Birds, Birds, Birds

Blashford Lakes are a great place to see lots of birds. Both Ibsley Water and Ivy Lake have large numbers of duck at present with each often having over one thousand wigeon on most days recently.

wigeon

drake wigeon

There are also hundreds of pintail on Ibsley Water, they have been attracted up the Avon Valley along with a lot of the wigeon due to the flooding of the fields. These ducks tend to spend the day resting on the open water, only going out to feed in the valley after dark. By contrast most of the gadwall will be found feeding on the lakes during the day, with fewer flying out at dusk.

gadwall

drake gadwall

Ivy Lake is home to a large cormorant roost, these fly in at dusk to perch high in the trees around the lake shore, so far this winter I have managed to count only about 150 birds, but this roost can get to over 200.

cormorant roost

cormorant roost

For really large numbers of birds the time to visit is just before dusk, if you stand on the viewpoint at the back of the Main Car Park, from where you can see several thousand gulls fly in to roost on the water and tens of thousands of starling. Last evening the starling roosted in two locations, most to the north of the lake, but several thousand also to the west.

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Starling murmuration

The birds were making impressive shapes in the air as they were being chased by at least one peregrine and we also saw a marsh harrier fly past. We could also see goosander flying in to roost on the lake and as it got dark a load of cackling greylag flew in to spend the night on the water.

The reserve is not all about birds though and as I locked up in the morning there were three roe deer feeding in the reeds just beside Ivy North Hide.

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Roe deer in the reeds

If you are visiting, I can now report that the Main Car park is open as usual as the flooding has now receded.

 

Tern Hide open…

…but only if you are wearing wellies!

The rain on Tuesday night, on top of what has generally been a wet few weeks, was enough to bring the Dockens Water up higher than I have seen it for about four years. Although by no means as high as I have seen it in the past, it was sufficiently up that Ellingham Drove was within its flood plain and, unfortunately, that means that the main car park was too, as the river flows along the road until it reaches the roadside entrance to the reserve at which point it does what water does and flows downhill and into the car park. With groundwater levels now very high it is likely to take a little while for the flood water remaining in the car park to soak away so, for now at least, the Main car park remains closed.

The outer gates to the car park are now open however, so please do park here for the next few days until we are able to open the car park proper again – as I anticipate that with the favourable weather forecast for the weekend, coupled with the Centre classroom playing host to the last Pop Up Cafe of this winter season, we are likely to see  lots of visitors, and parking on the Centre side of the reserve alone is unlikely to meet the demand for parking places – and Christine’s sausage rolls!.

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Please park beyond the roadside entrance gates along the approach to the car park for the next few days until we are able to open the main car park up again. 

 

 

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Despite this, the flood water has subsided quite significantly since Wednesday morning  so today Tern Hide has been opened, although with several inches of water across the width of the car park you can only get to it (and the viewing platform) with wellies – and a slow, careful walk too avoid “bow waves”!

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The route to Tern Hide from the footpath across the car park. Wellies essential!

The view from Ibsley Water this morning saw it as full as I have ever seen it I think. The photo below shows just how little of the small island nearest the Tern Hide there is left just poking up above the water! It still has black-necked grebe and long-tailed duck and the valley still has a sizable startling murmuration – although yesterday at least it seems to have split into two with half of the starlings north of Mockbeggar Lane and the other half in the reed bed behind Lapwing Hide.

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Ivy Lake however is still the place to go if you aren’t worried about seeing particular birds, but do want to just sit and watch lots of wildlife:

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As always our visitors take far better pictures than me so here now with some brilliant kingfisher pictures taken by Jon Mitchell from Ivy South Hide last weekend:

Kingfisher 2 by Jon Mitchell (2)Kingfisher 1 by Jon Mitchell (1)

Spooked ducks by Jon Mitchell

I know these aren’t kingfishers! In between the kingfisher posing for portraits, something in the lake – assumed to be an otter – disturbed all of the wildfowl. Gives you some idea of just how many birds are on Ivy Lake  at present.

Our Welcome Volunteer Doug Masson spent a few hours in Ivy South Hide on Wednesday this week too, and got these lovely shots of Cetti’s warbler – images Bob admitted to being quite jealous of, as, despite his best efforts, he has yet to get any Cetti’s to match these!

Cetti's warbler by Doug MassonCetti's warbler 2 by Doug Masson

Elsewhere on the reserve, and on more of a macro scale than the bird life, the lichen is all looking absolutely fantastic after all of this wet weather. An assemblage of species which can appear quite grey and lifeless during the summer when it is dry, is now fresh and vibrant and really brings a vivid splash of colour to what can otherwise appear to be a fairly drab landscape – and nowhere more so than the edge of the lichen heath where this picture of Cladonia sp. was taken:

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For spring colour however nothing can rival the scarlet elf cup fungi which thrive so well on the wet decaying logs in and around our woodlands. We don’t normally expect to see much evidence of it until a little later in the year in February, but there is actually already quite a few of the fruiting bodies to be seen:

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Wet and Wild

I think that about sums up the conditions at present, the rain seems to have been fairly continuous since September! The lakes have gone from almost the lowest I can remember to as high as I have ever seen.

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Flooding under the boardwalk south of Ivy South Hide

The flooding has been widespread and the Avon Valley is awash, this encourages wildfowl to come up from the coast to feed on the flooded fields. They mainly feed there at night spending the day on the lakes, but as they, which is why there are over 340 pintail regularly on Ibsley Water just now and today I counted 1470 wigeon on Ivy Lake alone!

The floods mean the gull roost has declined as many are now roosting in the valley rather than on Ibsley Water. But this does not mean there is no roost spectacle to be seen as there is a large starling roost just to the north which is best seen from the viewpoint at the rear of the Main Car Park. Although this at some distance from the roost it does give a full view of the whole gyrating flock once a real murmuration gets going as it frequently has with two or more peregrine trying to catch a late meal most evenings.

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Starlings

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More starlings

It is very difficult to guess at numbers, but I would say there are at least 25000.

The high water levels have meant we have seen very few snipe this winter, I think they have all gone off into the valley, although I did spot one the other morning from tern Hide.

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common snipe, more or less hiding

The most regular wader this winter has been the unseasonal common sandpiper, these usually migrate well to the south for the winter and the few that do stay in the UK are almost all on the coast. It was around daily until around the New Year when it disappeared, I thought the chancy strategy of wintering so far north had caught up with it, but on Sunday it reappeared on the shore outside Tern Hide again.

common sandpiper

common sandpiper

A less welcome sight outside the same hide, and all along the southern shore were two dogs, it seems they stray from a garden nearly a mile away, bad for wildlife and a real risk to the dogs as they cross or run down the road on their way here.

dogs!

Dogs!

We also had an incident of people on the reserve with dogs in circumstances suggestive of attempted poaching, luckily they were seen by an eagle-eyed visitor and reported to us. If you are visiting and see anything that seems untoward, please let us know, if possible at the time, our numbers are posted in the hides. Whilst the reserve is well respected by almost everyone and this is key to its success there is always the chance that the actions of a few can spoil things for the many.

As you may know the reserve is dog-free apart from the public footpaths, so on most of the reserve the wildlife does not associate people with dogs. One consequence of this is that the roe deer are relatively approachable, often just spotting to look at you before wandering off rather than racing away in panic.

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Three roe on the path to Ivy North Hide on a gloomy morning

As we passed into 2020 I had to admit that we seem to have no bittern for the year-listers this winter as last autumn’s bird has not been seen for some time. We do still have Europe’s oldest great white egret though, “Walter” has made it into 2020 and now has just about four and a half months to his 17th birthday.

Walter

Walter, and gull – again in the gloom, the light has mostly been terrible for taking pictures!

Even though it has felt like it has rarely stopped raining and right now it is blowing a gale outside there has been some respite and even a bit of sunshine, as when this rainbow appeared over Ibsley Water on Sunday, when we were also visited by the ferruginous duck on a brief foray away from its hiding place on Kingfisher Lake.

rainbow over Ibsley Water

rainbow over Ibsley Water

 

Batty about Blashford

Well its a lovely site (with lovely staff and volunteers 😉 !) and lots of people are definitely batty about it, but also over the last couple of weeks there have been several unseasonal sightings of what are almost certainly soprano pipistrelle bats – yet another indication of just how unseasonably mild it has been of late.

It is not uncommon for the us to see day flying bats “hawking” for insects from late afternoon onwards on warm days in March or early April as if there are insects flying the hungry post-hibernation bats make the most of the food available to them to replenish much diminished reservoirs of fat/energy, but I think seeing the same behavior consistently in January is a first for the reserve, and certainly for me.

Visitors have reported bats in footpath clearings along the Dockens Water and Tracy and I have both seen one near the Woodland Hide. Always a treat to see and it has certainly made the visit for at least one family that told me about their sighting last week.

Another wildlife spectacle which continues to thrill is that of the starling murmuration in the Valley which from the reserve can still be viewed from Tern Hide or the viewing platform, although the roost site itself is to the north of the reserve beyond Mockbegar Lane.

As with all murmuration it is at its best on clear, calm evenings. Not sure what the forecast is for later today, but if it stays like this spectators should be in for a good one!

Otherwise I can report that the tree work to remove the ash trees near Woodland Hide went ahead on Monday without hiccups and the footpaths to the Woodland Hide and hide itself reopened ahead of schedule on Tuesday morning.

We still don’t obviously have a bittern!

Presumably the mild weather that has treated us to bats on the reserve this month has kept bittern over on the Continent. If a period of prolonged wintery weather does ever arrive, it maybe that it will see us hosting some overwintering bittern again this season.

Time will tell.

In the meantime Ivy Lake is still a great place to sit and watch multitudinous wildfowl, particularly from Ivy South Hide:

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Warning of Works Next Week

No doubt many of you will have heard about the ash die-back disease which is rather rapidly killing off our ash trees. Unfortunately where these trees are close to paths, roads or buildings we cannot safely leave them as standing deadwood habitat meaning that the trees need to be felled or reduced in size to remain safe. This winter we have started to fell some of the affected trees and on Monday and Tuesday next week (6th & 7th Jan) there will be major work going on around the Woodland Hide and the hide will be closed as will the paths between Ivy North Hide and Woodland Hide, the information Hut and Woodland Hide and between Ivy South Hide and Woodland Hide. It will mean a longer walk to Ivy South Hide via the path between the Dockens Water and Ellingham Lake, but please do not be tempted to try and take the shorter, closed route. The felling will involve some large timber falling directly onto the closed paths making them both dangerous and at times completely blocked. Hopefully things should be back to normal by Wednesday.

 

Murmurings at Blashford

IMG_20191230_090206It really is amazing the difference a few days can make: having had a decent break for Christmas I came back on Monday and was quite surprised by just how much water was in the lakes – Ibsley Water in particular has come up quite dramatically over the festive period.

Ivy Lake is still the most enjoyable to watch in terms of sheer numbers of birds (still no bittern though if you’re wondering!), but Ibsley Water can not be beaten at the end of the day as the gulls come in to roost and, since Christmas, there has also been a quite spectacular starling murmuration of several tens of thousands of birds doing their (rather special) thing… the “new” viewing platform really comes into its own now!

As always January is looking set to be a busy month visitor wise and no doubt that will be true again this Sunday when the Pop Up Cafe will be open in the Centre with all their favourites that many visitors are growing to expect and love!

Happy New Year and best wishes for a wilder 2020 from the Blashford Lakes team…

What a difference a day makes!

After a gorgeously sunny Christmas Day yesterday, today saw the return of the rain and I got soaked opening up the hides – needless to say the reserve has been very quiet today! Even the wildlife decided to stay in the warm and dry – we have been keeping an eye on the Tawny Owl box as something has definitely moved in and made itself a very dry and cosy home out of oak leaves and soft rush. Although not the owl we had been hoping for, it is still very nice to see a grey squirrel up close on camera, although you can’t see much when it hunkers down inside its nest:

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Squirrel making itself at home in the owl box

Last week we realised one had stashed food in the box as we noticed it rummaging through the wood chip that had been put in the bottom – clearly it decided with all the rain we’ve been having this was a good spot, came back and made some home improvements. This morning I watched it look out the hole a few times before it decided it was better off back in bed:

Wet grey days are definitely for catching up with the blog, and this one may turn out to be quite long as I am two Young Naturalists sessions behind, one of which was our November residential at the Countryside Education Trust’s Home Farm in Beaulieu…

Unfortunately the weather was not quite on our side then either, although we were able to dodge most of the showers. We began on the Friday night with an excellent talk by Steve Tonkin about the night sky – sadly it was too cloudy to head outside for any observing so we will have to invite Steve again another evening, but the group enjoyed the talk and asked some excellent questions that definitely kept Steve on his toes.

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Astronomy talk

On Saturday morning we headed to Rans Wood, just outside Beaulieu, to meet Sally Mitchell from Wild Heritage for a fungi walk. We didn’t have to stray too far from the car park and were rewarded with over thirty species which was great for late Autumn. Before heading off Sally tested the group’s current fungi knowledge with an identification activity – they knew a few edible and inedible species and were also very good at erring on the side of caution with those they weren’t sure about.

Fungi foray

Testing our knowledge

Fungi is not my strong point so it was brilliant to go looking with someone able to identify what we saw and also be so enthusiastic about it. Sally also has permission from Forestry England to pick the fungi for identification purposes (not to eat as there is a no picking ban for this in the Forest), so we were able to study some close up and take a closer look at the gills or pores. We also used mirrors to look under some, including the Amethyst deceiver, so we could see underneath without picking.

We did quite a lot of sniffing! Here are some of the different species we found – I think my favourites were the Amethyst deceivers, the bright Yellow club and looking at the tubular pores inside the Beefsteak fungus:

We also paused to have a go at ‘creating’ a Fly agaric – sadly we were unable to find any – using a balloon and a tissue. The tissue was held over the balloon and sprayed with water to make it damp. When air was blown into the balloon, the balloon became larger and the tissue broke up into smaller pieces as this happened, to create the speckled effect of white spots seen on the Fly agaric fungus.

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Making a fly agaric 2

Making a Fly agaric

We also found a huge oak tree so decided to see how many Young Naturalists could fit around it:

Tree hugging

Hugging a very large oak tree!

After thanking Sally we headed to Hatchet Pond and had lunch with the Mute swans, Black-headed gulls and donkeys.

We then spent the afternoon at Roydon Woods, another Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust nature reserve, and tested the fungi identification skills learnt that morning, keeping our fingers crossed for a glimpse of a Goshawk whilst we wandered. We last visited the reserve in the Spring, when the woodland floor had been carpeted in bluebells and other Spring flowers, so it was nice to return in the Autumn.

Some of the group were also lucky enough to spot a Goshawk fly past, but only because we had stopped to wait for others to catch up and it flew past behind them. A lucky encounter!

On the Sunday the group enjoyed a farm feed session first thing with Education Officer Steve whilst Michelle and I tidied and cleaned Home Farm ready for our departure. They love doing this as they can get up close to many of the animals and help out with the feeding:

We then visited the New Forest Wildlife Park and were joined by another couple of the group who had been unable to stay for the weekend. We had arranged a guided tour with one of the park’s education team and Laila was brilliant – I think she enjoyed a slightly older audience to usual and the group were great at engaging in conversation about the wildlife and different conservation projects. I was impressed by how much they knew. We got caught in a couple of heavy showers whilst we were there which made taking photos a bit difficult, but here are a few, the harvest mice were popular…

We had a brilliant weekend so although it was a while ago now, would like to thank Steve for the astronomy session, Sally for her fungi knowledge, Steve for the farm feed session and Laila for the brilliant tour around the wildlife park. We also couldn’t run residentials without volunteer support so would like to say a huge thank you to Geoff, Nigel and Michelle for giving up their weekends to join us and help with all the cooking, cleaning, minibus driving and evening entertainment (we had a quiz Saturday night which was hilarious)…

Sticking with the Young Naturalists theme, on Saturday we ventured over to Poole for a boat trip with Birds of Poole Harbour. The group had been fortunate to win the boat trip as their prize for coming first in the bird trail here at Blashford back in May, and we were able to open it up to other group members who hadn’t been able to join us on the day and turn it into our December session.

It was rather cold and wet at times, and we saw a lot of rainbows whilst out in the harbour, but also managed at least 26 species of bird including Red-breasted merganser, Shag, Great black-backed gull, Great crested grebe, Great northern diver, Brent goose, Gadwall, Avocet, Shelduck, Teal, Shoveler, Cormorant, Black-tailed godwit, Grey heron, Oystercatcher, Grey plover, Dunlin, Knot, Little egret, Wood pigeon, Sandwich tern, Goldeneye, Starling, Carrion crow, Spoonbill (very distant!) and Curlew.

We had some nice views of Brownsea Island and the lagoon…

Brownsea

Brownsea Island

Brownsea lagoon

Lagoon at Brownsea

…and a very distant view of a rather grey Corfe Castle:

Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle

The rainbow photographing opportunities were numerous:

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

Thanks for reading! Here’s a sunnier photo taken just up the road at Ibsley when I was passing yesterday morning as a reward for getting to the end, hopefully it will stop raining again soon!

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View from Ibsley Bridge – the River Avon is just out of shot to the right

Festive Opening

Just a reminder, Christmas Day is the one day of the year we do not open, so the car parks, Education Centre and bird hides will remain closed tomorrow. The reserve will be back open as usual on Boxing Day and in addition New Years Day will once again see the return of the Pop-up Café, so you will be able to fuel up with a hot drink and homemade cakes and savouries in the Education Centre as you begin a new bird list for 2020.

The Pop-up Café will also be in the Centre on Sundays 5th and 19th January from 10am until 3.30pm.

Merry Christmas!

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Blashford Robin

Festive wishes from Fishlake Meadows

It’s been a busy year with lots of exciting visitors; osprey, glossy ibis, garganey and bittern to name but a few. The reserve is also lucky to still be home to lots of exciting regulars too, there aren’t many reserves where hearing and seeing cetti’s warbler, water rail and kingfisher becomes the norm.

The vegetation of Fishlake Meadows has also been amazing this year. This could be down to a very dry summer last year and this year. The dry weather was likely at least partly the reason for a couple of unexpected flowers appearing this year. During the condition habitat assessment we found changing forget me not, typically a species of “very dry habitats” which isn’t how I would describe Fishlake Meadows. Another surprise was spotting a pyramidal orchid while strimming the electric fence line in Ashley Meadow. Again, typically a species of dry habitats and usually found on chalk, it will be interesting to see if either of these appear again in the summer of 2020.

The more commonly seen flower species were also fantastic at Fishlake Meadows this year, the array of umbellifer’s in particular was amazing, and a wonderful source of nectar for invertebrates. I was able to get many photos of them alive with insects, the photo below is wild angelica proving very popular with common soldier beetles, a hoverfly and a wasp.

Wild angelica covered in insects

Other umbellifer’s that were In flower this summer were meadowsweet, common valerian and hemlock water dropwort.

The volunteers have been wonderful again this year, wardens visit the reserve daily to help keep visitors up to date, litter pick, trim back vegetation from paths and report any problems or interesting sightings. Volunteer lookers help to keep an eye on the cows while they are grazing the reserve through the summer. The locking and unlocking of the reserve car park is also solely done by volunteers. Work party volunteers are a big help with getting through the scrub cutting needed each winter. Although the very wet weather has put a bit of a hold on clearing the blocks of scrub in the reeds, as the water is now too deep to get to the willow to cut it.

The water levels are still very high around the reserve, so please be very careful to stick to the paths when visiting and wellington boots are still essential to make it to the viewing screens at the end of the permissive path (yesterday the water was up to the middle of my calf). Hopefully the weather forecasts for the next few weeks are accurate and there won’t be too much rain, giving the water levels a chance to drop.

Finally, I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Fingers crossed for a 2020 full of exciting sightings and progress around Fishlake Meadows.

 

 

Still feeling festive?!

IMG_20191214_103538Tomorrow see’s the return of the Pop Up Cafe so if you are visiting the reserve to escape internet shopping or the high street bring your wallets and purses anyway so you can take advantage of the delicious cakes and savouries that will be available. And if you have still yet to add the finishing touches to your decorations at home, do pop by the Welcome Hut and pick up some of our mistletoe for a small donation. Gathered from their gardens by a couple of our volunteers I’ve never seen sprigs so heavily laden with berries!

When it first went out for “sale” on the plant sales bench outside the welcome hut the bench was beautifully adorned. However when we came in the next morning the deer had very carefully nibbled away all of the leaves (note, NOT the poisonous berries!) so they are now kept overnight in a crate to avoid their being browsed so if you arrive in search of some and its not apparent, do check the shelf under the bench to see if its in the crate there and we’ve just forgotten to pull it out!

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Lovely on Ivy Lake today – shore to shore birds, including wigeon, teal, shoveler, tufted, mallard, gadwall, pochard, pintail, the odd goosander and of course coot, cormorant, kingfisher and our great white egret.