Wildlife encounters of the furlough kind

I returned to work on Sunday after eight weeks away from Blashford (it is so green now!) and six weeks on furlough along with around 40% of my Trust colleagues, most of whom are still off. Whilst I’m back to help Bob with the reserve tasks he cannot do by himself and engage with visitors on site from a safe distance, following on from the easing of restrictions last week, we are still closed whilst we look at what we can safely offer in the coming weeks and months. We will keep you updated as and when things begin to change!

A Blashford blog will follow shortly, but I thought I would share what I have been getting up to whilst off.

Spending so much time at home meant I was able to discover what wildlife visits my garden, a bit of a distraction whilst I was supposed to still be working, but it was really nice to be there during the day and have more time to appreciate my outside space. My garden is only small, with two patio areas which contain a number of plants in pots and a lawn which has struggled as a lawn and now has a few flowers planted into the patchier bits as I slowly tun it into a much wilder space. I have lived there for a couple of years, and this year the garden really seems to have come to life with birds and insects, which has been really nice to see.

Whilst at home I had blue tits, wood pigeons, dunnocks and blackbirds frequently visiting the garden along with a wren, great tits and a goldfinch. I have a willow bird table and the blackbirds seem to really like this, launching themselves onto it from the hedge and swinging around whilst they fed.

I have two hedges in the garden and this year the blackbirds successfully nested in one (I did a fair amount of cat chasing whilst off, if they have another brood they’re on their own!) which was lovely to watch. I saw four fledglings at the same time, two sunning themselves in one hedge and two in the other and both adults worked really hard to feed them with the male bringing back huge beak fulls, including a garden centipede in the photo below:

Blackbird 2

Male blackbird with a beak full

They fledged last Thursday so I was able to enjoy their company for a few days, with one of the young staying in the garden until Sunday morning. It was very amusing to see it sat swinging on the bird table calling mum for food.

I had written a rather long list of things to do to keep me busy, and one of those things was to dig a pond. Digging a pond was definitely more exciting than decorating the bathroom, re-pointing some dodgy brickwork to hopefully solve a damp issue in the kitchen and damp proofing and repainting the kitchen wall, so it was one of the first things I did and it’s been really nice to see it change over just a few weeks. The less exciting jobs were left until last week when I knew I was returning to work…

The photos below show the garden before and after, then the pond full of mud as the female blackbird decided the moss I had placed round the edge would make really nice nest building material (she had ignored it the entire time it was elsewhere in the garden) and later on with some plant additions (all native) I had been able to order online.

Whilst digging the pond I unearthed the snake millipede below, along with centipedes that were too fast for a photo, and the stones placed around the edge quickly became resting spots for hoverflies:

The blackbirds had been using a bucket of water with some willow sticks in to drink from and bathe in, but they now both use the pond which is really nice to watch. The female didn’t mind me being around at all but the male was a lot more wary of me to begin with and would fly off even if I was watching from the window, but now he is quite happy for me to be out in the garden whilst he’s there feeding.

As well as the birds it was great to see which insects were visiting the flowers and which flowers were growing really well, the ragged robin in particular has seeded so well from one plant in a pot last year I was able to plant it out in different places in the grass.

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I live on the edge of Salisbury so on my daily walks I walked my dog from home to either a little stretch of the River Bourne in Laverstock or up to the Laverstock Downs, enjoying the fact there were fewer cars on the road.

These photos were taken in the little patch of woodland down by the river:

I had hoped to see some bluebells on my wanders but sadly all those I did see were garden escapees.

I spent a lot more time up on the Downs as although they were further to walk to, it was much easier to practice social distancing up here than it was down by the river which tended to be busier with people and had a stretch of boardwalk to contend with.

It was a great spot for bird watching and I had some brilliant views of both blackcap and common whitethroat, especially early spring when the whitethroats were displaying and establishing territories.

I managed a total of 47 bird species whilst off, either in my garden, flying over my garden or on my daily walks: blackbird, blue tit, dunnock, wren, great tit, wood pigeon, collared dove, jackdaw, starling, long-tailed tit, yellowhammer, carrion crow, buzzard, pheasant, song thrush, chaffinch, chiffchaff, red kite, blackcap, common whitethroat, swallow, linnet, goldfinch, red-legged partridge, little egret, mallard, shoveler, kingfisher, magpie, skylark, great spotted woodpecker, robin, Canada goose, mute swan, raven, sparrowhawk, rook, bullfinch, house sparrow, Cetti’s warbler, grey heron, moorhen, mistle thrush, swift, house martin, peregrine falcon and mandarin duck. They were quite a good mix!

The Downs were also a great spot for butterflies, with orange tips, brimstones, small tortoiseshells, green-veined whites, small heaths, peacocks and dingy skippers all on the wing. I also found lots of green-veined orchids and other flowers on the chalk grassland.

The most exciting spot though was probably to see glow worm larvae on three separate occasions, so I must go up there over the summer in search of glow worms.

Glow worm larvae

Glow worm larvae

I was very lucky to have my garden to enjoy and also have some lovely spaces within walking distance to explore (it was also quite nice to use my car less!), so I had plenty of nature to keep me company during the pandemic, whilst a list of house and craft projects also kept me busy. I might be heading back up to the Downs at the weekend…

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.

 

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