Laying around

Another busy day with lots of visitors, a volunteer work party and the Pop-up cafe. The bittern performed from time to time at Ivy North hide, including at dusk as I went to lock up. A water rail there was seen to catch and eat a small fish, which surprised some watching, in fact water rail are not fussy eaters and will happily eat vegetation, seed, and animal matter alive and dead. I have seen them eat fish and even small birds and they are a well known hazard when ringing birds in a reedbed, as they will try to pick birds from the nets given half a chance.

The volunteers worked laying another section of the hedge alongside the A338 on the western side of Ellingham Drove. This hedge was planted in 2005/06 winter and is being laid to thicken it up and make it more useful for wildlife and as a visual screen for the road.

hedge before laying

The hedge plants before work began

After the hedge laying you can see it is already much denser even though some of the side branches have been removed.

hedge after laying

hedge after laying

Those of you that are familiar with the traditional craft of hedge laying will immediately notice that this is not a craftsman’s job. The traditional craft produced a barrier that would keep livestock in before the days of barbed wire, it had a woven line of rods on top between stakes and much more of the twigs and branches were removed. This art is still practised and there are regular competitions, to make a good traditional hedge in this way takes great skill. However we are just trying to thicken up the hedge and retain as much of the potential for flowering and fruiting next year and for this purpose some reduction in the branches and a partial cut to lay the stem over will suffice.

Such hedges make good nesting places for many of our common birds like robin, dunnock and blackbird.

blackbird male

adult male blackbird at Woodland hide

This hedge is almost entirely made up of hawthorn, but we are trying to diversify it by adding extra species. One that we could add is hazel, normally we would plant these in the winter when the plants are dormant, but looking at the hazel around the reserve today they are anything but dormant.

hazel catkins

hazel catkins

The catkins are the familiar flowers of the hazel, but these just the male flowers which open to scatter their pollen, the female flowers are much smaller and easily overlooked. Each hazel will have flowers of both sexes, the catkins on the ends of the twigs and the female flowers a little further down.

hazel flower female

the female hazel flower

Although winter is natures “downtime” it is not so for all species and on the outside of the Education Centre door this morning there was a male winter moth.

winter moth

Winter moth (male)

When moth trapping you always catch many more males than females, probably because they fly around more seeking females, however in the case of the winter moth you will only ever catch males as the females are wingless. The larvae to these moths eat oak leaves are the main food collected by blue and great tit when feeding their young, one of the possible effects of climate change could be a disconnect between the timing of peak caterpillar numbers and hungry chicks. Only time and project s such as the one undertaken by Brenda at Blashford (see the last post) will show if this becomes a real problem for the birds.

I was trying out a new camera today, a replacement for my one that packed up the other day, it is a “bridge camera”, not something I have used before so I was keen to see what it could do. The light was not good today, but it seems as though it will be useful. I tried a range of pictures, standard shots a sat the top of the page, some macro and finally some using the full magnification, although not a great shot I quiet liked the one below of a group of pintail.

three pairs of pintail

three pairs of pintail up ending

Hopefully we will get some better light and I will get the chance to put it through its paces rather more fully.

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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:

BLASHFORD LAKES NESTING REPORT FOR 2018 – by Brenda Cook

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.

 

SPECIES NESTS EGGS PULLI RINGED PULLI FLEDGED NEST SUCCESS NEST FAILURE
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.

 

GREAT TIT NESTS EGGS PULLI FLEDGED SUCCESS FAILURE
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
BLUE TIT NESTS EGGS PULLI FLEDGED SUCCESS FAILURE
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
NUTHATCH NESTS EGGS PULLI FLEDGED SUCCESS FAILURE
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!).

Another Year

What a great start to the New Year, a beautiful morning and the reserve was busy with visitors and birds for them to see. So busy in fact that the Pop-up cafe ran out of cake! This may also be because word is getting around that the cakes are exceedingly fine so people get in early, they will be back next Sunday though, so all is not lost.

A New Year means a new “list” not that I ever manage to keep one going to year’s end, but a good start for me at least, with 78 species recorded, 75 of them at Blashford.

Ibsley Water featured at least two (although I think there must be more) water pipit, seen from all three hides during the day, the black-necked grebe, typically near the north-western shore, a fly-over by the dark-bellied brent goose (rare at Blashford), a marsh harrier, green sandpiper and all the usual wildfowl. In the afternoon the Caspian gull was in the roost along with about 10 yellow-legged gull.

Meanwhile Ivy Lake had the bittern on view on and off for much of the day at Ivy North hide along with a supporting caste of Cetti’s warbler, chiffchaff and water rail, joined later by first one and then two great white egret which stayed to roost with the cormorants.

At Woodland hide the regular woodland birds have now been joined by a few reed bunting, but there is no sign as yet of any redpoll or brambling, but it is early days. More widely around the reserve a firecrest was at the road crossing to Goosander hide and several more chiffchaff were in the reeds and willows on the walk to Lapwing hide, where there was a reed bunting giving brief snatches of song, they usually don=t start until well into the spring.

Despite recording 75 species on the reserve, I never saw a greenfinch! and there were a few other species missing that are generally not that difficult to see.

I saw just four mammal species (not counting humans) all day and two of those were non-natives, grey squirrel, fallow deer, roe deer and a wood mouse, live-trapped in the loft. Meanwhile the year’s moth list got off to a roaring start with a single mottled umber, although by convention moths are recorded as being on the previous day as most fly just after dusk, so this is when they are attracted to the light.

mottled umber

a very well marked mottled umber

 

Year’s End

The last day of 2018 and I was out doing my December waterbird count, numbers are generally low this winter, but there was variety. I started with Ibsley Water, the most numerous species was coot with 327 other species exceeding one hundred were wigeon 206 and lapwing 288. Gulls are not counted but at dusk were present in thousands. During the day the highlights from Ibsley Water were black-necked grebe, a dark-bellied brent goose, water pipit(s), first winter Caspian gull and a first winter Mediterranean gull, in addition the flock of linnet were feeding outside Tern hide once again.

Elsewhere the bittern was on show at Ivy North hide, along with water rail and Cetti’s warbler and at dusk two great white egret. On Blashford (Spinnaker) Lake during the day there were two great white egret and a good number of wildfowl including 300 coot. A further 299 coot were on Rockford Lake and a water pipit on the shore close to the path was something I had not seen there before.

No doubt tomorrow will be busy and there are a nice range of birds to see along with the extra attraction of the Pop-up cafe.

29th Dec – Sightings

No pictures today as my camera has died on me. Opening the hides first thing there was a water pipit at Tern hide (later I also had singles at both Goosander and Lapwing hides as well), also from there a new high count of linnet 108, and a chiffchaff beside the hide. At Ivy North hide the bittern was standing high in the reedmace giving great views. At the Woodland hide the reed bunting count had risen to 7 along with all the usual woodland birds.

Walking round the reserve the number of species singing was notable, I heard mistle thrush, song thrush, great tit, treecreeper, robin and Cetti’s warbler between the Centre and Ivy South hide.

In the afternoon a first winter Caspian gull was showing well swimming among the larger gulls from at least 2 o’clock. Despite searches by a few people no other notable gulls were found apart from rather more yellow-legged gull than recently seen, with perhaps 10 or more.

Towards dusk a green sandpiper was at Goosander hide, a great white egret flew over heading south, I assumed the egret was heading to roost in the trees at Ivy Lake, but when I got there none were to be seen. A small starling roost gathered over the north end of Ibsley Water, maybe 1000 or so birds, being chased by a peregrine. The peregrine them forced low over the water, so low that many wings broke the surface and produced a sudden flash of spray.

 

A Fine Day on the Reserve

Thursday dawned calm and slightly misty with a promise of sunshine to come.

Misty morning at Ivy North

Early morning over Ivy Lake

I am not sure if they were doing the Wildlife Trust’s 7 Days of Wild Christmas, checkout #7DaysofWildChristmas for more on this, but there were lots of visitors on the reserve on Wednesday and they certainly saw a lot of wildlife.

From Ivy North hide the bittern was seen by most who were willing to spend a little time looking and some had excellent views. The picture below was sent in by John Parr after he took it on Saturday from Ivy North hide.

Bittern by John Parr

Bittern by John Parr

As well as the bittern, water rail and Cetti’s warbler were also frequently on show from Ivy North hide. Further out on Ivy Lake a good variety of ducks were on view, there remains an unusually large number of pochard around, with up to 100 on Ivy Lake alone at times. At dusk a single great white egret roosted in the trees.

At the Woodland hide the usual common woodland birds have now been joined by a few reed bunting, attracted by the seed spread on the ground, we have still yet to see any brambling though.

On Ibsley Water the flock of linnet was again feeding on the shore near Tern hide whilst out on the lake up to a dozen goldeneye, over 40 pintail, 200 or so wigeon and the single black-necked grebe. In the late afternoon the gull roost included a Caspian gull, but there was still no sign fop the ring-billed gull, which looks increasingly likely to have moved on somewhere.

As it was Thursday there was a volunteer task on the reserve and six volunteers joined me in doing some willow scrub clearance and pollarding in the reedbed area between Goosander and Lapwing hides. The area is a former silt pond and had grown up with a very uniform cover of closely spaced and rather weakly growing willows, not a habitat with great wildlife value. By opening up clearings and making pollards of the stronger growing willows we can diversify the habitat, making it suitable for a much wider range of wildlife. In particular the open clearings have proved very popular with the areas strong adder population.

The mild weather continues and there are signs of this all around the reserve. On the path to Ivy North hide I found a red campion still in flower.

red campion flower

red campion in flower

Nearby the leaves of lord’s and ladies are well up through the leaf litter.

lords and ladies

lords and ladies

Near the Centre there are patches of speedwell in the gravel and many are in flower.

speedwell

speedwell

The mild conditions, along with the damp conditions are proving good for fungi, with many particularly small species to be found if you look closely. One of the commonest species on well rotted wet logs is the candle snuff fungus.

candle snuff

candle snuff

 

 

It’s a Small World

Boxing Day was quite busy at Blashford, with a fair few visitors on the reserve, most who were prepared to spend the time waiting saw the bittern at Ivy North hide. Whilst they waited good views were to be had of water rail and Cetti’s warbler.

From the hides on Ibsley Water the black-necked grebe could be distantly seen along with at least two water pipit and near Tern hide, at least 85 linnet. An adult female marsh harrier crossed over the lake a few times and a sparrowhawk was seen trying to hunt the small starling roost int he late afternoon. The starling roost has evidently relocated having dropped from tens of thousands to a few hundred. I could also find no sign of any great white egret, even at dusk when I looked at the usual roost site, none could be found.

linnets

Part of the linnet flock on the shore beside Tern hide, there are lots of them but they are hard to pick out!

I had a look through the gull roost and there were good numbers of lesser black-backed gull and black-headed gull, but only 14 common gull, two yellow-legged gull and no sign of the ring-billed gull or Caspian gull. Obviously I could not check all the gulls present but conditions were very good, so I was disappointed not to find either species.

Away from the birds I came across an oak branch with a remarkable habitat growing across it, just one branch had it’s own forest of lichen, moss and fungi, small in scale but extraordinary.

lichens

lichen and moss on oak branch

lichen and moss 2

More lichen and moss

hair lichen

hair-like lichen

fungus

A small fungus (I think)

It might be only just after Christmas, but signs of spring were to be found. I saw snowdrops pushing through the ground and the hazel catkins are opening.

hazel catkins

hazel catkins

I also heard singing mistle thrush and great tit as well as the year round singers like robin and Cetti’s warbler.

Festive Opening

Just a reminder, Christmas Day is the one day of the year we do not open, so the car parks, Education Centre and bird hides will remain closed tomorrow. Normal service however will resume on Boxing Day and in addition on New Years Day the Pop-up Café will again be back in the Education Centre, so you will be able to fuel up with a hot drink and homemade cakes and savouries as you begin a new bird list for 2019.

We have had no further reports of the white-tailed eagle but the bittern is still showing very nicely at times in the reed bed in front of Ivy North Hide, thanks to Lyn Miller for sending in this photo:

IMG_2619

Bittern by Lyn Miller

Marsh harrier, Water pipit and Caspian gull have also all been reported on Ibsley Water today, seen from Tern Hide.

I have been enjoying the flock of linnets that have been feeding in front of Tern Hide and resting in the nearby willows, I reached a count of 73 this morning before one flew and the others followed. They’re a very lovely sight to see when opening up the reserve!

Merry Christmas!

P1130055

Linnets by Tern Hide

 

Back From the Brink(s) or Beyond and now at Blashford!

On the shortest day of the year it is perhaps appropriate to consider things turning, from here on the days will lengthen for the next six months and today at Blashford it was possible to see several species that have experience a turnaround in fortune.

We had another visit from the white-tailed eagle today, it circled over Ibsley Water causing mayhem for about five minutes before heading off toward the New Forest. These amazing birds used to breed widely in Scotland and around our rocky coastlines where there were cliffs of sufficient height, local the western end of the Isle of Wight was the nearest location but they died out there centuries ago due to persecution. They hung on in more out of the way places in Scotland until the early 20th century before finally being exterminated. Now they are back, admittedly with a good bit of help from a fairly large scale reintroduction program, but they have also recovered well in mainland Europe too and our bird is probably form there rather than Scotland. When I started birdwatching there were none in the UK and few enough in nearby Europe, so I would never have expected to see one. A combination of reduced persecution, active conservation efforts and strategic reintroduction have reestablished viable populations over large areas of their former range.

At Ivy North hide the bittern was showing well on and off all day. As I locked up it showed wonderfully well, walking out into the open on a cut pile of vegetation, then adopting a threat posture with feathers raised and wings stretched, before flying off to roost. Bittern got close to extinction in the UK, in the early 1990s there were fewer than 20 territorial males in the whole country and the numbers were falling year on year. Targeted habitat management and some large scale habitat creation projects have turned things around dramatically. It helped that the habitat they require, wet reedbed,  is easy to create, so long as there is the will to do it. The greatest example is the Avalon Marshes project near Glastonbury, now home to tens of bittern territories and much else besides.

Looking across the lake from Ivy North hide after the bittern had gone to roost I could see three great white egret roosting in the dead alder opposite. I suspect “Walter” was one of them, he first came to us in 2003, when they were still a rare bird in Britain. In the 1980s they looked likely to go completely extinct in western Europe and numbered only hundreds of pairs in eastern Europe and rapidly declining. They and the two small egrets have undergone remarkable changes in fortune. All the egrets had been shot for their plumes for many years and this along with habitat degradation had reduced all of them to low numbers. Increased efforts at conserving wetlands and reduced persecution has turned things around and now all are doing well.

Other birds today were 52 pintail on Ibsley Water, along with about 210 wigeon, the black-necked grebe and a water pipit, all as I opened up the Tern hide. The weather seems set reasonably fair over the Christmas week and the reserve will be open every day apart from Christmas Day itself. I think we can say there will certainly be a nice range of species on offer and on New Years Day we also have the pop-up cafe to look forward to.

There are great pictures of the eagle and bittern taken to day at Blashford on the HOS sightings site Hampshire Goingbirding photos .