Counting and Estimating

It was a very grey dawn that broke as I waited in Lapwing hide this morning in an attempt to count the goosander roost on Ibsley Water. Unfortunately I think a lot of them  had already left as I saw only 54, I would have expected over a hundred at this stage of the winter. Luckily, although it was very grey, there was almost no wind, making counting the wildfowl quite easy. Overall the counts on Ibsley Water were poor, a few years ago there could have been totals of a thousand or more, but poor weed growth has meant there is little food for many species this winter. The highlight was seeing both of the black-necked grebe together, although they then went their own ways very quickly, one remaining close the southern shore the other up to the north-west corner as usual.

Luckily some of the other lakes do have a good growth of weed, most notably Ivy Lake which held 356 gadwall and 318 wigeon, although only 31 coot was a real surprise as they are also weed-eaters. It seems the coot were mostly on Rockford Lake, where there were 340, but only a few dozen each of wigeon and gadwall. Perhaps they prefer different types of weed or maybe the coot are going after weed in deeper water. Recent conditions may mean that the ducks do not need to follow the coot around to get at the weed they drag up and can feed on floating fragments.

Wildfowl are relatively easy to count on a lake, they do not move fast and if you have a good viewpoint you can see them all, at least if they are not diving. Later in the I encountered birds that were rather more difficult to count.

In the afternoon I was at our new reserve at Fishlake Meadows, to look at what will eventually be the reserve storage area and yard. We will not have access to it for a while but it was valuable to see the site and where service entry points are. Setting up a new site is always exciting but dealing with all the elements that need to be in place to make things work at their best taxes my brain at times.

After dealing with the boring but essential site details we walked the canal path and witnessed the modest but still impressive starling roost. I say modest, but I was quite unable to count them, an estimate would be perhaps 8-10,000, nothing like the 60,000 or more that were seen a couple of weeks ago. They arrived in several groups, the largest landed quite quickly.

dropping down to roost

The flock dropping into roost

Shortly after this a buzzard flew low over the roost which took flight and then mostly landed in neighbouring trees and bushes.

starlings sitting in trees

bushes full of starlings

All the while extra groups of birds were flying in. Quite a sight and they attracted a fair crowd of local people, it is always good to see people able to enjoy wildlife on their own doorstep. There is something especially satisfying about being able to walk out from your own home and see wildlife, or better still be able to see it in, or from your own garden. Wildlife should really be living around us, not just experienced by travelling to special places, one of the great things about Fishlake Meadows is its proximity to the town of Romsey, wildlife on their doorstep.


Just the Job

The Pop-up cafe was back and so were our splendid Blashford volunteers, for their first task of the new year. I had planned a hedge-laying task but the cold morning and brisk north-east wind caused me to rethink and look for a more sheltered work site. So we ended up clearing a patch of small willow, birch and alder that have invaded the boggy reeds at the top end of the Ivy Silt Pond. I had been meaning to do this task for a while but somehow other things kept pushing this down the list.


At the start

This is one of rather few boggy habitats we have on the reserve and it is home to a few species we do not have elsewhere, such as royal fern, bog myrtle and Sphagnum moss. I suspect all arriving there via the Dockens Water. It is amazing what five people working for a couple of hours can do!


At the end of a couple of hours work

We dead-hedged the material we cut, much quicker and less damaging than burning. Perhaps the most obvious thing int he second picture is the tall stumps, we usually cut at between knee and waist height, I know this will seem strange to many trained to cut stumps as low as possible, but I do have my reasons.

If we are working with handtools it is very difficult to cut very low to the ground, so cutting at this level is just easier. Low stumps are also hard to see when dragging cut material away so there is a trip risk, the taller stumps are easier to avoid. If I want to I can go round and cut them really low with a chainsaw once the site is clear, or I can treat them with less chance of missing any.  For some species such as birch and alder I have also found that fewer grow back at this height than if cut flush to the ground and then the remaining stump becomes a useful bit of standing deadwood.

Surprisingly on a day when visitors were complaining of the cold, it was very pleasant working int he sunshine and out of the wind and we all had to shed a layer or two to avoid overheating!

The reserve was busy with visitors all day and a good range of birds were to be seen, despite the wind. On Ibsley Water one of the black-necked grebe was close to Goosander hide for most of the day and I counted 129 pochard, a good count these days. A ring-billed gull was reported, but most of the duck were sheltering close to the northern shore.

Ivy Lake is much more sheltered and held at least one thousand wildfowl, including about 250 teal. There were also good numbers of gadwall and wigeon along with a few shoveler, pintail, mallard, coot and diving ducks. Walter the great white egret was also there during the day but seems to have found a more sheltered roost site than his usual exposed dead alder.

At the Woodland hide several brambling and a good range of other woodland species are increasingly evident. I suspect we may get good numbers later on in February and March.

A Clear(er) View

On Thursday the volunteers cleared the annual vegetation from in front of the Tern hide, we do this each year for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is that it improves the view of the nearest shore from the hide. Another is that it clears the ground for the nesting lapwing and little ringed plover next spring. There are also always some seedling bramble, birch and willow that need pulling out before they get established.


The shore before we started


and after a couple of hours of hard weeding

Looking out from the hide today this did not make much difference as visibility was seriously reduced due to persistent heavy rain. Despite this there were some birds to see, including at least 800 sand martin, 3 swift, 2 dunlin, a little ringed plover, 3 common sandpiper, 33 mute swan and 3 pochard. Ivy Lake was quieter with just a few coot, gadwall and great crested grebe, there are also still two broods of two common tern chicks on the rafts.

Today was not a day for invertebrates, but I do have one more picture from Thursday, spotted in long grass as I went round locking up, a wasp spider, my first of the year.

wasp spider

Wasp spider female with prey.


Counting Day

Once a month we count the wildfowl on the reserve and also on the other lakes in the area to get an idea of how many there are and so how populations are fairing. Wildfowl are counted right across NW Europe once a month during the autumn and winter and this provides estimates of total populations and changes. In Britain the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS counts) started in 1969 and now covers all our estuaries and inland wetlands. The counts we do of the lakes are actually in addition to the WeBS counts as we cover only the lakes, the full counts are co-ordinated along the whole valley from Christchurch Harbour northwards.

I started by counting Ibsley Water and from the Lapwing hide was greeted by the sight of a flock of wigeon grazing just in front of the hide.


wigeon from the Lapwing hide

Despite this overall numbers of birds on the lake were not very large, probably due to a combination of relatively poor weed growth and the rather strong wind. One a factor that will depress numbers throughout this winter the other just weather, which can make a great difference to where the birds will be from day to day. Although not a bird for the count, I was pleased to see the water pipit on the cut grass heaps on the lakeshore, digging in the grass for insects.

The total number of waterfowl counted on all the lakes combined was just under 3900, not bad for November as the peak usually comes around mid-winter, so there is time for it to rise yet. The most numerous species were coot 976, wigeon 936, gadwall 521, tufted duck 291 and shoveler 261. Different lakes provide conditions for different species and we also find that factors like weed growth vary greatly from year to year and in different lakes. This year weed growth in Ibsley Water is quite poor, but it has been good in Rockford Lake and Blashford Lake and it is these lakes are attracting the large numbers of coot, gadwall and wigeon as a result. Ibsley Water seems especially attractive to pochard just now with 72 there today, whereas Mockbeggar Lake is shoveler central, with over 200 feeding on there and probably more, as it is a difficult to see through the trees from the path to Lapwing hide.

Although I missed them it seems probable that both great white egret were seen today, I may have seen both actually as I saw white birds though trees where they should have been! The bittern was also seen briefly from Ivy North hide and on one of the lakes north of the reserve I saw the ferruginous duck. This bird has been returning for some years and favours Kingfisher Lake on the outskirts of Ringwood, but this lake cannot be viewed as it once could. So far this winter though it has made one trip to Ivy Lake and today it was visible from the public footpath north of Mockbeggar Lane on the larger of the two lakes there. Hopefully it will oblige and spend more time in places where it can be seen, it is certainly worth checking the diving ducks on any of the lakes, just in case. I understand that the ring-billed gull put in an appearance on Ibsley Water in the afternoon, I suspect we will see it until the spring now.

I heard earlier this week that a car was broken into in one of the car parks last week, thankfully a rare thing at Blashford, this is only the second time it has happened, but it would be wise to take care not to leave valuables on show, or ideally in your car at all.


A Touch of Frost

With three millimetres of rain and overnight temperature a low single figure, it certainly feels more like autumn now.

The final butterfly transects, we have been monitoring them now since early April, were completed this week. The surveyors haven’t been bothered by huge numbers of butterflies, although understand we still have quite a few speckled wood butterflies,

speckled wood

speckled wood


37 were seen on the north transect, plus a good number of comma (16) and five red admiral on the south section.

Other signs of autumn are the burgeoning numbers of fungi, like this troop, of I believe lycoperdon sp.(?),  I saw beside the path.


lycoperdon species?

lycoperdon species?

Whilst bird numbers aren’t particularly spectacular yet, the range of species is increasing slowly. One lucky couple saw what they are sure was a honey buzzard in the Ibsley Water area.  More prosaically I only managed a few of the more common species, like this lapwing



and a couple of young little grebe, or dabchick, with a coot.

coot and dabchick

coot and dabchick


A final flurry of, mostly fairly inconspicuous, flowers is providing a little colour around the place, but most are well past their best.

P1540544 geranium

cut-leaved geranium(?)

common storksbill

common storksbill

dark mullein

dark mullein

On the ‘light  trap’ front, we are still attracting hornets,




but a number of colourful moths as well.

pink-barred sallow

pink-barred sallow


frosted orange

frosted orange

angle shades

angle shades

Christmas and all that…

2013 Blashford volunteers_resize


Yesterday afternoon and evening we hosted the annual Christmas gathering of volunteers, partly as a thank you for everyone’s time and hard work over the last 12 months, partly as just an opportunity to get together for a bit of fun without the work and, as I told them last night, partly to keep everyone sweet so they continue to turn out week after week and help us manage and maintain the nature reserve and educational work to the high standard that we strive for. It always sounds cheesy, but it is true that without them the site would not be half the site that it is. Pictured above (in a slight interruption to the starling roost watching that we had been doing and continued to do after the photo was taken!) are just some of the volunteers that help us keep up our good work – thanks again everyone : ).

And in case anyones wondering, yes the starlings did turn up though possibly not in quite the numbers that there have been and with a somewhat gloomy and overcast sky, nor was it one of the more breathtaking displays, but nice to see none-the-less.

True to form the volunteers managed to come to Blashford during the better weather and today it has been pretty miserable! I expected the Dockens Water to be high after last nights rain and I wasn’t disappointed – although it regularly does run a lot deeper/wider (at least a foot deeper than this along this section by the river dipping area), it was higher this morning than I’ve seen for a while – good for sea trout!

The Dockens Water this morning - looking out from the information panel opposite the "lower centre car park".

The Dockens Water this morning – looking out from the information panel opposite the “lower centre car park”.

With more rain on the way it seemed prudent to check on the flood prone footpaths on the approach to Lapwing Hide – all still passable in walking boots at the moment if you take care, but I wouldn’t try it in shoes or trainers, so we did put out the temporary signs advising visitors to take the “long way” up to Lapwing Hide around the edge of the reedbed rather than that up through the middle. It was nice to get to a bit of the reserve I don’t get to so much, even in the rain, doubly so as the wildfowl are so much closer to the hides on that side of Ibsley Water than they are at Tern Hide. Lapwing Hide in particular had good numbers of wigeon, gadwall and coot and reports in the record book of black necked grebe  on Thursday, while in the more sheltered water at Goosander Hide there were at least 20 goosander, loads of pintail ducks and a red crested pochard.

View from Lapwing Hide, with wigeon on the grassy spit.
View from Lapwing Hide, with wigeon on the grassy spit.
View from Goosander Hide - the goosander were all either on, or just off, the bank of the spit opposite the hide.

View from Goosander Hide – the goosander were all either on, or just off, the bank of the spit opposite the hide.

The great white egret is still on Ivy Lake and with siskin coming down to the feeders more I put up a niger feeder in the centre car park – within 3 minutes 3 siskin had found it and since then most of the feeder ports have had siskin on for most of the day. No redpoll yet though!

It didn't take long for the siskin to find the feeder!

It didn’t take long for the siskin to find the new feeder!

Other than that the only other things of any particular note were treecreeper (a bird that seems to do well at Blashford, or at least is more easily seen here than in other woodlands), of which I saw 3 while opening up (unless of course it was the same bird in different locations).  The white of the belly contrasting starkly with the otherwise gloomy and grey background today.

Christmas opening times:

I am now looking forward to a few days off with the family over Christmas but someone will be in to open up as normal everyday except Christmas Day over the coming couple of weeks.

So on that note it only leaves me to wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year from all of the staff at Blashford (pictured below for the first time!).

Happy Christmas from the team! Steve, Adam, Ed, Bob, Jim and Michelle!

Happy Christmas from the team! Steve, Adam, Ed, Bob, Jim and Michelle!

A happy (and a not so happy) ending…

A beautiful day drew in a steady stream of visitors to the reserve throughout the day – with great views of bittern (from Ivy North hide) and kingfisher (on Ivy Silt Pond) and also reports of the red crested pochard (from Goosander Hide). Much of the wildfowl was concentrated around the eastern side of Ibsley Water so the best views were always going to be from Goosander and Lapwing Hides, but I took this picture of wigeon and coot when I opened up Tern this morning:

View from Tern Hide this morning

View from Tern Hide this morning

I failed (again!) to see bittern, but the early morning sun gave the reed on Ivy Lake, where one would be seen later in the day, quite beautiful  and almost ethereal:

Ivy Reed beds

Ivy Reed beds

Nothing out of the ordinary was to be seen from Ivy South either, but still worth a picture of a nice assemblage of wildfowl, including wigeon, coot, tufted duck, gadwall and great crested grebe:

View from Ivy South Hide

View from Ivy South Hide

Given the recent mild (and dry) weather I decided to run the light trap last night as it had not been run for weeks, if not months – and of course it cleared overnight to a frosty start this morning! None the less I am able to report 3 species as having been on the wing last night (albeit only 5 individual moths actually caught) – December moth, mottled umber and scarce umber. Pictured here are the December moth and mottled umber, both quite attractive species, the December moth especially so with it’s warm “woolly coat” and heavily feathered antennae, necessary to help keep the insect insulated against the winter cold!

Mottled umber

Mottled umber

December moth

December moth


A close up of those remarkable antennae!

A close up of those remarkable antennae!

As for the blog title? I’m delighted, and more than a little surprised, to report a happy ending for a mute swan that Ed and Adam retrieved from Ivy Silt Pond by boat a few weeks ago following reports of a swan in difficulties and apparently ensnared by fishing line. In fact it had swallowed the line as well as been trapped in it and really looked to be on it’s last legs. Fortunately our local wildlife rescue experts, Joel and Mike, from “Wildlife Rescue” who operate from Moyles Court, were able to take the swan in and in turn then passed it on to specialist swan rescue centre near London. Fortunately for the bird it seems that it was rescued in the nick of time and despite having swallowed a massive length of line all the way into its gizzard, there was no hook on the end of it and after several days on a drip she has made a  remarkable recovery and was released onto Ibsley Water this afternoon:

Ready, steady...

Ready, steady…



In less than a minute she had made new friends and was off. Aah!

In less than a minute she had made new friends and was off. Aah!

Hats off to Mike, Carla and Joel who give an inordinate amount of their time to rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife and do an absolutely remarkable job  for little or no reward other than the satisfaction that they receive from helping injured animals. Sadly I’m sure we will be in touch with them again before too long, but we at least are extremely grateful for their work – and the fact that they are so close!

On my way back across to the centre I came across another animal whose end was was not quite so happy; glancing into the river as I crossed the footbridge I saw this (once) lovely sea trout washed up in the shallows of the Dockens Water:

The untimely demise of a sea trout?

The untimely demise of a sea trout?

It isn’t ever so clear in the picture, but when I headed down the bank for a closer look it soon became apparent that the trout had actually been predated – with a big chunk of its belly missing, almost certainly the work of an otter, though it maybe that mink also leave similar tell-tale signs. It’s been a little while since we had enough rain to bring the sea trout up river with the spate conditions, so hopefully it had spawned before becoming someones dinner.

Blurry bittern and fuzzy buzzard

As Jim surmised in his posting, at least one bittern was seen  from both the North and South Ivy Lake hides yesterday.  One of these sightings was of a bird with a large tench, too large for it to swallow, which it carried  into the reeds outside the North hide, presumably to dismember and eat in peace (or pieces?).  The great white egret was spotted, briefly, from the same hide.  Also reported yesterday were a small flock of Brent geese on Ibsley Water, although not obviously there when I opened up this morning.

I was, however, lucky enough to see one of the bittern as it stalked the reed edges visible to the south of Ivy Lake. At first almost invisible to the naked eye, and even in binoculars, it emerged and wandered along in front of the reeds for at least an hour. Never one to pass up an opportunity to post, yet another, distant, dark and blurred image, this is what I saw..

Bittern lurking along reed edges to south of Ivy Lake

Bittern lurking along reed edges to south of Ivy Lake

Some lucky visitors also saw a water rail from the Ivy North hide.

But it’s not all about distant images of the more rare species.  One of the great perquisites*  of my job is being the first to see which birds are on parade immediately outside the hides when they are opened each morning.  Carefully opening the door and treading quietly, many birds are unaware of one’s presence and its possible to get reasonably close images with my modest camera.  Even though we have a large number of coot on the reserve, it’s not always possible to see them at close range.

P1460784 coot

One of the many coot outside the hide. Notice the slight pink flush to the bill a feature not always seen.

They are often followed by gadwall, a species for which the reserve has designated conservation status, as we have something like 1% of Britain’s wintering population here.  They have a similar diet to that of the coot, a liking for the plants that grow in the depths of the lakes.  Being dabbling ducks, they can’t dive to retrieve plant material, the lakes are quite deep,  the gadwall have learned that they can live quite well by scavenging the left-overs from the plants the coot bring up. So in a curious way it’s probably the presence of so many coot that allow the gadwall to survive the winter here in such numbers and give the reserve its conservation designation.

For the casual spectator,  gadwall can appear to be quite drab looking ‘grey’ ducks, but a close-up reveals some quite intricate patterning within the feathers, making them, for me, one of our most attractive waterfowl.

The subtle and intricate pattern of wavy markings (vermiculations) on the gadwall's plumage

The subtle and intricate pattern of wavy markings (vermiculations **) on the gadwall’s plumage

This image was taken through the glass in the hide window on a dull day and doesn’t do full justice to the splendour of these birds, but do try to look closely on a fine sunny day – absolutely stunning.

Across the reserve the numbers and range of birds are much as I reported last week.  Winter hasn’t really started to bite too deeply and the natural food supply allows  means many of the woodland birds are still able to resist the temptation of our well-stocked seed feeders.

One regular visitor to the Woodland Hide area, a buzzard,  is often only seen as (s)he flies through,  so I took the opportunity of grabbing an image of this bird perched on a branch nearby.

Buzzard, lurking near woodland hide.

Buzzard, lurking near woodland hide.

As you can see its yet another in my now famous series of slightly fuzzy pictures!!

*perquisite (perk) -‘an incidental benefit gained from a certain type of employment’  

**vermiculation – Wormlike marks or carvings, as in a mosaic or masonry.  

Words and Birds

Hello again.  It’s been a while (three weeks) since I posted on this blog, having been away and then, last week, after spending a time trimming back seed heads from buddleia to prevent them overrunning the reserve, and afterwards not feeling inspired enough to write anything.  I was berated, earlier this week,  by one of our regular volunteers and reader of the blog (you know who you are!!!) for not writing anything last Sunday, so I thought I’d better make an effort today.  Those of you who do any writing will probably recognise the problems of either  not feeling they have anything to say and/or struggling to find the words.     Along those lines,  I remember the tale of one professional writer who couldn’t think of a particular word for two weeks – but then it suddenly came to him….’fortnight’!!!

Having said all this, I guess most of you will want to read some news from Blashford, so here goes.

The bittern(s) is still in being seen regularly from Ivy South Hide, but has also been viewed, in its more usual habitat, in the reed beds outside Ivy North Hide. Whilst closing the reserve last Sunday,  I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this bird in the left hand side of the reeds, far off to the right side of the Ivy North Hide. As no one else has posted any pictures of this bird yet, I’ll start with this rather poor, distant image, taken in low light conditions ( getting all my excuses in first!!)  as evidence that the bird is here. P1460717 bittern Recent addition to the avifauna n the form of a ferruginous duck reported yesterday from Ivy South Hide. Otherwise the red-crested pochard is still around as are good numbers of many of the other ducks such as  mallard, shoveller, gadwall, wigeon, teal, pochard, goldeneye and tufted duck. A few green sandpiper  are scattered around the margins of the lakes.

For the gull fans (I know there are a few of you out there) up to nine yellow-legged gulls were seen coming in to roost on Ibsley Water yesterday.  Roost time can also produce increased numbers of goosander as they fly in from the Avon Valley to spend the night here.  Also in residence in and on the water, in roughly decreasing size order, we have mute swan, Canada goose, greylag goose, Egyptian goose, great-crested grebe, lapwing, coot, moorhen and little grebe. 

The alders are providing enough food to keep a regular flock of siskin in and around the Woodland Hide area.  This abundance of natural food means that many of the  winter visitors to our seed feeders haven’t yet put in much of an appearance although some lesser redpoll have been reported.  otherwise the usual collection of tit species including marsh tit as well as nuthatch and treecreeper are being seen from the Woodland Hide.  A water rail was seen, by some lucky visitors,  feeding on a fish (the rail feeding, not the visitor!), just outside the Ivy South Hide for about twenty minutes in the mid-afternoon.

A party from an RSPB local group have chosen Blashford for a day trip. One of the party reported seeing a large bird of prey flying low over the heath and going into the trees, from the description one of ‘our’ buzzards.

To finish here is a picture of what must be one of but maybe not the last ‘summer’ flowers to be seen on the reserve

red campion

red campion