So long (almost!) and thanks for all the wildlife…

I haven’t managed to blog much over the past year, but this blog sadly will be my last.

I do really enjoy writing them and sharing either what we’ve been up to with regular groups or on other events, alongside all the wonderful wildlife Blashford has to offer (a really good excuse to go for a walk around the reserve) but sadly since reducing my hours with the Trust there generally haven’t been enough hours in the day to fit everything in. I also like to share lots of photos, which take an age to upload at Blashford over our rubbish internet connection…

I am though now off to pastures (almost) new. Some of you will be aware I took up the part time role of Education Officer for the Watercress and Winterbournes Landscape Partnership Scheme with Wessex Rivers Trust last March. The scheme is hosted by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, so although I am employed by Wessex Rivers Trust I am still working closely with colleagues within the Trust.

I have now been offered more hours with Wessex RT to oversee the educational elements of a number of other projects, so whilst I will really miss Blashford – Jim, Bob and Chloe, our lovely volunteers, the regular (and less regular!) visitors and of course all the amazing wildlife (I have learnt SO much over the last almost eight years) – I am excited to be heading over there full time.

So, I thought I’d finish off now with some wildlife and nature sightings – my last day at Blashford is next Monday, but I doubt I’ll have time to blog anything else between now and then, I still have admin tasks to finish off and more importantly, one more Wildlife Tots…

Thank you all very much for reading my blogs, especially the super long ones!

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There are signs of spring all over the reserve. The snowdrops are still putting on a good display by the Education Centre, the wild daffodils by the Woodland Hide are flowering, the primroses are out and some of the scarlet elf cups are huge:

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

Wild daffodils

Wild daffodils

Primroses

Primroses

Scarlet elf cups

Scarlet elf cups

If you look really closely at the hazel, you might be lucky enough to spot one of the tiny female flowers. Hazel has both male and female flowers on each tree, but the flowers must be pollinated by pollen from other hazel trees. The tiny pink flowers are female, whilst the male flowers are clustered together to form catkins.

Hazel flower

Pink female flower on Hazel, with the male catkins in the background

Lesser redpoll are still visiting the feeders by the Woodland Hide along with siskin and reed bunting. I haven’t managed to get a photograph, but I’ve seen sparrowhawk at or near to the Woodland Hide the last few times I’ve walked past.

Reed bunting

Reed bunting

Reed bunting 2

Reed bunting

Chaffinch

Chaffinch

We’ve had recent sightings of otter both on Ibsley Water (by Bob, I think from memory he said last weekend) and today on Ivy Silt Pond by a lucky visitor. Kingfisher have also been showing really well on Ivy Silt Pond and in front of both Ivy Lake hides – last night when I locked up one was sat on the great reedmace (more commonly known as bulrush) in front of Ivy North Hide:

kingfisher by Ivy North Hide

Kingfisher by Ivy North Hide

A mute swan has also been busy constructing a nest in the reedbed to the right hand side of Ivy North Hide:

swan on nest

Swan constructing its nest

The bittern was seen again today so is still present, it was about 3m to the right of the swan’s nest.

It’s also time to look out for great crested grebes pairing up and displaying with their elaborate courtship dance: pairs will swim towards each other, sometimes with an offering of weed, before rising up out of the water and shaking their heads.

Great crested grebe

Great crested grebe from Ivy South Hide

A number of cormorants continue to roost in the trees around the edge of Ivy Lake.

Cormorants roosting

Cormorants roosting

Goldeneye, goosander and the ring-billed gull are also still frequent visitors to Ibsley Water. If you’re planning a visit soon and we haven’t shared any recent wildlife sightings, it’s always worth having a look on the Go Birding Hampshire website where you can search for sightings by site. I tend to look there to keep up with what’s been sighted recently, where I’m not at the reserve much, but having said that we haven’t had a huge amount reported for Blashford over the last few days.

I will finish off with some great photos sent in by David Cuddon from a visit earlier in the month, on the 7th February – apologies David for not sharing them sooner.  

Wigeon by David Cuddon

Wigeon by David Cuddon

Siskin by David Cuddon

Siskin by David Cuddon

Long-tailed tit by David Cuddon

Long-tailed tit by David Cuddon

Kingfisher by David Cuddon

Kingfisher by David Cuddon

Goldcrest by David Cuddon

Goldcrest by David Cuddon

Bittern by David Cuddon

Bittern by David Cuddon

Round up of recent events

So far each month this year has seen us recording a record number of visitors to the reserve. October may prove to be the exception, due, no doubt, to it being generally rather wet and gloomy. It hasn’t deterred everyone however and those visitors who have braved the rain have reported/recorded some good sightings – including the following by one of our Welcome Volunteers, Doug, taken a couple of weeks ago on one of the few days where there was actually some sunshine(!):

great crested grebe by Doug Massongrass snakes by Doug Massongrass snake by Doug MassonTawny by Doug Masson

I think the grass snakes may actually have given up and found somewhere to hibernate over winter by now but they had been pretty active outside Ivy South Hide in the usual spot. When I say pretty active I actually mean unusually VERY active, particularly given the time of the year… the picture of the three together above were actually mating and another visitor had reported seeing the same behaviour a few days prior to Doug capturing it on “film”, although all of the guide books suggest that this usually only happens in or around April soon after they have emerged from hibernation.

The tawny owl shot is fabulous and Doug is the second photographer that I am aware of who has been fortunate enough to chance upon one of “our” owls hiding out on the reserve during the day this year.

Visitors to the Centre may have had a fiddle with the wildlife camera controller fixed up to the TV in the lobby and discovered that additional camera’s are now live – in addition to the original pond and compost camera’s and the new Woodland Hide feeder camera, there is now a bird box camera, tawny owl box camera and an artificial badger sett camera.

Being new and the wrong time of year, there is absolutely nothing going on on these new additions, but fingers crossed, they will see activity next year! Actually, I say there is nothing going on in them, but there is a lovely cobweb across the front of the badger cam and at times the spider is in evidence too 😉

Out on the water autumn arrivals are dropping in in dribs and drabs but goosander are now to be seen on a daily basis on Ibsley Water as are teal, pochard and wigeon across the site. Walter and friends are still around too, although they have kept a low profile for much of this month. The great white egrets do seem to be back roosting on Ivy Lake near the cormorants again though with at least two birds around regularly and three individuals seen yesterday. Also on Ivy Lake Bob saw otter again when he locked up one evening last week. First otter sightings for a while that we are aware of and he saw it from both Ivy North and Ivy South Hide and the wildfowl saw it too – and were not very happy about it!

Not so good for our visitor numbers the wet weather has certainly been good for fungi, with fantastic displays of puffball species, parasol and fly agaric mushrooms in particular.

Puffballs by Daisy MeadowcroftParasol by Daisy MeadowcroftFly agaric by Daisy Meadowcroft

There have been occasional nice beefsteak fungi too, but sadly foragers did for the best of these before reaching their prime.

I haven’t got anything against the gathering and consumption of wild fungi personally and have been known to indulge myself on more than one occasion, but I only ever collect a few specimens from locations where that species is abundant and I always ensure that plenty are left to complete their life-cycle and spore. It is very unfortunate that, as with many pastimes, a few selfish and/or thoughtless individuals spoil it for the many.

Feel free to question the actions of visitors foraging at Blashford, or let staff/volunteers know, as, unless part of an organised fungus group survey, they will almost certainly not have permission to be collecting!

Half-term next week and we have “Wild Days Out” activity days on Tuesday and Thursday and, if we get any more bookings (they’re rather thin at the moment) we have a Stargazing event with Fordingbridge Astronomers on Tuesday evening.

And finally, for lovers of fine food everywhere, we are very pleased to announce the most welcome and long-awaited return of the Pop Up Café in the Centre classroom a week on Sunday (Sunday 3rd November)!

Nigel and Christine from Walking Picnics are back serving hot drinks and delicious home baked cakes and savoury snacks from 10.30am-3.30pm on New Years Day and the first and third Sundays of November, December and January with possible additional dates later in the year to follow. Enjoy!