A Warning

Fortunately a rare event for us, but recently a car was broken into in the main car park at Blashford. Please do not leave valuables, or bags etc. that might look as if they might contain valuables, on show in your car. Sadly such break-ins are something of a feature of countryside car parks and although rare with us, we are not immune. Break-ins to cars within the car parks are a rare event, they are slightly more frequent for cars parked along the roadside.

So please take care with your valuables and report any suspicious activity you see. The police are aware of the incident and any information that might assist in identifying the culprits would be welcome.

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Dine & discover…

Sometimes Blashford blog posts are a bit like buses – after a lull of a couple of weeks here’s your third in 2 days. Hope they’ve been worth the wait!

A  week ago, last Friday, saw me arriving at work later in the day and preparing for our evening “Dine & discover… Blashfords night life” event.

Dine & discover…” are a relatively new undertaking for us, but one that does seem to be gathering momentum gradually.

The first was trialled in the Spring with a stinging nettle theme – following some nettle sweep netting and ID-ing of the invertebrates caught, nettle tops were picked and the stems harvested. While the nettle soup simmered over the campfire our participants learnt how to prepare the nettle stems and made string from it. Since then we have run similar events learning about meadow invertebrates and freshwater invertebrates too.

“Dine and Discover…” is a monthly event for adults excited by nature and the outdoors at which we prepare and share a simple campfire meal before engaging in some kind of outdoor activity to discover and expand everyone’s knowledge and awareness of  wildlife. Septembers theme, as you may have already surmised from the title of the event, was nocturnal wildlife.

Last Friday our participants arrived as the last of our day time visitors and other staff left for the day.

After a quick welcome, a round of introductions and explanation of what they could expect, our first task was the collection and preparation of wood for the campfire.

Fire lit, we emptied the light trap and released the previous nights catch of moths, caddis flies and other insects, including the large yellow underwing pictured below:

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (2)

While the fire continued to build up heat everyone enjoyed a cuppa and fire-watching while one of the participants and I finished chopping the vegetables for our spicy chickpea and potato soup ready for it to go in the pot and on the fire.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (3)

While dinner bubbled we headed off with a jar of Bob’s moth “gloop” and a paint brush with which we daubed a number of fence posts and benches around the Centre.

Comprising a not-so-secret recipe of treacle, brown sugar, beer and rum, in theory the heavily scented sweet syrup is attractive to moths and was a common method of attracting moths in Victorian times when light traps were not an option. Although not as effective as a light trap, certainly in terms of the number of species which it attracts, “sugaring”, as the method is called, does attract a number of moths which do not normally come to light, including the Autumn flying copper underwing.

Unfortunately on this night it was not terribly successful, attracting just a few spiders a woodlouse and earwig, but, given the paucity of moths around the light trap both then and released from the trap the following day, this is probably due to the cold clear night reducing the number of insects on the wing as opposed to the quality of Bob’s brew!

Fence posts sugared, dinner was served.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (5)

It was a lot tastier than the above photo makes it  look – I certainly enjoyed it and as second and the odd third helping followed I think it is safe to assume that everyone else enjoyed it too!

As we finished our dinner darkness fell and our first bats were picked up on our bat detectors – soprano pipistrelle for certain and possibly some common pipistrelle too.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (4)

Pudding was toasted marshmallows accompanied by the staccato calls of the bats coming through on the bat detectors and punctuated by the call of at least a couple of tawny owls from nearby.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (7)

Joining in with a few “twooo’s” of my own owl call some of the group were treated to a fly past by one of the owls as curiosity (and territoriality!) drew it in to land in an adjacent oak tree. Not wanting to antagonise the bird, or cause it to waste time and energy on a nonexistent rival, I then kept stum and after a couple of minutes everyone had a great view of it flying back towards the alder carr over the pond, lit by the light of the light trap.

Definitely a highlight of the evening!

After putting the fire out we went for a short walk to Ivy Silt Pond & back, eyes adjusting to the dark and marveling at the number of stars in the clear night sky. Unfortunately although great for astronomy a clear sky at night means a cold night, a cold night means fewer insects – and fewer insects means fewer bats hunting them!

We did pick up the odd bat but it was bush crickets that we were picking up more than anything else  so, with the end of the evening drawing to a close, we returned to the Centre to finish our evening with the bats that were still flying around there, no doubt making the most of the few insects attracted to the light trap.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (1)

Thank you to David for sharing his pictures of the evening.

The next “Dine & discover…”, back in the day time, 11am – 3pm on Friday October 25th, will include a guided walk looking for Autumn fungi, birds and other wildlife – for details of this and how to book onto it and all our other events this Autumn and Winter have a look at our new “What’s on?” leaflet: 190927 BL WhatsOn Oct-Feb JD

Fungi spotting

Autumn is a great time to go looking for fungi, so on Sunday after spying a few whilst unlocking the reserve in the morning, we decided to head off in search of more during our Young Naturalists session.

We began however with a rather nice job of weeding the path which leads to our campfire – although possibly not the most exciting of jobs, it was one that needed to be done and it was very satisfying to be able to see just how much they had managed to clear in the hour or so we were out there. We did however decide to do the rest another day when the showers became heavier!

After lunch and a disappointing rummage through the light trap which contained a number of crane fly but not much else, we headed off with a couple of guide books and cameras to see what we could spot. Fungi is definitely not my strong point, so it was a learning curve for all but we enjoyed looking out for different types and photographing them to hopefully identify later.

Now is a great time of year to look for them as many of the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting bodies are emerging above ground, either on the soil or on decaying wood.

We found a number of very smart looking Beefsteak fungus, also known as ox-tongue, oozing red droplets that did look a lot like blood:

We also spotted some Sulphur tuft and Common puffballs nearby:

Near to Ivy South Hide we saw Honey fungus along with a couple of different colour variations of Turkey tail:

On a branch near the boardwalk we spied the tiniest mushrooms growing, I don’t know what they are but they were so delicate we had to stop to photograph them:

We took the long route back to the Education Centre, choosing the path that runs parallel to the main road so we came out by Ellingham Pound, as I was hopeful here we would find a number of Fly agaric. So far we had only seen a couple that had been nibbled or fallen over. We were not disappointed:

We also spotted what might be a Bay Bolete, but Jim’s told me off for not checking the ‘gills’:

Bolete

Here’s a selection of some of the others we found, the first I think could be a young puffball, but the others I’m afraid I’m not sure about.

We had a fun wander with lots of the group taking photos, so perhaps next time we could invite someone who knows a bit more about fungi to come with us!

Finally, Daisy and I spotted a number of relatively young Parasol mushrooms near Ivy North Hide when locking up last night – when I unlocked this morning, the one we had been admiring had opened up more and had a Common darter resting on it, making the most of today’s sunshine.

Common darter on parasol mushroom

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

Recent Activity and a Little Wildlife

I am sorry for the lack of posts recently, I will try and get back to a couple a week again. Recent weeks have been busy both at Blashford and at Fishlake.

At Blashford the volunteers have been constructing an artificial badger sett.

badger sett construction

badger sett construction, the chamber.

Once the chamber had been made a roof was added along with an entrance tunnel.

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construction continues.

Yesterday we covered the whole structure with a layer of soil to bury, now all we have to do is wait and see if the badgers approve.

The ponies have now left Blashford as the grazing season draws to a close. Meanwhile at Fishlake the cattle have grazed in both Ashley Meadow and the North-west fen and done a great job. Reducing the tall herbage will take several seasons but we are now holding the succession into rank fen with increasing willow scrub and starting to reverse it.

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British white cattle, now back in Ashley Meadow.

The autumn has been relatively quite for birds, or at least for rarities at both sites. Fishlake has been visited by several osprey, but they have not stayed as long as in  previous years. There have been several great (white) egret as both sites and 2 cattle egret flew south over Ibsley Water at Blashford. Both sites are now starting to see increases in wildfowl, with small flocks of teal at Fishlake and wigeon at Blashford.

The warm summer saw a number of records of lesser emperor dragonfly, a migrant that is occurring in increasing numbers, this great picture of a hovering male was sent in by  Kevin Kearns.

lesser emperor Kevin Kearns

lesser emperor Kevin Kearns

Moths have been a little disappointing, with a couple of Clifden nonpareil and a few commoner migrants. We have caught a couple more of the non-native Australian Pyralid, Masotima nitidalis, introduced with tree ferns but now evidently eating our native ferns in the wild.

Masotima nitidalis

Masotima nitidalis

There is still time for some autumn excitement where migrant birds are concerned, although we will soon be entering the late autumn lull before the main arrival of wintering birds. Insects will be winding down for winter, but fungi are coming into their main season, so there is always something to look forward to.

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Fungus season is starting

Look out behind you

Behind You!

Many thanks to Jon Mitchell for sending in the “action shot”!

Just thought you might like to see a photo I took from Ivy South on Sunday afternoon (whilst waiting for a kingfisher to perch – no joy!). Us photographers were keeping ourselves amused by taking shots of a female brown hawker that was depositing eggs on the underwater parts of the branches of the fallen tree in front of the hide. At one point, a coot shot in to try and catch the hawker and have a nice high-protein meal.

Fortunately (for the hawker – not for the coot) the dragonflies eyes were good enough to see the coot coming behind her – and she flew away just in time.”

Otherwise things are much the same as they were last time I blogged although the number of hirundines on site has certainly dropped. There are still at least three great white egrets (reported again this morning, on Ibsely Water) and photographers are still semi-permanently encamped in Ivy South Hide waiting for a stunning kingfisher picture. The kingfisher is still very much in evidence but this week I think there have been far more kingfisher sightings than pictures!

The stinkhorns I posted last week are now limp stipes, but have been replaced by new ones which have emerged sequentially every few days and I’ve spotted the odd beefsteak fungus starting to form now too.

 

Autumn well underway

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There has been a very autumnal feel to this week with hundreds of martins gathering over Ibsley Water each morning and today I was there as they continued with their migration southward – one moment they were all zipping around just above the lake surface and in the blink of an eye, at some signal unseen by me, they launched their way skywards in a fairly close spiral and very quickly were lost to sight.

There’s plenty of other signs of the changing season too – including the fact that this morning I chose to wear a jumper AND jacket into work!

The grasslands have been looking lovely first thing each day as well, festooned with their dew-laden cobwebs as they have been, and everywhere you go (there, the woodland, and even the car parks and outside the Centre) the ground is liberally covered with badger droppings whose diet has now very clearly moved on from plum to blackberry!

It’s still very dry so the fungi have not yet fruited in earnest but there are still some to be found, including this newly erect (there’s no other word for it really!) stinkhorn photographed near Woodland Hide this morning.

I’ve smelt it coming for a few days now, but not managed to see it, presumably because it was still in its “egg” form as opposed to my just being unobservant as it was particularly fresh looking this morning. They don’t tend to last overly long, but this one will soon be replaced by another marked by a new “egg” bottom left of the photograph. Weird things these eggs, and far more easily overlooked than the mature fungus (which, lets face it, is also pretty weird!) as they often form just below the ground, so nice to see and get a photo of it today.

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You can just see a fly coming in in the top left corner of the picture. Attracted by the rotten/sweet small of the fungus it will become coated with the sticky jelly carrying spores and so assist the fungi in its dispersal as it flies away on whatever business flies get up to when not lured by stinkhorns.

Kingfishers have continued to oblige this summer, to an extent at Goosander Hide, but in recent weeks at Ivy South Hide in particular.

There are still at least two great white egrets around, debatably 3, one of which is “Walter” and yesterday afternoon they have been joined by another of our seasonal herons, with a bittern seen in flight by half-a-dozen visitors as it flew over the reed/reedmace bed, from left to right, in front of Ivy North Hide, giving all a fantastic view.

It will probably be a while before the next sighting, and even longer before anyone gets a picture as the reeds are all so tall and dense still at this time of year, but good to know that there is at least one around so keep your eyes peeled on your next visit and you never know!

 

Autumn Lady’s shorn!

Yesterday Tracy and I, inspired by various comments on various social media about the very lovely but understated Autumn flowering orchid, Autumn Lady’s tresses, detoured from the route around the hides at closing time to seek it in the usual locations on the reserve. We were not disappointed, finding several individual flower stems, a handful of clusters of 2 or 3 stems and one small patch, right by the track, of over 50 perfect flowers.

I didn’t take any photos at the time but wandered over at lunch time today, partly to show one of the Welcome volunteers,  and partly to take a photo or two, thinking it would be a nice subject for the blog, which I’m sure it is.

Unfortunately they were much harder to find in number than yesterday, something I initially put down to the different light across the middle of the day and lack of contrast between the flowers and surrounding vegetation.

Then Jan spied a stem without flowers quickly followed by several more in quick succession and so we realised that actually the plants were there, but with all of the flowering tips nibbled off, presumably by rabbits or deer. Should have taken a picture yesterday!

Fortunately not all of the orchids had been “shorn” of their flowers so I was able to take a couple of pictures, the first of which clearly shows the intertwining stems which gives the flower both its common name with its resemblance to ringlets of hair, and its scientific name, Spiranthes spiralis.

Another highlight today was that of an osprey on Ibsley Water at lunch time.

Not the first of the seasons passage by a long shot, as there have been 3 or 4 sightings which I am aware of over the last week or so, but certainly the best of the Autumn so far.

According to reports it appeared to have caught a fish in Ibsley Silt Pond near Lapwing Hide which it then consumed off to the right of Tern Hide giving visitors a rare close view of this iconic bird of prey. I caught up with it a little later when it had moved off to the north-west shore of the Lake to have a good wash and it then took off and headed south in a very half hearted, lackadaisical fashion. 

 

 

 

Camping out

This summer our Young Naturalists once again spent a night on the reserve, cooking dinner and breakfast over the campfire, setting and checking mammal traps, listening to bats, sleeping under a poncho or tarp shelter and getting up nice and early for a morning stroll up to Lapwing Hide.

Meeting in the morning, our first task was to finish off the bug hotel which we had almost completed the month before. To finish it off, we lined the roof with pond liner before adding a piece of wood around each of the four edges which enabled us to add a layer of gravel on top of the liner. We then put some sedum matting which had been left over from the construction of the Welcome Hut on top of the gravel.

Should it rain heavily, the top of the bug hotel will be protected by the liner which will stop water from seeping down and the gravel should allow a space for drainage ensuring the sedum does not become waterlogged.

The bugs have been quick to move in! We have already spotted spiders, parasitic wasps checking out the bamboo canes and our Welcome Volunteer Gail, after some very patient waiting, managed to take this photo of a Digger Wasp inside one of the tubes:

Digger wasp by Gail Taplin

Digger wasp by Gail Taplin

It was then time to head over to our camp area and put up our shelters for the night, using tarpaulins or ponchos and whittling tent pegs from willow. Finley and Percy had a go at making clay models – their clay men looked brilliant!

Clay people

Clay people by Finley and Percy

Shelters by Torey

Shelters by Torey

After setting up camp we gathered firewood whilst locking the hides, put out some apples and Geoff’s trail cam by the Woodland Hide to see what wildlife we could film overnight, set some mammal traps near the Education Centre and re-set the moth trap.

It was then time to get the fire going and cook dinner:

Camp

Chatting by the fire

 

Cooking

Ben in charge of the chips (we did eat more than chips!)

That evening we went on a night walk in search of bats and had a great time on the edge of the Lichen Heath and in Ivy South Hide listening to them on the bat detectors. We also heard Tawny owls calling and spotted a couple of constellations (The Plough and Cassiopeia) in the night sky. After a pudding of marshmallows, baked apples or bananas filled with chocolate it was time to retreat to our shelters and try to get some sleep.

Fire

Campfire

After threatening the group with a four am start (they weren’t keen) we were up just after five am and after a quick snack, headed off up to Lapwing to see what wildlife we could spot.

Damselfly

Damselfly hiding behind the soft rush

Heading back via Tern Hide we opened up the rest of the reserve, retrieved Geoff’s trail cam and checked the mammal traps set the night before. Whilst most of them were empty, we were lucky enough to catch a woodmouse in one, which we looked at before releasing it carefully back into the bramble:

WoodmouseIt was then time to light the fire again, cook breakfast and tidy away our shelters.

After breakfast we went through the light trap to see what had been attracted to it the night before, and this Burnished brass was definitely the highlight:

Burnished brass

Burnished brass

Finally, we had a look at Geoff’s trail cam and we were delighted to discover images of a jay, lots of footage of the fallow deer enjoying the apples and rather excitedly a fox:

jay

Jay

deer

Fallow deer

fox

Fox

A huge thank you to Geoff and Yvette who very kindly volunteered their time for the campout and stayed the night, we definitely couldn’t run such sessions without their help. We had a lovely time!

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

Wild Play!

Last week saw the last of this summers “Wild Days Out” activity days – this time with a team challenge theme for the older age group and simply outdoor, “wild” play for the younger ones the following day. The weather was kind to us on both days and fun was definitely had by all!

Our Wild Challenge began with deciding our teams and warming up with some riddles, anagrams and team flag making. It was then out for some problem solving games and activities before competing to be the first to light a small fire, boil a “Kelly Kettle” and make the leaders the best cup of tea ;o)

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After lunch the fun really began as we headed over to our den building area, not to make dens, but rather to attempt to construct ballista/catapults (from the den building poles, rope and old bicycle inner tubes) in preparation for battle!

Our teams came up with quite different designs, both effective, but neither catapult could compete with Sammy’s inventive use of his own legs and feet in conjunction with the inner tube for projectile distance!

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With inventions completed, tested and fine tuned, our teams were armed with sponges and buckets of water and the Great Battle of Blashford commenced!

And I wasn’t going to just sit around supervising letting them all have the fun!

The following day our Wild Play began in the same den building area, this time with den building, tree climbing and leafy art and clay creations.

Tree climbing by Tracy Standish190821 WildChallenge_Play_Tracy Standish (1)

After lunch some of the children asked about pond dipping – something that everyone joined in in the end (you can’t beat a good pond dip when your 6!). Those waiting a turn or ready for something else spent a lovely time playing in the sand pit or bug hunting – the “tunnel” at the back of the centre was a child magnet in this respect, festooned with spiders and large white butterfly caterpillars as it was!

 

This filled most of the rest of the day so we finished up by taking down the dens and had just enough time left for another water fight, this time dispensing with catapults and settling for simply cobbing wet sponges at each other!

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A bit soggy, the children left tired and happy and the leaders were dry by the time they locked up at the end of the day!

The next Wild Days Out are scheduled for October half term with Autumn themed activities – event bookings on “Eventbrite” will be opened next week:

BIG Autumn Adventure for 7-12 year old children on Tuesday 29th October – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/wild-days-out-big-autumn-adventure-tickets-70779598685?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

little Autumn Adventure for 5-8 year old children on Thursday 31st October – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/wild-days-out-little-autumn-adventure-tickets-70765239737?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

 

Tern Hide today…

…just a quick post to advise visitors coming today (Thursday 30th August) that the volunteer work party will be working on the shore of Ibsley Water in front of Tern Hide this morning.

Apologies for any inconvenience caused, but they will be “weeding” the vegetation out of the gravel which is an important annual job to maintain suitable conditions for nesting waders such as the little ringed plover – and it will also please those visitors who were trying to photograph the common sandpiper on Sunday that kept “hiding” behind the plants, spoiling their pictures!