Advance Notice

On Sunday we are running a training course on the identification of gulls at Blashford, this will mean that the Tern, Goosander and Lapwing hides will be in use by groups on the course from mid afternoon, so if you are visiting on Sunday and not on the course you might want to visit these hides in the morning or early afternoon instead.

I am sometimes asked for an advised route around the reserve and although the “best” route is always a matter of circumstances on the day there are some general rules that hold true. So Ivy North hide faces south-east, this makes it difficult on a sunny morning, Ivy South faces east and likewise difficult early on in sunshine, so both of these are probably best in the afternoon. The Woodland hide is less of an issue, although the light is best here in the afternoon also. The Tern hide faces north so is pretty good all day. Goosander hide faces north west, so is at its best in the morning and the same is true of Lapwing hide, which faces almost due west, so is very hard work on a sunny afternoon.

The above obviously is only a choice dictated by the direction of the light, there are other factors too of course. Wind direction can be important, most birds will seek shelter and this needs to be considered. In a strong northerly, Tern hide will be both a long way from the birds sheltering under the northern shore of Ibsley Water, nearly a kilometre away and if you open the window you will be looking into the teeth of the wind! By contrast the northern end of Ivy Lake near Ivy North hide will be sheltered and with luck full of birds.

Then there is what you want to see, not a problem if you just want to see a range of birds, being guided by the weather and lighting will probably be the best option. There are some obvious rules, the birds that gather to roost will only be doing so at the end of the day and you will need to be in the right place to see them. The gulls roost on Ibsley Water is well known and is the attraction for the identification course. Ibsley also hosts a roost gathering of goosander, which mainly roost in the bay at Goosander hide, although they are usually only there in the minutes just before darkness. They fly in from all directions but can often be best seen doing so from the bank at the back of the main car park, which is also the best place to view the starling murmuration and get an overview of the gull roost. If it is great white egret you want to see then Ivy North at the end of the day is the place, recently there have been three there each evening, there is also a cormorant roost in the trees here.

By contrast if you are looking for finches, don’t leave it too late, they tend to get up late and go to bed early, the Woodland hide feeders will be busy with tits from dawn ’til dusk but the finches tend to turn up in the middle part of the morning and are often heading off to roost not long after 3:00 pm in the winter.

Some species are more obvious at certain times of the day, birds of prey will soar around mainly during the middle part of the day when the ground has warmed to aid this kind of flight by causing upward air currents. Water rail and Cetti’s warbler are usually far more vocal around dusk. Pochard tend to feed at night and roost during the day, whereas tufted duck are typically the reverse, feeding in the day and roosting at night.

So if planning a birding trip consider the conditions on the day and what you are most keen to see and you should get the most out of your visit. The above is just about Blashford Lakes, but every destination will have a range of factors that will be at play. Wherever you go it always pays to be lucky of course, but to some degree you can make your own luck by making good decisions about how you go about your visit.

 

Advertisements

Wednesday 15th November – A Little Report

A “Little Report” because there is not much to report from today. The reserve was busy with a large group visiting from Christchurch U3A, but the bird news was fairly unremarkable.

Opening Tern hide I heard the or at least a water pipit calling, but could not see it. The lake had the now usual gathering of pochard. My count of 96 yesterday was by some margin the largest I have seen for a good while, there was a time when they were common at the lakes, with flocks into several hundred. Over the last few years pochard numbers have declined, not just here but right across Europe. Over the last 25 years there has been a 67% decline in wintering pochard in the UK. There are many possible reasons for this. They particularly like eating stoneworts, aquatic plants that grow well in oligotrophic (low nutrient) lakes, newly flooded gravel pits usually have very few nutrients and so are very good for them. However over time lakes acquire nutrients form many sources becoming less suitable for stoneworts and pochard. This is probably one of the main reasons for the decline at Blashford.

It might be expected that gravel pits in lowland England would gain nutrients, weed will grow and die, birds will import droppings and fish will mobilise sediments as well as adding their own contribution. In addition the rain is known to be contaminated with nitrogen which it picks up from the atmosphere, where we have added additional nitrous oxide to that naturally present. Recent reports by researchers at the British Geological Survey have highlighted that nitrogen fertilizers have leached their way down into the groundwater and will be coming out for decades to come.  These sources of nutrients do not include straight forward pollution by industry, sewerage etc. The increase in nutrients is impacting both natural and man-made waters and means that we are faced with a future where most lakes, at least in lowlands will be eutrophic, that is nutrient rich. Ultimately such lakes are likely to be dominated by algae, with little higher plant growth upon which most of our wildfowl depend.

Unfortunately for the pochard it seems that it is not just increasingly unsuitable waters that are against them. It has long been known that wintering flocks in the UK hold more drakes than ducks. Last winter wildfowl counters across Europe were asked to provide the sex ratio of the flocks they counted. This showed that across the whole of Europe the proportion of drakes in flocks had risen from 61% in 1989-90 season to 70% in 2016. The proportion of drakes being higher in northern Europe with more female wintering in southern Europe. It might be expected that females would suffer higher mortality at nesting as they nest on the ground where they are vulnerable to predators. However this is probably not the only reason fro the discrepancy. By wintering in southern Europe where hunting is more popular they are probably more often shot, but worse still they are especially vulnerable to ingesting shot and are more likely to do so in areas where there is more shooting. The paper outlining this research will be available soon at http://www.wwt.org.uk/conservation/saving-wetlands-and-wildlife/publications/wildfowl/ .

Anyway back to the day’s news, at the Woodland hide brambling was again seen and overhead a few redpoll could be heard in the siskin flock, things are looking good for large finch flocks later on. Towards dusk heading out to lock up I heard a firecrest again near the car park and this time also saw it, my first one seen this winter at Blashford, although  one was reported the other day from the main car park. On Ivy Lake Walter the great white egret was again at his roost in the dead alder with 150 or so cormorant also roosting in the trees around the lake.

I did have one non-bird sighting of interest, a common darter dragonfly still on the wing, my first for ten days or so, each year I hope to beat my latest dragonfly date of 19th November, which I have managed three times, I don’t think this is going to be the year though, with so few still flying.

Late Winter Dash as Spring Looms

This time of year is always hectic, the winter work really needs to be finished by the end of February and somehow there is never quiet enough winter to get it all done. That said we have done very well this time, getting round to some tasks that I had been wanting to do for some years as well as doing  a lot of work in the former block works site to make it ready to become part of the reserve.

In the last week we have planted several hundred shrubs, coppiced a lot of willow and built a long dead hedge we have also cleared small birches to make basking sites for reptiles and nesting areas for solitary bees, raked cut brambles and taken willow cuttings. Luckily Blashford’s Brilliant Volunteers have turned out en masse and with the Our Past, Our Future apprentice rangers and Emily, our volunteer placement, the workforce has been at peak performance.

before

The site for a new dead hedge

after

The dead hedge completed, looking back towards the viewpoint of the picture above.

Even with all this activity there has still been some time for a bit of wildlife. The last couple of nights have been much warmer, spring is definitely in the air now, so we have put out the moth trap. Today’s catch was 3 chestnut, 3 pale brindled beauty, a spring usher (I said it was in the air), one of my favourites, an oak beauty

oak-beauty

oak beauty, one of the finest moths of spring

and a dotted border.

dotted-border

dotted border

A bittern was seen a couple of days ago, but not since, so perhaps the feel of spring has made it return to more suitable breeding habitat. So far we still have two great white egret, including “Walter”, although he usually departs about mid-February, so I suspect he will not be here much longer. The Cetti’s warbler are singing a lot now, hopefully they will stay to breed this year. The ring-billed gull are still present, with both birds seen in the past few days, although not on the same evening. Oystercatcher have come back and up to three have been noisily flying great circles above the reserve. The gull roost now includes 15 or more Mediterranean gull, a now typical spring build-up. The cormorant roost was up to 148 the other evening in the tree beside Ivy Lake

cormorant-roost

Cormorant roost beside Ivy Lake

and this evening there were upward of 5000 starling performing to the north of Ibsley Water, putting on quite a show, perhaps because there was a peregrine about, I am guessing they roosted in the reeds to the north of the lane.

Locking up Ivy North hide there was a very tame grey squirrel outside the hide, gorging on food that someone had thrown out of the window.

grey-squirrel

Grey squirrel, not turning down a free meal.

As I closed Tern hide and the starlings were doing their thing off to the north, there was a rather fine sunset off to the west, a perfect end to a very busy day.

ducks-at-dusk

Sunset, with three ducks.

 

 

 

A Ringed-bill and lots of Water

Not so busy on the reserve today, typical really as today the bittern performed quite well being seen several times, having avoided successfully the crowds yesterday. I was unable to get out on the reserve for most of the day but a quick trip to the Goosander hide I arrived just as the ring-billed gull landed on the rails.ring-billed gull 1

As you can see this allowed me to get my very own, rather poor, pictures of it.ring-billed gull 2

At dusk, I counted 168 cormorant at the Ivy Lake roost, two short of yesterday’s figure. The Dockens Water which was so high again overnight as to be flowing into Ivy Lake during the morning, was flowing back out again by the evening. The lakes generally are neutral to slightly alkaline, but the Dockens Water is an acidic stream flowing off the New Forest bogs, so when it flows into Ivy Lake it changes the pH. It also probably helps to flush away some of the nutrients that are “imported” by the nightly gathering of cormorant.silt pond reflections

Ringing in the New

Despite the weather being somewhat poorer than originally expected the reserve was busy with a mixture of general visitors and listers out to get a good start to 2016. I knew it would be, as there are several species that you are more perhaps likely to see at Blashford than anywhere else in Hampshire. Species like brambling, and two obliged for much of the day at the Woodland hide, Slavonian and black-necked grebe, which both showed all day on Ibsley Water and of course goosander and goldeneye. Then there are the gulls, with regular yellow-legged gulls and, albeit rather late in the day, the ring-billed gull. The only species that really let the side down was bittern, which failed to show at all, as far as I know.

I managed to see 66 species of birds on the reserve today, not a bad start to the year. Along the way I found a hibernating peacock butterfly and a very well developed group of orchid rosettes, hopefully they will cope with any frosts we do eventually get.orchid

I had the rather pleasant task of putting the new hide logbooks in each hide today, so I got to visit them all. From the Goosander hide it was pleasing to see a group of wigeon grazing the eastern shore of Ibsley Water, just reward for all the volunteers’ hard work.grazing wigeon

I also saw a colour-ringed first winter black-headed gull standing on the rails, I think it was a red ring coded 230A, but it was hard to be sure, can you make it out?ringed black-headed gull

The recent rain has also been beneficial to the ephemeral ponds, these only hold water for part of the year, but have a whole range of specialist species that depend upon them. The volunteers have been involved with these too, treading the mud in the bases so they hold water for longer, a process known as puddling. temporary ponds

As well as a good range of species there were a few notable counts during the day, mostly at dusk. I could not get into the Tern hide, there was such a crush of gull watchers, so I looked from the mound at the back of the car park. From there I saw the ring-billed gull and, after a long absence, a flock of starling. Not quite a fully fledged murmuration , but at least 3000 birds. Later on Ivy Lake there were at least 161 roosting cormorant, a new record. I also counted 239 tufted duck, a large number, but there must have been many more as I could mostly only make out the drakes with their white flanks as it was so dark.

A Better Class of Osprey

It was a mostly quiet and cloudy day at Blashford today, although busy with a training course and meetings. I eventually stopped for lunch at 2:45 and decided to go to the Tern hide, “just in case”. My reward was an especially discerning osprey, perched on the large branch that Ed and I put out for this species back in July. The last one we had on Ibsley Water had  foolishly ignored it, but this was clearly a better class of bird altogether!

Osprey on the perch provided

Osprey on the perch provided

It is getting quite late for them now and this juvenile will probably not hang around for long.

The moth trap has been quite for a while now, with only a few species each night, although caddisflies have been more in evidence. Many species are rather hard to identify, but these are two of the easier ones.

Glyphotaelius pellucidus, the mottled sedge

Glyphotaelius pellucidus, the mottled sedge

Halesus radiates, the caperer

Halesus radiatus, the caperer

When I went round to lock up the hides, somewhat later than usual, the cormorant roost on Ivy Lake was much in evidence, I counted 75 birds tonight and they were still arriving. This roost has grown from nothing in just a few seasons.

cormorant roost

cormorant roost

I was still too early for the main gull roost, but I did see in excess of 3500 black-headed gull, 7 yellow-legged gull and a variety of lesser black-backed gull. The lesser black-backs vary in the shade of their back and various other things, British birds being typically palest grey with dirty heads and black primaries with white mirrors at this time of year, they also tend to be quite compact compared to some. At the other end of this spectrum are birds with very dark, sometimes almost black “backs”, clean white heads, unmoulted, all black primaries and a long and slender look. They typically have a very high “stern” and a very pointed looking rear end.

lesser black-backed gull, of the darker, more slender type.

lesser black-backed gull, of the darker, more slender type.

At the extreme end they usually show small, round heads too, the bird in the picture is not the blackest, nor the slightest I have seen but it is quite different from the average British lesser black-back. They probably come from further north and east and the most extreme examples may well actually be the recently split Baltic gull, but that is another story and one for the true Laridophiles.