Thursday, 31 March 2011

Finches Galore

The story of the last couple of days has been the mass arrival of brambling. I have arrived in the morning to a surround sound of wheezes, the trees full of male brambling, they may look good but they are no singers. Yesterday I counted at least 85 under just the two feeders beside the car park near the Centre, on the tv screen with the feed from the Woodland hide loads more could be seen. There have also been a few new lesser redpoll, but only tens and very few siskin. Last week there was a very pronounced departure of finches and for several days there were no more than a few tens of brambling one or two siskin and no redpoll at all, then yesterday masses of finches again. I assume these are new passage birds passing through, but we now have more brambling than there have been all winter. At the Tern hide as I opened up about 150 sand martin and a single house martin, there was one reported yesterday as well. Also yesterday a common tern was reported, an early record for inland especially. There are now several little ringed plover looking quite settled, the male nearest the hide now has a mate and she was very close to the hide as I locked up and I got a picture, complete a Blashford trademark twig. It was volunteer Thursday, today we were putting the finishing touches to the seasonal path. This should have been due to open tomorrow, frustratingly, I am told it has to wait a few more days for the resolution of some administrative matter or other. During the day two little gull turned up on Ibsley Water, an adult and a first summer, I saw only the latter at the end of the day. We have had at least five little gull through already this spring, probably six and the migration has hardly started yet, it could be a bumper year. In other developments our new coffee vending machine arrived today, unfortunately the fitter did not, so it is just a big box wrapped in plastic at present, maybe tomorrow. I am also expecting a delivery of pumice for the tern rafts tomorrow, I hope to mix it with the remaining shells to provide a, not too heavy, substrate for the terns to nest on. I have had real problems with the lay-out of this post tonight, so apologies if it looks odd, for some reason it refuses to allow paragraphs.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Mysterious, Morphing Moulds

I had speculated that perhaps two of the slime moulds I had pictured recently might have been the same, just at slightly different stages, however going to them again now that they are "fruiting" shows they were quite different. The white one with the somewhat rice pudding texture developed black, stalked structures. The upper picture is the original mass, the lower is what it developed into in close up.
Meanwhile the other one with a rather cauliflower look did develop into the white blobs and then the white surface cracked and the fruiting stage ends in a black blob. Again the sequence of shots of the same organisms, albeit from different angles.

I did not see a lot of wildlife on the reserve today as I was away for a good part of the day at a team meeting. Opening up the hides there were 9 shelduck on Ibsley Water, four pairs and single drake. In the woodland there were still a good few brambling and I did see a very few lesser redpoll and siskin, so they have not all gone. At the Ivy North hide I heard calling water rail, surely it will be gone soon.

Regular visitors to the reserve will probably be pleased to hear that the entrance track was graded and the potholes filled today, I think we have got in just in time as it has to be done when dry and it is due to rain tonight.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Blackcaps and Mouse Ears

From the Tern hide this morning a swallow was with the sand martins, although the first was over a week ago there have still only been a few through. Looking at the log book I saw that there was a wheatear yesterday, no sign today though. There were at least 5 little ringed plovers though.

Emptying the moth trap the moths were unremarkable, but there was a magnificent female great diving beetle. You can tell it is a female from the ridges on the wing cases.

Near the Centre there was a singing blackcap, my first of the spring and as it turned out just one of at least five on the reserve today, including two males having a prolonged scrap over a territory near the entrance. It just shows that even arriving on the first day does not mean you are assured to get the patch you want. It is this drive to get in first that pushes males to try and arrive as early as possible and is why warmer springs will push the arrival dates back.

I was certainly warm again today and there were lots of butterflies about, including several small tortoiseshell, they have really made a come back after several years of scarcity. Walking across the lichen heath I noticed a small, actually very small, white flower. I think it is dwarf mouse ear, but I am no botanist so I could be wrong.
There are also good numbers of violets out now, I think they are all common dog violet, although the ones on the heath are paler than the ones in the woodland.
Despite all the many signs of spring there were still at least 50 brambling about, although very few siskin and no redpoll that I could see.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Signs of Nature

First look from the Tern hide this morning yielded 2 little gull, both adults in non-breeding plumage, probably yesterday's plus a new one, but then again, perhaps both new birds, who can say at this time of year with so much on the move.

Going through the woodland it was clear that lots of the brambling and redpoll had left, yesterday the trees were full of the sounds of these birds, today hardly one to be heard. I did see a few brambling, but no redpoll at all. The highlight was another slime mould encounter, this time both on the same alder log, I think different species, but perhaps just different stages of the same one. The first was most like a lump of expanding sealant foam, although rather whiter than they usually are.
The second was smaller and with a frogspawn-like surface, very like the one I posted the other day, but not as white, which may or may not be significant.
Continuing on from the "spring-clean" theme of yesterday I decided the various signs could do with a wash down, lots of them go green with algae and general dirt discolours them, so I was off with bucket and brush. The main entrance signs on the south side of Ellingham Drove were algae covered, but on the north side they were speckled with lichens.
Up close it was clear there was more than one species, the signs seem an unlikely surface for lichens, they are not made of wood, a very synthetic substrate, but one they seem to like.
I had not expected to encounter much interesting natural history cleaning the signs, well it doe snot seem very likely, but the lichen was not the end of it. On the main sign near the Tern hide I remembered there had been a small moth yesterday and it was still there. This might seem unlikely, but not quite as much as you might think. The moth was a female of a "micro" called Diumea fagella, it had not flown away because females of this species are flightless. It has wings, just too short to fly with, they actually look like the wings that have failed to inflate properly one emergence from the pupa. The effect is to make it look rather like a beetle or a bug, certainly not very moth-like.
The shore outside the Tern hide is very good for watching wader behaviours at present. At lunchtime there were displaying redshank, both males having territory disputes and a pair displaying and eventually mating. There are also five pairs of lapwing and one was engaged in elaborate nest scraping. The male often adopting a very tail-up pose with the tail fanned to display the coloured under-tail coverts.
Although the little gulls had gone there scaup form last weekend had reappeared, although way up at the north end of the lake. A Mediterranean gull was also reported and the little ringed plover was displaying over the water. When it landed it could be seen to have a ring on the right leg. Last year's male was ringed, it was seven years old then and apparently very close to being the oldest British ringed bird of this species. If this bird is the same one it would now easily break the record. Despite looking hard only a few letters and numbers could be made out, it seems it is the same bird but we cannot be sure. It would be good to get some pictures to confirm the ring number, a challenge for all those visitors who come armed with all that serious camera gear.
With all these nesting preliminaries I decided I had better get the stick rafts out on Ivy Lake so that is what I did in the afternoon. There are several pairs of great crested grebe on the lake so it will be interesting to see if any of them choose to use the rafts. These are the rafts based on a discarded lifebelt with a broken paving slab for ballast and topped with bundles of sticks. They have proved popular with nesting coot and grebe in the past and have the advantage of being able to cope with the sudden fall and rise in water level that can come with the lake being used for water supply.
With a maximum temperature of 18 it was not surprising that butterflies were a feature of the day. I saw at least 2 red admiral, several peacock and even more brimstone and comma and another single small white. I also caught one new moth for the year, a pine beauty, I would have posted a picture, but this is a species which often flies by day in sunshine and I had made the mistake of opening the trap in the sunshine and it flew away.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Another Quaker

Really misty to start with today, it cleared very strangely from over Ibsley Water as I watched. The wind was from the north but the mist on the eastern half of the lake suddenly cleared, but it stayed on the western half, very odd effect. I could see no sign of an black-necked grebe today and although I failed to see one there were 2 little ringed plover reported again.

As I went to open the Ivy South hide I heard a falcon calling, then a peregrine carrying prey came low over the silt pond pursued by a calling crow, not something I really expected to see there. Once the peregrine had gone I could hear another "kee, kee, kee" call, this time it was the lesser spotted woodpecker somewhere near the Ivy South hide. I could not find it at the hide but on my way back it was in the top of one of the alders beside the silt pond.

The moth trap was busy again, mostly with small and common Quakers, but also one new species for the year, a powdered Quaker, not perhaps the most spectacular of moths, but about the only picture I got today.
Fourteen volunteers came in today and we were working around the main car park, generally tidying up, beefing up the dead hedges, putting wood treatment on the back of the hide and fixing the map board.

At lunchtime I went to the Tern hide, leaving the Centre to the visiting school group. I was pleased I did as an adult little gull was flying about over the lake, the first of the year. It was still in winter plumage so did not have a black head, but the sooty underwings were striking, they are very elegant birds.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Birds, Butterflies and Bumble-bees

Yet another fabulous day, the warmest so far this year, a butterfly and bumble-bee day that started with with 2 snipe by the Tern hide. I know I have posted a picture of snipe from there quite recently, but I cannot resist posting some more.
The shore of the lake is very stony, but it had no problem working the long bill into the ground, often at an acute angle to get under the stones. It also seems an odd place for a snipe as there is so little cover so their camouflage does not really work at all, presumably there is a lot of food.
The snipe was not the only wader on the shore by the hide, there were two pairs of redshank and three pairs of lapwing, no doubt because there is lots of food on this shore. There was also a male little ringed plover, at last, it was the first this year, later two were reported.
The ringers were in again mainly trying and succeeding in catching finches, including good numbers of lesser redpoll and 13 brambling, altogether 51 birds were caught this morning. Some of the brambling, like this male, are looking very smart indeed now, a few will stay for up to another three weeks by which time they look really fine. I don't know if there were a lot of migrants but the trees were full of wheezing males today, for once the sound of brambling outdid the twitterings of siskin.
I don't know how I had missed it before, but in the alder carr I found this excellent blackbird yelling at me from a nest in a small oak tree. It was made by the WATCH group a couple of weekends ago, just shows how observant I am!
I did my March visit for the bumble-bee monitoring project today, there were lots of insects out in the sunshine, but not actually that many bumble-bees. I recorded only two species, buff-tailed and white-tailed although I did see two solitary bees, lots of honey-bees and a feather-legged bee. The warmth also brought lots of butterflies out, mostly brimstone, but also peacock, comma and a single small white. This last is notable as it is one that has hatched out this spring rather than hibernated as an adult like the other species. I had expected to see some hoverflies, but there were very few and all seemed to be of the one species, Eristalis pertinax, another insect that over-winters as and adult.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Pochard and Pinions

A quiet day, more or less calm and quite grey to start with. When I opened up the Tern hide a slight surprise was a duck pochard sitting on the shore near the hide. With legs set far back on the body for diving they are not very able on land.
After a few shots of the pochard two duck tufted duck also came ashore. The nearer one has a small white patch at the bill base, sometimes this can be very large and then they sometimes get misidentified as scaup. Tufted duck always have slightly shaggy rear crowns and are nothing like so bulky as scaup though and the white on a scaup is much larger, see the picture from Sunday for a comparison.
The moth trap was well packed with moths, over 230 moths of 16 species. New for the year were two very closely related species, pale pinion and tawny pinion. Both over winter as adults and neither are common, it is a bit of a mystery why this should be, certainly not foodplant as both eat common tree species. The first picture is pale pinion and below that the tawny pinion.

The commonest moth was once again small Quaker with 120 individuals, but as well as the two pinions there were four other species represented by single individuals. These were satellite, early grey, dotted border and the brindled pug, pictured below.
Birds were rather few, sand martins were again visiting the nesting bank and I heard the lesser spotted woodpecker calling as I was checking the moth trap. My personal highlight was almost missed altogether and barely seen if I am honest. An otter in the lake just to the eats of the Ivy North hide, but all I saw was a bend of back, a curve of tail and a bow wave as it disappeared.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Mist, Mould and Mute Swans

Arriving at the reserve in the mist this morning things felt distinctly autumnal, an impression heightened by the dew-covered spider's webs on the main gate.
Something like 150 moths in the trap last night, although not much variety, mostly small Quaker with a supporting caste of common and twin spotted Quakers, clouded drab and Hebrew character. There was a single early tooth striped and a satellite, which is pictured.
It might have been Monday but there were still two visiting groups today, once they were on their way I spent far too long filling a skip with rubbish. I was heading back with a trailer load of junk when I spotted a white patch on a tree stump. I stopped to check it out and it seems to be a slime mould, these are just about my favourite entities, not plants, not fungi, not animals, but something all unto themselves, really weird nature. I think this is one I have not seen before, although I have not tried to identify it yet. If you want to know just how weird they are just try putting "slime mould" into a search engine and see what you get.
There were a few birds today, I saw a fine black-necked grebe out on Ibsley Water, although the scaup of yesterday was nowhere to be seen. There were several sand martin about and I also had the first reports of some going into the nest holes, earlier than last year by about three days I think. The water pipit was reported from the Tern hide and there were the usual brambling and lesser redpoll about and several singing chiffchaff.
At the end of the day as I locked up the Ivy South hide the usual pike was there, along with an even larger one. They are usually just below the hide by the second most southerly window. I took a picture of it, although it hardly does it justice, it is not very large for a pike, but as big as any I have seen in this lake.
The mute swan pair on Ivy Lake are finally starting to show signs of driving off their young from last year. The cob usually is very aggressive and gives his off-spring a hard time once spring is in the air. He is also usually very intolerant of geese on the lake, in fact so aggressive that we have named him Asbo. However he seems to be mellowing in his old age as the lake has several pairs of geese the cygnets are still contentedly swimming about. So far the adults show no sign of nesting this year.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Sticks and Stones May Ruin My Pictures

When I opened the Tern this morning I looked across Ibsley Water and in a group of about 40 sand martin was my first swallow of the year. On the shore belowthe hide a pipit caught my eye, yesterday there were reports of both water pipit and a possible Scandinavian rock pipit. This bird was a water pipit, almost moulted into breeding plumage. I got a picture of it, but as so often, there was a bit of vegetation in the way.
It was a busy morning with two groups visiting and a willow weaving class at the Centre. After getting everything going I returned to the Tern hide and there out on the water was a fine female scaup, not a duck we get at Blashford very often.
Out near the western shore the black-necked grebe was still in much the same place as it has been for a good while now, although it is rapidly moulting into breeding plumage now. On the shore near the hide was a very smart male lapwing, they are fabulous birds and I never tire of them.
The pair of redshank were also there again and a got another picture of the female.
The lesser spotted woodpecker was seen again yesterday and I had a third hand report of it today. With so many people looking for it I though I would see if I could find it, I failed by by the path near the alder carr came across a clump of fungi, I am not sure what they are, they look reminiscent of the shaggy ink caps so common in autumn, the common ink cap is a spring species, but I though it had smooth caps and this fungus also seemed to be growing out of a log rather than the ground.
The alder trees themselves are host to a fungus that causes black tar-like spots to form on the bark. The flow of nutrients from the roots becomes blocked and the trees die. This is probably a good thing for woodpeckers but a real problem for us. When the trees are within falling distance of the paths we have to fell the trees, often not an easy task.
The water pipit picture had a piece of plant in the foreground, in the case of that picture it just blurred the shot, but as every digi-scoper will knows what usually happens is the auto focus helpfully decides to focus on the twig or bit of grass rather than the chosen subject. Recently I have been trying different settings to overcome this and today tried taking the heron below in a classic situation that usually fools the auto focus and it seemed to work. I used the macro, manual focus and set it to infinity. I don't think the result is a sharp as it could be, but at least it is focused on the bird rather than the reeds in front.
There was also a moorhen, looking splendid in the sunshine, although they are quite common at Blashford they are not seen all that easily and I don't think I have posted a picture of one on the blog before.Other than the usual flocks of brambling I saw rather little else today, the mealy redpoll reported yesterday did not show, despite a good look by several people. There were several chiffchaff around and a willow warbler was reported from the shore of Ellingham Lake.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Greenwater Rafting

Volunteer Thursday and for once the weather was at best alright, at least at first, fortunately the wind was light, important as the task was to tow out and moor some of the vegetated rafts. The next eight were planted up with a mix of plants gathered from the edge of the lake.
I tried to find a range of locations to moor them, some sheltered and near the shore, some well out and exposed. I want to see how they stand up to the conditions and how the different plants cope in the different locations. I'm not quite sure what I was doing in the picture, but it must have been very considered and important to the task in hand, despite appearances to the contrary.
The young drake smew was on Ivy Lake, up near the Ivy North hide, so well away from our rafting antics. More surprisingly, as I was towing a raft across the lake I saw the great grey shrike flying over the water and landing in a tree on the south shore. I had assumed we had seen the last of it now that the lizards are out and about on the heaths.

By the time we had finished the sun was out and the afternoon was as good as any so far. I have seen a couple of species of solitary bees on the sandy banks by the Dockens Water and had a quick look out on the lichen heath to see if there were any there. I found none, but there were several tiny plants of common whitlowgrass in flower. There were a few honey-bees visiting the gorse flowers the strong scent of coconut from which could be detected at some distance.
The warm sun was also responsible for coaxing out my first grass snake of the year. Otherwise there was rather little to report, 45 or so sand martin over Ibsley Water and several singing chiffchaff were the only migrants, despite a bit of a search there was still no sign of a little ringed plover.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011


Today's big news is that Blashford Lakes won the bird count in the Large Wetland section of the BTO - EDF Energy Business Bird Challenge. We recorded 169 species, just three ahead of our nearest rival, Top Hill Low in Yorkshire, who had been ahead of us as we wnet into the last quarter. Many thanks to all who sent me records, Simon's long-eared owl and goshawk were two of the ones that got us ahead. The biggest count at any site was from Rutland Water with 206 species, I'm glad we are not in the same category as them as we could never compete with that kind of total.

A misty start and little to see from the Tern hide, still no sign of a little ringed plover, surely it cannot be much longer. The Ivy North hide came up trumps though with the young drake smew diving under the trees on the eastern shore. I was a bit surprised by this as all the reports I had for the last few days had suggested that only the female had been seen. Heading toward the Woodland hide I solved the "Unknown drummer", it was just a great spotted woodpecker, although one with and unusual drum, quite unlike the others also drumming at the same time.

This morning's task was to get in the small stick rafts used by great crested grebe and coot for nesting. The ones out on Ivy Lake were in a sorry state after a harsh winter and in great need of replenishment. I rowed out and lifted the mooring weights and pulled the rafts back in shore to the Ivy South hide where a willing volunteers added stick bundles. These are real deluxe models, based around discarded lifebelts, with a cage of old wire mesh and a broken paving slab for ballast, but they have worked really well over the last few years.
At lunchtime I remembered to check the moth trap, I got sidetracked earlier by the fact that the bird ringers were in this morning. There were a lot of moths, thanks to the mild night, the majority were small Quaker with 137 individuals. There was a single engrailed, my first this year, although I know one or two have been caught on days I have not been in. There was also another dotted chestnut, but as I have already posted a picture of one of those this year I will go for the engrailed now.
The afternoon was mostly taken up with getting the materials together for tomorrow's volunteer task, we will hopefully be working on the vegetated rafts.
I received a report of a bittern seen flying over Mockbeggar Lake today, there have been occasional records there for much of the winter. A few sand martin were seen over the bank at the Goosander hide and I saw a pair of shelduck on Ivy Lake and perhaps the same on Ibsley Water. There was also a general singing of chiffchaff on various parts of the reserve today, always a gladdening early spring sound.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Sun, Soil and Teal

The warmest day of the year, it reached 16.5 degrees at Blashford, so I was in a meeting more or less all day. I did open up the hides, a pair of teal at the Tern hide were good value, the drakes are fabulous up close and in the sunshine.
I then headed off to the Wildlife Trust main office in Curdridge, unfortunately the A31 was closed, but I was already on it and there is very little opportunity to get off so I was stuck. Nothing to do but sit with the engine off watching the buzzards flying over and listening to Sigur Ros. Eventually things got going and I arrived about half an hour late. The meeting was an occasional gathering of all the Reserve Officers and the highlights were a run through budgeting, soil management plans and nitrate vulnerable zone paperwork, who says a Reserve Officer's job is not packed with excitement.

I did just make it back to Blashford in time to lock up. The lesser spotted woodpecker was seen in the trees beside the Centre today, so it is still around. Still no sign of a bittern, but it seems the smew was seen yesterday.

I am planning to work on the small rafts out on Ivy Lake tomorrow, they are all in pretty bad shape but hopefully if we can get them together they will be used by nesting great crested grebe and coot again. There are usually two pairs of great crested grebe on the lake, but recently four pairs have been present, perhaps there are more small fish than usual.

There will be news tomorrow........................

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Beat of an Unknown Drummer

Another clear blue, spring-like day, although with an early frost. When I opened up the Tern hide 2 female goldeneye were just outside the hide so I grabbed a quick shot of them. Otherwise there was a black-necked grebe near the western shore, as there has been for some time and a few sand martins flying over.
There was also a pair of redshank on the shore below the hide, allowing a nice comparison between the sexes.
The male has a much more speckled appearance, to some extent this is because he is more advanced into breeding plumage.
The female still looks much more like a bird in winter plumage, lacking the dark patterned feathers on the back and the spotting on the neck.
At lunchtime I went over to the Tern hide again and the snipe that seems to have been there for several days now was just in front of the hide. Despite all the weeding we did a few weeks ago it was still impossible to get a picture without dead plant stems in the way.
I cleared some of the bramble at the end of the soon to be opened seasonal path, however I need to go back with the chainsaw to deal with a fallen dead ash tree. The trunk had several lumpy black fungi on it, these were King Alfred's cakes, since they are supposed to look like the cakes he burnt in the folk tale.
The lesser spotted woodpecker was beside the Ivy South hide this morning, I had brief but good views, it was a female. A possibly more interesting woodpecker observation eluded me though, a gentle drumming near the Ivy North hide, that was unlike either lesser or great spotted and which I suspected might have been a green woodpecker. All the books say that they do drum, but I have never knowingly heard one, even though I have had them nest with in sight of my garden more than once. Unfortunately, despite searching I could not locate the bird to confirm the identity of the drummer.
The bittern seems to have finally gone, but the female smew was seen again today from the Ivy North hide, it, or another was seen on Mockbeggar Lake yesterday. A chiffchaff singing near Ivy Lake completed the migrants, if my suspected hearing of a little ringed plover on Friday was one it seems to have moved on.