Wednesdays osprey!

Taken through the window of Ivy North Hide so not a magazine cover photo, but a nice shot of Wednesdays osprey none the less – taken by Lynda Miller and emailed in to us at Thanks Lynda!



Otterly missed it again…

There was a very autumnal feel to this morning – as I drove to work through mist and foggy patches the diffuse light really reinforced and emphasised  the changing colour of the tree canopy across the forest and it is definitely a bit cooler in the mornings. Cool enough that a combination of that, the damp in the air and a stinking cold and tiredness from number 3 not sleeping because of his stinking cold, meant that today I even resorted to wearing trousers! For regular visitors to the reserve that is usually the first sign of winter drawing nearer…*

The fog (mist?) meant that the far side of Ibsley Water could not be seen first thing, but Walter (“our” great white egret) was very handily on the near shore just to the right of Tern Hide again this morning where he was somewhat disdainfully watching a couple of grey herons having a bit of a set too over a stretch of adjacent shore line.

The light trap did not hold a huge amount this morning – a dead minotaur beetle, a couple of large caddis flies and on the moth front, a chestnut, a couple of red-line quakers and common wainscots, a common marbled carpet and, keeping to the autumnal theme, a November moth:


And finally, in keeping with true Blashford tradition, I narrowly missed out on seeing another otter this morning… approaching Ivy South Hide to open up, a visitor scanning Ivy Silt Pond mouthed “otter” as we got closer to him. He had just watched it chase and catch a large carp. We (volunteer Jacki and I) saw nothing! Having opened the hide we did give it a good 20 minutes or so but apart from hearing a (very large!) splash followed by the sight of a mini-tidal wave of ripples emanating from a different part from that which we were watching (of course!) which could have been otter, and a flurry of splashes from smaller fish jumping, we saw nothing… maybe next time?!

Still, nice to know it/they are still around, even if they continue to elude me.

*For non-regular visitors to the reserve I should perhaps point out that my resorting to trousers is in place of the shorts that I normally can be seen wearing throughout much of the rest of the year, not that I am wandering around the nature reserve a naturist mistaken for a naturalist!

Introduction to stargazing

Young Naturalists Stargazing by David Felstead

Places are filling up on the Introduction to Stargazing evening event we are hosting with the Fordingbridge Astronomers on Thursday next week (6.30-8.30pm, 27th October). Suitable for adults who want to whet their appetite, or for families with children and young people aged 8 and over who are already fascinated by our night skies and are wondering what else is out there, there are still some places available – but book on sooner rather than later so we can be sure to have enough equipment prepared for the evening.

Places on the event are £6 per person with proceeds split between the Trust and the Astronomers.

Busy Badgers and Disgruntled Wasps

Every day seems very busy at the moment at Blashford, not necessarily with lots of visitors, just a very great number of things going on. Today I had the Lower Test volunteer team clearing willow regrowth on the western shore of Ibsley Water,  the contractor working in the old concrete plant, a visit from the two Apprentice Rangers who will be working with us in the New Year as well as all the usual coming and goings. There were also quiet a few birds of note to be seen and a moderate number of visitors seeing them.

When I opened up the hides I came across a scatter of wasp nest debris on the path just before the Ivy South hide.


wasp nest debris

A sure sign that a badger had been at work, badgers love eating wasp grubs and will dig out the nests to get at them, the wasps are not so keen, but badgers have thick skins and seem to be able to put up with mass attacks. The nest is now open to the elements but still quite full of wasps, one good rain shower may well destroy now though.


Opened up wasp nest, complete with rather discontented wasps.

Although wasps make similar hexagonal cells for their larvae to develop in they are made of paper rather than wax as the brood cells of honey-bees are. They make the paper by chewing up dead wood, summer visitors to the reserve will probably have heard them gnawing at the hides and I wouldn’t mind betting some of this nest was made from chewed up Ivy South hide.

During the day various wildlife reports came in. The osprey was seen again at Ivy Lake, this time perched outside Ivy North hide for about 10 minutes. I was shown some very good video of it by a visitor, it apparently flew in just after I had left the hide with the visiting apprentice rangers. Also from Ivy North came reports of water rail and Cetti’s warbler. Meanwhile over on Ibsley Water the great white egret was on show and a black-necked grebe was seen, the latter a very clean bird, so probably an adult that has wintered with us before, if so it should stay around. Other birds includes a few lingering swallow, a green sandpiper and, right at the end of the day, 2 rock pipit on the shore in front of Tern hide. I got a rather poor picture of one of them, my excuse is that the light was already going, at least you can tell it was a rock pipit.


Rock pipit outside Tern hide

Although these pipits usually live on the seashore we have had one spend a fairly long stay with us before and I would guess these birds are most probably the same ones I saw the other day, when I could only be sure that one of them was actually a rock pipit. British rock pipits tend to stay close to home, particularly once they have a territory, youngsters move further but many of the birds that winter on our saltmarshes, where they do not breed, will be from Scandinavia. If I am right this looks like an adult, with very worn inner-tertials, the outer one looks to have been moulted, juveniles should be neater than this and with all these feather of the same age. As a British adult is unlikely to be migrating overland my guess is that this is probably a Scandinavian bird.

A Good Day for a Spot of Fishing

After another rainy night, adding 14 further millimetres of rain to yesterday’s 28, most of the day was fine. There was no sign of the bittern today, but “Walter” put on a show outside the Tern hide and I even got a couple of shots.


“Walter White” Blashford’s returning great white egret doing a spot of fishing outside the Tern hide.

Of course we know it is the same bird because of the colour-rings, although they are getting a bit discoloured by now, with only the red one showing prominently at any distance.


Showing off the leg rings.

Unfortunately his fishing was cut short when he was disturbed by the work of the contractor undertaking the restoration works in the old concrete block plant, although he did fly far. The only other notable sighting of the day as far as I know, was of an osprey which did not stay and was last seen heading off southwards.

Star Turn

I was at the reserve on Sunday for an Autumn Moths event, unfortunately nobody told the moths, which were outnumbered by the event attendees! To be fair it was not really the moths’ fault, 28mm of rain overnight was excuse enough.

As I opened up it was tipping down and for a while I did not dare open the main car park as water was flooding in and I feared it would quickly become too deep to be crossable. Luckily the rain stopped just after I opened the Centre and, in the end, the day was not too bad, mainly sunny with just the odd shower.

Out on the reserve the highlight of the day was the autumn’s first sighting of a bittern, with one being seen flying over the Ivy Silt Pond. In recent year’s they have been arriving earlier and earlier, they used to turn up around Christmas, but now late October has become the norm. I suspect this is because we used to get mainly birds arriving from the near continent, forced to move by icy weather, nowadays they are probably mainly dispersing British birds, a reflection of the growth of our population following concerted conservation efforts.

The only other significant bird sighting was of a rock pipit, or possibly two, that dropped down in front of the Tern hide from the north, stopped for perhaps two minutes to bathe and preen then flew off high to the south. The second bird landed behind a stone, so could not be seen on the ground, but I strongly suspect it was also a rock pipit. Rock pipit winter and breed on the coast, British birds move very little, but in winter we get migrants from Scandinavia and I would guess it is these that we sometimes see at Blashford.

Returning to the Centre in the rain first thing it occurred to me to check if there were any earth star  in their usual place beside the path, I was rewarded with one very fine specimen.


earth star (Geastrum triplex)

During the last weeks we have been doing lost of work around Ibsley Water, preparing the shore for arriving winter wildfowl and work associated with the restoration of the former Hanson concrete block plant. One of the biggest jobs has been clearing a huge bramble bank on the shore of the lake that would otherwise cut off the open former plant site from the lakeshore. The long-term goal is to get grass to grow on this area to make it suitable for feeding wildfowl and breeding waders. The latest efforts of the Tuesday volunteers are below.


Bramble clump before work (third session)


By the end of the day the difference is finally becoming clear! The brambles would have filled the open ground in this shot when we started work three sessions ago.

The old concrete plant will be a challenge to turn into useful wildlife habitat, but I think it has real potential. The open ground has already been used by nesting lapwing and little ringed plover and we can enhance the habitat for these species. I also think there is potential for developing some interesting flower-rich grassland, the very poor soils of the old plant site are actually a plus in this regard. It is going to take some years to come to fruition but I am hopeful it will eventually be a valuable addition.



Dirty Work

Working in a nature reserve sounds great and, to be fair, often is, but it can have a less appealing side too. On Monday night someone had a concerted effort to break into our tool store, they used a disc-cutter to try and cut their way in, both from the side and by cutting off the door hinges. Their efforts failed, the store is connected to an alarm system and they left the scene empty-handed. The only bright sparks present were the ones that set fire to the contents of the store. Luckily the fire burned itself out before it did too much damage, but the burning polypropylene rope and other material managed to coat everything with thick black soot. So after we had got the hinges welded up there remained the filthy job of taking everything out of the store and cleaning it and then washing down the whole of the inside. It took all day and this was with the help of the famous Blashford volunteers in the morning and Emily all afternoon, all in all, I would say it would have taken me at least four days work on my own, except that it had to be done in one go so it would have actually been impossible to do alone. Our tools remain useable, although all with a rather dark patina, what I think is termed “smoke damaged”.

Of course doing this meant that we did not all get out to do work that would actually benefit the reserve, or at least not as much as we would have done. Luckily the volunteer team on Thursday is large enough that we were still able to deploy some people to cut the vegetation in front of Ivy North hide to improve the view and cut part of the sweep meadow.

Incidents like this are very frustrating, diverting resources to doing things that don’t benefit wildlife or visitors and take valuable time away from positive activity. Recent visitors will probably also have seen the caravan dumped in the entrance, something else that will cost money to get removed, hopefully it will go in the next few days.

Meanwhile, out on the reserve there was some wildlife. The great white egret was on Ivy lake for much of the day and the male stonechat was still on the shore of Ibsley Water, just west of the Tern hide. When I was locking up the Tern hide at the end of the afternoon the gull roost already contained about 1500 black-headed gull, about the same number of lesser black-backed gull, about 275 herring gull and at least 7 adult yellow-legged gull.