Improvement update and birds, birds, birds!

Just a quick reminder to anyone who hasn’t visited us in a while or missed any previous blogs or onsite signage, improvements on the reserve are now well on the way so if you do decide to visit us soon, please bear with us!

The main nature reserve car park is open as usual, however Tern Hide is no longer there (it was dismantled at the start of the month so there was plenty of time to do the all important ground works) and the installation of the new hide will not take place until next month – if all goes to plan it should be open by the end of March.

The new pond by the Education Centre should be finished soon and the Welcome Hut which arrived on Monday should be completed by the end of the week – with both these works taking place so close to the Centre, along with deliveries arriving over the next few days for other aspects of our improvement works, car parking at the Centre is limited. If you are able to park in the main car park and walk across to this side of the nature reserve please do!

The Education Centre itself, Lapwing, Goosander, Ivy North, Ivy South and the Woodland hides are all open as usual.

Last week saw the delivery and installation of some brilliant chainsaw carved sculptures by Simon Groves, a chainsaw artist from West Sussex (to see some photos of these being enjoyed by some of our younger visitors, please read on!) and on Sunday our Young Naturalists worked with willow artist Kim Creswell on three dragonfly sculptures which will also be added to our newly named ‘Wild Walk‘ along with more of Kim’s wonderful work. A separate blog about Young Naturalists will follow!

On the bird front, two Bittern were seen from Ivy North hide on Sunday and at least one has been seen from there this week, including excellent views today, and a pair of Redpoll continue to visit the feeders at the Woodland hide.

And birds are the real reason for this blog, as last week was half term and it was a busy bird filled one, with a family event weaving willow bird feeders and two bird themed Wild Days Out where we were lucky enough to get a little closer to some of our native owls and raptors, courtesy of Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre, made a lot of bird feeders and visited the Woodland and Ivy South hides in whatever time we had left in a girls vs boys who could spot the most species challenge.

We were joined by John from Liberty’s on Wednesday and Jayson on Thursday, with both giving brilliant talks to the children about the different birds they had bought with them, encouraging them to ask questions and letting them stroke the owls, a definite highlight! On Wednesday we were treated to a Kestrel, Peregrine falcon, Golden eagle (which really was huge and delighted the children by going to the toilet in the classroom) and Barn owl and on Thursday saw a Tawny owl, Little owl (definitely my favourite), Kestrel, Peregrine falcon and Goshawk.

On both days the children loved seeing the birds up close and being able to stroke some of them, and they asked some very sensible questions. It was definitely a highlight and we would like to thank John and Jayson from Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre for taking the time to join us and supporting our Wild Days Out in this way. They once again very kindly demonstrated their birds free of charge to support Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, something they were only too pleased to be able to do as long standing “Wildlife Investors” of the Trust.

To find out how your business can support the work of the Trust at Blashford Lakes, or anywhere across the two counties, follow the link or contact Steph Watson on 01489 774400 or email Steph.Watson@hiwwt.org.uk.

Liberty’s owls and raptors were once again a hard act to follow, but whilst we had been waiting for them to arrive the children had been busy making popcorn bird feeders by threading popcorn onto a piece of wire, and fat balls using a suet, bird seed and sultana mix, so we headed outside to make our feeders for the fat balls to go into.

On the Thursday we had a few children who were bird feeder pro’s, having already made one either the day before or earlier in the month at Wildlife Watch, so they had a go at a different design, weaving one solely from willow instead of using the wooden disc base.

All three feeder designs looked great and everyone went away with two fabulous feeders. We then had just enough time to visit both the Woodland hide and Ivy South hide in two teams, boys vs girls, to see who could spot the most species of bird. On Thursday we even had time to walk a slightly longer loop so we could admire the new chainsaw sculptures that had been installed earlier in the week. The children loved them, with the badger in particular proving popular.

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Despite having photographic evidence of the boys using their binoculars to bird watch, I have to say the girls did spot more species both days, we were obviously being too competitive for photography! They also, rather sneakily, lulled Jim’s boys team into a false sense of security on the Thursday by making a right noise when the two teams crossed paths with each other, but up until this point had been super quiet and determined to see the most…

I know the boys did see a few bird species we didn’t see, but the girls’ lists over the two days included Coal tit, Great tit, Blue tit, Robin, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Long tailed tit, Goldfinch, Siskin, Blackbird, Greenfinch, Reed bunting, Jay, Jackdaw, Moorhen, Cormorant, Coot, Tufted duck, Great crested grebe, Black-headed gull, Mallard, Gadwall, Pochard, Collared dove, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Pheasant, Carrion crow, Grey heron, Little grebe and Wood pigeon. I was particularly impressed with Megan for spotting the treecreeper! It was pretty good for a quick bird watch and I know they all really enjoyed their day.

Our Wild Days Out will be back for the Easter holidays, where we will be heading out onto the reserve in search of our reptiles and amphibians. Bookings may be made on-line only and are taken 4-6 weeks in advance of the activities via: https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product-category/events/

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A film and many questions…

Back in April our Young Naturalists group were joined by Paul from Strong Island Media who came along to film them engaging with nature and participating in a number of different activities. As a result, we had a brilliantly varied session and Paul was able to produce a fabulous short film of them chatting about their experiences and their interest in wildlife, a brilliant snapshot of the group and a great piece of promotional material.

The group did a fantastic job and the film is available here: https://youtu.be/GSyY1C_upvg , please do take a look and share it with anyone you think may be interested in seeing it or possibly joining us at future sessions.

Slightly less polished was our very wet session at the end of August, although at the time the pond was certainly grateful for a top up. We tidied the area at the back of the centre, weeding the gravel and cutting back the bramble and other vegetation that was coming through the fence by the pond. It was a soggy task!

We did then retire to the classroom where the group had a lot of fun dissecting owl pellets, an activity we had been doing that week on our Wild Days Out. I had been hoping someone would find the skull of a small bird amongst all the small mammal skulls (just for a bit of variety!), however Lysander managed to go one better discovering a bit of metal instead which we were excited to discover was a bird ring.

Bird ringAfter studying the bird ring under the microscope to decide exactly what was written on it, we settled on Poland St. Orn. Gdansk JA 40684 and submitted it online via Euring Web Recovery to see if we could find out more.

Unfortunately, we have had our pellets at Blashford for a rather long time and are not entirely sure when we got them or even where they came from, with Testwood Lakes and even Lincolnshire via Jim both possible candidates. But it was still incredibly exciting to have found the ring of a bird originally ringed in Poland and exciting to see what else we could discover about its life via the Euring Recovery programme.

So the results? Our bird was a dunlin, a wading bird slightly smaller than a starling and one we do get in small numbers from time to time at Blashford. It is the smallest of the regular wading birds found on our local coastline and they can be seen here all year round, preferring estuaries where they eat insects, worms and molluscs. Locally the largest numbers are present in the winter and these birds will depart in the spring to their breeding grounds of Northern Scandinavia and Russia. The dunlin seen overwintering in the Solent are not the same birds seen in the summer.

This particular bird was ringed in Ujscie Redy, Gdanskie, Poland by Wlodzimierz Meissner Kuling when it was in its second calendar year but it is unknown whether it was male or female. Ringed on 30th July 1983, the ring is now 35 years old with the bird possibly 37 if alive today. According to the BTO the oldest recorded dunlin was 19 years, 3 months and 26 days (record set in 2010) so I suspect ours had been dead and languishing in an owl pellet for a considerably long time.

It was fascinating to learn a little bit more about this particular bird and fingers crossed it did live to a ripe old age before its unfortunate demise. Not knowing where the pellets came from (in terms of geographical location and owl species as they had begun to disintegrate) or when the pellets were found the ring discovery does raise a lot of questions:

– which owl species eat dunlin (from a quick bit of research Short-eared owls possess the ability to take shore birds and seem the likeliest candidate, with pellets taken from Farlington Marshes during the winter of 1970-71 illustrating this, however Barn owls are also capable of taking larger birds as prey).

– was the wader roost raided, was the bird a solitary target or was it already sick or injured?

– did the owl migrate or the dunlin, and if it was the owl where was it feasting before its migration? I have really been assuming it was the dunlin, but there is always a chance it was the owl. It can take up to 10 hours for an owl to regurgitate a pellet, I have no idea how long it would take for an owl to fly from mainland Europe to the UK, this dunlin could have been its last meal before that flight…

– when did the owl eat the dunlin?

Sadly we will never know, but it has been fun and very interesting thinking about it!

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Dunlin at Keyhaven by Thea Love

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

Lapwing

Not much to report today as I was busy with other things, but I thought I would share a selection of shots I took of a male lapwing from the tern hide as I opened up this morning.preening lapwing

Lapwings have a very large wing area for their size, which gives them great acceleration from a standing start, they are also very manoeuvrable.preening lapwing 3

This male will soon be doing acrobatics over Ibsley Water in order to impress a potential mate and to warn off rivals.preening lapwing 2

Keeping feathers in tip-top condition will be vital for the coming season.lapwing