A Misty Morning

A fine and frosty morning, perhaps the first that has felt properly wintry. Having scraped the frost from my windscreen I headed to Blashford across a New Forest washed with mist. I stopped briefly near our reserve at Linwood and took the picture below.

Lookinmg across Dockens Valley S of Linwood

The valley of the Dockens Water on a frosty morning

In the Avon Valley the mist was thicker and there was almost nothing within viewing range at the hides, but it still made for an atmospheric scene.

misty morning over Ivy Lake

The misty view from Ivy South hide

The mist soon cleared and the day was a fine one for working with the volunteers out on the reserve. Our team is somewhat larger than usual at present as we have two Apprentice Rangers from the New Forest National Park working on the reserve until early January. Today we were felling grey alder trees on the path towards Lapwing hide. These trees are similar to our native alder but tend to grow rather larger and faster and have a habit of spreading far and wide by seed. We are removing them to allow the native alder to grow unhindered and diversify the habitat along the path edges where more light will now get down to the ground layer.

felling grey alder

Felling grey alder beside the path to Lapwing hide

I took advantage of the fine evening to make a count of the goosander roost, I managed to see at least 118 gathered in two groups near the Goosander hide, there were at least 35 adult drakes, very close to the average of one third that I have recorded over many years. The rest were what are known as “redheads” that is birds with grey bodies and reddish-brown heads, these will include both adult females and immature birds of both sexes. Other bird in the bay were a single green sandpiper very close to the hide and at least 14 goldeneye.

Yesterday evening as I closed Ivy North hide I could clearly see 4 great white egret roosting in the dead alder trees. I have suspected there were more than the three that are often seen for sometime now but have been unable to prove it before. Generally yesterday was a better day for bird sightings despite the poorer weather, but then using a chainsaw all day is not particularly conducive to seeing birds! Other sightings yesterday included the black-necked grebe on Ibsey Water, along with at least 78 pochard, a good count these days and all the better as there were at least 73 on Ivy Lake as well. Ten or twenty years ago these figures would have been unremarkable, but these ducks are in decline all over Europe for a variety of reasons including lowered breed success due to a significant imbalance of the sexes.

Out on the reserve yesterday I flushed a woodcock between Goosander and Lapwing hides, my first of the winter, whilst in the same area 2 raven flew over and a chiffchaff was calling in the willows. At dusk I took a quick look at the gull roost, I could not find the ring-billed gull, but there were at least 11 yellow-legged gull, all adult and including the atypical adult bird with the heavily marked head. Yellow-legged gull adults usually have all white heads in winter, in contrast to most of the other large gulls, this well marked bird is similar to those of the race that is found on the Azores,  separated as the race “atlantis”. Gull watching came to an end when an adult female peregrine made several low passes over the roost, scattering it in all directions.

With more wintry weather it is perhaps unsurprising that the moth trap is getting quieter, despite this, but appropriate to the season recent catches have included Winter moth, December moth and mottled umber.

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New Years Day – Listers, Cakes and a Wolf Moon

As might have been expected the reserve was busy today, with birders out to start their yearlists, lots of people out for a walk and a bit of wildlife and everyone able to take advantage of a special extra Pop-up Cafe day.

I had to go around all the hides to take in last year’s logbooks and put out the new ones, so I took advantage of walking to whole reserve and starting my own yearlist. By the time I had opened up all the hides I was already on 53 species of birds and 3 species of mammals. I actually saw Walter, our great white egret when I was opening the Centre as he flew over the car park, perhaps a good thing as he was not at his usual roost at dusk, probably because of the cold wind that got up later in the day. Two pairs of mandarin duck on Ivy Lake were a little unexpected and 96 pintail on Ibsley Water was the most I have seen this winter.

I still had to go to Goosander and Lapwing hides and my trip there saw me add black-necked grebe, in fact there were two, one distantly near Gull Island and the other quite close to the hide. A water pipit at Lapwing hide was also good to see.

It was not all about the birds though I saw two flowering plants in bloom, primrose – living up to its name of “prime rose” or first flower.

Primrose

The first flower – primrose

The second was a small clump of the undoubtedly planted snowdrop beside the car park, although the flowers of these were not quite open yet.

snowdrop

snowdrop

Later in the day I managed to add some more bird species to my list, including a fine male brambling, the ring-billed gull, a first winter Caspian gull and an adult Mediterranean gull, meaning that I ended with 73 species. Not a bad total as I always think anything over 70 in a day at Blashford is good. I missed at least ten species that others saw or I know were there, so I could have got 80 with a very fair wind, maybe one day.

Closing up the Moon was very large and full in the sky, apparently this is the day when the full Moon is the closest to Earth that it will be in the whole of 2018. I am also told it was a “Wolf Moon” it seems this is the first full Moon of the New Year. Whatever you call it, it was certainly very striking.

Full Moon with duck

Full Moon over Ivy Lake (2018’s “Super Moon” and “Wolf Moon” in one go).

Driving home I was surprised to see lots of Winter moth flying in the headlight beams as I drove down Ellingham Drove, my first moths of the year.

Update 1

A few sightings from the last couple of days:

Yesterday (Sunday): On Ibsley Water the female red-breasted merganser was again with a group of goosander and the black-necked grebe was frequenting the northern part of the lake, as they usually do. The more regularly seen of the two ring-billed gull was in early, being seen from about 1pm and later the roost included Mediterranean and yellow-legged gulls as well. The water pipit was showing well first thing from Tern hide, which was good as there was fog at the time and the only other bird visible was a single tufted duck.

Elsewhere, there were firecrest at the Woodland hide and in the holly trees alongside the Dockens Water, today there were two reported from the area between the Woodland hide and Ivy North. The water rail was again in the pool under the alders close to the Woodland hide, showing very well and others were seen from Ivy North hide. The bittern showed at times from Ivy North, as it did again today and “Walter” the great white egret was perched on a branch there all afternoon and was joined by the second bird at roost in the dead alder at dusk, there were both there again this evening too.

At the Woodland hide the food is attracting 2 or 3 brambling and lots of chaffinch, also around 5 or so reed bunting as well as all the regulars.

Opening up this morning I saw 5 raven on the eastern side of Ibsley Water, whilst at dusk  a ring-billed gull was reported again, although viewing conditions were difficult.

Some news from just up the road, a cattle egret was found with a small group of little egret in a field beside Church Lane at Harbridge.

I did run the moth trap last night, but the moth list for 2017 remains the same, with just mottled umber and winter moth so far.

December Moths

Yes, there really are moths that fly in December. You might think that all moths fly on warm summer nights, which most do, but there are moths flying at all times of the year.  One of them is actually called the “December moth” and as the name suggests it flies mainly in December. Perhaps because of this habit of flying on rather cool nights, it comes with quite a shaggy fur coat.December moth

You can see that this male December moth has large feathered antennae, these are used to detect the female’s pheromones and so find her as quickly as possible. This style of antenna is shared with another of the moths of December, the appropriately named feathered thorn.feathered thorn

Like most other moths both sexes of the above species can fly. A number of other winter flying moths have females that are wingless or, more accurately, with such tiny wings that they cannot fly. This enables them to put as many resources as possible into egg production. There are several such species, one of which is the mottled umber, a very variable moth. Inevitably it is only ever the males that come to the moth light! The females wait on a tree trunk to be found by the males, who use the pheromone scent carried on the breeze to find them.mottled umber

The tactic obviously works as one of other species that also has flightless females is the winter moth, which is mostly about between November and January and is very common and widespread, it is even found on Shetland. In fact it is so common, that it seems that blue tits actually time their breeding so that their chicks can be fed on the huge number of winter moth caterpillars to be found on many species of tree in May.

These winter-flying moths are interesting, why do they fly in the coldest months? They cannot feed on nectar as many other moths do, as there are no flowers, actually not as much of a problem as it might sound as quite a few summer flying species do not feed as adults. But flying in the cold is more of a problem, their flight muscles need to be above a certain temperature to allow flight, so they mostly fly on the warmer winter nights, recent nights have been kind to them in this regard. A clear advantage of winter flight is that there are many fewer bats about and bats eat a lot of moths!

I have mentioned one of the advantages of having flightless females, they can lay more eggs. However you would imagine that being flightless would be a real drawback when it comes to dispersal, males can fly off, but this is useless if the females cannot move. Males might find ideal new habitat but they cannot colonise it without females. It is hard to imagine a caterpillar or an adult female walking more than the distance from one tree to the next in each generation, so a few metres each year, at that rate they would have not have spread more than a few kilometres since the ice receded and the land bridge to Europe was cut off! (assuming of course that they got to the land bridge at all). So how have they become so nearly ubiquitous across the UK?. It turns out it is the caterpillars that fly, they use a technique like that of spiders, known as “ballooning”. The small caterpillars go to a high point and produce a long strand of silk and get carried off by the breeze, sometimes for long distances.