The Best of Blashford

The second Pop-up Cafe of the winter today and, thankfully, the weather was a great deal better than the damp day we had at the start of the month. The reserve was busy and there was a good deal to see from most points, for most of the day.

Opening up Tern hide I saw a water pipit, although my first notable birds were at the main gate, where there was a fieldfare with a couple of redwing and a pair of bullfinch. 

I then spent a couple of hours attending to various tasks about the office before getting out to Lapwing and Goosander hides. We have done quite a bit of work on and beside the paths in this area with the object of both maintaining good access and making the walk more interesting for visitors and wildlife. To this end we have been scraping back the path edges and thinning the small trees to make clearings, increase the light and open up some views over the reeds. This work should also benefit insects and the reptiles that use this area, so we have been making sunny sheltered clearings and have dug one new sandy bank for solitary bees.

Up at Lapwing hide I was surprised to see several hundred large gulls, it was only late morning, so way to early for a roost gathering. I noticed the other day that there were  a lot of large gulls on the lake very early in the day. I suspect there are two possible explanations, either they are feeding very nearby and dropping in and out between bouts of feeding, or they have found somewhere with so much food that they are getting their fill in just a couple of hours. Looking through the gulls I saw the Caspian gull found yesterday, it is a “textbook” first winter bird, which always helps with these potentially difficult to identify birds.

At Goosander hide on the way back there were 2 green sandpiper and a dunlin, the latter flushed from the Long Spit in the company of a snipe by a peregrine. I took the long way back as I wanted to investigate some tyre tracks I had noticed on the Lichen Heath last Monday. Hidden away on the far side of the water treatment works I found out where they had been heading and why, a heap of fly-tipped material. I suspect dumped in the rain last Saturday, since it must have been in the day and when there were not many people around. We are certainly welcoming donations at the moment, but not this kind! It goes without saying that if you are on the reserve and ever see anything suspicious like this please make a note of what you safely can and let us know.

We always welcome donations of course, but at present we are trying to raise money to make a number of improvements to the reserve. The largest of these is the replacement of the Tern hide, the existing hide is suffering a bit and we recently won a grant to replace it, if we can raise the rest of the funds, to find out how you can help us see The Blashford Appeal

On my way back from a bird food buying trip I dropped in at Tern hide and saw 3 great white egret in the distance flying north up the Avon valley, I assume our regulars, but who knows? After another spell in the office I got out again in the late afternoon where there was a marsh harrier visible in the distance. Out on the lake the numbers of gulls had increased a lot and were more than I have seen this winter so far by some margin. I found the ring-billed gull deep in the flock, but unfortunately had to take off my glasses and when I looked back I could not find it again.

The Pop-up Cafe had done well, they will be back with more excellent cake on the first Sunday of December, so if you missed them today you could come then, or on the 16th of December, or both and New Year’s Day as well. You can also get a range of Wildlife Trust gifts and Christmas cards.

Locking up I saw 2 great white egret as usual at Ivy North hide, there were also at least 160 cormorant roosting in the trees and at least 161 tufted duck on the water.

It had felt like a good day almost all round, fly-tipping excepted. The reserve was busy with a range of people watching wildlife, from keen rarity hunters to families enjoying the nuthatch and the fine male sparrowhawk perched at the Woodland hide and there was cake too. Blashford Lakes is fortunate to have elements that appeal to a wide audience, we have popular events for ages from toddlers onward and different parts of the reserve that offer highlights for all types of wildlife seekers. Hopefully the reserve can continue to enthuse a wide and growing audience, our wildlife needs all the supporters it can get!


September’s End

Another fine day although with more of an autumnal feel that yesterday. There was still mist over the lakes as I opened the hides, from Tern hide the highlight was the unringed great white egret flying past the hide, heading south.

I made the most of the cooler conditions to go and do some path trimming, in places the bramble growth has pushed the path almost completely off the gravel surface. I was working near the southern end of Ellingham Lake  and the hedge there has some large ivy growths, some of it now flowering and on these I saw a few of the ivy bee Colletes hederae. This is quite large for a solitary bee and flying so late in the season is very obvious, so it seems extraordinary that it was only described as new to science in 1993, since when it has been found over much of Europe. It was first found in the UK in Dorset in 2001 and has now spread as far north as Norfolk.

ivy bee

Ivy bee Colletes hederae

In the late afternoon I went over to Goosander and Lapwing hides. In the reedbed and willows there were a few chiffchaff but no other migrants. From Lapwing hide I saw 2 green sandpiper and at least 1 common sandpiper. The screens overlooking the silt pond behind Lapwing hide proved worth a look with 2 mandarin and 2 snipe on show and some bullfinch in the willows.

At Goosander hide there has been a feeding frenzy going on for many days now. The cormorant seem to have got a large shoal of small carp hemmed in the bay near the hide and they are attracting everything that can swallow a small fish. There were the cormorant of course along with little egret, a great white egret (Walter this time), grey heron, great crested grebe, little grebe, black-headed gull and even mallard. The mallard and gulls are mostly steeling dropped fish, but a lot of the cormorant seem not to be bothering to eat everything they catch. Sometimes the cormorant are coming up with large perch or even pike, these are also in on the hunt for small carp, but run the risk of becoming a meal themselves in the process.

Goosander hide feeding frenzy 2

Cormorant flock fishing for carp

The cormorant dive for the fish which are driven into the weedy shallows in an attempt to escape, where they then run into the line of heron and egret.

Goosander hide feeding frenzy

Grey heron, little egret and great white egret waiting to the carp to be driven near to the shore

Finally, as I locked up the tern hide right at the end of the day I was delighted to see the reported wood sandpiper just in front of the hide. It was a juvenile, with fresh yellowish spangled feathers looking very splendid in the golden glow of the setting sun. To add to the scene the grey phalarope flew in and landed some 100m away, despite trying I could not see the juvenile garganey that was also seen earlier, but tomorrow is another day.


A Returning Visitor

Not a great day to be out and about, the temperature topped out at 4 degrees and it rained throughout the daylight hours. As a result the reserve was quiet, at least for visitors, there was a good range of birds about though. All the usual wildfowl were seen, apart from either of the pink-footed goose, although it might have been there as some of the geese were lurking behind the islands.

The woodland was busy with redpoll and several bullfinch much in evidence. The nyger feeders are starting to attract siskin and goldfinch already, so I think we might be needing considerable extra supplies before the winter is out, they don’t usually start feeding on these feeders in numbers until well after Christmas.

The peak time to be out was at dusk, the starling roost was again well over 25000 birds, mostly arriving from the north, although they did not perform for long before going to roost, perhaps conserving their energy with a cold night ahead. The gull roost included a ring-billed gull for the first time this winter. I think it was the returning adult that has joined the roost over the last few winters. I managed to get a few rather poor shots of it, typically it was not playing ball, mostly facing away from me.

ring-billed gull 2

ring-billed gull, preening.

This picture does show the pale grey mantle and narrow white tips to the tertials and scapulars. On a common gull these are much more obvious, being both broader and contrasting more strongly with the darker grey mantle of that species.

ring-billed gull 1

ring-billed gull

This picture shows the heavier ringed-bill than common gull and the pale iris, most common gull have a dark iris (although a few do not, so this is a character not to be used in isolation).

Last of all and when it was almost completely dark, I saw “Walter” the great white egret roosting in the dead alder beside Ivy Lake.

And the weather today is…?

150627 Blashford5 by Jim Day_resize

According to folklore spiders can predict the weather – if spiders build their webs higher than usual (or if they spin overly large webs) rain can be expected. Not sure what it means if a spider spins a web inside a thermometer, but I’m sure it must mean something!

Todays event was “Catch a bug”, which got off to a good start with a good haul of moths in the light trap – nothing of note, but cinnabar moths, elephant, eyed and poplar hawk moths and buff tip, amongst others, are always going to be a hit! Over in the meadow again there was nothing of particular note but a good range of insects, spiders, beetles, grasshoppers, bugs and caterpillars were enjoyed by all.

Elephant hawkmoth

Elephant hawkmoth

We’ve spent a lot of time in the meadow with children from Queens Park Infant School this week and it is amazing how much it has changed in just those few days – the grass is now an awful lot more yellow than green and many of the plants that were flowers at the start of the week are already starting to seed. Another remarkable observation from this week has been the growth of the emperor moth caterpillars that we have been rearing from eggs found in the light trap, following the predation of a gravid female a few weeks ago. Pictured below as they are today at about 5 cm long, they were barely 1cm long at the start of the week!

150627 caterpillars 1 by Jim Day_resize

While I have been “bug” hunting today, John Coombes was in the classroom leading the third of four of his very popular summer photography courses and while out an about putting theory into practice one of the students spotted this mullein moth caterpillar – the first I’ve seen this year, although by its size it has been over-looked for a few days at least!

Mullein moth caterpillar - oops forgot to rotate it...

Mullein moth caterpillar – oops forgot to rotate it…

The dock plants around the nature reserve and in particular the centre/Woodland/Ivy North Hide area are looking particularly “moth eaten” again, as they do every year – not however as the result of moths, but rather the voracious appetites (and sheer numbers!) of dock beetle and their larvae:

Dock beetle - adult

Dock beetle – adult

Dock beetle - larvae

Dock beetle – larvae

Elsewhere on the reserve grass snakes are still a regular sight – you can come across them anywhere, but Ivy South Hide is a reliable spot and the reptiles there are now very well photographed! Russ Tofts sent this image in – you can see the cast to one of the two snakes eyes that is indicative that it is about to slough its skin:

Grass snakes by Russ Tofts

Grass snakes by Russ Tofts

Less well photographed, but being enjoyed equally as much (actually given the poor reputation of snakes even with some of our visitors, who, lets face it, should be more enlightened, probably enjoyed more!) are the bullfinches with pairs around the Woodland Hide and Centre as well as over by the main car park/Tern Hide. Thanks to David Cuddon for sending in this picture of a male at the feeder (albeit a while ago – sorry it took so long David!):

Bullfinch by David Cuddon

Bullfinch by David Cuddon

Finally two oystercatcher chicks have been faring well near Tern Hide all week – until today when I could only see one. Hopefully the other was out of sight behind the vegetation and bank the birds I could see were in front of…

Waders have done well this year – the two fledged little ringed plover chicks and their parents are still regulars around the hide, as of course are the lapwings. This picture, sent in by Colin Raymond, shows off a lapwings colourful green plumage very well:

Lapwing by Colin Raymond

Lapwing by Colin Raymond



A summer wildlife walk

A very pleasant morning leading a guided walk today, with plenty of all round interest!

Things got off to a good start this morning when I opened up Tern Hide, with a female kestrel being mobbed by a couple of jackdaws. She has been around all of this week, mostly over the old ConBloc site and car park area, but for some reason she had really put the jackdaws noses (beaks!) out of joint today. While we were watching she gave up and settled on a post, with the two jackdaws standing guard either side of her, both swift to take off and harass her again if ever she tried to take off. Eventually they got bored and she settled to preening her somewhat ruffled feathers.

The light trap was very productive last night with 23 species recorded in total, including some of the more popular regulars including a poplar hawk moth, elephant hawk moth,  couple of buff tips and the high light, a Scarce Merveille du Jour:


Scarce Merveille du Jour

Scarce Merveille du Jour

Also pictured is this very aptly named figure of 80 moth:

Figure 80

Figure of 80 (or 08 viewed from this angle!)

Having looked through the light trap we walked on via the Ivy North/Woodland/Ivy South Hide/Dockens Water loop where highlights included a plethora of peacock butterfly caterpillars on the stinging nettles outside Ivy North Hide, meadow brown, common blue butterflies and a female scarce chaser dragonfly in the sweep netting meadow, female emperor dragonfly outside Woodland Hide, the regular grass snake in front of Ivy South Hide, along with a painted lady butterfly and newly hatched coot chick on the nest with mum, and a  male emperor dragonfly hawking along the edge of the water skiers car park.

Lots of peacock caterpillars!

Lots of peacock caterpillars!

Just after turning the cover towards the bridge back over the river a couple more jackdaws caught my eye. They were perched either side of a large rot hole, flying up and around it and at first I thought they were maybe coaxing outside fledglings until I realised that there were bee’s flying in and out. In fact the jackdaws were snatching these apparently tasty morsels out of the air as they entered and exited their nest in the tree. Smart birds jackdaws!

We finished off with green woodpecker and a lovely male bullfinch on the lichen heath before finishing at the centre pond for a brief glimpse of another emperor dragonfly and several egg laying azure damselflies to compliment the common blue damselflies that had of course accompanied us throughout our walk.

Shortly after one of our regular visitors and accomplished photographers spotted what might have been a young raft spider on the pond – a closer look later revealed an additional two. They are still very young and are lacking the striking yellow stripes along the abdomen, but with their greenish legs I’m reasonably confident that they are raft spiders so should provide plenty of interest over the summer if the last raft spider residents of that pond, three or four years ago, are anything to go by!





Ringing in the Cold

Bird news: Ibsley Watergrey plover 1, peregrine 1, ruddy duck 1, barnacle goose 5. Ivy Lakebittern 1, Cetti’s warbler 2, smew 1.

All of today’ s bird news comes courtesy of visitors as I managed to avoid pretty much all the wildlife. This is not to say that I saw no wildlife, just none of the more notable things. Near the Ivy Silt Pond a party of 5 bullfinch were good value, they were eating the buds on one of the sallow trees. Nor were these the only bullfinch I saw, at least three were at the entrance gate and another three or four in the hedge alongside Ellingham Drove beside Mockbeggar Lake. I also had reports of groups near the Lichen Heath and on the Rockford path. We always have a few about the reserve but this seems like the result of a bit of an arrival of birds, possibly in response to the cold weather.

The ringers were in again this morning and had a good session catching over sixty birds, mostly siskin, but including a few lesser redpoll, goldfinch and a goldcrest.

siskin male in the hand

Ringing offers real insights into the lives of birds, it tells us where they go and how long they live, all crucial to understanding how best to conserve them. I never cease to be amazed at the information it throws up, recently an oystercatcher has passed the forty-year old mark and one of the greenshank ringed at the Wildlife Trust’s Farlington Marshes reserve when I was working there has been caught sixteen years later. The ringing of siskin and lesser redpoll at Blashford has already shown that they return year after year, despite breeding in Northern England, Scotland or even further afield, they really do benefit from the reserve being here.

Of course part of the reason for many of the birds visiting is that we put out food for them, something that a lot of the birds were very grateful for today as it was very cold, making their need to take on calories the more urgent. The fat feeder outside my office was busy with birds all day.

long-tailed and blue tits on fat feeder

Not the greatest picture as it was taken through the window with the camera just held up to the glass. It is not just food that is put out that benefits the birds though, hopefully if we get the management of the reserve right there will be more natural food as well and the very act of providing a safe place means that birds do not have to move about as much and can conserve energy, especially important when times are tough.

There were some god sightings on the reserve today, the highlight must be the grey plover seen on the shore of Ibsley Water at the Lapwing hide, they are scarce here at any time of the year, but winter records are especially unusual. The bittern showed exceptionally well at the Ivy North hide in the afternoon and the redhead smew is now in also to be seen there. Just as the two did last year it is frequenting the edge fo the reedmace and lurking under the overhanging trees.

From slightly further afield came news of over 450 common gull on Mockbeggar North Lake, an exceptional count, but consistent with the trend of numbers increasing dramatically in cold weather. Another cold weather arrival was the ruddy duck drake, I assume the same one as earlier in the winter which seems to head off when it gets mild only to return after a couple of frosts.

Volunteering Weather

Bird News: Ibsley Water – black-necked grebe 1, Egyptian goose 4, pintail a pair. Ivy Lake – Cetti’s warbler 1, water rail 2, yellow-legged gull 1.

Another very fine, warm day, as we have come to expect on a Thursday at Blashford, of course Thursday is volunteer day. Today we were clearing the yard and managed to fill the skip I had ordered in just an hour, how is it that there is always more rubbish than you think? The volunteer team has now grown so much that we do not restrict ourselves to just one task, today we did three. The others were making a start on willow pollarding and removing of the old fixing points for the redundant lighting bollards.

My wildlife observations were rather restricted, but did include a few things of interest. At the Ivy South hide in the morning a very smart male bullfinch made a great sight, a species we did not see yesterday. On Ivy Lake there were three large gulls and they made a pretty good comparison, all adults and one each of great black-backed gull, lesser black-backed gull and yellow-legged gull. Walking back to the Centre a Cetti’s warbler burst into song right beside the track, they are seriously loud at close range.

Afternoon sightings were limited to a brief look from the Tern hide at dusk. The northern end of the lake was pretty well clear of birds, I think the cause was the police helicopter hovering over Ibsley village. One advantage was that the birds were much closer to the hide than usual. One of these was the black-necked grebe, the goldeneye are more often near the hide in the evening and tonight there were thirteen birds, one fewer than the other day, but there were five adult drakes, one more, so there must be at least fifteen in all.