Lockdown 3 – Blashford Lakes Update

Well Happy New Year everyone!

Although not entirely unexpected by most people the timing of yesterdays announcement from Government was perhaps something of a surprise…

Blashford was closed today, as the initial guidance on the law that will have come into affect by the time most people read this, was that “wildlife reserves” must close. The Wildlife Trust today, however, received clarification from DEFRA that the term wildlife reserves had been used in respect of paid attractions showing and exhibiting wildlife only, as rather than nature reserves as it had been interpreted initially. Indeed the term “wildlife reserves” has now been removed from the “Stay at Home ” guidance, which you can find in full here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home

So, the good news is that the Trusts nature reserves, including Blashford Lakes, will, for now at least remain open 🙂

We are however only open for local visitors to take their permitted exercise and, as such, and until such a time that the current restrictions are relaxed, although the Centre car park will be open daily 9am-4.30pm as normal, the Centre, portable toilet facilities and “Welcome Hut” will now be closed and the hides will remain closed to all visitors. In addition our brilliant volunteers have also been stood down from wardening, site survey and conservation tasks for the time-being.

We will continue to maintain an on-site staff presence to ensure the safety of visitors, as well, of course, to ensure the continued appropriate use of the nature reserve in such a manner that the wildlife conservation priorities of the site are not adversely affected by “rogue” visitors.

We will also monitor the use of the site generally, to ensure that our remaining open does not encourage breaches of the new restrictions by visitors.

With this latter point in mind we must emphasise that the new guidance is very clear on what is and isn’t permitted by way of exercise. Our interpretation of this is that it would clearly be acceptable for visitors to walk to Blashford Lakes from home and that it would also be acceptable for visitors to drive to the nature reserve by car (or cycle or use the bus) from up to a few miles away (for example places between, and including, Ringwood and Fordingbridge). We do not however, believe that it is appropriate for visitors to travel from further afield at this time – and that ideally they should only do so from within walking distance of the site.

The guidance is also very clear that visitors to the nature reserve should visit for outdoor exercise ONLY. We have therefore bought in the self-guided trails that so many visitors have been enjoying since restrictions were eased following the first lockdown…

We also understand that bird watching and photography is not permitted as part of our daily exercise.

Where as grabbing a picture with a “point and shoot” camera or phone, or pausing to scan a lake or the tree canopy with a pair of binoculars, I’m sure is probably fine, setting up a telescope or DSLR and tripod anywhere other than your own garden would not appear to be acceptable within the instruction by Government to Stay at Home (and if doing the latter in your garden, do bear in mind that the neighbours may well wonder what on earth you are up to!).

So, although not closed as such, Blashford must, for now, sadly, be effectively closed to most people and open only to very local visitors until such a time as the Government deems it safe for us to open the site to all again.

If you are lucky enough to live nearby and you do visit, please do pay attention to, and respect, the one-way routes and social distancing signage around the nature reserve. They do work and they will help keep you, us, and our other visitors safe.

The Trust will, as I wrote earlier, be monitoring the use of it’s estate over the next few days and weeks and, if it is apparent that the lockdown guidance is being flouted, or if the law changes, we will review our stance accordingly, and it may be that the decision is taken to close Blashford Lakes to all visitors.

I don’t think, and very much hope, that it will not come to that.

In the meantime, as always, for updates on opening, general news on what’s happening on the nature reserve (or generally in our busy lives. Lockdown home-learning with three young children is looming largely in mine right now!) do keep an eye on the website, this blog, or on our personal social media accounts:

on Twitter:

Bob: @bobservablelife

Jim: @JimDay22857614

and on Instagram:

Tracy: @littlewillowwarbler

Best wishes to all of our visitors, stay safe, and we look forward to seeing everyone again on the other side!

Christmas and Beyond…

The reserve will be closed to cars on Christmas Day, although the paths and pedestrian gates will remain open so it will be possible to walk off your turkey or Christmas breakfast. Thereafter opening will be as usual 09.00 – 16.30, we are still using only the car park on the Education Centre side of the reserve. The paths are laid out as one-way wherever possible with passing places, we would ask you to obey the directions on site to help us maintain social distancing and hopefully keep the reserve open. Other facilities such as the portaloos and Welcome Hut remain available, the latter only when there are people available. Whilst we are still in Tier 3 we do ask that visitors from the rest of Hampshire of any other Tier 4 areas do not visit until the guidelines change.

The Christmas wreath making proved very popular and will shortly be replaced with a new activity of Tracy’s making, so look out for details at the Welcome Hut.

Hopefully we will be able to keep the reserve open and safe for all and continue enough of the site management as possible under the limiting conditions. Although there is no on site education at present we will continue to try and provide activities that you can try for yourselves as you go round and of course there is still all the usual wildlife to see, including some very tame robins on the path towards Ivy South Hide on the Wild Walk route.

Robin

Festive opening and a wild winter challenge

This is just a quick reminder to say Christmas Day is the one day of the year we do not open, so the car park and portable toilets will remain closed next Friday. They will be back open on Boxing Day.

If you fancy a midwinter nature challenge, why not sign up to 12 Days Wild, The Wildlife Trusts mini festive take on the summer challenge 30 Days Wild. 12 Days Wild encourages you to do one wild thing a day from the 25th December to the 5th January, on those days between Christmas and the New Year when you might have a little more time on your hands and winter wildlife is just waiting to be explored.

Your wild acts could be little things to help nature, for example recycling your Christmas tree, picking up litter whilst out on a walk or feeding the birds, or ways to connect to the natural world, like walking off your Christmas dinner in the woods, photographing nature or watching a starling murmuration.

You can sign up on The Wildlife Trusts website for more ideas and if you do manage to get out and about why not share your winter random acts of wildness on social media using #12DaysWild

‘Tis the season to go wild and have fun!

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Ivy Lake from the screen by Ivy North hide this morning, nice to have a bit of sunshine!

In between weaving

I’ve been meaning to write another blog for a while now, but have been ever so slightly pre-occupied by cutting willow and wreath making, with our decorate a wreath activity turning out to be staggeringly popular! As of today, I’ve made 80 willow wreaths (with a little help from Jim who finished some I’d started off for me) and 72 have been ‘sold’ for a donation, so a huge thank you to every one who has joined in, donated and spread the word. We’ve had some fantastic feed back from both individuals and families and it’s been lovely to weave outside the front of the Centre and chat to people as they head off collecting. We may have to do it this way next year, as it clearly works!

I decided to have a break from making today as the weather has resulted in a quiet day visitor wise, but I have more willow cut and ready to weave into hoops for the rest of the week. I haven’t managed to get many photos of finished wreaths but do have a couple:

Oliver is one of our Wildlife Tots and, missing our usual wreath making December session, his mum asked if they could make their wreath as well as decorate it. They were very pleased with the finished result!

I haven’t just been standing outside the front of the Centre weaving, although most of my time spent out on the reserve does now involve staring at every willow I come across, looking for nice straight rods to harvest and weave with at a later date.

Here are a stonechat, marsh tit and robin I’ve photographed whilst out and about: 

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Stonechat on the edge of the main car park, when the sun was shining!


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Marsh tit on the feeder by the Welcome Hut


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Robin along the path by Ivy Silt Pond

We’ve also had some really lovely photos sent in by Doug Masson and Phil West. Thank you both very much for sharing them, and sorry for the delay in putting them on the blog!

Chiffchaff by Doug Masson

Chiffchaff by Doug Masson


Goldcrest by Doug Masson

Goldcrest by Doug Masson


Goldfinch by Doug Masson

Goldfinch by Doug Masson


Female mallard by Doug Masson

Female mallard by Doug Masson


Siskin by Doug Masson

Siskin by Doug Masson


Treecreeper by Doug Masson

Treecreeper by Doug Masson


Treecreeper 3 by Doug Masson

Treecreeper by Doug Masson

 

Fallow deer by Phil West

Fallow deer by Phil West


Fallow deer 2 by Phil West

Fallow deer by Phil West

Aside from photographing the wildlife on the reserve, the dewy and frosty mornings we’ve had recently have also provided some good opportunities for taking photos. A few more frosty mornings and a little less rain would be very nice… 

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Dewy seed heads on the edge of the lichen heath


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Dewy spiders web by the car park


Another wreath has just gone, so tomorrow I think I will be back weaving – definitely not a bad way to spend the day!

Christmas is coming…

…like it or not, it actually is, and, at Blashford at least, it’s looking like it could be a white Christmas too. A great white egret Christmas that is!

Up to 5 great white egret, with up to 13 little egret “in attendance” are being seen on the reserve at present,  mostly on or around Ibsley Water where they are particularly enjoying spending time hanging out over the water at the south western corner of the lake on the willows that we have been felling along that shore and over the lake to vary the habitat, improve nesting capacity for birds like little and great crested grebes and coot, and, at the same time, impede access to those users (abusers) of the nature reserve who insist on being where they shouldn’t be…

Sadly it would appear that the famous, one and only “original” Blashford great white egret, affectionately known to all as Walter White, is not one of those five 😦

As regular readers of this Blog and visitors to the nature reserve will know Walter was a distinctive bird with leg rings which he received as a chick in France in 2003 so could always be readily identified upon his return, usually at some point in August, although at times both earlier and later than that month. Tipped to become Europes  oldest great white egret (record currently stands at 17 years) it would appear that Walter sadly may well have matched it, but has not exceeded it, as we have neither seen or had reports of a ringed great white this winter.

There is still hope however,  albeit slim. It was only last year (maybe the year before) that Bob, having given up hope of Walter’s return, effectively wrote an obituary for this  much loved bird on these pages – only for Walter to be sighted the very next day. So fingers crossed everyone!

Elsewhere in the general environs around Ibsley Water I can’t not mention the starling murmuration. Although still very much not on the scale of some winters there are, at present, still a good number of several thousand birds gathering and roosting in Valley and although perhaps not big on numbers some evenings at least they have been performing some great displays and throwing some stunning shapes! Good to see the goosander coming into roost too – so far Bob has recorded a little over 50 and there are now 10+ goldeneye too.

Around the woodland habitats on the reserve, this winter looks like being a good one for redpoll with a number feeding in the tree tops amidst the siskin – although not yet coming down to feed on the bird feeders. We also still have a pair of marsh tits established in an area roughly from the Centre down to Ivy South Hide – both have now been ringed by BTO volunteer bird ringers Kevin & Brenda so if you see a marsh tit without a ring let us know because it will mean we actually have more than just the two birds!

Further to  Tracy’s last post, in which she described the DIY wreath activity you can enjoy on your next visit, should you choose, I just thought I’d give a plug for the various items which can be bought from the Welcome Hut while you are here, the proceeds from which will all go towards supporting the education and conservation work here at Blashford Lakes. Just bear us in mind for some of those stocking fillers for your nature loving loved ones – just like the high street, we need your support (and if like many you are doing a lot of your shopping online at present remember you can still support the Trust either by purchasing direct from our online shop ( http://www.hiwwt.org.uk/shop-support-wildlife ) or by shopping via Amazon Smile or Easyfundraising and nominating Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust as your chosen charity.

But now for more in terms of what we can sell you from here when you visit!

The Welcome Hut remains closed to visitors (not very welcoming I know – sorry!), but it is making a very handy additional office space so we can better manage our socially distant safe working practices, and it does mean one of us is usually around to take your money if there is anything in particular you are interested in buying 😉

If you arrive and there isn’t anyone working from the hut do knock on the Centre door or call the mobile phone number which will have been left out on a sign outside the Hut.

At present we have Christmas cards (either handmade ones for sale at 2 for £3, or packs of 10 Wildlife Trust cards for £3), lovely handturned wooden ballpoint pens (£3), a wide variety of FSC wildlife identification guides (4 of which are shown below – £3.30 or £4 each), a small selection of children’s picture books, bird nest boxes and bat boxes (£10) and bug homes (£5).

Feeling festive!

On Sunday I began cutting some of the willow we have growing on the reserve to weave into wreaths. Usually at this time of year we would be offering willow wreath making sessions for individuals and families, harvesting the willow, weaving the wreath and decorating it with items gathered on the reserve. This year, we are offering it as a self-led activity, where visitors can make a donation for a pre-made wreath then follow the mile long ‘Wild Walk’ circular loop in search of natural items to decorate the wreath with. I may be wreath making on and off for the next week or so! 

Our pre-made wreaths can be found on the plant sales table by the Welcome Hut, for a suggested donation of £3 to £5. Payment can be made by card using the contactless donations point by the door to the Welcome Hut, or by cash in the green box on the fence.

Bundles of wool for tying items on to the wreath and for hanging it up afterwards can be found hanging on the tree to the left of the table. If you want to tie items on all the way round, instead of leaving some of the willow showing, you will need more than one bundle – we are happy to take back anything you don’t use for another time. You could also try tucking items in between the pieces of willow to secure them.

There are also a couple of buckets on the ground containing additional items which can be added in if you wish. 

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Wreath making station and plant sales

I walked the ‘Wild Walk’ loop to make an example wreath, and found a nice mix of natural items including bracken (I snapped top of a couple of individual leaves off), a mixture of leaves from the ground, some moss, some dried seed heads, grasses and a small twig that still had closed catkins on it. When you do go gathering, please remember to collect responsibly and not take too much of one particular item. 

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Finished wreath

Some items will last longer than others, but those that begin to wilt could be replaced with something else you find next time you go for a walk, or items from the garden… and on that note you are of course than more welcome to make a donation for a wreath and take it away with you to decorate at home. Either way, have fun wreath making! 

Once you have finished with your wreath, the items you have added will break down if put back outside and the wool could be reused again another time for something else. Your wreath will dry and change colour, but it will last and if stored somewhere dry it could be used again next year and the year after…

Finally, we do still have some plants on the plant sales table available for a donation, along with other items made by volunteer Geoff that would either make a great addition to a wildlife friendly garden or make a great gift: the bug homes are £5 each and the bird and bat boxes are £10 each. Again donations can be made by cash or card.

A different view

On Tuesday I accompanied Bob to the north eastern shore of Ibsley Water so he could fell some of the willows into the lake, creating perches over the water for birds like heron and egret to fish from. I did fell a few smaller trees, but admit I was mainly there as first aid cover and did make the most of the opportunity of being in a different spot, enjoying a wander along the edge of the bay where I’ve only been once before.

Bob tree felling

Bob felling trees into the bay north of Lapwing Hide

Across Mockbeggar towards Ibsley Common

The view across Mockbeggar Lake towards Ibsley Common

Whilst we were up there, a goosander flew overhead and a couple of pied wagtails made themselves comfortable on the osprey perch:

pied wagtail 2

Pied wagtail

On the walk back I noticed some blackening waxcaps on the edge of the lake near Lapwing Hide, which were beginning to change colour. A grassland fungi, blackening waxcaps turn black with age, hence the name, but prior to blackening they can be red, orange or yellow in colour.

Blackening waxcap

Blackening waxcap, beginning to blacken

Looking back towards Tern Hide

The view towards Tern Hide from in front of Lapwing Hide

There is plenty of fungi in accessible locations on the reserve, with candlesnuff fungus seemingly everywhere if you look closely enough at the woodland floor along the footpath edges:

Candlesnuff fungus

Candlesnuff fungus on a moss covered log

I also found a couple of earthfans on the edge of the lichen heath. They can be found on dry sandy soil and have a rosette like fruiting body which is usually reddish brown to dark chocolate brown in colour.

Earthfan

Earthfan

There were also a number of russula growing in amongst the lichen. There are approximately 200 russula species in the UK and the generic name means red or reddish. Although many have red caps, many more are not red and those that are usually red can also occur in different colours. This species could be Russula rosea, the rosy brittlegill, but I’m not completely sure so will stick with the genus russula on this occasion!

Russula

Russula species in amongst the lichen

There was also a branch covered in jelly ear fungus along the ‘Wild Walk’ loop, close to the acorn sculpture:

Jelly ear

Jelly ear fungus

Also known as wood ears or tree ears, the fruiting body is ear shaped and is usually found on dead or living elder.

With the colder, wetter weather we have begun to get a number of more unwelcome visitors in the centre, usually wood mice or yellow-necked mice. Although we enjoy catching small mammals as an education activity, they are less welcome additions to the centre loft where they have in the past chewed through the cables. So we trap them in the loft too, using the Longworth small mammal traps, and safely relocate any we do catch to the further reaches of the reserve. On Sunday morning there were two mice in the loft, so I took them up to Lapwing Hide and released them into the undergrowth. 

mouse Kate Syratt

Mouse released from one of the mammal traps by Kate Syratt, who joined me for a socially distant wander to release them

There have been a good variety of moths in the light trap recently, with the highlights including mottled umber, streak, red-green carpet, green-brindled crescent, feathered thorn and December moth:

mottled umbar

Mottled umber

streak

Streak

Red green carpet

Red-green carpet

green brindled crescent Kate Syratt

Green brindled crescent by Kate Syratt

Feathered thorn

Feathered thorn

December moth

December moth

Although I haven’t seen any sign of the brambling recently, the feeder by the Welcome Hut is being regularly visited by at least one marsh tit. We had a pair around the centre regularly over the summer so it has been really nice to get great views of at least one feeding frequently.

marsh tit (3)

Marsh tit

Starling numbers have been increasing and on Tuesday evening there were several thousand north of Ibsley Water. They are best viewed on a clearer evening from the viewing platform which is accessible on foot through the closed main car park and gives panoramic views of Ibsley Water.

Ibsley Water from Viewpoint

Ibsley Water from the viewpoint

This is the perfect spot to watch the starlings put on a show as they twist, turn, swoop and swirl across the sky in mesmerising shape-shifting clouds. These fantastic murmurations occur just before dusk as numerous small groups from the same area flock together above a communal roosting site. The valley boasts a sizeable starling murmuration most years, with the reedbeds to the north of Ibsley Water often used, along with those on the other side of the a338 to the west and the smaller reedbed by Lapwing Hide in the east, so from this higher vantage point all possible roost sites can be seen. 

Although I don’t have any photos to share of the murmuration, taking a video instead the last time I watched them, it’s also a really nice spot to watch the sun set.

sunset

Sun setting to the west of Ibsley Water from the viewing platform

YES, we are still open!

For now at least… with the emphasis placed on the need for outdoor recreation throughout #Lockdown2, there are no plans for Blashford to close tomorrow, but this will of course be reviewed alongside any changes in Government guidance and policy over coming weeks.

The hides, Education Centre and main car park remain closed to the public but we will continue to hire portable toilets for our visitors to use.

Ibsley Water from the viewing platform

There’s great views of Ibsley Water to be had from the viewing platform which is still open and accessible through the closed main car park and pretty much all of Ivy Lake can be viewed via a combination of the screens on the Ivy/Rockford Lakes footpath and the newly opened screened view adjacent to Ivy North Hide. Away from the water there is plenty of other wildlife to find, including woodland birds like firecrest and brambling and, of course, lots of fungi.

Stump fairy helmet

For the next few weeks please do consider whether there are places nearer to your home where you can exercise and enhance/maintain your wellbeing in nature, and, if you do visit Blashford please do respect social distancing when you visit, particularly at the screens or on the viewing platform, do follow the signed one way routes around the reserve and do stick to the paths and viewing areas which have been created and maintained for visitors. We will continue to look for other ways by which we can safely reasonably enhance views of the lakes and wildfowl.

Finally we do hope that you continue to enjoy your visit to the Nature Reserve, that you are rewarded with memorable wildlife encounters and that your time here helps you both mentally and physically as the country continues to grapple with Covid-19.

If your time here is important to you please do make a donation either in the cash donation boxes or via the contactless card payment reader outside the Welcome Hut. If you are a member of Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, please continue to be so and if you’re not a member already please seriously consider joining us, which you can do online here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/join-today

Your donations and membership are more important than ever, thank you 😊!

Sunshine, insects and the brambling are back

Yesterday’s sunny spells made a welcome change to the rather bleak, wet weather we have been having and the insects seemed to agree. Whilst walking the Ellingham Lake path yesterday morning to check all was ok after the strong winds on Sunday night I saw a brimstone butterfly and a little later spotted a peacock butterfly (I think, it was some distance away) fly down to bask on the gravel in the car park. 

Regular visitors John and David saw a very smart male southern hawker behind the Education Centre and on seeing it settle were able to get some very nice photos and alert me to its presence so I could photograph it too. Thank you very much to David who sent in this fantastic photo of it perched in the sunshine:

male southern hawker David Cuddon

Male southern hawker by David Cuddon

Whilst we were chatting we mentioned brambling had been spotted on the feeder by the Welcome Hut (I was yet to see my first this winter) and talked about how it is admittedly nicer to photograph a bird sat on something more natural. This morning when I arrived the male brambling was back (we think it is the same bird that is beginning to visit the feeder regularly) and I have watched it today on the feeder and on the ground in front of it. This afternoon it flew from the feeder to the neighbouring willow and I was able to take a couple of photos. 

So David, after our chat yesterday and knowing how the feeder is not your preferred backdrop, and to prove they will pose nicely in the trees nearby, this one’s for you…;)

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Brambling in the willow by the Welcome Hut

Joh and Sam also shared a photo from their visit yesterday, of a primrose flowering close to the Education Centre.

Primrose by Sam and Joh

Flowering Primrose by Sam and Joh

A very hardy wildflower, they can flower as early as December in mild years, appearing all the way through the spring until May. The beginning of November seems incredibly early! Thank you Sam and Joh for sharing your sighting.

Another Autumn Day

We have had a rather vigorous few days, I arrived on the reserve on Saturday in heavy rain. Perhaps foolishly I ventured out when it eased a bit, only for the heavens to open again, so I took refuge in the Tern Hide (sorry, it is not open, I had the key with me!). Sat on a post near the hide was an adult male peregrine looking very miserable. It is not a great picture but it was raining hard and quite dark.

peregrine

Despite the weather it was not hunkered down, but looking about and head bobbing all the time then, suddenly, he was off, low over the water towards the western shore. It was raining hard and none of the birds on the island seemed to see him coming, in no time he was on them and grabbing a coot that had been feeding on the top of the island. Coot can be quite a handful, they have a powerful kick and sharp claws and there were a few minutes of struggle before the peregrine won out. Such a large bird was too heavy to be carried off whole so he stayed and fed where he was. I think the foul weather was the secret of the success of this particular hunt, I had felt a little sorry for him stuck out in the open, but I think he knew exactly what he was doing.

There was almost 20mm of rain in just a few hours during the morning and the Docken Water rapidly flooded.

Flooded woodland along the Dockens Water

The river was full of leaves, the rain and wind seems to be making short work of the autumn splendour of the trees this year, still they look good on the ground too.

Autumn leaves – oak, field maple and birch

There are probably several reasons why some trees are already almost leafless whilst others of the same species nearby remain well covered. Some birches were losing leaves in August this year, probably due to drought but where they still have them they are in fine colour now.

birch trees, as you can see it did stop raining!

Having started the day in driving rain it ended with largely blue skies, I even saw a red admiral butterfly.