Camping out

This summer our Young Naturalists once again spent a night on the reserve, cooking dinner and breakfast over the campfire, setting and checking mammal traps, listening to bats, sleeping under a poncho or tarp shelter and getting up nice and early for a morning stroll up to Lapwing Hide.

Meeting in the morning, our first task was to finish off the bug hotel which we had almost completed the month before. To finish it off, we lined the roof with pond liner before adding a piece of wood around each of the four edges which enabled us to add a layer of gravel on top of the liner. We then put some sedum matting which had been left over from the construction of the Welcome Hut on top of the gravel.

Should it rain heavily, the top of the bug hotel will be protected by the liner which will stop water from seeping down and the gravel should allow a space for drainage ensuring the sedum does not become waterlogged.

The bugs have been quick to move in! We have already spotted spiders, parasitic wasps checking out the bamboo canes and our Welcome Volunteer Gail, after some very patient waiting, managed to take this photo of a Digger Wasp inside one of the tubes:

Digger wasp by Gail Taplin

Digger wasp by Gail Taplin

It was then time to head over to our camp area and put up our shelters for the night, using tarpaulins or ponchos and whittling tent pegs from willow. Finley and Percy had a go at making clay models – their clay men looked brilliant!

Clay people

Clay people by Finley and Percy

Shelters by Torey

Shelters by Torey

After setting up camp we gathered firewood whilst locking the hides, put out some apples and Geoff’s trail cam by the Woodland Hide to see what wildlife we could film overnight, set some mammal traps near the Education Centre and re-set the moth trap.

It was then time to get the fire going and cook dinner:

Camp

Chatting by the fire

 

Cooking

Ben in charge of the chips (we did eat more than chips!)

That evening we went on a night walk in search of bats and had a great time on the edge of the Lichen Heath and in Ivy South Hide listening to them on the bat detectors. We also heard Tawny owls calling and spotted a couple of constellations (The Plough and Cassiopeia) in the night sky. After a pudding of marshmallows, baked apples or bananas filled with chocolate it was time to retreat to our shelters and try to get some sleep.

Fire

Campfire

After threatening the group with a four am start (they weren’t keen) we were up just after five am and after a quick snack, headed off up to Lapwing to see what wildlife we could spot.

Damselfly

Damselfly hiding behind the soft rush

Heading back via Tern Hide we opened up the rest of the reserve, retrieved Geoff’s trail cam and checked the mammal traps set the night before. Whilst most of them were empty, we were lucky enough to catch a woodmouse in one, which we looked at before releasing it carefully back into the bramble:

WoodmouseIt was then time to light the fire again, cook breakfast and tidy away our shelters.

After breakfast we went through the light trap to see what had been attracted to it the night before, and this Burnished brass was definitely the highlight:

Burnished brass

Burnished brass

Finally, we had a look at Geoff’s trail cam and we were delighted to discover images of a jay, lots of footage of the fallow deer enjoying the apples and rather excitedly a fox:

jay

Jay

deer

Fallow deer

fox

Fox

A huge thank you to Geoff and Yvette who very kindly volunteered their time for the campout and stayed the night, we definitely couldn’t run such sessions without their help. We had a lovely time!

Our Young Naturalists group is supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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Squatters evicted…

Pretty much everyone I spoke to today commented on how unseasonably warm it is and that may explain some of the unseasonal fungus sightings – newly emerged stinkhorn near Woodland Hide, this very fresh shaggy ink cap in the reed bed near Lapwing Hide as well as the more worn looking, but perhaps more striking Clitocybe fungus (giant funnel fungus?) pictured below and photographed along the Dockens Water on the way to Goosander Hide:

Unseasonal shaggy ink cap

Unseasonal shaggy ink cap

Giant funnel cap fungus

Giant funnel cap fungus

Elsewhere on the reserve I caught up with the black necked grebe (ducking and diving as only a black necked grebe can!) near to the south western shore of Ibsley Water and some un/lucky visitors enjoyed brilliant, but frustrating, views of a bittern enjoying an extended fishy lunch – brilliant because it performed well for a decent period of time, frustrating because most of the photographers could not get a decent shot of it from amongst the reeds where it was hunting and feeding!

Pre-empting the wet weather to come this morning I had headed out towards Lapwing Hide with the “footpath underwater” signs. Although absolutely fine at the moment there is already a puddle in the lowest section of path and I didn’t figure it would do any harm to get the signs in before they were needed! It was nice to see a nice mix of birds in front of Goosander Hide, including some goosander and goldeneye as well as the raft of pochard pictured below and I had lovely views of a kingfisher close to the path on the approach by the “Clear Water Pond”:

View from Goosander Hide

View from Goosander Hide

On route I released this young woodmouse a suitable distance away from the Centre where it would no doubt have caused a nuisance of itself left to its own devices. Always a problem at this time of the year (last year in one very expensive, but short, period of time they cost us nearly £800 in call out charges and damage to the alarm system wiring!), they had been pretty quiet but for the last fortnight we have been trapping them in the loft at the rate of at least one every couple of days or so. Certainly not coming in out of the cold, we often get an influx after heavy rain, presumably when their woodland habitat along the adjacent Dockens Water is flooded:

Evicted squatter

Evicted squatter

Walking back from Tern Hide I spotted what looked like a large bag leaning against the entrance fencing – closer inspection confirmed  my suspicions, that this was part of a dodgy anglers stash. In this instance we were missing the fishing gear itself, but rather the anglers creature comforts – a pair of wellies, a sleeping bag and a two man tent. Thinking that that was the kids Christmas present sorted (tent to play in in the back garden!) I was rather disappointed when a woodmouse hopped out leaving behind the rather cosy nest it had made in the sleeping bag and a couple of large holes in the sides of the tent… it was all decent gear too, and obviously hadn’t been there that long… oh well. Hopefully Father Christmas will have more luck!

What we need is a resident stoat to help control the population (of mice that is, not anglers!); thanks to Mike Jarrett who kindly (and with some glee it has to be said!) shared these pictures with us, taken from a bench along the Dockens Water footpath earlier in the month. Far better than any of my efforts above, so a good place to leave this blog!

Stoat by Mike Jarrett

Stoat by Mike Jarrett

Stoat by Mike Jarrett

Stoat by Mike Jarrett

 

 

 

 

Day starts misty optically, but ends optimistically

As we approach the winter solstice its, perhaps, not surprising that there are days when what little sunlight we receive is often obscured by cloud. Today was just such a one and the associated drizzle didn’t improve matters. Deposits of the damp stuff on hide windows further reduces visibility. So in a Canute like effort to improve matters I set about cleaning off the worst of the mist from the Woodland Hide windows, to some effect.

wet, wintery

Clearly not very clear

A clearer view

A clearer view

At least now the feeding greenfinch, goldfinch, nuthatch, great spotted woodpecker , blue tits and great tits can be seen.
Back at the Centre one of the daily routines is to check in the loft to see if any mice have wandered into our (humane) traps. At this time of year it seems a lot of youngsters are dispersing and the attraction of a warm dry loft isn’t to be sneered at. The incidence of mice finding the loft seems to be increasing at the moment, so I had the dubious pleasure of taking a woodmouse off on its ‘holiday’ to be released back into the community!

On an otherwise not terribly inspiring day, it was good to see the great white egret on the TV screen in the Centre lobby.

Star of screen ......, but also visible from hides!!

Star of screen ……, but also, often, visible from hides!!

The, newly re-furbished, camera is positioned viewing an area between Ivy North and South Hides, which is just not readily accessible, so without it we couldn’t see this area – or the egret.
Just after this image was taken the egret left – suddenly – being pursued by a grey heron. It would appear that despite the somewhat greater stature of the egret, standing ‘head and beak’ above a grey heron, it’s a little less than confident in standing its ground (water?) against our more common native bird.

Yesterday’s starling murmuration was well attended, by both starlings and spectators, although the light levels weren’t terrific for photography. We don’t know how much longer this spectacle is likely to continue but at least a large number of people have been fortunate enough to get here to view it over the last couple of weeks.

P1460987

Didn’t get over to the Tern Hide car-park tonight as when the weather is so grim they usually sneak in and settle so there didn’t seem to be much point. There’s always the chance that with less inclement weather, the display may continue for a while longer.
Also of note today, there were a number of siskin on the feeder by the Centre car-park, a start to the build-up of wintering finches we hope will be with us soon.
A couple of visitors had reported good sightings of the great white egret. As I closed down it was foraging in the reeds, about thirty feet away from the Ivy North Hide — don’t rate it’s chances if it runs into one of our bittern!!!!

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!