The Best of Blashford

The second Pop-up Cafe of the winter today and, thankfully, the weather was a great deal better than the damp day we had at the start of the month. The reserve was busy and there was a good deal to see from most points, for most of the day.

Opening up Tern hide I saw a water pipit, although my first notable birds were at the main gate, where there was a fieldfare with a couple of redwing and a pair of bullfinch. 

I then spent a couple of hours attending to various tasks about the office before getting out to Lapwing and Goosander hides. We have done quite a bit of work on and beside the paths in this area with the object of both maintaining good access and making the walk more interesting for visitors and wildlife. To this end we have been scraping back the path edges and thinning the small trees to make clearings, increase the light and open up some views over the reeds. This work should also benefit insects and the reptiles that use this area, so we have been making sunny sheltered clearings and have dug one new sandy bank for solitary bees.

Up at Lapwing hide I was surprised to see several hundred large gulls, it was only late morning, so way to early for a roost gathering. I noticed the other day that there were  a lot of large gulls on the lake very early in the day. I suspect there are two possible explanations, either they are feeding very nearby and dropping in and out between bouts of feeding, or they have found somewhere with so much food that they are getting their fill in just a couple of hours. Looking through the gulls I saw the Caspian gull found yesterday, it is a “textbook” first winter bird, which always helps with these potentially difficult to identify birds.

At Goosander hide on the way back there were 2 green sandpiper and a dunlin, the latter flushed from the Long Spit in the company of a snipe by a peregrine. I took the long way back as I wanted to investigate some tyre tracks I had noticed on the Lichen Heath last Monday. Hidden away on the far side of the water treatment works I found out where they had been heading and why, a heap of fly-tipped material. I suspect dumped in the rain last Saturday, since it must have been in the day and when there were not many people around. We are certainly welcoming donations at the moment, but not this kind! It goes without saying that if you are on the reserve and ever see anything suspicious like this please make a note of what you safely can and let us know.

We always welcome donations of course, but at present we are trying to raise money to make a number of improvements to the reserve. The largest of these is the replacement of the Tern hide, the existing hide is suffering a bit and we recently won a grant to replace it, if we can raise the rest of the funds, to find out how you can help us see The Blashford Appeal

On my way back from a bird food buying trip I dropped in at Tern hide and saw 3 great white egret in the distance flying north up the Avon valley, I assume our regulars, but who knows? After another spell in the office I got out again in the late afternoon where there was a marsh harrier visible in the distance. Out on the lake the numbers of gulls had increased a lot and were more than I have seen this winter so far by some margin. I found the ring-billed gull deep in the flock, but unfortunately had to take off my glasses and when I looked back I could not find it again.

The Pop-up Cafe had done well, they will be back with more excellent cake on the first Sunday of December, so if you missed them today you could come then, or on the 16th of December, or both and New Year’s Day as well. You can also get a range of Wildlife Trust gifts and Christmas cards.

Locking up I saw 2 great white egret as usual at Ivy North hide, there were also at least 160 cormorant roosting in the trees and at least 161 tufted duck on the water.

It had felt like a good day almost all round, fly-tipping excepted. The reserve was busy with a range of people watching wildlife, from keen rarity hunters to families enjoying the nuthatch and the fine male sparrowhawk perched at the Woodland hide and there was cake too. Blashford Lakes is fortunate to have elements that appeal to a wide audience, we have popular events for ages from toddlers onward and different parts of the reserve that offer highlights for all types of wildlife seekers. Hopefully the reserve can continue to enthuse a wide and growing audience, our wildlife needs all the supporters it can get!

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Sharing our experiences

At October’s Young Naturalists session we were joined by Corinne from the Cameron Bespolka Trust and Craig from the New Forest National Park Authority to share with them all the many wonderful and varied things we have been up to as a group over the past year.

Looking back it was great to see just how many places we have visited and how many different activities we have been able to do, which have largely been made possible by the generous funding from the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

It enabled Corinne to catch up with some of the older members of the group who have been with us for some time whilst also meeting some of our newer members. For Craig, it was a great way to tie in all our sessions with the John Muir award, something we have been working towards since our residential in Beaulieu last November.

The John Muir award is an environmental award scheme which focuses on wild spaces, encouraging people to connect with nature and enjoy and care for the landscape around them. John Muir was an influential Scottish-American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, glaciologist and early advocate for preserving the wilderness of the United States. Muir was instrumental in the foundation of the National Parks system in America and since the first was established at Yellowstone in 1872, 6,555 protected areas have been created across the globe including 15 National Parks within the UK.

The award encourages people to connect with, enjoy, and care for wild places through four challenges:

  • Discovering a wild place
  • Exploring its wildness
  • Conserving it
  • Sharing your experiences

We shared a short powerpoint presentation with Corinne and Craig, the slides of which can be seen below in this blog, with the group adding their comments or highlights as we talked about all the things we had done over the past year. Our discovering has taken us far and wide:

YN Slide 2 TS

Discovering the wild spaces around us

We have been able to venture across the New Forest to Beaulieu, visited Needs Ore Marshes, walked up to our local Rockford and Ibsley Commons, explored the chalk downland of Martin Down and headed into Dorset to Brownsea Island, Shell Bay and Kimmeridge. Finally, as well as our trips away we have spent a considerable amount of time here on the reserve, discovering the many wonderful habitats Blashford has to offer.

Whilst exploring the many wild places mentioned above we have been lucky enough to do a number of activities, learning about moths, pond and river life, farm life, the night sky, the history of falconry, fossils, the wildlife in rock pools and the flora and fauna found on chalk downland. Just to name a few!

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The group have taken part in a number of conservation activities, with highlights including building lots of new bird boxes which replaced a number of old ones on the reserve, assisting with the bird box monitoring and beach cleans. We do enjoy a good beach clean!YN Slide 5 TS

One of our group members, Megan, nominated the group for the Waitrose Community Matters Fund with the funds raised going towards repairing the current dipping pond here on the reserve.

Finally we needed to share our experiences with others, and inviting Craig and Corinne to the session was part of this. A number of the group take photos for me to share via the Blashford Blog and they are usually obliging in having their photos taken for Twitter, Instagram and the blog…

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Their best sharing though has to be the video a number of the group took part in, where they voiced their own opinions of the group and the activities we get up to. If you haven’t yet seen it, it is available here:

After talking through the presentation, we headed outside and the group led a pond dip with Corinne and Craig.

The John Muir award has been perfect for the group as so many of the activities we do fit in with one or more of the four categories. It doesn’t however need to be completed over such a wide geographical area or such a long time; a wild place could be school grounds or a green space or park in an urban area as well as a National Park or stretch of coast, whilst working towards the introductory discovery level of the award over a year meant a number of the group could achieve the minimum time commitment of four days even if they missed a session or two. It is an accessible award to work to!

For more information about the John Muir award please visit their website.

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Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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Scrub cutting, dragging & dead hedging

Since the 24th October there have been 2 more work parties at Fishlake Meadows, both of which have seen a lot of rain! On 4th November, the first Sunday work party, we made a start on clearing another block of the mature willow scrub that runs parallel to the Barge Canal. Clearing more of this scrub has several benefits; it creates better views across the nature reserve from the Barge Canal, it continues the programme of rotational scrub cutting and should allow the reeds to expand and grow right through the area that’s opened up.

Before scrub cutting on 4th Nov and after scrub cutting on 7th Nov

Top photo showing before scrub cutting started on the 4th November and the bottom showing a much thinner block of scrub at the end of the work party on the 7th November.

Seven volunteers came along to the work party on the 4th November, and made a great start on cutting the willow, dragging it out of the knee deep muddy water, and stacking it up ready for dead hedging. They worked incredibly hard, managing to drag all of the material cut that day to near where the new bit of dead hedging was going.

Work party 7.11.18 dead hedge

Volunteers making a start on the dead hedge from the huge pile of cut willow.

On the 7th November, with a few more people and a huge pile of cut willow, half the group made a start on dead hedging, while the other half continued cutting and dragging. Again, everyone worked very hard and managed to get all of the material already cut in to a dead hedge.

Work party 7.11.18 brash pile before

The pile of willow at the start of the day, the volunteers starting to cut up the brash for the dead hedge.

Work party 7.11.18 brash pile and dead hedge after

After! All the willow has been cut up and made in to a very neat dead hedge.

The dead hedges create wonderful habitat for birds and invertebrates. The dead hedges that we built last year frequently have robins, blackcaps and great tits foraging in them. They are built by intertwining cut material to create a dense pile of brash. As the brash begins to dry out and die, the hedge will sink down, allowing more brash to simply be added to it the following year. A big thank you to all the volunteers who have been to work parties so far this year.

Round-up

A busy today started with a water pipit and a fine female marsh harrier from Tern hide as I opened up, it was also pleasing to see a small flock of linnet still present on the shore just east of the hide.

It was then into the main job of the morning, getting the ponies off site and into the trailers. Unfortunately they had other ideas, or at least two of them did, so this task too almost two hours. Luckily we had the quad bike available as with repeated doubling back I must have travelled the full length of the lake at least four or five times. Eventually we got them all into the corral, at which point it started to rain and I realised that my coat, which had been on the back of the bike had gone, no doubt bounced off at some point when I was negotiating some more bouncy part of the lake shore. The lack of my coat was unfortunate, but the lack of the keys in the pocket was potentially disastrous.  So it was back up the lake shore, finally I found it lying in a deep puddle at the north end, so I would have got wetter putting it on, but at least the keys were found.

Then back to the Centre to finish setting up for the gulls identification course that we were running with Hampshire Ornithological Society, due to start at 12:30 and needing the keys to get into the classroom. So just in time all was running like somewhat over-wound clockwork, fortunately I had Marcus Ward and Ollie Frampton to help out and fill in for my deficiencies.

Usually the gulls roost more or less int he middle of Ibsley Water, but this autumn they have been tending to stay closer to the northern shore, making them harder to see. Last Thursday the roost appeared to have settled into the more typical pattern, so I was hopeful of being able to get some good views for the course attendees. Unfortunately , from Tern hide where my groups was the gulls were very distant, making gull spotting trickier than I had hoped. Luckily, although they were fewer gulls we did see some other birds, most notably a good starling roost, which were kept in the air  by a hunting sparrowhawk. A group of three drake goldeneye close to the hide were also good to see and they spent a little time displaying, as they often do towards dusk.

Advance Notice

On Sunday we are running a training course on the identification of gulls at Blashford, this will mean that the Tern, Goosander and Lapwing hides will be in use by groups on the course from mid afternoon, so if you are visiting on Sunday and not on the course you might want to visit these hides in the morning or early afternoon instead.

I am sometimes asked for an advised route around the reserve and although the “best” route is always a matter of circumstances on the day there are some general rules that hold true. So Ivy North hide faces south-east, this makes it difficult on a sunny morning, Ivy South faces east and likewise difficult early on in sunshine, so both of these are probably best in the afternoon. The Woodland hide is less of an issue, although the light is best here in the afternoon also. The Tern hide faces north so is pretty good all day. Goosander hide faces north west, so is at its best in the morning and the same is true of Lapwing hide, which faces almost due west, so is very hard work on a sunny afternoon.

The above obviously is only a choice dictated by the direction of the light, there are other factors too of course. Wind direction can be important, most birds will seek shelter and this needs to be considered. In a strong northerly, Tern hide will be both a long way from the birds sheltering under the northern shore of Ibsley Water, nearly a kilometre away and if you open the window you will be looking into the teeth of the wind! By contrast the northern end of Ivy Lake near Ivy North hide will be sheltered and with luck full of birds.

Then there is what you want to see, not a problem if you just want to see a range of birds, being guided by the weather and lighting will probably be the best option. There are some obvious rules, the birds that gather to roost will only be doing so at the end of the day and you will need to be in the right place to see them. The gulls roost on Ibsley Water is well known and is the attraction for the identification course. Ibsley also hosts a roost gathering of goosander, which mainly roost in the bay at Goosander hide, although they are usually only there in the minutes just before darkness. They fly in from all directions but can often be best seen doing so from the bank at the back of the main car park, which is also the best place to view the starling murmuration and get an overview of the gull roost. If it is great white egret you want to see then Ivy North at the end of the day is the place, recently there have been three there each evening, there is also a cormorant roost in the trees here.

By contrast if you are looking for finches, don’t leave it too late, they tend to get up late and go to bed early, the Woodland hide feeders will be busy with tits from dawn ’til dusk but the finches tend to turn up in the middle part of the morning and are often heading off to roost not long after 3:00 pm in the winter.

Some species are more obvious at certain times of the day, birds of prey will soar around mainly during the middle part of the day when the ground has warmed to aid this kind of flight by causing upward air currents. Water rail and Cetti’s warbler are usually far more vocal around dusk. Pochard tend to feed at night and roost during the day, whereas tufted duck are typically the reverse, feeding in the day and roosting at night.

So if planning a birding trip consider the conditions on the day and what you are most keen to see and you should get the most out of your visit. The above is just about Blashford Lakes, but every destination will have a range of factors that will be at play. Wherever you go it always pays to be lucky of course, but to some degree you can make your own luck by making good decisions about how you go about your visit.

 

Time for a Trim

Tuesday is one of our volunteer task days at Blashford and today’s task was to cut the vegetation in front of Ivy North hide and open up some sight lines through the reedbed. The hides are great for seeing birds but only if we can keep the views open, but more than this we are also trying to ensure that people get the best possible views of the wildlife that might be on offer. One of the occasional treats at Ivy North is the chance to see a bittern and this is one of the main objectives of the reed cutting near this hide.

Ivy North reeds before

Reeds at Ivy North hide before cutting sight lines.

The reeds have been spreading and this year’s growth was especially vigorous, meaning than cutting the line was hard work. The one positive was that it was fairly dry, although this made cutting easier to do it means that there is not likely to be a bittern there any time soon.

Ivy North reeds after

Ivy North reeds after cutting sight line

This year I also cut a line through to the water right in front of the hide.

Ivy North reeds centre area after

a line cut through to the water

The objective of a hide should be to give the observer a view that they would not get otherwise. At Blashford we have tried, as much as possible, to get each hide to deliver something different and hopefully at least one or two will have something really worth seeing from them at all times of the year. Today there were two peregrine near Tern hide, with one adult perched on one of the posts near the hide, the water pipit was seen from both Tern and Goosander hide and a great white egret from Ivy North, despite our  working outside the hide. The only other birds there whilst we were working were two or more water rail heard calling and a singing Cetti’s warbler.

We are soon looking to replace the Tern hide, it is in a very exposed location and is showing signs of age ahead of most of the others. Replacement offers the chance to tweak things a bit too and the new hide is to be slightly larges, slightly higher off the ground and moved ever so slightly, all changes that should give improved views. Expect to read more about this and other updates top the reserve in the coming weeks.

Letting the Light in

For several weeks now there have been contractors working up at the Linwood reserve working to open up an areas of mire habitat that had become seriously shaded. This happens more or less imperceptibly, in this case it was easy to think the area had always been continuous woodland , but the flora told a different story. Many species present, although declining, were ones that do not tolerate being heavily shaded. In addition when the trees are looked at more closely it was obvious that many were no more than twenty or thirty years old. The Our Present, Our Future (OPOF) New Forest National Park project had a strand that was dedicated to helping to restore habitats such as this and it is this project that has enabled the heavy work to be done.

Linwood SSSI clearance works

Work to clear shading trees from Linwood mire habitats

The oak and beech trees have been left alone, the opening up has been achieved by felling birch and pollarding willow. Some trees have been ring-barked to leave them as valuable standing deadwood habitat. It will be interesting to see how species such as white sedge and bog myrtle respond to having access to more light in the years to come.

Last night was very mild and I was looking forward to seeing what the moth trap had caught. The trap was against the wall of the Centre and there were 45 “November” moth on the wall alone! November moths are hard to identify reliably as there are a few very similar species, so I lump them together when recording. Other moths included three merveille du jour.

Merveille du Jour

Merveille du Jour – I know I have used pictures of them many times, but they are one of my favourite moths!

There were also late large yellow underwing and shuttle-shaped dart as well as more seasonable black rustic, yellow-line Quaker, red-line Quaker, chestnut and dark chestnut.

dark chestnut 2

Dark chestnut, it is usually darker than the chestnut and has more pointed wing-tips.

In all there were 16 species and over 70 individual moths, other notable ones were a dark sword-grass and two grey shoulder-knot.

grey shoulder-knot

grey shoulder-knot

We have been doing a fair bit of work around the hides recently, mostly aimed at improving the views from them. Tomorrow it is the turn of Ivy North hide, so I expect there will not be much to be seen in the northern part of Ivy Lake during the day. With luck I will get some sight-lines cut through the reeds, so perhaps the bittern will get easier to see, if it is still around.

Wilder Britain

The past week has seen a lot of coverage of the environment and our impacts upon it. There has been the WWF report on extinction of vertebrates Living Planet Report 2108 which mirrors the decline in invertebrates noted in the tropics and Germany I linked in my recent post. Today the Meteorological Office report indicating climate change Met Office Climate Report has received much media coverage.

All of these reports are pointing in one direction, we need to get on with doing something about the state of our environment, our efforts so far have just not been enough to make any real difference. Some issues will only be properly tackled by action at national or international level, we can lobby to get policies changed, but we need to be acting more immediately if things are going to be improved or even if declines are to be halted.

So what is to be done? Can anything be done? The Wildlife Trusts have proposed that we should be seeking a “Wilder Britain”, Wilder Britain press release  essentially one in which we halt and then reverse the declines by establishing a nature recovery network. The objective is stated as follows: “The Wildlife Trusts believe in a future Britain where nature is a normal part of childhood and where wildlife thrives across the landscape. Where our urban spaces are green jungles and our seas are bursting with life. Where seeing a hedgehog is an every day experience.” The full document expands upon just how this might be achieved, Nature Recovery Network. 

A Wilder Britain, it is surely what we need,  it is now acknowledged that access to nature is really good for our mental health, we need access to nature. In addition an environment that is good for wildlife will be one that has low levels of pollutants, is varied, interesting and exciting. This is not a people or wildlife dichotomy, this is nature because we need it.

My worry is perhaps that we have been saying these kind of things for many years now without much effect. For example the value of larger, more connected areas for nature are now well recognised. However the research that demonstrated the truth of this was published in 1967 Theory of island bio-geography , it has taken over fifty years to break through to become mainstream thinking! If nature is to stand any chance of recovering, we probably don’t have fifty years to wait for the idea to take hold. If you are interested in a more accessible approach to the theory the excellent Song of the Dodo by David Quammen is a must read, brilliantly written and the kind of book that cannot but make you stop and think about where we are going.

In amongst the reserve reports you can expect to see more about these issues in future blogs, you have been warned!

 

Pop Up Café – opening times

Yes, we are pleased to announce that Walking Picnics are opening our Blashford Lakes Pop Up Café again this winter!

Delicious home-made snacks, cakes and hot drinks will be available from the Education Centre from 10:30am to 3:30pm on the first and third Sunday each month, from this coming Sunday through to the beginning of March:

4th & 18th November

2nd & 16th December

New Year’s Day: Tues 1st January, 2019

6th & 20th January, 2019

3rd & 17th February, 2019

3rd March, 2019

A percentage of their takings will support our conservation and education work on site at Blashford so you can enjoy a guilt free slice of cake (or indeed an extra slice of cake) knowing that you are contributing to the Trusts valuable work in doing so.

In addition they will be selling a small amount of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust merchandise (2019 calendars, Christmas cards, bird boxes etc.), the proceeds from which all help fund the Trusts work.

 

Arrivals and Sightings

A quick update on the last couple of days. Yesterday I was working with the volunteers near the Lapwing hide, on the way there I flushed two water pipit from the shore and later one was showing really well at Goosander hide. These birds like the exposed stony shore and the piles of washed up weed, so they should be very happy with things at present with the lake so low. They winter in small numbers in the UK, but breed in the Alps, a rather odd migration strategy on the face of it.

Colder weather has heralded the arrival of more winter wildfowl, in particular goldeneye, which first turned up last weekend and have risen in numbers daily since,  today I saw 14 birds, including four adult drakes. Goosander numbers have increased markedly too, and I counted 51 at roost yesterday. There are at least two great white egret still on the reserve and two marsh harrier were seen yesterday, with at least one again today.

The colder nights have significantly reduced the catches in the moth trap, but despite this the last two nights have produced “November” moths Epirrita spp. , grey shoulder-knot, yellow-line Quaker, brick, satellite and black rustic.