Back Again

I was back at Blashford after a week away in North Wales. It was a good many years since I was there and it was great to visit familiar places and some new ones too. Seeing wildlife that I don’t see at home was also good. Birds such as dipper, chough, whooper swan, black guillemot and hen harrier were all a treat.

So it was back to work today, but as if to emphasise that it is not so bad, as if I needed reminding, on the way in I saw a hawfinch which flew across the road. Opening up the Tern hide a black-necked grebe was on view. Outside the Centre two male brambling were by the feeder and from Ivy South hide Walter the great white egret and an otter. There really are worse places to work!

I was in the office for a good part for the day, there is no way to escape the after-break email backlog. This did mean that I saw lots of people coming and going from the Pop-up cafe, which did a good trade despite it being quite q quiet day for visitors. If you want the chance to sample the splendid homemade cakes on offer there are just two more opportunities this winter, they will be back on the first and third Sundays in March and then taking their break until next autumn. It is a testament to the quality on offer that some of today’s customers were returnees who came in just for the cake and did not even visit the reserve.

There was one negative event to report, a car was broken into int he main car park, although nothing was stolen. Although a very rare event at Blashford, with well under one break-in a year it still pays to be careful. Just as in the New Forest car parks you should obviously not leave valuables on display, but also don’t put them in the boot in the car park, if you are being watched this just shows the criminal where to look and that there is something to steal. Either don’t leave things in the car or put them out of the way at a stop before you arrive to park. If you see anything or anyone suspicious let us know, note down a car number or anything else that might help. The reserve has always been very safe and we would like to keep it that way.

Locking up at the end of the day it was evident that there was no otter around Ivy Lake, the ducks were looking very relaxed, in stark contrast to their demeanour in the morning. Although we might think of otters as fish eaters they are far from averse to duck and locally they seem to favour signal crayfish when they are abundant.

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Evening on Ivy lake, peace and quiet.

The cormorant have returned to roost in the trees around Ivy Lake after going elsewhere for a while, although they are only using the ones on the spit. I also noticed that “Walter” had come back to roost in his favoured dead alder tree, if you look closely you can just make him out as a white spot on the right hand side of the picture. I expect he will be heading back to France soon, he rarely stays into March and often goes in January. Hopefully he will be back in the late summer, but as he approaches his fifteenth year of life he is a grand old great white egret now and at some point we will not see him again.

At the very end of the day the gull roost included the ring-billed gull, a couple of Caspian gull, but no Thayer’s gull, despite it having been seen flying south over Alderholt for the day spent feeding in pig fields at Tidpit. It has evidently found an alternative roost, perhaps in Christchurch Harbour.

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A Fishlake Wander, Recent sightings and Festive Opening

Work at the new Trust reserve at Fishlake Meadows is picking up, with the fencelines being cut out and plans being made for the start of willow coppicing, both to maintain some of the low scrub and to open up some new views across the reserve. As part of this planning process we were out on site at the start of the week, luckily we picked a good day.

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View across part of Fishlake Meadows

On our wandering in some of the damp fields we encountered a large number of Cetti’s warbler, the reserve has large areas of almost perfect habitat for them. We also flushed a fair few snipe including one jack snipe. Perhaps our most surprising sighting was of 2 hawfinch perched in a small tree near a flock of fieldfare. There has been a once in a lifetime invasion of hawfinches this winter with many thousands arriving from the continent. These two were probably some of these immigrants rather than local birds, but with the New Forest being the UK hotspot for the species they could have been more local.

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a view across the lower lake

 

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Mistletoe on poplar at Fishlake

Around the drier margins and especially along the canal path there are still many live poplars and quiet a few of them have a festive bunch or two of mistletoe high in their branches.

Meanwhile at Blashford Lakes latest reports are that the ring-billed gull is now being seen regularly in the gull roost on Ibsley Water as is the first winter Caspian gull, with a 2nd winter bird also reported recently, the roost also includes 2 Mediterranean gull. The starlings have been putting on quite show, with some estimates of up to 50000 birds coming into roost, usually just to the west of Ibsley water so seen from the hill at the back of the main car park. On Ibsley Water itself there have been up to 104 goosander roosting, 14 goldeneye and a single black-necked grebe. At least one of the pink-footed geese can be seen on and off with the greylag. There continue to be something like 90 pochard and 25-30 pintail as well.

On Ivy Lake “Walter” the great white egret is being seen fairly regularly and was joined by a second bird the other day. From Ivy North hide water rail and Cetti’s warbler are regular, although we have yet to get a report of a bittern this winter. The Woodland hide has one or two brambling and lesser redpoll as well as the occasional and less desirable report of brown rat.

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Robin

CHRISTMAS OPENING: We will be open as usual over Christmas apart from Christmas Day itself when we will be closed. In addition on New Years Day we will have the Pop-up Café again in the Centre, so you can start your birdlist for the year and get a hot cup of something and some excellent homemade cakes.

 

Some Seasonal Firsts!

Things are getting increasingly wintery, there was a frost on the grass this morning, 2 brambling were visiting the feeder by the car park and the Pop-up Café returned! Although the brambling have been around for a few day today was the first time that I had seen them, in fact I saw a few things for the first time this season today, I caught up with the pink-footed goose and saw a very smart first winter Caspian gull at dusk. Other firsts were mostly cake!

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The first marbled chocolate cake of the winter.

Others were personal firsts and very tasty too.

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Apricot, lemon and pistachio cake – a “tick” for me.

The Pop-up Café is once again being operated by Walking Picnics, just a sit was last winter and will be at Blashford on the first and third Sunday of each month and New Years Day.

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The Walking Picniceers and happy customers.

There was no sign of the lesser scaup today as far as I know, possibly put off by fireworks last night but the ferruginous duck was spotted, distantly by the northern shore of Ibsley Water, somehow I avoided it when I counted the pochard flock in that very area, there were 66 by the way, quite  a lot by the standard of recent years.

Elsewhere a couple of chiffchaff and a raven flying over and a few goldeneye and goosander on Ibsley Water were the best I could find. The sun did tempt out a few red admiral butterflies but I saw no dragonflies, which surprised me, as the sun was quiet warm.

All of the above actually happened in the afternoon as my morning was spent with the first Sunday of the month volunteers widening the margins of the path beside Ellingham Lake to provide more sheltered areas for insects and, hopefully reduce the tendency for brambles to overhang the path next summer. Increasing the area of transition between the path and the scrub by having  a margin of grass and herb species should provide habitat for butterflies and other insect next year, in effect we have made a miniature woodland ride. As ever the team did a load of work even though we only worked for a couple of hours or so.

 

Bee-flies, Butterflies and a Good Tern

Another very warm spring day at Blashford today and the air was full of all the sights and sounds of the season. There are now chiffchaff and blackcap singing in many parts of the  reserve and there were reports of a willow warbler singing near the Ivy North hide.

The volunteers were working near the main car park today, where we were buzzed by bees as butterflies floated by. As were headed back for cake, we also saw a bee-fly, it turned out not to be the usual Bombylius major or dark-edged bee-fly, but the much rarer Bombylius discolor  or dotted bee-fly, a new species for the reserve.

And so onto cake, cake is not a rarity at Blashford, less common than biscuits, but not rare. In this case it was to honour the departure of Katherine, an Apprentice Ranger with The New Forest National Park scheme run as part of the Our Past, Our Future Heritage Lottery Project. But it was not for this reason alone, but also to mark the last day of our own Volunteer Trainee, Emily, who also made the cakes, a valuable extra skill. Katherine had spent three months with us and Emily six, remarkable staying power by any standards. In fact Emily has volunteered to stay on, so is not going to be lost to the reserve yet. Katherine has moved on to spend a time with the Forestry Commission team locally.

After cake we headed out to look at the changes to the butterfly transect routes, it was a shame that it was still March, the transect counts don’t start until the 1st April and it is often hard to find many butterflies in the first few weeks. Today they were everywhere and altogether we saw seven species between us. There were lots of peacock, a few brimstone and at least 3 speckled wood, but also singles of comma, small tortoiseshell, red admiral and orange-tip.

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A rather battered red admiral, probably one that has hibernated here and so is perhaps five or six months old.

Of the seven species five are ones that hibernate as adults, just the speckled wood and orange-tip will have emerged from pupae this spring. There is a small chance that the red admiral was a recent immigrant as they do also arrive from the south each spring, although usually later than this.

A different sort of life form is also in evidence on the reserve at present and I do mean a very different life form, slime mould. These are a bit of a favourite of mine and the one on a log towards the Ivy South hide is certainly living up to the name and is now oozing slime.

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slime mould, with slime

Locking up at the end of the day there was one last surprise, looking over Ibsley Water I saw a tern amongst the many black-headed gull, not as I expected an early common tern but a very fine sandwich tern, something of a rarity away from the coast.

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Sandwich tern, an unexpected visitor.

 

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.

 

A Few Birds and the Promise of More Cake

Over the last few days there have been regular sightings of “Walter” the great white egret as well as a few further ones of the second, un-ringed, bird. Other observers have also confirmed my impression that the new bird is quiet a bit smaller, this probably confirms that Walter is indeed a “He”, since males are larger than females in this species. We were sent these pictures of both egrets by Lorne Bissell a couple of days ago.

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The two great white egret, Walter is on the right with the rings.

Bittern sightings have been intermittent from Ivy North hide, usually to the east (left) of the hide and water rail are being seen regularly. the wildfowl on Ivy Lake remain very unsettled, I suspect this is due to otter activity, but I have no sightings to confirm this as yet.

In the alder and birch trees around the Centre a large flock of siskin can be seen and heard, I estimate there are at least 150 birds in this flock. Also in this area a firecrest is regularly being seen associating with the mixed tit flock that frequents the willows.

A black-necked grebe was on Ibsley Water yesterday, but I do not think anyone saw it today. The marsh harrier that has made a number of visits recently was again around Ibsley Water today, spending about half an hour perched at various points. There was also a peregrine seen. At dusk the gull roost was as large as ever and something like 3000 starling gave a brief flying display to the north, before going to roost. Hopefully they will stay around and grow in number for my “In to Roost” event next Wednesday afternoon, there should still be places if you would like to come along, but please call us to book (01425 472760) or email BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk.

Another up-coming event is the return of the, soon to be legendary, Pop-up Café. It had a premiere on the first Sunday of this month and proved a great hit with visitors and it will be back at the Centre this coming Sunday serving hot drinks, very fine home made cakes and probably a few other things besides. We will also have the very fine Trust calendar for 2017, wildlife Christmas cards, books and various other things available for sale.

The café will return throughout the winter on the first and third Sunday of each month.

 

 

Popping up

There was a proper wintery feel to things at Blashford today, a cool north-westerly breeze and bright sunshine. Working with the volunteers near the main car park we had to keep moving to stay warm. The sunshine brought out good numbers of visitors and most of them seemed to make use of the “Pop-up Café” which was set up in the Centre for the first time today (I had a slice of apple cake which was delicious). The café will be back throughout the winter on the first and third Sunday of each month, so look out for it if you visit the reserve.

After working with the morning I was told that Walter, our regular great white egret, had a companion pop in to join him. The second bird does not carry rings but they seemed to be associating all day and went to roost together at dusk. A good few years ago there were also two present but then they were almost never seen together.

During the afternoon I got out on the reserve for a bit and there are still lots of fungi around.

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Sulphur tuft, on logs near the Woodland hide.

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Honey fungus n a dead birch near the Ivy South hide.

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A small, unidentified fungus near the Woodland hide.

The weather went downhill a little in the afternoon and by the time it got dark it was raining, but before that there were occasional patches of very contrasting light and dark, which made for quite attractive scenes.

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Ivy lake, with cormorant roost tree.

Other sightings today included 2 drake pintail on Ibsley Water, where there were also 2 duck goldeneye and at least 18 pochard. On Ivy Lake there were several water rail near Ivy North hide and a singing Cetti’s warbler. On arriving at the reserve I was greeted by the sound of cronking as a raven flew over and I also received reports of both water pipit and rock pipit being seen from Tern hide and there were 2 or 3 chiffchaff around the main car park for most of the day.