We have been getting in the festive spirit here at Blashford Lakes over the past few weeks, using the willow that Bob and the volunteers cut to make lots of wreaths which are now available for a small donation at the Welcome Hut as a self-guided activity.
On Monday we ran two wreath making sessions for home educating families, which were very well attended. We began by going on a foraging walk along the Dockens Water path with bags and secateurs in hand to see what we could find. The group returned with an abundance of holly, fir, ivy and other wonderful natural finds to use for decoration.
We gathered under the shelter behind the centre, with many piles of willow to choose from, and Tracy gave a demonstration on how to create a willow wreath. Firstly, select some willow that isn’t too thick or woody, as it needs to bend around into a P-shape to start. Wrap the willow around itself so it holds shape. Then, imagining your hoop as a clock, add new willow in at 12, 3, 6 etc…. and keep wrapping around and adding at roughly quarter intervals until you have a beautiful wreath. Try not to get too frustrated when it gets a kink in it, you can usually hide it with another piece of willow.
All of our families created wonderful wreaths, abundantly decorated with greenery, and splashes of colour from wool, material, and biodegradable-glittered pine cones. The only thing left to decide when each family gets home, is which of their children’s wreaths gets pride of place on the front door! I don’t think I would like to be in charge of that decision!
Monday morning began overcast, but soon progressed to a rather persistent drizzle that didn’t look like abating as Tracy and I were setting up for Wildlife Tots.
Always thankful for the shelter behind the Education Centre, we welcomed 8 exceptionally weatherproof children, and their slightly less weatherproof parents. Thoroughly impressed with the children’s all in one waterproofs and total disregard for the wet weather, we got to the exciting stuff, Christmas themed nature crafts!
First up was drawing on little round discs of wood cut from the reserve, and we had some beautiful Christmas tree illustrations, with some controlled biodegradable glittering to jazz them up even more. We then did some collecting of seed heads, leaves, and anything tiny we could find to put in water to create frozen decorations to hang up outside.
Our next activity took us out from under the shelter and into the drizzle! We walked to the campfire area and played find the pom pom decorations, which resulted in a fantastically colourful decorated tiny Christmas tree. With a wealth of time left over and the weather changing for the better, we foraged for items that could be used to decorated willow wreaths and headed back to the shelter.
Then it was time to get messy! Wool, pinecones, seed heads, holly, and all manner of brightly coloured ribbons were used to create some beautiful wreaths, and then with some help of glue and cotton wool (and tiny hats and scarves!) everyone made a pinecone snowman!
It is with many thanks to everyone who gave to our appeal for donations to replace the deteriorated boardwalk connecting Ivy South Hide with the Ellingham Lake walk, an integral part of the ever-popular short circular route called the “Wild Walk”, that we are pleased to report that the work to replace it has begun!
Unfortunately this does necessitate the closure of this part of the route while the existing boardwalk is removed and the new one is constructed and we apologise for the inconvenience that this will cause for the duration of the work. Please check the website and blog for updates on progress and, in the meantime, please observe and abide by the warning signs and path closures. It will be worth the wait! Thank you.
In other news if you are saddened to know that the boardwalk is closed it may be of some small conciliation to know that Bob has now cut the first “bittern channel” through the reed bed to the east of Ivy North Hide. As long as other jobs including the boardwalk construction task, time & weather allow, the intention is to cut the usual additional channels and possibly lengthen this one as well:
Although there were a few sporadic sightings of bittern towards the end of the summer and the beginning of autumn we believe these to be “local” UK breeding birds who are moving on south from breeding territories and just stopping off here temporarily on route. If we are to see any obliging over-wintering bittern historically we don’t tend to see them until a week or so before Christmas, so fingers-crossed for this year.
The relatively mild and sunny autumn has really bought out the autumn colours across the country in recent weeks, and Blashford has been no exception:
On the wildlife front the light trap has been consistently catching albeit in low numbers, including the rather lovely December moth:
There is a small, but reliable, starling murmurartion in the Valley again this winter, with wonderful views of it now possible from the Ibsley Water viewing platform which Bob and the volunteers have now really opened up the views from by carefully removing some of the silver birch and willows which had been obscuring the views. At least 5 goldeneye and 30+ goosander duck have now joined the other wildfowl on the lake. Firecrests have very much been in evidence across the reserve in recent weeks and Bob also reported seeing two cattle egret coming in to roost with the little egrets among the tree’s on the eastern shore of Ivy Lake.
Meanwhile Tracy and Chloe have made good use of some of the willow arisings from the viewing platform work to make a fantastic start weaving the wreath hoops for the self-guided wreath decorating activity walk which opens this weekend – for more information see the website here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-11-28-decorate-willow-wreath
Willow is one commodity we are not short of at Blashjford Lakes and it does not look as if we are likely to run out of the withy’s required to form the hoops anytime soon!
…like it or not, it actually is, and, at Blashford at least, it’s looking like it could be a white Christmas too. A great white egret Christmas that is!
Up to 5 great white egret, with up to 13 little egret “in attendance” are being seen on the reserve at present, mostly on or around Ibsley Water where they are particularly enjoying spending time hanging out over the water at the south western corner of the lake on the willows that we have been felling along that shore and over the lake to vary the habitat, improve nesting capacity for birds like little and great crested grebes and coot, and, at the same time, impede access to those users (abusers) of the nature reserve who insist on being where they shouldn’t be…
Sadly it would appear that the famous, one and only “original” Blashford great white egret, affectionately known to all as Walter White, is not one of those five 😦
As regular readers of this Blog and visitors to the nature reserve will know Walter was a distinctive bird with leg rings which he received as a chick in France in 2003 so could always be readily identified upon his return, usually at some point in August, although at times both earlier and later than that month. Tipped to become Europes oldest great white egret (record currently stands at 17 years) it would appear that Walter sadly may well have matched it, but has not exceeded it, as we have neither seen or had reports of a ringed great white this winter.
There is still hope however, albeit slim. It was only last year (maybe the year before) that Bob, having given up hope of Walter’s return, effectively wrote an obituary for this much loved bird on these pages – only for Walter to be sighted the very next day. So fingers crossed everyone!
Elsewhere in the general environs around Ibsley Water I can’t not mention the starling murmuration. Although still very much not on the scale of some winters there are, at present, still a good number of several thousand birds gathering and roosting in Valley and although perhaps not big on numbers some evenings at least they have been performing some great displays and throwing some stunning shapes! Good to see the goosander coming into roost too – so far Bob has recorded a little over 50 and there are now 10+ goldeneye too.
Around the woodland habitats on the reserve, this winter looks like being a good one for redpoll with a number feeding in the tree tops amidst the siskin – although not yet coming down to feed on the bird feeders. We also still have a pair of marsh tits established in an area roughly from the Centre down to Ivy South Hide – both have now been ringed by BTO volunteer bird ringers Kevin & Brenda so if you see a marsh tit without a ring let us know because it will mean we actually have more than just the two birds!
Further to Tracy’s last post, in which she described the DIY wreath activity you can enjoy on your next visit, should you choose, I just thought I’d give a plug for the various items which can be bought from the Welcome Hut while you are here, the proceeds from which will all go towards supporting the education and conservation work here at Blashford Lakes. Just bear us in mind for some of those stocking fillers for your nature loving loved ones – just like the high street, we need your support (and if like many you are doing a lot of your shopping online at present remember you can still support the Trust either by purchasing direct from our online shop ( http://www.hiwwt.org.uk/shop-support-wildlife ) or by shopping via Amazon Smile or Easyfundraising and nominating Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust as your chosen charity.
But now for more in terms of what we can sell you from here when you visit!
The Welcome Hut remains closed to visitors (not very welcoming I know – sorry!), but it is making a very handy additional office space so we can better manage our socially distant safe working practices, and it does mean one of us is usually around to take your money if there is anything in particular you are interested in buying 😉
If you arrive and there isn’t anyone working from the hut do knock on the Centre door or call the mobile phone number which will have been left out on a sign outside the Hut.
At present we have Christmas cards (either handmade ones for sale at 2 for £3, or packs of 10 Wildlife Trust cards for £3), lovely handturned wooden ballpoint pens (£3), a wide variety of FSC wildlife identification guides (4 of which are shown below – £3.30 or £4 each), a small selection of children’s picture books, bird nest boxes and bat boxes (£10) and bug homes (£5).
It’s the time of year for festive wreath making and we have been busy with a number of different groups, weaving a willow hoop then decorating it with greenery found on the reserve.
First up was our Dine and Discover event at the end of November, where we enjoyed a short walk gathering holly, ivy, pine, larch, ferns, seed heads and anything else that caught our eye before harvesting some willow from our main osier bed and having a go at making a wreath. After a very scrummy lunch cooked over the campfire of broccoli and stilton soup, brie and cranberry wraps and a festive spiced apple juice (thanks to Jim and volunteer David for keeping the fire going and doing most, if not all, of the cooking!), we decorated the wreaths with the greenery collected and they all looked amazing:
Our Dine and Discover events are monthly sessions (usually on the last Friday) for adults excited by wildlife, nature and the outdoors. They are themed with the changing seasons and include preparing and cooking a simple meal together around the campfire alongside the main activity. We are having a break in December and January so our next Dine and Discover will be on Friday 28th February where we will be going on a walk to discover the wonderful wetland wildlife Blashford has to offer. Further details can be found on the website.
Next up was Wildlife Tots where we made leaf wreaths by threading different leaves onto some wire, collected all the pom pom baubles to decorate our tiny Chrismas tree and had a go at making a simple willow wreath, tying different natural treasures on with wool to decorate:
January’s Wildlife Tots session on Monday 6th has a ‘Stickman’ theme and we will be enjoying a short walk around the reserve with some fun activities along the way. The morning session books up fast but there are usually spaces available in the afternoon from 1pm until 2.30pm and again details can be found on the website.
Finally last week we were joined by the local Home Educated group who visit us a number of times a year to take part in wildlife themes activities. As it was December we were again wreath making and after a walk gathering materials they had a go at weaving and then decorating their willow wreaths:
I think we’ve made about 50 wreaths in total, so hopefully they’re all hanging pride of place on a door somewhere!