All Change

After a cold and snowy end to last week,  Sunday saw me arriving to find almost the whole of Ibsley Water frozen over and Ivy Lake completely so.

frosty silt pond

Ivy Silt Pond on Sunday morning

Things actually started to thaw during the day on Sunday, so that by the end of the day there was more open water, at least on Ibsley Water.

goosander flock preening

a group of goosander preening near Lapwing hide

The cold resulted in a typical increase in the number of common gull in the roost, with over 400 reported and, more excitingly, the return of the ring-billed gull, probably it had come in with the common gull influx, but where has it been?

Even at dusk  on yesterday Ivy Lake was still frozen over and this seemed to put off the cormorant roosting flock, instead of the usual 150 or more birds there were just two! Others did fly in and around the trees but headed off elsewhere. A single great white egret, probably “Walter” roosted in the trees, but away from the two cormorant.

Today was quite different, mild and wet, a combination of snow melt and rain resulted in the Dockens Water flooding through the alder carr and into Ivy Lake, probably to the great relief of the bittern which was back in the reedmace at Ivy North Hide as I locked up this evening.

bittern

Bittern in the reedmace below Ivy North hide

I am pretty confident that every sighting of bittern that I have had this winter has been of the same bird, as have been all the pictures I have seen. On a couple of occasions I have seen threat behaviour that I would usually associate with there being a second nearby, but have never seen another bird. So reports of two seen on Friday were interesting, although the second bird could just have been displaced by the cold as they often are when lakes freeze. However today I see that two were seen in early January, so perhaps there really have been two all along! As they are territorial it may just be that the second is usually too far from the hide for us to see it, there is a good bit of reedbed off the west of the Ivy North Hide where it would be very difficult to see a lurking bittern.

By dusk this evening it was quite hard to see very much in any case, as the mist descended over the lakes.

misty Ivy Lake

Misty Ivy Lake (actually the bittern is in this picture, but I doubt you can see it!!)

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Four Finches and a Hide Away

A fine if chilly day on the reserve and it seemed lots of people were out looking for brambling, although there has been one seen at the Woodland Hide I think it will be a week or tow more before they are regular. Although they are “Winter” finches, they are actually most frequent at our feeders in early spring, so March is often the best month. I think the reason is that they tend to come to artificial feed once the natural food sources reduce. There are certainly more finches at the feeders now than before Christmas, with siskin now present most of the time, with the males singing whenever the sun comes out.

singing siskin

singing siskin

Greenfinch are now probably scarcer than siskin at garden feeders, a reflection of the fall in their numbers as well as an undoubted rise in siskin abundance.

greenfinch

Greenfinch, not as common a sight as once it was

One finch that rarely comes to garden feeders is the linnet, it is a bird of more open habitats, there is a good flock on the shore of Ibsley Water at present and I got a shot of part of the group today.

linnet flock

part of the linnet flock

I took the shot above from Tern hide, by way of a farewell, the hide will be closed as of this evening and tomorrow we start to take it down in readiness for replacing it with a brand new hide. This will mean that part of the car park will be closed tomorrow, although the Centre car park should be back on stream, so overall there will still be plenty of parking.

Although everyone seemed to be looking for brambling, their resident close relative the chaffinch is a very fine bird which we perhaps disregard too easily, probably because it is so common.

male chaffinch

male chaffinch

Reports from around the reserve today included –

At Ivy North Hide: the bittern and great white egret, with supporting caste of water rail.                                                                                                                                                        At Woodland Hide: reed bunting and all the regulars.                                                                At Tern Hide: 3 Mediterranean gull, probably 2 Caspian gull and well over 100 common gull, as well as the linnet flock noted above.

As far as I know the yellow-browed warbler has not been certainly seen for a few days now, although I have heard rumours of sightings at various points between Ivy North hide and south of the boardwalk, so who knows?

If you do visit over the next few weeks there will be various works going on, I would ask that you take note of any signs and fences, these will be in place to keep you safe when there is machinery moving around and working. Apart from the Tern hide, which is being replaced, all the other hides remain open and there will always be parking available. The Centre and toilets should be available as usual.

 

It’s a Small World

Boxing Day was quite busy at Blashford, with a fair few visitors on the reserve, most who were prepared to spend the time waiting saw the bittern at Ivy North hide. Whilst they waited good views were to be had of water rail and Cetti’s warbler.

From the hides on Ibsley Water the black-necked grebe could be distantly seen along with at least two water pipit and near Tern hide, at least 85 linnet. An adult female marsh harrier crossed over the lake a few times and a sparrowhawk was seen trying to hunt the small starling roost int he late afternoon. The starling roost has evidently relocated having dropped from tens of thousands to a few hundred. I could also find no sign of any great white egret, even at dusk when I looked at the usual roost site, none could be found.

linnets

Part of the linnet flock on the shore beside Tern hide, there are lots of them but they are hard to pick out!

I had a look through the gull roost and there were good numbers of lesser black-backed gull and black-headed gull, but only 14 common gull, two yellow-legged gull and no sign of the ring-billed gull or Caspian gull. Obviously I could not check all the gulls present but conditions were very good, so I was disappointed not to find either species.

Away from the birds I came across an oak branch with a remarkable habitat growing across it, just one branch had it’s own forest of lichen, moss and fungi, small in scale but extraordinary.

lichens

lichen and moss on oak branch

lichen and moss 2

More lichen and moss

hair lichen

hair-like lichen

fungus

A small fungus (I think)

It might be only just after Christmas, but signs of spring were to be found. I saw snowdrops pushing through the ground and the hazel catkins are opening.

hazel catkins

hazel catkins

I also heard singing mistle thrush and great tit as well as the year round singers like robin and Cetti’s warbler.

A Returning Visitor

Not a great day to be out and about, the temperature topped out at 4 degrees and it rained throughout the daylight hours. As a result the reserve was quiet, at least for visitors, there was a good range of birds about though. All the usual wildfowl were seen, apart from either of the pink-footed goose, although it might have been there as some of the geese were lurking behind the islands.

The woodland was busy with redpoll and several bullfinch much in evidence. The nyger feeders are starting to attract siskin and goldfinch already, so I think we might be needing considerable extra supplies before the winter is out, they don’t usually start feeding on these feeders in numbers until well after Christmas.

The peak time to be out was at dusk, the starling roost was again well over 25000 birds, mostly arriving from the north, although they did not perform for long before going to roost, perhaps conserving their energy with a cold night ahead. The gull roost included a ring-billed gull for the first time this winter. I think it was the returning adult that has joined the roost over the last few winters. I managed to get a few rather poor shots of it, typically it was not playing ball, mostly facing away from me.

ring-billed gull 2

ring-billed gull, preening.

This picture does show the pale grey mantle and narrow white tips to the tertials and scapulars. On a common gull these are much more obvious, being both broader and contrasting more strongly with the darker grey mantle of that species.

ring-billed gull 1

ring-billed gull

This picture shows the heavier ringed-bill than common gull and the pale iris, most common gull have a dark iris (although a few do not, so this is a character not to be used in isolation).

Last of all and when it was almost completely dark, I saw “Walter” the great white egret roosting in the dead alder beside Ivy Lake.

Spring Between the Showers

On Thursday the volunteers were working out on the shore of Ibsley Water putting out fresh shingle patches for nesting little ringed plover and oystercatcher. Now that the old concrete block plant has been removed and the site opened up to the lakeshore there is a much larger area of suitable habitat for these species and for lapwing, so we have high hopes for the coming nesting season.

plover-patches

“Plover patches” small areas of fresh shingle ideal for nesting little ringed plovers.

It turned out we were just in time as on Friday the first little ringed plover of the season was seen! They are usually one of the first of the spring migrants along with sand martin. There are lots of other signs of approaching spring around the reserve now, the hazel catkins and flowers are out.

hazel-catkins

Hazel catkins, these are the familiar male flowers that produce lots of pollen.

The tiny female flowers are easily overlooked and very different, each tree will have both the catkins and female flowers, you just need to look closely to see them.

hazel-flower

Female flower of hazel.

It is not just hazel that has catkins, those of alder are also out now and rather similar to look at.

alder-catkins

Alder catkins, with last year’s seed cones.

I was also working with the volunteers today, although in less benign conditions, it rained and hailed and we took shelter by the Centre and made nest boxes. However Jim had thought to put out the moth trap and I was quite impressed to find it contained five moths, 2 twin-spot Quaker, a small Quaker, an oak beauty and a yellow-horned, so we got to see a little wildlife at least.

yellow-horned

Yellow-horned moth, the first of the season.

I did get lucky as I was opening up the Ivy North hide as the bittern was in the open beside the “pool” just below the western end of the hide, it must surely be thinking of going soon. At the end of the day I took a quick look at the gull roost, now mostly smaller gulls with about 3000 black-headed gull, only 21 common gull and just a single Mediterranean gull.

Brrrr Blashford

There was ice on some of the lakes this morning and some of it lasted all day, something that does not happen every winter these days. So far the cold snap does not seem to have resulted in many birds arriving as it might later in the winter, but it has seen a distinct upturn in the number of birds visiting the feeders at the Woodland hide.

frosty-leaves

frosty leaves

At Ivy North hide recently water rail have been much in evidence and we were sent the  picture below taken from there by John Hartley.

2016-blachford-water-rail-pair-20-nov-2016

two water rail at Ivy North hide (by John Hartley)

Nobody seems to have seen the bittern for a couple of days, although great white egret was there today. I suspect the bittern might have moved a little to get access to open water as the reedbed by the hide is mostly frozen.

The gull roost this evening did show some signs of an effect of the cold snap in the form of an increase in the number of common gull, there were at least 60 this evening and I understand the ring-billed gull was seen again.

 

 

 

 

Just a few Birds

I know Ed’s been really busy and hasn’t had the opportunity lately to post much in the way of pictures from the Reserve so I’ll share a few images of some of our more common species, taken last Wednesday and today.

The long view from the Tern Hide to the far side of Ibsley Water was distinctly autumnal

Across the water from the Tern Hide

Across the water from the Tern Hide

A few of the ‘regular’ birds using the feeders around the Woodland Hide were considerate enough to perch up on the nearby branches before dashing in to take a few seeds.

Male chaffinch

Male chaffinch

Female chaffinch

Female chaffinch

Greenfinch

Greenfinch

Collared Dove - normally a bird of more open areas, these have adapted their behaviour to the woodland area and taken to raiding the seed feeders.

Collared Dove – normally a bird of more open (park and garden) areas, but at Blashford they have adapted their behaviour to the woodland area and taken to raiding the seed feeders.

and a seasonal favourite…………..

A Blashford Christmas robin ?

A Blashford Christmas robin ?

Although most of the tit family only lingered long enough on the feeder for me to take their picture

Great tit

Great tit

Among the other birds seen around the woodlands are wren, nuthatch, blue and coal tits, siskin, dunnock, goldcrest and chiffchaff.  On the water there are increasing numbers of duck of several species including gadwall, mallard, tufted duck, teal, wigeon, shoveler, pochard, goldeneye and goosander, as well as the now regular long-tailed duck.  Great crested, little and black-necked grebe are all present on Ibsley water. Here also the early evening spectacle of large numbers of lesser black-backed, herring and black-headed gull  together with smaller numbers of great black-backed, common and yellow-legged gull coming to roost continues to attract birdwatchers. The starling murmuration has lost some of its previous  splendour with reduced numbers and more distant view, but on clear days, like today, can still be quite impressive.

On Ivy Lake at least two bittern have been seen and a couple of water rail were scrapping, chasing one another around outside the Ivy North Hide earlier today.

Visitors often ask where they might see particular birds around the reserve. In my experience the species most often sought is kingfisher, but I usually have to resort to rather vague advice of looking from one or other hide where a bird has been reported (but not personally seen by me!!). So it was gratifying to be privy to views of these birds perched openly and close(ish) to the Ivy North Hide, even allowing me to capture some half-decent images.

Kingfisher in reedbeds to right of Ivy North Hide

Kingfisher in reedbeds to left of Ivy North Hide

In branches to left of Ivy North Hide

In branches to left of Ivy North Hide

 

 

 

A Long Nose and a Mystery Almost Solved

Bird News: Ibsley Watercommon gull 2, Mediterranean gull 4, wheatear 1.

Very little to report today as I was not on site for long. Two first summer common gulls on Ibsley Water first thing were unusual for Blashford at this time of year. Later in the morning 4 Mediterranean gulls flew over, 2 adults and 2 first summer birds, there have been several just visiting this year but so far they do not seem to be hanging around.

The day started decidedly iffy, but improved steadily until by lunchtime the sun was out and it was really warm. This tempted a good variety of insects out, including several first sightings of the year. The hawthorn blossom is well out now, may blossom in May for a change. The flowers had attracted a range of beetles and other insects including this sawfly.

sawfly

A variety of hoverflies were out including the first one of a peculiar species with a long “snout” called Rhingia campestris, a common species with a long season.

Rhingia campestris

Before I left also saw a female wheatear beside the Tern hide, always a good bird to see.

I also made some progress identifying the beetle larva from Sunday, it is one of the case-bearing flower beetles. It seems the “case” is actually made out of the droppings of the larva. I think identification to species will not be possible, but I am impressed to have got this far. Needless to say this was not the result of my own work, but achieved via the wonders of the internet, I put the picture out there and asked the question and got a reply including a web link.

 

 

Reports received

Just in case there is not a post. Today’s reports include up to 4 bittern giving great value at the Ivy North hide, with the female smew and 2 Egyptian geese also reported from Ivy Lake. On Ibsley Water the gull roost again produced the goods tonight with at least 600 common gull, the adult Caspian gull and, at last, a first winter Iceland gull.

At Ivy North hide with the bitternfest now in full swing, the hide can get very busy, hopefully the layout allows most to get a good view, but if you are visiting please try and give everyone a chance. I know the views are about as good as can be got anywhere and it is hard to drag yourself away, but please try if there are people waiting.

 

More Gulls, Fewer Finches

Bird News: Ibsley Waterred-breasted merganser 1, oystercatcher 1, black-tailed godwit 6, barnacle goose 5, Mediterranean gull 1, common gull 743+. Ivy Lakebittern 3, Egyptian goose 2, water rail 1, little egret 2, goosander 1.

Today was my only working day this week, as it was Volunteer Thursday. We worked beside the Goosander hide putting the finishing touches to the sand martin bank in readiness for their imminent return.

the finishing touches

After the task some of the volunteers went down to the Ivy North hide to see bittern, once again up to three were seen today and I managed to see one as I opened up and when I went to lock up at the end of the day. In the evening it was fishing just below the hide and I watched it for about ten minutes as it probed into the Glyceria clumps. It was just getting on with life about twenty feet from me, fabulous, one of those things you just never expect to see. In the morning I did get a picture of the same bird fishing to the left of the hide, a more typical view.

bittern - usually what I would class as a good view

Having not been in for a few days I was struck by the silence, or at least the loss of the continuous twittering of siskin that was going on last Friday. I imagine the warmer weather has made some fo the me move on, but today there wer every few small finches; siskin, goldfinch and lesser redpoll, on the reserve, whereas last week the nyger feeders were packed with them.

siskin and lesser redpoll

I expect there will be more passing through as the spring approaches as a lot went south in the autumn. Most of the finches have been with us in lower numbers this winter, brambling are almost absent, chaffinches certainly fewer, but greenfinches seem much as usual and bullfinches more frequent.

greenfinch male

When I went to lock the Ivy South hide, I had a good look round, just in case, partly to see if I could find the smew, which was on Ivy Lake yesterday, but also to follow up a report of an American wigeon. Sadly this potential Blashford “Mega” was not in evidence, lots of other wildfowl though, including a few small mixed feeding groups.

feeding group

On Ibsley Water at dusk the gull roost is getting larger again, most dramatically the number of common gull has reached a new record, I counted 743, but these were not all that were present as some were hidden. Common gull are not usually at all common at Blashford, typically ten or so roost.

Other birds on Ibsley Water today included the redhead red-breasted merganser, I suspect it is actually a young duck, an oystercatcher, probably one of the ones that breeds here, 6 black-tailed godwit and an adult Mediterranean gull.