Wildlife encounters of the furlough kind

I returned to work on Sunday after eight weeks away from Blashford (it is so green now!) and six weeks on furlough along with around 40% of my Trust colleagues, most of whom are still off. Whilst I’m back to help Bob with the reserve tasks he cannot do by himself and engage with visitors on site from a safe distance, following on from the easing of restrictions last week, we are still closed whilst we look at what we can safely offer in the coming weeks and months. We will keep you updated as and when things begin to change!

A Blashford blog will follow shortly, but I thought I would share what I have been getting up to whilst off.

Spending so much time at home meant I was able to discover what wildlife visits my garden, a bit of a distraction whilst I was supposed to still be working, but it was really nice to be there during the day and have more time to appreciate my outside space. My garden is only small, with two patio areas which contain a number of plants in pots and a lawn which has struggled as a lawn and now has a few flowers planted into the patchier bits as I slowly tun it into a much wilder space. I have lived there for a couple of years, and this year the garden really seems to have come to life with birds and insects, which has been really nice to see.

Whilst at home I had blue tits, wood pigeons, dunnocks and blackbirds frequently visiting the garden along with a wren, great tits and a goldfinch. I have a willow bird table and the blackbirds seem to really like this, launching themselves onto it from the hedge and swinging around whilst they fed.

I have two hedges in the garden and this year the blackbirds successfully nested in one (I did a fair amount of cat chasing whilst off, if they have another brood they’re on their own!) which was lovely to watch. I saw four fledglings at the same time, two sunning themselves in one hedge and two in the other and both adults worked really hard to feed them with the male bringing back huge beak fulls, including a garden centipede in the photo below:

Blackbird 2

Male blackbird with a beak full

They fledged last Thursday so I was able to enjoy their company for a few days, with one of the young staying in the garden until Sunday morning. It was very amusing to see it sat swinging on the bird table calling mum for food.

I had written a rather long list of things to do to keep me busy, and one of those things was to dig a pond. Digging a pond was definitely more exciting than decorating the bathroom, re-pointing some dodgy brickwork to hopefully solve a damp issue in the kitchen and damp proofing and repainting the kitchen wall, so it was one of the first things I did and it’s been really nice to see it change over just a few weeks. The less exciting jobs were left until last week when I knew I was returning to work…

The photos below show the garden before and after, then the pond full of mud as the female blackbird decided the moss I had placed round the edge would make really nice nest building material (she had ignored it the entire time it was elsewhere in the garden) and later on with some plant additions (all native) I had been able to order online.

Whilst digging the pond I unearthed the snake millipede below, along with centipedes that were too fast for a photo, and the stones placed around the edge quickly became resting spots for hoverflies:

The blackbirds had been using a bucket of water with some willow sticks in to drink from and bathe in, but they now both use the pond which is really nice to watch. The female didn’t mind me being around at all but the male was a lot more wary of me to begin with and would fly off even if I was watching from the window, but now he is quite happy for me to be out in the garden whilst he’s there feeding.

As well as the birds it was great to see which insects were visiting the flowers and which flowers were growing really well, the ragged robin in particular has seeded so well from one plant in a pot last year I was able to plant it out in different places in the grass.

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I live on the edge of Salisbury so on my daily walks I walked my dog from home to either a little stretch of the River Bourne in Laverstock or up to the Laverstock Downs, enjoying the fact there were fewer cars on the road.

These photos were taken in the little patch of woodland down by the river:

I had hoped to see some bluebells on my wanders but sadly all those I did see were garden escapees.

I spent a lot more time up on the Downs as although they were further to walk to, it was much easier to practice social distancing up here than it was down by the river which tended to be busier with people and had a stretch of boardwalk to contend with.

It was a great spot for bird watching and I had some brilliant views of both blackcap and common whitethroat, especially early spring when the whitethroats were displaying and establishing territories.

I managed a total of 47 bird species whilst off, either in my garden, flying over my garden or on my daily walks: blackbird, blue tit, dunnock, wren, great tit, wood pigeon, collared dove, jackdaw, starling, long-tailed tit, yellowhammer, carrion crow, buzzard, pheasant, song thrush, chaffinch, chiffchaff, red kite, blackcap, common whitethroat, swallow, linnet, goldfinch, red-legged partridge, little egret, mallard, shoveler, kingfisher, magpie, skylark, great spotted woodpecker, robin, Canada goose, mute swan, raven, sparrowhawk, rook, bullfinch, house sparrow, Cetti’s warbler, grey heron, moorhen, mistle thrush, swift, house martin, peregrine falcon and mandarin duck. They were quite a good mix!

The Downs were also a great spot for butterflies, with orange tips, brimstones, small tortoiseshells, green-veined whites, small heaths, peacocks and dingy skippers all on the wing. I also found lots of green-veined orchids and other flowers on the chalk grassland.

The most exciting spot though was probably to see glow worm larvae on three separate occasions, so I must go up there over the summer in search of glow worms.

Glow worm larvae

Glow worm larvae

I was very lucky to have my garden to enjoy and also have some lovely spaces within walking distance to explore (it was also quite nice to use my car less!), so I had plenty of nature to keep me company during the pandemic, whilst a list of house and craft projects also kept me busy. I might be heading back up to the Downs at the weekend…

Shovelling silt

On Sunday our Young Naturalists were treated to the lovely task of clearing all the silt, mud and other debris from the main car park by Tern Hide, following the recent flooding, a task they got stuck into and I think quite enjoyed!

Car park

Before

I think the thing they enjoyed the most, was trying to sweep the water lengthways down the puddle then through the outflow pipe…

Playing aside, they did scrape off a lot and Bob was very impressed by their efforts.

After lunch they then had a go at pewter smelting, as we had all the kit to hand and they hadn’t tried it before. They used the play-dough to make a mould before melting the pewter shot over the fire and carefully pouring it into the mould.

Their finished items looked great, we will have to do it again:

Pewter smelting by Izzy Fry 2

Pewter pine cone and mould by Izzy Fry

Cast items

Finished items – alder cones, shells, pine cones and acorns

After the session Izzy went to the Woodland Hide to see what she could spot and sent in these brilliant photos:

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Thanks Izzy for sharing!

Our Young Naturalists group is funded by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

Laying around

Another busy day with lots of visitors, a volunteer work party and the Pop-up cafe. The bittern performed from time to time at Ivy North hide, including at dusk as I went to lock up. A water rail there was seen to catch and eat a small fish, which surprised some watching, in fact water rail are not fussy eaters and will happily eat vegetation, seed, and animal matter alive and dead. I have seen them eat fish and even small birds and they are a well known hazard when ringing birds in a reedbed, as they will try to pick birds from the nets given half a chance.

The volunteers worked laying another section of the hedge alongside the A338 on the western side of Ellingham Drove. This hedge was planted in 2005/06 winter and is being laid to thicken it up and make it more useful for wildlife and as a visual screen for the road.

hedge before laying

The hedge plants before work began

After the hedge laying you can see it is already much denser even though some of the side branches have been removed.

hedge after laying

hedge after laying

Those of you that are familiar with the traditional craft of hedge laying will immediately notice that this is not a craftsman’s job. The traditional craft produced a barrier that would keep livestock in before the days of barbed wire, it had a woven line of rods on top between stakes and much more of the twigs and branches were removed. This art is still practised and there are regular competitions, to make a good traditional hedge in this way takes great skill. However we are just trying to thicken up the hedge and retain as much of the potential for flowering and fruiting next year and for this purpose some reduction in the branches and a partial cut to lay the stem over will suffice.

Such hedges make good nesting places for many of our common birds like robin, dunnock and blackbird.

blackbird male

adult male blackbird at Woodland hide

This hedge is almost entirely made up of hawthorn, but we are trying to diversify it by adding extra species. One that we could add is hazel, normally we would plant these in the winter when the plants are dormant, but looking at the hazel around the reserve today they are anything but dormant.

hazel catkins

hazel catkins

The catkins are the familiar flowers of the hazel, but these just the male flowers which open to scatter their pollen, the female flowers are much smaller and easily overlooked. Each hazel will have flowers of both sexes, the catkins on the ends of the twigs and the female flowers a little further down.

hazel flower female

the female hazel flower

Although winter is natures “downtime” it is not so for all species and on the outside of the Education Centre door this morning there was a male winter moth.

winter moth

Winter moth (male)

When moth trapping you always catch many more males than females, probably because they fly around more seeking females, however in the case of the winter moth you will only ever catch males as the females are wingless. The larvae to these moths eat oak leaves are the main food collected by blue and great tit when feeding their young, one of the possible effects of climate change could be a disconnect between the timing of peak caterpillar numbers and hungry chicks. Only time and project s such as the one undertaken by Brenda at Blashford (see the last post) will show if this becomes a real problem for the birds.

I was trying out a new camera today, a replacement for my one that packed up the other day, it is a “bridge camera”, not something I have used before so I was keen to see what it could do. The light was not good today, but it seems as though it will be useful. I tried a range of pictures, standard shots a sat the top of the page, some macro and finally some using the full magnification, although not a great shot I quiet liked the one below of a group of pintail.

three pairs of pintail

three pairs of pintail up ending

Hopefully we will get some better light and I will get the chance to put it through its paces rather more fully.

Chick time!

We’ve had lots of fab photos emailed in over the past few days, thank you to everyone who’s taken the time to share them with us! Especially popular are the lapwing chicks which have been showing very nicely in front of Tern Hide.

Lapwing chick by Sarah Moss

Lapwing chick by Sarah Moss

Lapwing with chick by Sue Marshall

Lapwing by Sarah Moss

Lapwing by Sarah Moss

The chicks have amazing camouflage in amongst the gravel shore line and definitely tick all the right boxes on the cute and fluffy front!

Thanks also to Sue Marshall for emailing across some of the other slightly less cute and fluffy but still very lovely to look at birds on the reserve:

Wren Blashford NR

Wren by Sue Marshall

Chiffchaff Blashford NR

Chiffchaff by Sue Marshall

 

Blackcap Blashford NR

Blackcap by Sue Marshall

Dunnock Blashford NR

Dunnock by Sue Marshall

Wrens Blashford NR

Wrens by Sue Marshall

Do keep them coming! If you’re happy for us to pop them on the blog and use them within the Trust please do say when you email them in and please do let us know who we need to credit when we use them.

The cute and fluffier the better…

Just a few Birds

I know Ed’s been really busy and hasn’t had the opportunity lately to post much in the way of pictures from the Reserve so I’ll share a few images of some of our more common species, taken last Wednesday and today.

The long view from the Tern Hide to the far side of Ibsley Water was distinctly autumnal

Across the water from the Tern Hide

Across the water from the Tern Hide

A few of the ‘regular’ birds using the feeders around the Woodland Hide were considerate enough to perch up on the nearby branches before dashing in to take a few seeds.

Male chaffinch

Male chaffinch

Female chaffinch

Female chaffinch

Greenfinch

Greenfinch

Collared Dove - normally a bird of more open areas, these have adapted their behaviour to the woodland area and taken to raiding the seed feeders.

Collared Dove – normally a bird of more open (park and garden) areas, but at Blashford they have adapted their behaviour to the woodland area and taken to raiding the seed feeders.

and a seasonal favourite…………..

A Blashford Christmas robin ?

A Blashford Christmas robin ?

Although most of the tit family only lingered long enough on the feeder for me to take their picture

Great tit

Great tit

Among the other birds seen around the woodlands are wren, nuthatch, blue and coal tits, siskin, dunnock, goldcrest and chiffchaff.  On the water there are increasing numbers of duck of several species including gadwall, mallard, tufted duck, teal, wigeon, shoveler, pochard, goldeneye and goosander, as well as the now regular long-tailed duck.  Great crested, little and black-necked grebe are all present on Ibsley water. Here also the early evening spectacle of large numbers of lesser black-backed, herring and black-headed gull  together with smaller numbers of great black-backed, common and yellow-legged gull coming to roost continues to attract birdwatchers. The starling murmuration has lost some of its previous  splendour with reduced numbers and more distant view, but on clear days, like today, can still be quite impressive.

On Ivy Lake at least two bittern have been seen and a couple of water rail were scrapping, chasing one another around outside the Ivy North Hide earlier today.

Visitors often ask where they might see particular birds around the reserve. In my experience the species most often sought is kingfisher, but I usually have to resort to rather vague advice of looking from one or other hide where a bird has been reported (but not personally seen by me!!). So it was gratifying to be privy to views of these birds perched openly and close(ish) to the Ivy North Hide, even allowing me to capture some half-decent images.

Kingfisher in reedbeds to right of Ivy North Hide

Kingfisher in reedbeds to left of Ivy North Hide

In branches to left of Ivy North Hide

In branches to left of Ivy North Hide

 

 

 

Black, Blue and Violet

Heard my first blackcap of the year today. It was just ‘tuning-up’ its song, so a bit scratchy, whilst flitting through the trees near the Ivy North Hide and fortunately as there is very little leaf cover at the moment, I  managed to see it quite well.  Not the only warbler around, there are now plenty of chiffchaff singing all around, with lots of other song from, among others, great tit, dunnock, chaffinch, blackbird and song thrush.

A colourful  sighting was a group of teal, loafing on the island to the left of the Ivy North Hide. they seemed to be taking advantage of the early sun to warm them up.  I believe there is a colour referred to in the rag trade called ‘teal green’. I’ve never been clear whether this refers to the green on the head plumage or the green patch, speculum, in the wings. In the case of theses particular birds the normal green on the head was replaced with a purple-blue colour

Teal with the 'blues'

Teal with the ‘blues’

It’s a phenomenon caused by the interference of light that produces the normal green colour. Probably, many people may have seen on mallard, where the usual green colour appears to turn  blue, but I’d never noticed it quite as strikingly on teal before.

Its the time of year when we should be expecting some more colour in our hedgerows, so I was delighted to see some violets in flower alongside the path to Ivy South Hide.

First violets

First violets