Thursday, 30 June 2011

A Touch of Autumn

The year slowly moves on and hints of approaching autumn are starting to appear. From the Tern hide first thing 2 common sandpiper along the shore near the hide were birds on their way south after, trying to breed somewhere in the uplands of norther Britain. A lot of the first brood juvenile sand martin will already have headed off. News from the ringers, in yesterday morning, included that they caught no young reed warbler, even though they had several on the last visit, presumably they have already moved on.
The moth trap included a scarce migrant, a small marbled, unfortunately it flew off before I could get a picture of it, a shame as it was rather attractive. I did get a picture of the other notable catch, a mirco that does not seem to have been recorded along the Avon Valley, or even in south-west Hampshire before, pictured below it is Stathmopoda pedella.
The day was fine and very pleasant, as befits "Volunteer Thursday". We were working on the eastern shore of Ibsley Water, somewhat inevitably, clearing ragwort. The longer grass on this shore is ideal habitat for butterflies like meadow brown and marbled white and for the Roesel's bush-cricket.
Other birds today included 5 Egyptian geese on Ibsley Water and the family of oystercatcher. At the Centre as I went through the moth trap it was pleasing to hear a lesser spotted woodpecker calling, it is good to know they are still around. From the Ivy South hide several more of the common tern are flying, some really rather well now.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Paraswammerdamia and Fish

Busy elsewhere until lunchtime today, when I got in a had a run through the moth trap, a good lot of moths but nothing really unusual. A silver Y showed that there are still migrants around and there was also the first rosy footman of the year. There were fewer micro-moths than recently, but among them was a tiny micro, which I took a picture of so I could post the name, here goes, Paraswammerdamia albicapitella.
The carp removal was taking place on Mockbeggar Lake again today, I went up to see how things were going, the answer was much as in previous weeks, fish are still being caught steadily. Out on the lake a pair of Egyptian geese were on one of the islands and on an exposed shingle ridge a pair of common tern. The latter probably the rather aimless pair from Ibsley Water that never got down to breed, possibly they are a young pair.
A freshly dead jay was found on the boardwalk south of the Ivy South hide this afternoon, it was an adult, with the tail and secondaries freshly moulted and deep black, contrasting with the remaining, old primaries. It was pretty thin and may have died from the combined effects of hard work rearing a family with lack of food. They like to eat acorns, but even their stored ones will have all gone now, in spring they will eat eggs and nestlings, but these are now almost over too. It had also gone through the effort of growing a good few new feathers. It seems surprising that mid summer can be a time of relative famine but for seed eaters it can be a hard time, just when they have been working flat out and demands upon their bodies have been highest.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A Bit of Video

Mainly because I have been trying to post some for ages and keep failing here is a short video of a displaying male picture winged fly, Tephritis bardanae. This species lays eggs on the flower heads of burdock and the larva eats the developing seeds. The males each try to occupy a developing flower bud and display by waving their patterned wings to attract passing females. This is what the male in the clip is doing, although there did not seem to be any females around.

Mowing Interrupted by Tiger

Another good moth night with a few more new species for the year including the blackneck a species I do not catch very often and last night there were two of them.
One of the commonest moths in the trap at present is the double square-spot one of a few species that seem to eat almost anything, or at least a whole range of herbaceous plants, but also the leaves of shrubs, if not trees. It is a species that does not vary much, or at least so I had thought, all the ones i had caught were pretty similar, until now. Today there was a very odd looking one in the trap, there are a couple of similar looking species, but this does not really fit then either, for now at least it is down as "just an odd looking double square-spot.
I spent a good part of the late morning and early afternoon cutting paths and ragwort around Ellingham Lake, along the way I found a scarlet tiger moth a species that tends to be very closely associated with river valleys, they are quiet common along the Avon, although I don't think I have seen one at Blashford before.
I have not grazed any ponies on the shore of Ellingham Lake this year, there was too little grass and they would have to have been moved off almost as soon as they arrived. The very poor soils do have their own flora though. Cudweed is common and other species include the dreaded ragwort and the bugloss, pictured below.
Having a late lunch at the Centre a grasshopper flew by, it looked very dark and for a moment I thought it might just be a woodland grasshopper, but it was not, just a very dark field grasshopper.
I also saw my first adult dark bush cricket of the year today and there were hints of a migrant insect arrival with single red admiral and painted lady butterflies.
Not many birds to report today, the oystercatcher pair with their two young were feeding right in front of the Tern hide, it is good to see them doing so well. We only ever seem to have two pairs but they rear young almost every year, which may not sound that surprising, but is actually very remarkable. In an life of perhaps twenty or thirty years, they really do live that long, each pair only need to rear an average of about three young to flying stage to replace themselves, allowing for mortality before the offspring breed. Our birds have reared eleven young between the two pairs in the last five years, so they are way ahead. They certainly do far better than most on the coast, as do our common terns. Perhaps the curious thing is why inland breeding is so rare in southern England, especially when it is so common further north and in Scotland.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Lots of Moths and a Horse-fly

A very warm night produced a splendid moth catch this morning with eighty species that I could identify and a couple of micro-moths that defeated me. New for the year were: peach blossom, light arches, small yellow wave, dingy shell, lobster moth, dot moth, purple clay, small angle shades, Kent black arches, small dotted buff and clay as well as a range of micros. The conditions were more or less perfect for a big catch and I hope for the same tonight.
However, despite a huge catch there was actually nothing that unusual. So the title of insect of the day went to a huge horse-fly species. Firstly because this is a really big insect, fortunately it does not seem to bite humans and secondly because it could be a very rare species. There are two supper-sized horse-flies in Britain both with females about 35mm long and bulky with it. The two species are Tabanus sudeticus and Tabanus bovinus. The first is common and the second rare and there is much doubt about many specimens, especially the females. The one pictured below has many of the characters of bovinus, overall rather pale, with broad orange bands and antennae with orange at the base only. Although certain identification may never be possible,especially from a picture, this does look very good for the species and it is also of interest that confirmed specimens have come from as close as Red Shoot, just a couple or so miles away in the New Forest.
The horse-fly flew and and landed on the side of the building whilst we were helping with a school group who were pond-dipping. Along with all the usual things a long tube of jelly like eggs were picked out. Although I am pretty confident they are eggs, I don't know of what, any ideas out there?
Elsewhere I saw my first large skipper butterfly of the year, other butterflies included comma and small tortoiseshell. Birds today were few, the common tern chicks are flying better each day, one even tried to catch a butterfly in mid-air as it flew across Ivy Lake and came very close too.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Worrying Willows

The tits and finches were hungry when I opened up this morning! Over the last month or so we have taken to bringing the bird feeders in overnight to reduce our overheads - left out the rooks and jackdaws were emptying them completely and though we have nothing against them helping themselves to the odd morsel during the day, we can not afford them feeding on that scale! Stored overnight in the Woodland Hide a tell-tale trail of sunflower seed husks from the feeder to the door was evidence that they had not been completely safe in there, and that somewhere a rotund woodmouse was sleeping off a heavy meal! I think the birds know the drill by now as no sooner had the first feeder gone out, they descended heedless of the fact that I was still there putting out the second!

I had a wander over to Goosander and Lapwing Hides this morning and was very intrigued by these mysterious eggs that had obviously been carried their by an unknown predator and then been abandoned with only half having been eaten. These were on a log, but there were several more scattered about the base, some whole and others not. I haven't a clue what they are so any suggestions would be welcome! They were about an inch long and soft shelled with a tough membrane. My best guess is that something uncovered a grass snake "nest" and that these are grass snake eggs as they seem to be about the right size and in a similar cluster to the old hatched eggs that I have unearthed in compost bins before.

After crossing the road and rounding the "Clearwater Pond" the unhealthy state of the willows was immediately apparent - all of the leaves of the volunteer "hedge-laid" willows around the edge of the willow wood were apparently dead or dieing and I then realised that the same was true of most of the willow all around. Unless the peculiar weather conditions this spring/summer have had an adverse affect on them (which seems unlikely as, for now at least, it is only the willows on the southern and eastern shore of Ibsley Water and the old reedbeds that are affected), or some very virulent disease is causing the die back. What ever it is it has happened very quickly - and like the eggs, it is a bit of a mystery, so if you've any ideas let me know!

Other than that, the sand martins were spectacular as always, there was a lovely big female adder basking on a log pile, loads of meadow brown butterflies amongst the oxeye daisies and a couple of fallow does too.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Freestyle shot

When I opened the Tern hide this morning the young roe buck was on the shore just east of the hide. I was quite pleased to get the shot below as it was digi-scoped, but I cannot attach my telescope to the tripod at present so this is the scope proped on the window ledge and hand supported with the camera held up to the eyepiece, sort of "freestyle digi-scoping".
The best of the day was first thing, with bright sunshine, which got lots of insects out to bask, amongst them the hoverfly Xylota segnis in the suntrap behind the Ivy South hide.
Out on the lake a brood of gadwall was only the second I have seen this year. The common tern chicks continue to do well with more flying every day.
I got the mower back today and gave it a run out to see that it was going properly, before I take it out to distant parts of the Ibsley Water shore. Incidentally I found a few lurking Himalayan balsam plants and picking my way through the nettles to get to them I spotted a fine clump of small fungi on an alder stump.
The weather is promised to warm up and the wind turn to the south, so we can hope for some migrant insects next week.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Pushing our Luck

Moth trap highlight this morning was a privet hawk-moth, the first of the year. The picture shows it with wings spread, actually the wings are flicked periodically, presumably to look both larger and more threatening than it actually is and so scare off a potential predator. They really are very large moths, in fact the largest resident moth we have, beaten only by a few rare migrant hawk-moths.
The volunteers were in again today and we set off to clear Himalayan balsam, as we left the Centre is was fine an don the way to our working area we stopped at the Ivy South hide to take a look at the tern rafts, which the volunteers originally made and maintain each year. As we looked form the hide the rain suddenly poured down, making us wonder if our Thursday luck had run out. After a few minutes we headed out and started pulling the balsam along the lower part of the Dockens Water and the sky cleared and then the sun came out. The really pleasing part was that the number of plants we found was way down on last year, instead of dense stands of plants we found just scattered singles and a few small clumps, probably where we had missed a plant last year. The scattered plants were sometime very obvious.
Most were more concealed amongst the dense fen vegetation. In looking for them I did come across quite a few other plants including large areas of climbing corydalis, this plant clambers over more robust plants using tendrils to grab a hold.Various other wildlife was also found, a fox cub, a female scarce chaser, a nest of green woodpecker still with young, the others on the reserve had all fledged a fair while ago. On a patch of water mint I found this bright mint beetle.
Up to 6 Egyptian geese were reported today and I saw the single gosling this morning, still surprisingly small, I thought. The two small lapwing chicks still survive and there is a possibility that there is a brood of redshank, there were two adults calling anxiously but I could not see any sign of chicks.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Sunny Spells Work Magic

A curious day with frequent rain, but occasional warm, even sunny spells. Each time the rain stopped and the sky brightened, insects suddenly appeared, desperately trying to get warmed up and moving. It was a rather odd day altogether, with almost all my planned work failing to get done. Overnight the Hanson plant had been broken into again, this time via our car park and including knocking out one of the concrete bollards at the entrance. Not a huge amount of damage but it takes time dealing with the aftermath.
At one point in the afternoon one of the bright spells coincided with a time when I was waiting near the main entrance and I got the camera out and got a few pictures of the insects tempted out. First was one of many meadow brown, they don't often rest with their wings wide open, but when they are trying to warm up quickly they will.
Rather less obviously appealing, but actually rather fabulous, was a horse-fly, this one a male so it was not going to try and bite me. The species is Chrysops relictus and like almost all horse-flies it has the most brilliant coloured eyes. Some species also have patterns, perhaps not compensation for a painful bite but something to marvel at all the same.
My last basking insect was a caterpillar, it is of one of the burnet moth species, if I had to choose I would probably go for narrow-bordered five-spot burnet but I may well be wrong.
There were few birds to report today, several more of the common tern chicks were making practice flights. Over on Ibsley Water the largest lapwing chick is now flying and the younger brood still has at least two chicks.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

A Varied Existence

It was might be termed a varied day today. After opening up the hides I went down to the southern end of Ivy lake to meet a group from Ringwood School who had come to help clearing Himalayan balsam from the ditch south of the lake, they did a great job and pulled up great mounds of it. They also took it in turns to do a bit of bird watching and we had great views of the nesting common terns on the rafts.
After dealing with a few odd jobs in the morning we were having lunch, and incidentally admiring the ruby-tailed wasp below, when I got a phone call.
The call was about a Canada goose that had become stuck in a garden in Ellingham, could we come and catch it and get it to a lake. So round we went and there it was, one flightless Canada goose. It had apparently landed with two others which had now flown off again, but as they are moulting now this one had lost too many wing feathers to fly off and so was trapped. We caught it quite easily and took it to Ibsley Water where it joined lots of others. The geese come to the lakes to moult as they become completely flightless for a short time and use the water as a refuge.
After this excursion we set off the check the dormouse boxes that were put up in the winter, would there be any dormice? Well no, as it turned out, but of twenty-five boxes, ten had been used by blue or great tits for nesting, three had nests partly built, one had been used by birds as a roost and all the others bar one had swarms of earwigs and woodlice. The last one, and it was number 25, had a bumble-bee nest in it. We also found a wasp nest in one of the bird boxes and the box pictured which had really seen some action. It had a small wasp nest started on the roof, but then abandoned, it had then been used by tits to nest in and had been attacked by woodpeckers which had made two small holes, low down on the front. It was now occupied by a single slug, in the picture it is on the roof next to the wasp nest.
Then it was off with the boat to ring some more black-headed gull chicks, unfortunately we had missed a lot when we failed to get out last week due to a puncture on the trailer, so many had already flown. We found and ringed another 38 and also caught a well grown oystercatcher chick as well. Oystercatchers can live well into their thirties, an amazing thing for a not very large bird. The oystercatchers have obviously had another good season as on my way back to the Centre with the boat I saw the second pair with their two young and I suspect they could probably fly now if they really needed to.

Monday, 20 June 2011

First Flight II - Three Good Terns

A calm cloudy night and so the moth catch was pretty good, the pick of the trap was a new species for Blashford, a Pyralid called Phlyctaenia perlucidalis a species that used to be considered very rare in Fenland areas, but which has spread in recent years, although this seem to be the first record inland on the Avon Valley.
Rather more attractive was a very fine burnished brass, a moth that is very common, the caterpillars feed on nettle, but which is not often seen unless you run a moth trap.
Opening the hides I was delighted to see that at least three of the common tern chicks are now flying and several more look as though they could if they wanted to. I also got a better count of the birds, it seems that there are sixteen pairs still actively using the rafts and they have forty -four chicks.
During the dry spell this morning we had another go at some of the ragwort, a favourite task, but in this case it had compensations. On the bank near the main entrance we came across lots of meadow brown and my first small skipper and marbled white of the season. I got a picture of the skipper but the marbled white would not stop.
It was not all butterflies though, I also found a soldier-fly, Oplodontha viridula, not at all rare but always good to see, the spotted eyes are something I don't usually notice, but they show well in the picture.
On the same bank we also came across a single pyramidal orchid these seem to crop up here and there on the reserve, often in otherwise very ordinary grassland.
The recently hatched lapwing brood near the Tern hide is still whole, with all four chicks surviving despite the wet weather. I am not sure if any of the little ringed plover chicks still survive, I could not see any of them today. The largest lapwing chick is certainly able to fly now, although it is still near the Tern hide with the female.

Friday, 17 June 2011

More Broods and Bee Orchids

Despite the grim weather I am pleased to say that the newest brood of lapwing still number at least two, although they must be finding life hard, small fluffy chicks and rain do not mix well. Unfortunately I cannot be sure that the large lapwing chick has flown, it was very big when I last saw it, but now seems to have gone missing, hopefully it has just flown off. At the end of the day the pair of Egyptian geese were right in front of the hide with their single remaining youngster. The rise of Egyptian geese from occassional escapees to increasingly regular breeding bird is a bit of a concern. They are very aggressive when nesting and will displace other species. In parts of Belgium and Holland they are already becoming very common and there seem no reason why they should not become so here.

I spent a good bit of the day ferrying materials around, along the way I saw several bee orchid near the Lapwing hide and a single spotted orchid a little further south. On the silt pond near the Lapwing hide there was a brood of gadwall, the first I have seen this year. This pond has done well for breeding birds this year with both great crested and little grebe nesting there as well. I also took a quick look from the hide and found a family party of swallow perched on the fence wire just below the windows, typically in such situations, I did not have my camera.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Thursday Magic

The day started with heavy rain, which got heavier before stopping just in time for the volunteers, the Thursday magic worked again. We worked in increasingly warm sunshine, path clearing, pulling ragwort and Himalayan balsam for a couple of hours. Having got back and put the tools away it started to rain again and then did so on and off for much of the afternoon.

The cloud overnight did not produce as many moths as I had hoped, but there were quiet a few "micros", mostly Tortrix moths. The smaller moths are often worth a closer look, some mimic bird-droppings, a good strategy if you want to avoid being eaten by a bird. Others go for getting lost in leaf litter and come in shades of grey and brown, like the Celypha striana below.

Some, however are little gems, but you do need to get in close to appreciate them, the one below has a tremendous mouthful of a name, Pseudargyrotoza conwagana.

At the end of the day we got down to the Ivy South hide and had a good look at the common terns on the rafts. I reckon there are sixteen pairs actively feeding young, I think there have been up to eighteen pairs, but the others either never laid or have abandoned the attempt. The sixteen pairs have done well though, there are still at least forty-two chicks, some of which should be flying in a day or two. Given that a tern colony is regarded as having a successful breeding season if they rear an average of one chick per pair, we will be well ahead if they fledge the majority of those still alive.

Elsewhere there was little to report, the mute swans on Ibsley Water have now built up to 65 and have a single black swan with them. The geese are gathering to moult and must number well over 300 now, although getting a good count has been impossible so far.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011


After seeing the first of the flying black-headed gull chicks yesterday, there were several today. From the Ivy South hide the tern rafts are still busy with adults bringing in fish for their broods. There is one adult which seems to wait until it sees an incoming bird with a fish and then tries to steal the food, I have seen this sort of behaviour, known as cleptoparasitism, before although not at Blashford. The hurly burly of raft life does cause problems and today one chick had managed to end up in the water, they swim well, but this bird is too young to fly back onto the raft. This happens to a few each year just at the point where they can almost fly and so spend time jumping and flapping, they can either get blown off the raft or bumped. I have some floating pallets to act as refuges, but the chick has to find them. If they do, they usually fly within a day or so and can then get back to the raft.

Today was damp and hectic, the drizzle at first, rather than giving way to sunny spells, gave way to continuous light rain. It was hectic because there was further carp removal going on, part of the ongoing project to reduce the excessive numbers in Mockbeggar Lake, although this only took a little of my time. We also had the Lower Test volunteer team working to cut ragwort off the northern shore of Mockbeggar Lake, there was so much that pulling was impractical. We also had a couple of volunteers from the Parish Council to help us pulling ragwort from the slightly less infested eastern bank, they stayed the course despite the worsening rain.

Otherwise I collected the trailer wheel and refitted it, sent off my article for the Echo and set up a test experiment to see if invasive alien plant Crassula helmsii will grow from seed, it is not supposed to in Britain, but I have my doubts.

Despite, or perhaps because of the poor weather, the moth trap was very busy, the low cloud overnight had kept it warm. Highlights were a beautiful golden Y (below), the splendidly named suspected (even further below) and several elephant hawk moths.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

First Flight

Looking out from the Tern hide this morning I spied the first flying black-headed gull youngster of the season, a bit clumsy, but flying for all that. This followed on from the first tufted duck brood of the year yesterday. It may seem late for the first brood of ducklings, but they rarely appear before mid-summer at Blashford. I am also pleased to say that there are still little ringed plover chicks, lapwing chicks and oystercatcher chicks scattered around the shores of the lake. There are single lapwing and oystercatcher chicks that should be flying themselves within a matter of days.

Meanwhile, down at the Ivy South hide I got a count of the common tern chicks as well, at least thirty-seven, not bad at all and I am pretty sure there were a few more hiding.

There was a plan to go out and ring some more of the gull chicks this afternoon, for various reasons it had been on and off, but eventually it was all systems go and we raced back to the Centre to get the boat on the trailer. Then, suddenly, it was off again, one of the trailer tyres was flat, by the time it could be fixed we would have run out of time.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Surviving the Downpour

I had not been at the reserve since Thursday and was concerned that yesterday's continuous rain would have caused serious problems for some of the wader and tern chicks. Fortunately it seems I need not have worried as they all, or at least most of them, seem to have come through alright. From the Tern hide there are still at least two little ringed plover chicks, the large lapwing and at least two oystercatcher chicks. What is more a further lapwing has hatched at least two chicks since last week.

Down at Ivy South hide, I was less worried about the common tern chicks as most of them are a good size now and they have plenty of shelters. When I opened up the hide it was noticeable that there were very few adults with the chicks though, at one point I could see over thirty chicks but only three adults in attendance. I suspect this was because the others were all away catching fish to make up for the lack of food they were able to bring in yesterday. Wind and rain not only chills the chicks making their need for food greater, it also makes it much harder for the adults to catch fish. The adult needs to see the fish below the surface, which must be difficult if the water is rippled by wind and splashed by rain, then it needs to dive accurately, a problem in a gusty wind. It is easy to see why in very wet windy summers producivity is reduced significantly.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Snake in the grass

Opening up was fairly unremarkable for the most part this morning - little ringed plover were on the spit in front of Tern Hide (although I didn't see any young I had two reports at lunch time of four chicks accompanied by three adult birds over on the long spit so there must have been a second successful hatching somewhere nearby - all were being harassed by jackdaws and a magpie, but none were taken while they were being observed this morning, so hopefully they will continue to fair well).

The female mute swan in front of Ivy North Hide appears to have come to her senses and given up on her empty nest as she has been off it regularly feeding over the last couple of days, though she does keep going back to the nest, so maybe she has some imaginary young to compensate for the cygnet she lost a couple of weeks ago.

The highlight of the rounds though was the bank vole that I happened to see out of the corner of my eye from Ivy South Hide - from the far right window it was clearly in view clambering around the foxglove and red campion stems foraging for the red campion seed pods. The photographer who entered the hide shortly after me got some brilliant photo's of both that one and a second that we saw soon after. As for me, I had thought about picking up the camera on the way out of the centre and forgotten it! I went back later on after hearing from the same chap that they'd been there most of the morning, seen out of both side windows, but sadly just got a brief glimpse of one and was unable to get a picture - so took one of one of the pair of grey wagtail industriously plucking flies from the dead alder in front of the hide instead:

Today was the "Catch the bug" event advertised in all of the usual places - there wasn't a huge turn out, but enough to more than justify the time spent leading the activity, and everyone that did come had a great time! After signing everyone in we had a look through the moth trap first - everyone was very impressed by the cinnabar moths and heart and darts, which was just as well because that was all we had until the very bottom of the trap when the last egg box was turned over to reveal an eyed hawkmoth which, having been impressed by the previous species, everyone was quite in awe of! It was a relatively cold night last night and the change in temperature had a dramatic effect on the catch. The hawkmoth was very obliging and gave everyone a really good view of itself as you can see:

The meadow was also a hit when we got there - with grasshoppers (field and marsh and possibly other species too!), assorted beetles and bugs, caterpillars, solitary and parasitic wasps, common blue and bluetailed damselflies, spiders and the first crickets (still nymphs) of the summer all being caught in abundance - in fact I overheard one gentleman remarking to his wife as they left just how surprised he had been by the diversity of wildlife that they had encountered.

The highlight though was a lovely dark, large (2 1/2 foot long), grass snake, spotted basking in the middle of one of the mown paths as everyone first entered the meadow to sit quietly and enjoy the sights and sounds. It didn't hang around, but rather headed off into the meadow where it "disappeared" into the base of a clump of oxeye daisies where it would have been very easily overlooked had we not seen it head in that direction - everyone saw it, including the distinctive yellow and black collar that identified it as a grass snake rather than adder, despite its very dark appearance:

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Run, Run as Fast as You Can

Highlight in the moth trap this morning was a Rannock looper moth, a male, which flew off before I could get a picture. This moth is only resident in central Scotland in the UK, but occurs as a rare migrant elsewhere. Actually this year it is not so rare, with a few hundred already recorded in southern England and this follows a slightly smaller invasion two years ago. Other moths included eyed hawk moth, buff tip and lots of heart and dart.

Once again it was volunteer Thursday, unfortunately we were clearing ragwort yet again, although we have made significant progress so I am planning something else for next week, perhaps a bit of Himalayan balsam pulling....

I finally managed to retrieve the failed raft from Mockbeggar Lake today, although I had a hard job getting the mooring weights free of the mud and up into the boat. I am hoping to reuse the floats on a new raft to see if we can get terns to nest in a second location on the reserve.

At the end of the day when I went to lock up the Tern hide I was a little surprised to see a summer plumaged sanderling, I know they are late migrants but this one must almost have left it too late even for nesting in the very far north. However the most enthralling sight was the little ringed plover chicks away to the east of the hide. There are least three still and they were whizzing about in their usual hyper-active way. Then a young grey heron wandered down the shore, it spotted the nearest chick and started towards it, surely the chick stood no chance. The chick ran, then crouched in the stones, but the heron's eyesight was too good and it stalked up and fixed on the chick from about a metre, looking ready to strike, this had to be it for the chick. The heron hesitated, the chick got up and zipped off up the bank and out of sight, at least to the heron, circling round the chick rejoined the female and was brooded. It seemed incredible but the plover had got away and perhaps learnt a lesson in survival as well. The heron probably learnt that when you have a meal for the taking it pays not to hesitate, so the chick may not be so lucky next time.

Finally a little late news from this morning. The ringers were in catching some of the nesting sand martin, included in the catch was one bird ringed elsewhere in the UK and even more interesting a bird ringed in Spain.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Aliens, Bees and Carp

No pictures tonight as I left the camera somewhere, hopefully in the dry, time will tell. The ongoing removal of carp from Mockbeggar Lake continued today and still it seems to be just as easy to catch fish. They all continue to be around 4kg or so, not large, but that is due to the high numbers making food hard to come by.

Between showers this morning we were removing ragwort from the shore of Mockbeggar Lake, a massive task and a never ending one. After lunch I went to do a site check in advance of a volunteer task removing another troublesome weed, although this one is an alien, Himalayan balsam. Although there is still a good bit about I do get the impression that we are starting to reduce it quite significantly, certainly it is much less common along the upper Dockens Water on the reserve this year, perhaps we are winning.

Later I was looking at an area on the shore of Ivy Lake where I have suspected that another invasive alien plant, Crassula helmsii, has been spreading from seed. This is interesting because it is not supposed to set seed in Britain. In fact I was not alone as I have a placement student working with me this month and he is going to set up an experiment that might actually prove if it really does set seed. Incidentally we came across a patch of needle spike-rush, a decidedly rare plant, even if not a spectacular one. It has been found nearby before, but this site was in an area cleared of trees two years ago, as it likes open areas on lake shores it must have spread in by seed since the clearance.

On the subject of the honey bees on the seat I have had a number of suggestions, but those from bee-keepers, who should know, all seem to be more or less the same. The site was used by a swarm recently and the pheromones from the queen remain, probably especially underneath the seat, where most of the bees are. This scent will attract drones, male bees on the look out for an unmated queen and workers who might have been with the swarm but lost contact and got left behind. Incidentally a swarm was seen about 250m away at the end of last week so perhaps they are still wandering in search of a nest site.

Birds were rather few today, a single black-tailed godwit on Ibsley Water being about the most notable. From yesterday two pair of pochard were of interest as was a lesser spotted woodpecker, very briefly, in an oak tree beside the car park at the Centre.

Monday, 6 June 2011

I Bee Mystified

Spring advances with birds hatching and fledging all over the place. My personal highlight today was the first little ringed plover chicks I have seen this year. It was also good to see the lapwing chick near the Tern hide still growing and the oystercatcher chicks further up the lake doing likewise. The woods are crowded with family parties of great spotted woodpecker, great and blue tit and somewhere, hopefully the lesser spotted woodpeckers, last seen as large nestlings a few days ago, surely they will have fledged successfully.

Today also saw the arrival of two mares and two foals to graze the western shore of Ibsley Water, a few more should arrive over the next few days.

Following yesterday's work party on which we cleared the sides of the Rockford path and pulled Himalayan balsam along the Dockens Water, there was one outstanding job to do. On the Rockford path we found that there were bees on one of the benches. At the time I thought there was a small nest in the post supporting the bench, there were about a hundred bees gathered under the seat. Today we went to put a sign warning of the bees and I took a closer look, it was obvious there was no nest, the bees were being attracted by something under the bench. There were both worker females and males, or drones and I could not see why they were there. There are some small patches of white on the wood, but the bees did not seem to be especially interested in them. I am mystified, so if anyone has any ideas I would love to hear them.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Chick's Tough Life and Death

On Friday evening we went out to the gull nesting island in Ibsley Water to ring some of the black-headed gull chicks. Gulls started nesting on the island in 2006, with one pair, which lost their eggs. In 2007 about 30 pairs nested and there are now about 240, much the same as last year. Most black-headed gulls in southern England nest on coastal saltmarshes, a lot of these sites have been abandoned in the last few year, possibly due to more frequent flooding. This is not to say that the Ibsley Water birds have been displaced from the coast, but they might have been. Although we don't know where they have come from, by ringing some of the chicks we might at least get some idea of where they go to.So three of us headed out on a fine evening with fifty or so rings, enough for an hour or so of ringing. The first surprise was a lesser black-backed gull nest with one egg on the eastern end of the island, I knew there had been a pair about but I had not realised they had a nest. The first black-headed gull nests we found contained eggs, no good for ringing! As we moved west there were more and bigger chicks. It became clear that the colony was at almost every stage, form nests with eggs to pairs with young only days from flying. It was also apparent that the pair of oystercatcher had young, although we could not find them anywhere. Although we had no problem finding and ringing the number of chicks we set out to get, actually catching them did involve ferreting about in dense nettles, long sleeves would have been a good choice.

In the middle of the colony there were several squashed nests, I suspect the result of stamping geese running around. There were also an extraordinary number of mallard nests, probably in excess of fifteen, as to how many were active it was hard to say, some were certainly abandoned.
Last year something over 300 black-headed gull chicks fledged, although we had no great problem finding chicks there did not seem to be very large numbers. Today I got a possible insight into why there might not have been as many as might behave been expected. As well as losses to the lesser black-backed gull pair, which I had already seen, today I watched a buzzard land on the island, it took no notice of the mass of mobbing gulls and just wandered about until it found a large chick and flew off to dismember it. Hopefully it was not one of our ringed ones.

On the whole today was quiet, two pairs of pochard and the female pintail were on Ibsley Water and a teal was reported. The lapwing chick near the Tern hide still grows well, although it now seems to be alone, the second seems to have disappeared. On Ivy Lake the mute swan at the Ivy North hide seems to have lost the plot entirely, it is sitting on the nest again, although it hatched and lost a cygnet well over a week ago. The common tern chicks still seem to be doing well and when it rained they did seem to have got the idea of the shelters, or at least some of them had, a few still stood out in the rain getting soaking wet.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Goodbye Mr. Prickles

Relatively uneventful morning filling bird feeders and ensuring that the tutor of the photography course running each Saturday throughout June had what he and his attendees required before catching up on the e-mails and post that had accumulated since I was last in on Wednesday.

Snatched this blurry picture of a middling sized grass snake in the compost bin before my discarded apple core and orange peel disturbed it and caused it to burrow in to the heap:

After lunch I ran through the moth trap, which along with the usual moths (including ermine, grey arches, iron prominent, poplar hawkmoth and lobster moth amongst others) and caddis flies, also included more than a few mayflies, including that pictured here:

It seems that while I was looking down at the trap I missed the red kite over the car park, photographed by one of the several photographers patiently waiting in the center car park for shots of great spotted woodpeckers feeding their fledged young.

Coming back into the office I found a note had been posted under the door reporting that a very sick/distressed hedgehog was curled up in the middle of the path adjacent to the screens overlooking Mockbeggar Lake - having kept up with the blog over the bank holiday weekend and spoken to Michelle earlier in the week I feared the worst, but headed up on an errand of mercy with bucket, gloves, water and cat food. Unfortunately although I did find Mr. Prickles, he was no more, no doubt having succumbed to dehydration and a shortage of earthworms. Unusually for a hedgehog he was not covered in mites and fleas as they normally are - a sure sign that he had not been well as, like rats on a sinking ship, they do tend to "flee" their host when they are fading away. What was hanging on for the time being at least were a large number of ticks. So, goodbye Mr. Prickles - hopefully we will get a decent spell of rain soon that will help those birds and mammals that rely on soil invertebrates fare better than they are at the moment... ideally to fall overnight leaving glorious summer days for all of the groups visiting the reserve this summer!

The upside of my call out was an opportunity to explore the Lapwing area of the reserve and the seasonal footpath - highlights being five fallow deer does (including dark and blond ones) and the orchids growing amongst the coltsfoot, marestail and reeds:

bee orchid (just opening):

and common spotted orchid:

And finished off the day keeping a weather eye on the chaos ensuing around Tern Hide car park, the water ski club and Ellingham Drove while the entrants of tomorrows New Forest Races triathlon event arrived, parked their car where it suited them and headed off to "rack" their bikes in preparation for their race tomorrow!

Thursday, 2 June 2011


After not being in for a few days, as ever much had changed. The oystercatcher pair have got at least one chick running around, she had been sitting so long that I assumed they must have hatched. I suspect she was not willing to expose the chicks as the island they nest on often has a mass of herring and lesser black-backed gull on it. Oystercatchers feed their young, so unlike say a lapwing, it does not need to run around looking for food itself. On the subject of lapwing, the pair near the Tern hide still have at least one chick growing well and another female is still sitting on eggs.

On Ivy Lake the common tern chicks have been hatching for a week or so, some are now running around on the rafts, although several other pairs are still incubating eggs. So far things are looking good with lots of fish being brought in, so hopefully they will have another good year.

The moth catch was quite good, although the highlight, by some distance, was a male goat moth, only the second I have ever seen.