A winter wander

I’m a little out of sync with Jim and Chloe’s last few blogs, but on Boxing Day I was back at Blashford and after catching up with my emails in the morning (only getting slightly distracted by the view from the office window of the Chiffchaff below, I’m still waiting for the Kingfisher…) I decide to head out for a wander.

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Chiffchaff by the Education Centre pond

The day had begun quite grey but after a brief stop in Tern Hide to see if anything was close enough to the shore to photograph the sun did start to break through the clouds.

pochard

Pochard from Tern Hide

I cut across the closed path from Tern Hide to Goosander Hide (will 2022 be the year we can finally open the path to visitors?! We can but hope!) and paused to look through the screen at the ephemeral ponds.

view from screen on old concrete site

Ephemeral ponds with Ibsley Water in the distance

A large flock of Redwing were feeding around the edges of the ponds and in amongst the grass along with a Mistle thrush and Pied wagtail.

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Mistle thrush

Mistle thrush 4

Mistle thrush

I watched the Mistle thrush for some time as it hopped about between the pools of water, at one point it extracted a rather large earthworm from the ground and proceeded to gulp it down.

The Redwings were more easily spooked by my presence at the screen and kept their distance, but on continuing along the path they would fly up to the larger trees at the sound of my footsteps and eventually I got lucky with one perching in a smaller silver birch.

redwing

Redwing

I also watched a small flock of Goldfinch and Siskin feeding on the seeds in amongst the alder cones – there is still plenty of food for them in amongst the tree tops:

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Goldfinch pausing in a silver birch to finish feeding

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Siskin feeding on alder seeds

From Goosander Hide I watched a pair of Goosander in the bay, along with Coot, Grey heron and Tufted duck.

view from Goosander Hide

View from Goosander Hide

On my way up to Lapwing Hide I followed a flock of Long-tailed tits and scanned a flock of Chaffinch feeding on the ground for a Brambling, but sadly I was not in luck. We have though had a pair of females and one male seen from the Woodland Hide over the last couple of days, so there’s still time!

Near Lapwing Hide I had another good view of a Chiffchaff as it flitted about in the tree tops:

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Chiffchaff near Lapwing Hide

The water immediately in front of Lapwing Hide was quite quiet, apart from the gulls which took it in turns to sit and call loudly from the posts in the water:

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Lesser black-backed gull – I think!

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Black-headed gull in its winter plummage, without its dark chocolate-coloured head

view from lapwing hide

Ibsley Water from Lapwing Hide

From Lapwing Hide I headed back to the road crossing and followed the path along the Dockens Water.

woodland along Dockens Water

Woodland along the Dockens Water

Volunteer Geoff had mentioned a fungi near the bridge that crosses over the Dockens, he had spotted it on the walk back at the end of our Young Naturalists session before Christmas (a blog will follow at some point!) so I stopped to have a look:

wood cauliflower

Wood cauliflower, Sparassis crispa

Unsure of what it was, I asked one of our welcome volunteers, Bryn, today and after heading off in search of it he reported back to say it was Wood cauliflower, although it sadly no longer looks quite as nice as it does in the above photo. 

Back at the Education Centre I looked for the first signs of snowdrops in amongst the leaf litter, and sure enough they are starting to come up:

snowdrops pushing through

Snowdrops starting to push through the soil and leaf litter by the Education Centre

Given the afternoon had turned out quite nice, I decided to have a quick look at the feeder on the edge of the path by the Woodland Hide, watching Chaffinch, Blue tit, Marsh tit, Goldfinch, Dunnock and Siskin either on the feeder, on the ground or in amongst the surrounding trees. I also saw a bank vole scurrying around on the ground.

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Dunnock by the Woodland Hide

siskin

Siskin by the Woodland Hide

Turkey tail fungus can be seen growing on the logs to the edge of the path whilst Candlesnuff fungus can be found on old tree stumps. Soon it will be the turn of the Scarlet elf cup which likes to grow on decaying sticks and branches in amongst the leaf litter, but I haven’t spotted any yet…

A look over the dead hedge to Ivy Silt Pond added Kingfisher to my list of birds for the day, and on that note I decided it was time I headed back to the office to get a couple more jobs done before it was time to start locking the reserve.

By the end of the day the temperature had dropped and a mist had descended over the lichen heath. As I peered through the screen by Ivy North Hide a flock of Redwing flew in to roost in the neighbouring trees.

view from Ivy North Hide

Evening view from Ivy North Hide

lichen heath in mist

Misty lichen heath

Today has been another very grey affair, so here’s a photograph of the Spindle which is brightening up the edge of the Centre car park:

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Bright pink fruit of the Spindle, Euonymus europaeus

This evening I’m hoping my locking up will be accompanied by the chattering and twittering of starlings from the reed beds near Ivy North and South Hides and the Silt Pond – Happy New Year!

A different view

On Tuesday I accompanied Bob to the north eastern shore of Ibsley Water so he could fell some of the willows into the lake, creating perches over the water for birds like heron and egret to fish from. I did fell a few smaller trees, but admit I was mainly there as first aid cover and did make the most of the opportunity of being in a different spot, enjoying a wander along the edge of the bay where I’ve only been once before.

Bob tree felling

Bob felling trees into the bay north of Lapwing Hide

Across Mockbeggar towards Ibsley Common

The view across Mockbeggar Lake towards Ibsley Common

Whilst we were up there, a goosander flew overhead and a couple of pied wagtails made themselves comfortable on the osprey perch:

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Pied wagtail

On the walk back I noticed some blackening waxcaps on the edge of the lake near Lapwing Hide, which were beginning to change colour. A grassland fungi, blackening waxcaps turn black with age, hence the name, but prior to blackening they can be red, orange or yellow in colour.

Blackening waxcap

Blackening waxcap, beginning to blacken

Looking back towards Tern Hide

The view towards Tern Hide from in front of Lapwing Hide

There is plenty of fungi in accessible locations on the reserve, with candlesnuff fungus seemingly everywhere if you look closely enough at the woodland floor along the footpath edges:

Candlesnuff fungus

Candlesnuff fungus on a moss covered log

I also found a couple of earthfans on the edge of the lichen heath. They can be found on dry sandy soil and have a rosette like fruiting body which is usually reddish brown to dark chocolate brown in colour.

Earthfan

Earthfan

There were also a number of russula growing in amongst the lichen. There are approximately 200 russula species in the UK and the generic name means red or reddish. Although many have red caps, many more are not red and those that are usually red can also occur in different colours. This species could be Russula rosea, the rosy brittlegill, but I’m not completely sure so will stick with the genus russula on this occasion!

Russula

Russula species in amongst the lichen

There was also a branch covered in jelly ear fungus along the ‘Wild Walk’ loop, close to the acorn sculpture:

Jelly ear

Jelly ear fungus

Also known as wood ears or tree ears, the fruiting body is ear shaped and is usually found on dead or living elder.

With the colder, wetter weather we have begun to get a number of more unwelcome visitors in the centre, usually wood mice or yellow-necked mice. Although we enjoy catching small mammals as an education activity, they are less welcome additions to the centre loft where they have in the past chewed through the cables. So we trap them in the loft too, using the Longworth small mammal traps, and safely relocate any we do catch to the further reaches of the reserve. On Sunday morning there were two mice in the loft, so I took them up to Lapwing Hide and released them into the undergrowth. 

mouse Kate Syratt

Mouse released from one of the mammal traps by Kate Syratt, who joined me for a socially distant wander to release them

There have been a good variety of moths in the light trap recently, with the highlights including mottled umber, streak, red-green carpet, green-brindled crescent, feathered thorn and December moth:

mottled umbar

Mottled umber

streak

Streak

Red green carpet

Red-green carpet

green brindled crescent Kate Syratt

Green brindled crescent by Kate Syratt

Feathered thorn

Feathered thorn

December moth

December moth

Although I haven’t seen any sign of the brambling recently, the feeder by the Welcome Hut is being regularly visited by at least one marsh tit. We had a pair around the centre regularly over the summer so it has been really nice to get great views of at least one feeding frequently.

marsh tit (3)

Marsh tit

Starling numbers have been increasing and on Tuesday evening there were several thousand north of Ibsley Water. They are best viewed on a clearer evening from the viewing platform which is accessible on foot through the closed main car park and gives panoramic views of Ibsley Water.

Ibsley Water from Viewpoint

Ibsley Water from the viewpoint

This is the perfect spot to watch the starlings put on a show as they twist, turn, swoop and swirl across the sky in mesmerising shape-shifting clouds. These fantastic murmurations occur just before dusk as numerous small groups from the same area flock together above a communal roosting site. The valley boasts a sizeable starling murmuration most years, with the reedbeds to the north of Ibsley Water often used, along with those on the other side of the a338 to the west and the smaller reedbed by Lapwing Hide in the east, so from this higher vantage point all possible roost sites can be seen. 

Although I don’t have any photos to share of the murmuration, taking a video instead the last time I watched them, it’s also a really nice spot to watch the sun set.

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Sun setting to the west of Ibsley Water from the viewing platform

Autumn vibes

The recent wet weather has resulted in an increase in fungi on the reserve and even on a short walk a really good variety can be found. Fly agarics, the stereotypical mushroom of fairy tales, have popped up in the sweep meadow near Ivy North hide:

This morning I spotted lots of purple jellydisc fungus, Ascocoryne sarcoides, just by the bridge by Ivy North hide, which looks rather brain-like and grows on the rotting wood of deciduous trees:

Purple jellydisc 2

Purple jellydisc

A little further along the path there was some white or crested coral fungus, Clavulina coralloides, growing out of the ground:

white coral fungus

White coral fungus

Quite close to the white coral fungus I spied some flat oysterlings, Crepidotus applanatus, growing out of dead wood set a bit back from the path. This kidney-shaped fungus attaches directly to the dead wood of deciduous broadleaf trees without a stem. 

flat oysterling

Flat oysterling mushroom

The edge of this path is always a good place to look for candlesnuff fungus, Xylaria hypoxylon, which also grows on deadwood. It is also known as stag’s horn fungus, candlestick fungus and carbon antlers:

candlesnuff fungus

Candlesnuff fungus

A bit further along the path I found the distinctive slime mould Wolf’s milk, Lycogala terrestre. It didn’t photograph particularly well in today’s poor light, but is pink-peach in colour and can be seen all year round on decaying wood. 

Wolf's milk slime mold

Wolf’s milk slime mold

Towards the end of this little loop there were common puffballs, Lycoperdon perlatum

Common puffballs

Common puffballs

…and the Deceiver, Laccaria laccata:

Deceiver

The Deceiver

 

Finally, just by the Welcome Hut, I noticed some small stagshorn, Calocera cornea, growing out of some dead wood. This jelly fungus rarely branches and again it really didn’t photograph well in todays rain. 

small stagshorn

Small stagshorn

This small loop revealed a really good variety, and those photographed above are the ones I was fairly confident in identifying, there were more I wasn’t as sure about!

We haven’t run the light trap this week, but last week and over last weekend it revealed a few nice species:

Lunar underwing

Lunar underwing


Chestnut

Chestnut


Green brindled crescent

Green brindled crescent


Pine carpet

Pine carpet

 

I will be running it tonight, so fingers crossed we will have something to look at during our online Young Naturalists session tomorrow. A Merveille du Jour or Clifden nonpareil would be very nice, but that might be wishful thinking! The photos below were taken a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t quite get round to sharing them at the time:

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The weather has been a bit bleak today, but it has been nice to get out on the reserve under slightly drier circumstances and enjoy what autumn has to offer:

Beech trees along the Dockens

Beech trees along the Dockens on Thursday when there was a bit more sunshine


Spindle

Spindle, by the badger sculpture

What a difference a day makes!

After a gorgeously sunny Christmas Day yesterday, today saw the return of the rain and I got soaked opening up the hides – needless to say the reserve has been very quiet today! Even the wildlife decided to stay in the warm and dry – we have been keeping an eye on the Tawny Owl box as something has definitely moved in and made itself a very dry and cosy home out of oak leaves and soft rush. Although not the owl we had been hoping for, it is still very nice to see a grey squirrel up close on camera, although you can’t see much when it hunkers down inside its nest:

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Squirrel making itself at home in the owl box

Last week we realised one had stashed food in the box as we noticed it rummaging through the wood chip that had been put in the bottom – clearly it decided with all the rain we’ve been having this was a good spot, came back and made some home improvements. This morning I watched it look out the hole a few times before it decided it was better off back in bed:

Wet grey days are definitely for catching up with the blog, and this one may turn out to be quite long as I am two Young Naturalists sessions behind, one of which was our November residential at the Countryside Education Trust’s Home Farm in Beaulieu…

Unfortunately the weather was not quite on our side then either, although we were able to dodge most of the showers. We began on the Friday night with an excellent talk by Steve Tonkin about the night sky – sadly it was too cloudy to head outside for any observing so we will have to invite Steve again another evening, but the group enjoyed the talk and asked some excellent questions that definitely kept Steve on his toes.

Astronomy 2

Astronomy talk

On Saturday morning we headed to Rans Wood, just outside Beaulieu, to meet Sally Mitchell from Wild Heritage for a fungi walk. We didn’t have to stray too far from the car park and were rewarded with over thirty species which was great for late Autumn. Before heading off Sally tested the group’s current fungi knowledge with an identification activity – they knew a few edible and inedible species and were also very good at erring on the side of caution with those they weren’t sure about.

Fungi foray

Testing our knowledge

Fungi is not my strong point so it was brilliant to go looking with someone able to identify what we saw and also be so enthusiastic about it. Sally also has permission from Forestry England to pick the fungi for identification purposes (not to eat as there is a no picking ban for this in the Forest), so we were able to study some close up and take a closer look at the gills or pores. We also used mirrors to look under some, including the Amethyst deceiver, so we could see underneath without picking.

We did quite a lot of sniffing! Here are some of the different species we found – I think my favourites were the Amethyst deceivers, the bright Yellow club and looking at the tubular pores inside the Beefsteak fungus:

We also paused to have a go at ‘creating’ a Fly agaric – sadly we were unable to find any – using a balloon and a tissue. The tissue was held over the balloon and sprayed with water to make it damp. When air was blown into the balloon, the balloon became larger and the tissue broke up into smaller pieces as this happened, to create the speckled effect of white spots seen on the Fly agaric fungus.

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Making a fly agaric 2

Making a Fly agaric

We also found a huge oak tree so decided to see how many Young Naturalists could fit around it:

Tree hugging

Hugging a very large oak tree!

After thanking Sally we headed to Hatchet Pond and had lunch with the Mute swans, Black-headed gulls and donkeys.

We then spent the afternoon at Roydon Woods, another Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust nature reserve, and tested the fungi identification skills learnt that morning, keeping our fingers crossed for a glimpse of a Goshawk whilst we wandered. We last visited the reserve in the Spring, when the woodland floor had been carpeted in bluebells and other Spring flowers, so it was nice to return in the Autumn.

Some of the group were also lucky enough to spot a Goshawk fly past, but only because we had stopped to wait for others to catch up and it flew past behind them. A lucky encounter!

On the Sunday the group enjoyed a farm feed session first thing with Education Officer Steve whilst Michelle and I tidied and cleaned Home Farm ready for our departure. They love doing this as they can get up close to many of the animals and help out with the feeding:

We then visited the New Forest Wildlife Park and were joined by another couple of the group who had been unable to stay for the weekend. We had arranged a guided tour with one of the park’s education team and Laila was brilliant – I think she enjoyed a slightly older audience to usual and the group were great at engaging in conversation about the wildlife and different conservation projects. I was impressed by how much they knew. We got caught in a couple of heavy showers whilst we were there which made taking photos a bit difficult, but here are a few, the harvest mice were popular…

We had a brilliant weekend so although it was a while ago now, would like to thank Steve for the astronomy session, Sally for her fungi knowledge, Steve for the farm feed session and Laila for the brilliant tour around the wildlife park. We also couldn’t run residentials without volunteer support so would like to say a huge thank you to Geoff, Nigel and Michelle for giving up their weekends to join us and help with all the cooking, cleaning, minibus driving and evening entertainment (we had a quiz Saturday night which was hilarious)…

Sticking with the Young Naturalists theme, on Saturday we ventured over to Poole for a boat trip with Birds of Poole Harbour. The group had been fortunate to win the boat trip as their prize for coming first in the bird trail here at Blashford back in May, and we were able to open it up to other group members who hadn’t been able to join us on the day and turn it into our December session.

It was rather cold and wet at times, and we saw a lot of rainbows whilst out in the harbour, but also managed at least 26 species of bird including Red-breasted merganser, Shag, Great black-backed gull, Great crested grebe, Great northern diver, Brent goose, Gadwall, Avocet, Shelduck, Teal, Shoveler, Cormorant, Black-tailed godwit, Grey heron, Oystercatcher, Grey plover, Dunlin, Knot, Little egret, Wood pigeon, Sandwich tern, Goldeneye, Starling, Carrion crow, Spoonbill (very distant!) and Curlew.

We had some nice views of Brownsea Island and the lagoon…

Brownsea

Brownsea Island

Brownsea lagoon

Lagoon at Brownsea

…and a very distant view of a rather grey Corfe Castle:

Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle

The rainbow photographing opportunities were numerous:

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

Thanks for reading! Here’s a sunnier photo taken just up the road at Ibsley when I was passing yesterday morning as a reward for getting to the end, hopefully it will stop raining again soon!

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View from Ibsley Bridge – the River Avon is just out of shot to the right