About Jim Day, Blashford Lakes

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

Tern Hide & Welcome Hut open for business


Yesterday saw two more major milestones in the project funded by public donations and Veolia Environmental Trust (with money from the Landfill Communities Fund): the Welcome Hut opened its doors to the public for the first time yesterday morning and Bob opened up the new look Tern Hide to the public using the new viewing platform at the end of the day yesterday too.

Bob has worked tirelessly over the last month to ensure that contractors have had both early and late access as they required to get their work completed and over the last week he has also been working late to finish off the screens and earthworks around the Tern Hide. There is still more to be done, both inside and out, so expect further temporary short-term closures. However, from now on in, including all of this weekend, if works don’t preclude our opening of Tern Hide, it will be open…

I’ll not say more on Tern Hide now as I do not want to steal Bobs thunder should he wish to add anything given the work that he has put into it!

190329 Tern Hide view (through OPENING window)

The view from Tern Hide at opening this morning!

The Welcome Hut, like the Tern Hide, still has various things awaiting completion to finish it off (indeed even as I type volunteers are putting up graphics on the inside), but it too is now open, and will be every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

An extension of the Centre, it is an information point staffed by our new team of “Welcome Volunteers” who will help visitors both new and returning get the most out of their visit to the nature reserve. No doubt exactly how the space is used will evolve over the next few weeks as they find their feet and the surroundings start to look more like a nature reserve rather than a building site, but do say “hello” to them when you next visit.

190328 Welcome Volunteers open the Hut

Please welcome our new “Welcome Volunteers” – they promise to do the same!



Still bittern…

Hard to believe, but it is past mid-March and we still have a bittern and it is still incredibly obliging and, unusually, seemingly very much habituated to the toing and froing of large camera lenses through the window openers. I’m not sure if there is anyway of actually knowing whether this particular bittern is the most photographed individual ever, but if not ever it must surely be the most photographed in the UK this winter!

Many thanks to Richard Jacobs for emailing these fantastic shots to blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk this week:

Although redpoll remain in evidence, brambling have very much been noticeable by their absence this Spring and continue to be very occasional rarities. Bullfinch on the other hand are being seen relatively regularly and often, as they usually are at this time of the year, on the willow buds – many thanks to Lynda Miller for sharing this gorgeous picture with us!


Work continues next week with contractors continuing with the installation of the new Tern Hide. More significant to visitors will be the closure of the Centre car park either in its entirety, or possibly on occasion just in part, for all of next week and probably some of the following week as well. Please use the larger main reserve car park north of Ellingham Drove. The car park closure is to allow for the re-surfacing of both the car park itself and some of the teaching area at the back of the centre as well.

We appreciate that this will be frustrating to some, but is unfortunately necessary in order to carry out the works. Do keep an eye on the blog for further updates about the work which has been made possible thanks to funds from the Veolia Environmental Trust.

Wildlife Watch -working with willow

An unpromising Saturday morning which started with unexpected rain whilst opening up but soon cleared to be a fresh but quite lovely day with lots of visitors coming to make the most of it – and enjoying their views of all the usual winter suspects in the process, including bittern and brambling.

Our small, but growing, Wildlife Watch group met at the Centre for their monthly meeting in the morning too.

First job was to make some fat balls combined with a special individually hand picked ‘n’ mixed  selection of sunflower seeds, hearts and/or sultanas. Unfortunately one of our leaders is vegan, but he stoically saw the activity through, albeit from a distance, knowing full well that the vegetable equivalent of beef suet is not palatable to birds…


With the food itself made we headed outside into the winter sunshine to saw:




Poke, snip and tie:

(Actually, I didn’t take any pictures of this activity, you will just have to imagine sliding willow withies up through all the drilled holes until wedged tight, cutting them to size and securing the tops – and bottoms/sides, depending on the style of creation of the individual Wildlife Watch member!)

Before finally filling – and proudly showing off – the finished bird feeders:

Next month we meet 10.30am-12.30pm, on Saturday 9th March, for a wildlife walk in search of Spring!

E-mail Blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk to find out more… or if you’re not aged 6-12 but wish you were simply watch this space to enjoy the session vicariously!

Could you be who we are looking for?

Welcome Hut - concept design

Work continues to progress with our face lift despite some snowy interruption last week!

One of the elements of the project that will emerge in the coming weeks is a Welcome Hut. The Hut, which will soon appear near to the Education Centre, will be a source of seasonal information for visitors. People will be able to come into the Hut to find out all about the wildlife and habitats of Blashford, where to go to see particular species and what to look out for as they explore the reserve. They will also be able to find out about the many activities and sessions that take place on the reserve.

But what is a Welcome Hut without the welcome? We are now recruiting a small team of Welcome Volunteers to staff the hut, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays to begin with. The main job of the Welcome Volunteers will be to provide a friendly face for visitors, offering information about the reserve and wildlife spotting tips. There may also be opportunities to help by selling small items of Trust merchandise, loaning pond dipping equipment to families and get involved in tasks associated with the day to day running of the Hut itself. It promises to be a fun volunteer role for anyone who has some time to spare and enjoys chatting about Blashford and its varied and beautiful wildlife. Our lovely new Welcome Hut and training and equipment for our new Welcome Volunteers are being funded by Veolia Environmental Trust with money from the Landfill Communities Fund.

So here comes the ask… Do you love wildlife? Do you enjoy working with people and sharing your enthusiasm? Are you looking to learn new skills and meet like-minded people? If you would like to find out more about becoming a Welcome Volunteer at Blashford, go to Welcome Volunteers | Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust or email Jess.Parsons@hiwwt.org.uk.

We’re very much looking forward to hearing from you.


Bittern again!

Further to my last post it would seem that in fact bittern was seen towards the end of the afternoon!

In fact someone has recorded 2 in the hide log book – if that was you we would love to hear from you as to whether that was two birds seen at the same time or one bird in different places after a short interval. If the latter it is possible it was the same bird having snook through the vegetation in a way only a bittern can, if the former  it will be the first time this winter we will have known we have had two bittern present. Comment below or email Blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk . Thanks!

Snow bittern sightings today…

Not that I can blame it, if I was out in a reed bed I reckon I’d be hunkering down too! Not many visitors to look for it today either and many eyes do make lighter work of it. Think they all had good views of water rail though, as did I when opening up.

Apologies for the blog heading, but need to try and keep up with Bobs recent run of corny post titles 😉

The reserve wasn’t quite a winter wonderland, but did still look lovely first thing, although the brisk wind and almost continuous mix of sleet and snow hasn’t made it the most pleasant of days to be out and about in it! The forecast looks set for that to stop soon but the drop in temperature as it does clear will make the car parks and approach from the road tomorrow quite treacherous I should think, so if you do visit tomorrow, do take care. Or wait until Sunday when the ice should have cleared and the Pop Up Café will be open in the Centre!

Snow always provides wonderful insights into what wildlife has been up to and where it ahs been – badger, fox, deer, rabbit, squirrel and various bird tracks all very much in evidence today:


Badger – skirted the main car park


Fox – a couple tracked in and out around the entrance where I took this, but were evident across the reserve





Pop Up Cafe TODAY!

Despite the damp weather and the lack of tempting cake and warming hot drinks yesterday a steady stream of visitors continued to arrive in search of bittern and yellow browed warbler. It would be unfair to say everyone was successful, but everyone departed happy – and full of compliments for the reserve which I was pleasantly surprised by given the state the centre surrounds are in at present!

The cafe will no doubt prove to be a welcome addition today – it is still open as planned but the centre car park is still currently closed. Hopefully we will be reopening the car park before the end of next week. I’m also delighted that Walking Picnics are extending their opening to include an extra cafe in March, on Sunday 24th!

Watching Wildlife

First Blashford Wildlife Watch meeting of the year this morning and as such I thought we’d start off with a meeting to reflect the name of the Wildlife Trusts children’s membership club for 6-12 year olds – and watch some wildlife!

So during a delayed start while we waited for latecomers (who didn’t come anyway!) we kept ourselves occupied with bird “Top Trumps” , and word searches, before heading out for a short walk via Tern Hide and Goosander Hide to see what we could see:

On route to Tern Hide: blue tit, nuthatch, blackbird, jackdaw, robin, chaffinch and linnet.

The linnets put on a lovely show with a couple of flocks of 40 or so birds reeling between the cherry laurels by the entrance to the car park, the willows in the dead hedge along the edge of the car park and the shore outside Tern Hide itself.

From Tern Hide: dunnock, coot, Canada goose, cormorant, little grebe, goosander, tufted duck, mute swan, lesser black backed gull, common gull, herring gull.


Blackcurrant, biscuit and a kestrel!

From Goosander Hide: shoveler, kestrel, water pipit, mallard, moorhen, golden eye. We also had a nice chat with some of the very friendly photographers in there who enjoyed showing the children bird pictures they had taken that day and elsewhere – and who had seen the kestrel take a shrew from just beneath the hide shortly before we arrived.

The children also enjoyed, what I think must have been a rare treat from the reaction it received, a cup of hot black currant squash and a chocolate digestive biscuit. For some reason all of them ended up with bits of biscuit floating around in their drinks having dunked, which just seems terribly wrong to me, but maybe I’m just too old to appreciate it!

On route back to Centre: coal tit, great tit.

Not an extensive list, but everyone enjoyed themselves and we also took time out from the birds to admire the hazel catkins and scarlet “flowers”, candlesnuff and curtain crust fungus, and flowering common field speedwell.

Sticking with a bird theme when we next meet in February (10.30am-12.30pm, Saturday 9th) we will concentrate on woodland birds and make some bird feeders to put out on the reserve and take home. For more information about our Wildlife Watch group email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk, or to find out if there is another group nearer you email wildlifewatch@hiwwt.org.uk

One of our members nipped off down to Ivy South Hide with her Dad before they left to see if they could catch up with the yellow-browed warbler. They did, and so did lots of other birders today as well!

It continues to haunt the area between Woodland Hide and just beyond Ivy South Hide, often, but not always, associating with a flock of long-tailed tits, and around Ivy South Hide more often than not. There were already about half a dozen birders looking for it even before we had opened up this morning and there has been a steady flow of people coming to see it all day, usually successfully.

Also showing today has been the bittern, again, as yesterday, predominantly to the right of the hide rather than the left where it has been seen most often prior to this week.

Bob may well re-mention it again tomorrow if he finds time to post a blog but please be warned that the centre car park and track up to it will be closed from this Monday. There will still be pedestrian access up the footpath through the willow wood adjacent to the track so everyone can still access the Centre (and toilets!) and all of the hides, but the vehicle access track will be closed to both cars and pedestrians for as long as it takes to level the car park – contractors are going to be re-working it ahead of the visitor access improvements this spring in order to improve the drainage off the car park. At this point we do not know how long these preliminary works will take but we are allowing up to two weeks, although we hope it will take less time than that and will obviously re-open the track and car park as soon as we can do so.

In the meantime parking will be limited on the south side of the nature reserve and I therefore urge visitors to park in the main Tern Hide car park if they are able to do so – it will avoid parking frustration and free up parking nearer the centre for less mobile visitors who really need it.



Blashford Bird Box Bulletin

Introduction by Jim Day

Brenda Cook, British Trust for Ornithology volunteer and bird ringer, has been ringing and recording birds at Blashford Lakes with fellow BTO volunteer and lead ringer Kevin Sayer for many years now, but the nest box monitoring scheme is her own project and relatively new having started in 2012. She and her stalwart HIWWT volunteer assistant, Jacki, were actually in today checking, cleaning, repairing and replacing nest boxes where needed ready for the 2019 nesting season so this blog, based on her report which was e-mailed to us on New Years Day, is quite timely!

I believe it makes interesting reading so have sought Brenda’s permission to publish it here.  If nothing else it may help to explain to all those visitors who are curious as to why our nest boxes are so (relatively) low – basically so Brenda can see into them without the need for a step ladder, solving a H&S conundrum, generally making life easier and the birds don’t care anyway! Thanks to Brenda for her hard work and for sharing the data collected with us:


Each year since 2012 as soon as Christmas and the New Year celebrations are over I always begin to think about the Blashford Lakes nest boxes and it was the same this year in 2018. Spring would soon be arriving and the birds would be beginning to look at the nest boxes in preparation for building their nests. I wanted to do my usual checks of cleaning out, repairing and replacing the very old rotten boxes as soon as possible. The Young Naturalists (YN’s) had kindly made 12 new boxes this year which I planned to use to replace old boxes or site on new trees.

yn bird box

It was on January 13th that Jacki and I found the time and suitable weather to go round and do our checks in preparation for the breeding season. We eventually ended up with 62 boxes to start monitoring. The boxes have a variety of hole sizes from 25mm – 32mm to suit either Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit or Nuthatch. Each nest box now has a metal plate fitted around the hole to prevent predation from particularly woodpeckers and squirrels. This has been very successful. I also have a couple of specially made Tree Creeper boxes which I am hoping one day will be used for nesting.

The first official nest box check took place on 14.4.18 and we found nest building taking place in many of the boxes. There were even cold eggs in 3 of the nest boxes. I knew that by the following Saturday there would be females incubating eggs. The first naked and blind chicks were found in 2 boxes on 29.4.18. This was much earlier than in 2017 when we had to wait until 22nd April for our first chicks.  I was keeping a close eye on the new YN’s boxes and pieces of moss were found in a lot of these boxes, but not all continued to form a complete nest.

I took photos at different stages and sent these with updates so Tracy would be able to inform the YN’s of the progress in their boxes.

The early weather was not perfect for the nesting birds, but then as we all know conditions improved and it became hot and dry which meant the adults did not have to do so much brooding of the growing chicks and were able to spend their time collecting the plentiful food. Chick survival rate was good and also the numbers which eventually fledged. A total of 204 Blue Tit eggs were laid in the boxes and 169 chicks were ringed. Great Tit females laid 141 eggs and 102 chicks were ringed.

I was able to show the YN’s a little about nest box monitoring on Sunday 27th May. They came round with me in small groups and we looked in nest boxes to see different stages of nesting and saw the difference between a Blue Tit and Great Tit nest. The Blue Tits line their nests with lots of feathers and the Great Tits line theirs with hair, fur wool and other soft material, though rarely feathers.

The YN’s also saw adult birds in the hand and chicks at different stages of development. They actually saw me ring some chicks which they all seemed interested in, so maybe there will be some future ringers among the YN’s!

A total of 42 nest boxes all reached the egg stage which is from when the BTO like me to keep records to enter on the new online DEMON data system. Out of the 12 new YN boxes 6 of them fledged young successfully. The last check for fledging from the final nest box took place on 7.6.18.

I also found time to monitor a Blackbird’s nest in a bramble bush and 3 Reed Warbler nests during the breeding season at Blashford.

These are the results from all the nests I found at Blashford Lakes in 2018.


BLUE TIT 23 204 169 154 21 2
GREAT TIT 19 141 102   70 16 3
NUTHATCH   1        4     4     4   1  
BLACKBIRD   1        4     3     3   1  
REED WARBLER   3     12     8     8   2 1

I am always interested in re-trapping the females who are nesting in the boxes. I managed to trap all females from the boxes monitored. This is time consuming, but if done at the right time provides me with data on their age, their survival rate how many eggs they lay, how many they manage to hatch and the numbers of chicks they have successfully fledged. I always take measurements of these birds. The most interesting is their weight. If the birds are of a good weight they have prepared themselves well for breeding. They have managed to find plenty of food and survived well over the Winter months. These birds are likely to lay more eggs, be good at incubating, and are fit enough and have enough energy to be able to feed their hatched young through to successful fledging. The heaviest female Blue Tit this year was 13.8 g and the heaviest Great Tit was 21.9g. I also managed to trap a few of the males and would like to try to trap more next year to add to my data and see if any have the same mate.

I have discovered over the years that once females have used a particular nesting box they like to use it the following year. If another female has got there before them they nest in a neighbouring box and then return to their original box if possible the next year. The 4 oldest birds I had nesting this year were born in 2013 and most of them I have trapped each year while nesting.

Another piece of interesting data is that 5 chicks I have ringed in boxes over the years are now using nest boxes to produce their own young. 2 of these were ringed in 2015.

We have done a couple of mist netting sessions in November to help collect data for a new project on Blue Tit moult for the BTO. This has also provided me with some re-traps of this years fledged chicks. This data shows me which young are surviving and I hope to find them nesting in 2019.  There were 3 Blue Tit chicks from Box 102.  2 from Box 6b.  1 from Box 107A. 1 from Box 110 and 1 from Box 113. There were also some Great Tits re-trapped and these were  1 from Box D. 1 from Box 5A. 1 from Box 101 and 2 from Box YN 11(TB.) There was also 1 Nuthatch chick re-trapped from the four I had ringed.

We also caught 2 Blue Tit chicks from Box 110 on 29.8.18 and 16.9.18 during one of our mist netting sessions near the Lapwing Hide. The second bird was undergoing post juvenile moult. A Great Tit was also re-trapped on 24.10.18 and this bird was able to be aged as a 3M and was from Box YN 9(WH).

I am really pleased with all the data I have managed to collect since 2012. Each year I have increased the starting number of boxes which I begin monitoring. I have records of dates when the birds begin to nest, lay their eggs, their young hatch, the numbers of chicks I have ringed and finally the numbers fledged. I have evidence of re-trapping females in the same nest box each year and now there are chicks I have ringed who are using the nest boxes to build their own nests and have their own young.

Below are charts showing the results of my NEST BOX MONITORING for Great Tit, Blue Tit and Nuthatch from 2012 – 2018.


2012 11 75 51 19 6 5
2013 8 49 40 15 4 4
2014 13 93 88 44 9 4
2015 18 133 94 58 12 6
2016 19 121 81 56 14 5
2017 13 95 85 55 11 2
2018 19 141 102 70 16 3
2012 11 85 26 10 3 8
2013 12 101 65 32 7 5
2014 13 103 82 38 9 4
2015 12 101 75 59 8 4
2016 17 129 107 62 14 3
2017 16 148 137 87 13 3
2018 23 204 169 154 21 2
2012 0
2013 1 7 7 7 1
2014 1 7 7 6 1
2015 2 13 12 10 2
2016 1 7 7 4 1
2017 1 3 3 3 1
2018 1 4 4 4 1


I always enjoy doing the nest box monitoring, but would not be able to do it without the kind permission and help from the people mentioned below.

I would like to say thank you very much to John Durnell and Bob Chapman for giving me permission to monitor the boxes. To Jacki Griffiths for helping me again this year and to two of my friends who filled in when Jacki was on holiday. To Jim Day who kindly lends me Jacki from her usual Saturday voluntary jobs and lastly to Tracy Standish, Geoff Knott and the YN’s for making the new nest boxes.

Where’s Wally?

A “proper” January wintery day today. Cold, clear and sunny and with it lots of visitors to the nature reserve and a classic mix of Blashford visitors it was too – a few families and grandparents with grandchildren out for a nice walk and a steady stream of year listers with bittern at, or near the top of the list of their target species for the day. Sadly for them as I write this post at 2.45pm it has steadfastly laid low so far today, despite some good appearances on a pretty much daily basis recently. No doubt many of those hopeful watchers will at some point have seen at least one clump of reed or reedmace doing a remarkably good job of looking like a bittern 😉

Elsewhere in the Valley a single Bewick swan could be seen amongst 100 plus mute swans in the Avon Water meadows north of Harbridge. I say could be seen – several visitors reported seeing it, but several more also reported seeing an awful lot of swans but unable to pick out the Bewick from amongst them!

Where’s Wally indeed.

Thanks to David Green who did see it (on the 3rd January) and took the trouble to email in this lovely picture:

Bewick swan by David Green

So, for everyone that came and didn’t see, and all those who are planning on coming and hope to see, a little taste of what can and might be possible on the bittern front – thanks to Lyn Miller for sending these pictures in to blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk with permission for us to share them:

bittern by lyn miller1bittern by lyn miller2bittern by lyn miller3bittern by lyn miller4

And if you are planning a visit here this Sunday, for bittern, Bewicks or otherwise, do remember that the Pop Up Café will be open in the centre selling hot drinks and delicious homebaked treats from the classroom, 10.30am-3.30pm (or until they sell out – don’t leave it too late!).