A Siberian Visitor

at Blashford Lakes a number of bird ringing projects are carried out by specially trained volunteers under the auspices of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). They have been overseeing bird ringing for over 100 years now and almost all that we know about the migration, longevity and survival of our birds has been found out using the results. These are all vital to understanding how we can look after the birds we have got and try to restore ones we are losing or have lost.

At the simplest an individually marked metal ring is attached to the leg of a caught bird, it is examined to establish species, age, sex and condition and then released. Most of these birds are never reported again, but with many thousands caught the percentage found was still enough to establish something of the remarkable journeys they undertake. We have probably all heard that our summering Swallow spend the winter in southern Africa, but who would have guessed that the Blackcap that winters in your garden is not the one that was there in the summer, they are down by the Mediterranean, instead it is perhaps from SE Germany.

Today it is possible to use additional techniques such as colour-rings, radio and satellite tags, but these are expensive especially for smaller birds as they need to be very light indeed. Some species are rare and hide very well, so it is difficult to catch them in the first place and if you do they are very unlikely to ever be seen again and small sample sizes mean you are always unsure how typical the data collected will be. To gain a fuller picture of their lives techniques such as stable isotope analysis and DNA sampling can assist, if you are interested do a search, there is a lot of fascinating information out there..

Despite all these high tech and sometimes very costly techniques coming into the picture much of what we are learning is still coming form the traditional ringing, largely thanks to the shear size of the samples it can achieve. The other important role of traditional ringing is to train new recruits, it takes typically a year or two to complete basic training and many more to become expert or specialise in particular techniques or species.

At Blashford Lakes we have a colour-ringing project for Black-headed Gulls, a nestbox project and a Constant Effort Site (CES) as well as some winter ringing with training opportunities. Recently one of the regular sessions turned up a rarer than usual visitor, a Siberian Chiffchaff. A lot of Common Chiffchaff pass through the UK in the autumn, some stay the winter, but many more head on down to the Mediterranean. Chiffchaff breed right across Europe and into Asia, although all the same species, the birds get paler and greyer the further east you go and these birds also call differently, and it was one of these eastern birds that turned up. The pictures below show the difference in appearance between a “typical” Chiffchaff and the Siberian visitor.

Common Chiffchaff (left), Siberian (right)
Siberian Chiffchaff (left), Common (right)
Common Chiffchaff
Siberian Chiffchaff

This autumn seems to have been a good one for reports of these Siberian Chiffchaffs, maybe just a chance increase in sightings or perhaps indications of a change in migration pattern as seems to be happening with a number of other Siberian nesting species. Only time will tell and who knows maybe this bird will be reported again and add to our understanding of how migration is changing, or not.

Wildlife Tots is back!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Blashford Lakes Wildlife Tots by Rex Waygood

Following on from last Monday’s update about our Young Naturalists group making a welcome return to on-site meetings, we’re very pleased to announce our Wildlife Tots sessions will be following suit, with the first sessions planned for Monday 7th June.

Our Wildlife Tots group offers fun outdoor play and wildlife discovery activities for pre-school aged children and their parents or carers once a month, usually (but not always!) on the first Monday. On the 7th we will be discovering the weedy depths of the Blashford pond…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Pond dipping by Rex Waygood

Booking is essential via Eventbrite – for further details and to book a space on Monday 7th June please visit one of the following two listings:  

Morning – 10.30am until 12noon

Afternoon – 1pm until 2.30pm 

If you can’t make the 7th but would like to join us at a later date, please email BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk and ask to be put onto our Wildlife Tots mailing list for details about future sessions.

We are looking forward to seeing everyone again soon!

RS5100_IMG_4299

Newt

dragonfly nymph2

Dragonfly nymph

A Better View

With the clocks going back and autumnal wind and rain not to mention an increasing likelihood of further restrictions on going out returning, things have been a little gloomy of late. However as many people have found in recent times being able to get out into nature, even in the rain does undoubtedly help lift the mood. In normal times most people mainly make use of the bird hides to view wildlife at Blashford Lakes, with these closed there is a need to seek other opportunities. Luckily the paths between the hides go through some interesting habitat and offer lots of chances to see all sorts of wildlife, something often forgotten as people rush from hide to hide in normal times. Unfortunately when it comes to viewing the lakes themselves and the wildfowl on them the hides are important, without them there are just a few screens and the high viewpoint at the rear of the Main Car Park near Tern Hide.

It had seemed possible that we might be getting to a point where we would be able to open the hides, with some restrictions, but sadly this now seems much less likely and we may have to face up to having no hide access this winter. This means looking for alternative viewing opportunities and the first one identified is just beside Ivy North Hide. Thanks to the gravel surface already being there and the screen facing the right way opening up a viewpoint was relatively easy. So on Friday afternoon I cut the vegetation between the screen and the lake and made an opening in the screen. This means that Ivy Lake is now viewable from three directions, looking north-west from the southern end of the Rockford path, looking west from further north up that path and now looking south from beside Ivy North Hide.

Ivy North screen
Now with an opening and views out over the Ivy Lake

We have also recently given a haircut to a lot of the bushes and small trees that were starting to get in the way of the view of Ibsley Water from the viewpoint, the panoramic view from there is quite impressive, all we need now are some starlings to put on a show.

Important Information about Reserve Opening

You have probably heard that people will be allowed to exercise away from home more and at a greater distance than previously from Wednesday 13th May. However Blashford Lakes will remain closed. In fact even the limited access that has been possible in recent weeks will not be available as the main road access along Ellingham Drove will be closed Wednesday-Friday (13th-16th May) for resurfacing works. Please do not attempt to visit at all during this time.

Beyond these works plans for, probably limited, opening are being looked at. It will be necessary to ensure that any opening will be safe, so the Centre and hides are unlikely to open for some time yet. Restricted car park opening may be possible, one limitation is lack of staff, most are currently furloughed and current rules would suggest they cannot return immediately. There are also some works that are needed to enable continued safe access that are outstanding, due to difficulties obtaining materials for repairs.

Be assured that every effort is being made to ensure safe visiting is possible as soon as possible, but this will not be on Wednesday for, as outlined above, a variety of reasons.

 

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

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.

 

Recent Activity and a Little Wildlife

I am sorry for the lack of posts recently, I will try and get back to a couple a week again. Recent weeks have been busy both at Blashford and at Fishlake.

At Blashford the volunteers have been constructing an artificial badger sett.

badger sett construction

badger sett construction, the chamber.

Once the chamber had been made a roof was added along with an entrance tunnel.

P1110340

construction continues.

Yesterday we covered the whole structure with a layer of soil to bury, now all we have to do is wait and see if the badgers approve.

The ponies have now left Blashford as the grazing season draws to a close. Meanwhile at Fishlake the cattle have grazed in both Ashley Meadow and the North-west fen and done a great job. Reducing the tall herbage will take several seasons but we are now holding the succession into rank fen with increasing willow scrub and starting to reverse it.

P1110376

British white cattle, now back in Ashley Meadow.

The autumn has been relatively quite for birds, or at least for rarities at both sites. Fishlake has been visited by several osprey, but they have not stayed as long as in  previous years. There have been several great (white) egret as both sites and 2 cattle egret flew south over Ibsley Water at Blashford. Both sites are now starting to see increases in wildfowl, with small flocks of teal at Fishlake and wigeon at Blashford.

The warm summer saw a number of records of lesser emperor dragonfly, a migrant that is occurring in increasing numbers, this great picture of a hovering male was sent in by  Kevin Kearns.

lesser emperor Kevin Kearns

lesser emperor Kevin Kearns

Moths have been a little disappointing, with a couple of Clifden nonpareil and a few commoner migrants. We have caught a couple more of the non-native Australian Pyralid, Masotima nitidalis, introduced with tree ferns but now evidently eating our native ferns in the wild.

Masotima nitidalis

Masotima nitidalis

There is still time for some autumn excitement where migrant birds are concerned, although we will soon be entering the late autumn lull before the main arrival of wintering birds. Insects will be winding down for winter, but fungi are coming into their main season, so there is always something to look forward to.

P1110358

Fungus season is starting

Bonaparte’s Again

A couple of years ago Blashford Lakes was visited by a first year Bonaparte’s gull, a small species between little gull and black-headed gull in size and looking very like the latter. They breed in North America and very occasionally get blown across the Atlantic. Most turn up in this country in spring and are first year birds. It seems probable that they are blown across in autumn storms and are following a natural instinct to migrate north after wintering well to the south of us. Yesterday the second of this species to be found on the reserve was seen from the splendid new Tern Hide and attracted a fair few birders as the news got out.

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull (right) with black-headed gull of the same age and common terns.

Although similar to a black-headed gull the differences are not too hard to see up close, although this bird is somewhat larger than our last and so less obvious. At long range and especially if feeding on the water, it is much less easy to spot. However there are some clues that might help. The most obvious is the difference in feeding action, the Bonaparte’s has a habit of up-ending and overall swims with neck very stretched looking reminiscent of a phalarope, with their faster feeding action as well.

The Tern Hide is also proving a great place, appropriately enough, to see terns, specifically common tern.

common tern

displaying common tern from Tern Hide

The last few days have seen a few migrant birds passing through or arriving, we have recorded our first swift and migrant waders like dunlin and whimbrel. I have not managed to get pictures of any of these but I did snap a red kite that flew over on Monday.

red kite

red kite

The spring is not all about birds though, as the season moves on we are seeing lots more insects such as small copper, holly blue and many spring hoverflies.

Epistrophe elegans

Epistrophe eligans – a typical spring hoverfly

We are also seeing more reptiles and I found the grass snake below basking beside the main car park!

grass snake

grass snake

Our developments are still ongoing, but are drawing to a close, however the latest job will be to resurface the car park nearest the Education Centre, meaning it will be unavailable for parking for a few days, most likely next week. We are nearly at the end of the works, so things should settle down soon! Thank you to New Forest LEADER for funding our improvements to the area in front of the Education Centre.

New Forest LEADER

 

Bittern not Stung

I am fairly sure that the bittern that spent a good part of the winter showing off by Ivy North Hide left on the night of Sunday 17th March, conditions were perfect and there were no records in the next couple of days. However a couple of brief sightings in since suggested I was wrong. This evening I saw a bittern from the hide, but it was not the bird that wintered there, being somewhat duller and, I think, smaller. This may be the second bid seen during the winter but which was chased off by the regular one, now able to hunt in peace, or perhaps a migrant.

The sun was warm today, although the wind was a little chilly. In shelter there were lot of insects about, I saw peacock, brimstone and small tortoiseshell and probably thousands of solitary bees. I was able to identify a few species, the commonest was yellow-legged mining bee then the grey-backed mining bee, nationally a very rare species, but abundant locally at Blashford Lakes. The only other I certainly identified was red-girdled mining bee. It was pleasing to see lots of female grey-backed miners as I had been seeing what I was convinced were males for several days, but they are very similar to the males of a commoner species, the females are much more distinctive. My first female was sunning itself on the new screen I was building beside Goosander Hide.

grey-backed mining bee blog2

female grey-backed mining bee catching some rays

I later went to see if there were any around the sandy bank we dug for bees a couple of seasons ago and there were, loads and loads of them!

grey-backed mining bee blog1

grey-backed mining bee female checking out a likely site to dig a nest hole.

The sound of the masses of bees was amazing, there really was a “Buzz in the air”, although solitary bees can sting they do not often do so and the vast majority of the bees around the bank were males, which have no sting, so it is possible to enjoy the experience with little risk.

I had the first report of sand martin at the nesting bank today, hopefully we will have a good few nesting pairs again this year.

Elsewhere reports of a glossy ibis at Fishlake Meadows was impressive as was that of a white stork very close by at Squabb Wood, Romsey

A New Tern Hide Rising

The new Tern Hide is going up, work started on Monday with the footings, Tuesday saw the framework go up.

Hide construction starting base steel

Framework going in

Hide construction base steel

Going up

hide building frame

Taking shape

As you can see this is a somewhat different structure to the old hide. It has a steel frame and is raised off the ground, the old hide suffered when the floor started rotting out, not helped by the odd flood when water was flowing under the hide base.

Hide building 2

By the end of the day the panels are starting to go up

It will take time to get all the sides up and roof on, and then there are the windows and internal fixings to do, but work is progressing well despite the windy conditions.

hide construction ongoing

Starting to look like a hide now

The hide will have some higher level windows to make it easier to stand up and use a telescope on a tripod, hopefully a boon when doing a winter gull watch. Although it may not look it, it is larger in every dimension so it should also not get quiet so much of a crush when we do get a crowd in.

We have also made a more defined and level view point on the bank at the rear of the car park, which will give a great overall view of the lake and valley as a whole. Hopefully much better viewing all round.

I still do not expect work to be completed before the end of the month, but as you can see progress is now good.

This project has been made possible thanks to funds from the Veolia Environmental Trust.

vet-logo