Thursday, 28 April 2011

Some Migrants

A rather cool night and a distinctly chilly north-east wind this morning meant I saw little from the Tern hide first thing. The moth trap was almost empty and I will not be running it for a few days. The lack of moths was partly due to the temperature and probably largely due to a raid by great tit. Despite this there was another new moth for the year, a light brocade.
As it was Thursday, the volunteers were in, fifteen people, including one new recruit worked near the Goosander hide and clearing some old fencing on the shore of Mockbeggar Lake. On the way we passed along "Peony Bank", so called because there is a magnificent red flowered specimen that grows beside the path there. How it got there is unknown, the bank is the former edge of a silt pond and a haul route, not an obvious location for such a plant.

At lunchtime I went to the Tern hide and was rewarded with a good range of birds. At least 15 common tern may have included some migrants, the 3 black tern were certainly passing through. A common sandpiper and a greenshank were putting on a good show in front of the hide, I got a reasonable picture of the greenshank, always tricky as they don't stand still.

In the afternoon I was briefly in the alder carr south of the Centre and found a caterpillar under a lichen covered log. I suspected it might be a footman of some sort, so took a picture and having checked it turned out to be a dingy footman. The larvae of this moth eat lichen, not an obvious caterpillar food, but actually not unusual, quiet a few species do not eat the green leaves we generally assume they do.

A rather less welcome sight in the same area were a number of already quite large Himalayan balsam seedlings, it looks like we will be having to organising work parties to remove it next month, rather than in mid June.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

What's in the Box?

Not much to report today as much of it was spent in meetings. First thing from the Tern hide a pair of teal and at least 3 wigeon were still present and I was sure I heard a Mediterranean gull but I could not see it.

The moth trap had been raided by a great tit so the moths were few, but a beautiful carpet was new for the year. The great tit is probably feeding young a suspicion backed up this afternoon when I checked some of the nest boxes. Of sixteen boxes I checked four were empty, one occupied by wood mouse, one with nest, but no eggs and signs of a predated adult great tit. The other ten all had active nests, of which seven were occupied by great tit and three by blue tit. All the blue tit were still sitting on eggs, two were broods of nine and the other stayed put so I got no count. Of the great tit one had nine eggs, one four eggs and five newly hatched chicks, one a brood a of at least eight chicks about six days old and the rest were sitting tight.

A few swift passed over during the afternoon suggesting that the arrival of this species is now properly underway. Although there are always a few early ones the main arrival often happens almost all at once, so I will not be surprised if there are lots by the weekend.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

All That Buzzes is Not a Bee

Although still sunny, today was a good bit cooler, especially in places exposed to the rather stiff north-east breeze. Overnight it was mild again and the moth trap was quite busy, included in the catch was a chocolate-tip, pictured below.
There was also my first hawk-moth of the year, a poplar hawk, I upset it a bit trying to get the picture and it went into threat posture showing the spots at the base of the hind-wings, not quite as spectacular as the "eyes" of the eyed hawk-moth, but possibly still enough to surprise a predator.

There are a number of schemes that aim to monitor populations of different insects by the walking of a regular route. The best know are the butterfly transects, but recently similar projects have been started to look at dragonflies and bumble-bees. Today I decided to do my April bumble-bee walk, the route takes about 45 minutes and in all that time I encountered only one bumble-bee!. Had I been doing a dragonfly walk I would have had two species of dragonflies and five species of damselflies to record, including my first broad-bodied chaser of the year. I also saw a good range of hoverflies including the Helophilus trivittatus pictured, it is the largest of three similar species that are all found on the reserve.

I also have a late insect report from yesterday, a species of click-beetle, but not the common brown one, this was mottled and rather wider, I managed to identify it today. Although not a rare species it is a new reserve record, it is Agrypnus murinus.

Birds of note were rather few, a common sandpiper on Ibsley Water first thing seemed to be new as none were reported yesterday. Late in the afternoon it seems that a few swift and house martin had arrived, with a handful of each over Ibsley Water. A willow warbler near the Centre was also new in since yesterday, but will probably be gone tomorrow as this area is not really willow warbler habitat.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Emerald snapped

First day at Blashford in what seems like an age. At this time of year even a few days away means that there are all sorts of changes. Checking the moth trap there were several species that I had not seen this year including maiden's blush and the alder moth pictured.
The patches of reed around Ivy lake all seem to have their own reed warbler and the small clump beside the Ivy South hide is no exception. After a bit of effort I got a picture of it singing away. I was also pleased to see at least a dozen common tern on the rafts with much courtship feeding and general pairing behaviour going on. I was less pleased to see the pair of lesser black-backed gull still hanging around.

Walking on round the path beside Ellingham Lake a chiffchaff singing high in an alder also gave the chance of a picture.

I did the full round of the hides, something I had not done in several weeks. Up at the Lapwing hide a swift flew over, my first this year. In front of the hide a pair of lesser black-backed gull included a colour-ringed bird, although not the one from the Ivy rafts as this was a red ring which I think was engraved with AN in white, news on origin will follow when I have it.

On the way to the hide I was very frustrated by trying to get a picture of a downy emerald dragonfly. I have never got a picture of this species, it rarely seems to settle and when it does it always seems to be high in a tree. So finding one low down in a willow, I set about getting a shot, but auto-focus foiled me every time, always choosing the twigs in the background. However later I got a second bite of the cherry when another flew in and landed right beside me, so here it is:

Besides the emerald other Odonata were all damselflies, including large red, azure, common blue and blue-tailed and all in fair numbers. Butterflies were also quite obvious with red admiral, peacock, speckled wood, orange tip, green-veined white, small white, large white and small copper.

As well as all the insects the warm weather has brought on the plants as well and I found a good few twayblade, a rather unprepossessing orchid, named fro the two large leaves.

More showy were the leopard's bane flowers beside the Dockens Water bridge from the Tern hide, this is not a British native, although it is wild not far away in Europe.

Birds were rather few, a pair of Mediterranean gull flew over calling and a hobby was hunting insects over Ivy Lake this afternoon. Out on Ibsley Water at least 4 wigeon, a pair of teal and a female goosander were reminders of winter. Potential bird of the day was just missed, a black kite was reported flying over Ibsley North lake and would probably have been visible from the reserve if I had been looking the right way at the right time!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Fishy Business

Absolutely fantastic weather again, so perhaps surprisingly to some, but not to those of us who work at, or visit the reserve regularly, it was reasonably quiet. It's more of a tendency during the summer but this Easter has definitely seen summer temperatures and people tend to head towards the coast when it is hot and sunny and I think other people then tend to avoid the reserve in order not to get caught up in the traffic congestion caused by the seaside day trippers!

For those that did make it to Blashford however there were more Easter Nature trail delights to enjoy and a lot of damselflies - predominantly common blue. Orangetip butterflies were very much in evidence where ever there is hedge-garlic and a solitary little tern was reported over Ibsley Water - the second report of Little Terns this week. Common tern are still yet to arrive in great numbers and the handful that have made it so far are belligerently, but unsuccessfully so far, trying to oust the lesser black backed gulls from the tern rafts on Ivy Lake.

St Georges Day today and I didn't see a St Georges mushroom anywhere, despite looking in the usual spots (it is not a common mushroom on the reserve, but appears regularly in a few spots), but then it has been unseasonably dry and I had seen some at the start of the month (on Mothers Day in fact!). What did catch my eye while collecting in the Easter Trail were these delicious and Rosy looking oak apples on the lovely old oak by the Dockens behind the centre - not the least bit edible of course, despite appearances to the contrary and caused of course by the oak apple gall wasp laying an egg in the buds.

The other thing that caught my eye again today were all of the fish outside the Ivy South Hide - endlessly fascinating to watch which is why I guess fish tanks (used to be) so common in doctor and dentist waiting rooms! The usual large pike were absent, though there was a small 7-8 inch jack-pike, that sadly had drifted off before I managed to get a shot that I thought went someway to showing all of the perch and roach.

Bob is back next week so normal blog service will resume shortly!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Easter Nature Trail!

Today was another gloriously sunny day! It was also the first day of our Easter Nature Trail which is also running tomorrow Sat 23rd April 10am-2pm. One child participating in the Easter Nature Trail made a fantastic discovery of a dragonfly exuviae on the Docken's Water path behind the Education Centre. Nell discovered this skin of a recently emerged dragonfly nymph measuring approx. 40mm in length. After spending a good while looking and photographing it and looking through the books I have narrowed it down to possibly a Darter of some kind. Given the location it must have emerged from the Docken's Water or Ellingham Lake.

Another visitor to the reserve was lucky enough to see a cuckoo from the Goosander hide which flew up and posed on a fence post, allowing him to get a fantastic photograph.

I don't have the photograph to show you but I do have an Easter Nature Challenge for you all to do from the comfort of your own home! See if you can identify some of these beasties from the moth trap...

This last one was doing a fantastic performance of playing dead - but when my back was turned he flew away!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Avocets and Little Terns

That would be the main bird news from the last couple of days - 5 avocets were reported on Ibsley water on Thursday and 2 little terns stopped off briefly with the common terns on the same lake this morning.

Other than that the unseasonably warm weather has resulted in a mass emergence of large red damselflies - you can tell they are only recently emerged as they are "teneral"; yet to be coloured up and with milky rather than transparent wings. Others that have been on the wing for longer were observed in tandem, mating and laying eggs in the Centre pond this morning.

The warm weather is great for spotting basking grass snakes, though not as yet outside Ivy South Hide as far as I am aware. Amphibians are obviously finding it a little more uncomfortable and leaving the drier woodland areas for wetland habitats - yesterday I spotted a common toad in the centre pond during a school pre-visit meeting with teachers and a frog in the river during "Playdays".

As always the kids had a whale of a time in the pond and river yesterday, both having fun and learning about our wildlife at the same time - it's always amazing just how much diversity of life there is in the pond:

Newts were again much in evidence in the catch, though unusually palmate newt featured more than the smooth newts that are caught more frequently, examples pictured here (palmate followed by smooth newt):

More and more bluebells are flowering in the woodland and will probably be at their best in about a fortnight when they will be all but over on the chalk - I really haven't a clue why it should be so, unless it is do with the different soils warming up at different rates but the Forest bluebells always lag behind their cousins on the Downs.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Wet, wet, wet

"Wet, wet, wet" may seem like a strange title bearing in mind the glorious sunshine we have had today, but if you had been here, you would understand why.

'Fraid I haven't got a clue what has been about bird wise other than the fact that the warblers are all still warbling away and I did see a brambling when I dropped into the Woodland Hide in passing, but Michelle opened and is currently locking up and we both spent the day with 20 odd 8-12 year olds (as in more than 20, but if you saw them, you may have thought they were a little strange!) exploring the aquatic environment.

What I can tell you is that there are plenty of smooth newts in the pond and lots of dragonfly nymphs, including some very large hawker type individuals who will be emerging in a few weeks time. the highlight for most of the children was a voracious great diving beetle larva and the leeches of which there were several.

After lunch, and an impromptu woodland exploration we headed down to the river to test the abilities of the junk model wetland adapted beasties that the group had made and then had great fun racing through what, apart from the children, was a perfectly idyllic setting! The river always looks fantastic in the spring and this year is no exception, with the first of the bluebells now just starting to flower.

After testing the models we split into two camps - those that just wanted to mess about in the water and do the kinds of things that kids used to do in rivers before over the top health and safety got in the way, and those that wanted to river dip. The dippers caught a wide variety of invertebrates, highlights being minnow, bullhead (including a particularly large specimen that very happily devoured every freshwater shrimp the blood-thirsty children caught for it) and beautiful demoiselle nymphs.

At the end of the session the children were very wet and very happy, which, coupled with the sunshine sums up a perfect "Playday". More of the same tomorrow with the 5-7 year olds, so if you were planning on visiting the reserve tomorrow, you have been warned!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Blackcap warbler

On Sunday there were 6 little ringed plovers seen in front of the Tern hide as well as a wheatear and 10+ common terns around Ibsley water.

On the way round opening the hides this morning I saw the mute swan sitting on her nest right in front of Ivy north hide.

The green dock beetles are eating their way through the dock leaves at a surprising rate!

And I am just fascinated by the slowly unrolling ferns dotted about in the woodland, so I had to take a photo..

or two!

I tried testing my new knowledge acquired from Bob to listen for the difference between garden warbler and blackcap whilst unlocking the hides this morning only to find them both singing in the same tree by the path on the way to Ivy south hide! This is the best shot I could get of the male blackcap.

Saturday, 16 April 2011


Bob heard his first cuckoo of the year yesterday up by Mockbeggar Lake and today I heard my first one calling from the other side of the Ivy Pond as I wandered down to open up Ivy South Hide this morning - the timing could not have been more perfect as only 15 minutes before I had been admiring the Lady's smock in the meadow by Ivy North Hide pictured above. And what is another name for this lovely spring flower of wetland edges - cuckoo flower, due to its flowering coinciding with the arrival of the cuckoo! As I said, perfect. I actually heard the cuckoo while taking another picture, this time of a fine bright yellow slime mold on a log forming part of the dead hedge edging the pond - I know Bob has blogged a few recently, but they are amazing things and I did not want to be outdone! Reed, garden warbler and blackcaps are both very prominent today - both visibly and vocally. Moths were surprisingly thin on the ground in the trap, but a few lunar marbled brown and the great prominent pictured were nice to see. Other than that I thought I'd take the plunge and try out the aquatic capabilities of the new(ish) centre camera, donated by Castle Camera's of Bournemouth and Salisbury earlier in the year. I was hoping to snap a newt, but although they were performing on the web cam all day they were not in range of me when I went to look, but desperate to photograph something took this unusual fish eye view of a pond snail crawling along underneath the meniscus of the pond surface, which isn't great, but quite pleasing none the less!

And having taken it and dried it out before opening it up to download the pictures I am pleased to report that true to the manual, the camera does still work!

Friday, 15 April 2011


Once again today was relatively quiet, with not many visitors and few new birds about. There are still not more than 5 common tern about, but at least one had found the rafts by the end of the day. Opening up the hides yesterday's garden warbler was still singing away near the Ivy South hide and I got one picture of it in full song. Before the tern found the rafts they had already been occupied by black-headed and lesser black-backed gulls. The latter included a colour-ringed female, I have not yet checked back but I am pretty sure it it the same one that was there last year and the year before and had been ringed as a nestling in the West Country.

Out and about I did hear my first cuckoo of the year, whilst on the screen in the Centre I saw my first palmate newt of the year via "Pondcam".

Thursday, 14 April 2011

South or South-east Force 3 to 4, Visibility Moderate

A few new migrants seem to arrived overnight, there were several reed warbler around the reserve and I also saw and heard my first garden warbler. The moth trap also contained a migrant, a dark sword-grass, a species that usual starts turning up after mid-summer. It is not the most spectacular to look at but the distances it covers are impressive. There was also the first scarce prominent of the year, these are very fine moths, but the scales are lost from the wings very easily, you can see a few bare patches on the wings of this one.
Also in the trap was a single harlequin ladybird, an alien species now firmly here to stay.
The blossom season moves on, the cherry plum flowered first and is now well over, the blackthorn followed and is also now largely over as is our single pear tree. However the scatter of apple trees are all now in full flower.
Under the trees the wild daffodil are all finished and the bluebell still a little way off but the wild arum are at their peak and some of them are looking especially magnificent, the conditions this year must be ideal.
Of course today was Thursday and so the volunteers were in and today's task was to put out the tern rafts, complete with the new pumice and shell covering. The light winds were good for towing them out, but despite this it is always a bit tricky getting them to go in a straight line. Still all four were put out, all we need now is for some of the five common tern out on Ibsley Water today to come south and find them. No pictures as I was in the boat all morning and I took my camera, rather than the new water-proof one, which would have been a better idea.

I had intended to look for the false morel fungus last week, but forgot, prompted by a call to ask if they were up yet, I looked this afternoon and the answer was that there are several, although most already a little past their best. The picture shows the best of the them.
Apart from the reed and garden warbler, the day was notable for the mix of winter and summer birds. On Ibsley Water 3 goldeneye, 4 goosander and a few wigeon tell of winter but sand and house martin and swallow speak of summer. A dunlin and a common sandpiper were just moving through, but I think the 5 common tern are here to stay as they have been there a few days now. The only other notable bird was a second summer yellow-legged gull.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Threatening Kitten

A quiet day today, the dull weather resulted in a large flock of sand martin feeding low over Ibsley Water, I estimated about 800 early on, but in the rain later I think there were probably over a 1000. The moth trap contained one new species for the year, a sallow kitten. It fell off the egg box as I lifted it from the trap and adopted a characteristic pose, presumably designed to look threatening. It certainly looks as though it might possibly sting and perhaps not be just a harmless moth. In case you have never seen the inside of a moth trap, egg boxes are invaluable filling for the moths to hide in after they have been attracted to the light. During the afternoon a group for Ireland involved in the control of alien water plants visited the reserve. They have many of the same problems with escaped plants as we do here, they dominate natives species and can have dramatic impacts upon the food chain. This can lead to serious impacts upon populations of insects, birds and fish, to name but a few. In the worst cases they can even block water courses enough to impede boat traffic on canals. Not many birds to report today, a dunlin and up to 5 common tern being the best I heard of.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Looking Their Best for Spring

When I arrived on Thursday the sun was already bright and all the birds seemed to be concentrating on looking good. Opening the Tern hide the pair of little ringed plovers were both preening away. The female in the top picture has much blacker ear coverts than the male, they also often have rather weak breast bands, although this bird is actually quite well marked. Both pictures show the importance of flexibility in the quest to reach those hard to get at places. Obviously keeping the feathers in tip top condition is vital, they are all that stand between a bird and the elements and at each set has to last, body feathers are usually moulted twice a year and wing and tail feathers once. Then, of course, it is important to look good if you are to get a mate.
At the Centre I was putting on my boots when I heard the calls of a lesser spotted woodpecker, looking round I found it in the dead branch of the oak beside the car park, it was the female, as well as calling she was also drumming. I did not expect to be able to get a picture, it takes a while to set up to digi-scope, but I was in luck.
In fact she stayed on the branch for two or three minutes, the reason being that she too was brushing up her act and just like the plover the neck feathers seemed to be the toughest to get at.
The volunteers were in and we were preparing the tern rafts for launch, possibly next week or the week after. On the way down to Ivy Lake the flowering blackthorn was a great sight and very attractive to insects.
Later in the day I was again in the Tern hide and a pair of goosander were somewhat closer than usual, on the small island near the hide, they too had come ashore to smarten up their plumage in the sunshine.