This weeks bird of the week…

…is the long-tailed duck.

Present on Ibsley Water since Monday this immature drake doesn’t have a long tail!

Normally a sea duck, and a winter visitor and passage migrant to the UK, it has been seen daily, including today, since Bobs first sighting on Monday morning.

They feed by diving for molluscs, crustaceans and some small fish and although they usually feed close to the surface, they are apparently capable of regularly diving to depths of 60 m and possibly even as deep as nearly 150 meters. They are the only ducks that use their wings to dive, which gives them the ability to dive much deeper than other ducks. Of course it won’t be diving quite as deep as that in Ibsley Water but its superb underwater swimming ability does make it one of the more challenging birds to keep tabs on as once its dived there is no telling when, or where, it is going to surface again!

Many thanks to Paul Swann for sharing this picture with us:

Longtailed duck by Paul Swann

Although we have not had any near the amount of rain that other parts of the UK have had, it has been pretty wet this week, albeit with moments of clear skies and sunshine. Paul captured one of these moments on the same day he snapped the long-tailed duck (Monday 4th November):

Ibsley rainbows by Paul Swann

Other wildlife news this week includes a general increase in both the number and diversity of wildfowl  across the nature reserve, sightings of water pipit and the first arrivals of goldeneye (both on Ibsley Water), increasing numbers of goosander (including at least two birds on Ivy Lake yesterday), the on-going presence of at least two great white egret (including Walter), in the Avon Valley and lakes in various locations by day but roosting on Ivy Lake at night, the arrival of our first sizeable flocks of siskin (one of those magical, Blashford Autumn special wildlife sightings for me), the beginning of at least a small evening murmuration (a few thousand birds) of starlings in the Valley, viewable from Tern Hide and the viewing platform at the back of the car park if you manage to get the timing and conditions right… I haven’t done so yet!

There is no Pop-Up Café tomorrow, but “Walking Picnics” will be back serving delicious cakes and savoury bakes with warm drinks next Sunday, 17th November, and if they do as well as they did last weekend you would do well to come early before they sell out!

 

 

 

 

More autumnal fun!

Last week we had two Autumn themed Wild Days Out, where we looked for fungi, collected leaves to preserve in wax and cooked toffee apples over the fire.

We spotted lots of fungi on our walk including some fresh fly agaric in the meadow by Ivy North Hide. We also saw a species of Mycena, a blackening waxcap and candlesnuff fungus, along with plenty of common puffballs which the children enjoyed poking to see how they dispersed their spores.

After lunch we headed over to the campfire area with the leaves we had collected on the morning’s walk. Before melting the wax which would be used to preserve the colour of the leaves, we had a go at cooking toffee apples over the fire. First we whittled a stick then pierced the skin of the apple a number of times using a fork. The apple was then warmed up over the fire then removed so a sugar and cinnamon mix could be sprinkled over. This process was then repeated until the sugar had caramelised nicely – they tasted delicious!

Once the fire had begun to die down we melted some wax in a pan then tied a piece of string to our favourite leaves and carefully dunked them into the melted wax. The wax will preserve the colour of the leaves so they stay looking autumnal for longer and they make great bunting or mobiles.

Whilst the leaves were left to dry on the line, Jim demonstrated how to ignite the dry fruiting bodies of King Alfred’s Cakes, another fungi we had found and collected that morning. Once ignited they can be used as kindling to start a fire, which explains the other names that have been given to this fungus, including carbon balls and coal fungus.

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King Alfred’s Cake used as kindling

Once lit, the King Alfred’s Cake can smoulder gently for a long time, which has led to the speculation that in the past people could have used the fungus to transport fire from place to place.

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King Alfred’s Cake

We also found time to have a rummage in search of bugs and Thomas found this impressive beetle larva under one of the logs:

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Beetle larva

Our Wild Days Out will return next year at February Half Term, where we will be using natural materials to sculpt and weave along with fire to melt and create with pewter! To be added to our Wild Days Out mailing list to receive information and details on how to book via Eventbrite please email BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk

To see what else we have coming up over the Autumn and Winter please visit the website.

As well as our Wild Days Out last week, Jim attended the New Forest National Park’s Wild Play Day at Holmsley, expertly assisted by volunteers Nora and Nathanial. Armed with plenty of clay they were overseeing the wonderfully titled ‘Brown and Sticky’ activity and a messy time was had by all. Here are some of the creations sculpted on the day:

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Reserve closed Saturday 2nd November…

The reserve will remain closed tomorrow, Saturday 2nd November, due to the strong winds forecast and the increased risk of damage to people and property due to ash dieback.

We will however be open as normal on Sunday 3rd, which sees the return of the Pop Up Café in the Education Centre between 10am and 3pm so hope you are able to join us then.

walking picnics 2

Walking Picnics will be back serving hot drinks and delicious home baked cake and savouries in the Centre classroom on the first and third Sundays of the month from November until the end of January and also on New Years Day.

Autumnal activities

Last Sunday we headed up to the area of silver birch trees by Goosander Hide with our Young Naturalists to have a go at making besom brooms. The group felled a small tree each, then removed all the side branches and top, cut the pole to size and bundled the twigs together before binding them to the pole.

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It was a lovely activity to do in the sunshine and they really enjoyed it. I hope a lot of sweeping went on this week!

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Before heading back to the Centre we popped into Goosander Hide and were delighted to get really good views of a kingfisher. Thank you to Alan Burnett who was in the hide at the same time and very kindly shared his photos with us:

Fishing-2 by Alan Burnett

Kingfisher by Alan Burnett

Fishing-4 by Alan Burnett

Kingfisher by Alan Burnett

After lunch we cooked toffee apples over the campfire, which did take a bit of getting going, and they tasted scrummy!

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Cooking toffee apples over the slightly smoky campfire

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

Round up of recent events

So far each month this year has seen us recording a record number of visitors to the reserve. October may prove to be the exception, due, no doubt, to it being generally rather wet and gloomy. It hasn’t deterred everyone however and those visitors who have braved the rain have reported/recorded some good sightings – including the following by one of our Welcome Volunteers, Doug, taken a couple of weeks ago on one of the few days where there was actually some sunshine(!):

great crested grebe by Doug Massongrass snakes by Doug Massongrass snake by Doug MassonTawny by Doug Masson

I think the grass snakes may actually have given up and found somewhere to hibernate over winter by now but they had been pretty active outside Ivy South Hide in the usual spot. When I say pretty active I actually mean unusually VERY active, particularly given the time of the year… the picture of the three together above were actually mating and another visitor had reported seeing the same behaviour a few days prior to Doug capturing it on “film”, although all of the guide books suggest that this usually only happens in or around April soon after they have emerged from hibernation.

The tawny owl shot is fabulous and Doug is the second photographer that I am aware of who has been fortunate enough to chance upon one of “our” owls hiding out on the reserve during the day this year.

Visitors to the Centre may have had a fiddle with the wildlife camera controller fixed up to the TV in the lobby and discovered that additional camera’s are now live – in addition to the original pond and compost camera’s and the new Woodland Hide feeder camera, there is now a bird box camera, tawny owl box camera and an artificial badger sett camera.

Being new and the wrong time of year, there is absolutely nothing going on on these new additions, but fingers crossed, they will see activity next year! Actually, I say there is nothing going on in them, but there is a lovely cobweb across the front of the badger cam and at times the spider is in evidence too 😉

Out on the water autumn arrivals are dropping in in dribs and drabs but goosander are now to be seen on a daily basis on Ibsley Water as are teal, pochard and wigeon across the site. Walter and friends are still around too, although they have kept a low profile for much of this month. The great white egrets do seem to be back roosting on Ivy Lake near the cormorants again though with at least two birds around regularly and three individuals seen yesterday. Also on Ivy Lake Bob saw otter again when he locked up one evening last week. First otter sightings for a while that we are aware of and he saw it from both Ivy North and Ivy South Hide and the wildfowl saw it too – and were not very happy about it!

Not so good for our visitor numbers the wet weather has certainly been good for fungi, with fantastic displays of puffball species, parasol and fly agaric mushrooms in particular.

Puffballs by Daisy MeadowcroftParasol by Daisy MeadowcroftFly agaric by Daisy Meadowcroft

There have been occasional nice beefsteak fungi too, but sadly foragers did for the best of these before reaching their prime.

I haven’t got anything against the gathering and consumption of wild fungi personally and have been known to indulge myself on more than one occasion, but I only ever collect a few specimens from locations where that species is abundant and I always ensure that plenty are left to complete their life-cycle and spore. It is very unfortunate that, as with many pastimes, a few selfish and/or thoughtless individuals spoil it for the many.

Feel free to question the actions of visitors foraging at Blashford, or let staff/volunteers know, as, unless part of an organised fungus group survey, they will almost certainly not have permission to be collecting!

Half-term next week and we have “Wild Days Out” activity days on Tuesday and Thursday and, if we get any more bookings (they’re rather thin at the moment) we have a Stargazing event with Fordingbridge Astronomers on Tuesday evening.

And finally, for lovers of fine food everywhere, we are very pleased to announce the most welcome and long-awaited return of the Pop Up Café in the Centre classroom a week on Sunday (Sunday 3rd November)!

Nigel and Christine from Walking Picnics are back serving hot drinks and delicious home baked cakes and savoury snacks from 10.30am-3.30pm on New Years Day and the first and third Sundays of November, December and January with possible additional dates later in the year to follow. Enjoy!

A Warning

Fortunately a rare event for us, but recently a car was broken into in the main car park at Blashford. Please do not leave valuables, or bags etc. that might look as if they might contain valuables, on show in your car. Sadly such break-ins are something of a feature of countryside car parks and although rare with us, we are not immune. Break-ins to cars within the car parks are a rare event, they are slightly more frequent for cars parked along the roadside.

So please take care with your valuables and report any suspicious activity you see. The police are aware of the incident and any information that might assist in identifying the culprits would be welcome.

Dine & discover…

Sometimes Blashford blog posts are a bit like buses – after a lull of a couple of weeks here’s your third in 2 days. Hope they’ve been worth the wait!

A  week ago, last Friday, saw me arriving at work later in the day and preparing for our evening “Dine & discover… Blashfords night life” event.

Dine & discover…” are a relatively new undertaking for us, but one that does seem to be gathering momentum gradually.

The first was trialled in the Spring with a stinging nettle theme – following some nettle sweep netting and ID-ing of the invertebrates caught, nettle tops were picked and the stems harvested. While the nettle soup simmered over the campfire our participants learnt how to prepare the nettle stems and made string from it. Since then we have run similar events learning about meadow invertebrates and freshwater invertebrates too.

“Dine and Discover…” is a monthly event for adults excited by nature and the outdoors at which we prepare and share a simple campfire meal before engaging in some kind of outdoor activity to discover and expand everyone’s knowledge and awareness of  wildlife. Septembers theme, as you may have already surmised from the title of the event, was nocturnal wildlife.

Last Friday our participants arrived as the last of our day time visitors and other staff left for the day.

After a quick welcome, a round of introductions and explanation of what they could expect, our first task was the collection and preparation of wood for the campfire.

Fire lit, we emptied the light trap and released the previous nights catch of moths, caddis flies and other insects, including the large yellow underwing pictured below:

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (2)

While the fire continued to build up heat everyone enjoyed a cuppa and fire-watching while one of the participants and I finished chopping the vegetables for our spicy chickpea and potato soup ready for it to go in the pot and on the fire.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (3)

While dinner bubbled we headed off with a jar of Bob’s moth “gloop” and a paint brush with which we daubed a number of fence posts and benches around the Centre.

Comprising a not-so-secret recipe of treacle, brown sugar, beer and rum, in theory the heavily scented sweet syrup is attractive to moths and was a common method of attracting moths in Victorian times when light traps were not an option. Although not as effective as a light trap, certainly in terms of the number of species which it attracts, “sugaring”, as the method is called, does attract a number of moths which do not normally come to light, including the Autumn flying copper underwing.

Unfortunately on this night it was not terribly successful, attracting just a few spiders a woodlouse and earwig, but, given the paucity of moths around the light trap both then and released from the trap the following day, this is probably due to the cold clear night reducing the number of insects on the wing as opposed to the quality of Bob’s brew!

Fence posts sugared, dinner was served.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (5)

It was a lot tastier than the above photo makes it  look – I certainly enjoyed it and as second and the odd third helping followed I think it is safe to assume that everyone else enjoyed it too!

As we finished our dinner darkness fell and our first bats were picked up on our bat detectors – soprano pipistrelle for certain and possibly some common pipistrelle too.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (4)

Pudding was toasted marshmallows accompanied by the staccato calls of the bats coming through on the bat detectors and punctuated by the call of at least a couple of tawny owls from nearby.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (7)

Joining in with a few “twooo’s” of my own owl call some of the group were treated to a fly past by one of the owls as curiosity (and territoriality!) drew it in to land in an adjacent oak tree. Not wanting to antagonise the bird, or cause it to waste time and energy on a nonexistent rival, I then kept stum and after a couple of minutes everyone had a great view of it flying back towards the alder carr over the pond, lit by the light of the light trap.

Definitely a highlight of the evening!

After putting the fire out we went for a short walk to Ivy Silt Pond & back, eyes adjusting to the dark and marveling at the number of stars in the clear night sky. Unfortunately although great for astronomy a clear sky at night means a cold night, a cold night means fewer insects – and fewer insects means fewer bats hunting them!

We did pick up the odd bat but it was bush crickets that we were picking up more than anything else  so, with the end of the evening drawing to a close, we returned to the Centre to finish our evening with the bats that were still flying around there, no doubt making the most of the few insects attracted to the light trap.

190927 Dine&Discover D McGregor (1)

Thank you to David for sharing his pictures of the evening.

The next “Dine & discover…”, back in the day time, 11am – 3pm on Friday October 25th, will include a guided walk looking for Autumn fungi, birds and other wildlife – for details of this and how to book onto it and all our other events this Autumn and Winter have a look at our new “What’s on?” leaflet: 190927 BL WhatsOn Oct-Feb JD

Fungi spotting

Autumn is a great time to go looking for fungi, so on Sunday after spying a few whilst unlocking the reserve in the morning, we decided to head off in search of more during our Young Naturalists session.

We began however with a rather nice job of weeding the path which leads to our campfire – although possibly not the most exciting of jobs, it was one that needed to be done and it was very satisfying to be able to see just how much they had managed to clear in the hour or so we were out there. We did however decide to do the rest another day when the showers became heavier!

After lunch and a disappointing rummage through the light trap which contained a number of crane fly but not much else, we headed off with a couple of guide books and cameras to see what we could spot. Fungi is definitely not my strong point, so it was a learning curve for all but we enjoyed looking out for different types and photographing them to hopefully identify later.

Now is a great time of year to look for them as many of the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting bodies are emerging above ground, either on the soil or on decaying wood.

We found a number of very smart looking Beefsteak fungus, also known as ox-tongue, oozing red droplets that did look a lot like blood:

We also spotted some Sulphur tuft and Common puffballs nearby:

Near to Ivy South Hide we saw Honey fungus along with a couple of different colour variations of Turkey tail:

On a branch near the boardwalk we spied the tiniest mushrooms growing, I don’t know what they are but they were so delicate we had to stop to photograph them:

We took the long route back to the Education Centre, choosing the path that runs parallel to the main road so we came out by Ellingham Pound, as I was hopeful here we would find a number of Fly agaric. So far we had only seen a couple that had been nibbled or fallen over. We were not disappointed:

We also spotted what might be a Bay Bolete, but Jim’s told me off for not checking the ‘gills’:

Bolete

Here’s a selection of some of the others we found, the first I think could be a young puffball, but the others I’m afraid I’m not sure about.

We had a fun wander with lots of the group taking photos, so perhaps next time we could invite someone who knows a bit more about fungi to come with us!

Finally, Daisy and I spotted a number of relatively young Parasol mushrooms near Ivy North Hide when locking up last night – when I unlocked this morning, the one we had been admiring had opened up more and had a Common darter resting on it, making the most of today’s sunshine.

Common darter on parasol mushroom

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

Recent Activity and a Little Wildlife

I am sorry for the lack of posts recently, I will try and get back to a couple a week again. Recent weeks have been busy both at Blashford and at Fishlake.

At Blashford the volunteers have been constructing an artificial badger sett.

badger sett construction

badger sett construction, the chamber.

Once the chamber had been made a roof was added along with an entrance tunnel.

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construction continues.

Yesterday we covered the whole structure with a layer of soil to bury, now all we have to do is wait and see if the badgers approve.

The ponies have now left Blashford as the grazing season draws to a close. Meanwhile at Fishlake the cattle have grazed in both Ashley Meadow and the North-west fen and done a great job. Reducing the tall herbage will take several seasons but we are now holding the succession into rank fen with increasing willow scrub and starting to reverse it.

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British white cattle, now back in Ashley Meadow.

The autumn has been relatively quite for birds, or at least for rarities at both sites. Fishlake has been visited by several osprey, but they have not stayed as long as in  previous years. There have been several great (white) egret as both sites and 2 cattle egret flew south over Ibsley Water at Blashford. Both sites are now starting to see increases in wildfowl, with small flocks of teal at Fishlake and wigeon at Blashford.

The warm summer saw a number of records of lesser emperor dragonfly, a migrant that is occurring in increasing numbers, this great picture of a hovering male was sent in by  Kevin Kearns.

lesser emperor Kevin Kearns

lesser emperor Kevin Kearns

Moths have been a little disappointing, with a couple of Clifden nonpareil and a few commoner migrants. We have caught a couple more of the non-native Australian Pyralid, Masotima nitidalis, introduced with tree ferns but now evidently eating our native ferns in the wild.

Masotima nitidalis

Masotima nitidalis

There is still time for some autumn excitement where migrant birds are concerned, although we will soon be entering the late autumn lull before the main arrival of wintering birds. Insects will be winding down for winter, but fungi are coming into their main season, so there is always something to look forward to.

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Fungus season is starting

Look out behind you

Behind You!

Many thanks to Jon Mitchell for sending in the “action shot”!

Just thought you might like to see a photo I took from Ivy South on Sunday afternoon (whilst waiting for a kingfisher to perch – no joy!). Us photographers were keeping ourselves amused by taking shots of a female brown hawker that was depositing eggs on the underwater parts of the branches of the fallen tree in front of the hide. At one point, a coot shot in to try and catch the hawker and have a nice high-protein meal.

Fortunately (for the hawker – not for the coot) the dragonflies eyes were good enough to see the coot coming behind her – and she flew away just in time.”

Otherwise things are much the same as they were last time I blogged although the number of hirundines on site has certainly dropped. There are still at least three great white egrets (reported again this morning, on Ibsely Water) and photographers are still semi-permanently encamped in Ivy South Hide waiting for a stunning kingfisher picture. The kingfisher is still very much in evidence but this week I think there have been far more kingfisher sightings than pictures!

The stinkhorns I posted last week are now limp stipes, but have been replaced by new ones which have emerged sequentially every few days and I’ve spotted the odd beefsteak fungus starting to form now too.