Oh Christmas Tree!

On Monday our Wildlife Tots got into the festive spirit, making willow wreaths and decorating them with natural treasures collected on the reserve. We began with our usual indoor craft activity, creating hand and finger painted reindeer and indulging our inner sparkle, decorating simple willow stars with glitter. It was messy!

jessie

It was then time to head off to the woodland, in search of the smallest Christmas Tree, gathering natural items such as seed heads, bracken, leaves and birch twigs as we went which would be used to decorate our willow wreaths.

On arriving at the woodland log circle we embarked on a brightly coloured bauble hunt to decorate our tiny tree with, and the Tots were very good at hanging them on. With the baubles, a star on top and some lights our tree looked much happier!

Usually we visit the woodland in the summer, when the nettles are taller than the Tots and surround us, so Douglas couldn’t resist exploring and having a peak over the bank to see just what was on the other side. Now is the right time of year to take a look!

douglas-exploring

We then set about making simple hoop shapes out of willow, binding our natural treasures to them with wool and ribbon to turn them into fabulous festive wreaths:

Here are just a few of our finished creations, they did a grand job!

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Thank you Wildlife Tots for another lovely day!

Laying around

On Sunday, as it was the first Sunday of the month the reserve had both a volunteer work party and a Pop-up Café. The volunteers worked on laying part of the hedge along the western side of the reserve near Ellingham Lake. This was planted in 2005 and has now grown tall, but not very thick, wildlife tends to prefer a wide, thick hedge to a narrow, tall one. We did not do the classic hedge laying, which is good if the object is to keep in livestock, instead we only lightly trimmed the tops of the plants and laid them over. This should produce a wider hedge with at least some flowering and fruit production in the first year. It is also a much quicker and easier and within my skillset, true hedge laying is well beyond me.  We need to give the young growth at the base of the plants some protection so we put the trimmings and any bramble we had to cut out around the base of the hedge to try ands keep the deer and rabbits off. We managed to do 20m of hedge in our two hour session.

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Before we could lay the hedge we had to remove the old rabbit fencing and tree guards.

Meanwhile, back at the Centre the Pop-up Café had been laying out cake and some of the volunteers stopped for a slice before heading for home. Both the hedge and cake were excellent.

Perhaps because of the approach of Christmas the reserve was not that busy despite the bright sunshine. This was a shame as  the birds were putting on a good show with both great white egret seen as well as a beautiful firecrest in the ivy covered trees beside the Woodland hide. On Ibsley Water both of the adult ring-billed gull were eventually found in the gull roost. They seem to take absolutely no notice of one another despite being far from home. They are North American natives and there would appear to be only about three in the UK at present, so quite why two of them should be at Blashford is a bit of a mystery.

 

Don’t forget to pop in for the pop up this Sunday!

“Walking Picnics” are back in the centre again this Sunday (4th December) serving Christine’s delicious home-baked cakes and hot drinks from the classroom pop up cafe so don’t forget your wallet/purse! A percentage of their takings on the day directly supports our work at Blashford Lakes so you can enjoy a guilty pleasure knowing that you are supporting wildlife by doing so! They have also very kindly agreed to sell Wildlife Trust Calendars, Christmas cards, and our small selection of FSC ID guides and books, the proceeds of which all contribute towards funding work in the centre and out on the reserve. In addition our talented woodturning volunteer Geoff Knott has this week donated 4 lovely wooden bowls for us to sell in aid of the reserve. Turned from some reclaimed timber found on the nearby Linwood Nature Reserve  they are really lovely, so if you are stuck for Christmas present ideas do see if there is anything here that will help you out of a bind and help us at the same time too!

And if you are stuck for present ideas have you seen Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trusts new on-line shop yet? Re-launched last month with a great new range of locally produced cards, produce and gifts the range of goods for sale is increasing all the time and is well worth a look: http://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/

And if you have unashamedly finished your Christmas shopping, or can’t bring yourself to start yet(!), there are plenty of other reasons to visit Blashford this weekend apart from cake on Sunday – as usual the wildlife is wonderful and the Woodland Hide in particular is now coming into its own with the arrival of colder weather with lots of tits, finches, and other woodland birds, including jays all busying themselves around the feeders.

And if that doesn’t entice you here, maybe these pictures kindly sent in by Mark Wright will – thank you Mark!

 

 

 

Frosty Sniping

It is a remarkable thing, but often true, that the sun always shines on the Blashford volunteers and so it was today. Admittedly it was a little chilly, but as we were coppicing willow we soon warmed up and it was a glorious day to be outside. As to my claim about the sun shining on the volunteers, it is more or less true, or at least it almost never rains. They meet every Thursday morning and it has happened a number of times that it has been raining ant 09:50, but dry by 10:00 (when we start), or been dry but started to rain just as we finish. Oddly the Sunday volunteers, who meet just once a month, not infrequently get rained on despite meeting at the same time and working for the same duration.

frosted-grass

frosted grass

The cold still seems to have had little effect upon the birds, although there were more snipe than usual feeding along the shore of Ibsley Water today, no doubt because they are finding harder to find worms now that the top layer of the ground is frozen. I had gone to Goosander hide on a tip-off that there was a jack snipe there, a bird I have very rarely seen at Blashford and never other than when I have flushed them. When I got there I could see several common snipe and an unringed great white egret.

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great white egret and snipe

I scanned along the shore and eventually found 13 common snipe and the single jack snipe probing the ground beside the water to the north of the hide. More frequent readers of this blog will have seen the many excellent pictures we get sent in as well as my own, somewhat variable efforts. So in the tradition of the “Record shot” I offer my jack snipe, with a few common snipe thrown-in.

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Jack snipe (honest) with 4 common snipe

Jack snipe, unlike their common relative, do not breed in Britain, coming to us for the winter from points north and east. They are probably one of our most secretive birds, relying on camouflage and usually staying in dense vegetation and flying only when nearly stepped upon. We know very little about how many visit Britain each winter, but it will be hundreds of times as many as ever get seen. They are smaller than common snipe, with shorter bills and a peculiar habit of slowly bobbing up and down, in fact this is often what gives them away. Which begs the question, “Why be so well camouflaged and then give yourself away by bobbing up and down?” Answers on a postcard, well in a comment might be better, please.

During the afternoon a ring-billed gull and several yellow-legged gull were seen from Tern hide. I say “a” ring-billed gull as there was a suggestion that it was not the regular bird, something for the keen gull watchers to ponder. It was the case that there were at least two at the end of last winter and it is entirely possible that they will both/all return again, as gull are long-lived and often go back to places they know.

As I locked up my brief glance from Ivy North hide coincided with the bittern flying across into the long reeds to the west of the hide, a place they have roosted in previous years.

Brrrr Blashford

There was ice on some of the lakes this morning and some of it lasted all day, something that does not happen every winter these days. So far the cold snap does not seem to have resulted in many birds arriving as it might later in the winter, but it has seen a distinct upturn in the number of birds visiting the feeders at the Woodland hide.

frosty-leaves

frosty leaves

At Ivy North hide recently water rail have been much in evidence and we were sent the  picture below taken from there by John Hartley.

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two water rail at Ivy North hide (by John Hartley)

Nobody seems to have seen the bittern for a couple of days, although great white egret was there today. I suspect the bittern might have moved a little to get access to open water as the reedbed by the hide is mostly frozen.

The gull roost this evening did show some signs of an effect of the cold snap in the form of an increase in the number of common gull, there were at least 60 this evening and I understand the ring-billed gull was seen again.

 

 

 

 

Coastal Bird and Wildlife Spotting

Yesterday was a great wildlife spotting day. On opening up Tern Hide, a male Goldeneye was clearly visible on Ibsley Water and this was soon followed by views of an otter on the far side of Ivy Silt Pond, a first for me at Blashford and a great start to the day.

It was then time to head over to Keyhaven Marshes with our Young Naturalists, on our first outing from Blashford Lakes.

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Young Naturalists on our first outing to Keyhaven, raring to go on a great bird spotting adventure

We got off to a great start, with views of a juvenile marsh harrier from the car park and even better views once we had started walking of it hunting over the reed bed. We also watched a fox making its way through scrub and grassland, disturbing the birds as it got closer to them.

group

In total, we clocked a grand figure of 74 different species, including a great white egret, 2 Dartford warbler, a peregrine, a ruff, Mediterranean gull, eider and red-breasted merganser. A number of species were present in large flocks, such as golden plover, knot, dunlin, wigeon, teal, black-tailed godwit and lapwing. The bird spot of the day though had to go to Jackson, who spotted 3 spoonbill flying over. We kept our eyes peeled for them as we carried on walking and had distant views of them feeding out on the salt marsh.

The find that excited the group the most however, was this dead juvenile Brent goose, close enough to the footpath for Bob to reach so we could take a closer look. On close inspection it appeared to have perished from natural causes as there were no obvious signs of predation. The bird would likely have hatched somewhere on the Taymyr peninsula, in northern Siberia, making the long journey here to overwinter on our warmer shores. Whilst many do survive the journey, this goose had a somewhat sadder ending!

Thanks to Bob for joining us for the day and providing a wealth of local site and bird watching knowledge, and to Nigel for driving the minibus.

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Hurst Castle with the Isle of Wight behind

 

Down by the Seaside

I was at Keyhaven Nature Reserve today with the Blashford Young Naturalists on a birdwatching trip. We saw over 70 species including a juvenile marsh harrier, a great white egret, 2 Dartford warbler, a peregrine, a ruff and 3 spoonbill, altogether a very good selection of birds. Not only did we see a lot of species but also a lot of birds, with many species in hundreds, with large flocks of golden plover, knot, dunlin, wigeon, teal, black-tailed godwit and lapwing.

I was a keen birdwatcher at the same age as our Young Naturalists and the day’s outing made me reflect upon the changes in our birdlife in that time. Several species we saw such as marsh harrier, spoonbill, Mediterranean gull and little egret would have been very rare highlights of any day and the idea of seeing a mega-rarity like great white egret quite fantastic. At their age I had seen a single marsh harrier but all the others were just images in the bird book.

Of course there were a few species that we would have seen then that we did not see today, birds like grey partridge and yellowhammer which were once common all over the place are now very local and largely lost from the Hampshire coast.

Things have probably always been changing more that we think, but there seems good evidence that the rate of change is accelerating. There could be several reasons for this, climate change, habitat change and the effects of active wildlife protection to suggest but a few. Possibly the rate of change is due to the interactions between these several factors all going on together. If any of our Young Naturalists keep their interest for a lifetime I wonder what they will be seeing (and not seeing) in another fifty years?