Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Beauty and the Bees

A warm night resulted in a trap full of moths this morning, along with a good number of hawk-moths there were 2 Great Oak Beauty, these large grey moths are typical of old oak woodland and they are something of a New Forest speciality. As well as subtle colouring, no doubt good for camouflage on a tree trunk, they also sport splendid "Dennis Healy" eyebrows, OK so they are antennae really, but you see what I mean.
Although the Little Ringed Plovers that lost their brood at the Tern hide still think there is enough summer to start another nesting attempt, there are distinct signs of approaching autumn. 2 Common Sandpipers on the trees outside the Ivy South hide were already on their way south after breeding. On Ibsley Water the geese are in full wing moult and the air is full of fledgling Black-headed Gulls.

Although Blashford cannot claim to be a great site for orchids we do have some, the willow woodland in some areas have lots of Broad-leaved Helleborine, they flower mostly in July so are not out yet. The one pictured should have a good stem of flowers, I will add a picture of it if it does, I put it in now because they often get nibbled down by Rabbits, so they often don't get to flower.
Another orchid we have and one that is in full flower now is the Bee Orchid. They are scattered around the area of the reserve north of Ellingham Drove, the one below was beside the path to the Lapwing hide.
I spent a good bit of time this morning removing Ragwort from the shore of Ibsley Water, not great for birding but I did see a few butterflies, including a Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell, Large White and several Meadow Brown. During the afternoon, I resisted the temptation to continue with the Ragwort and cleared some path sides, this gave further butterflies watching opportunities including my first Silver-washed Fritillary, Small Skipper and Ringlet of the year. There were also several summer brood Comma sunning themselves on the paths.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Chicks Lost and Taking Flight

Sorry for lack of posts over the last few days, mainly due to internet problems. Despite "good" weather the Little Ringed Plover chicks all seem to have fallen prey to predators, although the largest single Lapwing chick continues on. The Common Terns on the rafts on Ivy lake are starting to fly, the first three, all from one brood, flew on Tuesday and there are still over thirty chicks on the rafts.

The warm conditions have brought out lots of dragonflies with good numbers of Scarce Chaser and more Gold-ringed Dragonflies than I have seen here before. The numbers of Common Blue and Azure Damsels are amazing, with hundreds together in places. The picture shows a male Azure Damselfly.
Moths have been quite good in numbers, with several Privet, Eyed, Elephant and Poplar Hawk-moths. Following on from the sighting of its parasite, I actually saw a Horn-tail near the Centre the other day, seemingly the first for the reserve.

Friday, 18 June 2010

The Beetles come to Blashford

There were four of them and they were quite "fab", but they were all ladybirds. Both in the moth trap and just around the Center there were lots of ladybirds today. In the trap were several Orange Ladybirds and a single Cream-spot Ladybird (pictured). Neither species is at all rare, although it was thought that Orange Ladybirds were quite uncommon until moth trappers started to record them, when it was realised they are actually quite common.
The other two of the four were a Ten-spot Ladybird and several of the alien Harlequin Ladybird, the one pictured is the black from with red spots, which is a little less common than the red from with black spots. This is a large species which eats other ladybird larvae as well as the usual aphids. It arrived in Britain in the last few years and has rapidly become the commonest species over a very large area. It came originally from SE Asia but has been introduced into N. America and Europe and is probably now the world's commonest ladybird species.
The Little Ringed Plover chicks still survive as do the Lapwing chicks. The Common Terns are also still doing really well, the oldest brood are starting to flap their growing wings and will be flying before too long. Most broods are still of three, which means they have not lost any chicks as they almost never pay more than three eggs.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

A Raft, is a Raft, is a Raft

We still have three Little Ringed Plover chicks surviving and the weather still looks alright for the next few days at least. Overnight moth trapping did produce one new species in the form of a Clouded Buff, a heathland species that had probably wandered down from the New Forest. It regularly flies in the daylight and the only picture I could get was in the trap as it flew off almost immediately afterwards.
The big task of the morning was trying out some raft designs, you might think there would not be much choice, but if so you had not bargained on the ingenuity of the Blashford volunteers. The object was to come up with a frame design which will support a plastic pie filled with bottles, to provide floatation and infilled with coir fibre which will act as a planting medium for a range of marginal plants. There were not quite as many designs as people but it was a close run thing, there was the "Tortilla Chip".Some favoured a less angular approach and so the "Oval" was born, although the lack of a food based name may count against this one.
There was also the simple approach a square grid, the "Battenberg".
Another circular design based on an asterisk shaped frame produced the "Pizza", seen here with the filling as well.
Of course we had to check if the raft would actually float so we carried two completed ones to water, luckily they did.
The raft frame is made of recycled plastic lumber, made from old plastic bottles and other plastic waste collected by recycling schemes in Britain. It should be durable and rigid enough that they will not get pulled apart when anchored on a windy lake. They will be planted up with plants collected from around the shore of the lake, so we can avoid introducing any more alien plants. The project is aimed at reducing nutrients in the lake which can lead to unwanted algal blooms, the rafts should also provide nesting sites for birds like Great Crested Grebe and Coot as well as cover for fish and invertebrates.
In the afternoon we had a Dragonfly Walk, thanks to the sunshine we did pretty well, seeing ten species of dragon and damselflies. These included at least 3 Scarce Chaser, including a pair mating at the Ivy south hide. A particularly fine male Emperor dragonfly perched low down beside the path was also highlight as was the sight of the dragonflies greatest enemy in the shape of two hunting Hobbies.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

When to Give Up?

A new day dawned and all three of the Little Ringed Plovers running around yesterday evening were still doing so, a minor triumph in itself. However the last egg was still just an egg, now some twenty-two hours after the last of the three chicks had broken free. I was not able to look in during the morning but several people watched as events unfolded.

All morning the female kept returning to the egg, sitting for a time before being drawn away by the need to look after her three animated fluff-ball chicks. Eventually in the late morning and just about exactly twenty-four hours after the third egg had hatched, she gave in and left the last egg. It was evidently infertile, but her urge to hatch it was very strong and she was reluctant to give up.

By the end of the day all three chicks were still running about, so far the weather has been set fair and the family is deriving some "air cover" from being near the Lapwing pair with their one remaining chick. However the fact that, despite being very active at chasing off predators, these Lapwings have steadily lost their chicks, is a warning for what could be in store for our plovers. As well as these birds there is also another pair of Little Ringed Plovers with one chick about a week old just to the east of the hide and a family of younger Lapwing chicks a little further away again.

Apart from when doing a BTO Atlas visit that included the Linwood reserve first thing this morning I did not see much wildlife today. I spent a while collecting together the last of the materials for the rafts, we hope to have a go at making a few trial ones tomorrow, so more on these later. Once again thank you to people who brought in plastic bottles, I now have a fair few but could still do with loads more. I now have a "Bottle Bin" by the Centre door, in case anyone out there has any bottles to donate.

The rest of the day was spent in a range of tasks including path trimming and clearing a fallen tree along the Rockford path. I took a quick look at Rockford Lake as well and there were 76 Canada Geese and 3 Greylags, no doubt they will stay there to moult now. It is interesting how Rockford Lake attracts Canada Geese whilst most of the Greylags go to Ibsley Water to moult. I have had a couple of goes at counting the geese on Ibsley Water, but so far they have always been too spread out to see from any one point, suffice it to say there are something like 300 Greylags there as well as a good few Canadas and a Bar-headed Goose.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Latest Score: Springwatch 1 - Blashford 3

We had been waiting and today it happened, the Little Ringed Plovers at the Tern hide started to hatch, by the end of the day three were out, although one still had down damp from the egg. The two older ones were already running around looking for all the world like cartoon versions of the adult bird. Somehow, although quite different they still capture the essence of Little Ringed Plover, just like a great cartoon image. One egg remains to hatch, so perhaps tomorrow morning there will be four, if they survive their first and probably most dangerous night. The road to fledging remains fraught with danger but at least they have hatched so it is a road they have at least started out on. As Springwatch has recorded, their plovers had three of their eggs taken by a Jackdaw, the life of a Little Ringed Plover parent is not without tragedy.

I spent most of the day accompanying a student looking into the biology of a mayfly that lives in the Dockens Water. I took the chance to do some insect survey along the stream. One of the first things I came across was a fine female Scarce Chaser dragonfly, the picture I got of it is rather better than the one I posted a couple of days ago!
As the sun came out so did the damselflies, at the southern end of the stream there are quite a few Banded Demoiselle, but go a little north where the stream is stonier and they are all Beautiful Demoiselle. The picture shows that although beautiful they are really killers, the big eyes see the prey, the long spine son the legs are used like a net and the jaws make short work of a range of small and not so small insects.
It was not all insects, I found a number of Broad-leaved Heleborine plants, not yet in flower but nor far off. Long sections of the banks, where the sun gets through are dominated by Water Forget-me-not, one of several species of these plants found on the reserve and by far the largest.
In the sunny patches along the path beside Ellingham Lake there were large numbers of bush cricket nymphs, mostly of Dark Bush Cricket but there were also several Speckled Bush Crickets, like the one below. They really are speckled and much easier to see as nymphs as the adults tend to climb up into the trees out of reach.
The flowers attract lots of insects and several beetle species are now coming to those of Dog Rose and the first of Bramble. One common species is Oedemera nobilis known very unofficially at Blashford, as the "Thigh Beetle", after the swollen hind legs of the male.
Thanks to those who have already given me plastic bottles (and tops), I still need them though, it seems the one litre size in most drinks is the best fit of all, but many up to about 1.5 litre are OK as well, so if you have any and are coming to see the plovers, there will be a bin outside the Centre for donations.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Have You Got the Bottle?

We are about to start making vegetated rafts and we need plastic bottles to provide floatation. I have just calculated we will need hundreds of them. So if you are coming to Blashford a donation of a plastic bottle or two, with the lids on, would be most welcome. Any size below 2 litres would seem to be fine. So if you have got the bottle, please think of us.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Snakes and Skimmers

A much better day than I had expected today, mostly sunny, especially in the afternoon. At the start of the day when I opened up the Ivy South hide there were two Grass Snakes on a log in front of the hide, both were a good size, the picture shows the larger one.
During the morning there was a group in taking pictures of the moths and other wildlife. In the afternoon the local New Forest west group of the Wildlife Trust had a pond-dipping event.
As usual the pond produced a wealth of pond life including a lot of newts. Most of the newts we get are Smooth Newts, but some are the scarcer Palmate Newt, but the differences are not that great. The male Palmates have a smaller crest, less colourful underbelly, narrow hind toes with slight webbing at the base. The spots along the tail are also arranged in lines rather than more scattered as they are on Smooth Newts.
Also caught were damselfly larvae, water-beetles, water boatmen, pond skaters, freshwater shrimps, leeches and of course, pond snails. The snail below was drifting just under the water's surface, to em there is a bit of the elephant about, or perhaps hippopotamus.
The sunshine certainly brought out a good few insects, out on the lichen heath there are now quite a lot of adult Field Grasshoppers, always the first species we see they will chirrup away until autumn. The picture is of a male, they are easy to identify as they have hairy chests!
At the pond there were also several dragonflies, including a new species for the reserve, the twenty-sixth species of Odonata recorded. It was a Keeled Skimmer, a species that is quite common on the New Forest and one I had been expecting to turn up sooner or later.
More frequent and probably hatched out from the pond behind the Centre was a male Emperor Dragonfly, this is Britain's biggest dragonfly and one of the commoner species. This male was catching and eating damselflies in between sitting in the sun.
There were also single Four-spotted Chaser and two Scarce Chaser, a male and a female. The male disappeared quickly but the female was around for much of the afternoon. I did not exactly get a good picture of it, but the shot does show the diagnostic darkened wing-tips especially well.
The Little Ringed Plover are still sitting near the Tern hide, but should hatch this week, although another nearby pair seem to have lost their clutch. The Lapwing pair with two chicks are still surviving and there was also a second brood today, with four small chicks. So far the Common Terns are still going well with the adults bringing in fish regularly.

Friday, 11 June 2010

The rain never really came so the moth trap once again contained a good catch including a Beautiful Brocade, a species of heathland that is still scattered around the New Forest but much less common than it used to be. Only a handful are recorded each year so one at Blashford was certainly notable. It is one of the great advantages of Blashford that it is an area of good wildlife habitat that lies beside two others, the New Forest and the Avon Valley. As well as the moths the trap also had a wide variety of other insects including many flies. One was a male horsefly, harmless as only the females bite, it was a striking insect with almost totally black wings and the most amazing eyes. The species is Chrysops caecutiens the females of this species have yellow markings and wings with a pattern of clear areas and black, they are also persistent biters. Curiously I have only ever been bitten by common species, even when I have found rarer ones they seem to take little interest in biting people. Despite the painful bite that some can give they are a remarkable group of insects including some of the fastest fliers and most aerially acrobatic.
Other flies included Britain's biggest cranefly, Tipula maxima and this rather smaller pale species with an unusually long abdomen, I have no idea what it is, there is a key to these flies but I have never had much success with it.
Little new to report on the bird front today, but the Lapwing chicks are still going, or at least two of them are. I had reports of the two Little Ringed Plover chicks and the clutch near the hide was still incubating as was the Oystercatcher. All still seems to be going well with the Ivy Lake Common Terns and the three Mute Swan cygnets are growing well.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Land of the Giants

Despite continuing damp weather the various young birds still seems to be doing OK, on Ibsley Water the Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover and Shelduck families are still running and swimming around. The many Common Tern families on the rafts on Ivy Lake also still seem to be getting lots of food and growing well with several broods of three chicks.

Cloudy nights mean warmth and lots of nocturnal insects, a good range of moths, but little of great note. The most interest insect was a Giant Lacewing, these are much bigger and quite different from the familiar green ones so common in gardens. A rather poor picture, taken under dull skies below.
Another Thursday and another volunteer task, today it was Himalayan Balsam pulling. At first there did not look to be much, but a closer look, unfortunately, revealed the truth hidden amongst the nettles. It was not all bad though, the dull weather meant that the vegetation had hundreds of Common Blue Damsels clustering on it, flashes of electric blue on a grey day. We also came across a male Scarce Chaser sitting quietly on a bramble. Toadlets are increasing and a few froglets were about as well today.

Next week's task will be trying to build rafts that will grow emergent water plants like Yellow Flag, sedges and reeds. The materials continue to be delivered and there is now a growing range of unlikely items building up in the yard. Hopefully more of this with pictures of wonderful rafts next week.

I saw few birds today, but people in the Tern hide this afternoon were rewarded with three separate sightings of the Osprey.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Dangers of Over Protective Parenting

At the Tern hide when I opened up an Egyptian Goose being dive bombed by the pair of Lapwing outside the hide was unexpected, they successfully drove it off. Perhaps because they take such a robust approach to parenting they still have all three of their chicks, although this may not be an entirely good thing as I will explain later.

I opened up the Ivy South hide in steady rain, despite this the Grass Snake was on the log in front again, not very lively though, but it did give the chance for a picture.
The cloud cover overnight meant the temperature did not drop much and as a result there were a good few moths in the trap including several Hawk-moths, including the first Privet Hawk of the year. This has a good claim to being the largest resident British Moth, there are one or two larger ones that arrive as migrants but they do not survive here year round even if they do sometimes breed here.
There were also a couple of Eyed Hawks, one fell off when I was checking the egg boxes, as a result it went into threat display, showing the eyes that supply the name.
I also a caught one species that was entirely new to me, a distinctive tiny moth called Telechrysis tripuncta, a woodland species and seemingly quite scarce, or overlooked.
At the end of the day when I went to the Tern hide the Lapwing chicks were right outside the windows, unfortunately this had resulted in the adults deciding the sitting Little Ringed Plover was an unacceptable risk to the chicks and they had driven it off the eggs, which had not been incubated for about half an hour. The female was sitting again when I got there and as it had not been raining and was quite warm I think there is a good chance the eggs will have survived, however it shows that it is not just predators that can cause nest failure.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Moths and Millions

Despite having about 12mm of rain (half an inch in "old money") overnight, there were a good few moths in the trap this morning. The best was another Scarce Merveille du Jour, the bulk were a few common species especially Treble Lines, White Ermine and Heart and Dart. The last is a very common species and one that probably occurs in every garden in Hampshire, perhaps even England. It is named as because the markings on the wings are supposed to resemble a heart with a short black dart, you can decide if there is any basis to this.
White Ermine moths are pretty obvious and like most "tiger moths" distasteful to birds, if disturbed they will drop to the ground and assume the position in the picture, which does look sort of threatening, or at least like the kind of insect that might potentially sting. The abdomen has something of the wasp about it.
The Lapwing chicks still survive and our first brood of Little Ringed Plovers were running about today, although the clutch nearest the hide are still being incubated. The Osprey turned up again, in fact it made two appearances, the last around 4 o'clock, which seems a favourite time.
When the sun came out there were loads of damselflies and dragonflies about, which was not too unexpected. However in the rain during the morning a large Grass Snake trying to bask outside the Ivy South hide rather optimistic. More typical of the conditions were the first toadlets on the move, only tens today but the hundreds, thousands or even millions are probably only days away. They can be so abundant that it is impossible to walk the paths without treading on some, densities may exceed 10 per square metre, that is 100,000 per hectare!

Monday, 7 June 2010

Mulleins, a Marvel and a Mullet Hawk

So far so good for most of the nesting birds, the three Lapwing chicks survived another night, as did the sitting Oystercatcher and Little Ringed Plover. When I opened up the Tern hide I saw the Greylag family in the picture below, perhaps surprisingly they are one of the threats to the Little Ringed Plovers. The family wander about on the shore and their big feet are at real risk of crushing a nest of eggs, they also take more or less not notice of being chased or distracted from their course by agitated plovers.
As I left the hide I noticed a tattered Mullein plant and on the leaves several brightly coloured caterpillars of the Mullein Moth. They are distasteful to birds so have no fear of sitting in the open. As always seems to be the case the several caterpillars were of sizes ranging from quite small to almost full grown, I have never known why this should be, possibly they are the result of several layings.
Another good haul in the moth trap overnight included a Miller and a Scarce Merveille du Jour, pictured below. This is a species of ancient woodland and exists at Blashford thanks to the woodland corridor along the Dockens Water. Although not as spectacular as the rather similar Merveille du Jour, which flies in the autumn, it is very distinctive.
Also in the trap was the rather fine Caddisfly below, it was a real whopper as well as being rather well marked.
When I went to lock up at the end of the day I was told of various interesting bird sightings, the Osprey had been seen again and the Black Swans, which were there first thing, were still present. The pair of Shelduck, still with two ducklings, had also been seen, although one had been grabbed by a Great Crested Grebe at one stage, apparently a typical underwater attack, but fought off by the adult Shelducks. They had also just seen a Hobby catch a Sand Martin in front of the hide, so all in all they had a good afternoon.
Note: Mullet Hawk was an old name for the Osprey, particularly suited to them on the south coast where this fish seems to be one of the main prey items.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

A Day for the Chicks

Don't worry I am not having a retro moment, there really were lots of chicks about at Blashford today. At the Tern hide the three Lapwing chicks that were first seen yesterday spent the day on the shore in front of the hide, they have along way to go if they are to fly, but they have at least survived another night. In the distance lots of Black-headed Gull chicks can be seen on the island at the top of the lake.
Also from the Tern hide a pair of Shelduck were bobbing about with their two ducklings, I can't help feeling they would have had a lot more at hatching, but these were only a few days old at most so the loss rate has probably already been alarming.
On Ivy Lake the first of the Common Tern chicks on the rafts have hatched and I expect the others will not be far behind.

The slightly unexpected warm sunshine made for a good insect day, there were Scarce Chaser dragonflies, Emperors and a Four-spotted Chaser. Towards the end of the day I was outside the Center when a huge parasitic Ichneumon wasp Rhyssa persuasoria, I was not quick enough to get a picture, but look it up on the web and see if you would be happy to have one land on you! It was actually harmless, at least to me but magnificent to look at.

The highlight of the day was a moth, although not much to look at the Lunar Yellow Underwing is a real find. It is a nationally notable species that is mainly found in the Breckland area of Norfolk. It had been recorded from Blashford before, a few years ago, but it was uncertain if that one was a wanderer or part of a local population. The dry sparse grassland that is found in places on the reserve is just right for it but there was no evidence it bred here. Today's moth was very fresh and put together with the earlier record makes it more or less certain that there is a local population.
Other moths included Poplar Hawk, Eyed Hawk, Elephant Hawk, Buff-tip, Light Brocade, Vine's Rustic and various others, in fact probably the best night of the year so far.

On a day when birds were few the return of the Osprey was the highlight, it was reported circling over Mockbeggar Lake.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Bugs and Badgers (again)

No birds of note today, but I can report that all the various birds sitting on eggs are still doing so, a case of so far so good. After yesterday's rain it was sun again today and looking by the pond at the Centre there were lots of insects. The Hoverfly below is a species called Parhelophilus frutetorum a species typical of ponds with lots of emergent vegetation.
There are also lots of dragonflies emerging now, the exuvia below is of an Emperor, it always amazes me how many can emerge from such a small pond. On the wing today were Broad-bodied Chaser and Scarce Chaser as well as hoards of damselflies.
The area just outside the Ivy North hide is always good for butterflies and there were several Common Blue, Dingy Skipper and my first Brown Argus of the year there today.
The Badgers have been busy again making new holes, including another right beside the path. In fact I am watching them as I write this via the webcam, they are brilliant value at present, they are out in front of the camera every night. Just now one is digging out new soil from a hole just on the left of the path in the picture and earlier two were beside the log in the background.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

An Elephant and a Group of Arctic Travellers

Not a day for pictures so only words today. The overnight cloud, without the promised rain resulted in a good catch of moths including some migrant species in the shape of a Silver Y, a Dark Sword-grass and a Gem. There was also the first Elephant Hawk-moth of the year as well as several Poplar Hawks and an Eyed Hawk.

From the Tern hide first thing a small group of waders in the rain included the first Turnstone of the year, along with 5 Sanderling and 2 Ringed Plover. These are all real high Arctic breeders and they are still in time to breed there this summer, if they get a move on. That said they departed to the south-east, so perhaps they will not make Greenland after all.

The Great Spotted Woodpeckers have fledged but were back in the nest hole in the heavy rain, but I don't expect them much after this. The Common Terns are sitting well on the rafts on Ivy Lake, the rain meant all were sitting tight giving a good chance to count the nests, I think there are sixteen sitting birds, at least. Unlike last year, they laid more or less at the same time, so hatching should be more or less together.