About Jim Day, Blashford Lakes

Education Officer at Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trusts Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve, near Ringwood.

An invitation to a “virtual” wild day out…!

In any other year Tracy and I would be gearing up for Easter activities at Blashford Lakes right now – and for our Wild Days Out school holiday activity days in particular.

Earlier this morning I was trawling back through some old email messages, trying to find a link to some information I required for some work, and came accross an old message from a couple of years ago with a link to a short 2 minute film which was made about Wild Days Out, at Easter as it happens, and which was posted on YouTube.

I followed the link, which is still live, and, feeling very nostalgic, thoroughly enjoyed a lovely reminder of what life used to be like before COVID-19!

Figured some of our readers might do too…

The video is available here: https://youtu.be/6I2MukbbMWI

Give a hog a home

Not a Blashford Lakes blog on this occasion, but relevant, close to “home” and possibly of interest to many of our followers / readers.

I received a telephone call yesterday from our friends at Moyles Court, just down the road from Blashford, who operate a wildlife rescue hospital and have done so incredibly successfully for several years now.

We have worked closely with them since they moved in and converted their old farm house home into the wildlife hospital that it is today, both seeking their aid with the care for injured wildlife found on the nature reserve and also, where appropriate, permitting the release of rehabilitated wildlife onto the reserve.

Carla and Mike who manage and run the charity and hospital are both truly inspiring individuals, 100% committed to, and passionate about, caring for and subsequently releasing the wild animals in their care and Carla in particular, within the right circles, has an unrivalled reputation for her ability to make sick or injured birds well again that is truly second to none.

Last autumn they took in an incredible number of malnourished young hedgehogs who were not in a fit state to hibernate and they have been nurturing them over-winter. Said hedgehogs are now fit and needing to be released back into the wild – in part because that is the right place for them and in part because the Spring and early Summer is usually a particularly busy time at the wildlife hospital and Carla and Mike need the room for the anticipated influx.

Hence Mikes telephone call to me yesterday.

If you  think that you have a garden that it would be appropriate and safe to release one of their many hedgehogs into, could you please get in touch with them to have a chat and find out if you can help them out and “give a hog a home”? Mike can be contacted on 07884 226540 or alternatively call 01425 477500 to speak to Mike or Carla.

Things to bear in mind when considering the suitability of your garden are the following (text copied with thanks from the Wildlife Aid Foundation website):

  • The most important factor when releasing hedgehogs into the wild is that the area already supports a hedgehog population. If there are no hedgehogs in your area then there is usually a good reason for this, and we do not want to release our youngsters in an area where they may not survive, or may not find mates.
  • There must be suitable cover and an adequate food source.
  • If there is a pond it must have shallow sloping sides, or ramp/stones that will assist a hedgehog in climbing out.
  • There should be no chain link fence in your garden – hedgehogs frequently get their heads caught in this and cannot reverse out.
  • Your garden must be unsecure. Ideally an able-bodied hog would be able to roam and prefers an area of up to an acre for its territory (about 8 average sized gardens), and Mike and Carla are looking for gardens that allow hedgehogs to roam freely.

Mike was hopeful that we would have enough likeminded and interested readers – possibly with a little more time on their hands than usual at the moment – that they would soon be able to release all the hedgehogs that they have ready to leave. There are plenty of good DIY hedgehog homes online if you really want to go for it too – including this one on the Wildlife Trusts website: how to build a hedgehog home 

Hopefully I don’t need to say this, but will do so just in case, these animals are not being rehomed as pets; the hedgehog may choose to take itself off as soon as it arrives, preferring the flavour of the slugs down the road as opposed to yours! However by offering to share your garden you can very much play a vital role in their work to get the animals back into the wild as soon as possible.

Contact Mike or Carla by telephone on 07884 226540 or 01425 477500.

 

The year that was…

While Bob and Jo continue to warden and monitor Blashford Lakes and Fishlake Meadows between them, Tracy and I have been working from home, along with many, many other people, venturing out only into our gardens, or for our permitted daily exercise from home, so I really do have very little to report on the wildlife front!

That said the children and I are (slowly, in between maths, literacy, phonics, science, history and geography home learning) trying to improve our small garden for wildlife. To be honest, its pretty lousy at the moment, so anything will be improvement – when my wife and I first moved here I spent a long time nurturing a small meadow, digging a small pond (disparagingly called a puddle by some, but it held wildlife!) and nurturing a small compost heap and log pile, while our herb bed was always buzzing with insects.

Then came children, a swing and a climbing frame and short grass for kicking a football around on.  No longer was there room for my lovingly created space for nature in our (very) small garden.

However, they are now all a little bit older and happy to sacrifice a bit of their play space for something a bit more wildlife friendly that they too can enjoy exploring.

We have plans, we have the will and the inclination, and we will have time over the Easter Holiday break from the home learning, so watch this space! Our little corner of the New Forest is set to become just a little bit Wilder – there may well be a blog to come on this, but it is very much a long way off at the moment!

If, like me, you are missing Blashford Lakes, or if, unlike me, you don’t have children and are therefore not trying to juggle your work with trying to teach them and therefore have more time on your hands than normal, you may appreciate a lengthy read, with pictures.

Please follow the link to indulge yourselves with the Blashford Lakes Annual Report for the period September 2018-August 2019: 200306BLAnnualReport2018-19 and remember the year that was..

What else can I say other than “enjoy!”

Stay at home, stay safe, stay well… and stay sane!

Almost back to normal

Well it might be windy out there this morning but it’s preferable to waking up to another weekend being battered by storms!

All of the hides are now open and the flood water in the Main car park by Tern Hide has fallen away enough that that can be opened this weekend. Please be aware however that it is likely to be closed again for a time this Sunday while the silt and debris left behind by the river is removed. Visitors will be able to park “between the gates” on the car park approach at this time and the hide itself will of course be open as normal.

The boardwalk beyond Ivy South Hide however remains closed for the time being, in part due to fallen trees, although the worst of these has now been dealt with, but mostly because the boards themselves, which are now old and have been patched in places on and off over the last couple of years, have not benefited from being inundated by the flooding leaving a number unsafe to walk on. The boardwalk will be removed and replaced, but this is a big job which can not take place until the willow/alder carr dries out so do not expect it to be reopened anytime soon!

Not a bad first visit to Blashford Lakes…

Nine year old Justin, from St Catherine’s Primary School in Colehill, visited Blashford Lakes for the first time with his Dad on Sunday – and, following their memorable encounter with “the” kingfisher at Ivy South Hide, Justin’s Dad went to the trouble to share a couple of the pictures he (Justin) had taken and which they were both, justifiably, very pleased with!

Thanks for sharing!

Kingfisher by Justin (aged 9)

Kingfisher by Justin (aged 9)

Kingfisher by Justin (aged 9)

Kingfisher by Justin (aged 9)

Signs of Spring…

Yesterday was grey, murky and pretty miserable – this morning the sun is out and everywhere is looking beautiful, and yes, despite an apparent lack of winter so far this year, Spring does seem to be drawing near, if not upon us already.

Although we have yet to encounter any on the nature reserve earlier in the week I found some frogspawn in a shallow pool near home in the New Forest and the last couple of evenings I have encountered “toad patrols” out helping  migrating toads cross roads safely outside Poulner and Sway – these volunteers do an amazing job under difficult, and, at times, dangerous conditions in the dark, saving many thousands of toads from an untimely and unnatural demise under the wheels of our cars. Readers of this blog are likely to be considerate, respectful and appreciative of their efforts, but of course many motorist’s are not and quickly succumb to “road rage” if required to slow down on their commute home so do watch out, take care and vouch for the toad volunteers where ever and whenever you can!

On the reserve itself the great spotted woodpeckers are drumming on their favourite drumming posts, including the usual dead “stag head” branches of the large oak between the river and the centre car park, tits are being seen investigating nest boxes and although the snowdrops have been flowering for some weeks, and scarlet elf cups fruiting for some weeks, this week they have been doing so in force and, down by the Woodland Hide, the first of our wild daffodils is now flowering too:

A more unusual, or at least early, first sighting of the year was that of a large female grass snake outside Ivy North Hide this morning and reported to me by visitors Mark & Alison as I wrote this blog post! Mark very kindly emailed me his picture:

First grass snake of 2020 by Mark Dartnall

First grass snake of 2020 by Mark Dartnall

Elsewhere it is really business as usual with not much changing – still no bittern, still a kingfisher at Ivy South Hide, still loads of wildfowl on Ivy Lake and still a starling murmurartion in the valley, although this does now seem to have moved from Mockbeggar to a roost site west of the A338 just north of Ellingham Village and best viewed (hopefully against a stunning sunset!) from the viewing platform at the back of the main car park.

With the lighter evenings the starlings are now starting to gather shortly after 4.30pm and going to roost by about 5pm. It’s not often the car park is closed bang on 4.30pm, but it does happen on occasion and although we are as flexible as possible sometimes the staff or volunteers locking up do need to leave when they need to leave. As the evenings continue to draw out do consider parking the car outside the car park gates, safely off the roadside, so you can watch  the starlings perform without interruption should the site need securing in a more timely fashion!

Tern Hide open…

…but only if you are wearing wellies!

The rain on Tuesday night, on top of what has generally been a wet few weeks, was enough to bring the Dockens Water up higher than I have seen it for about four years. Although by no means as high as I have seen it in the past, it was sufficiently up that Ellingham Drove was within its flood plain and, unfortunately, that means that the main car park was too, as the river flows along the road until it reaches the roadside entrance to the reserve at which point it does what water does and flows downhill and into the car park. With groundwater levels now very high it is likely to take a little while for the flood water remaining in the car park to soak away so, for now at least, the Main car park remains closed.

The outer gates to the car park are now open however, so please do park here for the next few days until we are able to open the car park proper again – as I anticipate that with the favourable weather forecast for the weekend, coupled with the Centre classroom playing host to the last Pop Up Cafe of this winter season, we are likely to see  lots of visitors, and parking on the Centre side of the reserve alone is unlikely to meet the demand for parking places – and Christine’s sausage rolls!.

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Please park beyond the roadside entrance gates along the approach to the car park for the next few days until we are able to open the main car park up again. 

 

 

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Despite this, the flood water has subsided quite significantly since Wednesday morning  so today Tern Hide has been opened, although with several inches of water across the width of the car park you can only get to it (and the viewing platform) with wellies – and a slow, careful walk too avoid “bow waves”!

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The route to Tern Hide from the footpath across the car park. Wellies essential!

The view from Ibsley Water this morning saw it as full as I have ever seen it I think. The photo below shows just how little of the small island nearest the Tern Hide there is left just poking up above the water! It still has black-necked grebe and long-tailed duck and the valley still has a sizable startling murmuration – although yesterday at least it seems to have split into two with half of the starlings north of Mockbeggar Lane and the other half in the reed bed behind Lapwing Hide.

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Ivy Lake however is still the place to go if you aren’t worried about seeing particular birds, but do want to just sit and watch lots of wildlife:

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As always our visitors take far better pictures than me so here now with some brilliant kingfisher pictures taken by Jon Mitchell from Ivy South Hide last weekend:

Kingfisher 2 by Jon Mitchell (2)Kingfisher 1 by Jon Mitchell (1)

Spooked ducks by Jon Mitchell

I know these aren’t kingfishers! In between the kingfisher posing for portraits, something in the lake – assumed to be an otter – disturbed all of the wildfowl. Gives you some idea of just how many birds are on Ivy Lake  at present.

Our Welcome Volunteer Doug Masson spent a few hours in Ivy South Hide on Wednesday this week too, and got these lovely shots of Cetti’s warbler – images Bob admitted to being quite jealous of, as, despite his best efforts, he has yet to get any Cetti’s to match these!

Cetti's warbler by Doug MassonCetti's warbler 2 by Doug Masson

Elsewhere on the reserve, and on more of a macro scale than the bird life, the lichen is all looking absolutely fantastic after all of this wet weather. An assemblage of species which can appear quite grey and lifeless during the summer when it is dry, is now fresh and vibrant and really brings a vivid splash of colour to what can otherwise appear to be a fairly drab landscape – and nowhere more so than the edge of the lichen heath where this picture of Cladonia sp. was taken:

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For spring colour however nothing can rival the scarlet elf cup fungi which thrive so well on the wet decaying logs in and around our woodlands. We don’t normally expect to see much evidence of it until a little later in the year in February, but there is actually already quite a few of the fruiting bodies to be seen:

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Batty about Blashford

Well its a lovely site (with lovely staff and volunteers 😉 !) and lots of people are definitely batty about it, but also over the last couple of weeks there have been several unseasonal sightings of what are almost certainly soprano pipistrelle bats – yet another indication of just how unseasonably mild it has been of late.

It is not uncommon for the us to see day flying bats “hawking” for insects from late afternoon onwards on warm days in March or early April as if there are insects flying the hungry post-hibernation bats make the most of the food available to them to replenish much diminished reservoirs of fat/energy, but I think seeing the same behavior consistently in January is a first for the reserve, and certainly for me.

Visitors have reported bats in footpath clearings along the Dockens Water and Tracy and I have both seen one near the Woodland Hide. Always a treat to see and it has certainly made the visit for at least one family that told me about their sighting last week.

Another wildlife spectacle which continues to thrill is that of the starling murmuration in the Valley which from the reserve can still be viewed from Tern Hide or the viewing platform, although the roost site itself is to the north of the reserve beyond Mockbegar Lane.

As with all murmuration it is at its best on clear, calm evenings. Not sure what the forecast is for later today, but if it stays like this spectators should be in for a good one!

Otherwise I can report that the tree work to remove the ash trees near Woodland Hide went ahead on Monday without hiccups and the footpaths to the Woodland Hide and hide itself reopened ahead of schedule on Tuesday morning.

We still don’t obviously have a bittern!

Presumably the mild weather that has treated us to bats on the reserve this month has kept bittern over on the Continent. If a period of prolonged wintery weather does ever arrive, it maybe that it will see us hosting some overwintering bittern again this season.

Time will tell.

In the meantime Ivy Lake is still a great place to sit and watch multitudinous wildfowl, particularly from Ivy South Hide:

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Murmurings at Blashford

IMG_20191230_090206It really is amazing the difference a few days can make: having had a decent break for Christmas I came back on Monday and was quite surprised by just how much water was in the lakes – Ibsley Water in particular has come up quite dramatically over the festive period.

Ivy Lake is still the most enjoyable to watch in terms of sheer numbers of birds (still no bittern though if you’re wondering!), but Ibsley Water can not be beaten at the end of the day as the gulls come in to roost and, since Christmas, there has also been a quite spectacular starling murmuration of several tens of thousands of birds doing their (rather special) thing… the “new” viewing platform really comes into its own now!

As always January is looking set to be a busy month visitor wise and no doubt that will be true again this Sunday when the Pop Up Cafe will be open in the Centre with all their favourites that many visitors are growing to expect and love!

Happy New Year and best wishes for a wilder 2020 from the Blashford Lakes team…

Still feeling festive?!

IMG_20191214_103538Tomorrow see’s the return of the Pop Up Cafe so if you are visiting the reserve to escape internet shopping or the high street bring your wallets and purses anyway so you can take advantage of the delicious cakes and savouries that will be available. And if you have still yet to add the finishing touches to your decorations at home, do pop by the Welcome Hut and pick up some of our mistletoe for a small donation. Gathered from their gardens by a couple of our volunteers I’ve never seen sprigs so heavily laden with berries!

When it first went out for “sale” on the plant sales bench outside the welcome hut the bench was beautifully adorned. However when we came in the next morning the deer had very carefully nibbled away all of the leaves (note, NOT the poisonous berries!) so they are now kept overnight in a crate to avoid their being browsed so if you arrive in search of some and its not apparent, do check the shelf under the bench to see if its in the crate there and we’ve just forgotten to pull it out!

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Lovely on Ivy Lake today – shore to shore birds, including wigeon, teal, shoveler, tufted, mallard, gadwall, pochard, pintail, the odd goosander and of course coot, cormorant, kingfisher and our great white egret.