Monday, 13 July 2009

Terns, gulls, and Hare's feet

The Common Tern chicks from Ivy Lake are getting more adventurous, several are now to be seen perched on the posts outside the Tern hide. With their brown mottled backs they are very different from the adults in plumage. With luck these will return in two years to breed and do so for many years after. I think we may need to provide more rafts if the recent level of success is maintained.
The terns are not the only youngsters about, there are lots of juvenile Black-headed Gulls, in plumage they are very similarly patterned to the juvenile Common Terns.The day was not all about birds on Ibsley Water, a branch had partly torn away from a willow near the Ivy North hide and blocked the path. I knew it had been quite windy but I had not realised just how strong it had been. As well as the branch another casualty was the Great Crested Grebe nest near the Ivy South hide, all three eggs could still be seen on the swamped nest platform, but they were partly in the water and obviously abandoned.

The gloom lifted and the sun came out, luckily just as I finished cutting up the fallen branch. With the sun out came the insects, on the edge of the lichen heath several Six-spot Burnet Moths were flying about, along with Meadow Brown and Small Skipper butterflies.
A few hoverflies such as this Episyrphus balteatus, also known as the Marmalade Hoverfly were about. This species is mostly a migrant arriving from early spring, sometimes in huge swarms.
The lichen heath being dry and sandy has some similarity to the coast and several of the plants found there are more typical of areas like sand dunes. The Hare's-foot Clover is one of these, named for the downy flower heads it is just one of a whole host of plants in the pea family that thrive on the poor dry soils at Blashford.
The only other event of note has been the arrival of ponies on the reserve, somewhat later than usual and so far only three. I will try and move them to the eastern shore of Ibsley Water before too long so they can graze some of the longer grass in front of the Lapwing hide.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Season on the wing

The advancing season is evident at Blashford in several ways, the geese on Ibsley Water are starting to fly again after completing their moult, the Lapwings have either given up or finish breeding for the year and the Darter dragonflies are out and about.

This Common Darter was basking on the picnic tables behind the Education Centre when I was having lunch on Thursday.

Another less welcome sign of the season's movement is the sight of the vivid yellow flowers of Ragwort. Although I say less welcome, this is only because of the management work that having it growing so prolifically on site involves. The flowers are a great nectar source and in an ideal world it would be welcome for the huge numbers of insects it attracts. Unfortunately, as many will know, it is also toxic to livestock, although they rarely eat it if there is other food available unless it gets mixed with hay. Ragwort is a very conspicuous and contentious feature of the post mid-summer scene.

It is particularly hated by keepers of horses and these are many around the fringes of the New Forest and towns throughout the country. Many of the reserve's neighbours are horse keepers and whatever the case for Ragwort as a valuable nectar source good neighbourliness demands that we do undertake control on the reserve. This is especially difficult as we cannot clear it until the nesting Lapwings have finished and we cannot use chemical control. This leaves us with control by hand in a short time-slot in late June and early July if we are to get it before it starts to seed.

Traditionally the plants are pulled up by hand, but this is problematic at Blashford because the dry sandy soils mean that a large bare patch result from this technique, ideal for new Ragwort seedlings to establish. It has been found that cutting below the lowest leaf usually kills the plant and does not break the ground and this is how we control it on the reserve. Our biggest problem areas are around the shores of Ibsley Water and here we are controlling this plant and a number of other large "weeds" with the aim of producing a short grass sward suitable fro grazing wildfowl in the winter. This has the advantage of producing a useful habitat and a tight sward is much more difficult for Ragwort to seed into, so we should have less work to do in the future. However the site history of soil disturbance and the longevity of the seeds may mean it is my successors that see the reduction in this particular work-load.

So the volunteer task on Thursday was Ragwort control, never the most popular of tasks, the one compensation was that it involves going to a part to the reserve that we usually only see from a distance. The view below is one the average visitor will never see as it is from an inaccessible part of the site. Perhaps surprisingly there are several parts of the reserve that even I hardly ever visit, leaving them as undisturbed as possible unless there is a job to do.

Bird nest update

The Little Ringed Plover chicks continue to grow well as does at least one of the Lapwings chicks, both to be seen from the Tern hide.

The Common terns on Ivy Lake continue to do well with more reaching the flying stage each day and the first being seen away fro this lake as they get more accomplished at flying. I am fairly confident that about 30 will ultimately fledge this season, a real bumper crop.

Monday, 6 July 2009

An emperor for lunch

A day of occasional showers, warm sun, patchy cloud and a good breeze meant that insects were out and about but not always very active. At lunchtime the Emperor dragonfly below was basking in an attempt to warm up in the, at best, patchy sunshine.
It is a really fine male, all black and blue, it remained on this mullein stem for over twenty minutes and allowed me to get right in close for a picture. It might have hatched from the pond at the centre, this is the most common large dragonfly to hatch out from there and there can be twenty or more exuvae clinging to the stems of the reeds around the pond.

Nesting bird update:
All four Little Ringed Plover chicks are still surviving in front of the Tern hide, but the Lapwings seem to have lost two of their chicks. The Oystercatcher chick is well grown now and almost as large as the parent birds.
On Ivy Lake the Common Terns continue to do well, with more flying, although two had dropped into the lake and will be at risk if they do not get out of the water. Both were being regularly fed by their parents and hopefully will get back onto a raft. The small raft by the south hide has a sitting Great Crested Grebe, certainly sitting on at least two eggs.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Blashford abuzz

Friday at Blashford Lakes was hot, not always sunny, but very warm, ideal for insects. Fittingly the day resulted in several species being recorded for the first time this year and one completely new site record. New for this year were Roesel's Bush Cricket (heard buzzing away around Ibsley Water particularly near the Lapwing hide), Gatekeeper (although I suspect there have been a few out before now) and the fine Silver-washed Fritillary pictured below.
The new species for the reserve was on the same flowers at the same time and was a Broad-bordered Bee Hawk Moth. Quite a scarce species, the larvae feed on honeysuckle and the adult hovers at flowers int he same way as Hummingbird Hawk Moths. It is not a great picture, but it was pretty fast moving. Perhaps because the wings are so hard to see, being fast moving and transparent, they always give me the impression of small frantic cuddly toy, certainly unmoth-like moths at any rate.

The four Little Ringed Plover chicks were all still running around by the Tern hide during the day, although I did not see any at the end of the day, hopefully they were just hiding. At least two of the Lapwing chicks are still present as is the, now half grown, Oystercatcher chick. A not great picture of one of the Little Ringed Plovers and mum is below. Although they are very close there always seems to be some vegetation in the way!
Meanwhile on Ivy Lake more of the tern chicks have flown, possibly as many as ten now and still lots more chicks growing. Both Coot and Great Crested Grebe are on nests on stick rafts in front of the Ivy South hide, so hopefully there will be more to report for some time yet.