Boardwalk replacement work begins!

It is with many thanks to everyone who gave to our appeal for donations to replace the deteriorated boardwalk connecting Ivy South Hide with the Ellingham Lake walk, an integral part of the ever-popular short circular route called the “Wild Walk”, that we are pleased to report that the work to replace it has begun!

Unfortunately this does necessitate the closure of this part of the route while the existing boardwalk is removed and the new one is constructed and we apologise for the inconvenience that this will cause for the duration of the work. Please check the website and blog for updates on progress and, in the meantime, please observe and abide by the warning signs and path closures. It will be worth the wait! Thank you.

In other news if you are saddened to know that the boardwalk is closed it may be of some small conciliation to know that Bob has now cut the first “bittern channel” through the reed bed to the east of Ivy North Hide. As long as other jobs including the boardwalk construction task, time & weather allow, the intention is to cut the usual additional channels and possibly lengthen this one as well:

The first channel has been cut through the reedbed to facilitate views of elusive wildlife including water rail and bittern

Although there were a few sporadic sightings of bittern towards the end of the summer and the beginning of autumn we believe these to be “local” UK breeding birds who are moving on south from breeding territories and just stopping off here temporarily on route. If we are to see any obliging over-wintering bittern historically we don’t tend to see them until a week or so before Christmas, so fingers-crossed for this year.

The relatively mild and sunny autumn has really bought out the autumn colours across the country in recent weeks, and Blashford has been no exception:

On the wildlife front the light trap has been consistently catching albeit in low numbers, including the rather lovely December moth:

December moth

There is a small, but reliable, starling murmurartion in the Valley again this winter, with wonderful views of it now possible from the Ibsley Water viewing platform which Bob and the volunteers have now really opened up the views from by carefully removing some of the silver birch and willows which had been obscuring the views. At least 5 goldeneye and 30+ goosander duck have now joined the other wildfowl on the lake. Firecrests have very much been in evidence across the reserve in recent weeks and Bob also reported seeing two cattle egret coming in to roost with the little egrets among the tree’s on the eastern shore of Ivy Lake.

Meanwhile Tracy and Chloe have made good use of some of the willow arisings from the viewing platform work to make a fantastic start weaving the wreath hoops for the self-guided wreath decorating activity walk which opens this weekend – for more information see the website here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-11-28-decorate-willow-wreath

Wreath frames ready – just add natural greenery!

Willow is one commodity we are not short of at Blashjford Lakes and it does not look as if we are likely to run out of the withy’s required to form the hoops anytime soon!

Should keep Tracy and Chloe out of mischief over the next few weeks…might even have to help out myself Mine will be the wonky ones if you happen to pick one of those out 😉 !

A Siberian Visitor

at Blashford Lakes a number of bird ringing projects are carried out by specially trained volunteers under the auspices of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). They have been overseeing bird ringing for over 100 years now and almost all that we know about the migration, longevity and survival of our birds has been found out using the results. These are all vital to understanding how we can look after the birds we have got and try to restore ones we are losing or have lost.

At the simplest an individually marked metal ring is attached to the leg of a caught bird, it is examined to establish species, age, sex and condition and then released. Most of these birds are never reported again, but with many thousands caught the percentage found was still enough to establish something of the remarkable journeys they undertake. We have probably all heard that our summering Swallow spend the winter in southern Africa, but who would have guessed that the Blackcap that winters in your garden is not the one that was there in the summer, they are down by the Mediterranean, instead it is perhaps from SE Germany.

Today it is possible to use additional techniques such as colour-rings, radio and satellite tags, but these are expensive especially for smaller birds as they need to be very light indeed. Some species are rare and hide very well, so it is difficult to catch them in the first place and if you do they are very unlikely to ever be seen again and small sample sizes mean you are always unsure how typical the data collected will be. To gain a fuller picture of their lives techniques such as stable isotope analysis and DNA sampling can assist, if you are interested do a search, there is a lot of fascinating information out there..

Despite all these high tech and sometimes very costly techniques coming into the picture much of what we are learning is still coming form the traditional ringing, largely thanks to the shear size of the samples it can achieve. The other important role of traditional ringing is to train new recruits, it takes typically a year or two to complete basic training and many more to become expert or specialise in particular techniques or species.

At Blashford Lakes we have a colour-ringing project for Black-headed Gulls, a nestbox project and a Constant Effort Site (CES) as well as some winter ringing with training opportunities. Recently one of the regular sessions turned up a rarer than usual visitor, a Siberian Chiffchaff. A lot of Common Chiffchaff pass through the UK in the autumn, some stay the winter, but many more head on down to the Mediterranean. Chiffchaff breed right across Europe and into Asia, although all the same species, the birds get paler and greyer the further east you go and these birds also call differently, and it was one of these eastern birds that turned up. The pictures below show the difference in appearance between a “typical” Chiffchaff and the Siberian visitor.

Common Chiffchaff (left), Siberian (right)
Siberian Chiffchaff (left), Common (right)
Common Chiffchaff
Siberian Chiffchaff

This autumn seems to have been a good one for reports of these Siberian Chiffchaffs, maybe just a chance increase in sightings or perhaps indications of a change in migration pattern as seems to be happening with a number of other Siberian nesting species. Only time will tell and who knows maybe this bird will be reported again and add to our understanding of how migration is changing, or not.

Reserve access update and a swan rescue!

Unfortunately in addition to the two path closures mentioned in Jim’s last blog, we have also had to close the stretch of path between the Welcome Hut and the Woodland Hide (you can walk along this path as far as the left hand turn towards Ivy North Hide). 

Both the Woodland Hide and Ivy South Hide are open, but they need to be accessed from the other direction, via the bridge and boardwalk.

We had hoped to get the offending tree branch, which has partially come away from one of the large oaks and is resting over the path against another tree opposite, removed today but unfortunately this did not happen. Hopefully the tree surgeons will be able to re-schedule their visit soon, as we know the circular ‘Wild Walk’ loop is a popular one.

On Saturday evening I had received a message from Jim warning me that visitors had reported a swan inside the water treatment works fence. Unable to do anything that night, it was left for me to investigate again on Sunday morning after I had opened the hides.

The swan had probably planned to land on Ivy Lake, and had either made a mistake and overshot the water, or being a young male it could have been put off landing by another male. On walking around the perimeter fence I did indeed find the bird. It was not overly impressed to see me, but didn’t appear too unscathed after a night inside the site.

On my way back to Centre I spotted a couple of Earthfan fungi on the edge of the lichen heath.

I found the key to the works and called Mike at the wildlife rescue at Moyles Court to see if he was available to retrieve it. He came down straight away and we went inside, following the fence line round. The swan had moved from its original spot, and had been closer to the entrance the night before, so clearly it didn’t have a problem walking.

With me blocking the swan’s exit (not entirely sure what I would have done if it had run at me), Mike was able to catch the bird and hold it down, while I positioned a carry bag. He placed the swan on top of the bag, holding its wings tight, and I zipped it up so his wings were held in place. We then carried the swan back to his van and took it across the road to Ibsley Water.

Before releasing the swan on the larger lake, Mike checked him over to make sure he was fit and well and hadn’t damaged himself in any way when he landed.

With no signs of damage to his wings or feet, Mike was satisfied and we went out onto the shore to release the bird. Ibsley Water is a much larger water body than Ivy Lake and is able as a result to support a larger population of swans without them getting too close to each other.

Mike released him slowly, making sure he had a chance to take it all in and clock where the other swans were on the water. He was quite happy to get back onto the water, and was quite vocal in his appreciation! Thank you Mike!

After the excitement of a swan rescue, I was able to have a look inside the moth trap, which revealed a nice selection of autumnal moths:

Today Bob, Chloe and NFNPA apprentice Ben have been improving the view of Ibsley Water from the viewing platform by removing some of the willows that have been merrily growing taller and taller. This will improve the views of the gulls and other birds roosting on the lake and also hopefully the starling murmurations.

I wasn’t able to take a before photo as I spent the morning uploading events to the website and Eventbrite, but I did join them in the afternoon so I could pinch some of the cut willow for wreath making. The rest was added to the dead hedges.

img_6675

Willow ready to be turned into wreaths

Bob still has a few willows to cut, and with us selling 100 wreaths last year for a donation any nice straight whips will be put to good use!

Our self-led ‘Decorate a Willow Wreath’ activity will be available once again from Sunday 28th November and you can find out more on our website here.

In bird news, a Caspian gull has been seen on Ibsley Water both today and yesterday, with other recent sightings including marsh harrier, common and green sandpiper, a number of yellow-legged gull, water pipit and a number of black-tailed godwit. Elsewhere on the reserve firecrest have been showing nicely along with good numbers of siskin and a Siberian chiffchaff was caught on Thursday by bird ringer Kevin.

Finally, David Cuddon shared this photo of a Peregrine falcon wit us, showing nicely from (I think) Tern Hide – thank you very much David!

On mammals and murmurations…

Further to the last couple of short blog posts with information about the storm damage and the impact upon access at Blashford Lakes, I can confirm that all is now well with the exception of just two short sections of path (one between Ivy North & Woodland Hide, one along the Dockens Water) which remain closed due to the ongoing danger posed by large branches which have been torn from the tree’s and caught up in lower branches at height over the footpath.

Visitors have been asking about starlings for several weeks now and last night I saw my first more significant murmuration of the season. Consisting of several thousand starlings, they gathered to the west of the A338 before going to roost shortly after 4.30pm in the old gravel pits north of Ellingham. It’s still early days and bodes well, I think, for another good sized roost and wildlife spectacle later this winter. As always we recommend viewing the starlings from the viewing platform at the back of the main car park – where you will never be particularly close, but from where it is almost always possible to view the birds regardless of where they actually choose to roost in the valley.

Last week was half-term, as anyone with children or grandchildren will know (they’ve only been back at school a week and it already seems an age ago!). As such we once again held our popular “Wild Day Out” activity days and, once again, everyone had fun and, once again, it was questionable who had most fun – the staff and volunteers or the children!

This time round the theme was one of mammals and the day began with a “what am I quiz?” as they arrived – a collection of various animal remains and leavings to be identified (not all mammal it has to be said). The children did very well, albeit with the odd clue or hint dropped here or there 😉

We then bought in our Longworth small mammal traps which were put out around the Education Centre at the end of the preceding day and left out overnight with the hope that if we were lucky we might catch mouse or vole or two. And lucky we were! On the first day 15 traps resulted in one common shrew, 4 bank voles and 3 wood mice and 14 traps on day two resulted in 3 bank voles and 4 wood mice which is a pretty good return by anyone’s reckoning! Interestingly we did not capture a single yellow-neck mouse – despite these currently being the most commonly trapped mouse in the Centre loft, where they are trapped and removed to be released in suitable habitat at the far end of the nature reserve (far enough away, we hope, not to come back to the Centre and cause damage) on an almost daily basis at this time of year.

The mild, misty, weather at the start of last week clearly suited our small mammal quarry but the conditions also very much suited molluscs and as a result, in addition to the mammals described above, we also released at least as many Arion ater, common slugs, and which are easily large and heavy enough to “trip” the traps.

Sadly for the molluscs I think it is fair to say that most children were more interested in the mammals we released!

With such a good haul in the traps we took our time and were all ready for lunch after the last animal had been released back into the place it had been trapped. Post lunch we took ourselves off for a walk to think about how we might hone our senses to become more aware of the wildlife around us and practice our tracking skills with a couple of games and activities, including one in which we split into two teams, one of whom laid trails of sticks, stones, bird seed and other marks for the seeking team to follow to the end and try and spot the hiding, trail laying, first team and then swap. I think it is fair to say that this activity was for most participants (and volunteers!) the best bit of the day and many (but not all!) particularly enjoyed the opportunity to “camouflage” their faces (and in some cases arms, hands and legs) with charcoal and clay…

Some of the children really were exceptional at hiding themselves away at the end of the trail – thanks to a combination of their camo-“facepaint”, camo clothing and the very un-childlike ability to be still AND quiet for a surprisingly long length of time while the “seekers” tried to find them. These two boys were exceptional 🙂

Can you see them? We couldn’t for ages, even when stood right next to them! They are a bit easier to spot with a close up:

…others of course, despite their best efforts, were not quiet so well hidden 🙂

Sorry Nigel 😉

I’ll round off this blog with a lovely observation from one of the children at the end of the day that really struck a chord with me:

“What I really liked was doing new things and meeting other people. I don’t get to do that much anymore”.

That’s why we do what we do and why we will keep on doing so.

No Wild Days Out over the Christmas holidays but you can email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org,uk to be put on the mailing list for Wild Days Out updates if you want to find out when and what Wild Days Out we are holding over February half-term.

Hope you enjoyed reading this post almost as much as we enjoyed our Wild Days Out!

Site Access Update – 02/11/2021

All car parks and hides are now open and accessible following the weekends stormy weather, but there are still places where footpaths are closed and off-surfaced path detours are in place due to fallen tree’s and branches and/or dangerous tree’s. We are continuing to clear up and will re-open the closed sections of path as we go when they have been made safe!

Please observe and abide by all warning signs, path closures and taped off areas of the reserve. Thank you!

WEATHER UPDATE Sunday 31/10/2021

Strong winds & heavy rain have caused some disruption today – the main car park is closed due to flooding and although Tern Hide is open it is only accessible to visitors in wellington boots. There is at least one tree down which is blocking the footpath between Woodland & Ivy South Hides.

Please take care while visiting us, or any other countryside site, until the weather settles down and please do pay attention to and follow any signage/instructions you see.

Stay safe!

What’s on at Blashford Lakes this half term?

Campfire “toffee apples”

Lots!

Starting with storytelling around the campfire during the afternoon of Saturday 23rd October, complimented by the wonderful seasonal campfire delicacy that is sugar coated apple baked on a stick. What’s not to like?!

See the website for more details and to book:

https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-10-23-go-wildcampfire-taleshttps://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-10-23-go-wildcampfire-tales

Woodmouse being released behind the Centre during a previous event

I’m delighted to say that we are also running Wild Day Out activity days for children again this half-term – and that bookings are going well.

The theme this half-term is mammals, tracks & signs. There are some places left, but they are limited, so book now if you want to avoid disappointment!

Tuesday 26th October, Traps, tracks & signs, is our Wild Day Out for 7-12 year old children: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-10-26-wild-day-out-traps-tracks-and-signs

And Wednesday 27th October, Animal Quest, is our Wild Day Out for 5-8 year old children: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-10-27-wild-day-out-animal-quest

And finally, being the last Sunday of the month, from 10am to 2.30pm on Sunday 31st October there will of course be our regular meeting of the Young Naturalists led by Tracy (our wildlife and conservation event for 13-17 year old young people) – details and booking information to follow shortly on the Events pages of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events

Bookings for all events must be made in advance online via the above webpage links, but if you have any queries you are very welcome to email us on BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk and we’ll get back to you 🙂

Feeling blue?

Clifden Nonpareil (blue underwing)

It is properly grim out there today so just a quick post with a truly blue stunning insect to cheer up your weekend!

Just three individual moths in the light trap this morning, two of which were this awesome moth, a blue underwing (which sadly you can’t see in my picture so you’ll just have to imagine the sky blue/black banded hindwings!), or Clifden Nonpareil.

A one time resident of the UK it became extinct during the mid-20th Century with just occasional sightings of migrants each year. More recently however it has become more frequent and is thought to be making a very welcome back 😊

Recent bird highlights include a grey phalarope which has been present on Ibsley Water all week and showing relatively well. To the best of my knowledge not seen yet today by the handful of visitors braving the downpours, but the hundreds (thousands?) of house martins skimming hither & thither across the surface of the lake are very impressive to behold!

A Wild Day Out at last!

During the half-term school holiday of February 2020 we enjoyed some unseasonably mild, but very, very wet weather amidst the good company of children, both regulars and newcomers, and enjoyed some natural craft activities on our school holiday activity days known as “Wild Days Out” (see the blog post that followed it here:https://blashfordlakes.wordpress.com/2020/02/28/winter-craft/).

Little did we know at the time that that would be the last for 18 months!

So it was with some trepidation, but mostly delight, that this summer holiday we finally held Wild Days Out again – Tracy at the beginning of the holidays with some den building and fire-lighting fun, me at the end with an aquatic adventure; pond dipping and river dipping with a difference.

The weather throughout August could have been better, but it could have been a lot worse, and I think it is fair to say that staff, volunteers and children all had a ball and that everyone involved was genuinely pleased to be back doing what we love! Yet another milestone in the road to pandemic recovery.

I love my job as an Education Officer, but even so it is not often that I will declare that all of the children that I work with are delightful, but, in this instance, they really were and it was so lovely to spend some time playing outdoors with them all, everyone sharing a love of and learning about nature 🙂

We started our Wild Day Out off at the pond with some pond dipping following on from some colouring, wordsearch, frog origami and pipe-cleaner dragonfly crafting activities while we waited for everyone to arrive and be registered. Given that the dipping pond we were using is only just more than two years old it amazes me every time we dip it just how much wildlife has already colonised it – and is colonising it. All of the children had memorable close up dragonfly encounters whilst being inspected by the southern and migrant hawkers standing guard over their territory!

Still as good as the pond is, and the promise it holds, I very much hope we are successful in raising enough money through our current boardwalk and pond replacement fundraising appeal to replace the neighbouring “original” dipping pond which, sadly, despite the incredible biodiversity it once held, no longer holds water and which has, during this very dry summer that we have had, now all but dried out completely.

We need to raise £5,000 to supplement some money which has already been secured, partly by a very generous donation from a regular supporter of, and visitor to, Blashford and if you would like to help us achieve this amount – and in doing so ensure that we are able to continue to offer incredible educational experiences and wildlife encounters for children and adults on Wild Days Out, school visits or events – please do visit our appeal page and donate to the project by following the link to the website here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/appeals/blashford-lakes-boardwalk-pond-appeal

A very heartfelt thank you to everyone who has already contributed to our appeal – as well as to everyone who I hope will now do so!

We spent a lot of time at the pond and what was particularly gratifying on this occasion especially was how long the children spent studying and identifying the invertebrates in their catch: all too often it is the “thrill of the hunt” which captivates them so this was great 🙂 !

Following lunch (which again was remarkably civilised for a Wild Day Out) we headed down to the river dipping area to explore the Dockens Water, pausing on route to make some soft rush boats on our way down, always a much loved, favourite and memorable past time!

Rush boats making – and a none too subtle hint of what was to come when we got to the river!

Boats sailed (see the video clip I posted in my Twitter feed here: https://twitter.com/JimDay22857614/status/1430944382287556616 !) we got on with the business of kick sampling to see what river wildlife could be found:

Sadly there was not as much wildlife to be found as we would normally expect to see, although more than enough to satisfy us on this occasion. I fear that a lot of “dam building” by visitors this summer may have excessively disturbed the river bed and thus dislodged the invertebrates – and some fish – who were sheltering under the cobbles and amidst the gravels that were used in the construction. Although I am reasonably confident that the wildlife itself is fine, and just resettled downstream, it has left our dipping area somewhat bereft of its usual abundance of life, and probably won’t be recolonised until we get some rainfall and the spate conditions which follow re-distributes the animals along the course of the river. There is a lot to be said for encouraging river play, and indeed I positively encourage it myself, but it should always be borne in mind that our actions can, and do, often have unintended consequences. Indeed it is due to the impacts that our river activity can have on the wildlife that within the nature reserve we very much limit our activity to one very small section of river.

With time marching on, the end of the session (and collection by parents) drawing closer it was time to take the plunge – quite literally – for those that wanted to, and were daft enough!

While some children (probably quite sensibly) continued fishing with their nets, a handful of us (lumping myself in this group as the biggest kid of the lot 😉 ) donned masks and snorkels to see what, if anything we could see…

Some of us were content to just put our faces in…

Some of us wanted to go further, but were not quite committed enough…

And some of us went for it!

And just for the record I did see fish – some little minnows which I was ridiculously excited to see as the exclamations through my snorkel would testify to all that were there to hear them!

And was it cold? Cor blimey, yes it was! A lot colder than the sea had been when I’d gone swimming with the family at Highcliffe a couple of days before hand!

A lot of fun though 😉

All being well the next Wild Day Out will be held during the October half-term holiday. Although the theme for the activities is yet to be decided they are likely to run on Tuesday 26th October (for 7-12 year olds) and Wednesday 27th October (for 5-8 year olds) if you want to pencil those dates in your diary! We’ll advertise and take bookings through the website as normal when we are ready: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events