The Birds Just Keep Coming Back

As any regular readers of this blog will know Blashford Lakes has a lot of regular visitors, including “Walter” the great white egret which has been coming to the reserve since August 2003. In December 2014 a ring-billed gull was found on Ibsley Water, it returned again last winter and today it was back again for a third winter. You might say does not one gull look much like another? Well yes, but this one is on the small side for a ring-billed gull and has a distinct tertial crescent, which many do not show so well, so I think it is a fair bet that it is the same one returning.

It might seem a bit strange that these two birds, both a good way from home when they first arrived, should keep coming back. In fact many birds return to the same places year after year; if a place has served you well once it is likely to do so again, so coming back makes good sense.

Once again we have received a number of pictures of notable birds taken around the reserve. On several days recently a marsh harrier has been seen around Ibsley Water and yesterday it had a go at the Egyptian goose that has been on the long shingle spit for some time; it has a damaged wing and cannot fly.  Despite this it would seem a very large prey item for a marsh harrier and in fact the attack was unsuccessful.

imgp4887

Marsh Harrier trying to catch an Egyptian goose. (by Phil West)

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diving underwater to escape (by Phil West)

Eventually the commotion attracted a peregrine and the harrier gave up the chase.

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Marsh Harrier and peregrine (by Phil West)

Although it was not seen today I am pretty sure the bittern will still be somewhere in the reeds beside Ivy Lake, as snapped the other day.

img_8842

Bittern (by Lynda Miller)

Another bird that has been around for a few days, but does not always get seen in the water pipit which frequents the area in front of and to the east of Tern hide. Lorne, who sent the egret pictures featured in the last post sent in this great picture; water pipit are always difficult birds to photograph.

wpipitlb

water pipit (by Lorne Bissell)

Lorne is having a bit of a purple patch at Blashford just now also being the first one to spot the returning ring-billed gull today, despite it being at rather long range.

Elsewhere on the reserve today the firecrest was still doing circuits of the car park near the Centre and I heard at least 3 chiffchaff around Ivy lake. I normally think of this time of the year as one of the only times that I do not see chiffchaff on the reserve, typically passage goes on into late October and the wintering birds turn up in late November or early December, perhaps prolonged north-east winds brought them here early this year. Lastly Walter was once again roosting with the cormorants on Ivy Lake as I locked up the hides, after a night elsewhere.

Remember this Sunday sees the return of the Pop-up Café, a treat not to be missed if you are visiting.

 

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Blashford ltd and the goose with the goldeneye – Oh , and a great white egret

Isn’t digital photography wonderful!!

I’m old enough to remember when some of the first digital images were published, back in the 1960’s. At that time such technology was the preserve of ‘big science’ and military intelligence since it was used to get images back from space probes and satellites. Definitely one of those instances of necessity being the mother of invention because they couldn’t get photographic film back (and to the chemists!) from these remote vehicles. Also behind the original digitising camera it needed a computer the size of a car to process the data and produce the image

With the irrepressible march of technological progress and innovation these images have become more detailed and sharper over the years and now available to us all.  Having said all this though, its one of the features of wildlife (especially bird) photography that the target always seems to be far off and usually moving. Such was the situation today when the long-tailed duck on Ibsley water hove into view in  middle of the lake.  Winding my modest camera up to its full potential (72x zoom) and in less than bright conditions produced the slightly grainy, almost monochrome image, reminiscent of the quality of some of those early space-shot pictures.

long-tailed duck on Ibsley water

long-tailed duck on Ibsley water

Another benefit of computerised imaging is our ability to select and manipulate those parts of an image that  are of interest… so….

IMG_1601 ltd

image from above ‘cropped’ and ‘sharpened’

A little nearer than this, a group of three Egyptian geese were keeping close together but moving around from place to place on Ibsley water, occasionally coming close enough to picture.

Egyptian and Canada Geese - escapees from the goose fair??

Egyptian and Canada Geese – escapees from the goose fair??

Another advantage of this digital lark is that the concept of ‘wasted (and expensive) film’ no longer applies, so there is a tendency to run off lots of shots and sometimes this leads to unexpected and interesting juxtapositions as with this picture…..

Possible 'Bond movie' stars - The Goose with the Goldeneye.

Possible ‘Bond movie’ stars – The Goose with the Goldeneye.

Also on Ibsley water the colour ringed great white egret was showing well..

great white egret seen from Goosander Hide

great white egret seen from Goosander Hide

Back on Ivy lake kingfisher have been giving a good account of themselves, with several delighted visitors reporting excellent views from both hides overlooking the lake.

Somewhat un-seasonally a great spotted woodpecker has been ‘drumming’ in the area around the Woodland Hide.

My last posting of the year, so may I take this opportunity to wish all our readers a very Happy New Year!

 

The Sun and the Stars

I got to spend a Saturday at Blashford today, standing in for Jim who is now off on paternity leave. It was a very pleasant day and at times the sunshine was warm enough to tempt out a range of insects. I saw good numbers of speckled wood, several red admiral, of which this rather battered individual was one.

red admiral

red admiral

I also heard of someone seeing a peacock and I saw a clouded yellow flying south over Ibsley water. There were also still lots of common darter and a fair few migrant hawker dragonflies on the wing.

I walked the paths around the Ivy Lake hides with the leaf blower in the morning and could not help but notice the number of fungi all over the place. The earth stars continue to come up, with another new one opening.

earth star

earth star

It was one of a line of them each at different stages.

a constelation of earth stars

a constellation of earth stars

Later on I walked the northern part of the reserve an don the way along the Dockens Water path I heard a firecrest calling, I then came across a group of four “crests” chasing around the hollies, I only ever managed to get a good look at one at any time and it was a firecrest each time, but I cannot say for sure if I was looking at the same bird each time or a different one, so I still don’t know if there was more than one!

Up at the Lapwing hide, I looked for and failed to find the black-necked grebe, but did see 2 ruddy duck and rather a lot of Egyptian goose. The geese were already checking out the osprey platform as a nest site again.

Egyptian geese on osprey

Egyptian geese on osprey

One of the problems that Egyptian geese pose for native specie sis that they will start breeding very early in the year, perhaps in January and so occupy sites long before native species, often these are large tree holes and by taking them over so early they can displace birds such as barn owl for these sought after nest locations.

During my wanderings I came across many more fungi, I cannot identify most of them and even the ones I put a name to may well be wrong, but here are some pictures anyway.

Bolete - spongecap

Bolete – spongecap

parasol mushroom

parasol mushroom

amethyst deceiver

amethyst deceiver

My most unexpected sighting of the day was of 2 sand martin over Ibsley Water, I think my latest ever sighting of this species. I also saw a goldeneye, at least 374 greylag geese, a few goosander and 5 snipe.

At dusk the gull roost was quite large but not spectacularly so, I estimated about 3000 lesser black-backed gull, 2000 black-headed gull and a single adult Mediterranean gull. Earlier the regular adult yellow-legged gull was on the raft on Ivy Lake, it is almost certainly the same one that has been there each winter fro several years and it has a metal ring on the left leg, unfortunately it is too far away to ever be read.

A Few Sightings In Passing

I eventually ended up at Blashford this afternoon and so got to lock up the hides at the end of the day, obviously this was a selfless task and only incidentally allowed me to take a look around the reserve. In general things were pretty quiet apart from on Ibsley Water. There has been a huge growth of weed this summer, the most that I have ever seen and already there are a lot of coot, I suspect it could be a record autumn for them when the counting season starts in September. Less pleasing were the rather large numbers of Egyptian geese, including a large brood of late youngsters. This introduced species has not been much of an issue in the UK but is causing big problems on the near continent now with populations expanding very rapidly. Let’s hope they do not do the same thing here over the next few years.

There are a fair few large gulls about now and the motley gathering included one very neat juvenile yellow-legged gull, probably from the south of Europe, but just possibly more local as at least one pair have bred in Hampshire this year. The only other sighting of note was of at least 4 common sandpiper which were disturbed by a woodpigeon on the western shore of the lake.

 

Not an Osprey and a Bit of a Stink.

I was over at Blashford all day today and started with a walk out to the Goosander hide, it was a bit cold and there was light rain and perhaps this was why the sand martins seemed rather few. However on the way there I saw a patch of columbine near the path, this is a native plant, but these were garden escapes. In fact they are quiet common as escapes and are to be seen on roadsides all over the place. Unfortunately the garden forms are often doubles or pale colour varieties and they cross with wild plants diluting the “true” wild plant’s genes in the process.Columbine

In the same part of the reserve I was pleased to see that the seasonal ponds we put in a couple of years ago are holding water, admittedly with the weather we have had perhaps this is not a surprise, but still gratifying.

seasonal pond

seasonal pond

Up at the Lapwing hide I was impressed by the huge numbers of swift feeding over the lake, at least 550 by my estimate, forced to feed low over the water by the poor weather. If it continues they will delay or even fail to breed, so I hope things improve soon. I also saw the Egyptian geese that have taken up residence on the osprey pole, the male was stood up and while the female was sitting out of sight.

not an osprey!

not an osprey!

I was working in the office pretty much all day, but I did get out around lunchtime and found lots of damselflies resting up on the foliage.

damselfly head on

damselfly head on

I also caught the distinctive whiff of a stinkhorn fungus and quickly found two, of which this was the best.

stinkhorn

stinkhorn

The smell attracts insects, mainly flies, but in this case also a small click beetle.

small click beetle on stinkhorn

small click beetle on stinkhorn

I then realised there was something odd about the fly that at first I thought just was resting there.

stinkhorn with fly

stinkhorn with fly

It was dead and seemed to have been overwhelmed by some sort of fungus.

dead fly on stinkhorn

dead fly on stinkhorn

Of Moths and Men(& Women) visitors

For the first time in a while I’ve just spent two consecutive days on duty here and they couldn’t have been more different.

Yesterday was fairly busy, the pleasant weather and sunshine enticed several tens of visitors, including a couple of organised group visits. Today, however, the promising start soon deteriorated and only a minority of the stalwarts stayed on much after lunch time.

Bird wise there have been the ‘usual suspects’, although the two mealy redpoll have been elusive and its looking increasingly likely that the great white egret has flown to pastures new (France?). The red-crested pochard is still hanging around and at least one black-necked grebe was on show from Lapwing Hide. One of our regular watchers reported, yesterday, that the osprey platform was being investigated as a possible nest site. Unfortunately the putative nest builders were a couple of Egyptian geese – so not such good news!!!

Today’s ‘best bird’ was a firecrest, spotted by Bob Chapman, in hanging ivy near the woodland hide.

Two different observers reported a strange continuous  ‘trilling’/ ‘warbling’ sound from low down in reed beds close to the Lapwing Hide. Trying to attribute this sound to any likely bird species proved impossible, but the suggestion it might be a frog species (Bull frog??) seemed to fit, but, as Patrick Moore used to say, ‘we just don’t know’.

The mild conditions and predicted overnight dry spell, encouraged me to put the light trap on for its first outing this year. Not surprisingly for the time of year there wasn’t a massive number of moths, only seven in total.

I’ll leave you with a few pictures of the moths…

P1470558 Oak beauty

P1470521 March Moth P1470551 hebrew Character P1470563 Chestnut

From top to bottom these are Oak Beauty, the rather seasonally named March Moth, Hebrew Character and Chestnut.

Words and Birds

Hello again.  It’s been a while (three weeks) since I posted on this blog, having been away and then, last week, after spending a time trimming back seed heads from buddleia to prevent them overrunning the reserve, and afterwards not feeling inspired enough to write anything.  I was berated, earlier this week,  by one of our regular volunteers and reader of the blog (you know who you are!!!) for not writing anything last Sunday, so I thought I’d better make an effort today.  Those of you who do any writing will probably recognise the problems of either  not feeling they have anything to say and/or struggling to find the words.     Along those lines,  I remember the tale of one professional writer who couldn’t think of a particular word for two weeks – but then it suddenly came to him….’fortnight’!!!

Having said all this, I guess most of you will want to read some news from Blashford, so here goes.

The bittern(s) is still in being seen regularly from Ivy South Hide, but has also been viewed, in its more usual habitat, in the reed beds outside Ivy North Hide. Whilst closing the reserve last Sunday,  I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this bird in the left hand side of the reeds, far off to the right side of the Ivy North Hide. As no one else has posted any pictures of this bird yet, I’ll start with this rather poor, distant image, taken in low light conditions ( getting all my excuses in first!!)  as evidence that the bird is here. P1460717 bittern Recent addition to the avifauna n the form of a ferruginous duck reported yesterday from Ivy South Hide. Otherwise the red-crested pochard is still around as are good numbers of many of the other ducks such as  mallard, shoveller, gadwall, wigeon, teal, pochard, goldeneye and tufted duck. A few green sandpiper  are scattered around the margins of the lakes.

For the gull fans (I know there are a few of you out there) up to nine yellow-legged gulls were seen coming in to roost on Ibsley Water yesterday.  Roost time can also produce increased numbers of goosander as they fly in from the Avon Valley to spend the night here.  Also in residence in and on the water, in roughly decreasing size order, we have mute swan, Canada goose, greylag goose, Egyptian goose, great-crested grebe, lapwing, coot, moorhen and little grebe. 

The alders are providing enough food to keep a regular flock of siskin in and around the Woodland Hide area.  This abundance of natural food means that many of the  winter visitors to our seed feeders haven’t yet put in much of an appearance although some lesser redpoll have been reported.  otherwise the usual collection of tit species including marsh tit as well as nuthatch and treecreeper are being seen from the Woodland Hide.  A water rail was seen, by some lucky visitors,  feeding on a fish (the rail feeding, not the visitor!), just outside the Ivy South Hide for about twenty minutes in the mid-afternoon.

A party from an RSPB local group have chosen Blashford for a day trip. One of the party reported seeing a large bird of prey flying low over the heath and going into the trees, from the description one of ‘our’ buzzards.

To finish here is a picture of what must be one of but maybe not the last ‘summer’ flowers to be seen on the reserve

red campion

red campion

Oranges and Lemons

After a three week break of duty, it made a pleasant change to be opening up the reserve and be greeted by a common sandpiper immediately outside the Tern Hide.  Ibsley Water bore  its usual compliment of waterfowl. Mute swans were much in evidence, not only as their physical presence, but from the large scale scattering of innumerable moulted white feathers floating across the lake.  Duck numbers are building up with representatives of several species including gadwall, tufted duck, wigeon,  mallard and shoveler. As usual at this time of year it can be quite difficult to sort many of them out as the usually distinctive drakes have moulted into a somewhat drab ‘eclipse’ plumage, similar to the females.  This is thought to be a survival mechanism, making them less conspicuous whilst they moult their flight feathers. Large numbers of lapwing are now making use of the shingle spit to the east of the tern hide and are accompanied by several (we counted fourteen) Egyptian geese.

Although we are still experiencing warm weather the numbers of insects have dropped dramatically since I was last here. A male Southern Hawker dragonfly was periodically patrolling the pond behind the Education Centre, but only a few large white butterflies and a red admiral were much in evidence.

The moth trap hasn’t been set out  much lately, but Jim kindly put it on for us last night.  Our reward was some seventeen species of moth, but the downside was  a fairly large number of wasps – sorry don’t know what species – plus a couple of LARGE hornets, which made emptying the trap somewhat challenging…

A rather sleepy hornet .

A rather sleepy hornet .

Other ‘interlopers’ were this rather nice shield bug,

Shieldbug

Shield bug

and a number of what , with their smooth outlines, look to me like water beetles

Water beetle?

Water beetle?

Not many of the moths were, to be frank, that dramatic or spectacular, although the rather ‘dead leaf’ looking angle shades is always good value

Angle shades

Angle shades

and also in among them this Frosted Orange

Frosted Orange

Frosted Orange

and a number of species with a distinct yellow (lemon?) hue, including this Canary-shouldered Thorn..

Canary-shouldered Thorn

Canary-shouldered Thorn

I scream Sunday

The first Sunday of the month and as Ed couldn’t be here, it fell to me to run the conservation volunteers bash.  Today we attacked the encroaching vegetation along the footpath between the small car-park and the equipment storage area. Its one of those areas where gradually growing willow, sedge and brambles have narrowed the width of the path and made it quite narrow. Thanks to all who turned up we now have a much easier route through.

There were a number of ‘seasonal’ bird sightings today.

When  opening up there were three pied wagtail, an adult and two youngsters, perched up on the Tern Hide.  I went  back to the car for my camera, but they flew before I could capture the scene.  Fortunately, however, my trip wasn’t wasted as I managed to snap a couple of young Egyptian geese on the shore outside the hide.

Young Egyptian geese

Young Egyptian geese

Kingfishers are nearly always seen more frequently at this time of year. Although the suitable habitat for breeding on the reserve is only really along the Dockens Water, or further afield in the Avon valley, at this time of year young birds are dispersing – or being dispersed by their parents who are driving them off – and so turn up in some number on the lakes.  Today there were a number of reports from visitors of kingfisher seen from Ivy North and South Hides.

Sometime later at least one visitor saw an osprey over Ibsley water and common sandpiper were regularly patrolling along the shore in front of the Tern hide.

common sandpiper - note the white 'shoulder-stripe' which is characteristic of this species, not seen on other sandpipers

common sandpiper – note the white ‘shoulder-stripe’ which is characteristic of this species, not seen on other sandpipers

It’s also that time of year when the spider population in the hides builds up. I know quite a few people who don’t find this a pleasing aspect of birdwatching and they can provoke an almost hysterical response if they drop from the roof. Personally I don’t mind them, some of them are beautifully marked, but I appreciate there not to everyone’s taste. Those with arachnophobia should look way now.

Spider in Tern Hide

Spider in Tern Hide

The now almost regular highlight of this time of year is the arrival of the great white egret and there were at least half a dozen visitors today who were looking for this bird.  There were several reports  from both Ivy North and South hides and I was lucky enough to capture this image late in the day.

Great whit egret from Ivy North Hide

Great white egret from Ivy North Hide

Slightly unusually when it came to the time I was closing the Tern Hide, several mute swans were busy preening just off shore. It’s the time of year when considerable numbers of these beautiful birds spend time with us as they moult their feathers, as witnessed by large quantities of feathers floating on the lakes and distributed around the shore.

P1450302_Mute Swan

Mute swan outside Tern hide

Hidden Wonders

Bird News: Ibsley Watersand martin 5+, black-necked grebe 1, redshank 2. Ivy Lakebittern 1, Egyptian goose 4, goldeneye 1. Woodlandbrambling 1.

Yet again I could hardly see half way up Ibsley Water as I opened up, but through the mist I saw at least 5 sand martin, but I have no doubt there were more as I could only see them when they were low over the water. I also found a black-necked grebe, looking very good in pretty well full summer plumage. There was still no sign of any little ringed plover, although pairs of oystercatcher and redshank were looking settled and several male lapwing have taken up station on potential territories.

On Ivy Lake today a bittern was seen briefly in flight for the third day running. There has been a noisy pair of Egyptian geese prospecting nest sites around the lake for a while now and today a second pair appeared and violent fights ensued, I think they have the potential to become a real nuisance.

All I saw at the Woodland hide was a good number of lesser redpoll, although I saw the male brambling several times via the camera link on the TV in the Centre and I note in the log book that a female was seen yesterday as well.

It got very pleasant in the afternoon once the sun came out and I spent a while moving the logs from the diseased alders we felled a while ago. It is a very light wood once it dries and so is ideal for various uses in the education areas, even the smallest mini-beast hunter can roll an alder log without too much effort. In fact I came across a good range of invertebrates as I was moving the large logs so that I can cut them to size, most impressive was a splendid yellow leopard slug.

leopard slug in yellow

Leopard slugs do not usually come in yellow, their normal colour range is shades of grey, so this one was rather a surprise, it was also well patterned.

Leopard slug, close up of head and mantle

There were also several snails including the one below, I have tried looking it up and found a possible identity, but it would be a guess so I have opted for caution and left it unidentified, unless someone out there can put a name to it..

snail

Of course there were lots of worms, woodlice and several beetles that would not stay still long enough for a picture, the same was true of most of the millipedes, apart from one which was in curled up mode, the legs look almost like a feather-like and the whole effect is reminiscent of an ammonite, at least to me.

millipede curled up.

In their own way each of these mini-beasts is quite stunning, the finger print-like pattern on the mantle of the slug, the ultra glassy shine on the snail-shell and the three dimensional study in arcs and circles that is the millipede, each one repays a second and a third really good look.