Thursday, 29 October 2009

No moths, lots of gulls

I put the moth trap out before I left Blashford yesterday, however I failed to turn the timer on, so I arrived to find a moth trap but no moths. I really must remember that, energy saving though not turning the bulb on might be, it is not great for trapping moths!

As it was Thursday it was volunteer day, thirteen people today and we got a lot of the view of the silt pond beside the path to the Ivy South hide opened up. Hopefully this will allow the ducks that use the pond to see people walking along the path better and make them more likely to habituate to people being there. Soon we will be starting work in readiness for the replacement of the Ivy South hide, this will mean the hide will be out of action for a couple of weeks but after that there will be a new and hopefully much better view of the lake.

At the end of the day I tried to get a "count" of the gulls coming to roost on Ibsley Water. In the end I estimated about 11,000 large gulls, mostly Lesser Black-backed but including at least 18 Yellow-legged Gulls and a single Common Gull. To get a better estimate I really need to start earlier and count them as they arrive, flying in from the north after a day up on Salisbury Plain.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Long-lived moths and developing plans

I was actually not at Blashford for long today, as I went to a meeting at the Countryside Education Trust's Tree House at Beaulieu, a very fine building indeed. Back at Blashford in the afternoon I heard the Great White Egret had been seen near the Lapwing hide in the morning and that drake Goldeneye that I keep missing also, as well as the first Fieldfare of the autumn. At Blashford Fieldfares seem to be mostly autumn birds passing through with rather few in winter proper.

Sadly, even at Blashford I was stuck in the office for most of the time, but the moth trap did provide a diversion. The line-up included Large Yellow Underwing, a late Copper Underwing, a Brick, both Yellow-line and Red-line Quakers, a male Vapourer, a Herald and a dark-streaked micro moth called Acleris hastiana, both of the these last two species (pictured below) will over-winter as adult moths, hibernating in some sheltered spot. This means that they may live for six months or more in the adult state, it is perhaps not surprise that both are not obviously moth-like in appearance, especially when amongst leaves of tree bark, they do not want to look too much like food during the hungry winter months.

Plans for the replacement for the Ivy South hide progress as does the project to put in some wildlife cameras, all being well we should be starting work next month. In fact it is going to be a busy winter as we also hope to extend the Sand Martin bank as well and there is still all the usual winter work to be done.

I stayed a little later at the end of the day and took a look at the gulls coming in to roost on Ibsley Water (and still could not find the drake Goldeneye!). The gulls included at least five Yellow-legged Gulls (4 adults and a 2nd winter) and a single Common Gull. Common Gulls are actually not at all common at Blashford and are always worth noting.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Goldeneye, Goosander and the Great White

The day started grey but quite calm, then rapidly became wet and windy. I opened up the Tern hide to find even fewer Coots, probably well under two hundred now where there were over a thousand only three weeks ago. Still there were certainly four Goldeneye, all "redheads" (which is to say females of juveniles) and shortly after I arrived 12 Goosander flew out from the roost, these too were all "redheads". I also noticed the number of Ruddy Duck had increased with nine female types and one adult drake.

Moving across to the Centre I found a female Sparrowhawk in the car park standing on the back of a bewildered juvenile Woodpigeon. My arrival disturbed it and the hawk flew off. I thought the Woodpigeon would not survive but after a few minutes it too flew off.

The moth trap contained a small selection of species including a fine Merveille du Jour, Brick, Red-line Quaker, Sallow, Feathered Thorn and Common Marbled Carpet. Nothing unusual there, although the two Bricks were both unusually small specimens.

Despite the rain two volunteers turned up to help with the task in the morning. Actually this was ideal and it enabled us to do the clearance of the sightlines at the Ivy North hide. This means that if the Bitterns do return this winter, we will have a reasonable chance of seeing them. This task that would have been difficult to do with many more people as there is not much working room. One of the "problems" that have arisen with the success of the reserve is that we now have a large band of volunteer helpers , obviously this is not a problem as such, but sometimes finding a task that can occupy everybody without getting too dispersed can be a bit of a challenge. Some tasks can take twelve people with ease others only need two or three. Still a great problem to have and we always seem to find lots to do and I suspect will for along time to come.

While we were working a Cetti's Warbler gave a brief burst of song and when I returned in the afternoon I found the Great White Egret standing in the shallows in front of the hide. This was the first time I have seen it on Ivy Lake since it returned. It was also interesting to note that the colour-rings are much cleaner this season and it is quite easy to read the combination.

Lousy weather precluded any pictures today, I will try and get some for the next update, words alone can get a bit dull.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Bird counts and butterflies

Another clam cloudy day, at least at first, although the wind did pick up later. An early start as we were counting the lakes today. I started at the Lapwing hide, it was grey enough to be slightly drizzling but visibility was good enough. The 5 Dunlin were still out on the small islands in mid lake and I was able to confirm that there were actually 2 Goldeneye, both of them "redheads" and near the western shore. On last month's count there were over one thousand Coots on the lake, today barely 200. There are slowly increasing numbers of Pochard, although still only just over twenty but little change otherwise. The number of Little Grebe is still impressive with sixty four today.

When I got to count Rockford Lake I found where a lot of the Coot had gone, 721 on there today! also a Green Sandpiper and 148 Wigeon. Ivy Lake was also good with just under 200 Gadwall, 147 Coot, 58 Wigeon and a few diving ducks, not bad for quite a small lake. Whilst counting there I had the first Redpoll of the autumn flying over westwards. Otherwise the count was pretty uneventful apart from a Fallow buck on the foot path south of Snails Lane, nit a place I would have expected one, no doubt a young one driven off the Forest by the "Big Boys" now that the rut is started.

The moth trap was disappointing with fewer moths than I had expected, although a Green-brindled Crescent was new for the year. The sunshine later in the day did bring out a few Common Darter dragonflies and butterflies. We saw Comma, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell sunning themselves on the Centre roof at lunchtime. We also had a juvenile Hobby dive at something by the pond and go away low over the roof, a grandstand view and a very close pass. It or another was near the Lapwing hide earlier, where there was also a Red Admiral.

At the end of the day I did not need to get away quiet so quickly as usual so took the chance to look at the gathering gull roost. When I did leave at 17:55 there were already over three thousand Lesser Black-backed Gulls as well as a thousand or more Black-headed Gulls. Also present were 3 Common Gulls, which are actually far from common at Blashford and at least 4 Yellow-legged Gulls.

Not in again until Monday, the whole weekend off, luxury!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Lesser pecker, Cricket Teal and an awayday

On Wednesday (yesterday) I was not at Blashford, the Lower Test based volunteer team came down to work at Holmsley Gravel Pit, a small reserve on the edge of the New Forest. In recent years it has become dominated by the small, invasive alien waterweed Crassula helmsii, originally from the Antipodes it was imported for use in garden ponds, I have no idea why as it is hardly a beautiful plant. It promptly got out, or more likely was thrown away when people found it was small, boring and spread everywhere to the detriment of more interesting plants. It then spread like mad filling shallow ponds all over the place with a smothering mat of bright green. At Holmsley we have tried almost everything to get rid of it, digging it up, spraying, covering with sheeting and dousing with liquid nitrogen. None of this has had more than passing success. In the picture below all the bright green grass-like stuff is Crassula so you can see the scale of the problem.
The purpose to the task was only partly to do with this plant though, there were also a good few willows to cut down, the low water level allows access to parts of the bank usually cut off, so it was a good time to get this done.
Before the start of work a quick look at the birds was quite productive with 99 Teal, a Little Egret and a Green Sandpiper. There were also a few Swallows flying over.
Today I was back at Blashford, the day was overcast and calm, a quick look at Ibsley Water as I opened up revealed 4 Dunlin and a Green Sandpiper with a calling Curlew circling overhead. As I opened the Ivy North hide I noticed something in one of the willows and it turned out to be a candidate for "Bird of the day" a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, it is over a year since I have seen one on the reserve, let's hope it stays around. There were also several Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests. Near the Ivy South hide a singing Cetti's Warbler was also good and a new loction on the reserve. The first stage of the day was rounded off with a number of fly-over Song Thrush and Redwing.
There were eighteen species of moths in the trap including 2 Cypress Carpets, one of which is pictured, not very well as the light was terrible!

The Thursday volunteer crew were working on site this morning and we finished clearing the huge fallen willow to the west of the Ivy North hide, this has opened up a very large space at the back of the reeds, hopefully these will grow into the new open ground now that the light has been let back in. The sightlines from the hide were cleared a bit and the hide cleaned inside and out.

I was on my own at lunchtime today so I visited the Tern hide with my sandwiches, the Dunlin numbers had grown slightly to five, there were 2 Black-tailed Godwits and most notably a Goldeneye, the first of the autumn. I also made a quick visit to Ibsley North pit were there was also Black-tailed Godwit and more notably a juvenile Garganey (another candidate for "BotD" and also known as a Cricket Teal after their call).

Tomorrow we are doing our monthly count of the lakes so I should get a much better idea of what is about and where. Coot numbers on Ibsley Water have dropped a lot, but they may have just move dot other lakes, we shall see.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

A Marvellous Blashford day

Another classic autumn morning, When I opened up Tern hide Ibsley Water was calm, the air was cold and a shallow mist hung over the water. I could not see that much, but through the murk there was one sight of note, a pair of Shelduck, although they flew off southwards shortly after.

The trees around the Centre and Ivy Lake hides were still well supplied with Goldcrests, but the number of Chiffchaff seems to have dropped. Despite this there were at least three or four with two of them singing. A flock of Blue Tits by the Ivy North hide were feeding in the sallow next to the hide, looking at them pecking at the undersides of the leaves I could see they were picking off aphids, small prey but obviously worth the effort.

Three volunteers came in during the morning and we cleared a fallen willow near the Ivy North hide, as a result quite a large area has opened up in the back of the reedbed, hopefully the reeds will spread into the space. Looking under a lump of wood in this area revealed a newt, the Smooth Newt is very common at Blashford outnumbering Palmate Newts by about ten to one, at least in the area near the Centre.
Although the night was quite cold there were seven species of moths in the trap including a Flounced Chestnut, the first of the autumn and a very fine Merveille du Jour, one of my favourite moths. The pattern and colours are quite spectacular and only shared by the not very closely related Scarce Merveille du Jour, which flies much earlier in the year.
My afternoon was spent in a meeting but at the end as I walked out of the building a Redwing flew low overhead, only the second of the autumn.

Monday, 12 October 2009

The value of weed

After yesterday's excitement there was no sign of either the Long-billed Dowitcher or the Ring-billed Gull today. Even the two Little Stints reported seem to have transformed into two Dunlin and these along with three Green Sandpipers were all the waders I could find on Ibsley Water when I opened up the Tern hide this morning. I did hear that the Great White Egret was seen near the Lapwing hide early on, but flew off as usual.
Even the moth trap provided thin pickings with just the first Yellow-line Quaker of the autumn and the rather fine caddisfly pictured below.
The lakes at Blashford are mostly very clear and water weeds grow very well in them. This is good for birds and water companies as clear water is what they both want. The birds want the weed and the invertebrates that live on it. The two most "important" bird species at Blashford are Coot and Gadwall and both feed on water weeds. At the moment Ibsley Water has huge rafts of floating weed and lots of Coots feeding on it. In places it is so dense that the herons have been standing on it even though the water is three or four metres deep.
We often hear about the problems caused by alien water weeds, clogging canals and generally out competing native species, they are basically viewed as bad news and something to be got rid of. However the Coot and Gadwall at Blashford are almost exclusively eating and alien water weed, one of the Elodea pondweeds often known as "Canadian pond weed". In this case the nationally and internationally important populations need the alien plant. Incidentally the "importance" is defined as a percentage of the population. So for Coot we have over 1% of the UK population and for Gadwall we have over 1% of the W. European population.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Long-billed, Ring-billed and Blashford bound

A quite remarkable day, although it was not obvious that anything of interest was going to happen when I first arrived on site. Ibsley Water was covered in Coots on a grey morning, the most notable thing was the first Redwing of the autumn flying over.
I was occupied all morning discussing possible camera set-ups for Blashford and later the idea of setting up a platform for Ospreys. Fortunately there were others looking at the wildlife and reports came in of a second winter Ring-billed Gull being seen on Ibsley Water and a Long-billed Dowitcher just off the reserve on Ibsley North lake. The gull seemed to have flown off, but I did go up to see the dowitcher. Both of these birds come from North America and are "megas" at least at Blashford. A dowitcher is a wader of similar size and bill type to a snipe, unfortunately during the time I saw it rest was top of the agenda and the bill was only shown once and briefly.

The picture is of the dowitcher in typical pose, complete with picturesque brick!

I never did see the Ring-billed Gull nor the Little Stint also reported, indeed the stint later became two, however the best I could do was a single Dunlin, strangely nobody else reported that. At least one Hobby was also still around, although I saw no dragonflies and precious few swallows or martins today for it to hunt.

It is not often that North American birds make it to Hampshire and when they do it is usually to the coast so two species at Blashford in the one day was a bit special. Probably the most Americans to fly in to Blashford on one day since the USAF over sixty years ago when what is now Ibsley Water was Ibsley airfield.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Noisy Cetti's on a quiet day

The few waders that have been hanging around on Ibsley Water seem to have all deserted us, I could find only Lapwings on Friday morning. Pochard numbers have crept up to ten but little else seems to have changed on the water in the last few days.

I was up near the Lapwing hide to fix a gateway before the rain came and was rewarded with a singing Cetti's Warbler and in the willows at least three Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap. I also noticed that the logbook in the hide records 13 Goosander for the previous evening.

At the north end of Ivy Lake 10 Shoveler, 43 Gadwall and 35 Tufted Duck were near the hide. I am planning to deal with a couple of fallen willows on the lake shore here next week so their peace will be temporarily shattered.

In the moth trap a Blair's Shoulder Knot was the first of the autumn. As a primarily garden species thanks to the main food plant being Leylandii cypress I am a little surprised that I catch them so regularly at Blashford.

There was a little overhead migration during the day with small numbers of Swallows, Linnets and Skylarks. It turned out that there had been a large movement of birds along the coast though. The Avon, despite being orientated N/S does not seem to be a major channel for most migrants. We clearly get some waders and other waterbirds and hirundines, but most small migrants obviously do not use it as a route.

One item of late news from Thursday was a report of a Hen Harrier from Ibsley Water in the afternoon as yet I don't know who saw it or what plumage it was in. Still two species of harriers in the last few days cannot be bad, even if I saw neither of them!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

The feel of Autumn with a touch of Summer

A much better day today, although autumn has definitely arrived, the morning was cool, even cold, but clear and fine, with a light northerly wind. Before I had even got to Tern hide to open up a saw a Peregrine stooping over the southern end of Ibsley Water, it missed and powered off westwards. Almost immediately it flew into and caught a Woodpigeon and carried off.

From the Tern hide I saw a Common Sandpiper and a juvenile Ringed Plover, probably the birds from the last few days, there was no sign of the Ruff though. Near the north shore a groups of about 100 hirundines turned out to be Swallows, a close look revealed at least one Sand Martin with them but no sign of any House Martins, although there were some feeding over the trees later. So despite feeling like autumn some of summer remains.

By the Ivy North hide several Chiffchaffs were with a mixed tit flock that also included several Goldcrests, the first real influx of the autumn. From the hide I saw perhaps the most surprising bird of the morning, a Reed Warbler, the last one I saw at Blashford was about a month ago. Later in the morning a juvenile Hobby was hunting over the store as we were putting the tools away after the volunteer task. Two more Hobbies were reported from near the Lapwing hide as well.

The task today was trimming back the paths and clearing around the Woodland hide, during what was a very sunny morning six species of butterflies were seen, these were: Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Small Copper, Speckled Wood, Peacock and Small White.

At various times during the day small parties of Siskin were passing over, mostly only heard bu the few I saw were going west. I also heard Skylarks a couple of times, on one occasion I saw the birds and these were going east. Skylarks are only recorded flying over at Blashford, I am sure that they would have nested in the grassland by Ibsley Water in the past, but they seem scarce generally in the Avon Valley nowadays.

A brief visit to the Ivy South hide in the afternoon brought another surprise, one of the stick rafts outside the hide had a Green Sandpiper roosting on it. This gave an opportunity for a picture.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Another Ruff day and late Martins

The day started alright, cloudy and dry, although much cooler than I had expected. On Ibsley Water the imm. female Ruff was still present as were both the juv. Ringed Plover and a Common Sandpiper. Just after eight o'clock some 200 hundred or more Greylags flew off SW from Mockbeggar Lake, leaving their roost for the valley.

Opening up the Ivy hides I noticed a steady passage of small groups of Siskin going west in small groups. There were also several small parties of Swallows (of which more later). For the first time this week I managed to get down to the Ivy South hide without flushing any the ducks off the silt pond, especially good as they included three Wigeon.

In late morning the rain came, it was not as heavy as we were lead to expect but still persistent and generally made things grim. I had a guided walk in the afternoon, in the event we just visited the Tern, Ivy North and Woodland hides. The theme was "The Last of Summer" and Ibsley Water delivered. The rain had brought down good numbers of hirundines with some 200 Swallows (later rising to at least 400), House Martins (perhaps 100 by closing time) and, best of all, at least 2 Sand Martins. It is getting late for Sand Martins and these may well be my last for the year.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Crazy Horse Day

Today started as a quiet sort of a day, mild, overcast and with light winds, no great excitement expected. OK so there was the triathlon event on neighbouring Ellingham Lake with the usual random overspill of parking along the verges etc and it was the first Sunday of the month so the monthly volunteer task was on in the morning.

As I opened up Tern hide there was a distant Common Sandpiper and out on one of the islands the juvenile female Ruff was still walking about feeding, it has been here for over a week now. I say female, it is certainly the size of a typical female, but recent research has shown that a few males are small and look like females, this allowing them to outwit the "kings of the lek" and mate with females on the sly.

The volunteers arrived, a good turnout of six people today, we cleared overhanging trees around the meadow area due to be rabbit fenced later in the autumn, better to get the trees down first than have them fall on the new fence.

As they were leaving at lunchtime a visitor reported six Garganey on the edge of Rockford Lake, so I thought I would check them out before having a sandwich. Sadly no Garganey but great views of an adult and juvenile Hobby catching dragonflies just overhead. Then things went off the rails a bit, I got a call from the owner of the ponies grazing Ibsley Water to say he had come to collect one and could I bring him a key, fine I could do that. Then a couple of minutes later another, two ponies had cut away from the others and crossed a ditch and were in the reed and willow area between Goosander and Lapwing hide. All thoughts of lunch were gone and it was off to get the quad bike and go and find the wayward animals.

At first and indeed for a while I could not find them, various visitors had seen them going this way and that, but I could not find them anywhere. Eventually I found a path beaten through the reeds and following it found the ponies near the fence, a start at least. Now all I had to do was get them across the fence. I had brought some tools with me, just in case, so I could take down the wire, but I did not want the animals to spook and run off. As I was doing this I heard a calling Cetti's Warbler near the Lapwing hide,my first of the autumn there (although two singing birds had been reported a few days ago), there was also a Small Copper butterfly basking on the short grass. Luckily the ponies owners appeared and between us we were able to get the wire down and keep the animals from making a dash for it, then it was through the fence and order was, more or less restored.
It was then back to the quad bike and time to replace the various Hampshire gates I had taken down in the hope of getting the ponies through. Still, a bonus was yet another brilliant view of a juvenile Hobby catching a dragonfly low over the pond behind Lapwing hide.

Eventually, at 3:20pm I got back to the centre for a sandwich and a cup of tea. I also looked through the moth trap, which contained rather few moths, although two very different Common Marbled Carpets were of interest. The smartest insect was probably the caddisfly in the picture, I'm not sure of the species.
At the end of the day, a look at Ibsley Water revealed things much as at the start, the Ruff was strolling around on one of the islands and a couple of Ruddy Ducks were preening amongst the Coots, so things ended much as they had started, they just went a bit mad in the middle.