30 days Wild – Day 12: Dusk Excursion

It is always interesting to go to new places, but for lots of reasons not always possible to get to them. An alternative is to go to familiar places at different times. I quite often visit the area at the western side of the mouth of Southampton Water around Calshot and Fawley, but I don’t think I have been there at dusk in the summer before.

The area known as Tom Tiddler’s lies south of the now defunct Fawley Power Station and is reclaimed land that has lain unused for decades. In this time it has developed into a mosaic of scrub, rough grassland and reedbed habitats. It is home to lots of reed warbler, whitethroat, Cetti’s warbler and a few sedge warbler, it even has nightingale on occasion. All of these species were singing as they often do at dusk when the weather is fine.

However it was the many small moths that caught my eye, there were lots of them, but as I did not have a net with me I had to wait until they landed and creep up to get a look if I was going to see what species they were. Most turned out to be small “Grass moths” mainly Chrysoteuchia culmella and most of the rest were a small macro moth, the round-winged muslin.

round-winged muslin 2

round-winged muslin

As this was more of a dusk wander than a walk I also looked in a few places I had just gone never looked previously, particularly the small shingle ridges. I was surprised to find a number of plants of stabilised shingle, including annual beard grass, sea kale, sea sandwort and sea holly. This last was a particular surprise as I know it is quiet scarce plant in Hampshire and mainly found on Hayling Island.

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See that blob? That’s the owl…

The much talked about/sought after tawny owl was on show again all day today with various people coming to see it having heard how regular it is (for where to look, see my description in the comments of the preceding “Pull the otter one” blog).

To avoid disappointment for anyone making a special effort to get here and expecting fabulous views thought I’d post a picture:

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So, see that vaguely owl shaped blob in the middle of the frame? That’s it – digi-scoped  this afternoon and to be fair to myself I haven’t seen pictures much better taken by visitors with decent kit so there’s my gauntlet to our readers: if you have taken a better picture you are happy to share feel free to email it in with permission for us to blog it to blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk !

Other exciting wildlife news from a little earlier in the week was the first reports of a bat flying over the centre car park. Last spring we were treated to fantastic views of up to three soprano pipistrelle over the centre and Woodland Hide from mid-afternoon onwards so hopefully we can look forward to more of the same this year. Thank you to Lauren Bissell for a) sharing the sighting with us and b) sending in pictorial proof (far better than my owl I’m pleased to say!):

soprano-pipistrelle-by-lauren-bissell-2soprano-pipistrelle-by-lauren-bissell-1

The kingfisher are still hammering the centre pond newt population – for a good chance of seeing it through the classroom window whilst enjoying a cup of coffee and slice of cake come along to the Pop up Cafe which is open  in the centre again tomorrow…

And finally, thank you to Sue Marshall for her lovely feedback and a selection of the images that she took following Bobs guided walk on Thursday:

“I went on my 3rd walk yesterday at Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve and yet again I got an image of a Bird that is new to me…  I love these walks and the  information that Bob Chapman gives out is just amazing! I don’t know how he remembers it all, he is like knowledge on legs! When I attended the February walk I saw and got my very first image of a Cetti’s Warbler  and yesterday was truly amazing.. I saw and got my very first image of a Sparrowhawk,  neither of which would I have seen if I had not been on Bobs walk, I am looking forward to attending more.. thank you” :

Cetti's Warbler Blashford by Sue MarshallMale Sparrowhawk Blashford Lakes by Sue Marshall

Thank you Sue!

Bobs next walk is “Signs of Spring”, 2-4pm on 16th March – booking (on 01425 472760) essential!

 

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.

grey-squirrel

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.

ducks-at-dusk

Sunset, with three ducks.

 

 

 

First Moth

New Year’s Day saw the usual good numbers of visitors out to start their bird list for the year. The day started well, and there were a good range of species to be seen. All the usual ducks were on show, including 6 pintail on Iblsey Water. Around the shore of the lake there were several raven and right below the Tern hide the water pipit was picking along the shore, giving some of the best views I have had of this species.

On Ivy Lake “Walter”, our regular great white egret was on show, but the bittern failed to make an appearance. Other species there included water rail and Cetti’s warbler at Ivy North hide.

The Woodland hide was alive with birds, 50 or more chaffinch were joined by at least one brambling and there were also greenfinch, siskin, goldfinch and a lesser redpoll.

Unfortunately the weather let us down later in the day, with rain, accompanied by a cold NNE wind sending most people home before it got dark and certainly curtailed any real efforts to look through the gull roost.

The Pop up Café proved popular once again and will return later this month if you missed it.

We also recorded our first moth of the year, a mottled umber. It was a male, as most moths in the trap are. Male moths fly about more than females as the try to seek out a mate and so are more likely to fly near to the light. Mottled umber females do not fly at all an dare more or less wingless, so the males have to seek them out as they sit on tree trunks waiting.

mottled-umber

mottled umber

 

 

So Close and Yet so Far

A rather better day today, sunshine in place of steady rain. My first sight upon looking across Ibsley Water was of a merlin sitting on the osprey perch out in the lake, not a bird I see at Blashford very often. I was also at the reserve to lock up yesterday when the bird of prey of the day was a marsh harrier feeding on something on the western shore of Ibsley Water. Also on Ibsley Water today were a black-tailed godwit, a curlew and 4 pintail. yesterday evening at dusk I counted 45 pochard and 22 goosander, so the waterfowl roosts are slowly increasing in numbers. In the same vein, tonight there were a few thousand starling gathering to the north of the reserve and the first indication of a greenfinch roost near the main car park, with perhaps thirty birds gathering.

With the day set fair I took the chance to clear some of the paths of leaves and do so cutting back. Despite the recent frosts there are still quite a few fungi about.

candle-snuff-fungus-2

candlesnuff fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon)

Candlesnuff is one fungus that can be seen all year round, but I rather liked this group with water droplets on them, they were beside the path between Ivy North and the Woodland hide.

Along the Dockens Water path I saw a firecrest in the holly and for a change it was not hidden in the shadows but out in the sun, looking very jewel-like. This path is looking really good at the moment with the trees in full colour.

dockens-path

Dockens Water path

Clearing leaves from the path towards Rockford Lake I found a raptor plucking post with the remains of a jay, it could have been taken by a female sparrowhawk although, these days, a goshawk might be just as likely.

plucking-post

remains of a jay at a plucking post

I had seen “Walter” the great white egret at Ivy North hide when I opened up and heard water rail and Cetti’s warbler there too, but the bird of the day from there was the ferruginous duck, which spent the afternoon in front of the hide. Unfortunately I missed it as by the time I heard about it it was more or less dark. This is no doubt the drake that has been returning to Blashford for some years, although it usually frequents one of the private lakes to the south of the reserve.

In the late afternoon I was at the Goosander hide hoping to see some colour-ringed gulls on the perching rails there. There were gulls, but none with rings.

gulls

Lesser black-backed gull, yellow -legged gull, herring gull and black-headed gulls.

Yellow-legged gull are slightly large and darker than herring gull and typically have whiter heads in winter, lacking the grey streaking of herring gull. The picture above shows a fairly dark lesser black-backed gull, with the yellow-legged gull in the centre and a typical herring gull on the right.

yellow-legged-gull

yellow-legged gull, adult.

As I went to lock up the Moon was just rising, close to the horizon it always look large and this evening it looked especially so. It has good reason though as apparently it is closer to us at present than it has been for 68 years, so I really never have seen the Moon look so big.

big-moon

A big Moon

moon-rise-ivy-south

Ivy Lake as I locked up after sunset.

 

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.

fungus-tuft

Sulphur tuft, on logs near the Woodland hide.

fungi-1

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

little-fungus

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.

ivy-lake-from-south-hide

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.

 

It all Becomes Clear

A real misty autumn morning today, in fact so misty that I could only see a single mallard from the Ten hide first thing, it was the only bird near enough. Still as the mist thinned it did make for some very atmospheric scenes.

ivy-lake-misty-morning

A misty Ivy Lake

In fact the sun burnt through pretty quickly and just a couple of minutes after the shot above I took the one below on the walk to the Woodland hide.

misty-path

The sun breaking through

After several weeks of not working we got the television in the Centre back in action today and it is once again featuring “Pondcam”. When it first came on the picture was very blurred and I thought it was still not working, Jim was adamant it was just the lens that needed cleaning, I was not convinced, but went to clean it anyway,  Jim was right and we now have water beetles swimming around in the Centre lobby once more.

The reserve has fungi all over the place at present, I got pictures of a couple as I opened up the reserve, not identified as yet though.

fungus-1

A group on fungi on an alder stump

fungus-2

A couple from a large group growing near the yard.

As befits the date, the last two nights have seen large numbers of “November” moths attracted to the moth trap. The November is in quotation marks as I cannot identify these to species level, they are just Epirrita species or November moth aggregate. There are three similar species, the  November moth, pale November moth and autumnal moth, each one is variable and I strongly suspect we will get all three species at Blashford. I was also careful to say “attracted to” rather than in the moth trap as they majority of them are not in the trap but resting on the wall of the Centre, this morning there were at least 26 of them there.

This afternoon I spent a good while wading about in front of Ivy North hide cutting sight-lines through the reeds. When I locked up and had a good look from the hide it is clear that I have some more work to do, but at least there should be an improved chance of seeing the bittern now. We did not see any bittern but the great white egret was there, fishing just below the hide and we saw it catch a small perch. In one of the cut patches there was a water rail poking about and giving good views and all to the accompaniment of a singing Cetti’s warbler. In the Ivy Silt pond there was another singing Cetti’s warbler, perhaps they will stay the winter and remain to set up territories in the spring.

 

 

Busy Badgers and Disgruntled Wasps

Every day seems very busy at the moment at Blashford, not necessarily with lots of visitors, just a very great number of things going on. Today I had the Lower Test volunteer team clearing willow regrowth on the western shore of Ibsley Water,  the contractor working in the old concrete plant, a visit from the two Apprentice Rangers who will be working with us in the New Year as well as all the usual coming and goings. There were also quiet a few birds of note to be seen and a moderate number of visitors seeing them.

When I opened up the hides I came across a scatter of wasp nest debris on the path just before the Ivy South hide.

wasp-nest-debris

wasp nest debris

A sure sign that a badger had been at work, badgers love eating wasp grubs and will dig out the nests to get at them, the wasps are not so keen, but badgers have thick skins and seem to be able to put up with mass attacks. The nest is now open to the elements but still quite full of wasps, one good rain shower may well destroy now though.

wasp-nest-opened-up-by-badger

Opened up wasp nest, complete with rather discontented wasps.

Although wasps make similar hexagonal cells for their larvae to develop in they are made of paper rather than wax as the brood cells of honey-bees are. They make the paper by chewing up dead wood, summer visitors to the reserve will probably have heard them gnawing at the hides and I wouldn’t mind betting some of this nest was made from chewed up Ivy South hide.

During the day various wildlife reports came in. The osprey was seen again at Ivy Lake, this time perched outside Ivy North hide for about 10 minutes. I was shown some very good video of it by a visitor, it apparently flew in just after I had left the hide with the visiting apprentice rangers. Also from Ivy North came reports of water rail and Cetti’s warbler. Meanwhile over on Ibsley Water the great white egret was on show and a black-necked grebe was seen, the latter a very clean bird, so probably an adult that has wintered with us before, if so it should stay around. Other birds includes a few lingering swallow, a green sandpiper and, right at the end of the day, 2 rock pipit on the shore in front of Tern hide. I got a rather poor picture of one of them, my excuse is that the light was already going, at least you can tell it was a rock pipit.

rock-pipit

Rock pipit outside Tern hide

Although these pipits usually live on the seashore we have had one spend a fairly long stay with us before and I would guess these birds are most probably the same ones I saw the other day, when I could only be sure that one of them was actually a rock pipit. British rock pipits tend to stay close to home, particularly once they have a territory, youngsters move further but many of the birds that winter on our saltmarshes, where they do not breed, will be from Scandinavia. If I am right this looks like an adult, with very worn inner-tertials, the outer one looks to have been moulted, juveniles should be neater than this and with all these feather of the same age. As a British adult is unlikely to be migrating overland my guess is that this is probably a Scandinavian bird.

Bittern again

After almost a week with no reported sightings a bittern was finally seen (for just a few minutes typically!) to the left of Ivy North Hide by a couple of visitors  this afternoon. They didn’t get a picture…

Firecrests are also still showing themselves off to our visitors – I spoke to one gentleman this afternoon who was delighted by his view of one between Ivy South and Woodland Hide. It wouldn’t hang around long enough to have a picture taken either, but we did receive this picture of a goldcrest taken earlier in the week by Corinne, as well as this nice shot of the Cetti’s warbler outside Ivy North Hide:

Goldcrest by Corinne Yarwood

Goldcrest by Corinne Yarwood

Cetti's warbler by Corinne Yarwood

Cetti’s warbler by Corinne Yarwood

Snipe are another more secretive bird that are being encountered on a regular basis around the margins of all of the lakes currently -Sally Grant e-mailed this one, again taken from Ivy North Hide:

Snipe by Sally Grant

Most of our school visits take place in the summer months, but the diversity of habitats and the facilities at Blashford Lakes means that schools can, and do, visit all year round. Indeed although classic habitat study activities (“minibeasting”, pond dipping etc.) are always going to be best done in the summer when more insects are on the wing, some areas of study are actually best undertaken in the autumn and winter months.

Having said that, even I wasn’t sure how well our first school group visit of the year would go yesterday! However the hardy 4 and 5 year olds from Verwood First School did just fine and had a brilliant day learning about birds and then using their experiences to create artistic representations of them from the clay, leaves, sticks and other natural woodland resources.

With 58 children altogether we were exploring the reserve and visiting Ivy North Hide and the Woodland Hide in  relatively large groups of about 20 children, accompanied by the teaching staff and parent helpers. Recognising that the winter is a busy time of year for visiting bird watchers we posted up signs outside the two affected hides at the start of the day to warn everyone that we would be on our way and using said hides for short periods.

Thank you to everyone that made space in the hides for us!

Sadly the whole day was marred somewhat for one of our dedicated volunteers by an encounter with a visitor who it seems was not happy to be sharing the nature reserve with a school group and who rather forcefully suggested that it was ridiculous that they were there as they were far too young to get anything out of it… although entitled to his opinion, needless to say I disagree entirely with him!

In fact the children did learn a lot about their local area and local wildlife – and had a very enjoyable day to boot.

Blashford Lakes is a great nature reserve for birds (and other wildlife) and we do what we can to help people, all people, access and enjoy it.

Sometimes that means children.

It’s a bit cheesy, but true so I’m going to say it anyway; children are the future! If we are going to keep what precious little wildlife and wild places we have left, children have to be given the chance to play and learn in outdoor wild places so they can discover for themselves how special and how amazing it is. We facilitate that at Blashford Lakes.

In light of this I make no apologies at all to the gentleman concerned, but of course I do hope that he was able to enjoy the remainder of his visit around the rest of the nature reserve.

Spring Firsts – a ‘betwixt and between’ day

In the previous two years, when it had been my task to lead our early spring walk on the reserve, the weather had been, to say the least, indifferent. Last year at this time you may remember we had recently had a brief spell of snow and it was still quite cold. But, as they say, what a difference a year makes, and today we were treated to a fabulously pleasant spell of sunshine and temperatures that were almost summer-like. Having said that, though, you can’t hurry nature and wildlife will do what it will do in its own time. We were still lucky enough to catch up with a number of duck species in the form of wigeon, teal, shoveler, goldeneye, pintail, tufted duck, goosander, mallard and gadwall. although many of their kin have left us to breed in more northern climes. Great-crested grebe are now looking splendid with their golden brown crest feathers. The common scoter, reported yesterday, was elusive or more likely has moved on. Later in the day there was a report of a  pair of mandarin seen on Ivy Lake.

Spring firsts were also a little elusive, although the increased level of birdsong was most welcome. From near the Lapwing Hide a Cetti’s warbler, one  of this country’s two truly resident warblers, was ‘tuning-up’ and giving a somewhat subdued and fragmentary version of its usual piercing song. For most of the year they are birds which are quite difficult to see, but  the next few weeks is a good time to look for them as they set up their territories and get a little bolder, sometimes perching out quite openly.

Perhaps the most evocative indication of spring were the four, or five, chiffchaff giving out their onomatopoeic song.  Another indicator of warmer conditions were the numbers of butterflies scuttling through the reserve. We must have had sightings of close to twenty brimstone  and several peacock and a couple of comma butterflies.   The brimstone were a little too active, but the other two have the good manners to settle openly on the path, inviting us to take their pictures.

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly

 

 

Comma buttterfly

Comma butterfly

I sometimes wonder what possessed the people who gave names to our wildlife. The comma is a quite distinctive orange-brown and black butterfly with scalloped wings, quite unlike other U.K. butterflies, yet its name derives from a small, almost inconspicuous, comma shaped white mark on an otherwise dark underside of the wings.

All in all a quite uplifting day with the promise of many exciting things to come in the next few weeks. The end of the day was quite unremarkable, quite unlike the dramatically coloured sunset that I saw yesterday from my home.

Sunset from yesterday

Sunset from yesterday