Winter Pop Up Café open tomorrow!

Following their success and the positive reception with which they were received by our visitors last winter, Nigel and Christine (a.k.a. “Walking Picnics”), are back for the winter from tomorrow at 10am so if you are planning a visit to search for brambling, the pink foot goose, lesser scaup, enjoy the “mini-murmuration” of starlings at the end of the day or simply enjoy tomorrows sunshine, do remember to bring your wallet or purse and save yourself some money after making your entry donation to spoil yourself a little!

They will be serving Christine’s delicious home-made cakes and savoury snacks alongside tea and coffee in the Centre classroom from 10am-3pm tomorrow – and every first and third Sunday of the month thereafter until March.

The Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve will benefit from a percentage of all their refreshment sales and in addition they have kindly agreed to sell the Trusts Christmas cards, 2018 Wildlife Calendars, books and identification charts, sales of which will all benefit the Trust and/or Blashford directly, so do browse our shop produce as you imbibe in case anything takes your fancy!

 

 

Enjoy tea, coffee and cake in the Education Centre at Blashford Lakes, courtesy of ‘Walking Picnics’.

Contact: Jim or Tracy 01425 472760 or BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk

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Birds and a Little More

This time of year is often a rather quiet one for wildlife, typically the summer visitors are gone and we are waiting for the winter birds to arrive. However at the moment the reserve has a lot to see, perhaps not in terms of numbers yet, but certainly in variety. Hampshire’s first ever lesser scaup seems to be settling down on Blashford Lake (aka Spinnaker Lake), which is part of the reserve, although it has no hides and is not often checked for birds by visitors.

On Ibsley Water the water pipit is being seen quite regularly from Tern hide, often close to the hide. Yesterday a pink-footed goose was spotted in the greylag flock, although origin is always hard to be certain of with geese, this is the time of year when birds migrating from Iceland can easily get lost, especially lone juveniles.

Brambling have been seen at the feeders in recent days raising the prospect that we are in for a “Finch Winter”. The couple of pictures below were sent in by Andy Tew, thanks Andy.

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brambling by Andy Tew

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Brambling by Andy Tew

When I have opened up Tern hide recently there has often been an adult peregrine perched close to the hide and David Stanley-Ward got the couple of pictures below, much better than my earlier efforts, despite being further away!

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Peregrine by David Stanley-Ward

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Peregrine by David Stanley-Ward

My person contribution to the days sightings and photographs is a little less animated and comes in the form of what I think is a new slime mould for the reserve, I know not the most immediately exciting life-forms, but they are very strange. This tiny one was found on the picnic table as I was eating lunch.

slime mould Physarum cinereum

Physarum cinereum – a slime mould

 

A Wintery Feel

Not to the weather, but certainly to the birds, but more of that later. The day was pleasantly warm for the time of the year and I was busy with the volunteers and apprentices working on the eastern shore of Ibsley Water. We cut back the rushes on the shoreline to open up access for grazing wildfowl from the water and carried on with coppicing and pollarding in the reedbed. The brash is used to create a dead hedge as a habitat corridor.

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Dead hedging

The willow we pollarded will come back with a dense growth of fresh shoots next year, they can grow as much as 2 or 3 metres in a season.

The wintery feel came in the form of brambling at the feeder on the car park near the centre, at least 5 goldeneye on Ibsley Water and at dusk 7000 or so gulls coming in to roost with 3000-5000 starling wheeling about behind them, hopefully the start of a significant roost for later in the winter.

The moth trap yielded rather little today with just red-line Quaker, yellow-line Quaker, chestnut, “November” moth and silver Y.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smelting and melting…

Last week we embarked on two Wild Days Out with a difference, exploring autumn and the changing seasons through alchemy and art. In particular, we had a go at smelting pewter with the older children and wax with the younger ones, pouring the molten metal and wax into molds made out play-doh which we had pressed natural finds such as acorns, sycamore seeds and pine cones in to. The results were fantastic!

On both days we began with a forage in search of natural treasures, gathering up firewood on the way.

We found time to pop into Ivy North Hide and Harry made a note of all the birds we were spotting in the hide diary.

After collecting lots of different seeds and leaves, we headed into willow wood and laid the fire. We used play-doh to make a mold of our natural finds then sat it on the edge of the fire surround. Once the pewter shot had melted we carefully poured it over the mold then left it to cool before popping it out of the mould and into a bucket of water to finish cooling off and be cleaned of any last play-doh residue.

The pewter creations, once wiped clean looked fantastic and the children were all thrilled with the results. The acorns in their cups and pine cones worked particularly well:

With the younger children, we swapped the pewter for wax, melting it in a pan over the fire before decanting it using the spoons into their molds:

Wax objects in their play doh moulds

Wax objects cooling off in thir play-doh molds

The wax objects came out just as well, but the play-doh was a bit harder to peel off from the blackberries and pine cones!

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Wax pine cone and blackberry, needing a little more cleaning to remove the play-doh…

Whilst we out experimenting, we did some leaf bashing, Toby made a rush boat, went in search of minibeasts and generally embraced just how muddy the clay pit and the area in general had become…

We had two great days, I’m not sure who enjoyed experimenting with pewter and wax the most, us or them, but they were all very happy with their creations and keen to make more! We will definitely do it again…

Boxes for Birds

On Sunday eleven of our Young Naturalists made twelve very fine bird boxes to replace some of the older ones on the reserve that have seen better days. Volunteer Geoff very kindly sourced some offcuts of timber and pre-made the kits for the session, leaving the group with the task of putting them together and numbering them, so they could be identified later on and monitored. I’m not sure what they enjoyed the most, the opportunity to use power tools or the opportunity to have a go at pyrography to put their stamp on their creation…

We began by fixing the box pieces together using screws, then attached the lid to the box back using a strip of pond liner so the inside is easily accessible for monitoring and cleaning.

After building the boxes, we numbered them and added the builder’s initials, so we knew who had made which box. Some added more than others…

Whilst the group took it in turns to build their box and embellish it, they recorded the moths in the light trap. There were only eight moths in total, and five different species including a very fine feathered thorn.

They also took part in Seabirdwatch, which those of you who tuned into Autumnwatch last week will be aware of. Seabirdwatch consists of a number of camera trap sites which have been placed around the north Atlantic, and these cameras have taken thousands of images of kittiwakes and guillemots. It invites you to head to the website and after a quick tutorial identify and click on images of birds and their chicks, enabling us to understand more about breeding success, chick survival, time of breeding and much more.

It is a great citizen science project to be involved with, and one which Thomas, Will, Megan, Olivia and Jodie really got behind. Collectively they counted 2427 kittiwakes, 917 guillemots, 66 chicks and 3 other birds, across 36 photos. Thomas was our chief counter, counting birds on 21 of the 36 photos. To get involved and help with the counting, visit their website – there are plenty more photos to look at!

After finishing our boxes we lined them all up for a group photo and to admire our handiwork:

Group photo

Some of our group with their finished boxes

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Finished boxes

Once the boxes are up at suitable locations within the reserve, we will hopefully be able to help out with the checking and monitoring to see who moves in.

After lunch we headed out for a wander, visiting both the Ivy Lake hides and the Woodland hide.

Thank you to Geoff for taking the time to make up the box kits for the group and for the loan of the pyrography set, I know they all enjoyed having a go at writing and drawing on the wood. Thanks to volunteers Roma, Nigel and Jonathan for joining us for the session.

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. The Cameron Bespolka Trust is supporting a talk by Keith Betton on the return of the red kite and peregrine falcon at Winchester College on Wednesday 8th November, at 7pm. More details can be found on their website. Admission is free and there is no need to book, so if you are interested in finding out more about these fantastic birds please do come along.

At Last

Ever since I started work at Blashford Lakes I had harboured a hope that I might find a lesser scaup on one of the lakes. This North American duck resembles scaup in pattern but is the size of a tufted duck, there are a number of other detail differences which allow certain separation from the many lookalike hybrid diving ducks that can muddy the water. Lesser scaup was a “mega-rarity”  on this side of the Atlantic twenty years ago and although more frequent now is still a rare bird. It had also never been recorded in Hampshire, despite having been seen in neighbouring counties, so was a likely candidate to turn up sometime soon.

So it was with some pleasure and a little personal disappointment, that I learnt that one had been found at Blashford last Saturday when I was away on holiday. In fact it now seems it was probably the “scaup” that was reported on Ivy Lake on Friday, although not accurately identified at that time.

The lesser scaup seems to be favouring Blashford Lake, aka Spinnaker Lake (the sailing lake) with occasional excursions to Snails Lake and Ivy Lake. If you do go to Blashford Lake to look for it please respect the sailing club, their car park is not a public access site so access there is at their discretion. It is possible to see the bird from the public footpath along the northern and western sides of the lake. Parking is not really possible along Ivy Lane so please use the nature reserve car park and walk down the Rockford/Ivy lake path, a bit of a walk, but not too far for such a fine bird.

Other birds around the reserve yesterday included the peregrine sitting on a post outside Tern hide first thing, along with a water pipit in the meadow pipit flock. Ibsley Water had at least 45 pochard, not a large count by historical standards, but quiet a few these days, there were also two goldeneye, my fist of the season, although I know they were seen on Friday.

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Early sunset over Ivy silt pond

The clocks going back will no doubt increase the intensity of gull watching, so watch this space for more rarities. The gull roost offers birders perhaps their best chance of finding a rarity, although it takes dedication and some skill to pick out the unusual.

 

Discovering nocturnal nature…

…that was the aim of last night and this morning, and despite the coldest night of the autumn so far, we were successful!

Looking at the moths in the light trap caught the night before on arrival (a pretty good haul in marked contrast to that of last night, including many November moths, several lovely feathered thorns, a red-green carpet and the star of the show, a merveille du jour, amongst a few others), last night we met in the classroom for a crash course in the how, why and wherefore’s of setting a Longworth small mammal trap before doing just that and deploying them around the dipping pond surrounds at the back of the centre.

We then left the traps in peace in the hope that the local mice and vole population would venture into them once we were gone and, with plummeting temperatures and several noisy children, we somewhat optimistically headed out for a short night walk to see if we could encounter any deer or hear any bats on our bat detectors… perhaps not unsurprisingly we did neither! There were a couple of very brief and distant flybys by soprano pipistrelle’s but nothing that I could say with certainty any but a small number of the group had heard so it was with some relief that when I tried calling tawny owls we got a response and, unusually for Blashford which because of the linear nature of its woodland habitat does not appear to support a large tawny population normally, actually got a response from at least two owls, and possibly even three.

This morning we retrieved the 16 traps that had gone out the night before and I was instantly relieved to see that despite the cold temperatures (one of our volunteers from Ringwood even had to scrape ice of his car this morning!) about half of the traps had closed doors indicating that something at least had investigated them, even if it was just large slugs! As it was a couple of the doors had become fouled on twigs or leaves in the trap openings and therefore not closed properly, allowing the occupants to enjoy a soft bed, nibble on some bird seed and apple, wee and poo a lot and then leave before we got there, but the remainder resulted in 5 woodmice and 1 bank vole – not a bad catch from 16 traps.

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Having been transferred to tanks for observations and photographic purposes the small mammals were then released, unharmed(!) back in the area from which they were caught and we had a short walk along the river in search of otter, deer and other larger mammal tracks and signs to finish our morning.

**In other news a lesser scaup has been reported on the reserve today – Ivy Lake in front of Ivy North Hide this afternoon and on Blashford (Spinnaker) Lake this morning. Scaup, presumably todays lesser scaup, was also recorded in the Ivy North Hide sightings log book by a visitor yesterday afternoon**

A Lull

The last few days have been quiet, we are in an interim period, almost all the summer visitors and migrants have gone, but as yet, most of the wintering birds have yet to arrive. This reflected in this week’s sightings, a few chiffchaff remain, especially around the main car park. A juvenile ruff dropped into Ibsley Water for a day, but there are still only a few tens of wigeon around.

This does not mean there has been nothing to see though. Opening up Tern hide this week I have twice seen an adult peregrine perched on the small shingle island near the hide.

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adult peregrine

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peregrine, stretching before heading off

During the day on Friday the two New Forest National Park apprentices paid us a visit, they will be working at Blashford for three months from November. As it was their first visit we took a look around the reserve to see some of the areas they will be working in. The sun was out and it was remarkably warm, along the way we saw lots of butterflies, at one spot on the Dockens Water path we could see 4 red admiral, 5 speckled wood and a comma and we saw many more elsewhere along with a single peacock. There were also a few reptiles, including this very small adder, proof that they have bred successfully on the reserve again this year.

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“adderling”

Our best sighting though was when we visited the Tern hide, there was very little to see as all there attested and the lake looked at best sparsely dotted with birds. However I glanced at the shingle just in front of the hide and realised that with the couple of meadow pipit strolling around was a woodlark, my best views ever of this species.

I will end with a plea, at this time of year rats will be spreading out looking for a good place to winter, something we do not want them to do on the reserve if we can avoid it. To this end we try not to have food lying on the ground during the autumn, we only ground feed in the late winter. Recently I have found a number of piles of bird food on logs and seats, or just on the ground as I have been going to lock up at the end of the day. This shows that the birds are not eating it, so it will be consumed by rodents overnight, potentially by rats. If any rats find enough food for them to decide to settle with us we will be unable to ground feed in the late winter when the finches are at their best. So my plea is for visitors to please not leave bird food around the reserve where rats and rodents can get to it.

 

Autumn?

volunteers opening up a glade

volunteers opening up a glade in willow scrub.

Although the weather does not seem to know it we are firmly into autumn now, in fact our winter work program has now got underway. On Thursday the volunteers were clearing willow to create a glade between two existing areas of open ground to allow adders and other reptiles to move easily between the two. We have a good population of adders on the reserve but they favour open areas and the population can get subdivided as trees grow up.

The autumn is often a good time for moths, especially if the nights are warm, so it is no surprise that recent catches have been quiet good, here are a few recent highlights.

beaded chestnut

beaded chestnut

vapourer moth male

Male vapourer moth

Vapourer moth females are flightless and the males track them down using their feathery antennae to “smell” the air for the pheromone trail released by a female. They fly at night and in the day, accounting for some of the sightings of “small, orange butterflies” that get reported in the autumn.

green brindled crescent

green-brindled crescent

Lastly two of my favourite moths of the whole year, the four-spotted footman, this one a male and so without the four-spots, which only the females have.

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male four-spotted footman

And finally one that we have yet to catch at Blashford this season, although I have had a few in my trap at home, the very splendid merveille du jour.

merveille du jour 1

merveille du jour

 

One More Day!

It is the final day of the Wildlife Trust’s crowdfunder appeal raising money for our Secrets of the Solent project. This project is all about protecting the fabulous marine wildlife and habitats of the Solent, including seagrass meadows, chalk reefs and rocky sponge gardens, which are home to seahorses and sea bass, seals, colourful anemones, sea squirts and cuttlefish.

Every £1 we raise gives us the chance to unlock an extra £9.85 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which will allow us to work with local people and partners to keep the Solent special.

The crowdfunder page closes at 11.59pm on the 12th October, find out more using the link below and please support the sea life of the Solent if you can.

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/wildandwonderful

The Solent is often dismissed as a grey bit of boring water between Hampshire the Isle of Wight, but in reality it is packed with wildlife. It is very sheltered and includes the three eastern Harbours which hold some of the highest densities of wintering shorebirds found anywhere. What happens under the waves might seem unimportant but it is the health of this environment that provides the eelgrass beds for the brent geese and mudflat invertebrates for the thousands of waders.

The Solent sits at a global crossroads for birds, its value is because it is not open coast and includes mudflats and saltmarshes, in many ways what we perceive as “boring” about it is what makes it so important.

As you can see the crowdfunder means that for every £1 given £10.85 will be available for conservation work, a truly great multiplier! There is just one day left and every pound counts, it is not often a £10 donation can do over £100 conservation, so if you can help please do, the Solent needs champions.