the lure of water, where the chicks can find small insect prey, but it is not that safe as it is frequented by many predators. They would be better staying around puddles away from the shore, but the recent long bout of dry weather has meant almost all of them have dried out now, we could really do with some rain!

The good weather has been brilliant for early butterflies though; the reserve has had lots of orange-tip and large first broods of speckled wood and small copper.

small copper

small copper, one of many first brood ones seen this year.

As spring moves on we are now entering “Willow snow” season, when the woolly seeds of the willows are blown around and collect in drifts. It is these light-weight seeds that allow willows to colonise so well as they are carried long distances by the wind.

willow snow

willow seeds

Despite the dry weather there have been a few fungi around and I came across the one in the picture below growing on lichen heath on Sunday, I have failed to put a name to it though.

fungus

fungus on lichen heath

Recent days have seen a good range of birds around the reserve. Both garden warbler and common swift have arrived in numbers and there has been a good variety of migrants. On Sunday a fine male ruff was on Ibsley Water and other passage waders in the last few days have included whimbrel, greenshank, dunlin and common sandpiper.

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.

April showers…

Typical weather for the time of the year today… at last! Quite a cold wind made it feel a bit fresh even in the sunshine and though there was plenty of that there were some fairly dramatic showers too!

The following two pictures were taken of the north shore of Ivy Lake, the first from the southern screen along the Ivy/Rockford path and the second 5 minutes later from the northern screen on the same path:

130427Blashford3 by J Day_resize130427Blashford4 by J Day_resize

This same cooler weather meant that our moth light was not particularly successful – with just one hebrew character to show for it:

130427Blashford7 by J Day_resize

This morning I was busy leading the second part of a “Tracks, traps and signs” session which was begun last night with a short talk, bat walk, and setting and deployment of some Longworth small mammal traps. Somewhat surprisingly considering the coolness of the evening and lack of insects, we did record a small number of bats with the bat detectors – I’m not confident of what particular species they were but think that there were at least some pipistrelle, but suspect that there was at least one other species as well. It may be a sign of just how hungry they are in the unusually cold and late spring that they were out feeding at all in les than ideal conditions for them. Sarah Bignell, one of the Trusts ecologists is booked in to do 3 surveys this summer (when hopefully conditions will have improved!) and we look forward to finding out more about our bat population then. 

Nor were the mammal traps particularly successful: out of 16 traps (including two back up “fail safes” in the loft and one in the compost bin!) we only caught one small mammal, but one was better than none!

Preparing the trap:

130427Blashford1 by J Day_resize

One young female woodmouse (and proud captor Theo)!

130427Blashford5 by J Day_resize

The release!

130427Blashford6 by J Day_resize

Other news from the reserve include a sighting of a spotted redshank from Tern Hide on Thursday, at least a couple of whimbrel Thursday and Friday. Around the Woodland Hide and other feeders there are still siskin, redpoll (including some very handsome males now) and even the odd brambling still.

The most notable bird for me today however was willow warbler whose distinctive cascading song stood out from the rest of the bird song wherever I was on the reserve throughout the day, lovely!

A Gruesome Gift

Bird News: Ibsley Waterbar-tailed godwit 1, whimbrel 2, swift 60+, hobby 3, black tern 2, little gull 1, raven 1.

A much better day, but it could not have been much worse, the rain gave way to a mostly sunny day with butterflies and a variety of insects out and about. The winds were more less southerly and this raised the temperature and blew in a few birds, although they took a while to arrive.

A first look from the Tern hide yielded a single bar-tailed godwit, always a good wader inland and this one was being chased around by territorial lapwings, but seemed reluctant to leave. The only other bird of note was a raven doing rolling display flights just to the west of the Salisbury road.

Later in the day things started to pick up with the arrival of 2 black terns, a first summer little gull and two whimbrel, which joined the godwit. Swift numbers increased steadily through the day to about 60 or more by the time I left. The hide log recorded up to 3 hobby seen, although they still elude me.

None of the birds offered themselves for a picture, but various insects did. At lunchtime at the Centre I got a picture of a fine little bee, which I have so far been unable to put a name to.

unidentified bee

There was also an alderfly posing on a dead stem, they have excellent wings with very strong veins, almost like the leaded window.

alderfly

I had to go across to the Goosander and lapwing hides in the afternoon to deal with a few fallen branches and put up a warning sign about path flooding. The sun was still out and I saw a few orange-tips and a male brimstone nectaring on ground-ivy. There were quite  a few hoverflies about too, although I only got a picture of one rather fresh Eristalis pertinax, one of the droneflies.

Eristalis pertinax

Rather more impressive was a pair of predatory flies, which I think were Empis stercorea. In this species the males catch a fly as a meal for the female while they mate. In the pictures the male is supporting the pair and prey by hanging from the stem by his front legs and holds the female with the other two pairs. The female is eating the meal he has given her whilst mating proceeds. i think the prey is a St Mark’s fly, or at least a Bibionid of some kind.

Empis stercorea pair with prey from front

I think they are worth two pictures, so here is another.

Empis stercorea pair with prey from rear

Things then went rather downhill as I got a report of two men on the shore of Ibsley Water with a dog, I eventually caught up with them standing on top of the sand martin bank, not doing much for the martins.

A Sandwich to End the Day

Bird News: Ibsley Waterwhimbrel 10, dunlin 1, black-tailed godwit 2, white wagtail 1, common tern 10, common sandpiper 2, Sandwich tern 1. Ivy Lake – Cetti’s warbler 1, pochard 1, water rail 1.

The day started brilliant and blue, there was nothing for it but to stand in a sunny spot and take in the bright and song filled morning, at least for a minute or two, every day should start this way.

trees and blue sky

My day actually started at the tern hide, at first there seemed nothing of note, then I realised there were some waders on the islands, in fact 10 whimbrel, mostly roosting, our first passage group of the spring and my first of the year apart from a single wintering bird on the coast back in January.

Much of the morning was spent  checking some of the nest boxes. A good few were occupied, mostly by blue tits, which were still laying and great tits most of which are now incubating clutches. Some were occupied by wood mice and one by grey squirrel and several showed signs that something had been inside but what was unclear.

We did come across several insects int he course of our wanderings including a mating pair of leaf beetles, I think this is the species which makes lace out of dock leaves a little later in the season.

beetles on nettle

One particular sycamore tree had columns of ants marching up and down it, I could not obviously see why there were so many on this one trunk, unless there was a sap run somewhere higher up.

ants on sycamore trunk

Looking closely to try to work out why there were so many ants and just what they were up to I spotted several ants checking out a beetle, at first I thought the ants were attacking it, but this was not so. The beetle did not seem to be enjoying the attention but each ant that approached wandered off after a few seconds once their curiosity was satisfied.

ant and beetle

The clear blue start to the day sis not last, cloud slowly built during the morning and developed into heavy showers by lunchtime and pretty general rain by the mid afternoon. The rain drove most visitors away, but this can be a mistake at this time of year. Very heavy rain forces down any birds flying over and in extreme conditions birds can almost drop out of the sky. The effect was not strong today but the intense showers did seem to produce a couple of black-tailed godwit, a dunlin and a 2 or 3 common terns. At the end of the day I just made it to the Tern hide ahead of another squall and was rewarded with the sight of a Sandwich tern flying down Ibsley Water as the rain cleared again. Sandwich terns do not often venture inland and this was my first sighting at Blashford, no doubt blown in with the squall. I also noticed a female white wagtail in the small flock of pied wagtails on the shore of the lake, only the second I have seen this year, although there is still time for more. The white wagtails, like the black-tailed godwits will be on their way to Iceland.