Bird ringing at Blashford

Brenda has been ringing birds at Blashford for many years, and it has been a pleasure to observe some of her winter ringing sessions. The practise of bird ringing generates information on the survival, productivity and movement of birds, and is an important method to help us understand locally and nationally (and globally!) how and why populations are changing.

All bird ringing is conducted following BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) protocols by trained and licenced ringers, with assistance from supervised trainees. If you would like to learn more about this head to https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/ringing.

Long tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

A morning ringing… it’s an early start!
Birds are most active in the morning (not the sort of just before lunch lazy morning, the real ‘sun just got up and is only just peeking over the trees’ type of early!), so the mist nets are set-up to make the most of this, and as a general trend more birds are caught early, with the numbers tapering down until the nets are closed around lunchtime.

Close up of a mist net. Mist net including poles and guy ropes.

Mist nets are an invaluable piece of equipment for ornithologists, providing a safe method to catch birds for research. A mist net is made of very fine nylon netting and is almost invisible, hence the term ‘mist’. Each net has 5 evenly spaced thicker horizontal strings called trammels, which are secured to vertical poles at each end of the net to ensure even tension. Between each trammel is fine netting that arcs down into a sort of pouch. They fly into the net and fall into a pouch and await careful extraction. This is the part I find fascinating. On each net check (regular intervals throughout the session) Brenda determines which side of the net the bird flew into, so that she can extract it successfully. She uses a variety of holds to ensure the bird stays still and can be untangled from the net without harm. Once extracted they are placed into a small drawstring bag for safekeeping and taken back to the area which has been set up for processing.

Birds waiting to be processed. Table laid out with ringing equipment.

Biometric data is taken for each bird (e.g. wing length, weight) and age/sex determined (depending on time of year) by identifiable features related to moult, feather colouration and feather shapes, or if during certain times of year the presence of e brood patch or cloacal protuberance (CP). If the bird is a re-capture then it will already have a ring, but if it’s a new bird then a small metal ring is fitted around the right leg which has a unique identifiable number. The rings are made of wide, flat metal, which is pressed around the leg, ensuring the join is smooth and the edges are flush. Once the ringer is confident the ring can move up and down the leg with absolutely no impact on the bird’s movement, it is then released. Brenda has a fantastic way of teaching and is exceptionally calm and patient and has one bespoke piece of kit that she made herself, a knitted bird! This bird can be used to practise specific handling techniques, be fitted with bird rings etc, so that when a trainee comes to handle a live bird they are more confident in their abilities.

These unique ring numbers are vital, as the data on re-capture can tell us how old the bird is, where it may have flown from (therefore its range), helping to inform bird conservation efforts. This morning we caught around 25 birds, and (bearing in mind I class myself as ‘not really a birder’) being able to see so many birds up close and learn about their markings has really helped me in my quest to be better at bird ID!

Lesser redpoll (Acanthis cabaret)

Stick Man arrives at Blashford Lakes, spends time with the Tots, what route does he take?

The Stick Men began life as a pile of sticks, and were soon brought to life by our Wildlife Tots group. They collected all different shapes and sizes of leaves to create fantastic skirts, trousers, and even legwarmers for their Stick Men! The leafy hairdos and headdresses were ornate, and that left only one thing, a scarf to keep the stickmen warm.

As Tracy read through the story, we moved around the reserve. First, we took our Stick Men on a walk towards the river, to get away from the fictional dog who would have used them for a game of fetch!

The next obstacle in our Stick Men’s quest to get home… pooh sticks! We gathered some sticks and went to the Docken’s bridge, careful to drop our sticks and not our Stick Men. 1…2….3…. DROP! Sticks into the river and Stick Men safe, we ran to the other side of the bridge to see who would win.

Having survived the pooh stick game, our Wildlife Tots and Stick Men moved on to our next activity, building a nest for a swan. We gathered some sticks and put them all together, then counted out some ‘eggs’ for our cuddly toy swan to keep warm. In the next part of the story, the Stick Man drifts down the river and out to sea, washing up on the beach.

Tracy read on, “Here comes a dad with a spade in his hand. Stick Man oh Stick Man, beware of the sand!’ ‘A mast!’ yells the dad, ‘An excellent mast!” and our next activity, making sandcastles of course! We got pots, sticks and leaves, and using sand next to the river a village of castles was made.

We left the river, some castles were trampled by Tots feet, and we made our way to the campfire area, stopping in some muddy puddles for a splash on the way. It’s winter in the story now, and the Stick Man’s next hurdle on his way home… is being mistaken for the perfect ‘stick arm’ for a snowman. As is the usual way with Hampshire… it’s not snowy despite it being winter, so we created doughmen instead of snowmen!

The group scrambled around to find good sticks for the arms, and charcoal for eyes and buttons. We then had a quick briefing on campfire safety, and, keeping all our Stick Men safe, Tracy lit a small fire. Enthralled by the campfire, the Tots were the quietest they had been all morning, and listened intently to the last part of the story. The Stick Man in the story helps Father Christmas escapes the fire, helps to deliver the presents, and then gets returned safe and sound to his Family Tree. After putting out the fire, we walked back to the centre and all the newly created Stick Men got in the car with their Tots, ready to go on another adventure.

A winter wander

I’m a little out of sync with Jim and Chloe’s last few blogs, but on Boxing Day I was back at Blashford and after catching up with my emails in the morning (only getting slightly distracted by the view from the office window of the Chiffchaff below, I’m still waiting for the Kingfisher…) I decide to head out for a wander.

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Chiffchaff by the Education Centre pond

The day had begun quite grey but after a brief stop in Tern Hide to see if anything was close enough to the shore to photograph the sun did start to break through the clouds.

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Pochard from Tern Hide

I cut across the closed path from Tern Hide to Goosander Hide (will 2022 be the year we can finally open the path to visitors?! We can but hope!) and paused to look through the screen at the ephemeral ponds.

view from screen on old concrete site

Ephemeral ponds with Ibsley Water in the distance

A large flock of Redwing were feeding around the edges of the ponds and in amongst the grass along with a Mistle thrush and Pied wagtail.

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Mistle thrush

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Mistle thrush

I watched the Mistle thrush for some time as it hopped about between the pools of water, at one point it extracted a rather large earthworm from the ground and proceeded to gulp it down.

The Redwings were more easily spooked by my presence at the screen and kept their distance, but on continuing along the path they would fly up to the larger trees at the sound of my footsteps and eventually I got lucky with one perching in a smaller silver birch.

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Redwing

I also watched a small flock of Goldfinch and Siskin feeding on the seeds in amongst the alder cones – there is still plenty of food for them in amongst the tree tops:

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Goldfinch pausing in a silver birch to finish feeding

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Siskin feeding on alder seeds

From Goosander Hide I watched a pair of Goosander in the bay, along with Coot, Grey heron and Tufted duck.

view from Goosander Hide

View from Goosander Hide

On my way up to Lapwing Hide I followed a flock of Long-tailed tits and scanned a flock of Chaffinch feeding on the ground for a Brambling, but sadly I was not in luck. We have though had a pair of females and one male seen from the Woodland Hide over the last couple of days, so there’s still time!

Near Lapwing Hide I had another good view of a Chiffchaff as it flitted about in the tree tops:

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Chiffchaff near Lapwing Hide

The water immediately in front of Lapwing Hide was quite quiet, apart from the gulls which took it in turns to sit and call loudly from the posts in the water:

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Lesser black-backed gull – I think!

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Black-headed gull in its winter plummage, without its dark chocolate-coloured head

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Ibsley Water from Lapwing Hide

From Lapwing Hide I headed back to the road crossing and followed the path along the Dockens Water.

woodland along Dockens Water

Woodland along the Dockens Water

Volunteer Geoff had mentioned a fungi near the bridge that crosses over the Dockens, he had spotted it on the walk back at the end of our Young Naturalists session before Christmas (a blog will follow at some point!) so I stopped to have a look:

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Wood cauliflower, Sparassis crispa

Unsure of what it was, I asked one of our welcome volunteers, Bryn, today and after heading off in search of it he reported back to say it was Wood cauliflower, although it sadly no longer looks quite as nice as it does in the above photo. 

Back at the Education Centre I looked for the first signs of snowdrops in amongst the leaf litter, and sure enough they are starting to come up:

snowdrops pushing through

Snowdrops starting to push through the soil and leaf litter by the Education Centre

Given the afternoon had turned out quite nice, I decided to have a quick look at the feeder on the edge of the path by the Woodland Hide, watching Chaffinch, Blue tit, Marsh tit, Goldfinch, Dunnock and Siskin either on the feeder, on the ground or in amongst the surrounding trees. I also saw a bank vole scurrying around on the ground.

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Dunnock by the Woodland Hide

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Siskin by the Woodland Hide

Turkey tail fungus can be seen growing on the logs to the edge of the path whilst Candlesnuff fungus can be found on old tree stumps. Soon it will be the turn of the Scarlet elf cup which likes to grow on decaying sticks and branches in amongst the leaf litter, but I haven’t spotted any yet…

A look over the dead hedge to Ivy Silt Pond added Kingfisher to my list of birds for the day, and on that note I decided it was time I headed back to the office to get a couple more jobs done before it was time to start locking the reserve.

By the end of the day the temperature had dropped and a mist had descended over the lichen heath. As I peered through the screen by Ivy North Hide a flock of Redwing flew in to roost in the neighbouring trees.

view from Ivy North Hide

Evening view from Ivy North Hide

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Misty lichen heath

Today has been another very grey affair, so here’s a photograph of the Spindle which is brightening up the edge of the Centre car park:

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Bright pink fruit of the Spindle, Euonymus europaeus

This evening I’m hoping my locking up will be accompanied by the chattering and twittering of starlings from the reed beds near Ivy North and South Hides and the Silt Pond – Happy New Year!

12 Days Wild: Day 6 – exploring the familiar in the dark

We may have passed the winter solstice and the night times may now be starting to shorten again but as is often the case at this time of year, that dopes not mean there is enough day-light for me to get out and lock up before its dark!

As much as I like to actually see some wildlife when I’m locking the hides, doing so after dark does have other advantages, not least of which is how we become more aware of our other senses when deprived of our sight – sounds, smells, the feel of the wind on bare skin or changes in temperature as we pass water, climb up or down small elevations.

This evening it was my sense of hearing that dominated as the reedbeds fringing Ivy Lake near both Ivy North & South Hides AND the reedbed at the top of the adjacent Ivy Silt Pond were full of roosting starlings. I missed any murmuration that may or may not have occurred this evening (I suspect that it didn’t given the damp and breezy weather) but there was no mistaking the cacophony of chattering, chirps, tweets and twitterings emanating from the reeds!

And finally a reminder that Nigel & Christine are opening a “Pop-Up Take-Away” from the backdoors of the Education Centre classroom this Saturday for all our New Years Day visitors. The weather is looking warm and dry, albeit not sunny, so do come anticipating hot drinks and some lovely home-baked goodies!

12 Days Wild, day 4 – noticing the little things.

As I walked around the reserve today I noticed lots of people, and lots of lichen! Those of you that have visited Blashford Lakes know that we have a wonderful ‘lichen heath’ where balls of lichen grow freely on the ground. There is also an incredible amount of lichen and mosses all around the reserve, and when you take the time to look at it you can see beautiful patterns, and a huge variety of colours too. Healthy lichen communities are good natural indicators of air quality, long many they continue to thrive here!

It’s 12 Days Wild! What wild thing have you done today?

Just like our 30 Days Wild challenge in the summer, we are asking you to do one wild thing a day over the festive period, from 25th December to 5th January for #12DaysWild.

If you haven’t started yet don’t worry, you can begin right now just by going and spending 5 minutes outside, looking at the sky and seeing if you can hear any birds.

Today is day 3 of #12DaysWild!
For day 1 I went on a lovely Christmas dog walk, enjoying the sound of the rain on the hood of my coat, and the birds chirping in the hedgerows. Yesterday I went for a walk in the New Forest, and saw lots of mossy fallen trees, and admired a golden glowing sunset.

Day 3… and luckily I am working at Blashford today! I decided I would spend some time outdoors despite the rain, practising my willow weaving skills. Now that our Christmas wreath making activity has come to an end, we need do to something with all the willow, so I am learning how to make bird feeders. They don’t necessarily always go to plan, but practise does (I hope) make perfect, and it feels great to learn a new skill using a natural material.

Let us know your wild acts for nature on social media using the hashtag #12DaysWild and if you’ve done something at Blashford, make sure to #BlashfordLakes too!

SAUSAGE ROLLS & CAKE!!!

Please choose the most applicable introductory sentence from the following to suit your individual circumstances and then read on for exciting news from Blashford Lakes!

  • What could be better than a gentle relaxing walk around Blashford Lakes with the family this New Years Day?

OR

  • What could be better than a peaceful walk around Blashford Lakes without the family this New Years Day?

OR

  • What could be better than meeting up with friends &/or family outdoors in the fresh air and beautiful surroundings of Blashford Lakes this New Years Day?

OR

  • What could be better than kicking off your 2022 bird list at Blashford Lakes this New Years Day?

Doing any of the above with the added bonus of home-baked sweet and savoury delights and the welcoming smiles of Christine & Nigel of Walking Picnics who have been convinced to open a one off Pop-Up Cafe with a difference at Blashford Lakes this New Years Day!

Due to covid risk management the Centre will remain closed and the seating will be restricted to the benches around the front & back of the centre, serving will be via a “hatch” from the Classroom backdoor at the end of the building and those smiles will be hidden behind a face-covering but the hot drinks, soups, cakes, sausage rolls and other home-baked delights will all be at least as delicious and welcome as they ever were in the olden times before the pandemic 🙂

Given the circumstances we and they reserve the right to cancel the “Pop-Up Takeaway” at short notice if the weather is particularly poor on the day, or due to covid related issues but all being well they will be here to serve you from 10am-3pm on 1st January and it is an absolute pleasure to be welcoming them back!

Blashford Lakes opening times this holiday season:

Covid or weather related closures not withstanding, Blashford Lakes hides and car parks will be open as normal from 9am-4.30pm every day except Christmas Day itself. On Christmas Eve everything will be locked up very promptly so don’t loiter in Lapwing Hide or walk on down to the Alice Lisle towards the end of the day!

Up until Christmas Eve visitors will continue to be able to participate in our self-guided willow wreath making activity – https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-11-28-decorate-willow-wreath – and some very fine wreaths indeed I have seen leave the reserve already this year!

Tis the season to weave willow…

We have been getting in the festive spirit here at Blashford Lakes over the past few weeks, using the willow that Bob and the volunteers cut to make lots of wreaths which are now available for a small donation at the Welcome Hut as a self-guided activity.

On Monday we ran two wreath making sessions for home educating families, which were very well attended. We began by going on a foraging walk along the Dockens Water path with bags and secateurs in hand to see what we could find. The group returned with an abundance of holly, fir, ivy and other wonderful natural finds to use for decoration.

We gathered under the shelter behind the centre, with many piles of willow to choose from, and Tracy gave a demonstration on how to create a willow wreath. Firstly, select some willow that isn’t too thick or woody, as it needs to bend around into a P-shape to start. Wrap the willow around itself so it holds shape. Then, imagining your hoop as a clock, add new willow in at 12, 3, 6 etc…. and keep wrapping around and adding at roughly quarter intervals until you have a beautiful wreath. Try not to get too frustrated when it gets a kink in it, you can usually hide it with another piece of willow.

All of our families created wonderful wreaths, abundantly decorated with greenery, and splashes of colour from wool, material, and biodegradable-glittered pine cones. The only thing left to decide when each family gets home, is which of their children’s wreaths gets pride of place on the front door! I don’t think I would like to be in charge of that decision!

Wildlife Tots: There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing (unless it’s a storm of course!)

Monday morning began overcast, but soon progressed to a rather persistent drizzle that didn’t look like abating as Tracy and I were setting up for Wildlife Tots.

Always thankful for the shelter behind the Education Centre, we welcomed 8 exceptionally weatherproof children, and their slightly less weatherproof parents. Thoroughly impressed with the children’s all in one waterproofs and total disregard for the wet weather, we got to the exciting stuff, Christmas themed nature crafts!

First up was drawing on little round discs of wood cut from the reserve, and we had some beautiful Christmas tree illustrations, with some controlled biodegradable glittering to jazz them up even more. We then did some collecting of seed heads, leaves, and anything tiny we could find to put in water to create frozen decorations to hang up outside.

Our next activity took us out from under the shelter and into the drizzle! We walked to the campfire area and played find the pom pom decorations, which resulted in a fantastically colourful decorated tiny Christmas tree. With a wealth of time left over and the weather changing for the better, we foraged for items that could be used to decorated willow wreaths and headed back to the shelter.

Then it was time to get messy! Wool, pinecones, seed heads, holly, and all manner of brightly coloured ribbons were used to create some beautiful wreaths, and then with some help of glue and cotton wool (and tiny hats and scarves!) everyone made a pinecone snowman!