Walter Returns!

After reports of a great white egret since the end of the week before last we have been wondering if it was “Walter”  come back for his fourteenth winter, but sightings have been too poor to confirm if it had rings in the right combination. So I was delighted to see from Ivy North hide as I locked up, there he was, rings and all. I got a very poor picture, but I only had a 60mm macro lens on my camera, so I have some excuse.



At fourteen and three months he is by far the oldest great white egret know to have been seen in the UK and is quite a great age for the species. When he arrived he was a real pioneer, one of only three or so in the country, but over the last few years they have increased and now breed in the UK and look as though they are here to stay.



One Day, Two Reserves

I am not often at Blashford on a Saturday, but this weekend I was, I managed to intersperse catching up on paperwork with a walk round all the hides. Getting around the reserve is very pleasant but also highlights all the tasks that need planning into the coming winter season, I think an eight month winter would just about be enough!

Opening up the hides I saw a greenshank and three wheatear from the Tern hide, which suggested that there might well be migrants about and with luck “something” might turn up.

As usual the day proper started with a look through the moth trap. This contained no rarities but one unexpected moth, a very fresh dark form coronet, this is an attractive moth and one we see quite often, but it flies in June and July. If I was to get one at this time of year, I would have expected it t be an old, battered one on its last legs, not a pristine newly emerged one.

coronet late season


The cumulative results of my wanderings throughout the day indicated that there were indeed a reasonable scatter of migrants around the reserve. Chiffchaff were frequently to be seen, although willow warbler were many fewer than last week. In one mixed flock of birds near the Lapwing hide I saw a very smart juvenile lesser whitethroat, a rather rare bird at Blashford these days. On the south side of the main car park a spotted flycatcher was catching insects from the small trees and there were several blackcap eating blackberries.

In the early afternoon I was in Tern hide when I spotted an osprey in the distance flying towards us down the valley, it looked as if it was going to come low over Ibsley Water, but as it came over Mockbeggar North lake a large gull started to chase it and, rather than brush off this minor irritation, it gained height and headed off at speed to the south. It was a young bird and is going to have to learn to tough out such attention.

It was not a bad day for insects, I saw red admiral, painted lady, small white and speckled wood, despite almost no sunshine and there were good numbers of migrant hawker and brown hawker about. I also saw more hornet than I had noticed so far this summer and very widely about the reserve too.

Other birds of note were mostly signs of approaching autumn, a single snipe near the Lapwing hide was the first I have seen since the spring here and later wigeon, one on Ivy Lake and 4 on Ibsley Water were also the first returns that I have seen.

For a couple of years now I have been noticing increasingly large floating mats of vegetation in the Ivy Silt Pond and kept meaning to identify the plant species involved. I finally did so yesterday and one of them, the one with the rosettes of pointed leaves, is water soldier, a rare plant in Hampshire and mostly found on the Basingstoke canal!

water soldier

water soldier

It is probably most likely to be here as a result of escaping from a local garden pond, but might be wild, anyway it seems to be a notable record and as far as I know it has not been recorded here before.

In the evening I went out to another reserve in my area, Hythe Spartina Marsh, it was close to high water and I was interested to see if there was a wader roost. There was, not a large one but interesting, it included 74 ringed plover, 30 dunlin, 2 turnstone, 3 grey plover and a single juvenile curlew sandpiper. In addition 2 common sandpipers came flying north up  edge and on the way across the marsh I saw a clouded yellow butterfly nectaring on the flowers of the sea aster. I also saw that on e of the juvenile ringed plover had got colour rings on its legs, however it would only ever show one leg so all I could see was a white ring above a red ring on the left leg, not enough to identify where it had come from. Ringed plover can breed locally on our beaches or have spent the summer way off in the high Arctic of Canada, so it would have been good to see all the rings.

A Visitor from the South

By the wonders of the internet I can report that I have got a reply regarding the colour-ringed cormorant I saw on Ibsley Water on Tuesday evening. It seems it came from France, from the very same site as our long returning great white egret. Dr Loïc Marion of the University of Rennes responded to me as follows:

“Thanks a lot for this sighting. If I read correctly the photo, this Cormorant could be Orange(up)-Green on the left leg, and Blue-white on the right leg, however I do not see the metal ring. If OG/BWm is correct, this is CA 59920 ringed as nestling at Lac de Grand-Lieu (Loire Atlantique, F) on 13/5/2001. It has been seen on 30/9/2002 at Guadiana river, Badajoz, Spain, on 13 and 28/6/03 at Lac de Grand-Lieu (as breeder), and on 29/4 and 25/6//2004 at Lac de Grand-Lieu (as breeder). “

If this is correct and it seems probable that it is, this would be our first inland breeding cormorant recorded at Blashford, or at least the first with colour-rings. All the other colour-ringed birds we have seen have been from the West Coast/Irish Sea area, between the Bristol Channel and the Isle of Man. Birds from there would be the coastal nesting carbo race, but the latest bird would, presumably be of the Continental sinensis race.

The great white egret, if it is to return for a ninth year, should be turning up very soon now, so something to keep a look out for.


A Ring from the Highlands

Great pictures of the osprey from Friday have produced great results. You may have noticed that it has rings on both legs, the one on the right leg being white with two letters, YS in black. This enables the bird to be identified as an individual without needing to catch it. Nowadays the internet allows the origins of such birds to be established very quickly and so it was in this case. Many people will know of Roy Dennis’s long-term work on ospreys in Scotland and so contacting him seemed like a good first stop. The reply came through almost instantly, he was delighted to hear of the sighting and see Gary Prescott’s excellent photos of the bird, but it was better than that, he went on to say:

“What’s even better is that it is one of my birds!!  I ringed it on 15th July 1997 at Rothiemurchus, near Aviemore in Strathspey; ring number 1348928. I sexed it as a female and there were two chicks in the nest.”

I have been in Rothiemurchus Forest, it is a fine Caledonian pine forest, one of Scotland’s finest wild places and now we have a direct link between there and Blashford.

To read more about this bird and lots of other osprey related things you can visit Roy’s blog at:

On a more personal note I was very pleased to see that the osprey was sitting on the wooden rails outside the Goosander hide, I placed them there to provide perches, with the particular idea that it would give the opportunity to read colour rings. I did see a few colour-ringed gulls on them this winter, which was pleasing enough, but to get a result like this is real icing on the cake.


Frustration Always Rings Twice

Bird News: Ibsley Waterblack-necked grebe 1, goosander 35+, goldeneye 11+, yellow-legged gull 10+. Centre lesser redpoll 3+.

A very busy day on the reserve today. The largely fine weather coupled with the closure of many schools seemed to have brought out more visitors than for some days. We also had the Lower Test Volunteer team in felling the diseased alder trees near the Centre, it seems we lose more each year. Jim and Michelle were busy with an education volunteer training session and on top of all this the fencing of the northern boundary of the reserve was cracking on at a good pace.

I seemed to spend a good bit of time moving between these various activities checking all was going to plan. On the way I did not see many birds but I did come across a few fungi. On the Dockens Water path running east one of the shaggy parasol mushrooms still stands.

shaggy parasol

Returning to the tree felling I came across a small clump of sulphur tuft fungi on a pile of logs that resulted from last year’s felling of diseased alders.

sulphur tuft

Sometime ago I put up some rails in the lake outside the Goosander hide, these were to provide some more attraction for birds close to the hide. I hoped they would be used by perching gulls, cormorants and similar, incidentally I thought that it would also mean they would be close enough for any colour-rings to be read. Since I put them in I had not really been over to have a look at how they were working, but this afternoon I did. There were lots of gulls on the lake at 3:30 when I got there and several on the perching rails, including a couple of yellow-legged gull.

yellow-legged gull, sub-adult, probably 3rd winter

The one above is not quite adult, the brownish markings in the tertials and dark band on the bill give this away, but at any range in the roost would be hard to spot. The mid-grey mantle and yellowish legs, or here just leg, identify the specie. An adult also hopped onto the perch for  a time as well, one of at least seven or eight on the water nearby.

yellow-legged gull, adult

This particular one is not as clean white-headed as most at this time of year, still cleaner than almost any herring gull, but well-marked for a yellow-legged. I then realised that there was a colour-ringed adult lesser black-backed gull as well and that I could easily read the code printed on the ring.

lesser black-backed gull, ringed

The code is A2C4 engraved in white on a black ring. It is usually quiet straight forward to track down the scheme that has ringed such birds, there is a good website that lists all the schemes operating in Europe, but this one has foxed me so far, several scheme seem to use similar codes, but none are just right, so where it comes from will have to remain a mystery for now.

Then I spotted another ringed bird, this time a herring gull with a faded white ring engraved in red with B+V, obviously form a quite different scheme. I got home hoping to find out where two of our gull came from, after one disappointment it was all up to the herring gull. However it was not to be, I could not find a scheme to match this bird either.

herring gull ringed

Obviously it is interesting to know where the birds come from but it can also be of more importance than that, especially if the bird has been seen many times during the years since to was ringed. Our great white egret is colour-ringed and so we know it is the same bird every year and that it is now eight years old. Hopefully these gulls will also give up some interesting information if I can ever track down where they came from.