Advance Notice

On Sunday we are running a training course on the identification of gulls at Blashford, this will mean that the Tern, Goosander and Lapwing hides will be in use by groups on the course from mid afternoon, so if you are visiting on Sunday and not on the course you might want to visit these hides in the morning or early afternoon instead.

I am sometimes asked for an advised route around the reserve and although the “best” route is always a matter of circumstances on the day there are some general rules that hold true. So Ivy North hide faces south-east, this makes it difficult on a sunny morning, Ivy South faces east and likewise difficult early on in sunshine, so both of these are probably best in the afternoon. The Woodland hide is less of an issue, although the light is best here in the afternoon also. The Tern hide faces north so is pretty good all day. Goosander hide faces north west, so is at its best in the morning and the same is true of Lapwing hide, which faces almost due west, so is very hard work on a sunny afternoon.

The above obviously is only a choice dictated by the direction of the light, there are other factors too of course. Wind direction can be important, most birds will seek shelter and this needs to be considered. In a strong northerly, Tern hide will be both a long way from the birds sheltering under the northern shore of Ibsley Water, nearly a kilometre away and if you open the window you will be looking into the teeth of the wind! By contrast the northern end of Ivy Lake near Ivy North hide will be sheltered and with luck full of birds.

Then there is what you want to see, not a problem if you just want to see a range of birds, being guided by the weather and lighting will probably be the best option. There are some obvious rules, the birds that gather to roost will only be doing so at the end of the day and you will need to be in the right place to see them. The gulls roost on Ibsley Water is well known and is the attraction for the identification course. Ibsley also hosts a roost gathering of goosander, which mainly roost in the bay at Goosander hide, although they are usually only there in the minutes just before darkness. They fly in from all directions but can often be best seen doing so from the bank at the back of the main car park, which is also the best place to view the starling murmuration and get an overview of the gull roost. If it is great white egret you want to see then Ivy North at the end of the day is the place, recently there have been three there each evening, there is also a cormorant roost in the trees here.

By contrast if you are looking for finches, don’t leave it too late, they tend to get up late and go to bed early, the Woodland hide feeders will be busy with tits from dawn ’til dusk but the finches tend to turn up in the middle part of the morning and are often heading off to roost not long after 3:00 pm in the winter.

Some species are more obvious at certain times of the day, birds of prey will soar around mainly during the middle part of the day when the ground has warmed to aid this kind of flight by causing upward air currents. Water rail and Cetti’s warbler are usually far more vocal around dusk. Pochard tend to feed at night and roost during the day, whereas tufted duck are typically the reverse, feeding in the day and roosting at night.

So if planning a birding trip consider the conditions on the day and what you are most keen to see and you should get the most out of your visit. The above is just about Blashford Lakes, but every destination will have a range of factors that will be at play. Wherever you go it always pays to be lucky of course, but to some degree you can make your own luck by making good decisions about how you go about your visit.

 

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Time for a Trim

Tuesday is one of our volunteer task days at Blashford and today’s task was to cut the vegetation in front of Ivy North hide and open up some sight lines through the reedbed. The hides are great for seeing birds but only if we can keep the views open, but more than this we are also trying to ensure that people get the best possible views of the wildlife that might be on offer. One of the occasional treats at Ivy North is the chance to see a bittern and this is one of the main objectives of the reed cutting near this hide.

Ivy North reeds before

Reeds at Ivy North hide before cutting sight lines.

The reeds have been spreading and this year’s growth was especially vigorous, meaning than cutting the line was hard work. The one positive was that it was fairly dry, although this made cutting easier to do it means that there is not likely to be a bittern there any time soon.

Ivy North reeds after

Ivy North reeds after cutting sight line

This year I also cut a line through to the water right in front of the hide.

Ivy North reeds centre area after

a line cut through to the water

The objective of a hide should be to give the observer a view that they would not get otherwise. At Blashford we have tried, as much as possible, to get each hide to deliver something different and hopefully at least one or two will have something really worth seeing from them at all times of the year. Today there were two peregrine near Tern hide, with one adult perched on one of the posts near the hide, the water pipit was seen from both Tern and Goosander hide and a great white egret from Ivy North, despite our  working outside the hide. The only other birds there whilst we were working were two or more water rail heard calling and a singing Cetti’s warbler.

We are soon looking to replace the Tern hide, it is in a very exposed location and is showing signs of age ahead of most of the others. Replacement offers the chance to tweak things a bit too and the new hide is to be slightly larges, slightly higher off the ground and moved ever so slightly, all changes that should give improved views. Expect to read more about this and other updates top the reserve in the coming weeks.

Being a Responsible Consumer

I visited Fishlake Meadows first thing this morning, the sedge and reed warblers were singing as were cuckoo, cetti’s warbler, blackcap and garden warbler along with much, much more. The sheer abundance of birdlife was wonderful to experience. I was delighted to meet a few others , also out to enjoy this wonderful site.

As many will know Fishlake has recently been added to the Wildlife Trust list of reserves following many years of abandonment, during which time the area changed from agricultural land into a fabulous wetland. It is probably fair to say that there was something of a free for all on the site for a few years with reports of shooting, unlicenced angling and various other activities. These all had an impact upon the wildlife that could use the area, meaning that some species stayed and others did not. One of the functions of the new nature reserve is to improve the access and opportunities to see wildlife, whilst also reducing disturbance.

Fishlake from canal path

A view across Fishlake Meadows from the Barge Canal path.

Being a formal reserve means that there is the chance to make improvements for visitors and manage the habitat so as to maintain the most interesting and rarest elements. This will inevitably lead to an increase in visitors and the need to control access, both for the sake of the wildlife and the visitors.

Access to nature is increasingly being recognised as of great value to human wellbeing, but we need to be aware that this access is not without cost to the nature. However careful we are every visit to see wildlife will have an impact, at this time of year we will not avoid disturbing nesting birds, even if briefly as we walk by and this is but one example. This applies at least as much to dedicated wildlife watchers as the general public. In fact keen watchers of wildlife can be the worst offenders, putting a desire to see or photograph something above its welfare. Worst of all the desire to get close often applies most to the rarest species, the very ones that should be given the greatest space.

Some bird species are afforded special protection (under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) when nesting or potentially nesting, meaning that it is actually an offence to disturb them or photograph them where they might be breeding. I have been asked a number of times recently where people can go to photograph kingfisher, my answer at present is probably nowhere. Kingfisher are one of these special protected species and photographing them near a nest without a licence is illegal, in fact it is a criminal offence. It is far better to wait until late summer when the young are independent. There are many such protected species, including some that might surprise a lot of people, such as Cetti’s warbler and barn owl. Many of us carry cameras now and the temptation to get a shot of one of these when we should not is great. There are lots of great pictures of them and our desire just puts the birds under stress and at increased risk, there is no right to get a picture, or even a “better” view. The Rare Bird Alert website has a very useful page on this subject photographing schedule 1 birds

Sadly recent incidents at several Trust reserves have seen people straying into protected areas or just too close to rare species to get that slightly better view or picture. Some birds that might have nested have left as a result and some other commoner species have suffered as “collateral damage” in this quest.

For wildlife to survive on our crowded island we need to learn to live alongside it, to give it necessary space and not to treat it as a consumable to be used up for our amusement. This is what those that go too close are doing, they are using up our wildlife for personal gratification. We cannot avoid having an impact, but we can make it as small as possible,  if we acknowledge this fact and take responsibility for it and we might have a a richer wildlife experience that everyone can all enjoy.

 

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.

 

Windy Fishlake

I made a short visit to Fishlake Meadows today, luckily it was dry and sunny, I managed to miss the squalls that came through earlier in the day and the showers that came later. The recent rain was evident in the increased mud on the paths, something we hope will reduce once the paths are resurfaced.

The wind meant that I saw rather few birds, I heard the odd water rail and Cetti’s warbler. A flock of over a hundred fieldfare were gathering, possibly to roost. Unfortunately I had to leave before the starlings arrived, I gather something over 55,000 came in to roost this evening. I also managed to miss the marsh harrier that was seen several times by others I met. I did see both sparrowhawk and kestrel, the latter are regularly there suggesting a good population of small mammals. The habitat would suggest that harvest mice could be common, I will have to look out for abandoned summer nests in the reeds when we are working later in the winter.

 

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.

P1090322

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.

P1090319

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.

 

Cake and Colours

A fine Blashford day and better still one with cake, because we hosted the Pop-up Café once again today. The reserve was fairly busy, both with visitors and birds. At opening up time Ivy Lake was busy with ducks, nothing unusual, but a good mix of species.

Ivy Lake

Ivy Lake with lots of wildfowl

The trees are in particularly good colour just now, with the oak just turning, joining the beech, hazel, willows and others. Some hazel are still completely green while others are in their autumn glory.

hazel

Hazel in full autumn colour

Although there are few on the reserve, the guelder rose draws attention at this time of year thanks to very bright leaves.

guelder rose

guilder rose

Field maple, like all the Acers, has very good autumn colour, although most of their leaves seem already to have fallen at Blashford.

field maple leaves

fallen field maple leaves

Not all the colour comes from leaves though, I know Tracy posted a picture of it on Friday but I cannot resist another one of the cobalt crust fungus.

cobalt fungus

cobalt crust fungus

The colour is amazing! It seems it is uncommon and mostly found on ash twigs and branches, at Blashford it is on rotting willow branches lying on the ground in deep shade.

Out on the reserve both the water pipit and pink-footed goose were on show at Tern hide on and off throughout the day. Over 30 goosander were present well before dusk and 3000 or so starling gave a rather brief display before going to roost rather earlier than I had expected.  Three Cetti’s warbler were singing around Ivy Lake and a fourth was calling beside Lapwing hide. At Woodland hide a redpoll, a couple of brambling and a firecrest were all reported and a woodcock was seen in the willows near the Centre car park. At dusk on Ivy Lake, Walter our regular great white egret was again roosting in his favourite dead alder beside the cormorant roost.

Ibsley Water

Ibsley Water towards the end of the day from Lapwing hide.

 

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.

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:

imgp5327

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.