Ravens at Tern Hide

 

Last week I placed a road kill roe deer on the long shingle spit in front of Tern Hide to see what it would attract. There had been reports of two ravens feeding on it throughout the week and today when I called into Tern Hide they were there again.  I got some pictures using my phone camera and telescope, not the best photos as it’s a bit distant for my kit but you get the idea.

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Two ravens

 

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Raven with two magpies

At the beginning of the last century ravens were heavily persecuted by gamekeepers and pushed right to the western and northern fringes of Britain but now happily they’re making a come back and have recolonized most of their former range. Much larger than crows and rooks with a thick heavy bill and a wingspan of up to 130 cm, a really impressive bird. Carrion of substantial size is actually quite a scarce resource in the British countryside so it was good to be able to provide something during the cold weather at the moment. A red kite was seen from Tern Hide last week so with luck we might see that feeding on the deer carcass too.

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The bad oak

An ongoing job on the reserve at the moment has been cutting down Turkey oak (Quercus cerris) saplings and treating them with a herbicide. As the name suggests Turkey oak is a native of Turkey and Asia Minor and unfortunately is becoming very common in parts of Hampshire. It is a host to the parasitic wasp  Andricus quercuscalicis whose larvae damage the acorns of native pedunculate (Quercus robur) and sessile oaks (Quercus petraea) affecting their ability to reproduce. The native oaks support more species of invertebrates than any other British tree so it is really important that they continue to produce acorns.

Turkey oak can be identified by its whiskery buds and thinner, more deeply lobed leaves than the two native oaks.

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Whiskery buds of Turkey oak

 

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Leaves of Turkey oak

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Buds and leaves of native pedunculate oak

Yesterday I spent most the day removing young Turkey oak that were colonising the Lichen Heath to the north of Ivy Lake with volunteer Carol. A pretty satisfying task and it was good to see lots of redwing, a singing mistle thrush and more suprisingly a wood cricket nymph while we were out.

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Turkey oak invading the Lichen Heath. 

During the afternoon I visited the Woodland Hide and was pleased to see 8 redpoll, 5 brambling, 7 reed buntings and over a hundred siskin on the feeders and ground.

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Siskin and redpoll at the woodland hide.

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Siskin and redpoll feeding on spilt nyger seed

Today we did a waterbird count of all the lakes in the Blashford complex, not just the ones managed by the Wildlife Trust. We counted a total of 3856 birds including 183 pintail, 173 teal, 552 shoveler, 83 mallard, 24 goldeneye, 1164 wigeon, 360 coot, 443 tufted duck, 137 pochard, 425 gadwall, 67 goosander, 4 kingfisher, 38 great crested grebe, 2 black-necked grebe and 1 Slavonian grebe. My highlight was a stoat that passed just a couple of metres away from me carrying a bank vole near the viewing screen at the southern end of Ivy Lake, and then 10 minutes later amazingly another stoat ran across the path in front of me a hundred metres or so north of the first one. In three years at Blashford I’ve never seen a stoat there until today and I see two in one morning, brilliant.

Sunday to Wednesday.

Yet another busy week that started with hedge laying with six volunteers on Sunday.

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Volunteers hedge laying. I’m not sure why Carol got inside it.

On Sunday evening in the failing light I took this truely stunning photograph of a  sleeping black-necked grebe and a slavonian grebe next to each other from the Tern Hide. You can just about tell which species is which, not bad considering I took it with a phone camera through my telescope in poor light,the birds were probably about three-hundred metres away and it was raining.

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Sleeping grebes

Thanks to modern computer wizardary I can bring you the same picture with a helpful diagram.

 

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The feeders at the woodland hide have been really busy, we’re certainly going through a lot of bird seed. I did a guided walk on Monday, and we saw four brambling, six redpoll, around seventy chaffinches and at least a hundred siskin on the feeders and in the surrounding area. The weather was dreadful and the birds on the lakes were very distant but we did see the Slavonian grebe and got really close views of eight bullfinches. The bullfinches were feeding on old shrivelled up blackberries on brambles, they appeared to be biting away the old berry and eating the seeds inside.

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Siskin in Alder tree by the Education Centre

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Male bullfinch. Photo taken with phone camera through my binoculars.

Tuesday was spent coppicing, with the aim of creating a really dense coppice of willow, birch and bramble habitat for garden warblers. All trees coppiced at Blashford have to be protected from the reserve’s large fallow deer population so all the cut material is stacked as a dead hedge to protect the regrowth.

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Tuesday volunteers coppicing

Amongst other jobs today I did a quick site visit to Linwood Nature Reserve to look at some future jobs there. I also checked an area we deer fenced in 2014, and was pleased to see a dense understory of hazel, bramble and various other woodland plants. Linwood is fenced off from ponies and cattle so the only grazing inside the reserve is from fallow and roe deer. The photograph below shows the massive effect a large deer population can have on woodland understory. A great many woodland plants, insects and birds have declined due to deer eating the understory of New Forest woodlands so it was good to see the fenced area had kept the deer out. Fallow deer were introduced to Britain during Norman times and before that were brought to Europe by the Romans from the Causcaus and Middle East. Now their populations are higher than ever with reduced culling and no predators, so they are really changing woodlands, with birds like nightingales and willow tits, amongst others, declining rapidly.

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Linwood woodland with deer fenced area full of hazel, bramble and foxgloves on the right and open deer browsed area on the left.

On a different note all the seasoned logs I blogged about last week have now been sold.

 

Log blog

We have a small amount of seasoned firewood for sale, available on a first come first served basis. The logs are 20-30cm long and from a range of tree species but mainly Sycamore and birch. These trees are being removed from sustainable managed woodland for the benefit of other wildlife or health and safety reasons. All the profits goes back into maintaining Blashford Lakes nature reserve.

Anyone interested please email Ed on blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk for details.

Firewood

This week’s photos

A very busy week again with no time for blogging till now, so here are some photos taken during the week.

Monday was spent pole sawing grey willow branches that were snapped by the wind and hanging over footpaths. We also cut some back willow branches that were shading out crab apple trees to give them space to grow. There are only seven crab apples that I know of on the whole reserve and giving them more light will help them grow larger, produce more blossom and fruit, nectar and food for a range of insects, birds and mammals. Thanks to Rob from the East Solent Reserves team for the lend of the pole saw.

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Pole sawing a grey willow, photo by Tracy

I spent Tuesday morning hedge laying with the volunteers and the afternoon replacing broken planks on a bridge. Special thanks must go to volunteer Geoff who spent all day servicing, greasing and sharpening all the loppers, bow saws and fencing pliers used (and abused!) by the Thursday volunteers.

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The Tuesday volunteer team hedge laying

Wednesday was spent in a meeting, catching up on office work and purchasing new chainsaw chains. Two bitterns were seen at Ivy North Hide during the day but didn’t show when I went to lock up the hide but I did get close views of a water rail, little grebe and moorhen.

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Left hand view from Ivy South hide in the rain on Wednesday

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Right hand view from Ivy North hide in the rain on Wednesday with a cormorant on the perch.

Thursday we had fantastic weather, a cold frost followed by sunshine. Bob recorded 222 pintail, 178 shoveler, c.800 wigeon on Ibsley Water during the morning. We then spent all day out doing habitat management with the volunteers at the western side of Ellingham lake, more hedge laying in the morning, and dispatching sycamore, cotoneaster and leylandii cypress trees with the chainsaw in the afternoon. These non-native trees and shrubs are being slowly phased out to make space for higher value wildlife habitat like native broad-leaved trees, bramble scrub and grassland. We also get the added benefit of being able to sell some of the logs for firewood to generate income to help us manage the reserve.

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Thursday volunteers hedge laying in the sunshine on Thursday, photo by Bob

The light was beginning to fade at 4.30 when I locked the hides but I managed to photograph this male gadwall from Ivy South hide and the sunset over Ivy silt pond as I walked back to the Education centre.

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Phone scoped male gadwall, Ivy Lake

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Ivy Silt pond sunset, Thursday evening

Far better than my efforts are these pictures of the bittern in the sunshine yesterday by photographer Andy.

bittern, Blashford Lakes, Hampshire. 28.01.2016

bittern, Blashford Lakes, Hampshire. 28.01.2016

bittern, Andy C, 28.01.2016 – Ivy North Hide

Unfortunately I spent most of today in the office, with the exception of moving a large pile of cut willow branches down to Ivy South hide with the quad and trailer but I’ll let Tracy explain what they’re for on Sunday.

Wildlife reported by visitors included two firecrests in birch scrub on the approach to Goosander hide, Slavonian grebe, ring-billed gull and two Mediterranean gulls on Ibsley Water.

Hedge on the edge

Fourteen of us turned out this morning with a plan to lay part of the hawthorn hedge at western edge of the reserve by the footpath between the A338 and Ellingham lake. As usual the volunteers made great progress and as usual I forgot to take a photo before we started but the pictures below give a good idea of what we achieved.

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Volunteers hedge laying

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Laid hedge 

The partially cut stems of the hawthorn will send out fresh shoots in the spring and form a thick dense, bushy and structurally diverse habitat. This hedge was planted about ten years ago and for reasons unclear the planter chose only hawthorn. Hopefully now a few other native trees species will be able to seed into it. Birds like thrushes and wood pigeons do a good line in dispersing the seeds of species like rowan, alder buckthorn, guelder rose, holly and blackthorn so hopefully we might see a few of these appear in the future. The downside is that cut hedge gives a view of the ever busy A338 but this will disappear in time.

I didn’t see much wildlife today except for two buzzards that passed over head and a kingfisher calling on Ellingham lake. So to save this post from lacking in wildlife photos here is a shoveler in the rain taken with my phone camera last Friday.

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Drake shoveler in the rain

 

Busy week and a January grass snake

Another very busy (but satisfying) week on the reserve has left very little time for blogging, but on the plus side we’ve achieved a lot. As usual we are in debt and grateful to the efforts of our brilliant volunteer teams. We’ve cleaned hides, coppiced and pollarded willows, harvested firewood, translocated blackthorn and aspen saplings, replaced signs and cleaned river debris from the Tern hide car park.

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Cleaning Tern hide car park after the Dockens Water flooded it

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Volunteers putting up signs

My favourite day of the week was yesterday when we carried out a count of all the water birds and wildfowl on every lake in the area. After some heavy rain first thing the sun came and conditions were ideal for counting. We’ve not had time to collate the data yet but some of the highlights were just under a hundred pintail on Ibsley Water, 38 pochard on Spinnaker lake, 15 goldeneye on Rockford lake, 92 teal, 2 kingfishers and a bittern on Ivy lake. The mid morning weather was exceptionally good for a while, the kind of morning you cannot fail to be glad to be out in the countryside.

By far the most unusual sighting of the day though came in the afternoon when volunteer Emily was trimming bramble back from a planted guelder rose by the education centre and we spotted a basking grass snake.

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Grass snake (photo by Emily)

It’s not unusual to see January adders or common lizards occasionally but a grass snake is very unusual as they are a far less hardy species with a more southerly distribution. It appeared to be very healthy and slithered quickly away into the vegetation, so the only explanation must be the exceptionally mild weather we are experiencing.

Other wildlife sightings reported yesterday included the great white egret from Ivy North hide at 3.30pm, the Slavonian grebe, black-necked grebe, and ring-billed gull on Ibsley Water and a firecrest feeding amongst holly along the Dockens Water.

Red-crested Pochard on Ivy lake

Two red-crested pochard turned up on Ivy Lake today and were photographed by Geoff Miller. Whether they’re genuinely wild or escaped from a captive wildfowl collection is anyone’s guess as this species is fairly common in captivity. Never the less a nice species to see and the first on the reserve since April 2014. The birds were still present when we locked Ivy North Hide this evening so hopefully they will stick around for a bit longer.

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Red-crested pochard male

 

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Male and female red-crested pochard

Other reports today included ring-billed gull, slavonian grebe and green sandpiper on Ibsley Water.

Tern hide car park has drained off a bit over today and the hide is now accessible with welly boots on. We will report on the situation again tomorrow morning.

Tern hide Car park closed due to flooding.

Yesterday the Dockens Water stream went into spate after the torrential rain in the morning. It rose steadily during the day and by 4.45pm it had crossed Eliingham Drove and started to flood Tern Hide car park.

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Southern end of the Dockens Water starting to rise.

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Flooded oak, birch and Sycamore woodland.

This morning the Tern hide car park is still full of water and above knee depth and is therefore locked. Ibsley Water is still viewable from the Goosander and Lapwing Hides and the rest of the reserve is open as usual.

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Tern hide car park this morning