Wet and Wild

I think that about sums up the conditions at present, the rain seems to have been fairly continuous since September! The lakes have gone from almost the lowest I can remember to as high as I have ever seen.

flooded boardwalk

Flooding under the boardwalk south of Ivy South Hide

The flooding has been widespread and the Avon Valley is awash, this encourages wildfowl to come up from the coast to feed on the flooded fields. They mainly feed there at night spending the day on the lakes, but as they, which is why there are over 340 pintail regularly on Ibsley Water just now and today I counted 1470 wigeon on Ivy Lake alone!

The floods mean the gull roost has declined as many are now roosting in the valley rather than on Ibsley Water. But this does not mean there is no roost spectacle to be seen as there is a large starling roost just to the north which is best seen from the viewpoint at the rear of the Main Car Park. Although this at some distance from the roost it does give a full view of the whole gyrating flock once a real murmuration gets going as it frequently has with two or more peregrine trying to catch a late meal most evenings.

starlings 2

Starlings

starlings 1

More starlings

It is very difficult to guess at numbers, but I would say there are at least 25000.

The high water levels have meant we have seen very few snipe this winter, I think they have all gone off into the valley, although I did spot one the other morning from tern Hide.

snipe

common snipe, more or less hiding

The most regular wader this winter has been the unseasonal common sandpiper, these usually migrate well to the south for the winter and the few that do stay in the UK are almost all on the coast. It was around daily until around the New Year when it disappeared, I thought the chancy strategy of wintering so far north had caught up with it, but on Sunday it reappeared on the shore outside Tern Hide again.

common sandpiper

common sandpiper

A less welcome sight outside the same hide, and all along the southern shore were two dogs, it seems they stray from a garden nearly a mile away, bad for wildlife and a real risk to the dogs as they cross or run down the road on their way here.

dogs!

Dogs!

We also had an incident of people on the reserve with dogs in circumstances suggestive of attempted poaching, luckily they were seen by an eagle-eyed visitor and reported to us. If you are visiting and see anything that seems untoward, please let us know, if possible at the time, our numbers are posted in the hides. Whilst the reserve is well respected by almost everyone and this is key to its success there is always the chance that the actions of a few can spoil things for the many.

As you may know the reserve is dog-free apart from the public footpaths, so on most of the reserve the wildlife does not associate people with dogs. One consequence of this is that the roe deer are relatively approachable, often just spotting to look at you before wandering off rather than racing away in panic.

roe deer

Three roe on the path to Ivy North Hide on a gloomy morning

As we passed into 2020 I had to admit that we seem to have no bittern for the year-listers this winter as last autumn’s bird has not been seen for some time. We do still have Europe’s oldest great white egret though, “Walter” has made it into 2020 and now has just about four and a half months to his 17th birthday.

Walter

Walter, and gull – again in the gloom, the light has mostly been terrible for taking pictures!

Even though it has felt like it has rarely stopped raining and right now it is blowing a gale outside there has been some respite and even a bit of sunshine, as when this rainbow appeared over Ibsley Water on Sunday, when we were also visited by the ferruginous duck on a brief foray away from its hiding place on Kingfisher Lake.

rainbow over Ibsley Water

rainbow over Ibsley Water

 

A Marvellous Day

The first Sunday of the month is volunteer task day and this morning we were continuing work on the path between Goosander and Lapwing hide. The path is being trimmed back and the gravel surface cleaned of grass and other growth,. In addition we are opening up sheltered clearings along the path to increase interest. At one point we are making a solitary bee nesting bank, it is always worth making use of suitable ground for these kind of features which can be quiet rare.

Out on the reserve there were lots of visitors enjoying the cool sunshine. There were birds to see to, especially from Goosander hide where the feeding frenzy is still in full swing. There were 50 or more grey heron, several little egret, both great white egret and lots of cormorant, with gulls and grebes there to mop up the small fry.

The ferrunginous duck seems to have departed, probably for Kingfisher Lake and the wood sandpiper also appears to have left after a rather long stay. There was still a common sandpiper and at least 2 green sandpiper though and a rather unexpected redshank, not a bird we see much other than in spring and summer at Blashford.

Elsewhere there were 2 pintail on Ivy Lake along with 6 wigeon and I saw at least 300 coot on Rockford Lake. In the willows around the reserve there were good numbers of chiffchaff, but no other small migrants that I could locate. A few swallow were passing through, including at least one rather late adult, most at this time are juveniles. First thing this morning there were 60 or so house martin over Ibsley Water although I saw none later in the day.

Locking up there was a considerable gull roost developing and I noticed that there were a lot of very dark backed individuals amongst the lesser black-backed gull flock, a much higher percentage than we see in the winter, an indication of birds from further north and east in Europe passing through.

The sunshine brought out a few butterflies and I saw a good few speckled wood and several small copper around the reserve. The cool night was not the best for moths but the trap did contain one of my favourite species, a merveille du jour.

Merveille du Jour

merveille du jour

Other moths were red-line Quaker, large yellow underwing, lunar underwing, beaded chestnut, black rustic and deep-brown dart.

 

Reports and a Bit of Garden Wildlife

5th October reports from Blashford showed that all the main player are still present. On Ibsley Water the ferruginous duck was still around the north end of the Long Spit visible from either or both of Tern  and Goosander hides. The wood sandpiper seems to have relocated to the shore near Lapwing hide, with both common and green sandpipers also still present to “complete the set”. A few wigeon and a single pintail are mingling with the wildfowl and it is worth checking for the occasionally reported juvenile garganey. Both great white egret and several little egret were also about.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Little egret with both great white egrets and “Walters” rings clearly showing – photographed yesterday from Goosander Hide and emailed in by Christine Whiffen.

Over on Ivy Lake the bittern was seen on the edge of the reeds near Ivy North hide, viewed from the screen along the path between Ivy Lake and Rockford Lake.

I was not at Blashford myself so my wildlife sightings were restricted to my garden and especially the moth trap, a mild, calm, damp night resulted in a good catch of autumnal species.

angle shades

angle shades

The angle shades is perhaps the moth most adapted to hiding in piles of dead leaves and a species that can be seen as an adult all through the year.

dark sword-grass

dark sword-grass

The dark sword-grass is a migrant and although they can turn up at almost anytime, they are mush more frequent in autumn.

deep-brown dart

deep-brown dart

Whilst some autumn moths are yellow to hide in autumn leaves, others just go down the very dull and unobtrusive route, the deep-brown dart is one such species.

feathered ranunculus

feathered ranunculus

Feathered ranunculus is an autumn species that lives mainly around the coasts on cliffs. It colonised the mainland coast of Hampshire in the late 1970s. I remember this well as I was working at Titchfield Haven at the time and caught a number of them, indicating that there were established on the mainland and not just wandering from the Isle of Wight.

southern chestnut

southern chestnut

The southern chestnut was first discovered in Britain in 1990 in Sussex. At the time it was considered that it had previously been overlooked, this may be so, but what is certain is that it has increased greatly since and is now quiet frequent across the New Forest heaths and in similar habitat elsewhere in southern England.

Other species in the trap included large yellow underwing, lesser yellow underwing, lunar underwing, willow beauty, shuttle-shaped dart, black rustic, turnip, sallow, pine carpet, spruce carpet, cypress carpet, square-spot rustic and broad-bordered yellow underwing.

I have recently found a new species in my garden, a most unusual plant, called yellow dodder. The dodders are parasitic plants that have roots only as small seedlings and once their tendrils have found a host the tap into the plant to gain all their nutrients and do away with their own roots. There are native species of dodder that can be seen on gorse and heather plants, especially in the New Forest, yellow dodder is not a native and comes from the Americas, almost certainly with bird seed and most likely in nyger seed and this plant was climbing up a self-seeded nyger plant, supporting this idea.

yellow dodder on nyger plant

yellow dodder on nyger plant

Paths to Wildlife

A busy few days, either working with the volunteers or on a chainsaw course has meant that I have not really had time to look around the reserve or hear many reports from those that have. As it happens it seems there has been little change, the ferruginous duck is still present and frequenting the group of sticks at the end of Long Spit in Ibsley Water and when not there on the long Spit itself, although often only visible from Goosander hide. The wood sandpiper is also still around, although now often on the eastern shore of the lake between Goosander and Lapwing hides. There are still 2 green sandpiper a common sandpiper and a dozen or so wigeon and both great white egret remain. The only new bird that I was aware of today was a single black-tailed godwit on the western shore of Ibsley Water.

With the volunteers were have been cutting the shore west of Goosander hide and the site of the former concrete block works to keep the habitat suitable for nesting lapwing next spring. We have also been working on the paths between Goosander and Lapwing hides. In all we have something like 8 kilometres of paths on the reserve and keeping them in a reasonable state takes quiet a bit of time and effort. We also like to try to keep them interesting, not just routes from A to B, but ones on which you might come across things of interest. Today we were clearing the paths, but also opening up the edges to provide sheltered clearings and making a sand bank for solitary bees to nest.

I am keen to try and get the management of the reserve to always be maximising the opportunities for all kinds of wildlife, both because this makes it a more interesting place  to visit and because our beleaguered wildlife needs all the opportunities it can get.

 

 

Comings and Goings

It finally seems as though the grey phalarope has left us, I am  surprised that it has not gone before now, the nights have been fine and apparently idea for flying. The wood sandpiper remains though and turns up fairly regularly in front of the Tern hide giving very good views. They are one of the most attractive of all waders and this one has proved very popular with our photographers.

wood sandpiper

wood sandpiper, juvenile in front of Tern hide this afternoon

The phalarope may have left but Ibsley Water was playing host to a new scarcity today, perhaps not entirely unexpected but still good to see, the drake ferruginous duck has returned. At least it seems safe to assume that it is the same bird that has been coming since October 2010. It usually arrives in late September and is often on Ibsley Water for a day or two before going to the, difficult to see, Kingfisher Lake. I have no idea why it does not go straight to Kingfisher Lake or why it stays there so determinedly once it does get there.

In other news today the, or perhaps a, bittern was photographed flying across Ivy Lake again, I assume the same as in early September but who knows. As I was talking to a contractor outside the Education Centre I thought I heard the call of a white-fronted goose, I discounted this as a mishearing but then saw a small long-winged goose fly over, so I am pretty sure it was actually a white-fronted goose, but where it had come from or where it was going in anybody’s guess.

The moth trap is still attracting a fair few species, although nothing out of the ordinary, today’s catch included: large wainscot, black rustic, white-point, lunar underwing, large yellow underwing, sallow, barred sallow, pink-barred sallow, brimstone, snout, straw dot and lesser treble-bar. A lot of autumn species are yellow, no doubt helping them to hide amongst autumn leaves.

yellow moths

yellow moths: brimstone, sallow, pink-barred sallow and barred sallow

I also managed to record a moth as I was locking the gate this evening, or rather the caterpillar of a moth, as there was a grey dagger larva on the main gate catch. The adult moths are difficult to identify with certainty as they are very similar to the dark dagger, however the caterpillars are quiet different.

grey dagger caterpillar

grey dagger caterpillar

 

Pochards in the Mist

Okay, so they do not quite have the “wow factor” of gorillas, but they were all that I could see when I arrived to do the monthly waterfowl count this morning.

pochard in the mist

Pochard in the mist

It had been pretty cold overnight and there was quite a frost on the vegetation and even some ice on the puddles.

frosty thistle

frosty creeping thistle

Waiting for the mist to rise I went through the reedbed to Lapwing hide, seeing a couple of chiffchaff on the way.

dawn over the reeds

Early morning reedbed

Eventually the sun did start to burn off the murk.

sun clearing the mist

The sun breaking through

Finally I could start counting in earnest.

misty Ibsley Water

Mist finally clearing from Ibsley Water

On the whole the counts were not high, but I did see the largest number of goosander I have seen so far this autumn, exactly how many I am not quiet sure, 39 flew out at dawn, but then 5 flew in, then 9 flew over followed by another 2, so anything from 39 to 55!

Despite visiting all the lakes I failed to find the lesser scaup or the ferruginous duck, I suspect that both may not have taken kindly to the weekend’s fireworks, perhaps they will return in a few days. I did see out great white egret and either three pairs of raven or perhaps one pair three times. The pink-footed goose was again with the greylag flock on Ibsley Water. For its size Ivy Lake had the most birds, including 118 gadwall, our only internationally important species at Blashford. This importance is based on the fact that we regularly have more than 1% of the north-west European wintering population.

 

 

 

Some Seasonal Firsts!

Things are getting increasingly wintery, there was a frost on the grass this morning, 2 brambling were visiting the feeder by the car park and the Pop-up Café returned! Although the brambling have been around for a few day today was the first time that I had seen them, in fact I saw a few things for the first time this season today, I caught up with the pink-footed goose and saw a very smart first winter Caspian gull at dusk. Other firsts were mostly cake!

P1090028

The first marbled chocolate cake of the winter.

Others were personal firsts and very tasty too.

P1090026

Apricot, lemon and pistachio cake – a “tick” for me.

The Pop-up Café is once again being operated by Walking Picnics, just a sit was last winter and will be at Blashford on the first and third Sunday of each month and New Years Day.

P1090027

The Walking Picniceers and happy customers.

There was no sign of the lesser scaup today as far as I know, possibly put off by fireworks last night but the ferruginous duck was spotted, distantly by the northern shore of Ibsley Water, somehow I avoided it when I counted the pochard flock in that very area, there were 66 by the way, quite  a lot by the standard of recent years.

Elsewhere a couple of chiffchaff and a raven flying over and a few goldeneye and goosander on Ibsley Water were the best I could find. The sun did tempt out a few red admiral butterflies but I saw no dragonflies, which surprised me, as the sun was quiet warm.

All of the above actually happened in the afternoon as my morning was spent with the first Sunday of the month volunteers widening the margins of the path beside Ellingham Lake to provide more sheltered areas for insects and, hopefully reduce the tendency for brambles to overhang the path next summer. Increasing the area of transition between the path and the scrub by having  a margin of grass and herb species should provide habitat for butterflies and other insect next year, in effect we have made a miniature woodland ride. As ever the team did a load of work even though we only worked for a couple of hours or so.

 

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.

Approaching Spring

Although not quite as pleasant a day as it was on Saturday, Sunday was still mild and busy with visitors on the reserve, the Pop-up Café probably helping numbers with tea and homemade cake. A good range of birds also helps, 2 great white egret were seen on Ivy Lake, whilst on Ibsley Water a drake scaup, black-necked grebe and a white-fronted goose were all seen. The scaup was only the second adult drake I have seen on the reserve, this winter has seen unusual numbers of scaup in southern England so perhaps it was not such a surprise that we would get one on the reserve. The black-necked grebe is now progressing well into breeding plumage with the golden ear tufts now visible. The white-fronted goose was presumably the juvenile that has spent the winter with the local greylag goose flock.

In the woodland the warm weather is spurring many birds to start singing and the constant twitter of siskin is now the main background sound near the Woodland hide. It will not be long before some resident birds start nesting, signs of spring are everywhere now.

snowdrops

snowdrops

There were sightings of brambling again at the Woodland hide and 2 firecrest were also seen.

Saturday had seen the first butterfly of the year, a brimstone and the first reptile, a female adder.

The bittern was seen on Saturday, but not on Sunday, it will surely be departing soon. It was also very noticeable that there were many fewer gulls, with only 2 Mediterranean gull and no ring-billed gull visible in the roost last night.

I did have one last minute highlight though, the drake ferruginous duck, which usually frequents an inaccessible private lake to the south of the complex, was on Ivy Lake as I locked up the hides.

Counting Day

Once a month we count the wildfowl on the reserve and also on the other lakes in the area to get an idea of how many there are and so how populations are fairing. Wildfowl are counted right across NW Europe once a month during the autumn and winter and this provides estimates of total populations and changes. In Britain the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS counts) started in 1969 and now covers all our estuaries and inland wetlands. The counts we do of the lakes are actually in addition to the WeBS counts as we cover only the lakes, the full counts are co-ordinated along the whole valley from Christchurch Harbour northwards.

I started by counting Ibsley Water and from the Lapwing hide was greeted by the sight of a flock of wigeon grazing just in front of the hide.

wigeon

wigeon from the Lapwing hide

Despite this overall numbers of birds on the lake were not very large, probably due to a combination of relatively poor weed growth and the rather strong wind. One a factor that will depress numbers throughout this winter the other just weather, which can make a great difference to where the birds will be from day to day. Although not a bird for the count, I was pleased to see the water pipit on the cut grass heaps on the lakeshore, digging in the grass for insects.

The total number of waterfowl counted on all the lakes combined was just under 3900, not bad for November as the peak usually comes around mid-winter, so there is time for it to rise yet. The most numerous species were coot 976, wigeon 936, gadwall 521, tufted duck 291 and shoveler 261. Different lakes provide conditions for different species and we also find that factors like weed growth vary greatly from year to year and in different lakes. This year weed growth in Ibsley Water is quite poor, but it has been good in Rockford Lake and Blashford Lake and it is these lakes are attracting the large numbers of coot, gadwall and wigeon as a result. Ibsley Water seems especially attractive to pochard just now with 72 there today, whereas Mockbeggar Lake is shoveler central, with over 200 feeding on there and probably more, as it is a difficult to see through the trees from the path to Lapwing hide.

Although I missed them it seems probable that both great white egret were seen today, I may have seen both actually as I saw white birds though trees where they should have been! The bittern was also seen briefly from Ivy North hide and on one of the lakes north of the reserve I saw the ferruginous duck. This bird has been returning for some years and favours Kingfisher Lake on the outskirts of Ringwood, but this lake cannot be viewed as it once could. So far this winter though it has made one trip to Ivy Lake and today it was visible from the public footpath north of Mockbeggar Lane on the larger of the two lakes there. Hopefully it will oblige and spend more time in places where it can be seen, it is certainly worth checking the diving ducks on any of the lakes, just in case. I understand that the ring-billed gull put in an appearance on Ibsley Water in the afternoon, I suspect we will see it until the spring now.

I heard earlier this week that a car was broken into in one of the car parks last week, thankfully a rare thing at Blashford, this is only the second time it has happened, but it would be wise to take care not to leave valuables on show, or ideally in your car at all.