Filling in the gaps

It has been some time since my last blog… I’m sorry about the gap! I had a bit of time off over New Year – which seems like a super long time ago now – and since the lockdown I have been part time furloughed (and spending more time exploring more locally to me in Salisbury), so I’m at Blashford three days a week at present.

So, after Christmas I had a break from weaving willow wreaths – our final wreath total was a whopping 94 (out of 100) sold for a donation, which was a fantastic response to the activity and we hope those who bought them enjoyed decorating them. I think we may have to offer it again next year…

This was briefly replaced with a ‘Forest Folk’ activity for our younger visitors, where they could make their own forest friend or stickman then enjoy some simple activities along the wild walk loop. Although short lived, due to the lockdown, a number of families took part and we will be able to put the activity and signs out again when restrictions are lifted.

I’ve also been out and about helping Bob more, mainly to provide first aid cover whilst he’s chainsawing, and it’s been nice to spend time on other bits of the reserve. We’ve spent a bit of time widening the footpath up by the screens on the approach to Lapwing Hide:

Whilst out and about it’s easy to get distracted by the signs of spring – it’s nice to know it’s on its way! I’ve seen my first scarlet elf cups and primroses are also in flower. The snowdrops near the Centre have emerged and the buds are very close now to opening fully.

I also found a nice clump of jelly ear fungus along the Dockens Water path…

… and a very nice blob of Yellow brain or witches’ butter:

yellow brain

Yellow brain fungus or Witches’ butter

According to European folklore, if yellow brain fungus appeared on the gate or door of a house it meant a witch had cast a spell on the family living there. The only way to remove the spell was to pierce the fungus several times with straight pins until it went away, which gave it the common name ‘witches’ butter’. In Sweden, it was burnt to protect against evil spirits.

Another sign of spring I like to look for each year is on the hazel trees. If you look really closely at the hazel you might be able to spot some of its incredibly tiny pink flowers, which look a bit like sea anemones. Hazel is monoecious, with both the male and female flowers found on the same tree. The yellow male catkins appear first before the leaves and hang in clusters, whilst the female flowers are tiny, bud-like and with red styles.

Once pollinated by pollen from other hazel trees, the female flowers develop into oval fruits which then mature into hazelnuts.

On the insect front, the only moth I’ve seen recently was this mottled umber, which greeted me on the Centre door as I was opening up one morning:

mottled umber

Mottled umber

The robins near Ivy Silt Pond continue to be very obliging, posing for photos, and I’ve also been watching the kingfisher by the pond outside the back of the Centre. It seems to prefer this spot when the lake levels are higher and visibility poorer, making it harder to fish for food.

robin

Robin

kingfisher

Kingfisher

And we have on occasion had some rain! These photos were from the heavy downpours last week:

On Sunday I was half expecting to arrive to a snowy scene, but it seemed to just miss the reserve. On my drive in it became less and less wintery and I arrived to a thin layer of melting slush, having left behind a rather white Salisbury. Given I had to get home again it was probably a good thing, but I admit I was slightly disappointed! It was though a good day for photographing water droplets, as everything was melting and there were plenty around!

I will finish with a blue tit enjoying the sunshine up by Lapwing Hide, and will endeavour to blog again soon… I’m woefully behind with my Young Naturalists updates…

blue tit

Blue tit enjoying the sunshine

Another Autumn Day

We have had a rather vigorous few days, I arrived on the reserve on Saturday in heavy rain. Perhaps foolishly I ventured out when it eased a bit, only for the heavens to open again, so I took refuge in the Tern Hide (sorry, it is not open, I had the key with me!). Sat on a post near the hide was an adult male peregrine looking very miserable. It is not a great picture but it was raining hard and quite dark.

peregrine

Despite the weather it was not hunkered down, but looking about and head bobbing all the time then, suddenly, he was off, low over the water towards the western shore. It was raining hard and none of the birds on the island seemed to see him coming, in no time he was on them and grabbing a coot that had been feeding on the top of the island. Coot can be quite a handful, they have a powerful kick and sharp claws and there were a few minutes of struggle before the peregrine won out. Such a large bird was too heavy to be carried off whole so he stayed and fed where he was. I think the foul weather was the secret of the success of this particular hunt, I had felt a little sorry for him stuck out in the open, but I think he knew exactly what he was doing.

There was almost 20mm of rain in just a few hours during the morning and the Docken Water rapidly flooded.

Flooded woodland along the Dockens Water

The river was full of leaves, the rain and wind seems to be making short work of the autumn splendour of the trees this year, still they look good on the ground too.

Autumn leaves – oak, field maple and birch

There are probably several reasons why some trees are already almost leafless whilst others of the same species nearby remain well covered. Some birches were losing leaves in August this year, probably due to drought but where they still have them they are in fine colour now.

birch trees, as you can see it did stop raining!

Having started the day in driving rain it ended with largely blue skies, I even saw a red admiral butterfly.

Wet, wet, wet…

Although the winds have subsided, keeping the reserve closed today as well as yesterday was definitely the right thing to do as when I arrived this morning Ellingham Drove was flowing like a river and the water levels definitely rose in the few hours I was on site.

I didn’t venture too far, only checking the paths between the Woodland and Ivy Lake hides for any trees that had come down in yesterday’s strong winds, but wellington boots were definitely needed for stretches of footpath around the Woodland Hide and down towards Ivy South. I decided to save the rest of the checking until tomorrow in case the river on Ellingham Drove became too deep and I struggled to leave – there was at least one car further down the Drove towards Moyles Court that had become stuck in deeper water and a number of drivers decided to think twice, turn around and head back towards the A338.

The only trees of note, which admittedly I could have missed as I haven’t unlocked or locked up for a few days, were well away from the path but unfortunately in the middle of the woodland log circle area we use for bug hunting. They seemed to have just toppled over, lifting up the saturated ground as they went:

woodland

I know the boardwalk past Ivy South Hide does occasionally flood when Ivy Lake and the silt pond are both at capacity, but I have never seen water flowing over it before:

The Dockens Water is also fuller than I’ve ever seen it, resulting in it spilling out over Ellingham Drove and into the main reserve car park.

The water was flowing just shy of the river dipping bridge. It will be interesting to see what our dipping area looks like once the waters have dropped again, our ‘beach’ had been looking quite good after the last flood!

Given it was still raining when I left and there really isn’t anywhere for such a huge volume of water to go, it is going to take a day or so for the flood waters to subside from the main car park, even if Ellingham Drove clears relatively quickly:

The photos above don’t really do it justice, the water was flowing into the car park with some force in places, and although I could wade along the road in, I was up to the tops of my wellies not far past the waymarker post in the foreground of the photo of the car park and Tern Hide.

It would be very advisable not to visit in too much of a hurry tomorrow! It is highly likely the main car park will remain closed for a day or two, depending on how quickly the levels drop, and even if Tern Hide becomes accessible by skirting the edge of the car park along slightly higher ground, welly boots will definitely be needed.

The south side of the reserve will hopefully open as usual tomorrow, although again welly boots might be useful for some parts!

Sadly we have had to cancel tomorrows Willow Bird Feeder event, in addition to today’s Weave a Willow Snail event which had been postponed from last Sunday, but hopefully it will stop raining soon and we can get back to normal!

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!!)

Then the Thaw

Sunday was a day of great change, at first the snow was still thick in many places, turning to slush on the paths, but still making the roads a little difficult in places.

After the cold of the previous few days the warm sun of a proper springlike day was very welcome. The change during the day was remarkable, by lunchtime the entrance track was largely clear of snow and the Dockens Water was starting to rise and flood through the woodland.

Dockens Water

Dockens Water levels starting to rise

There rapid change resulted in some unusual sightings, perhaps the oddest and something I don’t think I had seen before, was a banded snail crawling across the snow surface. Unfortunately when I tired to take a picture it retreated into its shell, so in the picture you can just see the foot still out, but the rest of the body is hidden.

snail on snow

snail on snow

Another unusual sight, although not as surprising, was that of scarlet elf-cup poking up through the snow.

Elf cup in snow

scarlet elf-cup in snow

I noted in the morning that there were still no lapwing on the nesting areas, I have known birds to be egg-laying by the first week of March. However by the afternoon in the sunshine there were two males on territory on the former Hanson plant site and several more wandering around the shore nearby.

By the end of the day the Dockens Water was flooding through the alder carr and through the silt pond into Ivy Lake.

alder carr flooding

Dockens Water flooding through the alder carr

Having not been on the reserve fro a few days it was pleasing to see that there are still a good few brambling around the Woodland hide along with 8 or more reed bunting. In the afternoon the ring-billed gull was in the gull roost and, rather late in the day and distantly, also the Thayer’s gull.

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

When the Rains Came

Bird News: Ibsley Waterblack-necked grebe 3 (but probably 4). Ivy Lakebittern 2, Cetti’s warbler 1, water rail 2+.

There was a bit of a change in the weather today, after mild and often sunny days today was cold  (no better than 6 degrees) and very, very wet. At Blashford I recorded 30mm of rain today. As it was the first Sunday of the month it was volunteer task day, unlike Thursdays when the weather always seems to be fine, we have been rained off a few times on Sundays and today was one of them. The rain also kept the number of visitors down, but the fact that we have hides to keep dry in and bitterns and other things to see, there were still quite a few people around.

Dockens Water in flood

The flooded Dockens Water over flowed into the silt pond and then on into Ivy Lake, so tomorrow the lake might finally be filled again. The rain will also raise the level of Ibsley Water, although not by nearly enough to bring the water up to the base of the sand martin wall, which is a worry for the colony, which will be much less secure from predators if there is dry land below the nest holes.

The river did not really start to rise until the early afternoon, by which time the rain had stopped and, for a time at least, the sun came out. I took the chance to get out, just below the Centre the nyger feeder was packed with redpoll and siskin.

redpolls and siskin (and yes, that is a bit of a goldfinch's tail in the top right)

Two bitterns performed well for the visitors at the Ivy North hide for much of the day and I saw both fishing there at the end of the day.