Thursday, 30 April 2009

The last of April

Late news from yesterday was a sighting of the first dragonfly of the year, a newly emerged Downy Emerald at the pond next to the Centre, a fresh exuvia was also found a second insect first for the year was a Painted Lady near the Ivy North hide. Also yesterday the Bar-tailed Godwit which has been around for about a week was seen again on Ibsley Water.

On to today, a bit dismal with light rain for much of the time, typically this resulted in good numbers of Swifts over Ibsley Water, at least 100, with smaller numbers of House Martins and Swallows. There were no other signs of any migrants though.

The Lapwings that had been sitting on eggs to the west of the Tern hide lost their nests well over a week ago now and one pair is back sitting again. Both the Little Ringed Plover and "True Grit" Oystercatchers are still incubating. Already hatched are three broods of Greylags (one each of 5, 6 and 10) and one brood of Canada Geese, all on Ibsley Water.

On Ivy Lake today the Great Crested Grebes and Mute Swans are still sitting on their nests by the North hide and the first Common Terns were seen on the rafts. Unfortunately there were also two Lesser Black-backed Gulls, two Black-headed Gulls and two pairs of Canada Geese, despite the fencing around the edge.

The volunteers this morning completed a number of odd jobs including making four refuge rafts to attach to the nesting rafts in case any chicks bail out before they can fly as happened last year.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

A dawn pour, a high kite and a shuffle

What a day to do a dawn chorus walk, if you were up that early you will have heard, seen and if you came out with us experienced the rain. Not the ideal conditions, but it did dry up and there were birds singing. First was Robin, not a surprise, then Song Thrush, Blackbird and in at number four, Oystercatcher! alright this was calling as it flew over rather than singing, but still the fourth species we heard. The title of "Bird of the walk" went to a Badger, seen near the Woodland hide. Never let anyone tell you they are bumbling slow creatures, this one fairly shot away across the open ground to the sett at a full gallop.
After this I opened the hides and from the Tern hide, in company with Hulls (Two Owls Birding) a Red Kite, thanks to Nick and obvious signs of an arrival of birds with a few hundred Sand Martins and tens of Swifts. Also present were two Dunlin, two Black-tailed Godwits and a Bar-tailed Godwit which flew off to the east. Later in the day there were three Dunlin, four Black-tailed Godwits and the same or another Bar-tailed.

Having not had a good look around the reserve in ages I decided today was the day to do so. The Goosander hide was great with something like a hundred Sand Martins buzzing about just outside the windows and gathering nesting material from the ground below the hide. A Whitethroat singing was also good, it might not sound much but this is the first singing Whitethroat I have ever found on the reserve.

Walking up to the Lapwing hide at least three singing Garden Warblers were the first of the year and a singing Cuckoo on a fence was the first I have seen this year. From the hide there were four Wigeon and a pair of Pintail, so not quite all the winter ducks have gone.

A visit to Mockbeggar North lake just off the reserve added a drake Garganey with a drake Shoveler to the list of birds for the day. Also just off the reserve, but this time on Rockford Lake was a single Egyptian Goose.

Later in the afternoon I was out again at the Tern hide and saw my first Hobby of the year and a Raven, both flying over, whilst on the shore a male White Wagtail and a drake Goosander were smart additions. The stony shore of the lake looks unpromising for feeding birds but it evidently harbours a good lot of food if you know where to look and how to find it. This Redshank was practicing a variation on the Turnstone trick, it was pushing stones aside or over, but these stones were just under the water, it was also finding lots of things to eat by doing so. It seems that it did take some effort to get the longer bill into place right under the stone in order to lever it out of the way, but once done the technique seemed to work well.

Another method is the old foot paddle shuffle, as used by gulls the world over. This first summer Black-headed Gull was foot-paddling away in the shallows, but with a twist, as it paddled it shuffled backwards. This explained why my first couple of pictures were out of focus, the bird had moved. I had only ever seen them paddling on the spot previously, but this was also usually on land, so perhaps the shuffle is a feature of this behaviour in water.

Of the few ducks that are still around a lot are Tufted Ducks. It is often worth looking at the flocks at this time of year just in case they include a passing Ring-necked Duck. This north American species is similar to our Tufted and is named after for the brown ring around the neck, mind you this is a feature that is usually impossible to see int he field and far from the species most obvious bit of plumage. It is also not one that separates it from our Tufted Duck, as this picture shows, although it usually as hard to see on a Tufted as it is on a Ring-necked!

Oystercatcher with true grit

As I was locking up yesterday evening the usual flock of large gulls was loafing on the gravel spit east of the Tern hide, some of them quite near an Oystercatcher sitting on a nest. After a little while a pair of adult Greater Black-backed Gulls approached and I thought the nest was a gonner. The Oystercatcher started calling and crouched down lower, the male gull walked up to her looking down as though puzzled as to why she had not flown off, let's face it how many birds don't fly off when approached by a GBbG? However she sat tight, I was impressed, then the gull walked round behind her, I suppose she dare not move as this would have shown the eggs, then the gull bent down and pulled her tail, twice. Incredibly she still sat tight and in the end all was well as the gulls lost interest and walked off. I don't know if the eggs will hatch but this Oystercatcher has certainly shown she has true grit in her.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Southern Iron Blue alive and well at Blashford Lakes

Saturday 18th April 2009

The Riverfly Partnership held a workshop at Blashford Lakes for anglers, riverkeepers and others interested in learning techniques for monitoring water quality in our rivers. The method used is to sample to groups of invertebrate present, mostly the larval stages of various flying insects, and to produce a score that indicates the water quality.

There are tens of thousands of anglers out daily along our rivers and they are potentially a great source of data on the quality of our rivers. Fish-kills are easily noted but lesser incidents can eliminate whole groups of invertebrates without any obvious signs that there is anything wrong, monitoring the invertebrates is the key to identifying these incidents. As well as providing water quality information it also offers the chance to find interesting species. The training session produced larval stages of both of the classic stream species of Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), the Beautiful Demoiselle to the (above right)and a truly huge and rather hairy looking Gold-ringed Dragonfly (below left ).

Although both are fabulous creatures they do not actually feature in the monitoring, this looks at Mayflies, Stoneflies, Caddisflies and freshwater shrimps. Of these the last are the most critical and can be eliminated by even the slightest pollution incidents. Luckily we had no problems finding good numbers of them in the Dockens Water at Blashford along with a wide range of other creatures.

The title of "Find of the Day" went to the mayfly larva pictured to the right, this is Nigrobaetis niger known in English as the Southern Iron Blue. It is one a number of mayfly species found but was by far the rarest being a BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) species. It is distinctively marked with a long pale stripe down the body and dark bands on each of the three "tails".

All in all it was a great day and I will be setting up two monitoring sites on the Dockens Water shortly.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

16th April 2009

The last few days at Blashford have seen few new birds arriving for the summer but quite a lot departing northwards. The Common Terns that arrived over the weekend, so far only two, now have their nesting rafts out on Ivy Lake, put out there by the volunteers this morning. In fact they sat on one of the buoys and watched me struggling to tie off the mooring rope, so they know they are there, just have to wait for them to start nesting now.
A good few other birds are already nesting with Lapwing on eggs near the tern hide and well over fifty pairs of Sand Martins now lining their nests in the bank by the Goosander hide. These birds are also using a man-made site, this built by the volunteers early last year. The Sand martins are great to watch from the hide, but are easily put off by the Sparrowhawk that regularly perches next to the bank. It is a great bird to get pictures of though, it sits close to the hide and seems reluctant to fly off, even when the hide windows are opened. I suspect it might not be in the best of health, although it has been seen to catch prey so is still hunting and flies well.
There was no sign today of the reported Black-necked Grebe of yesterday, indeed I still have not been able to find out anything about the record. I assume it was just passing through. The rest of the days birds were mostly of the "nearly gone" variety, there was just one Brambling reported and only a few Redpoll, with no sign of the Greater Redpoll that had been causing some interest. The day ended with a fine view of a pair of Goosander on the small island outside the Tern hide, asleep in the early evening sunshine.