Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Blashford Lakes

On Sunday I went to one of my favorite nature reserves in the area, Blashford Lakes. Managed by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust the reserve is a series of flooded former gravel pits as well as some woodland. There are six hides on the reserve and a few viewing screens and it is a fantastic place to go and see wildlife.
I tend to walk to the reserve as it is not too far away and this means I pass more flooded gravel pits. Outside the reserve are lakes used for water sports but there is still plenty of wildlife to be seen on and around them.
As I came close to the reserve it became clear that one species was very abundant at the moment the common blue damselfly. There were thousand of the beautiful insects in the area. Like many species, the female is somewhat less colourful than the male but they are still incredible creatures.
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I also saw plenty of other interesting insects:
Meadow Brown Butterfly
Common Red Soldier Beetle
Harlequin Ladybird Pupa
My first view of the lakes themselves was through a viewing screen on Ivy Lake where I got a lovely view of a family of Mute Swans.
I visited a few of the lake hides and didn’t see too much of interest but then it is coming towards the end of the season. I did see a bird of prey over Ibsley Water but the light made things difficult to identify it. It was an agile flyer and may have been a hobby but I really couldn’t see it clearly enough. I also saw many of the usual birds like black-headed gullsgreat crested grebes, tufted ducks and a few terns.
Eventually I reached the Woodland Hide which is my favourite one. There’s lots of bird feeders in a wooded area and you never quite know what you will see. I had been in there only a couple of minutes when to my astonishment a young fallow deer wandered right past the hide. It was about four feet away at one point and I didn’t dare move to take a photo! It was a remarkable moment to be so close to an animal which can be very timid.
I also saw plenty of good bird life from the hide too. The most abundant visitor was goldfinches and they happen to be one of my favourite birds so I was pleased to see so many of them so close.
I also saw a stock dove, a bird I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. It is admittedly difficult to get too excited about pigeons though, even if they are new pigeons.
Out of focus Stock Dove
The bird highlight at the woodland hide were some juvenile Great Spotted Woodpeckers.
 I then saw the juveniles woodpeckers a few minutes later in the woods.
Spot the woodpecker!
I also saw some interesting fungi in and near the reserve. The only one I’ve so far been able to get identified is this Shaggy Bracket (Inonotus hispidus). This was actually found in woodland approaching the reserve and it’s bad news for the host tree and this fungus can damage and kill it’s host!
For more information about Blashford Lake visit their website here. There is also a fantastic reserve blog which is well worth a read.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Fledglings and Bees

It’s a busy time of year for birds and I’ve started to see all sorts of fledglings.
The local Canada Goose nursery is looking busier than I’ve ever seen it this year. I estimate there’s around forty goslings within a few hundred metres of each other and they are lovely to see.
The elder goslings are actually starting to look like canada geese now but there’s still a few much smaller goslings at the nursery:
There’s also a few greylag geese with young amongst the many canada geese but they don’t seem to pool their parenting like the canada geese too. Whilst canada geese have been numerous in the area for some time it’s only over the last few years that greylag geese have been seen and there gradually seems to be more and more of them. It’s also interesting to note that the geese are sharing their nursery with the horses who usually live in it!
We’ve had a few young birds in the back garden too. As well as the juvenile starlings there have been very young house sparrows and dunnocks, the latter being pictured below (poor quality though as it was taken on my phone through a window).
Dunnock Chick and adult
In other bird sightings, I’ve been thrilled to see a kingfisher a couple of times by a stream near the fishing lake. I’ve seen kingfishers a few times in the past and usually you just get a blue blur but I’ve got a really clear look at this one for a split second both times. It looks a little dishevelled but it’s a stunning bird all the same. As I’ve seen it in the same place I suspect there is a nest nearby but I can’t quite work out where. My big challenge now is to try and get a photo of it to share with you.
Another bird I think is nesting nearby is a grey heron. I have seen it in the same field several times. Herons actually nest in trees despite their large size and as the field is surrounded by trees on two sides I assume it’s there somewhere but I can’t spot it. I sa what is probably the same heron flying overhead yesterday.
I’ve been participating in the Great British Bee Count over the last few weeks. Via a fantastic app (see here) you can identify and send off your bee sightings to help monitor the British bee population. There are actually around 250 species of bee in the UK and identification is not always easy. In the garden we mostly seem to get early bumblebees (Bombus pratorum) like the one below (I think).
And opposite the goose nursery there’s brambles which are full of tree bumblebees (Bombus hypnorum). Interestingly this species was only recorded in the UK for the first time in 2001 but has since become widespread over England and Wales.
In proof you can find wildlife everywhere here’s a spider I found in my shower! Thanks to Twitter I can say this is a male cupboard spider (Steatoda grossa), also known as one of the false widow species.
To end I have an interesting plant to share. Last week I visited the beautiful Holton Heath in East Dorset. It wasn’t a great day for wildlife thanks to the weather (I saw a few bramblings and little else) but I did spot loads of Common Sundews (Drosera rotundifolia).
The sundew is a carnivorous plants and takes nutrition from insects which get stuck on it. I have seen them a few times before but it almost seems a plant which is too exotic to live in the UK. A carnivorous plant in Dorset, so cool!

Saturday, 25 June 2016

The Friendly Feral Pigeon

I’m going to start off with something very un-glamorous today but something I find fascinating all the same. Let me introduce you to our most recognizable individual garden visitor, our feral pigeon:
More often than not this individual can be seen with a woodpigeon. I did wonder if they could be breeding partners but it seems this is unlikely. Woodpigeons have long been recorded as being in groups with other members of the pigeon family such as collared doves. Here the feral pigeon is fulfilling that same role.
I’m intrigued to where this individual came from. There are plenty of pigeons in the town centre, as there are in all British towns, but in our suburban estate and the surrounding countryside you just don’t see them. This same bird has been coming to the garden for around two years now and is somewhat cleaner and healthier than its relatives in the town. It’s the only one I’ve ever seen in the area and I’d love to know how it ended up here and how it only spends time with woodpigeons rather than any of its closer relatives.
This week I had to do my yearly rescue of a juvenile starling. Out of the probably hundreds of local juvenile starlings around one a year ends up flying into one our windows. There was a clonk on glass and I went outside to find the bird lying on the patio. It looked dead initially but after a few minutes it gradually regained consciousness. I carefully moved it to safety so it wouldn’t be found by our cats and it soon flew to safety.
A bird I’ve wanted to share with you for a little while is the great-crested grebe on the local fishing lake. There’s usually a pair and I have seen them doing their amazing bowing heads mating routine in the past. It seems though there is only one bird this year and I’ve finally seen it close enough to get a photo (and even then it wasn’t that close).

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The Brownsea Island Lagoon Camera (see here) is interesting at the moment. The colony of sandwich terns is now full of young birds which are constantly demanding food. It’s a real hive of activity and with so many birds in close proximity there’s a huge range of behaviour happening in every area of the shot.
Brownsea Island 25.6.16 JPG
I’ve seen the foxes in my work car park a few times recently.
There are a pair of foxes that live somewhere in the bushes near the car park. It’s quite difficult to tell the difference between male and female foxes but I think this one is the female (it’s a little smaller and has a shorter snout). Usually I see the male fox in this position so Friday’s spot was a little unusual. I am still hoping to see some cubs at some point (now is the best time of year to see them apparently so fingers crossed).
To end today, here’s a red admiral butterfly I spotted earlier in an unusual pose.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Swallow Chicks

It’s a little challenging at the moment for me to get into the great outdoors thanks to horrendous hayfever. For the first time it was so bad I had to get medicine prescribed from the Doctor but even that isn’t making much difference. Fortunately I am very stubborn and am refusing to let my horrendous hayfever stop me for seeing wildlife.
I have spent a lot of time recently near a meandering section of the river Avon. There is usually several bird using the rails of an old railway bridge as a perch and I managed to capture these black-headed gulls doing exactly that.
The two smaller bridges further along the same path are usually quieter as they are further from the town. I have spent a lot of time here marvelling at the beautiful flying display given by swallows and the occasional swift here. They glide over and under the bridge, scooping up insects as they go. Photographing them is tricky but I did manage to get this shot of a swallow perched with some nesting material in it’s beak.
And as I’m discussing swallows, Dorset Wildlife Trust have a new webcam in a swallow nest. I’m not sure of its location so it might not actually even count as part of my area but I love swallows so I’m going to keep an eye on it anyway.
Swallows 22.6.16
The image isn’t too clear but I *think* there are five chicks in the nest. You can click here to see what’s happening in the nest yourself.
On Sunday I took a detour from my usual route on the Avon Valley Path which took me right next to some of the meanders.
It’s a very clear section of the river surrounded by meadows. Whilst I’m sure there is plenty of wildlife in the grasses most of what I could see was in the air such as a V formation of greylag geese and a majestic mute swan.
I also saw quite a few honey bees near the river.
In other insect news (it is National Insect Week after all), I’ve notice a lot of cuckoo spit in the area lately. Despite the name cuckoo spit has nothing to do with cuckoos or saliva. The foamy substance is created by a small insect called a froghopper. The froghopper nymphs create the substance by excreting the plant sap they feed on and mixing it with air so that they are protected from predating birds. It’s a remarkable defence mechanism which looks really bizarre.
I shall end today with an update on the canada geese I’m following. Today I went on my evening walk a little earlier than usual and found the goose nursery was fairly quiet. When I passed the fishing lake though I discovered a lot of geese on the water. Here’s a group of young geese with their minders:
And here’s some younger goslings who are still that gorgeous yellow colour:
I’ve still got a long backlog of things to share here so do come back on Saturday for that. Remember you can follow me on Twitter @dangoeswild1 for blog updates, wildlife news and even more photos.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar: A Memoir by Chris Packham
This is a book unlike any I’ve ever read.
Chris Packham is a fantastic British naturalist and TV presenter. I first saw him as a child when he presented children’s wildlife programme The Really Wild Show and have enjoyed much of his work since then, including his current role at the helm of the wonderful Springwatch. I even met him when I was about 11 and won a short story competition. But there’s more to the man than meets the eye as this book describes.
This isn’t an autobiography, it’s a memoir. It doesn’t share his life story, just some of the more memorable moments from Packham’s childhood and teenage years. It reads almost like a novel and Packham even refers to himself from the third person and looks at himself through the eyes of other people. It has an interesting structure which darts around the place. At the end of each ‘chapter’ there is is a few pages describing therapy sessions that Packham went to as an adult shortly after trying to commit suicide. These tie together the text and give it a deeper meaning.
The style of writing is remarkable. Rarely does prose feel so poetical. Packham manages to describe all sorts of things in this style. There’s obviously lots of wildlife descriptions and these are beautiful. There was a really clear picture in my head of all these scenes. But even other scenes are well described, from the family dynamic to a film poster to Packham’s school peers.
I did find a few problems with the book though. Whilst I sort-of liked that the structure was nonlinear each section was so short it did become a little overwhelming constantly switching- I would have prefered longer sections within the structure. And again whilst I liked the switching viewpoint thing I found that a little confusing at times as you end up trying to work out where Packham actually is in the text.
Overall though this was a unique, remarkable read that I really related to. Rarely does a book make you feel like you know the author personally by the end but this one really does.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Garden Bioblitz 2016

Last week I took part in the Garden Bioblitz 2016. The idea is that for 24 hours you list all the species you can find in your garden. It was the first time I’ve taken part or done any such survey and it was really interesting.
It’s worth noting that I have a small garden which obviously limits the number of species that I was going to see. The vast majority of the garden is lawn and patio too so I was quite pleased that find 42 different species. The weather didn’t help as it was over 20 degrees celsius which meant less avian visitors and probably less invertebrate life near the surface.
I spotted most of our common garden bird visitors: house sparrows, starlings, blackbirds, woodpigeons, collared doves and dunnocks. I also saw two less common visitors, a coal tit and I think for the first time ever in the garden, a blackcap.
As part of the bioblitz you can record plants, as long as they are not ones planted by you or the people who owned the house before you. We have lots of weeds on our lawn such as daisiesdandelions, buttercups and clover. There are also various other plants that have somehow found their way into our garden over the years such as ivy, common pincushion moss, welsh poppies and (perplexingly given there isn’t any in the nearby area) holly. I also found the plant below which is called herb robert and is actually edible (and may even have health benefits).
Inevitably, the vast majority of my finds were invertebrates. I actually found these most interesting as they are not something you usually look for. I found it thrilling lifting up logs and plant pots with no idea what was going to be underneath.
It turns out our garden is awash with woodlice- every time I lifted something up there would be woodlice crawling everywhere. I think we have at least three different species including the lovely rosy woodlouse.
The other most common thing lurking underneath logs and plant pots were slugs. There were lots of both common garden slugs and yellow slugs, like the one you can see below.
I also found three different species of snail. As well as the common garden snail I found the two below, a white-lipped snail and a copse snail.
Here’s perhaps my coolest find. I’m not 100% confident on the identification but I think this is a white-legged snake millipede:
My final one to share with you is not for those with a fear of spiders- a monstrous house spider!
Overall I really enjoyed doing the bioblitz and look forward to doing it again next year. It was amazing to see the amount of life in my tiny garden. For more information about the project go to the Garden Bioblitz website.