On mammals and murmurations…

Further to the last couple of short blog posts with information about the storm damage and the impact upon access at Blashford Lakes, I can confirm that all is now well with the exception of just two short sections of path (one between Ivy North & Woodland Hide, one along the Dockens Water) which remain closed due to the ongoing danger posed by large branches which have been torn from the tree’s and caught up in lower branches at height over the footpath.

Visitors have been asking about starlings for several weeks now and last night I saw my first more significant murmuration of the season. Consisting of several thousand starlings, they gathered to the west of the A338 before going to roost shortly after 4.30pm in the old gravel pits north of Ellingham. It’s still early days and bodes well, I think, for another good sized roost and wildlife spectacle later this winter. As always we recommend viewing the starlings from the viewing platform at the back of the main car park – where you will never be particularly close, but from where it is almost always possible to view the birds regardless of where they actually choose to roost in the valley.

Last week was half-term, as anyone with children or grandchildren will know (they’ve only been back at school a week and it already seems an age ago!). As such we once again held our popular “Wild Day Out” activity days and, once again, everyone had fun and, once again, it was questionable who had most fun – the staff and volunteers or the children!

This time round the theme was one of mammals and the day began with a “what am I quiz?” as they arrived – a collection of various animal remains and leavings to be identified (not all mammal it has to be said). The children did very well, albeit with the odd clue or hint dropped here or there 😉

We then bought in our Longworth small mammal traps which were put out around the Education Centre at the end of the preceding day and left out overnight with the hope that if we were lucky we might catch mouse or vole or two. And lucky we were! On the first day 15 traps resulted in one common shrew, 4 bank voles and 3 wood mice and 14 traps on day two resulted in 3 bank voles and 4 wood mice which is a pretty good return by anyone’s reckoning! Interestingly we did not capture a single yellow-neck mouse – despite these currently being the most commonly trapped mouse in the Centre loft, where they are trapped and removed to be released in suitable habitat at the far end of the nature reserve (far enough away, we hope, not to come back to the Centre and cause damage) on an almost daily basis at this time of year.

The mild, misty, weather at the start of last week clearly suited our small mammal quarry but the conditions also very much suited molluscs and as a result, in addition to the mammals described above, we also released at least as many Arion ater, common slugs, and which are easily large and heavy enough to “trip” the traps.

Sadly for the molluscs I think it is fair to say that most children were more interested in the mammals we released!

With such a good haul in the traps we took our time and were all ready for lunch after the last animal had been released back into the place it had been trapped. Post lunch we took ourselves off for a walk to think about how we might hone our senses to become more aware of the wildlife around us and practice our tracking skills with a couple of games and activities, including one in which we split into two teams, one of whom laid trails of sticks, stones, bird seed and other marks for the seeking team to follow to the end and try and spot the hiding, trail laying, first team and then swap. I think it is fair to say that this activity was for most participants (and volunteers!) the best bit of the day and many (but not all!) particularly enjoyed the opportunity to “camouflage” their faces (and in some cases arms, hands and legs) with charcoal and clay…

Some of the children really were exceptional at hiding themselves away at the end of the trail – thanks to a combination of their camo-“facepaint”, camo clothing and the very un-childlike ability to be still AND quiet for a surprisingly long length of time while the “seekers” tried to find them. These two boys were exceptional 🙂

Can you see them? We couldn’t for ages, even when stood right next to them! They are a bit easier to spot with a close up:

…others of course, despite their best efforts, were not quiet so well hidden 🙂

Sorry Nigel 😉

I’ll round off this blog with a lovely observation from one of the children at the end of the day that really struck a chord with me:

“What I really liked was doing new things and meeting other people. I don’t get to do that much anymore”.

That’s why we do what we do and why we will keep on doing so.

No Wild Days Out over the Christmas holidays but you can email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org,uk to be put on the mailing list for Wild Days Out updates if you want to find out when and what Wild Days Out we are holding over February half-term.

Hope you enjoyed reading this post almost as much as we enjoyed our Wild Days Out!

Hide opening update and events for children and families this summer

Having satisfied our adult visitors last week with the long-awaited opening of the hides, out on site our attention has turned to maintaining access to said hides despite the unstoppable force of nature that is the bramble and stinging nettle growth during the perfect growing conditions of sunshine and rain! The re-opening generally seems to have gone down well and everyone is happy to be in the hides again after all this time, even though there is not a HUGE amount to see from them at the moment. Everyone does also seem to be behaving themselves and respecting everyone else at present, which is also pleasing, and reassuring, to see!

A plea however!

Understandably, and in line with our request to keep the hides well ventilated while in use, the windows are being opened up but could EVERYONE also please make sure that they close the hide windows behind them when they leave (also in line with our request on the notices outside and within each hide). Last week was ridiculously hot and it was not unexpected therefore to find them all open at the end of the day, but the weather has broken, it is not so hot, and we are getting some very heavy downpours and it is very disappointing to find the majority of windows in the majority of hides all still wide open when closing up, even when it is chucking it down with rain outside (and inside!) the hides.

Grass snake basking outside Ivy North Hide on Tuesday morning

Elsewhere on the reserve, across the lichen heath to be exact, you can’t help but be amazed (I can’t anyway) by the field of gold that it has become over the last couple of weeks, primarily with the perforate St Johns-wort pictured above, but with a scattering of nectar rich ragwort towering above them and hawkbits below.

Back in the office I have been juggling reduced staffing, volunteer availability, COVID-19 mitigation, testing and “pings” to work out what our summer holiday children’s activity programme will look like.

It was a bit of a complex tangle to unravel but I am delighted to say that, as things stand at present at least, yesterday afternoon bookings for a busy summer of pond and river dipping, den building, fire-lighting and mini-beasting went live!

Details and booking (which is essential for all of our events this summer) can now all be found in the Events section of the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust website here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events (easiest way to find the Blashford Lakes entries is to use the “Location” filter, second from the bottom of the filter menu 😉

A word of warning – in recent months some of our visitors have had difficulties booking on to our events via their mobile phones. They get so far, including all of the form filling which is required, but then stall at payment and can get no further. This glitch is unfortunately beyond my control and more than a little frustrating, so please do use a computer or laptop to book places on the events if you can – and if you can’t and you do experience problems do please let us know and we will collate and pass on any feedback to those responsible for the website platform in hope that enough people fed up with it might generate some action to correct it! Fingers crossed it all just works though!

Looking forward to seeing some “old faces” again soon. Mind-boggling to think that our last Wild Days Out events were in February last year – see https://blashfordlakes.wordpress.com/2020/02/28/winter-craft/! #

We’re looking forward to another summer of this at long last!