Accommodation Crisis

The common tern are back at Blashford Lakes, or at least the first few pairs are. It is always good to see them back and the reserve has proved very good for them. We do not have a large population, typically around 20 pairs, but they are very successful, sometimes rearing an average of more than two chicks per pair, an exceptional fledging rate.

common tern

common tern

Our terns nest on rafts that we put out for them, but this year we cannot mobilise the staff and volunteers to do this due to the impossibility of maintaining social distancing when doing the launching. We do have one raft out and there are some shingle patches on one or two islands, so we will have to hope these will be enough to allow them to nest.

I posted a picture of the camera view inside our tawny owl box the other day, full not of owlets, but grey squirrels. The young squirrels have now moved on and the box has immediately been occupied by a pair of stock dove, showing the premium there is on large tree cavities.

stock doves in owl box

stock doves in owl box

Other species are less constrained for nest sites and for them the breeding season moves on. Coot are nest building all around the lakes, or at least anywhere there is something to secure a nest to with some cover.

coot

coot

I have been going into work less frequently than usual and trying to work from home, however there is only so much paperwork a reserves officer can do and site tasks are starting to become more pressing. One in particular has become rather horrifyingly apparent as the spring has unfolded and that is the extent of progress made by ash die-back disease in the last few months. It is now obvious that large numbers of trees have died and will need to be removed. I will leave any that are away from paths as standing dead wood, but unfortunately this still leaves a lot that will need to be felled.

ash die-back

As the trees have come into leaf the full extent of ash die-back has become apparent

Strange Days

In fact probably the strangest we have ever known. We are now winding down to the minimum work aimed at maintaining health and safety and looking after livestock. The first remains important whilst there are still people allowed to walk around the sites and the latter is just essential. Luckily I have no livestock at Blashford, but we do still have a trickle of visitors. I would certainly not encourage anyone to visit but with paths that allow open access we will still have people on site, unless all going out is banned.

With spring now more or less sprung it is time once again to assess the state of our ash trees to see how ash die-back is hitting them. It is already apparent that some have completely died since the autumn and many others are in serious decline. In some areas it is possible that paths may not be able to reopen even if the Covid emergency passes, as there is likely to be a considerable amount of further felling needed and some roadside trees may need dealing with very soon. Luckily these assessments can be made by a single person so I can work and maintain isolation.

There are still surprisingly large numbers of wildfowl around, probably over 1500, a lot for the time of year. The water levels are dropping ever so slowly and I found a pair of pintail perched on a newly exposed wooded rail, alongside them was the long-tailed duck, without the long tail and perhaps envying the drake pintail his splendid feathers.

pintail and long-tail 4x3

pintail and long-tail

The sunshine has brought out butterflies in number and I have seen lots of brimstone and peacock, with a few comma and pleasingly several small tortoiseshell, maybe  a welcome return to their former status is in the offing. With all surveys now cancelled this year we will not have the butterfly transect data to know for sure.

small tortoiseshell pair

small tortoiseshell pair

I hope to continue blogging from the reserve for as long as I can, although I am conscious that this may just highlight what most people are missing. It is very odd to be out on such a sunny  day and see almost nobody, it makes me feel guilty with so many at home.

Warning of Works Next Week

No doubt many of you will have heard about the ash die-back disease which is rather rapidly killing off our ash trees. Unfortunately where these trees are close to paths, roads or buildings we cannot safely leave them as standing deadwood habitat meaning that the trees need to be felled or reduced in size to remain safe. This winter we have started to fell some of the affected trees and on Monday and Tuesday next week (6th & 7th Jan) there will be major work going on around the Woodland Hide and the hide will be closed as will the paths between Ivy North Hide and Woodland Hide, the information Hut and Woodland Hide and between Ivy South Hide and Woodland Hide. It will mean a longer walk to Ivy South Hide via the path between the Dockens Water and Ellingham Lake, but please do not be tempted to try and take the shorter, closed route. The felling will involve some large timber falling directly onto the closed paths making them both dangerous and at times completely blocked. Hopefully things should be back to normal by Wednesday.

 

At Last, a Bit of Fine Weather

As December starts the winter has turned a little more like winter, with frost at night and finally a drier spell. This has allowed us to get a few outstanding tasks done, yesterday’s was clearing the vegetation in front of the Ivy North Hide and opening up the channels through the reedbed.

before

Looking out from Ivy North Hide before we started.

after

The main channel cleared

As we worked at least 2 Cetti’s warbler were moving about in the reeds and water rail were squealing frequently, although went typically unseen.

Other recent tasks have included laying some hedge lengths, clearing bramble from grassland areas and also making a start on removing some infected ash trees. The last will be a large task in the next couple of years. You may have heard about ash die-back, it is a fungal infection that kills ash trees and is expected to result in over 95% of our ash being lost. The disease originated in the Far East and probably arrived in Europe via the horticultural trade.

Where these trees are deep in the woods this will mean more standing deadwood habitat, so not an entirely bad thing. Where we have paths , hides, roads and car parks they will have to be felled before they fall. There is no doubt this is going to have a noticeable impact as ash is a frequent tree and it will impact upon species that depend upon this tree. It is also going to be a very expensive task for land managers, at Blashford we only have a couple of hundred, but still a lot of work. The one positive note is that work at Kew Gardens has revealed that some British ash trees show some immunity, so if these survive they will be available to provide a seed source to enable restocking. It will still be a long time before we get back to ash being once again a frequent tree in our landscape.

Out on the reserve things have also taken a more wintery turn, wildfowl numbers have picked up, although only on Ivy Lake is this very noticeable. The goosander roost on Ibsley Water is growing and has over 80 birds now. Also on Ibsley Water a long-tailed duck has been present for a while now and on Monday 3 black-necked grebe were present, but were perhaps only passing through as I don’t think they were seen yesterday. Less seasonal is the common sandpiper, these usually just pass through in autumn and only green sandpiper normally winter with us. The rain has resulted in a significant rise in water levels, the water pipits have become much less obvious following the rise, perhaps because the rise has covered a lot of the exposed weed along the shore.

We are hoping the dry weather will hang on for a day or two more so we can fill the pot-holes in the entrance track, with luck we will be doing this on Thursday, so access to the Centre car park will be somewhat restricted.

Ducking and Diving

On Tuesday I was up at Kitts Grave with the volunteers clearing a ride through the scrub/woodland. Although it does not look much like it from the pictures below, we did clear quite long length!

3

Looking N before we started

4

Looking N near the end of the day

1

Looking S at the start

2

Looking S at the end of the day

Actually, looking again it hardly looks as if we were there at all! If you visit you will see a difference though.

This part of the Martin Down NNR is a fabulous mosaic of scrub and chalk grassland, we have been cutting scrub in order to maintain this mix of habitat, since without control the woody plants would take over completely. It may come as a surprise to many that trees will actually grow over most of lowland Britain without being planted, in fact stopping them doing so need active intervention. Our longer term plan is to introduce  a light grazing regime in the hope that we can maintain the mosaic without the constant need for cutting.

Despite the fact that trees will grow unbidden, they are also under threat and this fact formed the backbone of today’s work. We were out at Blashford looking at trees that will need to be cut as a result of ash die-back disease. This non-native fungal disease was imported into Europe with nursery trees and looks like killing 95% or so of all ash trees. Where these are away from roads, buildings etc. this will provide a big increase in deadwood habitat and so not an entirely bad thing. However a lot will have to be felled to maintain safety and we have to check them for potential bat roosts before any work can be planned.

As we criss-crossed the reserve we came across various fungi including this puffball type, full of spores.

puffed

puffball fungus full of spores

We also found what I think was a slime mould on an alder stump, an especially bright coloured one at that.

orange slime mould

orange slime mould (I think)

At dusk this evening I went over to Goosander Hide to see how many goosander came into the roost, the answer was at least 63, with a bonus side order of at least 24 fallow deer on the shore beside them.

goosander and deer at dusk

Goosander roost and fallow deer in the near darkness.

My goosander roost picture may be rather poor quality, but wait until you see my last offering! The long-tailed duck that has been on Ibsley Water for a number of days now finally had enough of the northern shore and appeared in front of Tern Hide today, an ideal opportunity to get some pictures of it at last. My best effort is below, it illustrate perfectly the perils of digi-scoping.

dived

long-tailed duck……almost.