Walter Returns!

After reports of a great white egret since the end of the week before last we have been wondering if it was “Walter”  come back for his fourteenth winter, but sightings have been too poor to confirm if it had rings in the right combination. So I was delighted to see from Ivy North hide as I locked up, there he was, rings and all. I got a very poor picture, but I only had a 60mm macro lens on my camera, so I have some excuse.

Walter!

“Walter”

At fourteen and three months he is by far the oldest great white egret know to have been seen in the UK and is quite a great age for the species. When he arrived he was a real pioneer, one of only three or so in the country, but over the last few years they have increased and now breed in the UK and look as though they are here to stay.

 

Late Winter Dash as Spring Looms

This time of year is always hectic, the winter work really needs to be finished by the end of February and somehow there is never quiet enough winter to get it all done. That said we have done very well this time, getting round to some tasks that I had been wanting to do for some years as well as doing  a lot of work in the former block works site to make it ready to become part of the reserve.

In the last week we have planted several hundred shrubs, coppiced a lot of willow and built a long dead hedge we have also cleared small birches to make basking sites for reptiles and nesting areas for solitary bees, raked cut brambles and taken willow cuttings. Luckily Blashford’s Brilliant Volunteers have turned out en masse and with the Our Past, Our Future apprentice rangers and Emily, our volunteer placement, the workforce has been at peak performance.

before

The site for a new dead hedge

after

The dead hedge completed, looking back towards the viewpoint of the picture above.

Even with all this activity there has still been some time for a bit of wildlife. The last couple of nights have been much warmer, spring is definitely in the air now, so we have put out the moth trap. Today’s catch was 3 chestnut, 3 pale brindled beauty, a spring usher (I said it was in the air), one of my favourites, an oak beauty

oak-beauty

oak beauty, one of the finest moths of spring

and a dotted border.

dotted-border

dotted border

A bittern was seen a couple of days ago, but not since, so perhaps the feel of spring has made it return to more suitable breeding habitat. So far we still have two great white egret, including “Walter”, although he usually departs about mid-February, so I suspect he will not be here much longer. The Cetti’s warbler are singing a lot now, hopefully they will stay to breed this year. The ring-billed gull are still present, with both birds seen in the past few days, although not on the same evening. Oystercatcher have come back and up to three have been noisily flying great circles above the reserve. The gull roost now includes 15 or more Mediterranean gull, a now typical spring build-up. The cormorant roost was up to 148 the other evening in the tree beside Ivy Lake

cormorant-roost

Cormorant roost beside Ivy Lake

and this evening there were upward of 5000 starling performing to the north of Ibsley Water, putting on quite a show, perhaps because there was a peregrine about, I am guessing they roosted in the reeds to the north of the lane.

Locking up Ivy North hide there was a very tame grey squirrel outside the hide, gorging on food that someone had thrown out of the window.

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Grey squirrel, not turning down a free meal.

As I closed Tern hide and the starlings were doing their thing off to the north, there was a rather fine sunset off to the west, a perfect end to a very busy day.

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Sunset, with three ducks.

 

 

 

Coppicing, Snipe and Great Whites

A brilliant sunny day, not a great surprise to Blashford aficionados, is was Thursday and so volunteer day, (it almost never rains on a Thursday morning). The volunteers continued coppicing and using the brash to make a new dead hedge in the former Hanson plant site. This hedge should grow up with bramble and so provide valuable cover and habitat. The earth bank has steep south-facing slopes and these should be great for insects and hopefully also reptiles. Unfortunately I still have no firm date on the opening of the new path but at least the preparations are progressing well.

In the afternoon I was leading a winter bird walk, it is always good to get out on site and see some wildlife and this afternoon was glorious. We started at Tern hide with good views of water pipit and 3 snipe close to the hide.

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one of three snipe feeding along the shore near the hide

A dead gull on the shore just east of the had attracted a crow which was tucking in, but very soon it was pushed off the prize by two buzzard, and two magpie also came down to see what they could snatch.

carrion-feeders

carrion feeders

A meal of meat is always welcome to these birds but in cold weather such as we are having now could make all the difference to these birds survival. It may seem a little gory, but nothing goes to waste.

Looking further out onto the lake we managed to miss the black-necked grebe that had been reported but did find a  female red-breasted merganser, these close relatives of the goosander are usually found on the coast and it is some years since there was one on the reserve. We also saw several of our regular goosander by way of comparison, these are larger and although the females are similar, the goosander have an overall cleaner look.

At the Woodland hide we saw a good range of the regular smaller birds, but the highlight was the water rail feeding in the pool under the alder carr just outside the hide, it gave wonderful views and seemed completely unconcerned by our watching it. After failing to see a bittern, we headed back to Tern hide and were rewarded with great views of a green sandpiper on the shore below the hide, it only flew off when a second came by.

When I went to lock up I saw a great white egret roosting in the trees on Ivy Lake from the Ivy North hide, “Walter” on his usual perch. By the time I got to Ivy South hide and looked across there were two! Presumably the second bird which has been using the area just north of the reserve had joined him, it will be interesting to see if they both roost there regularly.

 

Laying around

On Sunday, as it was the first Sunday of the month the reserve had both a volunteer work party and a Pop-up Café. The volunteers worked on laying part of the hedge along the western side of the reserve near Ellingham Lake. This was planted in 2005 and has now grown tall, but not very thick, wildlife tends to prefer a wide, thick hedge to a narrow, tall one. We did not do the classic hedge laying, which is good if the object is to keep in livestock, instead we only lightly trimmed the tops of the plants and laid them over. This should produce a wider hedge with at least some flowering and fruit production in the first year. It is also a much quicker and easier and within my skillset, true hedge laying is well beyond me.  We need to give the young growth at the base of the plants some protection so we put the trimmings and any bramble we had to cut out around the base of the hedge to try ands keep the deer and rabbits off. We managed to do 20m of hedge in our two hour session.

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Before we could lay the hedge we had to remove the old rabbit fencing and tree guards.

Meanwhile, back at the Centre the Pop-up Café had been laying out cake and some of the volunteers stopped for a slice before heading for home. Both the hedge and cake were excellent.

Perhaps because of the approach of Christmas the reserve was not that busy despite the bright sunshine. This was a shame as  the birds were putting on a good show with both great white egret seen as well as a beautiful firecrest in the ivy covered trees beside the Woodland hide. On Ibsley Water both of the adult ring-billed gull were eventually found in the gull roost. They seem to take absolutely no notice of one another despite being far from home. They are North American natives and there would appear to be only about three in the UK at present, so quite why two of them should be at Blashford is a bit of a mystery.

 

All Clear

The Blashford volunteers were hard at work today and we finally finished the clearance of the western shore of Ibsley Water. As an old gravel working it has taken a long time for the area to settle down. The bare ground left at the end of extraction was a seedbed for a forest of ragwort and after we got this under control nettle and bramble proliferated. Mowing and grazing is increasingly establishing grassland over larger and larger areas, but getting it too a state where we can readily manage it as long term grassland has been a challenge. Hopefully today we had our last day of this clearance work, so long as I can get a suitable mower for the job from now on it should be easier to maintain habitat suitable for breeding lapwing and feeding wigeon.

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The last patches at the start of the task.

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Part way through

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Nearly there, just a bramble clump to go.

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Just the raking up to do.

Managing the habitat around the reserve and maximising the opportunity for people to enjoy the wildlife from the hides is a constant task and the input of the many volunteers is what makes it possible. They don’t just do lots of the work, they also come up with all sorts of ideas. Many of our volunteers are also regular visitors to the reserve, which gives them a different perspective from that of staff. Lots of ideas keep the reserve moving forward and encourages us to try new things and hopefully improves things for wildlife and visitors alike.

We have tamed the western shore of the lake just in time as we are shortly to take on the old concrete block works site between Tern and Goosander hides. This will be another area of disturbed ground, no doubt full of weed seeds and with added concrete, metal reinforcing etc. to boot. Although the major groundworks are now complete establishing vegetation is going to take time and effort. Several people have asked me when the new path between the main car park and Goosander hide will open. The short answer is I don’t know yet. Although the large scale works are done there is still things to finish before we will be able to take possession and open it up for use. I am hoping it won’t be too long now and rest assured that I will post details as soon as I know.

Clouded Yellow

From the Tern hide first thing it was no surprise to find that yesterday’s spoonbill had moved on. Possibly a good thing as the volunteers were working outside the hide this morning to further improve the view by hand-pulling the annual; plant growth that obscures the shoreline. During the we came across a “Woolly bear” caterpillar, once a very common sight these larvae of the tiger moth are now not so often seen. Then a rather large grass snake slithered away up the bank and lastly the reserve’s first clouded yellow of the year flew by. Later in the Centre car park I saw a second clouded yellow, so perhaps there is something of a migrant insect arrival underway with the change in the weather, if it includes moths we could be in for a good session on Sunday morning. Incidentally if you would like to come along to see what the trap has gathered overnight there are still places available.

Birds were rather few, a dunlin on Ibsley Water and 2 whitethroat in the bramble around the main car park were as good as it got for me today.

The Archers

The moth trapping has picked up a bit now and there have ben on or two new species in the trap, yesterday we caught two very fresh Archer’s dart, not a species I see very often at all.

archer's dart

Archer’s dart

Going away for a couple of weeks makes the changes on the reserve really noticeable, the lake levels have dropped a bit, all the nesting terns have left and there are lots of adult crickets and grasshoppers calling away. As the years advance I am pleased I can still (just) hear  Roesel’s bush cricket and long-winged conehead.

long-winged conehead

long-winged conehead female

After a day bramble cutting it was pleasant to walk round the hides at locking up time. Highlights were 43 gadwall on Ivy Lake and a sun bathing Neoitamus cyanurus,  a species of robberfly, on the wooden screen at the Woodland hide.

Neoitamus cyanurus male

Neoitamus cyanurus (male)

This is quite a common species in woodland and is identified by its bright orange legs.