A “Warbler Walk”

A little belatedly posted to the blog, but many thanks to Julia Sey and David Camp for sending in their report following their visit with “Warbler Walks” at the weekend. All images are courtesy of Dave Camp and taken on the day.

Despite the groups name no warblers were actually recorded during their visit!

Warbler Walks – Bird Report 18 Nov 2017 – Blashford Lakes

Birds recorded in the order seen:

blackbird, greylag, carrion crow, gadwall, robin, great crested grebe, kingfisher, mallard, songthrush, black backed gull, Canada goose, blue tit, cormorant, herring gull, wood pigeon, nuthatch, meadow pipit, shoveller, kestrel, great tit, water pipit, grey heron, pied wagtail, firecrest, coot, pochard, goldfinch, dunnock, tufted duck, little grebe, linnet, wren, wigeon, goldeneye, chaffinch, coal tit, pintail, lapwing, buzzard, great spotted woodpecker, bullfinch, greenfinch.

Total: 42 bird species

Also: A dead shrew and several live bank voles.

Fifteen of us met in the car park outside the Tern Hide whilst watching a pair of blackbirds on the grass nearby, a robin in the hedge, and a songthrush perched at the top of a shrub.

Settling down inside the Tern Hide, we watched lots of birds on the water including coots, tufted ducks, wigeon, great crested grebes, a little grebe and a black backed gull. Loads of greylag geese were on the island at the far side of Ibsley Water, with several cormorant, Canada geese and a grey heron. A few pintail were at the far side of the lake, some shovellers, pochard and a couple of goldeneye were swimming about too. A flock of lapwing flew up over the trees in the distance.

Goldeneye by Dave Camp (1)

Meadow pipit by Dave Camp

Nearer to us in front of the hide, a flock of meadow pipits were dotting about on the gravel, and a water pipit was identified amongst them at the water’s edge, along with a pied wagtail.

Kingfisher by Dave Camp

Suddenly a male kingfisher landed on the post right in front of us, and posed there for quite some time, giving everyone good views, before it flew away to the left, making it’s distinctive peeping sound as it went. Then a kestrel flew towards us and landed at the top of a shrub to our right, which was quite difficult for most of us to see, but luckily Dave managed to get a photo of it.

Kestrel by Dave Camp

Leaving the Tern Hide, a mixed flock of goldfinches, chaffinches and some linnet were flying around outside. A buzzard was seen circling over the trees, and a dead shrew was lying to the side of the path.

We entered the Ivy North Hide to see some gadwall, mallard and more wigeon, cormorants and coots. We looked hard for a bittern but had no luck and, unusually, no little egrets were seen either.

Fighting robins by Dave Camp

So, moving on, the Woodland Hide proved more productive, with blue tits, great tits, coal tits, dunnocks and a wren hopping about in the bushes. Several bank voles were scuttling about under the feeder. Suddenly a firecrest actually landed on the window ledge of the hide, so we had really good views of it. An amazing treat to see it so close, albeit so briefly. Then a loud bang was heard, as a nuthatch had flown into the glass, stunning itself for a few minutes. We watched expectantly as it gradually recovered, and thankfully it eventually flew off.

On the other side of the hide a male bullfinch was seen, and although it stayed quite hidden in the tall stinging nettles, most of us saw it’s white rump through the foliage. Some of us also saw it’s mate in the same area. Then a female great spotted woodpecker came to the feeder, taking a peanut up to the trunk of a nearby tree. She was followed by the male, who also tried to find a peanut amongst the other seeds in the feeder. The last bird spotted was a greenfinch, also on the feeder.

Thanks to Blashford for hosting our walk and to all of you who came along.

 

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Cake and Colours

A fine Blashford day and better still one with cake, because we hosted the Pop-up Café once again today. The reserve was fairly busy, both with visitors and birds. At opening up time Ivy Lake was busy with ducks, nothing unusual, but a good mix of species.

Ivy Lake

Ivy Lake with lots of wildfowl

The trees are in particularly good colour just now, with the oak just turning, joining the beech, hazel, willows and others. Some hazel are still completely green while others are in their autumn glory.

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Hazel in full autumn colour

Although there are few on the reserve, the guelder rose draws attention at this time of year thanks to very bright leaves.

guelder rose

guilder rose

Field maple, like all the Acers, has very good autumn colour, although most of their leaves seem already to have fallen at Blashford.

field maple leaves

fallen field maple leaves

Not all the colour comes from leaves though, I know Tracy posted a picture of it on Friday but I cannot resist another one of the cobalt crust fungus.

cobalt fungus

cobalt crust fungus

The colour is amazing! It seems it is uncommon and mostly found on ash twigs and branches, at Blashford it is on rotting willow branches lying on the ground in deep shade.

Out on the reserve both the water pipit and pink-footed goose were on show at Tern hide on and off throughout the day. Over 30 goosander were present well before dusk and 3000 or so starling gave a rather brief display before going to roost rather earlier than I had expected.  Three Cetti’s warbler were singing around Ivy Lake and a fourth was calling beside Lapwing hide. At Woodland hide a redpoll, a couple of brambling and a firecrest were all reported and a woodcock was seen in the willows near the Centre car park. At dusk on Ivy Lake, Walter our regular great white egret was again roosting in his favourite dead alder beside the cormorant roost.

Ibsley Water

Ibsley Water towards the end of the day from Lapwing hide.

 

Because Bob’s not here today…

We haven’t posted a nice fungus or slime mould photo in at least two weeks, so here’s one of a very beautiful and very aptly named Cobalt crust fungus, otherwise known as velvet blue spread, which our New Forest National Park apprentices stumbled across on a stick whilst coppicing willow.

Cobalt crust fungus

Cobalt crust fungus, otherwise known as velvet blue spread or Terana caerulea

 

I think I just really like the colour, and the name…

Operation Wallacea!

One of our Young Naturalists, Talia, spent two weeks over the summer taking part in Operation Wallacea. Operation Wallacea is a conservation research organisation that is funded by, and relies on, teams of student volunteers who join expeditions for the opportunity to work on real-world research programs alongside academic researchers.

Talia signed up to the programme through college, with this year being the first year this particular trip was being offered to college students. She raised funds for the expedition to Africa through working part time, running photography workshops with her dad and asking participants for a donation towards the trip and also received sponsorship directly from the Cameron Bespolka Trust, who kindly fund our Young Naturalists project.

Talia always takes fantastic photographs whilst on our Young Naturalists sessions, so after a lot of trawling through the many images taken whilst away, she has shared some of them with us along with a write up of her experiences.

So, for something a little more exotic than our usual Blashford wildlife, please read on!

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Zebras – Liwonde

During the first 5 days I was in Tanzania, near one of the crater lakes known as Lake Kisiba. We stayed at the local school, getting to work with the students to teach them about England and learning about their culture as well.

The conservation team in Kisiba are working to survey the species present in the lake. This will help to protect them in the future. The first task my group had was to collect invertebrate samples from the lake and from a nearby stream. Using kick sampling we collected the invertebrates in nets before identifying them. Unfortunately some had to be preserved in ethanol to be studied in the lab but the majority were released. We found a variety of species including cichlid fry, dragonfly nymphs and some freshwater crabs.

The other sampling we did around the lake was taking water and plankton samples. We then analysed these in the lab, finding the different plankton species in Lake Kisiba.

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Zooplankton – Kisiba

After doing this we got a chance to look around the lake shore, a few of the group taking the opportunity to find some of the land invertebrates at the lake. We succeeded in finding a dragonfly, butterflies and a stalk-eyed fly. A small skink even showed itself to us long enough to get a quick photo before disappearing again!

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Dragonfly – Kisiba

Pea Blue Butterfly- Kisiba resized

Pea Blue Butterfly – Kisiba

Stalk-eyed Fly- Kisiba resized

Stalk-eyed Fly – Kisiba

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Yellow Banded Acraea – Kisiba

We also discovered some less welcome ‘bugs’ when we returned to our dorm rooms. African Wolf Spiders the same size as an adults hand, luckily they aren’t venomous and we caught them in a cup to take them away from the dorms.

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African Wolf Spider – Kisiba

One of the other activities I took part in at Kisiba was a bird survey. After helping to set up two mist nets to catch the birds it took just 20 minutes before six birds had been caught, a pair of Little Bee Eaters, a pair of an unidentified species of Greenbul, an Olive Sunbird and a Variable Sunbird. The birds were weighed, measured and photographed before being released, with the larger species being released by my group. I got to release one of the Little Bee Eaters, a bird that has always been one of my favourites!

After the 5 days at Kisiba we moved to Nkhata Bay, on the shore of Lake Malawi. Here we took part in fish surveys, gaining our PADI dive certificate in the process. Lake Malawi is the eighth largest lake in the world and holds more species than any other lake. In particular the scientists are studying the cichlid species that are unique to the lake. Currently Lake Malawi is being severely overfished, many of the large fish species are no longer caught and the majority of fish sold at the local markets are tiny. Because of this it is important to know what fish are in the lake, with the cichlids being the most important for scientists as they are found only in Lake Malawi. To survey the fish we used both GoPros and underwater writing equipment to record fish as we saw them.

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Cichlids – Nkhata

As well as surveying fish in the bay we went out to a nearby beach to take some invertebrate samples, using the same techniques as we used at Kisiba. While going on this trip we got to feed a pair of wild African Fish Eagles, an experience I believe will never be matched. They are massive birds with 2 meter wingspans and they were just meters from the boats!

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African Fish Eagle – Nkhata

Another thing I loved about Nkhata Bay was the lizards. I couldn’t go anywhere without finding a few on the path ahead. Both Five Lined Skinks and a species I suspect is a Rainbow Skink could be found sunning themselves on the rocks at any time of the day. My dive group also had the experience of swimming with a Rock Monitor, one of the larger reptile species in the area.

Five-lined Skink- Nkhata resized

Five-lined Skink – Nkhata

Rainbow Skink- Nkhata resized

Rainbow Skink – Nkhata

After a week at Nkhata Bay we moved down to Liwonde National Park for a bit of a holiday. We went on a land safari and a river safari, even being lucky enough to see a large herd of elephants along with the other species in the park.

Overall, Operation Wallacea was an amazing experience and one I would love to take part in again. If I ever get the opportunity to go on a similar trip I will definitely take it! Doing this trip has taught me much more about conservation and how is it done as well as giving me important skills and experience for the area I want to work in, wildlife conservation.

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Free Time in Nkhata

Wednesday 15th November – A Little Report

A “Little Report” because there is not much to report from today. The reserve was busy with a large group visiting from Christchurch U3A, but the bird news was fairly unremarkable.

Opening Tern hide I heard the or at least a water pipit calling, but could not see it. The lake had the now usual gathering of pochard. My count of 96 yesterday was by some margin the largest I have seen for a good while, there was a time when they were common at the lakes, with flocks into several hundred. Over the last few years pochard numbers have declined, not just here but right across Europe. Over the last 25 years there has been a 67% decline in wintering pochard in the UK. There are many possible reasons for this. They particularly like eating stoneworts, aquatic plants that grow well in oligotrophic (low nutrient) lakes, newly flooded gravel pits usually have very few nutrients and so are very good for them. However over time lakes acquire nutrients form many sources becoming less suitable for stoneworts and pochard. This is probably one of the main reasons for the decline at Blashford.

It might be expected that gravel pits in lowland England would gain nutrients, weed will grow and die, birds will import droppings and fish will mobilise sediments as well as adding their own contribution. In addition the rain is known to be contaminated with nitrogen which it picks up from the atmosphere, where we have added additional nitrous oxide to that naturally present. Recent reports by researchers at the British Geological Survey have highlighted that nitrogen fertilizers have leached their way down into the groundwater and will be coming out for decades to come.  These sources of nutrients do not include straight forward pollution by industry, sewerage etc. The increase in nutrients is impacting both natural and man-made waters and means that we are faced with a future where most lakes, at least in lowlands will be eutrophic, that is nutrient rich. Ultimately such lakes are likely to be dominated by algae, with little higher plant growth upon which most of our wildfowl depend.

Unfortunately for the pochard it seems that it is not just increasingly unsuitable waters that are against them. It has long been known that wintering flocks in the UK hold more drakes than ducks. Last winter wildfowl counters across Europe were asked to provide the sex ratio of the flocks they counted. This showed that across the whole of Europe the proportion of drakes in flocks had risen from 61% in 1989-90 season to 70% in 2016. The proportion of drakes being higher in northern Europe with more female wintering in southern Europe. It might be expected that females would suffer higher mortality at nesting as they nest on the ground where they are vulnerable to predators. However this is probably not the only reason fro the discrepancy. By wintering in southern Europe where hunting is more popular they are probably more often shot, but worse still they are especially vulnerable to ingesting shot and are more likely to do so in areas where there is more shooting. The paper outlining this research will be available soon at http://www.wwt.org.uk/conservation/saving-wetlands-and-wildlife/publications/wildfowl/ .

Anyway back to the day’s news, at the Woodland hide brambling was again seen and overhead a few redpoll could be heard in the siskin flock, things are looking good for large finch flocks later on. Towards dusk heading out to lock up I heard a firecrest again near the car park and this time also saw it, my first one seen this winter at Blashford, although  one was reported the other day from the main car park. On Ivy Lake Walter the great white egret was again at his roost in the dead alder with 150 or so cormorant also roosting in the trees around the lake.

I did have one non-bird sighting of interest, a common darter dragonfly still on the wing, my first for ten days or so, each year I hope to beat my latest dragonfly date of 19th November, which I have managed three times, I don’t think this is going to be the year though, with so few still flying.

Some Bird Sightings

A few sightings from the reserve today, mostly from Ibsley Water. When I opened up the Tern hide there were 4 pintail (3 drakes), 3 green sandpiper (the most I have seen so far this season) and a drake shelduck.  I dropped in there briefly at lunchtime and saw a water pipit just in front of the hide and did not see the juvenile pink-footed goose which was hiding in a large flock of greylag.

Elsewhere there were reports of one or two brambling from near the Centre and Woodland hide.

At closing time there was a first winter Caspian gull in the large gull roost on Ibsley Water, I estimated about 7000 lesser black-backed gull. There was also a gathering of starling, still in the 3000+ range, so enough to be a decent flock but not a really spectacular gathering yet.

As it was almost dark, I could just make out “Walter” our returning great white egret roosting in his favourite dead alder tree beside Ivy Lake.

Residential spaces available!

In a couple of weeks we will again be heading back to Beaulieu for our second Young Naturalists residential. The weekend away in the New Forest is almost fully booked, but we have two spaces available!

If you know of a young person interested in birds, nature and conservation and aged between 13 and 17 please let them know about this fantastic opportunity. The residential is from 7pm on Friday 24th until 4pm on Sunday 26th November. Based at the Countryside Education Trust in Beaulieu we will be exploring the local forest and coastline in search of birds and other wildlife.

For further details please email BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk, telephone us at the Centre on 01425 472760 or visit the website. The deadline for booking a place is Friday 17th November.

To see how much fun we had last time, take a look at the following blog posts:

Weekend Wanderings Part 1

Weekend Wanderings Part 2

Watching avocets

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

Skipping

A glorious day to be out working on the reserve today, unfortunately we were not engaged in the most rewarding of tasks.  One of the less desirable sides of working in the countryside is seeing how some see it not a “Green and Pleasant Land”, but a handy place to get rid of rubbish. This can range from the seemingly endless scatter of coffee cups and beer cans that occur every few metres along the sides of roads across the Forest to the more concerted lorry loads of builders waste. Todays task was to clear just such a load dumped on the reserve by someone evidently does updates to kitchens and bathrooms. Avoiding tip fees no doubt makes the quote cheaper, or maybe just increases profits.

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A load of rubbish!

Of course someone has to pay in the end, in this case it took three of us all morning to collect it up and get it to the skip, so we lost 1.5 person days of work on the reserve, plus the cost £300 or so to get it taken away. We have also been “donated” two caravans recently, both dumped in broad daylight and proving very difficult to get taken away.

It is rightly costly to dispose of waste, it takes time and effort to recover the recyclable and properly dispose of the rest and the producer of the waste should pay. Unfortunately when something becomes costly or difficult more ands more people will seek an easier route. Enforcement of anti-dumping laws is difficult and in practice dumpers are rarely caught which encourages the activity.

To me the most worrying thing about our inability to get a grip on this problem is this, most people would never leave rubbish somewhere they cared about, so if the Forest is strewn with litter and wildlife sites are seen as prime fly-tipping sites this tells us something. This is more than indifference, it comes from a culture of casual destruction, the environment is not something we inhabit, it is not where we live. Except, of course, it is.

I am not sure how this issue can be tackled, but that it can seems evident. Some 25 years ago I lived in rural Ireland for a while, very wild, very beautiful and full of rubbish. Much of the countryside seemed to be regarded as worthless space only good for getting rid of unwanted items. Fast forward to today and now you cannot but be struck by the lack of litter and how terrible our countryside looks in comparison. I am not sure how the attitudes were turned around but they certainly seem to have been.

In more a wildlife related vein, the pink-footed goose and Caspian gull were seen on Ibsley Water again today and there were 2 drake pintail there when I opened the Tern hide this morning. The sunshine also brought out a few insects, there was a red admiral near the Centre and Jim reported a common darter dragonfly still hanging on despite the frosts.

 

Pochards in the Mist

Okay, so they do not quite have the “wow factor” of gorillas, but they were all that I could see when I arrived to do the monthly waterfowl count this morning.

pochard in the mist

Pochard in the mist

It had been pretty cold overnight and there was quite a frost on the vegetation and even some ice on the puddles.

frosty thistle

frosty creeping thistle

Waiting for the mist to rise I went through the reedbed to Lapwing hide, seeing a couple of chiffchaff on the way.

dawn over the reeds

Early morning reedbed

Eventually the sun did start to burn off the murk.

sun clearing the mist

The sun breaking through

Finally I could start counting in earnest.

misty Ibsley Water

Mist finally clearing from Ibsley Water

On the whole the counts were not high, but I did see the largest number of goosander I have seen so far this autumn, exactly how many I am not quiet sure, 39 flew out at dawn, but then 5 flew in, then 9 flew over followed by another 2, so anything from 39 to 55!

Despite visiting all the lakes I failed to find the lesser scaup or the ferruginous duck, I suspect that both may not have taken kindly to the weekend’s fireworks, perhaps they will return in a few days. I did see out great white egret and either three pairs of raven or perhaps one pair three times. The pink-footed goose was again with the greylag flock on Ibsley Water. For its size Ivy Lake had the most birds, including 118 gadwall, our only internationally important species at Blashford. This importance is based on the fact that we regularly have more than 1% of the north-west European wintering population.

 

 

 

Some Seasonal Firsts!

Things are getting increasingly wintery, there was a frost on the grass this morning, 2 brambling were visiting the feeder by the car park and the Pop-up Café returned! Although the brambling have been around for a few day today was the first time that I had seen them, in fact I saw a few things for the first time this season today, I caught up with the pink-footed goose and saw a very smart first winter Caspian gull at dusk. Other firsts were mostly cake!

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The first marbled chocolate cake of the winter.

Others were personal firsts and very tasty too.

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Apricot, lemon and pistachio cake – a “tick” for me.

The Pop-up Café is once again being operated by Walking Picnics, just a sit was last winter and will be at Blashford on the first and third Sunday of each month and New Years Day.

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The Walking Picniceers and happy customers.

There was no sign of the lesser scaup today as far as I know, possibly put off by fireworks last night but the ferruginous duck was spotted, distantly by the northern shore of Ibsley Water, somehow I avoided it when I counted the pochard flock in that very area, there were 66 by the way, quite  a lot by the standard of recent years.

Elsewhere a couple of chiffchaff and a raven flying over and a few goldeneye and goosander on Ibsley Water were the best I could find. The sun did tempt out a few red admiral butterflies but I saw no dragonflies, which surprised me, as the sun was quiet warm.

All of the above actually happened in the afternoon as my morning was spent with the first Sunday of the month volunteers widening the margins of the path beside Ellingham Lake to provide more sheltered areas for insects and, hopefully reduce the tendency for brambles to overhang the path next summer. Increasing the area of transition between the path and the scrub by having  a margin of grass and herb species should provide habitat for butterflies and other insect next year, in effect we have made a miniature woodland ride. As ever the team did a load of work even though we only worked for a couple of hours or so.