A Couple of Tanners

Despite continued warm nights the number of moths coming to the trap are actually declining, I suspect it might have got too warm and especially dry for many moths to cope with. This does not mean the traps have been devoid of interest though, on two recent mornings the catch has included one of Britain’s largest beetles, the tanner beetle Prionus coriarius. 

tanner beetle

tanner beetle

This is something of a New Forest speciality, being quite frequent in the area and rather scarce across the rest of south-east England.

It will be interesting to see if the numbers pick up again now that it has rained and the weather settles down again, as it is supposed to do by the end of the week.

At Blashford things remain pretty quiet, there are unusual numbers of gadwall making the most of the weed in Ivy Lake, the peak count so far is 139. Numbers of coot, both there and on Ibsley Water are relatively high as well. There has been very little sign of migration so far, although there are several common sandpiper around and at least one green sandpiper. There has been some indication of small birds on the move, the ringers have caught whitethroat and grasshopper warbler and there are a few willow warbler and chiffchaff that seem to be passing through.

 

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Dots of Green

The prolonged dry conditions have caused the grass to go brown almost everywhere you look at the moment. Grasses are a group of plants that are drought adapted and when it rains you can be confident that it will green up again quite rapidly. Other plants respond differently, most annuals are as crisp as the grass, often growing less than usual and seeding earlier before the lack of water kills them. What is obvious though is that even in the brownest grass there still dots of green, these are the deep rooted perennial plants. In my mini-meadow the field scabious in particular still has green leaves and is covered in flowers.

The plants that can keep growing in these conditions provide valuable nectar sources for insects. At Blashford Lakes one plant that just carries on is burdock and the plants near the Education Centre are a magnet for insects.

sil;ver-washed fritillarysilver-washed fritillary

Most butterflies have had a good season, numbers overall have been higher than in recent years, although many are not flying for very long. The species that over-winter by hibernation such as peacock and small tortoiseshell have disappeared, they will be hiding away in sheds and cellars, before they fly again in the early autumn.

One group of butterflies that don’t seem to mind the conditions are the whites, perhaps being white their colour reflects the heat better than the dark browns, which hide away in the shade during the hottest part of the day.

small white

small white

As well as butterflies the same flowers are attracting bees as well, at Blashford Lake, a swell as the bumble-bees, I have seen lots of green-eyed flower bee on the burdock flowers. These smallish, compact bees are very fast flyers and have a distinctive, high pitched buzz.

green-eyed flower bee

green-eyed flower bee

In general the reserve remains quite for birds. On Ivy Lake over a hundred gadwall is a good count for the time of year and on Ibsley Water there are good numbers of coot and tufted duck, although counting them is proving tricky. A few migrant waders are turning up, a common sandpiper or two and the occasional black-tailed godwit are witness to approaching autumn. The ringers have reported catching willow warbler, whitethroat and grasshopper warbler recently, almost certainly all migrants rather than local birds.

Skies Alive!

Today may have been the last day of April, but it felt more like the last day of January! a bitter north-east wind was blowing hard across Ibsley Water making it foolish to open the windows at the Tern hide. The cold had brought thousands of aerial feeders low in over the water in a desperate search for any sort of flying insects to eat. At first I though they were mostly swallow and sand martin, but it turned out things were a little more complicated.

Close to Tern hide there were  a lot of swallow, whilst further out over the water sand martin were the majority. Further away house martin dominated, especially close to the northern shore of the lake. All this made estimating numbers a bit tricky. In the end I “guestimated” around 4000 hirundines were present with slightly more than half being sand martin, perhaps 2000-2500, then house martin with around 1000 and then 500-700 swallow. All in all it was quite a sight, although one that featured birds that were not at all happy. Luckily the promised rain never arrived and it actually got a little brighter later on and many of the birds left to feed elsewhere. Perhaps oddly by the end of the day swift were  one of the more numerous species, maybe 500 were feeding over the water, many more than in the morning.

Other sightings today included a yellow wagtail and a white wagtail close to Tern hide, from where I also saw a single black-tailed godwit, 2 common sandpiper and 3 goosander. Elsewhere 2 drake pochard were notable as was a single whitethroat, an oddly scarce bird at Blashford and mainly seen in autumn.

The moth trap contained just 2 common Quaker, moths don’t like cold, windy nights, but then who does.

30 days Wild – Day 12: Dusk Excursion

It is always interesting to go to new places, but for lots of reasons not always possible to get to them. An alternative is to go to familiar places at different times. I quite often visit the area at the western side of the mouth of Southampton Water around Calshot and Fawley, but I don’t think I have been there at dusk in the summer before.

The area known as Tom Tiddler’s lies south of the now defunct Fawley Power Station and is reclaimed land that has lain unused for decades. In this time it has developed into a mosaic of scrub, rough grassland and reedbed habitats. It is home to lots of reed warbler, whitethroat, Cetti’s warbler and a few sedge warbler, it even has nightingale on occasion. All of these species were singing as they often do at dusk when the weather is fine.

However it was the many small moths that caught my eye, there were lots of them, but as I did not have a net with me I had to wait until they landed and creep up to get a look if I was going to see what species they were. Most turned out to be small “Grass moths” mainly Chrysoteuchia culmella and most of the rest were a small macro moth, the round-winged muslin.

round-winged muslin 2

round-winged muslin

As this was more of a dusk wander than a walk I also looked in a few places I had just gone never looked previously, particularly the small shingle ridges. I was surprised to find a number of plants of stabilised shingle, including annual beard grass, sea kale, sea sandwort and sea holly. This last was a particular surprise as I know it is quiet scarce plant in Hampshire and mainly found on Hayling Island.

Clouded Yellow

From the Tern hide first thing it was no surprise to find that yesterday’s spoonbill had moved on. Possibly a good thing as the volunteers were working outside the hide this morning to further improve the view by hand-pulling the annual; plant growth that obscures the shoreline. During the we came across a “Woolly bear” caterpillar, once a very common sight these larvae of the tiger moth are now not so often seen. Then a rather large grass snake slithered away up the bank and lastly the reserve’s first clouded yellow of the year flew by. Later in the Centre car park I saw a second clouded yellow, so perhaps there is something of a migrant insect arrival underway with the change in the weather, if it includes moths we could be in for a good session on Sunday morning. Incidentally if you would like to come along to see what the trap has gathered overnight there are still places available.

Birds were rather few, a dunlin on Ibsley Water and 2 whitethroat in the bramble around the main car park were as good as it got for me today.

A Bit of the Blues

Still quite a lot of bird song around, although the leaf cover makes seeing them a little tricky. most evident amongst the summer visitors  are blackcap, garden warbler and whitethroat song.

The seeds from the ripe catkins are now very much in evidence, but in among the drifting white downy seeds there are quite large numbers of almost inconspicuous blue damselflies. From the ones I managed to identify there is a mixture of common blue and azure damselflies.  At Blashford I’ve only been  aware that we have these two species, although there might just  be variable damselflies, which do occur on the New Forest. Blue damselflies are a group of insects that many find difficult to separate in the field and in truth they do look very similar.  Just as with birdwatching it helps to know a little about their range and habitat preferences so you can eliminate those species which are unlikely to occur.  To separate the blue and Azure it helps to be aware of  subtle differences in the arrangement of the various coloured parts.  Many field guides make mention of the shape of the black markings on the second segment of the abdomen (tail!) which is ‘club shaped’ on the blue and a ‘U’ shape on the Azure.  Personally I find this quite difficult as they perch with their wings along the body length, which can obscure these markings. My favoured field marks are the thicker blue stripes on the thorax of the common blue and also the double clear blue segments near the tip of the tail. Azure damselflies have one and one half blue segments on the tail.

Common blue damselfly ( Enallagma cyanthigerum)

Common blue damselfly ( Enallagma cyanthigerum)

Note the thick blue stripes, club shape near top of abdomen and blue end to  tail with a faint black line separating equal sized patches of blue.

Azure damselfly (Coenagrion puella)

Azure damselfly (Coenagrion puella)

Thinner blue stripes on thorax, ‘U’ shape mark and unequal sized blue bits on tail end.

All this, of course, applies to the male damselflies. the females are more confusing ( ’twas ever thus !!),  being less conspicuous by  having paler blue colouring and more black markings as in the case of this female common blue.

Female common blue damselfly

Female common blue damselfly

Also ‘on parade’ but proving more elusive to photograph, was a banded demoiselle damselfly, which perched approximately 10 feet up  and partially obscured by leaves – this poor image gives some indication of its stunning metallic lustre.

Banded demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)

Banded demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)

I spent some time today cutting back nettles and brambles around the entrance gates to the reserve, serenaded by blackcap and whitethroat, but otherwise not seeing much wildlife other than a fine male orange-tip butterfly, which failed to stop long enough to have it’s picture taken. More obliging was this speckled wood near the Woodland Hide.

Speckled wood

Speckled wood

Sometimes when wildlife watching you can see the most amazing things – like this mallard walking down an oak tree……

 

'Spider-Duck'??

‘Spider-Duck’??

A sort of duck-down!!!!!

Not really!!  Saw this mallard on fallen oak and couldn’t resist the urge to  turn the image sideways – sorry.

A relatively new addition to the reserve’s equipment is this small sailing boat to be used in some educational activities. Its been carefully tided up and all sharp edges removed before being set in the ground with some holes in the bottom and a soak-away underneath, so that it doesn’t fill with rain, all courtesy of some of our  volunteers, many thanks to them – you know who you are!.

 

Activity boat set into the ground for children.

Activity boat set into the ground for children.

But nature being what it is, it won’t be too long before the boat will be colonised by all sorts of wildlife.  In fact its already starting to happen as it appears there is a ‘piratical teddy’ on board.

Captain Ted

Captain Ted

 

 

 

Common terns vs. blackheaded gulls – and other news

130518 Blashford by J Day (13)_resize

A beautiful morning this morning – the above picture of a mill pool calm Ibsley Water in  morning sunshine is not a view that we have been able to enjoy many of over the last year or so! A redshank was patroling along the shore when I opened up, but was quickly seen off by a territorial lapwing. A few minutes later the same lapwing put up this little ringed plover which conveniently flew closer to, rather than further away from, the hide:

 130518 Blashford by J Day (12)

Unfortunately there was no sign of the otter which someone has recorded as having seen from Lapwing Hide earlier in the week. I await my first view patiently!

The black headed gull colony seems to be doing very well – to the extent that, coupled with the unusually high water levels, nesting sites are at a premium and they are therefore seeking out new alternative sites both around Ibsley Water itself and elsewhere.

Unfortunately one of the “elsewheres” are the tern rafts deployed out on Ivy Lake. Two went out on Monday this week and the remainder on Thursday – on both occasions they were immediately descended upon by the common terns who have clearly been on the look out for them since they arrived and were no doubt perplexed by their absence before-hand. They are not made of as stern a stuff as in previous years though and on both occasions by the following morning they have been supplanted by the black headed gulls. However six plucky terns have stuck to their guns and so far are holding their own against a single pair of gulls on the left-most raft and this morning their were another 3 pairs of terns hanging around looking hopefull so with a bit of luck they’ll pluck up the courage to gang up and see off the interloping pair and perhaps even the rest that are currently monopolising the other rafts. At least one of the pairs of terns on the raft were mating this morning, so they mean business!

 

Common terns stand off against black headed gulls on Ivy Lake

Common terns stand off against black headed gulls on Ivy Lake

 

Other recent news on the bird front is an update from the BTO ringers running the CES site on the reserve who were pleased to ring their first willow warbler of the year (pictured below, thanks to Kevin Sayer):

Willow warbler

Willow warbler

Also caught and rung were: Reed Warbler 19, Reed Bunting 6, Garden Warbler  1, Great Tit 1, Blackbird 4, Long-tailed Tit 2, Blue Tit 1. Particularly exciting news from the ringing team were reports of what appeared to be a whitethroat territory, which if it was and they do nest, is possibly the first record of nesting whitethroat for the reserve.

I was out until dark digging over a much neglected allotment last night and being well and truly “midged” so I was  anticipating a bumper moth catch this morning – or at least more moths than there have been of late. I was therefore disapointed to find just two hebrew character, one flameshoulder, one common quaker and one lesser swallow prominent (flameshoulder and prominent pictured below):

130518 Blashford by J Day (19)_resize 130518 Blashford by J Day (2)_resize

Also in the trap, and the first of the year for me, if not the reserve, was a single May bug:

130518 Blashford by J Day (17)_resize

In the pond a lovely grass snake (other visitors photographed a grass snake eating a toad in the reed/scub between Lapwing and Goosander Hides today):

130518 Blashford by J Day (14)_resize

And the bluebells are looking (and smelling!) wonderful all along the Dockens Water:

The wonderful and uniquely British bluebell wood!

The wonderful and uniquely British bluebell wood!

There are lots of woods with more extravagant displays of bluebells than Blashford Lakes, but even so I look forward to seeing them every year. One of the best (if not the best!) places to enjoy bluebells locally is the Trusts Roydon Woods Nature Reserve between Lymington and Brockenhurst which I will be heading to soon with the family!

Sadly not everyone who visits our Nature Reserves do so with the same sense of awe, wonder and responsibility as we do. Ed and I had the unpleasant task of removing the fly-tipped waste (apparently the contents of a house clearance judging by the amount and type of assorted rubbish that had been dumped) left by one such visitor. No doubt tipped by a “business” involved in commercial removal of domestic waste for a ludicrously cheap price who avoids paying any waste trasfer duty (and no doubt saves a bit of diesel) by dumping in the nearest secluded green space – then to be removed at the expense of the landowner unfortunate enough to be the recipient of the rubbish, in this case us. Fortunately there were no farm animal carcasses or asbestos dumped this time, but sadly that is not an uncommon occurence either.

Here’s Ed with what was a very full trailer of rubbish at the end of the day yesterday (we were both as disgusted as he looks):

Fly tipped rubbish - not one of the more glamorous aspects of work at Blashford

Fly tipped rubbish – not one of the more glamorous aspects of work at Blashford