Damp Days

The long, hot summer seems an age away now, with most days dominated by drizzle (Friday excepted). It is still very mild, but the combination of damp and mildness makes for difficult working conditions. Winter work on the reserve is mostly fairly heavy, with lots of protective clothing and machinery, things that do not go well with mild damp weather. Despite this we have been busy with the volunteers clearing sites and generally preparing for the planned updates to the reserve. Alongside this there is still the usual maintenance to be done and today I was out with the team repairing the boardwalk and trimming back the path sides.

The Pop-up Cafe was in the Centre again today, sadly things were rather quiet, probably a result of the poor weather, the cakes were as good as ever, if you missed them, they will be back on the 16th of December and New Year’s Day with more.

Out on the reserve things seem fairly quiet, I say this but there was quiet a lot to see. On Ibsley Water there was a black-necked grebe, 2 dunlin, green sandpiper, a variety of duck including pintail, wigeon, pochard, goosander, goldeneye and at dusk the gull roost and starling murmuration. I just missed seeing a peregrine take a drake pochard, I would have thought rather a bulky prey item for this falcon. Other birds today included red kite, chiffchaff, Cetti’s warbler and at dusk on Ivy Lake three roosting great white egret, all in all not bad for a “quiet day”!

 

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The Best of Blashford

The second Pop-up Cafe of the winter today and, thankfully, the weather was a great deal better than the damp day we had at the start of the month. The reserve was busy and there was a good deal to see from most points, for most of the day.

Opening up Tern hide I saw a water pipit, although my first notable birds were at the main gate, where there was a fieldfare with a couple of redwing and a pair of bullfinch. 

I then spent a couple of hours attending to various tasks about the office before getting out to Lapwing and Goosander hides. We have done quite a bit of work on and beside the paths in this area with the object of both maintaining good access and making the walk more interesting for visitors and wildlife. To this end we have been scraping back the path edges and thinning the small trees to make clearings, increase the light and open up some views over the reeds. This work should also benefit insects and the reptiles that use this area, so we have been making sunny sheltered clearings and have dug one new sandy bank for solitary bees.

Up at Lapwing hide I was surprised to see several hundred large gulls, it was only late morning, so way to early for a roost gathering. I noticed the other day that there were  a lot of large gulls on the lake very early in the day. I suspect there are two possible explanations, either they are feeding very nearby and dropping in and out between bouts of feeding, or they have found somewhere with so much food that they are getting their fill in just a couple of hours. Looking through the gulls I saw the Caspian gull found yesterday, it is a “textbook” first winter bird, which always helps with these potentially difficult to identify birds.

At Goosander hide on the way back there were 2 green sandpiper and a dunlin, the latter flushed from the Long Spit in the company of a snipe by a peregrine. I took the long way back as I wanted to investigate some tyre tracks I had noticed on the Lichen Heath last Monday. Hidden away on the far side of the water treatment works I found out where they had been heading and why, a heap of fly-tipped material. I suspect dumped in the rain last Saturday, since it must have been in the day and when there were not many people around. We are certainly welcoming donations at the moment, but not this kind! It goes without saying that if you are on the reserve and ever see anything suspicious like this please make a note of what you safely can and let us know.

We always welcome donations of course, but at present we are trying to raise money to make a number of improvements to the reserve. The largest of these is the replacement of the Tern hide, the existing hide is suffering a bit and we recently won a grant to replace it, if we can raise the rest of the funds, to find out how you can help us see The Blashford Appeal

On my way back from a bird food buying trip I dropped in at Tern hide and saw 3 great white egret in the distance flying north up the Avon valley, I assume our regulars, but who knows? After another spell in the office I got out again in the late afternoon where there was a marsh harrier visible in the distance. Out on the lake the numbers of gulls had increased a lot and were more than I have seen this winter so far by some margin. I found the ring-billed gull deep in the flock, but unfortunately had to take off my glasses and when I looked back I could not find it again.

The Pop-up Cafe had done well, they will be back with more excellent cake on the first Sunday of December, so if you missed them today you could come then, or on the 16th of December, or both and New Year’s Day as well. You can also get a range of Wildlife Trust gifts and Christmas cards.

Locking up I saw 2 great white egret as usual at Ivy North hide, there were also at least 160 cormorant roosting in the trees and at least 161 tufted duck on the water.

It had felt like a good day almost all round, fly-tipping excepted. The reserve was busy with a range of people watching wildlife, from keen rarity hunters to families enjoying the nuthatch and the fine male sparrowhawk perched at the Woodland hide and there was cake too. Blashford Lakes is fortunate to have elements that appeal to a wide audience, we have popular events for ages from toddlers onward and different parts of the reserve that offer highlights for all types of wildlife seekers. Hopefully the reserve can continue to enthuse a wide and growing audience, our wildlife needs all the supporters it can get!

A film and many questions…

Back in April our Young Naturalists group were joined by Paul from Strong Island Media who came along to film them engaging with nature and participating in a number of different activities. As a result, we had a brilliantly varied session and Paul was able to produce a fabulous short film of them chatting about their experiences and their interest in wildlife, a brilliant snapshot of the group and a great piece of promotional material.

The group did a fantastic job and the film is available here: https://youtu.be/GSyY1C_upvg , please do take a look and share it with anyone you think may be interested in seeing it or possibly joining us at future sessions.

Slightly less polished was our very wet session at the end of August, although at the time the pond was certainly grateful for a top up. We tidied the area at the back of the centre, weeding the gravel and cutting back the bramble and other vegetation that was coming through the fence by the pond. It was a soggy task!

We did then retire to the classroom where the group had a lot of fun dissecting owl pellets, an activity we had been doing that week on our Wild Days Out. I had been hoping someone would find the skull of a small bird amongst all the small mammal skulls (just for a bit of variety!), however Lysander managed to go one better discovering a bit of metal instead which we were excited to discover was a bird ring.

Bird ringAfter studying the bird ring under the microscope to decide exactly what was written on it, we settled on Poland St. Orn. Gdansk JA 40684 and submitted it online via Euring Web Recovery to see if we could find out more.

Unfortunately, we have had our pellets at Blashford for a rather long time and are not entirely sure when we got them or even where they came from, with Testwood Lakes and even Lincolnshire via Jim both possible candidates. But it was still incredibly exciting to have found the ring of a bird originally ringed in Poland and exciting to see what else we could discover about its life via the Euring Recovery programme.

So the results? Our bird was a dunlin, a wading bird slightly smaller than a starling and one we do get in small numbers from time to time at Blashford. It is the smallest of the regular wading birds found on our local coastline and they can be seen here all year round, preferring estuaries where they eat insects, worms and molluscs. Locally the largest numbers are present in the winter and these birds will depart in the spring to their breeding grounds of Northern Scandinavia and Russia. The dunlin seen overwintering in the Solent are not the same birds seen in the summer.

This particular bird was ringed in Ujscie Redy, Gdanskie, Poland by Wlodzimierz Meissner Kuling when it was in its second calendar year but it is unknown whether it was male or female. Ringed on 30th July 1983, the ring is now 35 years old with the bird possibly 37 if alive today. According to the BTO the oldest recorded dunlin was 19 years, 3 months and 26 days (record set in 2010) so I suspect ours had been dead and languishing in an owl pellet for a considerably long time.

It was fascinating to learn a little bit more about this particular bird and fingers crossed it did live to a ripe old age before its unfortunate demise. Not knowing where the pellets came from (in terms of geographical location and owl species as they had begun to disintegrate) or when the pellets were found the ring discovery does raise a lot of questions:

– which owl species eat dunlin (from a quick bit of research Short-eared owls possess the ability to take shore birds and seem the likeliest candidate, with pellets taken from Farlington Marshes during the winter of 1970-71 illustrating this, however Barn owls are also capable of taking larger birds as prey).

– was the wader roost raided, was the bird a solitary target or was it already sick or injured?

– did the owl migrate or the dunlin, and if it was the owl where was it feasting before its migration? I have really been assuming it was the dunlin, but there is always a chance it was the owl. It can take up to 10 hours for an owl to regurgitate a pellet, I have no idea how long it would take for an owl to fly from mainland Europe to the UK, this dunlin could have been its last meal before that flight…

– when did the owl eat the dunlin?

Sadly we will never know, but it has been fun and very interesting thinking about it!

RS1085_KeyhavenDunlin_Thea_Love_30.01.11

Dunlin at Keyhaven by Thea Love

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust

Changeable

The last week or so has been very strange, with the arrival of several migrants and further snow.

gorse flower in snow 3

Spring!

On the migrant front there are now small numbers of sand martin hawking over several of the lakes, the most I have seen together is only six. On Ibsley Water there have been at least 2 little ringed plover, but be warned as there has also been a ringed plover. Other waders in the snow last weekend included a few dunlin and 3 golden plover. A single swallow has been recorded on several days and is perhaps the one reported in North Gorley as well. In the woodland small numbers of chiffchaff are singing and near Tern hide a pair of wheatear have been seen for the last four days. Perhaps the greatest excitement has been the sighting of 2 osprey passing singly overhead in the last week. typically for spring birds, they did not linger.

Other notable sightings have included up to 5 stonechat beside Ibsley Water, this is usually a very scarce species on the reserve, I suspect these are birds that had returned to the open Forest before snow and moved into the valley to escape the worst of the conditions. Two adult little gull have been over Ibsley Water where numbers of Mediterranean gull are increasing and the ring-billed gull is still being seen int he evening roost.

As thought to highlight the confusion of the seasons there have been birds starting to nest and the dawn chorus has gone up a gear. The picture below was taken through my kitchen window and shows blue tits investigating a nestbox in the snow.

blue tit pair at box in snow

The drive to start breeding is not stopped by changeable weather.

 

Some Birds!

A late report from yesterday was of the returning drake ferruginous duck seen on Ibsley Water in the late afternoon. When I arrived this morning there were people looking for it, without success, however one observer was excited to have found a great white egret. Unfortunately I had to tell him that “Walter” was a regular, on going into the Tern hide he was there, standing on the Spit Island. I then scanned the lake and instantly found that there was a second great white egret standing with a group of little egret on the north shore. Swinging round I came upon a party of 6 brent geese, an unusual sight inland, these were all adults of the dark-bellied race. Despite a pretty good look there was no sign of the ferruginous duck though.

I had a guided bird walk in the morning so I was back in Tern hide by 09:45, still no sign of the duck, but the two great white egret were together. The new bird has no rings and is the same size as Walter, the second bird last winter was significantly smaller, so this new comer is a different one and also probably a male.

At the end of our walk I returned to the Tern hide and soon spotted a diving duck with white under-tail coverts, similar to a ferruginous duck, however it was the wrong shade of brown, however as we looked a second bird was seen and this was the real thing! The sun came out for a bit and although distant the rusty colour was clear as was the pale eye, smaller size and characteristic head-shape. There were also a few waders on the lake; 6 dunlin, a ringed plover, a green sandpiper and at least 3 common sandpiper. All in all quite a good range of species, it was a shame they were all on show the day after our Bird Trail!

Needless to say I have no pictures of any of these birds, so I will include a couple I took at the end of last week when I had a day off and went down to Pennington and Keyhaven Marshes. Both these are species I have pictured at Blashford, although in each case they were terrible pictures, these are hopefully a little better.

P1080428-002

Grey phalarope, a little closer than the bird on Ibsley Water!

spoonbill preening

Spoonbill, the only one I have ever seen at Blashford was almost 1 kilometre from the hide when I tried to get a picture! No such issues at Pennington on Friday though.

A Black and Grey Day

That is black as in the tern, as there was another juvenile black tern today and even better, grey as in grey phalarope!

grey phalarope

Grey phalarope, juvenile

Yet another in a proud line of “record shots” of wildlife at Blashford, my excuse is that it was a long way off and I have to say to is much better than my efforts the last time we had a phalarope at Blashford. Of course it should not be here, it has been blown in by the north-westerly gales and Ibsley Water was just the nearest thing to the open sea that it could find.

Despite the phalarope and black tern and a supporting caste of 2 ruff, 2 dunlin a ringed plover and Walter the great white egret my personal show-stopping wildlife spectacle of the day was actually the house martins. Thousands and thousands of them, I think at least 8000, possibly even more than 10,000 at the start of the day. They swarmed over the water like gnats with a 1000 or so swallow a few hundred sand martin and still a single swift.

I had an autumn moth event this morning, I was a little concerned we might have no moths to look at after yesterday’s paltry two moths, luckily it was not quite that bad. The highlight were 2 feathered gothic, the first of the year, others included snout, pinion-streaked snout, frosted orange, canary shouldered thorn, square spot rusticautumnal rustic and a few micro-moths.

feathered gothic

Feathered gothic, male

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.

before

The shore before we started

after

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.

 

It’s Good to have a Hobby

And even better to have two! Which is what we saw today hunting insects over Ivy Lake when we went to put out another of the tern rafts. These sickle-winged falcons winter south of the Sahara and fly north to breed along with their favourite prey, swallows and martins. Watching them swooping to catch flying insects is a fantastic experience, you can only marvel at their mastery of the air, one of the great sights of summer.

The tern rafts are gradually being deployed, so far the terns have looked interested but failed to occupy any of the rafts before they have been dominated by pairs of  black-headed gull. It is always a problem getting the timing right and this is why I deploy the rafts one or two at a time, at some point the terns must surely be ready to take control of one.

preparing the tern raft

Preparing a tern raft

There have been at least 30 common tern around regularly and they have been doing courtship flights and bringing food, so I think they should be ready to settle soon. So far there has been little sign of much tern passage, apart from a few beautiful black tern, the biggest group so far being 5 on Sunday afternoon. Little gull are usually birds of passage that stay at most a day or so , which makes the fine adult that has been frequenting  Ibsley Water for several days something of an exception. It was there again today, although I don’t think anyone saw the Bonaparte’s gull. Other birds have included a few dunlin and common sandpiper and last week a bar-tailed godwit.

Barwit

Bar-tailed godwit

In recent posts we have featured a number of pictures of lapwing chicks, sadly I don’t think any of them have survived. This season has been a good one for the number of pairs and in general hatching success has been quite good, but the chicks have been disappearing fast. I think a combination of dry weather and predators is the cause. Dry conditions mean the chicks get brought to the lakeshore to seek food, as all their favoured puddles are gone, unfortunately the shore is regularly patrolled by fox and other predators, as it regularly has washed up food in the shape of dead birds and fish. The foxes may not be actively seeking the chicks but they will not refuse one should they come across it. Sadly a similar lack of success is befalling the little ringed plover, but at least they will continue to try and may yet succeed before the summer is out.

LRP

Little ringed plover near Tern hide.

The cold winds are making moth trapping a slow business, with few species flying, although we have caught an eyed hawk-moth and a couple of poplar hawk-moth recently.

poplar hawk

Poplar hawk-moth

A Dry Spring

Lots of visitors are coming to the Tern hide at present, drawn in roughly equal measure by the Bonaparte’s gull and great views of the lapwing chicks. The gull was present on and off again yesterday as were 3 little gull (2 of them beautiful adults), up to 27 or more Mediterranean gull and at least a dozen common tern.

The two lapwing chicks in front of the hide are doing well and approaching two weeks old now, this is especially pleasing as they are only protected by their mother, dad having gone missing a while ago. She is driving off all comers, but especially redshank, common sandpiper and little ringed plover, not perhaps the greatest threats to her chicks.

lapwing chicks

lapwing chicks sheltering from a cool north wind.

So far lapwing are having a remarkable year and we have something like 20 pairs nesting with at least five already hatched. Of these three can be seen from Tern hide. The lake shore has the lure of water, where the chicks can find small insect prey, but it is not that safe as it is frequented by many predators. They would be better staying around puddles away from the shore, but the recent long bout of dry weather has meant almost all of them have dried out now, we could really do with some rain!

The good weather has been brilliant for early butterflies though; the reserve has had lots of orange-tip and large first broods of speckled wood and small copper.

small copper

small copper, one of many first brood ones seen this year.

As spring moves on we are now entering “Willow snow” season, when the woolly seeds of the willows are blown around and collect in drifts. It is these light-weight seeds that allow willows to colonise so well as they are carried long distances by the wind.

willow snow

willow seeds

Despite the dry weather there have been a few fungi around and I came across the one in the picture below growing on lichen heath on Sunday, I have failed to put a name to it though.

fungus

fungus on lichen heath

Recent days have seen a good range of birds around the reserve. Both garden warbler and common swift have arrived in numbers and there has been a good variety of migrants. On Sunday a fine male ruff was on Ibsley Water and other passage waders in the last few days have included whimbrel, greenshank, dunlin and common sandpiper.

The Cutting Crew

Recent visitors to the reserve may have noticed that there has been a lot of work going on in the area between the main car park and Goosander hide, where the concrete block plant used to be. We have been waiting for the site to be restored for some years as it will give us a path directly from the car park to Goosander hide and so a circular route around the reserve. It will also give us about 2ha of open ground potentially ideal for nesting lapwing and little ringed plover. It is not yet part of the reserve, but hopefully will be before too long and in anticipation of this we are working to make sure it can deliver as much as possible.

Today the Tuesday volunteers were cutting a huge bramble clump that covered the shore of the lake west of Goosander hide cutting the lake off from the open ground. The plan is for this bank to be grassland in the long run, although this is going to need a few years of hard work. Hopefully it will be good for both nesting lapwing and feeding wigeon. We got  a lot done today as the pictures below show.

before

before

As you can see, although I have labelled this “before” we have already done two days work in previous weeks.

after

after

The new banks that flank what will be the path from the main car park will be planted with willows and brambles to provide habitat for small birds and many of the open areas will have wildflower seed spread on them to provide nectar for insects.

When I opened up this morning it was noticeable that there were no swallows or martins over Ibsley Water. Scanning around I saw two of the three garganey and a group of small waders which proved to be 3 dunlin and a single little stint. Later we saw 5 pochard, the most I have seen in ages. Late in the day when I was locking up I again saw the great white egret on Ibsley Water along with all three garganey, a pair of Mandarin duck and an adult yellow-legged gull.