From all Corners

There were birds from all over the place on the reserve today. All the way from Siberia; the yellow-browed warbler was again near Ivy South hide as I opened up, giving good views until it disappeared before our very eyes. It makes astonishingly fast changes of direction which mean that following its movements for very long is incredibly difficult.

From North America we had; lesser scaup, a drake near the furthest shore of Ibsley Water, probably last winter’s bird returned by popular demand. These duck are similar in appearance to the greater scaup which is much more familiar in Europe, but smaller, around the size of a tufted duck.

From all over northern and eastern Europe we had all the other wildfowl and a good few other birds too. Arrived from the Alps and now to be seen on the shores of Ibsley Water are the water pipit, I got a mediocre picture of one today.

water pipit

water pipit from Tern hide

And finally from just up the road somewhere we have the rest, including this adult female peregrine, seen here in another iffy picture!

peregrine

adult female peregrine

Other birds to be seen out and about on the reserve today were the bittern at Ivy North hide along with Walter the great white egret. Other birds to be seen on Ibsley Water included green sandpiper, pintail and in the gull roost several yellow-legged gull and three Mediterranean gull. 

However the reserve is not just about birds, today there was also cake and lots of it, with another successful day for the pop-up cafe.  I also took some non-birdy pictures, largely due to a failure to get very good ones of the birds. There are quite a few fungi about now, scarlet elf-cup are just starting to appear in numbers as are lost of Turkeytail.

turkeytail

Moss, fern and Turkeytail

The bare trees make it possible to appreciate how much lichen some of them have on their branches, the willow near Lapwing hide are especially heavily festooned.

lichen on willow twigs

lichen on willow twigs

Other species grow on the trunks of trees.

lichen on birch trunk

lichen on birch trunk

Lichens are a mash-up of alga and fungus, although it now appears it is probably rather more complicated than this.

The reserve was busy today despite reduced parking due to the ongoing levelling works near the Centre, but hopefully this work will be completed by the end of the coming week and things will be slightly closer to normal again, at least for a time.

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A Dull Day Brightened

Things are a little chaotic just now on the reserve, with lots of preparation works underway prior to the various construction projects due in the next couple of months. The major elements have to be completed by 29th March and after several months of planning and discussion we are now getting down to the nitty gritty of delivering the works. So if you visit there is disruption, especially near the Centre, where there is no parking at present, just lots of gravel and yellow lines (not red ones you will notice). However the Centre and toilets are open, as are all the paths and hides, in addition the pop-up cafe will be back this Sunday and if needs be I will open up the overflow parking near Tern hide so there should be space for all comers.

Despite a poor day for weather the wildlife continue dot put on a good show. Opening up the hides we had great close views from Ivy North hide of bittern, water rail and Cetti’s warbler, three notoriously skulking species and on show at the same time! The Woodland hide is really busy with a wide range of the usual species and down near the Ivy South hide the yellow-browed warbler was seen well by a steady stream of visitors throughout the day.

It was a day that could have got you down, dull and drizzly, but seeing wildlife can give a lift to me and probably lots of others. Looking out of the office window into dreariness Jim spied a kingfisher beside the pond, a flash of brilliance against the grey.

kingfisher fom the office window

kingfisher taken through the office window (which could probably do with a clean!)

There seems no doubt now that being outside in “Nature” is really good for our mental health, perhaps even on a day like today, maybe especially on a day like today. I have worked  along time in conservation and the countryside, during which it has often been said to me that “Wildlife is all very well, but it does not pay the bills”. Maybe so, but if it can improve our health and well-being as a society this will save lots of money to pay the country’s bills. Maybe we should prescribe a kingfisher or three and save the NHS a pound or two.

Change is in the Air

Actually change is the only thing that seems constant on the reserve just at the present. Levelling the car park near the Centre is well underway, but will mean this area is closed to parking for at least the whole of this week. In addition work is advancing on the remaining issues that have been preventing us gaining permission to use the new path to Goosander hide, so watch this space for updates on this.

A further sign of the times is that most of the reserve signs are being replaced, sounds simple enough perhaps, but working out exactly what has to be put on each and precisely where they should be placed takes time. Too many sites are over-signed and I don’t want this for Blashford, ideally there should be just enough to do the job and they should be obvious without being intrusive. Only time will tell how close we get to this ideal.

Out on the reserve the yellow-browed warbler continues to please most visitors that seek it, today mostly just to the north of Ivy South hide from what I understand, I did not see it myself. I did see a small flock of eight lesser redpoll in a birch in the same area though, my first this year. At Tern hide the water pipit, or at least a water pipit, seemed to be present for much of the day as did a flock of linnet, although their numbers seem to have reduced. The Woodland hide was very busy, with all the usual suspects present and especially large numbers of goldfinch and siskin when I looked in.

At Ivy North hide the bittern was seen occasionally as were water rail and Cetti’s warbler. When I locked up there was a great white egret, although it was not Walter, as it had no rings.

Lastly, just up the road at Harbridge a single Bewick’s swan continues to feed with the herd of mute swan, sometimes very close to the road.

Watching Wildlife

First Blashford Wildlife Watch meeting of the year this morning and as such I thought we’d start off with a meeting to reflect the name of the Wildlife Trusts children’s membership club for 6-12 year olds – and watch some wildlife!

So during a delayed start while we waited for latecomers (who didn’t come anyway!) we kept ourselves occupied with bird “Top Trumps” , and word searches, before heading out for a short walk via Tern Hide and Goosander Hide to see what we could see:

On route to Tern Hide: blue tit, nuthatch, blackbird, jackdaw, robin, chaffinch and linnet.

The linnets put on a lovely show with a couple of flocks of 40 or so birds reeling between the cherry laurels by the entrance to the car park, the willows in the dead hedge along the edge of the car park and the shore outside Tern Hide itself.

From Tern Hide: dunnock, coot, Canada goose, cormorant, little grebe, goosander, tufted duck, mute swan, lesser black backed gull, common gull, herring gull.

img_20190112_120140

Blackcurrant, biscuit and a kestrel!

From Goosander Hide: shoveler, kestrel, water pipit, mallard, moorhen, golden eye. We also had a nice chat with some of the very friendly photographers in there who enjoyed showing the children bird pictures they had taken that day and elsewhere – and who had seen the kestrel take a shrew from just beneath the hide shortly before we arrived.

The children also enjoyed, what I think must have been a rare treat from the reaction it received, a cup of hot black currant squash and a chocolate digestive biscuit. For some reason all of them ended up with bits of biscuit floating around in their drinks having dunked, which just seems terribly wrong to me, but maybe I’m just too old to appreciate it!

On route back to Centre: coal tit, great tit.

Not an extensive list, but everyone enjoyed themselves and we also took time out from the birds to admire the hazel catkins and scarlet “flowers”, candlesnuff and curtain crust fungus, and flowering common field speedwell.

Sticking with a bird theme when we next meet in February (10.30am-12.30pm, Saturday 9th) we will concentrate on woodland birds and make some bird feeders to put out on the reserve and take home. For more information about our Wildlife Watch group email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk, or to find out if there is another group nearer you email wildlifewatch@hiwwt.org.uk

One of our members nipped off down to Ivy South Hide with her Dad before they left to see if they could catch up with the yellow-browed warbler. They did, and so did lots of other birders today as well!

It continues to haunt the area between Woodland Hide and just beyond Ivy South Hide, often, but not always, associating with a flock of long-tailed tits, and around Ivy South Hide more often than not. There were already about half a dozen birders looking for it even before we had opened up this morning and there has been a steady flow of people coming to see it all day, usually successfully.

Also showing today has been the bittern, again, as yesterday, predominantly to the right of the hide rather than the left where it has been seen most often prior to this week.

Bob may well re-mention it again tomorrow if he finds time to post a blog but please be warned that the centre car park and track up to it will be closed from this Monday. There will still be pedestrian access up the footpath through the willow wood adjacent to the track so everyone can still access the Centre (and toilets!) and all of the hides, but the vehicle access track will be closed to both cars and pedestrians for as long as it takes to level the car park – contractors are going to be re-working it ahead of the visitor access improvements this spring in order to improve the drainage off the car park. At this point we do not know how long these preliminary works will take but we are allowing up to two weeks, although we hope it will take less time than that and will obviously re-open the track and car park as soon as we can do so.

In the meantime parking will be limited on the south side of the nature reserve and I therefore urge visitors to park in the main Tern Hide car park if they are able to do so – it will avoid parking frustration and free up parking nearer the centre for less mobile visitors who really need it.

 

 

High-brow

I was elsewhere yesterday so was only able to read about the bird of the day, the yellow-browed warbler seen near Ivy South hide. It was not a great surprise as they are now scarce migrants and winter visitors in Hampshire despite breeding in Asia and being smaller than a chiffchaff! Although climate change might be expected to lead to more southern bird species spreading north and it probably has, there also seems to be a strong trend for traditionally Siberian species to be spreading west. Several formerly very rare species are now occurring much more frequently in western Europe and even nesting.

So as I opened up the hides I was keeping an eye out for a long-tailed tit flock as the warbler was tagging along with one yesterday. Leaving the Ivy South hide there was a flock just behind the hide and there it was, high in an alder, the yellow-browed warbler had found me! Only brief views as they don’t stay still for long, but I did grab a quick picture.

yellow-browed warbler

yellow-browed warbler

These birds are common in Asia breeding across a wide area and migrating south to winter mostly in tropical south-east Asia. On the face of it their now regular arrival in some numbers in western Europe in autumn and wintering in south-west Europe would seem very unlikely and may be related to a westward range extension in the summer.

I understand the bittern was seen several times today and a Caspian gull was in the roost on Ibsley Water. I was busy all day so my only other sighting of any note was at dusk from Ivy North hide where there were two water rail and two great white egret in the trees. It was a magnificent evening with a splendid sky at sunset.

sunset from main car park

sunset from the main car park

Caught on Camera

The day was rather dull for more camera practice, but I had to take it with me on the off chance when I went to open the hides. At Ivy North I could see no sign of the bittern in a scan across the vegetation and up and down the channels, so I got up to leave and glancing back there it was. So I had to try and see if I could get a picture, although it showed well, the poor light made things difficult and this was my best result.

bittern 1

bittern at Ivy North hide

All things considered I am reasonably pleased with it.

I ran the moth trap last night and it was certainly mild enough for moths to be flying. Most of the moths flying now are winter moth, however these rather rarely get attracted to moth traps and there were none in the trap. Two species were caught, one a species that over-winters as an adult, the chestnut.

chestnut

chestnut

The other was a pale brindled beauty, another winter-flying species with wingless females, just like the winter moth.

pale brindled beauty

pale brindled beauty, male

Pictures again taken with the new camera and I think the macro works well. So all in all as a multi-purpose camera for taking blog pictures I think I am happy with my choice. It will be interesting to see how much better the images are on a day with good light.

Finally and perhaps most impressively of all, Pondcam caught a water shrew on camera! These fantastic little mammals are rarely seen but spend much of their time underwater hunting aquatic insects. As they do so their thick fur traps a film of air making them look silver. So they appear as a frantic, silver creature surrounded by a cloud of leaves and sediment that they kick up as they vigorously swim through the shallows.

Laying around

Another busy day with lots of visitors, a volunteer work party and the Pop-up cafe. The bittern performed from time to time at Ivy North hide, including at dusk as I went to lock up. A water rail there was seen to catch and eat a small fish, which surprised some watching, in fact water rail are not fussy eaters and will happily eat vegetation, seed, and animal matter alive and dead. I have seen them eat fish and even small birds and they are a well known hazard when ringing birds in a reedbed, as they will try to pick birds from the nets given half a chance.

The volunteers worked laying another section of the hedge alongside the A338 on the western side of Ellingham Drove. This hedge was planted in 2005/06 winter and is being laid to thicken it up and make it more useful for wildlife and as a visual screen for the road.

hedge before laying

The hedge plants before work began

After the hedge laying you can see it is already much denser even though some of the side branches have been removed.

hedge after laying

hedge after laying

Those of you that are familiar with the traditional craft of hedge laying will immediately notice that this is not a craftsman’s job. The traditional craft produced a barrier that would keep livestock in before the days of barbed wire, it had a woven line of rods on top between stakes and much more of the twigs and branches were removed. This art is still practised and there are regular competitions, to make a good traditional hedge in this way takes great skill. However we are just trying to thicken up the hedge and retain as much of the potential for flowering and fruiting next year and for this purpose some reduction in the branches and a partial cut to lay the stem over will suffice.

Such hedges make good nesting places for many of our common birds like robin, dunnock and blackbird.

blackbird male

adult male blackbird at Woodland hide

This hedge is almost entirely made up of hawthorn, but we are trying to diversify it by adding extra species. One that we could add is hazel, normally we would plant these in the winter when the plants are dormant, but looking at the hazel around the reserve today they are anything but dormant.

hazel catkins

hazel catkins

The catkins are the familiar flowers of the hazel, but these just the male flowers which open to scatter their pollen, the female flowers are much smaller and easily overlooked. Each hazel will have flowers of both sexes, the catkins on the ends of the twigs and the female flowers a little further down.

hazel flower female

the female hazel flower

Although winter is natures “downtime” it is not so for all species and on the outside of the Education Centre door this morning there was a male winter moth.

winter moth

Winter moth (male)

When moth trapping you always catch many more males than females, probably because they fly around more seeking females, however in the case of the winter moth you will only ever catch males as the females are wingless. The larvae to these moths eat oak leaves are the main food collected by blue and great tit when feeding their young, one of the possible effects of climate change could be a disconnect between the timing of peak caterpillar numbers and hungry chicks. Only time and project s such as the one undertaken by Brenda at Blashford (see the last post) will show if this becomes a real problem for the birds.

I was trying out a new camera today, a replacement for my one that packed up the other day, it is a “bridge camera”, not something I have used before so I was keen to see what it could do. The light was not good today, but it seems as though it will be useful. I tried a range of pictures, standard shots a sat the top of the page, some macro and finally some using the full magnification, although not a great shot I quiet liked the one below of a group of pintail.

three pairs of pintail

three pairs of pintail up ending

Hopefully we will get some better light and I will get the chance to put it through its paces rather more fully.

Where’s Wally?

A “proper” January wintery day today. Cold, clear and sunny and with it lots of visitors to the nature reserve and a classic mix of Blashford visitors it was too – a few families and grandparents with grandchildren out for a nice walk and a steady stream of year listers with bittern at, or near the top of the list of their target species for the day. Sadly for them as I write this post at 2.45pm it has steadfastly laid low so far today, despite some good appearances on a pretty much daily basis recently. No doubt many of those hopeful watchers will at some point have seen at least one clump of reed or reedmace doing a remarkably good job of looking like a bittern 😉

Elsewhere in the Valley a single Bewick swan could be seen amongst 100 plus mute swans in the Avon Water meadows north of Harbridge. I say could be seen – several visitors reported seeing it, but several more also reported seeing an awful lot of swans but unable to pick out the Bewick from amongst them!

Where’s Wally indeed.

Thanks to David Green who did see it (on the 3rd January) and took the trouble to email in this lovely picture:

Bewick swan by David Green

So, for everyone that came and didn’t see, and all those who are planning on coming and hope to see, a little taste of what can and might be possible on the bittern front – thanks to Lyn Miller for sending these pictures in to blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk with permission for us to share them:

bittern by lyn miller1bittern by lyn miller2bittern by lyn miller3bittern by lyn miller4

And if you are planning a visit here this Sunday, for bittern, Bewicks or otherwise, do remember that the Pop Up Café will be open in the centre selling hot drinks and delicious homebaked treats from the classroom, 10.30am-3.30pm (or until they sell out – don’t leave it too late!).

Another Year

What a great start to the New Year, a beautiful morning and the reserve was busy with visitors and birds for them to see. So busy in fact that the Pop-up cafe ran out of cake! This may also be because word is getting around that the cakes are exceedingly fine so people get in early, they will be back next Sunday though, so all is not lost.

A New Year means a new “list” not that I ever manage to keep one going to year’s end, but a good start for me at least, with 78 species recorded, 75 of them at Blashford.

Ibsley Water featured at least two (although I think there must be more) water pipit, seen from all three hides during the day, the black-necked grebe, typically near the north-western shore, a fly-over by the dark-bellied brent goose (rare at Blashford), a marsh harrier, green sandpiper and all the usual wildfowl. In the afternoon the Caspian gull was in the roost along with about 10 yellow-legged gull.

Meanwhile Ivy Lake had the bittern on view on and off for much of the day at Ivy North hide along with a supporting caste of Cetti’s warbler, chiffchaff and water rail, joined later by first one and then two great white egret which stayed to roost with the cormorants.

At Woodland hide the regular woodland birds have now been joined by a few reed bunting, but there is no sign as yet of any redpoll or brambling, but it is early days. More widely around the reserve a firecrest was at the road crossing to Goosander hide and several more chiffchaff were in the reeds and willows on the walk to Lapwing hide, where there was a reed bunting giving brief snatches of song, they usually don=t start until well into the spring.

Despite recording 75 species on the reserve, I never saw a greenfinch! and there were a few other species missing that are generally not that difficult to see.

I saw just four mammal species (not counting humans) all day and two of those were non-natives, grey squirrel, fallow deer, roe deer and a wood mouse, live-trapped in the loft. Meanwhile the year’s moth list got off to a roaring start with a single mottled umber, although by convention moths are recorded as being on the previous day as most fly just after dusk, so this is when they are attracted to the light.

mottled umber

a very well marked mottled umber

 

Year’s End

The last day of 2018 and I was out doing my December waterbird count, numbers are generally low this winter, but there was variety. I started with Ibsley Water, the most numerous species was coot with 327 other species exceeding one hundred were wigeon 206 and lapwing 288. Gulls are not counted but at dusk were present in thousands. During the day the highlights from Ibsley Water were black-necked grebe, a dark-bellied brent goose, water pipit(s), first winter Caspian gull and a first winter Mediterranean gull, in addition the flock of linnet were feeding outside Tern hide once again.

Elsewhere the bittern was on show at Ivy North hide, along with water rail and Cetti’s warbler and at dusk two great white egret. On Blashford (Spinnaker) Lake during the day there were two great white egret and a good number of wildfowl including 300 coot. A further 299 coot were on Rockford Lake and a water pipit on the shore close to the path was something I had not seen there before.

No doubt tomorrow will be busy and there are a nice range of birds to see along with the extra attraction of the Pop-up cafe.