Spring has definitely sprung

Yesterday I was keeping an eye on things at Blashford and after a bit of time finishing things off in the office (the last couple of days have been filled with emails, creating signs and cancelling events and school visits) I had lunch outside the back of the centre with one of our very friendly robins for company and decided to make the most of the glorious weather and venture out onto the reserve.

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Lunchtime company

Being at Blashford with the car park empty and the sun shining did remind me of the very quiet days we have on the reserve in the summer, when you know everyone has headed to the beach and the coast to stay cool. The main reminder of spring was the increase in birdsong, it was lovely to hear chiffchaff calling, and also the new growth on the trees.

willow leaves

New growth on the willow 

willow catkins

Willow catkins

Nearing the entrances however it was apparent people were very much still out and about and there were a fair few cars parked up. Fortunately most people were respecting social distancing, however I did have to stand in vegetation at one point to allow a group to pass who were quite happy to walk, albeit in single file, down the middle of the footpath. Out footpaths are not that wide… so please do take care out there and give people space!

Keeping the car parks closed does encourage fewer people to visit the reserve, which gives everyone a chance to keep their distance, but it does also reduce the risk of fly tipping on the site. Between me leaving on Friday and arriving back on Sunday a large amount of rubbish, including a couple of single mattresses, had been dumped in the first lay by on Ellingham Drove, if coming from the A338, and although this may have happened over night we have in the past had fly tipping occur during day inside our gates on the approach to Tern Hide and also on the nature reserve itself, near the water treatment works. Although those who fly tip will always sadly find somewhere for it to go, at least having the reserve secure at all times will reduce the opportunities available for fly tipping on the reserve itself, where the site is now generally quieter and our staff presence lower. Unfortunately with quieter roads this issue is something that may sadly increase over the next few weeks and months.

My real reason though for venturing close to the entrance was to stare at the very fine display of moss growing on the top of the wooden fence by our gate. I had been waiting for a sunny day to photograph it and usually when I am passing I am driving, either having just arrived or heading home. After a bit of searching, I think it is capillary thread moss, but am happy to be corrected if wrong!

capillary thread moss

Capillary thread moss

The hazel trees near the entrance are also displaying fresh bright green leaves and lesser celandine carpets the woodland floor below them.

hazel leaves

Hazel leaves

lesser celandine

Lesser celandine

I followed the path along the Dockens Water, spotting a brimstone butterfly but it did not settle for a photo. On my way up to Lapwing Hide I saw great tit and blue tit feeding amongst the willows and nearer to the hide itself chiffchaff, Cetti’s warbler, water rail and little grebe were all calling and I saw a reed bunting in the trees.

I also spied my first adder of the year, something I wasn’t necessarily expecting as it was now mid afternoon and had warmed up considerably.

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Adder in amongst dead wood

On the edges of the paths colt’s-foot is flowering. It looks like a short dandelion but has a much rounder middle. Flowering early in spring, the flowers appear before the leaves do which has led to the plant getting the name ‘Son-before-father’.

coltsfoot

Colt’s-foot

Blackthorn is also blossoming and looking very pretty against a bright blue sky:

blackthorn blossom

Blackthorn blossom

After walking round to Goosander Hide I cut back across to Tern Hide via the closed Hanson path and saw my first peacock butterfly of the year, which was more obliging than the brimstone and paused just long enough for a photo.

peacock

Peacock

I popped in to Tern Hide to check all was well and see if there were any little ringed plover yet on the shore line. I couldn’t see any, or the common sandpiper which had been quite frequent, but did see teal, wigeon, tufted duck, goldeneye, shovelar, goosander and good numbers of pintail out on the water.

ibsley water and tern hide

Tern Hide and Ibsley Water from the viewing platform

On heading back to the Centre I decided to keep following the path along the Dockens Water to see if there were any signs of flowers on the bluebells (not yet, but it won’t be long!) and also to check the boardwalk was still taped off at either end where it is currently closed.

The hawthorn along the path is another tree coming into leaf. Its flowers are similar to blackthorn, however hawthorn comes into leaf first, and will not flower until May, whereas the flowers of blackthorn appear before the leaves, as seen in the photo above.

hawthorn

Hawthorn leaves

All in all it was a very nice wander around the reserve in the sunshine. I am working from home today, listening to the chaffinch and dunnock singing outside, and will be doing so more over the coming weeks and months so it was good to get out on the reserve while I still could. I will be spending more time in my little garden and walking my dog down to the closest stretch of the River Bourne in Laverstock, or possibly up to the Laverstock Downs themselves if they remain quiet. So I will finish this blog with a photo of a primrose, as there are still plenty flowering on the reserve:

primrose

Primrose

Covid-19 Update

Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust Update

Our response to the Coronavirus

The Trust has been assessing the Covid-19 situation daily and constantly reviewing all of its planned events, taking sensible steps to protect the health and safety of staff, volunteers and members of the public.

As of tomorrow, the Education Centre and bird hides here at Blashford will remain closed until further notice, however you will still be able to use the footpaths to walk around the reserve. We recognise how important nature is for our wellbeing, so are planning on keeping our nature reserves open for the foreseeable future, but ask visitors to heed the advice given and not travel some distance to reach us.

We are also currently in the process of cancelling all our upcoming events until further notice.

Please be patient if you try to get in touch with any enquiries, we will still have a staff presence on the reserve but this may be reduced or limited at times and as such it may take a little longer than usual for us to get back to you, and we will continue to keep in touch via the blog.

We are thinking of all our lovely members, visitors and supporters at this time, and hope you all stay safe and continue to enjoy the wildlife and nature around you.

Hope to see you at Blashford in the not-to-distant future,

Tracy, Jim and Bob

 

Willow, wildflowers… and bittern!!

Yesterday we ran another willow weaving event, this time making living willow structures which were created straight into a pot filled with compost. If kept wet so they are able to root, the willow will continue to grow and once established they could be potted up or planted out into the garden.

We used common osier from our main willow bed alongside the colourful willows Megan and I harvested up near Lapwing Hide last week. Ten sets of two willow rods were pushed into the compost, with five sets angled to the right and five angled to the left, so when they were woven around each other they created a diamond pattern. The rods were then bound at the top to keep them in place. The finished structures looked great!

Willow sculptures

Fingers crossed they all grow well!

Now that the reserve is coming back to life after what feels like a very long, if mild, winter, we have been using our temporary signs to label some of the different plants and flowers that are adding welcome colour to the woodland floor, so do keep an eye out for them when you visit:

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Moschatel, or Town-Hall-Clock as it is also known, is flowering in a number of places along the edges of the footpath in the woodland. It is easy to miss, as it is low growing and the delicate flowers themselves are very small, growing up on a tall stalk, but they do look lovely. It is the unusual arrangement of the flower head that gives it the common name of Town-Hall-Clock, as each flower head comprises of five flowers, four of which face outwards at ninety degrees to each other to resemble a clock face. The fifth sits on top facing upwards.

Moschatel has a number of other common names, including five-faced bishop, hollowroot, tuberous crowfoot and muskroot. The latter apparently refers to the faint musk-like smell given off by the flowers as evening approaches. It is a delightful flower to find and worth keeping an eye out for, there is a label by an oak tree along the connecting path between Ivy North Hide and the path that runs down to the Woodland Hide and Ivy South, where it is carpeting the ground.

Moschatel

Moschatel flower

Yesterday, and again just now, we have had sightings of a bittern at Ivy North Hide, so if you visit this week it is well worth spending a bit of time in there and scanning the reed bed just in case it stays with us for a few days before moving on elsewhere. A group in the hide yesterday saw it fly out of the reeds to the right of the hide before going back down into the reeds to the left, whilst it was showing nicely a short while ago for those lucky enough to be in the hide at the right time.

A couple of redpoll are still visiting the feeders at the Woodland Hide and marsh harrier, common sandpiper and Mediterranean gull were all recorded yesterday on Ibsley Water. The long-tailed duck is also still present on Ibsley Water, it was there yesterday and was showing well this morning, being closer to the hide than I have seen it previously, albeit still a fair way off! There are also still high numbers of pintail, seen out on the water but also on the bank by Goosander Hide.

Pintail

Pintail

Today’s sunshine has also bought out the butterflies, on swapping the seasonal sign in Tern Hide over this morning Megan and I saw a peacock and brimstone, and we were joined by another brimstone whilst having lunch outside the Centre by the pond. A little more of today’s weather (along with a view of a bittern) would be lovely!

Spring showers

Yesterday morning after opening up the hides, welcome volunteer Hilary and I were treated to views of a Common or Lesser redpoll close to the Welcome Hut. It was hopping around on the ground looking for food before flying up onto the feeder base where it investigated the hole the feeder usually sits in, unfortunately not currently there in an attempt to deter the rats from getting too at home, pausing long enough for me to get an ok-ish photo then flew off.

redpoll

Redpoll disappointed by the lack of a bird feeder!

Redpoll have been noticeably absent this winter and early spring, my only view prior to this being two feeding on the bird feeder station outside the Woodland Hide from the TV in the Education Centre lobby – admittedly a very good view but not quite the same! Two have been coming to the feeders by the Woodland Hide regularly now for a few days, today there was a record of three in the hide diary, so it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re at the reserve and haven’t managed to spy one yet this year.

After this rather exciting sighting, I got ready for a willow weaving event and spent the morning helping participants have a go at making fish and snails using willow from the reserve and adding in a bit of soft rush to the fish to make them nice and stripey. The finished results looked brilliant, especially the fish as they were so colourful. A fun time was I think had by all!

Yesterday was a very mixed day weather wise, when the sun was out it was lovely, but we also had a hail shower and another couple of showers which did pass through quickly but were very heavy. I had gone out to re-write a couple of temporary signs when I got caught out by one of these, and seeing blue sky in the distance decided to shelter under a holly tree and wait it out, where I was joined by the Saunders family who decided to do the same thing.

We were talking and they rather excitedly said they had just seen a duck sat high up in a tree, something they had heard of but never actually seen before. I have never seen a duck up in a tree either, and when it stopped raining they very kindly walked back along the path to show me. I had walked straight past her, so it was a brilliant spot!

Mallard

Female mallard

She is quite high up, so I assume she is nesting, and fingers crossed she’s successful. She was certainly looking content!

As well as being lucky enough to see the mallard yesterday, I also watched two treecreepers having what I assume was a territorial dispute. They were both making their way up to the tops of two separate but very close to each other trees, then on reaching the top flew at each other before tumbling down to the ground together. They then went back to the trees, climbed to the tops, did it all over again before flying further apart. If it wasn’t a territorial dispute, perhaps it was some kind of courtship behaviour, but either way it was fascinating to see. Treecreepers seem to be particularly visible and easy to spot at the minute, partly because the trees are yet to be covered in leaves, and they are a lovely bird to watch. I was too busy watching their fluttery tumbling to get a photo but did manage this one afterwards:

treecreeper

Treecreeper

A heavy shower is enough to form a rather large puddle in the main nature reserve car park at present where the ground water levels are so high, and although yesterday you could skirt the edge after a heavy downpour without wellies it is worth bearing this in mind if you visit after a heavy shower. After checking the water levels in the car park I spent a short while in the hide watching a pair of Pied wagtails moving on the shore of Ibsley Water.

wagtail

Pied wagtail

The Long-tailed duck was still present yesterday, along with a Common sandpiper on the shoreline and two Marsh harrier. Pintail are still present on Ibsley Water in large numbers and the male Goldeneye have been displaying, tossing their heads back before stretching their necks up and pointing their bills to the sky.

Today work experience student Megan and I ventured up to Lapwing Hide to cut some of the more colourful willows that are growing in the reedbed and spotted a Common snipe hiding amongst the soft rush. Its stripes and barring provide excellent camouflage:

snipe

Spot the snipe!

We were also ever so slightly distracted by the Kingfisher which returned to the Education Centre pond today, it seems to prefer this spot it when its wet! It did perch briefly on one of the antlers of the willow deer:

Kingfisher

Kingfisher perched on the willow deer

Kingfisher 2

Kingfisher by the Education Centre pond

Finally, jumping back to yesterday and just to prove it was a very showery kind of day, there was a lovely double rainbow over Ivy Lake when I locked Ivy South Hide. If I’d had my camera on me I might have got it in one photo, but had to make do with two instead:

 

Shovelling silt

On Sunday our Young Naturalists were treated to the lovely task of clearing all the silt, mud and other debris from the main car park by Tern Hide, following the recent flooding, a task they got stuck into and I think quite enjoyed!

Car park

Before

I think the thing they enjoyed the most, was trying to sweep the water lengthways down the puddle then through the outflow pipe…

Playing aside, they did scrape off a lot and Bob was very impressed by their efforts.

After lunch they then had a go at pewter smelting, as we had all the kit to hand and they hadn’t tried it before. They used the play-dough to make a mould before melting the pewter shot over the fire and carefully pouring it into the mould.

Their finished items looked great, we will have to do it again:

Pewter smelting by Izzy Fry 2

Pewter pine cone and mould by Izzy Fry

Cast items

Finished items – alder cones, shells, pine cones and acorns

After the session Izzy went to the Woodland Hide to see what she could spot and sent in these brilliant photos:

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Thanks Izzy for sharing!

Our Young Naturalists group is funded by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

Winter craft

Last week we carried on regardless with our craft themed Wild Days Out despite the weather, making the most of our outdoor shelter so we could still have a fire and spending a little more time indoors than we would do normally, in particular on the Thursday. We did though manage a wander in search of firewood – which we saved for another day as everything really was rather soggy – and some outdoor play at lunch time to let off some steam.

Being craft themed, our main aim over the two days was to use the fire to melt some pewter before carefully pouring it into a mould to produce a cast of a natural object. We made some play-dough (one cup of flour, half a cup of salt, two tablespoons of cream of tartar, one table spoon of oil and some water) to use for our moulds which worked really well and could even be re-used once partially baked by the pewter. Acorns, alder cones, pine cones and shells were carefully pressed into the dough then removed, leaving an imprint behind that could be filled with the pewter.

Once the moulds were ready, we carefully heated up some lead-free pewter shot (a mixture of 95% tin, 4% antimony and 1% copper) over the fire in a spoon attached to a long handle, and once melted poured this into the mould.

Once the items had cooled down, they could be removed from the play-dough:

The children really enjoyed having a go at pewter casting and their items all looked fabulous! The shells in particular came out really well, and the pine cones did look like little hedgehogs.

Whilst we were doing this in small groups, they also had a go at modelling with the play-dough, willow weaving, painting and making rush boats.

Despite the weather, a fun time was had by all! Easter’s activities have a somewhat appropriate watery theme as we explore the pond and river. Bookings can be made from Monday, for more details please visit one of the following:

Wet n’ Wild for 7 to 12 year olds on Tuesday 7th April

Splash! for 5 to 8 year olds on Wednesday 8th April

Wellingtons required!

The water level in the main car park (north of Ellingham Drove) has dropped enough to make it possible for us to open Tern Hide, however wellington boots are definitely needed to wade through the water if you would like to visit. Hopefully the level will continue to fall, but depending on how much rain we get over the next couple of days we may decide to leave the hide closed, so please do pay attention to the temporary signage on site. If you do venture across, please take extra care as the river carried a fair amount of silt and leaf litter when it flowed through the car park.

Waterfowl on Ibsley Water have been tending to stay further out on the lake and around the edges, with not much venturing in front or close to the hide, just in case that helps a decision on whether or not to visit. The Avon valley is so wet the birds are spoilt for choice at present and the lake itself feels fairly quiet.

I was looking at the debris around the edge of the car park today when locking the hide, and it does look as though the water level made it past the large sleepers and as far as the new sign, further I think than it has been in previous floods. The main car park will remain closed for another couple of days, we will blog again when it re-opens.

With the exception of the boardwalk past Ivy South Hide which remains closed, all other hides and footpaths are open as usual and most of the reserve is easily navigated with sensible shoes or boots. Most of the waterfowl are still on Ivy Lake although the kingfisher seems to visiting Ivy South less frequently than it was. Perhaps it will begin to visit again more regularly when the water levels drop. It was also nice to see a Snipe in the soft rush outside Lapwing Hide when I was checking the paths yesterday.

Unfortunately our two education activity areas seem to have received most of the water (after the main car park of course) so we will be running our Wild Days Out sessions closer to the Centre tomorrow and Thursday. The centre car park will therefore be busy between 9.45am and 10.15am and again from 2.45pm until 3.15pm with parents dropping children off and picking them up. Our sessions are craft themed, so we are not currently planning on visiting the bird hides!

Compared to other parts of the country we have got off fairly lightly, but here’s a photo of Jo and I surveying our rather soggy campfire and den building area, taken today by conservation volunteer Eric Cheer:

campfire area

The footpath in is deeper and our clay pit is currently a pond and filled to the brim, given the ground underneath is clay, it will take a while to drain away!

Reserve update

What a difference a day makes! Water levels have dropped considerably, however the main nature reserve car park remained closed today and will continue to stay closed until the water levels have dropped further. Tern Hide also remained closed today, however hopefully we will be able to open it tomorrow to those visitors wearing welly boots and happy to wade along the edge of the car park…

Other hides are open as usual, with the only other notable closure being that of the boardwalk just past Ivy South Hide. The boardwalk will remain closed until further notice, so please do pay attention to the temporary signs and hazard tape which are in place.

At least today the sky was on occasion blue!

car park

Wet, wet, wet…

Although the winds have subsided, keeping the reserve closed today as well as yesterday was definitely the right thing to do as when I arrived this morning Ellingham Drove was flowing like a river and the water levels definitely rose in the few hours I was on site.

I didn’t venture too far, only checking the paths between the Woodland and Ivy Lake hides for any trees that had come down in yesterday’s strong winds, but wellington boots were definitely needed for stretches of footpath around the Woodland Hide and down towards Ivy South. I decided to save the rest of the checking until tomorrow in case the river on Ellingham Drove became too deep and I struggled to leave – there was at least one car further down the Drove towards Moyles Court that had become stuck in deeper water and a number of drivers decided to think twice, turn around and head back towards the A338.

The only trees of note, which admittedly I could have missed as I haven’t unlocked or locked up for a few days, were well away from the path but unfortunately in the middle of the woodland log circle area we use for bug hunting. They seemed to have just toppled over, lifting up the saturated ground as they went:

woodland

I know the boardwalk past Ivy South Hide does occasionally flood when Ivy Lake and the silt pond are both at capacity, but I have never seen water flowing over it before:

The Dockens Water is also fuller than I’ve ever seen it, resulting in it spilling out over Ellingham Drove and into the main reserve car park.

The water was flowing just shy of the river dipping bridge. It will be interesting to see what our dipping area looks like once the waters have dropped again, our ‘beach’ had been looking quite good after the last flood!

Given it was still raining when I left and there really isn’t anywhere for such a huge volume of water to go, it is going to take a day or so for the flood waters to subside from the main car park, even if Ellingham Drove clears relatively quickly:

The photos above don’t really do it justice, the water was flowing into the car park with some force in places, and although I could wade along the road in, I was up to the tops of my wellies not far past the waymarker post in the foreground of the photo of the car park and Tern Hide.

It would be very advisable not to visit in too much of a hurry tomorrow! It is highly likely the main car park will remain closed for a day or two, depending on how quickly the levels drop, and even if Tern Hide becomes accessible by skirting the edge of the car park along slightly higher ground, welly boots will definitely be needed.

The south side of the reserve will hopefully open as usual tomorrow, although again welly boots might be useful for some parts!

Sadly we have had to cancel tomorrows Willow Bird Feeder event, in addition to today’s Weave a Willow Snail event which had been postponed from last Sunday, but hopefully it will stop raining soon and we can get back to normal!

Reserve CLOSED Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th February

The nature reserve will remain closed this weekend, Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th February, again due to the forecast of strong winds and heavy rain. This closure applies to all hides and footpaths.

We’re sorry for any inconvenience caused, but don’t think a visit here will be a pleasant one!

We anticipate being back open Monday morning as usual, but will post again if this is not the case. Hopefully the weather will improve soon!