Approaching Spring

Although not quite as pleasant a day as it was on Saturday, Sunday was still mild and busy with visitors on the reserve, the Pop-up Café probably helping numbers with tea and homemade cake. A good range of birds also helps, 2 great white egret were seen on Ivy Lake, whilst on Ibsley Water a drake scaup, black-necked grebe and a white-fronted goose were all seen. The scaup was only the second adult drake I have seen on the reserve, this winter has seen unusual numbers of scaup in southern England so perhaps it was not such a surprise that we would get one on the reserve. The black-necked grebe is now progressing well into breeding plumage with the golden ear tufts now visible. The white-fronted goose was presumably the juvenile that has spent the winter with the local greylag goose flock.

In the woodland the warm weather is spurring many birds to start singing and the constant twitter of siskin is now the main background sound near the Woodland hide. It will not be long before some resident birds start nesting, signs of spring are everywhere now.

snowdrops

snowdrops

There were sightings of brambling again at the Woodland hide and 2 firecrest were also seen.

Saturday had seen the first butterfly of the year, a brimstone and the first reptile, a female adder.

The bittern was seen on Saturday, but not on Sunday, it will surely be departing soon. It was also very noticeable that there were many fewer gulls, with only 2 Mediterranean gull and no ring-billed gull visible in the roost last night.

I did have one last minute highlight though, the drake ferruginous duck, which usually frequents an inaccessible private lake to the south of the complex, was on Ivy Lake as I locked up the hides.

What a difference a few hours can make!

It was a slow drive to work across the Forest this morning and the view over Ibsley Water was fairly non-existent:

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The view from Tern Hide at 8.45am…

 

4 hours later it was a very different scene indeed!

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The same view from Tern Hide at 2pm!

Everything was fairly distant, but lovely to see all the lapwing that have started gathering on the shore line – mostly on the spit and grassy eastern bank this afternoon but last night they were much closer to Tern Hide around the little island in particular.

Bittern was present again at Ivy North Hide, where this morning when I opened up a goldeneye was an unusual record for Ivy Lake – a handsome drake.

Lesser redpoll and brambling were both seen on and off from the Woodland Hide during the day and they and the sunshine have been delighting everyone!

 

Apparently Blashford snowdrops were the photo leading the BBC weather last night – I missed it so here is my offering that you are unlikely to see on the BBC! The wild daffodils which are now flowering outside Woodland Hide are my spring favourite though:

Last nights “Night Senses” event went well, although there was a disappointing lack of stars. The cloud cover bought the evening temperature back up however so we did see a few moths around the light trap – they were much easier to photograph this morning in daylight however!

 

Should be nice again tomorrow so expecting another busy day – if you are joining us remember your purse/wallet so you can take advantage of the treats available from the Pop up café in the classroom from 10am-3.30pm!

Late Winter Dash as Spring Looms

This time of year is always hectic, the winter work really needs to be finished by the end of February and somehow there is never quiet enough winter to get it all done. That said we have done very well this time, getting round to some tasks that I had been wanting to do for some years as well as doing  a lot of work in the former block works site to make it ready to become part of the reserve.

In the last week we have planted several hundred shrubs, coppiced a lot of willow and built a long dead hedge we have also cleared small birches to make basking sites for reptiles and nesting areas for solitary bees, raked cut brambles and taken willow cuttings. Luckily Blashford’s Brilliant Volunteers have turned out en masse and with the Our Past, Our Future apprentice rangers and Emily, our volunteer placement, the workforce has been at peak performance.

before

The site for a new dead hedge

after

The dead hedge completed, looking back towards the viewpoint of the picture above.

Even with all this activity there has still been some time for a bit of wildlife. The last couple of nights have been much warmer, spring is definitely in the air now, so we have put out the moth trap. Today’s catch was 3 chestnut, 3 pale brindled beauty, a spring usher (I said it was in the air), one of my favourites, an oak beauty

oak-beauty

oak beauty, one of the finest moths of spring

and a dotted border.

dotted-border

dotted border

A bittern was seen a couple of days ago, but not since, so perhaps the feel of spring has made it return to more suitable breeding habitat. So far we still have two great white egret, including “Walter”, although he usually departs about mid-February, so I suspect he will not be here much longer. The Cetti’s warbler are singing a lot now, hopefully they will stay to breed this year. The ring-billed gull are still present, with both birds seen in the past few days, although not on the same evening. Oystercatcher have come back and up to three have been noisily flying great circles above the reserve. The gull roost now includes 15 or more Mediterranean gull, a now typical spring build-up. The cormorant roost was up to 148 the other evening in the tree beside Ivy Lake

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Cormorant roost beside Ivy Lake

and this evening there were upward of 5000 starling performing to the north of Ibsley Water, putting on quite a show, perhaps because there was a peregrine about, I am guessing they roosted in the reeds to the north of the lane.

Locking up Ivy North hide there was a very tame grey squirrel outside the hide, gorging on food that someone had thrown out of the window.

grey-squirrel

Grey squirrel, not turning down a free meal.

As I closed Tern hide and the starlings were doing their thing off to the north, there was a rather fine sunset off to the west, a perfect end to a very busy day.

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Sunset, with three ducks.

 

 

 

A weekly round up

Firstly, please accept our apologies for the recent infrequency of posts – we are doing our best, we are still here, and if we are not managing to post more frequently it is only because we are busy!

Comedy award this week goes to our lovely Long-term Volunteer Placement Emily – with thanks to Geoff for very kindly taking and sharing the picture below:

Emily... she's got that sinking feeling...

Emily… she’s got that sinking feeling…

I’m sure Emily will be thrilled to have made it onto the blog again (it wouldn’t have been so bad if she didn’t end up doing exactly the same thing again…several times!).

Joking aside Emily has been a huge help since she started with us on a long-term basis in September and we will be sad to see her “leave” when the 6 month post finishes in March. She has in turn benefitted from a wide range of work experience across all aspects of conservation and education work on the reserve and her first job interview requests are starting to roll in. We of course hope that she secures a suitable job soon (and ideally we hope that the suitable job is local so we can continue to benefit from her hard-work and enthusiasm in the future!).

We will shortly be advertising for a new long-term (6 month) volunteer at Blashford Lakes on the website and elsewhere so if you, or anyone you know, might be interested, do check out the jobs section next week: http://www.hiwwt.org.uk/jobs

The post that Emily was trying to erect in the picture was one of several forming a deer fence in front of the old Hansons office which will (hopefully!) protect the tree’s that were then subsequently planted there by the Thursday volunteer team from the ravages of grazing deer.

Sadly we still have no news on when we will be able to finally open the long awaited footpath between Tern and Goosander Hides, but rest assured that as soon as we can we will and we will be sure to let you know on this blog when we do too…

Perhaps the biggest wildlife news of the week, and certainly today, is that of sightings of (a single male) lesser redpoll on the feeders outside Woodland Hide for much of the day – unusually for this winter the visitor who first reported it to me had seen that, but no brambling! Thanks to Niall Ferguson for his pictures of brambling and a long-tailed tit taken late last week:

brambling-by-niall-ferguson longtailed-tit-by-niall-ferguson

Ivy Lake still plays host to a large number of wildfowl, particularly notable this week after a long absence has been the arrival of teal. Both the great white egret and bittern continue to be in residence – thank you to Steve White for sending these pictures in:

great-white-egret-by-steve-white bittern-by-steve-white

The bittern clearly doing what it does best, quickly darting from one side of the clearing to the other!

This morning our Wildlife Watch group were in and todays main activity was nest box building:

The finished article!

The finished article!

170211-bl-wildlife-watch-nest-boxes5320-by-jim-day 170211-bl-wildlife-watch-nest-boxes5319-by-jim-day

Early arriving Wildlife Watch members had a fantastic view through the classroom window of a kingfisher over the centre pond where it remained on and off throughout the day delighting any number of visitors of all ages!

I was particularly pleased to be able to call a couple of visitors into my office to see it before they left this morning, as I’d been chatting with them when I opened up Ivy South Hide and they told me how much they wished to see one but had never yet managed it on a visit yet. After they had left and headed over the boardwalk I walked back up to the centre right past a kingfisher fishing from the reeds at the back of Ivy Silt Pond near the Woodland Hide!

Their view of one over the dipping pond made their morning however 😉

 

 

A (very) quick update…

It’s been wet! Lovely to see some sunshine today, and today certainly saw a few more visitors than we have been seeing earlier in the week.

Unfortunately I spent most of it in or around the centre drying off and cleaning up very wet and muddy gear courtesy of a very wet and muddy day in our bushcraft/wild play area where staff members from New Forest Care were (very gamely given the weather and ground conditions I have to say) enjoying a Forest School taster course…

Tomorrow the weather is looking reasonable again so hopefully Nigel and Christine will welcome lots of visitors to their Pop Up Café which will be opening up again in the centre classroom in the morning. Light trap has gone out for Bob so hopefully he will be welcoming (or releasing anyway) lots of moths from the trap in the morning too – first time it will have gone out for a little while with the weather being what it has.

The approach to Lapwing Hide has finally disappeared underwater. I haven’t checked it today but it certainly was passable in wellies with caution but you would still be well advised to head up around the outer path to Lapwing Hide even if booted so you can see the extent of the water before deciding whether or not to try the inner reedbed path or not! The warning signs have gone out which will serve as a reminder.

The black necked grebe remains on Ibsley Water, usually along the very northern end of the lake, at least two bittern remain in or around Ivy Lake, there are still brambling and all the other usual suspects at the Woodland Hide but the Water Rail, no doubt put off by the river pouring through, has given up on the Alder Carr adjacent to Woodland Hide for now. One to three goosander have resided on Ivy Lake all week which has been a nice change though.

A Counting Time

I seem to have been out counting birds a lot in the last few days. On Friday morning I was on the shore of Portsmouth Harbour near the Roman fort of Portchester Castle watching a flock of brent geese. Unfortunately they did not do very much, although this did not mean it was a waste of time. This particular flock of over 500 birds included just seven juveniles, two pairs with a single gosling each, one pair with two and one pair with three. This illustrates that although lots of geese may go up to Siberia to nest, quiet often very few actually rear any young. Long term studies have shown that many birds, even though they may live a good few years, will never produce any young, whilst others will produce broods year after year. The important part of any population is that section that contributes to the next generation, this is the effective population, so knowing which birds these are and where they prefer to be, is important in developing a conservation strategy. The birds I was watching were feeding on sea lettuce, a kind of bright green seaweed that grows on the mudflats.

brent-flock-portchester

Brent geese near Portchester Castle

Brent geese, in common with a number of other Arctic nesting geese and swans migrate as a family and will stay together all winter, allowing the juveniles to learn where the best feeding areas are. From studies of ringed birds we know that birds will come back year after year to exactly the same feeding areas as they did with their parents in their first winter. So staying with your family is important and family members can be seen and heard calling to one another whenever they are on the move so that they don’t get lost in the mass of birds.

brent-juveniles

A brent goose family. Dad is on the lookout and the youngsters are behind, you can tell them by the pale bars across the closed wings.

If you look at brent geese feeding on grass you will generally find a far higher proportion of juveniles than you will see in flocks feeding on intertidal areas. Feeding on grass allows them to feed more continuously and to get more food and, of course, the tide does not come in and cover your dinner. For this reason grassland feeding areas are particularly important for the effective population. What all this means is that just counting the birds to find out where the largest numbers are does not necessarily tell you were the most important sites are, for a successful conservation strategy you need to go into things in a bit more detail.

Today we were counting wildfowl at Blashford Lakes, this should have been done last Wednesday, but fog intervened and almost no birds could be seen! Today I arrived at first light to find things not much better, but luckily the mist cleared and a count was possible in the end. The ducks at Blashford do not stay together as families, so I have no idea if they birds I count are champion breeders and major contributors to the next generation of biological dead-ends, probably some of both. So we just count the number of birds on each lake, this gives an indication of the relative importance of each lake and allows us to see trends in numbers.

Blashford Lakes is internationally important for the number of gadwall that winter here, this accolade goes to any site that regularly holds 1% or more of the west European population. Today’s count of gadwall, at a total of 762, was comfortably above this threshold. It was notable that most of them were on just two of the lakes, which shows how conditions can vary even between lakes that are beside one another.

The highlight of the day was at the end when locking up I saw two bittern from Ivy North hide, one sitting up high in the reeds to the left of the hide and the other out in the open under the trees to the right. Standing up high in the reeds is something they seem to do quite often, they can even walk along, gathering bunches of reeds using their neck until bunched enough to be grabbed in their large feet. In this way by alternately sweeping one way and then the other they can proceed at some speed a meter or more above the water. I got this shot of one standing up in the reeds at dusk on Friday evening, when I visited the hide on a walk with our volunteers.

bittern

Bittern standing up in the reeds

 

 

 

 

A bird in the hand…

Yesterday our Young Naturalists were privileged to be joined by British Trust for Ornithology bird ringers for a special ringing demonstration here at Blashford Lakes. The ringing scheme organised by the BTO aims to monitor the survival rates of birds whilst collecting information about their productivity and movements, providing vital support for conservation efforts. A lightweight, uniquely numbered metal ring is placed around the bird’s leg, enabling birds to be identified as individuals in a reliable and harmless manner.

BTO volunteer bird ringers Trevor Codlin, Chris Lycett and Kevin Sayer arrived bright and early to set up their nets and begin ringing in our willow wood, where we had put up an additional feeder to entice the birds in. Luckily they did not need much enticing, and by the time the group arrived we had a nice variety of birds to look at.

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Ringing demonstration with Chris and Kevin

Trevor, Kevin and Chris demonstrated and talked through the processes involved, including catching the birds using a mist net, ringing the birds, the different measurements taken and how to carefully release them.

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The Young Naturalists were even able to release some of the smaller birds themselves, with Chris keeping a watchful eye. This was definitely the highlight and something they all thoroughly enjoyed!

We were really lucky to see a great variety of birds up close, including reed bunting, firecrest, goldcrest, great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, long tailed tit, coal tit, blue tit, great tit, robin and greenfinch. Holding a bird is definitely not something you get to do every day and it was fabulous to give the Young Naturalists the opportunity to release them after they had been ringed, measured and weighed. To see the birds this close was a real experience and we all thoroughly enjoyed the demonstration, so thank you again to Trevor, Kevin and Chris for your patience, expertise and for giving up your Sunday morning!

To find out more about bird ringing please visit the BTO website.

After lunch we carried out a bird survey of the woodland birds from Woodland Hide. We spotted 15 different species, including at least 16 chaffinch, 10 blackbird, 5 siskin, blue tit, goldfinch and long-tailed tit, 4 greenfinch, 3 robin and great tit, 2 brambling, dunnock and great spotted woodpecker and 1 reed bunting and nuthatch.

We also found time to visit Ivy South hide, where the bittern was showing nicely in the reedbed to the south of Ivy Lake and three goosanders were also present. Hopefully you can make out the bittern in Talia’s photo below, just above the two Canada geese!

bittern-talia-f-resized

Bittern spotting by Talia Felstead

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