Monday, 30 May 2011

Back to the Wild for Mr Prickles

After locking up yesterday it was time to release Mr Prickles as he had made such a good recovery. I chose a piece of woodland on the reserve that was as far away as possible from any roads and badgers. It turned out he fitted very well into a bucket, which made transportation a little easier.

The release wasn't a very elegant process as he stayed fast asleep so I just had to roll him out of the bucket into some brambles to keep him hidden away until he woke up. Fingers crossed he had a good night exploring his new home.

Today has been a less successful day for Michelle 'Wildlife Rescue Ranger' as whilst unlocking the hides I found a deceased mole in the middle of the path. This is the second one in two weeks. Again, in a similar way to the hedgehog it is probably the dry weather which is the cause. The dry weather means earthworms borrow deeper into the ground and so they are out of reach of the moles tunnels.

I was quite fascinated by his very large front feet. They are perfect miniature shovels for digging through the ground.

At lunch time I met one of the children who had visited with her school during the week and had brought her daddy along especially to see the dead mole. So it was a lucky eerie coincidence that I had moved the dead mole to the grass by the pond where the other one was found!

It has been a very soggy day today but it did not put off the intrepid river explorers on the family river dipping event this morning. We went pond dipping, looked in the moth trap and splashed about in the river where we found a fantastic male minnow in his breeding colours of bright red and green - quite a stunner!

Our next family event is 'Catch the Bug' on 11th June when we will be exploring the meadow with sweep nets in the persual of grasshoppers, crickets, damselflies, ladybirds and lots more - book your place now!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Introducing Mr Prickles!

I had planned a quiet study day today. After finishing my Forest School programme at Poulner Junior School on Friday I now have until Tuesday to write up all my coursework for my Forest School Leader course. Eek!

I opened up with caution after a phone call last night from Jim saying he had had to lock a car in (remember gates close at 4:30pm) I was expecting to find a very cross person waiting to pick up their car. However all the car parks were seems we have a Houdini act on our hands!

So I carried on with the unlocking a bit puzzled. There isn't much to report. An elephant hawk moth in the moth trap was a nice surprise though! There were a lot of squirrels about, 5 under one of the feeders, I assume they are young families of squirrel. There was also a roe deer lurking in the bushes.

Then it was back to office to crack on with my studies. Until there was a knock on the door. A member of the public stood there with a bundle of spines on a plastic bag. He had found the hedgehog curled up on the edge of Ellingham Drove but still alive. An odd place to have a nap so I assumed it had been hit. Anyhow it was still asleep and not very responsive but had no obvious damage.

I rang round lots of hedgehog rescue rangers but no one was willing to accept another hedgehog. Luckily I found a good contact on the hedgehog preservation society website who was very helpful. Whilst on the phone the hedgehog started to wake up! She suggested feeding and watering it and seeing how it was a bit later on as ideally it should be released here in its home territory.

So I found the badger's supply of cat food and cracked it open and put the hedgehog who was asleep again in a box with the food. It didn't take long for its little nose to pick up the scent and it was soon gobbling down the food.

It had seconds, and thirds and then had a little nap. Then it woke up and had fourths..... and fifths!! Followed by a slurp of drink. I am starting to wonder whether it is just a very hungry hedgehog who has been struggling to find much food after all the dry weather we have had. By now Mr Prickles is getting a bit disruptive to my coursework with all his slurping and munching and suddenly he was feeling a lot better as I looked down to see him trying to climb out the box.

Hooray for Mr Prickles!

I wanted to keep an eye on him for a bit longer so I put the lid down to see if he would fall asleep. Which he did, he is now fast asleep. The Hedgehog lady said to check that he was ok I needed to see that he slept during the day and was awake at night and curled up into a ball if you poked him. Well at them moment he is sleeping so I think I will try and ring the lady again to see if I should release him! I have poked him and he curled up in to a ball.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

It's noisy out there!

Relatively quiet in terms of visitors, but there's quite a din coming from around the woodland paths between the hides today - Bob mentioned great spotted woodpeckers yesterday, and they are still around today and contributing to the general cacophony of young great tits, blue tits and blackcaps all calling to be fed morsels by harassed looking parents.

Both great crested grebe families continue to do well on Ivy Lake, as are the several families of coots, including the most recent hatching on one of the "stick and lifebuoy" nesting rafts in front of Ivy South Hide.
The rather cool and windy day means that there is not much in the way of insects to report on, but there was another reasonable haul in the moth trap, including angleshades, peppered moth , poplar hawkmoth and lesser swallow prominent (pictured). Also pictured below is an orangetip butterfly caterpillar that we have been keeping an eye on. Photographed on one of its common foodplants, hedge garlic, this afternoon it has been joined by a female common blue damselfly, who pulled the usual damselfly trick of creeping around the seedpod she was hanging onto in order to keep it between her and me.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Showing the Way

The moth trap contained my first large yellow underwing of the year this morning, these moths emerge around early to mid-June in most years then promptly go into hiding until later in the summer and autumn when they have their main flight to mate and breed. On the face of it this seems rather a strange strategy, but it is one that obviously works, as they are one of the commonest moths of late summer.
There are family parties of great spotted woodpecker all over the place now and the pair nearest the centre have been initiating their young into the ways of the bird feeders. The young were sitting about on the signs waiting to be brought peanuts.

It is obviously important for the adults to teach their young about the ways of the world, such as where the food is to be found.

The woodpeckers are not the only birds after the peanuts though. Jays have trouble at this time of the year as their acorn stores are now gone, so our feeders are particularly attractive to them.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

What a Catch

It actually rained today, not much but it has become such a rare event that I could not let it pass without mention.The overnight cloud kept the temperature up and so the moth catch was quite good, nothing rare but there was a small clouded brindle, a species described in the books as "common" but one we rarely see.
Being Thursday it was Volunteer Day, however we did not do a task today, instead they went pond-dipping. It is always interesting to see just what is caught and it is often not the big things that really catch the eye.

One of the most looked at finds today was this humble midge pupa.

Jim pointed out a bees nest in one of the bird boxes yesterday, at the time I could not see what species they were, so I had another look today and found they were woodland bumblebees, they way they have closed down the entrance hole is particularly interesting and something I have not seen other species of bumblebees do.

I did have one other interesting sight today, as I returned from the Ivy South hide a kingfisher flew up onto one of the dead trees in the silt pond, it had a large fish, about as long as the bird's body. After about three minutes beating it against the branch it flew off. However it was not quite that simple. In beating the fish it repeatedly turned it so as to beat it on both sides, it also held it both on each side and upright, which meant the bill was open at a very wide angle. Finally, with the fish at least stunned, it flipped as though to swallow it tail first and flew off. This meant the head was pointing straight ahead, presumably much the easiest and most aerodynamic way for a kingfisher to carry a large fish.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Wet and the Dry

Lots of activity on the reserve today. More carp were being removed from Mockbeggar Lake, the bird ringers were in and the Lower Test volunteer team were in digging out rhododendron root and then there was the usual school group at the Centre and rather more visitors than of late. By contrast I seemed to be racing around doing lots of little jobs of no great consequence, some days are just like that I suppose.

The bird ringers had a good morning and the catch included a couple of already fledged reed warbler, this is very early for young to be out of the nest. Although it was noticeable that many were paired up and nest building well before the end of April this year, it seemed that the females arrived almost at the same time as the males this spring. I also saw at least two broods of great spotted woodpecker out of the nest today, I always used to reckon it was the first week of June before they left, so they seem early as well.

I had a brief look at the lichen heath in the morning and found a ground bug, it turned out to be Graptopeltus lynceus, a classic species of dry, open ground, most common in the Brecks of Norfolk. The heath is very, very dry at present, so dry it crunches if you walk on it, so I don't unless I absolutely have to.
Later I was out on balsam patrol, the situation looks better than last year, perhaps we are beginning to make inroads. The swampy vegetation along the Dockens Water is looking very fine indeed, lots of flowers and lots of insects. The main white flower in the shot is hemlock water dropwort, but there was also water forget-me-not, skullcap, gypsywort and yellow flag.
I also got a rather better picture of the black colonel, Odontomyia tigrina soldierfly, this one is a female.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

A Big Yellow Headache

Rather little to report from the last two days. A flock of 17 dunlin on Ibsley Water first thing was certainly notable, but they did not stay long.

I have been planning how to tackle the ragwort growth, it is not going to be easy as it is further ahead than usual and so many areas cannot be done as there are still nesting birds. Of course there are those that say it should be left as a nectar source and it is true that is it a valuable nectar plant. However it is toxic to stock when dry, although they avoid it when growing as a rule. We have to try and stop it spreading onto our neighbours land and it can also become very dominant on the dry disturbed soils around the old gravel pits, which is undesirable for other reasons. The history of the site and the long-lived seed bank mean we will never do more than reduce it. Our aim is to produce a lower denser sward, which is better for nesting waders and feeding wildfowl and is harder for ragwort seedlings to establish in, but it will take many years of work. We have already made some progress on the western shore of Ibsley Water, which was chest high with brilliant yellow a couple of years ago.

Incidental to checking the shores of the lakes I retrieved the monitoring buoy from Ibsley Water, the high winds yesterday caused it to break free and it got washed up on the eastern shore, it was both larger and heavier than it looked! The great black-backed gulls will have to find another perch.

The good year for insects continues with another new for the reserve hoverfly yesterday, a bumblebee mimic, Criorhina berberina. The robberfly in the picture below was basking on the main gate as I went to lock up at the end of the day.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Winds of Change

HEADLINE: turnstone, 7 dunlin, ringed plover, Brachypalpoides lentus

Opening the Tern hide a turnstone caught my eye on one of the islands, as I watched it a flock of 6 dunlin flew round. A further search of the shore revealed a seventh dunlin and a single ringed plover. Perhaps dropping in during the overnight rain, unfortunately the rain was not over and we had several heavy showers during the day, often accompanied by very gusty winds, which were not popular with the lapwing or their chicks.
Later in the morning I visited the Goosander hide for the first time in a while and there was a lot of sand martin activity at the nest holes.

As the day went on the showers ceased, the cloud broke somewhat and the sun came out, tempting lots of insects out to warm themselves. Along with all the damselflies I spotted a fine black hoverfly with a blood-red band across the abdomen basking on bramble, I had a good view through the binoculars but failed to get a picture. It was Brachypalpoides lentus this species used to be regarded as very rare, although now usually seen as scarce, this is the first record for the reserve and the first that I have ever seen. I also found a clump of cyperus sedge near Ivy Lake, a plant I don't remember seeing on the reserve before.

I am trying to add a few more species records for the reserve this summer, as a warm up I did a small scale "BioBlitz" of my own in my garden yesterday morning, 207 species of more or less wildlife, in that I did not include obvious garden plants. Nothing as good as the hoverfly seen today, but I did find box bug, a species that also used to be regarded as very rare but which has now spread. These changes show that things in the natural world do not stand still, as though to illustrate this I recorded only 28 bird species from my garden but these included Mediterranean gull and firecrest, even ten years ago both would have been garden "megas", now a house sparrow would be much more notable than either. I wonder how many species we could find on a Blashford BioBlitz?

Today the only dragonfly I saw was scarce chaser, another formerly rare species now spreading rapidly, this one looking fine on a yellow flag flower. Of course we don't know how many of these changes are being spurred on by our changing climate and how many are just part of natural ebb and flow of species abundance and range. It does seem clear that climate is changing unusually rapidly and that a lot of species do seem to be changing their status. This means that species once rare become more common, but also that the once common may become rare. A good case for surveying just what is out there now so we can see how things change and what we might do about it.

I also found a very striking shieldbug nymph, I not sure what species it is, but it looked
almost armour plated in the afternoon sunshine. Finally going to lock up the Ivy South hide I found the family of mallard below resting on the log outside the hide, mallard is not a species I bother to take pictures of generally.

Other wildlife today included 3 grass snake in the compost bin on "Compostcam" and another on the bank of the Centre pond. Over Ibsley Water about 200 swift and hundreds of sand martin attracted a hobby, which just missed out on a meal after a towering chase.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Wild About Ponds

That was the title of the course that I ran at the centre today and all of the participants left inspired and enthused to build new, or better manage existing, garden ponds - so apart from an hour or two spent pond dipping and identifying the catch and then cleaning up the equipment and classroom at the end of the course, most of my time was spent inside, despite the beautiful weather! Highlights? Watching the smooth newts "performing" on "pond cam", looking at an eft (baby newt) under the microscope, newly emerged damselflies drying out by their discarded exuvae on the soft rushes, an amazing day-glo green giant dragonfly nymph that must have recently cast it's old "skin" in favour of one with a bit of wriggle room to grow into and a moderate sized great diving beetle larva with a monstrous appetite to match its monstrous appearance!

For what ever reason this year seems to be a really good one for these impressive and fearsome larvae in the centre pond and they may well be the result of a prodigious mating session of great diving beetle that were in front of pond-cam on and off for several days last summer (of course they may not have been the same pair, but it seemed like it!). The web cam is invariably on the pond during the day at the moment and it is well worth following the link from the Blashford Lakes reserve pages of the Trusts website to see what is going on - smooth newts, palmate newts, beetle and dragonfly larvae are regularly on show and we are quite frequently seeing a fish-eye view of the pair of mallards that are spending a lot of time on the pond too, which is a lovely rare treat!

Elsewhere on the reserve there was a black tern over Ibsley Water yesterday morning and the lapwing chicks were still doing fine. On Ivy Lake the great crested grebe "humbugs" are also doing well and are now well past the "cute stage" though they do still have their stripy heads.

I also disturbed three female roe deer near Ivy North when I opened up - pretty soon they will be having their fawns if they have not done so already. Visitors to the reserve can be lucky enough to see them as the mothers often leave them in the vegetation quite near the paths, where they rely on their camouflage dappled shade spotting and sitting very still to avoid detection - which they often do! If you are lucky enough to come across a young deer this summer, either on the reserve or elsewhere , enjoy the sight quietly but please leave it be. They are not "abandoned" and the mother knows exactly where she has left them and will return when she is ready and you have moved on.

Apart from that my wife and little boy arrived for the last hour of the day, so we wandered up to Goosander Hide to enjoy the sand martin spectacle,all of the dragon and damsel flies on route and playing pooh sticks along the way!

Friday, 20 May 2011


I was not at Blashford today, but as I was working in my garden I was watching the bumblebees, following on from doing the beewalk yesterday. I had noticed yesterday that the early bumblebee and woodland bumblebee particularly liked feeding at green alkanet flowers, while the moss carder bee was at red campion flowers, where I had seen them before. Today I noticed that I had lots of white-tailed bumblebees feeding at yellow rattle flowers in my lawn, yes I have that sort of lawn. The early bumblebees were at herb robert and geraniums and red-tailed bumblebees at dame's violet and saxifrages. Of course this is due to the differences in the tongue length of the various species and it highlights the importance of having a wide range of flower types available. It also enable the different species to avoid competition.

I also enjoyed a singing firecrest in the garden, I have seen them in the autumn and winter but this was my first breeding season record and a new species for the tetrad in the breeding birds atlas. This four year project is finishing this year and wants as many records of, especially, confirmed breeding as it can get, so if you know of a species breeding near you send it in as a "Roving record" via the BTO website.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

A Buzz of Bees

Headline: moss carder-bee, black-tailed skimmer

A moderate moth catch last night, but only one new species for the year, a scorched wing, one of the moths that ties hard to look like anything but a moth.
As I finished checking the moth trap I noticed a moderately large grass snake on a log by the Centre pond, I know the picture I got is not good, but it was "digi-binned", that is taken by holding the camera up to my binoculars.

The volunteers were in this morning and we had a big clear out of the stores and gave the Centre building a wash down.

In the afternoon I carried out a bumble-bee survey, walking the same route as last month and recording all the bees I saw. I did not see many bees but there were a lot of species. Most common were the early bumblebee and all the individuals were workers, other species were common carder-bee, white-tailed bumblebee, woodland bumblebee, forest cuckoo-bee, red-tailed cuckoo-bee and a queen moss carder-bee. The last species is in severe decline so finding it was a real bonus, I had noticed what I though was this species a few days ago, as today nectaring at red campion.

I also saw a scarce chaser dragonfly and this time got a fair picture of it.
A short way on I found a broad-bodied chaser, this species is really quite uncommon at Blashford, certainly less frequent than the scarce chaser.

I also saw my first black-tailed skimmers of the year, at Ellingham Pound, where there were also egg-laying four-spotted chaser and several downy emerald.

Bird news today was thin, a breeding plumage dunlin on Ibsley Water was the only migrant. The oystercatcher is still sitting at the nest site, but may actually have small chicks. The pair of lapwing by the Tern hide still have both their chicks and it looks as though a pair of little ringed plover are thinking of nesting near the hide.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs

HEADLINE: black colonel soldierfly (new to the reserve)

The day was cloudy, but despite this the interesting records of the day were all insects. At the Centre pond several of the hoverfly, Anasimyia transfuga were sitting around on flowers and trying to warm up on the boardwalk. This is a species of vegetated pools often with reedmace, the appearance of so many of them was a prelude to further species of the same habitat.
After taking the picture of the hoverfly I was bemoaning the fact that while we have hoverflies of marshy habitats we are very poorly off for soldierflies, many of which live in the same types of places. As I said this a fly landed on my hand and it was a soldierfly, what was more a new species for the reserve and one that is quite local to boot. It was Odontomyia tigrina, also called the black colonel and it lives in just the same places as the hoverfly.

I looked around to see if it was a one off, although I could find no more around the pond there were lots of insects around, the conditions were warm enough to tempt them out but not so warm as to make them really active. Amongst other things I found my first Volucella pellucens of the year, one of the easiest of all hoverflies to identify.

Later I looked on the shore of Ivy Lake in an area we cleared last winter and there I found several more black colonels, clearly they are now doing well on site despite having gone unseen previously. I also came across a rather brilliant beetle one of the leaf beetles, possibly Donacia vulgaris.

On Ibsley Water the lapwing pair still have two chicks and the oystercatcher is still sitting on eggs. On Ivy Lake the great crested grebe pair are still feeding their two chicks well and the common terns are now mostly sitting on eggs, there are certainly sixteen pairs, and probably eighteen.

Monday, 16 May 2011

On the Dark Side

No real headline sightings today, the moth trap was much busier than yesterday, with buff-tip, poplar hawk and a melanistic form of peppered moth. This is the classic example of industrial melanism, when species evolved darker forms to be better camouflaged in the sooty conditions of a coal fired industrial Britain. It does not work that well at Blashford though, but evidently well enough to still occur in the population.
Yesterday we counted ten emperor dragonfly exuvae around the Centre pond, today there were at least fourteen including one that had not managed to hatch. The emerging adult having died in the struggle to get free from the larval skin.

The dried exuvae of those that did succeed now decorate the stems of reeds and other emerging plants. They time the emergence to enable a first flight as soon after dawn as they can to get clear of the pond edge and possible predators.

The pair of lapwing next to the Tern hide still have two chicks, but the little ringed plovers seem to be starting all over again. The male of the pair nearest the hide was displaying and nest scraping just outside the hide, so I got another shot of him. I did try some video, but my editing skills were not up to getting it onto the blog, or at least not yet.

Otherwise my day consisted of a series of frustrations as I tried to cut some paths for sweep netting. The frustration being a series of mechanical problems ending with a need to wait until the end of the week for parts.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Watching Birds and Much More

Headlines: red kite, peregrine, sanderling, scarce chaser dragonfly and emperor dragonfly.

Today saw the reserve swarming with groups of children from WATCH, Young Explorers and HOS at the relocated New Forest birdwatch event. It was teams form this event who saw all the birds today. A single red kite flew over, as did one yesterday, so probably the same bird. A peregrine was watched having a disagreement with 2 buzzard from the Goosander hide, where the sand martin continue to put on a good show.

Before the event started some of the group were in the Tern hide and saw single sanderling, dunlin, black-tailed godwit and common sandpiper, although I am not sure any of them stayed to be seen later in the day.

I was at the Centre for much of the day where we saw nine species of dragonflies and damselflies including scarce chaser and my first emperor dragonfly of the year. One of the latter was apparently egg-laying briefly in the pond.

All in all everyone seemed to have a good day, I am not sure what the total number of bird species seen was or which team actually won, but that was not really the point of the day, all the same I will post the results when I have them.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Three Damsels on Bramble

Headlines: Yellow wagtail (first of the year), dunlin, common sandpiper, 2 black-tailed godwit.

I was not working today, but I found I had gone home with a set of keys, so I went in first thing to return them. As the day was fine I took the SLR with me for a bit of a run out. I opened up the hides and from the Tern hide I saw that at least two of the black-tailed godwit are still there. I also heard a yellow wagtail flying over calling as if went north, I tried but just could not see it. I also heard dunlin and common sandpiper without seeing them.

Down at the Ivy South hide the suntrap had a good range of insects and I got a few pictures of damselflies. First up was, appropriately enough the first one to emerge each spring, the large red damsel.
Next was the commonest species at Blashford, the common blue damselfly. Strangely enough this usually abundant species became very rare at Farlington Marshes in my last few seasons there, I have no idea why.

Lastly I got a large red damselfly, these can be trickier as they mainly like to rest on floating water plants, although this one was on a bramble.

I spent the rest of the day out in the Forest and on a "Micro-safari" on the collapsing cliffs at Barton-on-Sea, I should have been doing the garden.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Hook-tip and Hornet

Nothing unusual in the moth trap this morning, but there was a very fine and very fresh pebble hook-tip, pictured below.
It was volunteer Thursday again and today's task was to start pulling Himalayan balsam, almost a month earlier than usual. We combined this with filling some holes that had washed out along the Dockens Water bank where it over-topped last winter. When we returned to the store a large queen hornet was spotted on one of the spare nest boxes, she was magnificent and as she flew off was reminiscent of a female broad-bodied chaser dragonfly!

There were a few migrant birds today, a whimbrel was on Ibsley Water as were 4 black-tailed godwit, although these looked like first summer birds. A drake goosander spent pretty much all day on the shore near the Tern hide and was joined by a duck in the afternoon. Over the lake good numbers of swift were screaming around and a hobby dashed through just as I finished my lunch. On Ivy Lake I think 14 pairs of common terns are now settled with eggs being incubated, a further two pairs seem to be on territory but not yet eggs.

Finally I give advance warning that on Sunday there is to be a birdwatching event at Blashford Lakes. Young birdwatching groups from all over Hampshire will be spending the day bird watching and doing various wildlife related activities. This will mean that the reserve will be busy with groups all day, although not closed to other visitors, there will be some restrictions on parking and the hides are likely to be extra busy.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Something Fishy Going On

The main event today was the start, at last, of the project to remove some of the common carp from Mockbeggar Lake. You might reasonably ask why anyone would want to remove them, the reason is that there are so many that they have eliminated all the weed and stirred up so much silt that the water is like soup. Unfortunately carp can build up to such numbers that they alter the whole lake ecosystem. So it was decided that as many as could be removed should be. That was some two or more years ago, since when negotiations to get to the point of actually doing the work had staggered along. The fish were removed using electro-fishing, that is stunning the fish with an electric charge so that they can be caught using a net, the fish are unharmed. Having got started the work continued rapidly and the fish proved easy to catch in good numbers, although that probably just shows how many of them there are.
Each big bucketful of fish contained about 100lb of fish each one weighing mostly between 8 and 12 lbs.

Once removed into aerated tanks they will be taken off to be used to stock lakes elsewhere, although we do not want them there are people elsewhere who do.

Of course it will be impossible to remove all the fish and with so many more resources it is likely that the remaining fish will grow larger and when they breed their off-spring will have the chance to survive, denied for so many years by competition. This makes it likely that the whole process will start all over again in a few years, but at least we might buy some time to try and put a more effective management plan in place.

If nothing else it was good to finally see a real start being made on the management of this lake, which was once one of the best in the whole complex for wildfowl.

As a result of fish related activity in the morning and a meeting of the Blashford Lakes Forum in the afternoon I saw rather little wildlife today. A pair of cuckoo over Mockbeggar and a sky generally scattered with swift was about the sum of it. Reports received amounted 2 hobby and not much else.