What a difference a day makes!

After a gorgeously sunny Christmas Day yesterday, today saw the return of the rain and I got soaked opening up the hides – needless to say the reserve has been very quiet today! Even the wildlife decided to stay in the warm and dry – we have been keeping an eye on the Tawny Owl box as something has definitely moved in and made itself a very dry and cosy home out of oak leaves and soft rush. Although not the owl we had been hoping for, it is still very nice to see a grey squirrel up close on camera, although you can’t see much when it hunkers down inside its nest:

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Squirrel making itself at home in the owl box

Last week we realised one had stashed food in the box as we noticed it rummaging through the wood chip that had been put in the bottom – clearly it decided with all the rain we’ve been having this was a good spot, came back and made some home improvements. This morning I watched it look out the hole a few times before it decided it was better off back in bed:

Wet grey days are definitely for catching up with the blog, and this one may turn out to be quite long as I am two Young Naturalists sessions behind, one of which was our November residential at the Countryside Education Trust’s Home Farm in Beaulieu…

Unfortunately the weather was not quite on our side then either, although we were able to dodge most of the showers. We began on the Friday night with an excellent talk by Steve Tonkin about the night sky – sadly it was too cloudy to head outside for any observing so we will have to invite Steve again another evening, but the group enjoyed the talk and asked some excellent questions that definitely kept Steve on his toes.

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Astronomy talk

On Saturday morning we headed to Rans Wood, just outside Beaulieu, to meet Sally Mitchell from Wild Heritage for a fungi walk. We didn’t have to stray too far from the car park and were rewarded with over thirty species which was great for late Autumn. Before heading off Sally tested the group’s current fungi knowledge with an identification activity – they knew a few edible and inedible species and were also very good at erring on the side of caution with those they weren’t sure about.

Fungi foray

Testing our knowledge

Fungi is not my strong point so it was brilliant to go looking with someone able to identify what we saw and also be so enthusiastic about it. Sally also has permission from Forestry England to pick the fungi for identification purposes (not to eat as there is a no picking ban for this in the Forest), so we were able to study some close up and take a closer look at the gills or pores. We also used mirrors to look under some, including the Amethyst deceiver, so we could see underneath without picking.

We did quite a lot of sniffing! Here are some of the different species we found – I think my favourites were the Amethyst deceivers, the bright Yellow club and looking at the tubular pores inside the Beefsteak fungus:

We also paused to have a go at ‘creating’ a Fly agaric – sadly we were unable to find any – using a balloon and a tissue. The tissue was held over the balloon and sprayed with water to make it damp. When air was blown into the balloon, the balloon became larger and the tissue broke up into smaller pieces as this happened, to create the speckled effect of white spots seen on the Fly agaric fungus.

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Making a fly agaric 2

Making a Fly agaric

We also found a huge oak tree so decided to see how many Young Naturalists could fit around it:

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Hugging a very large oak tree!

After thanking Sally we headed to Hatchet Pond and had lunch with the Mute swans, Black-headed gulls and donkeys.

We then spent the afternoon at Roydon Woods, another Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust nature reserve, and tested the fungi identification skills learnt that morning, keeping our fingers crossed for a glimpse of a Goshawk whilst we wandered. We last visited the reserve in the Spring, when the woodland floor had been carpeted in bluebells and other Spring flowers, so it was nice to return in the Autumn.

Some of the group were also lucky enough to spot a Goshawk fly past, but only because we had stopped to wait for others to catch up and it flew past behind them. A lucky encounter!

On the Sunday the group enjoyed a farm feed session first thing with Education Officer Steve whilst Michelle and I tidied and cleaned Home Farm ready for our departure. They love doing this as they can get up close to many of the animals and help out with the feeding:

We then visited the New Forest Wildlife Park and were joined by another couple of the group who had been unable to stay for the weekend. We had arranged a guided tour with one of the park’s education team and Laila was brilliant – I think she enjoyed a slightly older audience to usual and the group were great at engaging in conversation about the wildlife and different conservation projects. I was impressed by how much they knew. We got caught in a couple of heavy showers whilst we were there which made taking photos a bit difficult, but here are a few, the harvest mice were popular…

We had a brilliant weekend so although it was a while ago now, would like to thank Steve for the astronomy session, Sally for her fungi knowledge, Steve for the farm feed session and Laila for the brilliant tour around the wildlife park. We also couldn’t run residentials without volunteer support so would like to say a huge thank you to Geoff, Nigel and Michelle for giving up their weekends to join us and help with all the cooking, cleaning, minibus driving and evening entertainment (we had a quiz Saturday night which was hilarious)…

Sticking with the Young Naturalists theme, on Saturday we ventured over to Poole for a boat trip with Birds of Poole Harbour. The group had been fortunate to win the boat trip as their prize for coming first in the bird trail here at Blashford back in May, and we were able to open it up to other group members who hadn’t been able to join us on the day and turn it into our December session.

It was rather cold and wet at times, and we saw a lot of rainbows whilst out in the harbour, but also managed at least 26 species of bird including Red-breasted merganser, Shag, Great black-backed gull, Great crested grebe, Great northern diver, Brent goose, Gadwall, Avocet, Shelduck, Teal, Shoveler, Cormorant, Black-tailed godwit, Grey heron, Oystercatcher, Grey plover, Dunlin, Knot, Little egret, Wood pigeon, Sandwich tern, Goldeneye, Starling, Carrion crow, Spoonbill (very distant!) and Curlew.

We had some nice views of Brownsea Island and the lagoon…

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Brownsea Island

Brownsea lagoon

Lagoon at Brownsea

…and a very distant view of a rather grey Corfe Castle:

Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle

The rainbow photographing opportunities were numerous:

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

Thanks for reading! Here’s a sunnier photo taken just up the road at Ibsley when I was passing yesterday morning as a reward for getting to the end, hopefully it will stop raining again soon!

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View from Ibsley Bridge – the River Avon is just out of shot to the right

Blashford Bird Trail 2017

Well I told Tracy I’d blog the Bird Trail and as she told everyone in her last post that I would be I suppose I really should!

The Bird Trail is a joint event run by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust with the Hampshire Ornithological Society with the express intent of engaging groups of children and young people in wildlife and, of course, in bird watching in particular.

The 2017 Bird Trail was another great success and it would not have been so without the support of many people and organisations: first off I will thank all of the Hampshire Ornithological Society and HIWWT volunteers who helped out on the day and ensured that it was the great success it was! Volunteers led on a multitude of tasks from photographing the event, to supervising the road crossings or administering the group registration and totaling up the bird lists, to leading activities including owl pellet dissection, pond dipping and river dipping to name but a few! Thank you!

We are also very grateful to Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre, Waders for Real, Bird Aware Solent and the Natural History Museum for attending on the day with some fantastic displays, information and interactive activities as well as British Trust for Ornithology volunteers for their bird ringing demonstration – a definite highlight for many.

We had some fantastic prizes with thanks to sponsorship from Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Group, Hampshire Swifts, In Focus, Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre, Nutbags, Pearsons and Birds of Poole Harbour – thank you!

Thank you to Chris Packham, President of HOS and long-term supporter of the Bird Trail since it’s very first inception many, many years ago, who once again somehow managed to find time in a very full calendar of filming and other commitments to support the event himself and gave a typically short but well made, pointed yet humorous talk on wildlife watching, why we should all do it and how we can all help it as well as awarding the prizes and spending time with the volunteers, young people and exhibitors participating in the activities. This year the focus of his talk, having only recently returned from there, was the on-going illegal slaughter of 100’s of 1000’s of songbirds in Cyprus for it’s restaurant trade…

And finally of course, thank you to the groups of children and young people themselves and particularly the group leaders and parent helpers who gave up their Sunday to bring them… although to be fair I think you had almost as much fun (as much fun?!) as the children did!

Guided, chaperoned and instructed by HOS volunteers our groups (this year including multiple teams from Ringwood and Fordingbridge Beaver Scouts, Blashford and Havant Wildlife Watch groups, Titchfield Haven Wildlife Explorers and our own Young Naturalists) set off at intervals on a set route around the nature reserve to see (or hear!) as many species of bird as they could. Before or after starting their bird watch groups also had the opportunity to participate in a raft of other activities including pond dipping, river dipping, a BTO bird ringing demonstration and owl pellet dissection as well as enjoy interactive displays laid on by our visiting project exhibitors.

The winning team – 3rd Ringwood Beavers (team 1) came top on the day with over 5o species of birds (their list has subsequently gone missing in action and I can’t remember the exact total!) and they won individual pairs of Opticron Vega binoculars (courtesy of In Focus) as well as individual tickets for each team member and an accompanying adult to join the Birds of Poole Harbour Christmas Birdwatching cruise.

Close behind, with 47 species, was our very own Young Naturalist group winning family tickets to Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre, and in third place, with 42 species was Titchfield Haven Wildlife Explorers who won themselves a “Nutbags” sunflower heart filled bird feeder and a FSC guide to the Top 50 Garden Birds, courtesy of the Hampshire Swift Group.

All entrants were awarded with an embroidered “Bird Trail” camp blanket badge (sponsored by Christchurch Ornithological Society) and a certificate (printed by Pearsons) signed personally by Chris Packham himself.

Bird highlights? Goldcrest in the hand at the ringing demo, and peregrine and kingfisher sightings. Other highlights? Definitely the pond dipping and the owl pellet dissection!

Now just need to start thinking about Bird Trail 2018…?

The start… and getting used to our binoculars!

Bird watching…

Pond dipping…

Owl pellet dissection…

Activities and displays with our visiting exhibitors…

Bird ringing demonstration…

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Adjudicating the final scores!

And the winners!