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!

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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.

Preparations for Spring

It was a properly frosty morning, but walking round to open up the hides this morning signs of approaching spring were everywhere.

Frosty thistle

Frosty thistle

The snowdrops near the store are well out now and primroses are flowering around the car park edge, near the Woodland hide the leaves of the wild daffodils have been up for  a while, but now the flower buds can be seen. Along the path sides shiny, bright green wild arum leaves are showing everywhere and near the alder carr there are the brilliant red spots of colour provided by scarlet elf cup fungi.

As it was Tuesday we had a volunteer task today and we were also looking forward to the warmer days. Our task was clearing back the path sides on the way to the Ivy South hide to open up sheltered scallops to give something of the feeling of a woodland ride. This path runs almost exactly north-south and so has many sun-traps beloved of insects and reptiles. Out plan was to create more such spots in the hope of making more encounters with these creatures later in the year.

pathside clearance

Cleared path sides to create sunny “scallops”.

The end of the day saw rather fewer birders at the Tern hide hoping for a sight of the Thayer’s gull, they were disappointed again. There was the usual ring-billed gull, several yellow-legged gull, a first winter Caspian gull and an adult Mediterranean gull in the roost. My own sightings were rather few, “Walter” our great white egret was fishing in Ivy Lake and on Ibsley Water 2 shelduck and 3 oystercatcher were the most interesting records.

Tomorrow we are working at Fishlake Meadows again, clearing cut willow into dead hedges to create new views across the reedbeds and pools.

 

Listing, Lessons and Speculations

Like lots of people who look at wildlife I cannot resist keeping lists, not usually very thorough and I usually lose interest in about mid-February each year. So far I have kept going and find that I have seen 116 species of birds so far this year, all of them in Hampshire and at least 105 of them on visits to Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust reserves.

Of the 116 species I can see that five of them are introduced alien species (Canada goose, Egyptian goose, Mandarin duck, pheasant and red-legged partridge) and another an introduced population of a former native (greylag).  All of these  have been either introduced for “sport” or escaped from parkland collections.

Of the native species I am struck by the many species that have changed their status radically since I arrived in Hampshire. There are various reasons for this, the white trio of little egret (now breeding), great white egret (soon to be breeding here?) and spoonbill (perhaps likewise), have increased in number and range right across western Europe. The same could be said for Cetti’s warbler, avocet, yellow-legged gull and Mediterranean gull.

Birds of prey have increased, more or less across the board and seeing red kite, marsh harrier and peregrine is not now especially notable and buzzard has spread right across the county rather than being a New Forest bird. All of these species have benefited from a more benign environment, in which they are less exposed to harmful chemicals and suffer less persecution, at least in lowland England. One other species has gained from the same change is the raven, which now nests across most of the county. Goshawk has also colonised the county and benefited similarly, although the population is of escaped , or released, origin.

When I first came to Hampshire in 1978 there was no accepted record of ring-billed gull and I am not sure there was even such a thing as a Caspian gull thought about.

I estimate that if I had been doing the same thing forty years ago my list would most likely not have included at least 14 of those I have seen this year, so more than 10% of my list are birds that would have seemed remarkable then. Of course there would have been some species that I would have expected to see then by mid January, that we have now more or less lost, or at least which now need more particular seeking. For example Bewick’s swan, white-fronted goose, grey partridge, willow tit, corn bunting, yellowhammer and tree sparrow.

So listing may well be a rather pointless exercise in many ways but reflecting upon my list so far certainly tells a story of how much has changed and of course makes one think how much might change in the future. So what might a list in another forty years include?

I suspect we will have established populations of additional alien species, most likely is ring-necked parakeet (I suspect this will happen quite soon), but I think black swan may also get a firmer foothold too and Egyptian goose could become very common. Who knows perhaps even sacred ibis could make it over here in time if the continental populations develop uncontrolled.

Natural colonists that look like becoming regulars include, cattle egret and glossy ibis, both already occasional visitors. It is interesting to note the preponderance of wetland birds that are expanding their ranges. A bit of a wildcard might be the potential for a whole range of essentially  Pacific Arctic species to turn up as winter vagrants. The ice melt along the northern coast of Russia has opened up a route for many previously unconsidered species. The occurrence in Europe in recent years of slaty-backed gull hints at the potential for species to come via this route in years to come.

Unfortunately I think a lot of species are going to get much rarer. Coastal species will be under particular pressure, in forty years time there will be little or no saltmarsh along most of the Solent shoreline and much reduced mudflats, so wintering coastal wader populations will surely be much reduced. Couple this with and increase in “short-stopping”, which means that wintering birds coming from the north and east just don’t come so far in the increasingly mild winters. Overall I think it certain that the Solent will not be nearly so significant for wintering wetland birds.

This discussion of change is only considering the winter, our breeding birds could be in for at least as great a change, who knows I might speculate on this in a later blog.

 

New Years Day – Listers, Cakes and a Wolf Moon

As might have been expected the reserve was busy today, with birders out to start their yearlists, lots of people out for a walk and a bit of wildlife and everyone able to take advantage of a special extra Pop-up Cafe day.

I had to go around all the hides to take in last year’s logbooks and put out the new ones, so I took advantage of walking to whole reserve and starting my own yearlist. By the time I had opened up all the hides I was already on 53 species of birds and 3 species of mammals. I actually saw Walter, our great white egret when I was opening the Centre as he flew over the car park, perhaps a good thing as he was not at his usual roost at dusk, probably because of the cold wind that got up later in the day. Two pairs of mandarin duck on Ivy Lake were a little unexpected and 96 pintail on Ibsley Water was the most I have seen this winter.

I still had to go to Goosander and Lapwing hides and my trip there saw me add black-necked grebe, in fact there were two, one distantly near Gull Island and the other quite close to the hide. A water pipit at Lapwing hide was also good to see.

It was not all about the birds though I saw two flowering plants in bloom, primrose – living up to its name of “prime rose” or first flower.

Primrose

The first flower – primrose

The second was a small clump of the undoubtedly planted snowdrop beside the car park, although the flowers of these were not quite open yet.

snowdrop

snowdrop

Later in the day I managed to add some more bird species to my list, including a fine male brambling, the ring-billed gull, a first winter Caspian gull and an adult Mediterranean gull, meaning that I ended with 73 species. Not a bad total as I always think anything over 70 in a day at Blashford is good. I missed at least ten species that others saw or I know were there, so I could have got 80 with a very fair wind, maybe one day.

Closing up the Moon was very large and full in the sky, apparently this is the day when the full Moon is the closest to Earth that it will be in the whole of 2018. I am also told it was a “Wolf Moon” it seems this is the first full Moon of the New Year. Whatever you call it, it was certainly very striking.

Full Moon with duck

Full Moon over Ivy Lake (2018’s “Super Moon” and “Wolf Moon” in one go).

Driving home I was surprised to see lots of Winter moth flying in the headlight beams as I drove down Ellingham Drove, my first moths of the year.

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

 

mistletoe at Fishlake

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.

robin

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 Bird Sightings

A few sightings from the reserve today, mostly from Ibsley Water. When I opened up the Tern hide there were 4 pintail (3 drakes), 3 green sandpiper (the most I have seen so far this season) and a drake shelduck.  I dropped in there briefly at lunchtime and saw a water pipit just in front of the hide and did not see the juvenile pink-footed goose which was hiding in a large flock of greylag.

Elsewhere there were reports of one or two brambling from near the Centre and Woodland hide.

At closing time there was a first winter Caspian gull in the large gull roost on Ibsley Water, I estimated about 7000 lesser black-backed gull. There was also a gathering of starling, still in the 3000+ range, so enough to be a decent flock but not a really spectacular gathering yet.

As it was almost dark, I could just make out “Walter” our returning great white egret roosting in his favourite dead alder tree beside Ivy Lake.

Skipping

A glorious day to be out working on the reserve today, unfortunately we were not engaged in the most rewarding of tasks.  One of the less desirable sides of working in the countryside is seeing how some see it not a “Green and Pleasant Land”, but a handy place to get rid of rubbish. This can range from the seemingly endless scatter of coffee cups and beer cans that occur every few metres along the sides of roads across the Forest to the more concerted lorry loads of builders waste. Todays task was to clear just such a load dumped on the reserve by someone evidently does updates to kitchens and bathrooms. Avoiding tip fees no doubt makes the quote cheaper, or maybe just increases profits.

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A load of rubbish!

Of course someone has to pay in the end, in this case it took three of us all morning to collect it up and get it to the skip, so we lost 1.5 person days of work on the reserve, plus the cost £300 or so to get it taken away. We have also been “donated” two caravans recently, both dumped in broad daylight and proving very difficult to get taken away.

It is rightly costly to dispose of waste, it takes time and effort to recover the recyclable and properly dispose of the rest and the producer of the waste should pay. Unfortunately when something becomes costly or difficult more ands more people will seek an easier route. Enforcement of anti-dumping laws is difficult and in practice dumpers are rarely caught which encourages the activity.

To me the most worrying thing about our inability to get a grip on this problem is this, most people would never leave rubbish somewhere they cared about, so if the Forest is strewn with litter and wildlife sites are seen as prime fly-tipping sites this tells us something. This is more than indifference, it comes from a culture of casual destruction, the environment is not something we inhabit, it is not where we live. Except, of course, it is.

I am not sure how this issue can be tackled, but that it can seems evident. Some 25 years ago I lived in rural Ireland for a while, very wild, very beautiful and full of rubbish. Much of the countryside seemed to be regarded as worthless space only good for getting rid of unwanted items. Fast forward to today and now you cannot but be struck by the lack of litter and how terrible our countryside looks in comparison. I am not sure how the attitudes were turned around but they certainly seem to have been.

In more a wildlife related vein, the pink-footed goose and Caspian gull were seen on Ibsley Water again today and there were 2 drake pintail there when I opened the Tern hide this morning. The sunshine also brought out a few insects, there was a red admiral near the Centre and Jim reported a common darter dragonfly still hanging on despite the frosts.

 

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.

 

A Day by the Water

By which I mean Ibsley Water, where we spent the day working with a party of staff from one of our Partners, Bournemouth Water. It was particularly fortuitous that it was a Leap Year as this allowed us to do a task willow cutting on the shore of the lake, in a normal year it would have been the 1st of March and so into the “no scrub cutting” season. This is a bit of an arbitrary date, but a fair one to choose as many birds will start to nest soon now. These low willows are not really suitable for nesting, although they might be used for feeding by some, but as they grow on the lakeshore where open grass suitable for grazing wildfowl is more of a priority, we have been removing them throughout the winter. This shows the site at the start of the task.

before

We disposed of the cut material mostly by building a dead-hedge, which will be a useful habitat and is especially popular with nesting song thrush. The rest we burnt on the lakeshore. After about four and a half hours work the site looked like this.

after

Hopefully everybody enjoyed their day out from the office , they certainly got  a lot of work done and without their help it would definitely not have been done this season. I got this team picture just before they were ready, but it does have a flock of greylag geese in shot.

not quite ready but with geese

In wildlife news, I understand the bittern was seen again today from Ivy North hide and I saw the Slavonian grebe on Ibsley Water. At the end of the day the, now huge, roost of black-headed gull included at least 52 Mediterranean gull, all but two of them adults and amongst the modest number of larger gulls I found a first winter Caspian gull.

The moth trap did not contain much, perhaps not a surprise after rather a cold night, there were just a few common Quaker, small Quaker and clouded drab.