30 Days Wild – Day 13: Gulls get Rings

Tuesday is one of our two regular volunteer days at Blashford Lakes, this week’s main task was further work to improve the grassland habitat along the western shore of Ibsley Water. We have had a long-term project to remove bramble, nettle and willow that has been threatening to take dominate. This shore was remodelled into a steep bank using the topsoil removed from the gravel pit surface when it was first dug, conditions ideal for the development of nettle beds and bramble thickets. To reverse this we have been mowing to allow grass and perennial herb species to get the upper-hand.  This has been targeted work aiming to take out only the least desirable species. Even the nettle beds have elements that we leave, such as any patches with nets of peacock and small tortoiseshell larvae.

peacock caterpillars

peacock caterpillars

Alongside the nutrient-rich soils there are poorer patches and these have a more interesting flora including a number of bee orchid.

bee orchid and mower

bee orchid

At the end of the day I went out to Gull Island in Ibsley Water with the bird-ringers to colour-ring a sample of the black-headed gull chicks. We have been doing this for a number of years to find out where the birds from this recently established colony go to and if the chicks reared here return to breed in later years. We managed to catch and ring thirty chicks during our short visit, a good sample.

209C gets ringed

209C gets a ring, where will it go and will it come back?

In the evening I came across a female stag beetle on the fence in the garden, the first female I have seen this year. The day ended on a fine calm note and so I decided to head out to listen to the nightjar again. One came and perched on a branch very close by and gave great views. I never tire of watching and listening to nightjar and to have the opportunity to do so just a few minutes walk from home is wonderful.

A bird in the hand…

Yesterday our Young Naturalists were privileged to be joined by British Trust for Ornithology bird ringers for a special ringing demonstration here at Blashford Lakes. The ringing scheme organised by the BTO aims to monitor the survival rates of birds whilst collecting information about their productivity and movements, providing vital support for conservation efforts. A lightweight, uniquely numbered metal ring is placed around the bird’s leg, enabling birds to be identified as individuals in a reliable and harmless manner.

BTO volunteer bird ringers Trevor Codlin, Chris Lycett and Kevin Sayer arrived bright and early to set up their nets and begin ringing in our willow wood, where we had put up an additional feeder to entice the birds in. Luckily they did not need much enticing, and by the time the group arrived we had a nice variety of birds to look at.

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Ringing demonstration with Chris and Kevin

Trevor, Kevin and Chris demonstrated and talked through the processes involved, including catching the birds using a mist net, ringing the birds, the different measurements taken and how to carefully release them.

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The Young Naturalists were even able to release some of the smaller birds themselves, with Chris keeping a watchful eye. This was definitely the highlight and something they all thoroughly enjoyed!

We were really lucky to see a great variety of birds up close, including reed bunting, firecrest, goldcrest, great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, long tailed tit, coal tit, blue tit, great tit, robin and greenfinch. Holding a bird is definitely not something you get to do every day and it was fabulous to give the Young Naturalists the opportunity to release them after they had been ringed, measured and weighed. To see the birds this close was a real experience and we all thoroughly enjoyed the demonstration, so thank you again to Trevor, Kevin and Chris for your patience, expertise and for giving up your Sunday morning!

To find out more about bird ringing please visit the BTO website.

After lunch we carried out a bird survey of the woodland birds from Woodland Hide. We spotted 15 different species, including at least 16 chaffinch, 10 blackbird, 5 siskin, blue tit, goldfinch and long-tailed tit, 4 greenfinch, 3 robin and great tit, 2 brambling, dunnock and great spotted woodpecker and 1 reed bunting and nuthatch.

We also found time to visit Ivy South hide, where the bittern was showing nicely in the reedbed to the south of Ivy Lake and three goosanders were also present. Hopefully you can make out the bittern in Talia’s photo below, just above the two Canada geese!

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Bittern spotting by Talia Felstead

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

A little bit of everything…

Yesterday our Young Naturalists were back at Blashford for a varied session in search of birds and fungi and a practical task in our camp fire meadow. Kevin and Jack, BTO bird ringers, were ringing at Goosander Hide in the morning so we headed straight up there to try and catch them before they had finished. Whilst we were there, we were lucky enough to watch Jack ring a robin and a chiffchaff and talk us through the process.

Thank you Kevin and Jack for taking the time to chat to the group and explain what you were up to and looking for, giving a great overview of bird ringing.

Whilst in Goosander Hide, Young Naturalist Talia took some great photos of some of the birds on Ibsley Water:

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Grey Heron with six Little Egrets by Talia Felstead

It was then time to rummage through the light trap which revealed a really nice variety of moths for us to identify, including this lovely Feathered Thorn:

The most abundant moth by far was the November moth sp. but we also had the following:

Close to the Education Centre we found this fantastic Shaggy Ink Cap, which sadly by this morning had become too top heavy and is now in two bits! Unfortunately this photo doesn’t do its size justice, it was super tall!

shaggy-ink-cap

Shaggy Ink Cap – ‘Coprinus comatus’

After lunch it was time to do something practical and we spent the afternoon in our camp fire meadow, raking up the vegetation strimmed by volunteers Emily and Geoff in the morning. We also cut up some of our old den building poles to use as firewood, as these will be replaced with new poles cut over the Winter.

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Cameron and James raking the cut grass

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Cutting up the old den building poles for firewood

We finished our time in the meadow with more toffee apple cooking over the fire, with newcomers Gregory and Jodie having a go at fire lighting and old hands James, Cameron and Talia showing how it’s done.

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More toffee apple cooking!

With time left at the end of the session, we checked our mammal traps in the loft which revealed two wood mice, who had ventured into the building where the nights are now cooler.

mouse-photography

Two wood mice, being well photographed by the Young Naturalists

woodmouse

Finally, we went on a short walk to Ivy South Hide, spotting fungi on the way and a Red admiral butterfly making the most of the October sun’s warmth:

Our Young Naturalists group is funded by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

…and a fun filled bird spotting time was had by all!

Yesterday’s Bird Trail, run in conjunction with  Hampshire Ornithological Society was a huge success, with approximately 80 children and young people aged 6 to 18 and 16 adults taking part in the newly resurrected event here at Blashford Lakes.

Eight teams, including Wildlife Watch and Wildlife Explorer groups, our Young Naturalists, a Beaver ColonyWellow School and a group headed by Christchurch Harbour Ornithologial Group took up the challenge, following a set route around the reserve, visiting a number of hides and spotting as many different bird species as they could.

To make sure there was enough to keep everyone busy and we weren’t all trying to visit the same hides at the same time, we were joined by a static display of birds of prey courtesy of Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre, a bird ringing demonstration by BTO ringers Brenda, Kevin and Jack from the Christchurch Harbour Ornitholigical Group and pond and river dipping, owl pellet dissection, moth trap “rummaging” and a tree fact and identification trail run by our very lovely Trust staff and volunteers.

Each team was joined by an expert HOS volunteer birder, with more stationed in the hides ready to point eager eyes in the direction of some great sightings. The final scores were incredibly close, with first place going to Bartley Water (Stanley’s Own) Beaver Colony for spotting a whopping 56 species, second to the Titchfield Haven Wildlife Explorers and third to the Havant Wildlife Watch Group, followed closely by our very own Young Naturalists and Blashford Wildlife Watch groups, with 51 and 49 species recorded respectively. A fun filled bird spotting time was had by all!

Here are a few photos I took whilst out with our Young Naturalists and our very knowledgeable HOS volunteer Mike:

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Poppy bird spotting from the Woodland Hide

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Our Young Naturalists watching a Kingfisher on Ivy Silt Pond

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Kestrel, one of the many birds of prey in the static display provided by Liberty’s, a definite hit with everyone

We were joined by HOS President Chris Packham, who very kindly gave up his time to speak to the children at the end of the event, award prizes and join in with team photos:

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Our Young Naturalists ‘Great Grey Shrike’ Team, with volunteer Nigel, HOS volunteer Mike and Chris Packham, taken by Amanda Boss

We would just like to say a huge thank you to Dr. Patricia Brown (HOS volunteer), Dawn O’Malley (HIWWT Education Officer) and of course Jim (Education Officer at Blashford Lakes) for all the hard work they put in to organising the event and making it happen, along with all the Wildlife Trust and HOS volunteers who joined us on the day, running some of the activities, accompanying groups on the trail and staking out the bird hides to make sure we all saw as many species as we could!

Thank you to Chris Packham, HOS President, for giving up his afternoon and joining everyone involved for a finishing ceremony, prize giving and photos.

Thanks also to BTO ringers Brenda, Kevin and Jack, Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre for their static display and the following sponsors for supporting the event:

In Focus, Christchurch Harbour Ornitholigical Group, Pearsons Estate Agents and Hampshire Swifts.

We’re already looking forward to Bird Trail 2017!!

3o Days Wild – Day 20

A very wet day, it rained for the whole morning and showers continued in the afternoon until quite late. I was watching the skies quite closely as we had a plan to go out to the gull nesting island to ring some young black-headed gulls, but we needed it to be dry. Our luck was in, after four o’clock the rain stopped and the sun even came out, so the trip was on.

approaching the island

Approaching the island

Due to poor weather we were rather later than usual this year and as a result most of the gull chicks had already flown or just swan into the lake and watched us from a safe distance. We have been ringing some each year for a while now, but only in the last few have we been colour-ringing them, this enables the ring to be read in the field and results in a lot more records. It also means that we don’t need to catch so many birds to get results. The rings are large and easy to see with a telescope or even binoculars if the bird is close.

colour ringing the gull chicks

gull chick with a new colour-ring

Although most of the black-headed gull chicks were large there were a few nests with eggs or very tiny chicks, these nests were probably relays, that is second attempts by pairs that lost their first clutch.

 

 

 

 

Island Life

I opened the Tern hide to be greeted by a swarm of geese on the shore just to the east of the hide, they were mostly greylags which come to the lake to moult, the numbers are slowly building at present but there are probably many more to come.

geese on Ibsley Water

It busy day today with the Lower Test volunteer team in for the morning to help me out by dealing with a difficult hanging tree that had resulted in the closure of the path between the Ivy North and Woodland hides. It took pretty much the whole morning to sort out, There were several stems to deal with and none of them fell straightforwardly to the ground requiring winching and rolling to get them down and safely cleared.There was a school in, so although the reserve was not busy there was lots of activity around the Centre.

Most fo the day was very grey and occasionally drizzly and I was concerned that our planned trip out to the island in Ibsley Water to ring some black-headed gull chicks might have to abandoned. Luckily at about four o’clock it cleared to a bright blue sky and the trip was on. We first put some rings on the chicks here last year, it will be interesting to see where they get to. This is a relatively new colony and it grew rapidly in the first two years but numbers seem to have stabilised somewhat now.

ringing a black-headed gull chick

Most of the chicks we saw were large, in fact two made short flights to avoid getting caught. There were also quite a few nests with eggs or very newly hatched chicks, so the nesting seems to have happened in two waves.

black-headed gull nest with eggs

black-headed gull nest with small chicks

The small chicks stay put on their nests, the larger ones seemed to have two strategies, either to run or swim for it or crouch down and not move. the latter makes them very hard to see, but easy to pick up when you do, running is great of they are fast enough to get away, but makes them easy to spot and catch if they are not. Some will always swim, which can be a problem if it is too windy or the wind is carrying them away from the nesting island, however this evening was ideal with a light south-east breeze, meaning they could swim away a bit, but would naturally be drifted back toward the island after we had gone. We probably caught about fifty, but missed many more, this is because lots were hiding in the deep nettles that cover much of the island.

Gull Island

 

 

Ringing in the Cold

Bird news: Ibsley Watergrey plover 1, peregrine 1, ruddy duck 1, barnacle goose 5. Ivy Lakebittern 1, Cetti’s warbler 2, smew 1.

All of today’ s bird news comes courtesy of visitors as I managed to avoid pretty much all the wildlife. This is not to say that I saw no wildlife, just none of the more notable things. Near the Ivy Silt Pond a party of 5 bullfinch were good value, they were eating the buds on one of the sallow trees. Nor were these the only bullfinch I saw, at least three were at the entrance gate and another three or four in the hedge alongside Ellingham Drove beside Mockbeggar Lake. I also had reports of groups near the Lichen Heath and on the Rockford path. We always have a few about the reserve but this seems like the result of a bit of an arrival of birds, possibly in response to the cold weather.

The ringers were in again this morning and had a good session catching over sixty birds, mostly siskin, but including a few lesser redpoll, goldfinch and a goldcrest.

siskin male in the hand

Ringing offers real insights into the lives of birds, it tells us where they go and how long they live, all crucial to understanding how best to conserve them. I never cease to be amazed at the information it throws up, recently an oystercatcher has passed the forty-year old mark and one of the greenshank ringed at the Wildlife Trust’s Farlington Marshes reserve when I was working there has been caught sixteen years later. The ringing of siskin and lesser redpoll at Blashford has already shown that they return year after year, despite breeding in Northern England, Scotland or even further afield, they really do benefit from the reserve being here.

Of course part of the reason for many of the birds visiting is that we put out food for them, something that a lot of the birds were very grateful for today as it was very cold, making their need to take on calories the more urgent. The fat feeder outside my office was busy with birds all day.

long-tailed and blue tits on fat feeder

Not the greatest picture as it was taken through the window with the camera just held up to the glass. It is not just food that is put out that benefits the birds though, hopefully if we get the management of the reserve right there will be more natural food as well and the very act of providing a safe place means that birds do not have to move about as much and can conserve energy, especially important when times are tough.

There were some god sightings on the reserve today, the highlight must be the grey plover seen on the shore of Ibsley Water at the Lapwing hide, they are scarce here at any time of the year, but winter records are especially unusual. The bittern showed exceptionally well at the Ivy North hide in the afternoon and the redhead smew is now in also to be seen there. Just as the two did last year it is frequenting the edge fo the reedmace and lurking under the overhanging trees.

From slightly further afield came news of over 450 common gull on Mockbeggar North Lake, an exceptional count, but consistent with the trend of numbers increasing dramatically in cold weather. Another cold weather arrival was the ruddy duck drake, I assume the same one as earlier in the winter which seems to head off when it gets mild only to return after a couple of frosts.