Another Year

What a great start to the New Year, a beautiful morning and the reserve was busy with visitors and birds for them to see. So busy in fact that the Pop-up cafe ran out of cake! This may also be because word is getting around that the cakes are exceedingly fine so people get in early, they will be back next Sunday though, so all is not lost.

A New Year means a new “list” not that I ever manage to keep one going to year’s end, but a good start for me at least, with 78 species recorded, 75 of them at Blashford.

Ibsley Water featured at least two (although I think there must be more) water pipit, seen from all three hides during the day, the black-necked grebe, typically near the north-western shore, a fly-over by the dark-bellied brent goose (rare at Blashford), a marsh harrier, green sandpiper and all the usual wildfowl. In the afternoon the Caspian gull was in the roost along with about 10 yellow-legged gull.

Meanwhile Ivy Lake had the bittern on view on and off for much of the day at Ivy North hide along with a supporting caste of Cetti’s warbler, chiffchaff and water rail, joined later by first one and then two great white egret which stayed to roost with the cormorants.

At Woodland hide the regular woodland birds have now been joined by a few reed bunting, but there is no sign as yet of any redpoll or brambling, but it is early days. More widely around the reserve a firecrest was at the road crossing to Goosander hide and several more chiffchaff were in the reeds and willows on the walk to Lapwing hide, where there was a reed bunting giving brief snatches of song, they usually don=t start until well into the spring.

Despite recording 75 species on the reserve, I never saw a greenfinch! and there were a few other species missing that are generally not that difficult to see.

I saw just four mammal species (not counting humans) all day and two of those were non-natives, grey squirrel, fallow deer, roe deer and a wood mouse, live-trapped in the loft. Meanwhile the year’s moth list got off to a roaring start with a single mottled umber, although by convention moths are recorded as being on the previous day as most fly just after dusk, so this is when they are attracted to the light.

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a very well marked mottled umber

 

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Early Birds

I decided to get on site early on Sunday so that I could count the goosander as they left their roost on Ibsley Water. I managed to get my best count of the season so far, 72 birds. I also saw a group of 7 drake goldeneye, all displaying to a single female. Other species included 12 pintail and the usual range of ducks.

Walking back to the Centre I saw at least 3 chiffchaff, a firecrest and 2 hawfinch. The last are occasionally recorded at Blashford, almost always in ash and field maple trees close to Ellingham Drove, which is where these were. This winter has seen an unprecedented influx of this species, with flocks being seen in lots of places and will probably be my best chance to get them on my garden list. In fact overall it loos like  a good finch winter, with numbers of brambling and redpoll also in evidence.

I was working with volunteers clearing a ride along one of the butterfly transects and so saw rather few birds after my early excursion. The pink-footed goose was again in the greylag flock and a single dunlin was feeding out on the islands in Ibsley Water. At dusk I saw “Walter” the great white egret roosting in his favourite dead alder beside Ivy Lake.

Cake and Colours

A fine Blashford day and better still one with cake, because we hosted the Pop-up Café once again today. The reserve was fairly busy, both with visitors and birds. At opening up time Ivy Lake was busy with ducks, nothing unusual, but a good mix of species.

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Ivy Lake with lots of wildfowl

The trees are in particularly good colour just now, with the oak just turning, joining the beech, hazel, willows and others. Some hazel are still completely green while others are in their autumn glory.

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Hazel in full autumn colour

Although there are few on the reserve, the guelder rose draws attention at this time of year thanks to very bright leaves.

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guilder rose

Field maple, like all the Acers, has very good autumn colour, although most of their leaves seem already to have fallen at Blashford.

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fallen field maple leaves

Not all the colour comes from leaves though, I know Tracy posted a picture of it on Friday but I cannot resist another one of the cobalt crust fungus.

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cobalt crust fungus

The colour is amazing! It seems it is uncommon and mostly found on ash twigs and branches, at Blashford it is on rotting willow branches lying on the ground in deep shade.

Out on the reserve both the water pipit and pink-footed goose were on show at Tern hide on and off throughout the day. Over 30 goosander were present well before dusk and 3000 or so starling gave a rather brief display before going to roost rather earlier than I had expected.  Three Cetti’s warbler were singing around Ivy Lake and a fourth was calling beside Lapwing hide. At Woodland hide a redpoll, a couple of brambling and a firecrest were all reported and a woodcock was seen in the willows near the Centre car park. At dusk on Ivy Lake, Walter our regular great white egret was again roosting in his favourite dead alder beside the cormorant roost.

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Ibsley Water towards the end of the day from Lapwing hide.

 

Wednesday 15th November – A Little Report

A “Little Report” because there is not much to report from today. The reserve was busy with a large group visiting from Christchurch U3A, but the bird news was fairly unremarkable.

Opening Tern hide I heard the or at least a water pipit calling, but could not see it. The lake had the now usual gathering of pochard. My count of 96 yesterday was by some margin the largest I have seen for a good while, there was a time when they were common at the lakes, with flocks into several hundred. Over the last few years pochard numbers have declined, not just here but right across Europe. Over the last 25 years there has been a 67% decline in wintering pochard in the UK. There are many possible reasons for this. They particularly like eating stoneworts, aquatic plants that grow well in oligotrophic (low nutrient) lakes, newly flooded gravel pits usually have very few nutrients and so are very good for them. However over time lakes acquire nutrients form many sources becoming less suitable for stoneworts and pochard. This is probably one of the main reasons for the decline at Blashford.

It might be expected that gravel pits in lowland England would gain nutrients, weed will grow and die, birds will import droppings and fish will mobilise sediments as well as adding their own contribution. In addition the rain is known to be contaminated with nitrogen which it picks up from the atmosphere, where we have added additional nitrous oxide to that naturally present. Recent reports by researchers at the British Geological Survey have highlighted that nitrogen fertilizers have leached their way down into the groundwater and will be coming out for decades to come.  These sources of nutrients do not include straight forward pollution by industry, sewerage etc. The increase in nutrients is impacting both natural and man-made waters and means that we are faced with a future where most lakes, at least in lowlands will be eutrophic, that is nutrient rich. Ultimately such lakes are likely to be dominated by algae, with little higher plant growth upon which most of our wildfowl depend.

Unfortunately for the pochard it seems that it is not just increasingly unsuitable waters that are against them. It has long been known that wintering flocks in the UK hold more drakes than ducks. Last winter wildfowl counters across Europe were asked to provide the sex ratio of the flocks they counted. This showed that across the whole of Europe the proportion of drakes in flocks had risen from 61% in 1989-90 season to 70% in 2016. The proportion of drakes being higher in northern Europe with more female wintering in southern Europe. It might be expected that females would suffer higher mortality at nesting as they nest on the ground where they are vulnerable to predators. However this is probably not the only reason fro the discrepancy. By wintering in southern Europe where hunting is more popular they are probably more often shot, but worse still they are especially vulnerable to ingesting shot and are more likely to do so in areas where there is more shooting. The paper outlining this research will be available soon at http://www.wwt.org.uk/conservation/saving-wetlands-and-wildlife/publications/wildfowl/ .

Anyway back to the day’s news, at the Woodland hide brambling was again seen and overhead a few redpoll could be heard in the siskin flock, things are looking good for large finch flocks later on. Towards dusk heading out to lock up I heard a firecrest again near the car park and this time also saw it, my first one seen this winter at Blashford, although  one was reported the other day from the main car park. On Ivy Lake Walter the great white egret was again at his roost in the dead alder with 150 or so cormorant also roosting in the trees around the lake.

I did have one non-bird sighting of interest, a common darter dragonfly still on the wing, my first for ten days or so, each year I hope to beat my latest dragonfly date of 19th November, which I have managed three times, I don’t think this is going to be the year though, with so few still flying.

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.

A bird in the hand…

Yesterday our Young Naturalists were privileged to be joined by British Trust for Ornithology bird ringers for a special ringing demonstration here at Blashford Lakes. The ringing scheme organised by the BTO aims to monitor the survival rates of birds whilst collecting information about their productivity and movements, providing vital support for conservation efforts. A lightweight, uniquely numbered metal ring is placed around the bird’s leg, enabling birds to be identified as individuals in a reliable and harmless manner.

BTO volunteer bird ringers Trevor Codlin, Chris Lycett and Kevin Sayer arrived bright and early to set up their nets and begin ringing in our willow wood, where we had put up an additional feeder to entice the birds in. Luckily they did not need much enticing, and by the time the group arrived we had a nice variety of birds to look at.

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Ringing demonstration with Chris and Kevin

Trevor, Kevin and Chris demonstrated and talked through the processes involved, including catching the birds using a mist net, ringing the birds, the different measurements taken and how to carefully release them.

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The Young Naturalists were even able to release some of the smaller birds themselves, with Chris keeping a watchful eye. This was definitely the highlight and something they all thoroughly enjoyed!

We were really lucky to see a great variety of birds up close, including reed bunting, firecrest, goldcrest, great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, long tailed tit, coal tit, blue tit, great tit, robin and greenfinch. Holding a bird is definitely not something you get to do every day and it was fabulous to give the Young Naturalists the opportunity to release them after they had been ringed, measured and weighed. To see the birds this close was a real experience and we all thoroughly enjoyed the demonstration, so thank you again to Trevor, Kevin and Chris for your patience, expertise and for giving up your Sunday morning!

To find out more about bird ringing please visit the BTO website.

After lunch we carried out a bird survey of the woodland birds from Woodland Hide. We spotted 15 different species, including at least 16 chaffinch, 10 blackbird, 5 siskin, blue tit, goldfinch and long-tailed tit, 4 greenfinch, 3 robin and great tit, 2 brambling, dunnock and great spotted woodpecker and 1 reed bunting and nuthatch.

We also found time to visit Ivy South hide, where the bittern was showing nicely in the reedbed to the south of Ivy Lake and three goosanders were also present. Hopefully you can make out the bittern in Talia’s photo below, just above the two Canada geese!

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Bittern spotting by Talia Felstead

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

Blashford’s Busiest Week?

Most of last week was typified by cold clear nights followed by crisp, bright days. No doubt this accounted for the large numbers of visitors to the reserve on most days. The wildlife also cooperated fairly well with the bittern seen on most days and sometimes giving good views. The great white egret also spent a good time each day on Ivy Lake and there was also little egret for easy comparison.

The Woodland hide is also getting busier all the time with over 100 chaffinch, at least 3 brambling, 5 or more reed bunting and all the usual woodland birds. Siskin are starting to visit the nyger feeders now the alder seed is getting scarcer. Under the alders outside the hide the water rail has been showing again and the firecrest has been frequently seen in the ivy covered oaks just behind the hide.

The gull roost has quietened somewhat with rather fewer lesser black-backed gull coming in now, although numbers of the smaller gulls remain high and at least one ring-billed gull has been seen. Very bright conditions are actually a hindrance to gull watchers as it makes the shades of grey more a result of shadow than actual shade, in addition a more north or east wind direction takes the gulls towards the eastern and northern shore of the lake where they are harder to see well.

The fine weather has also enabled us to get on with a lot of work, something that has been boosted by some bumper turn-outs by our volunteers. As a result we have completed the dead hedge around the old Hanson plant site, about 250m or so in length! We have also made great progress with the scrub clearance on the adjacent lake shore, which should make the whole area much more attractive to nesting waders. Restoring this old factory site to useful wildlife habitat is going to be a long task but we have made a great start.

We also had a tree surgeon on site on Thursday to deal with a few trees that had been an increasing cause for concern. Some I could perhaps have felled myself, but having a tree surgeon climb them enables the damaged part to be removed and, where possible, leave a section of trunk standing. This can be very valuable habitat and many of the damaged trees are ones with hollows and holes, ideal for lots of species. From a wildlife point of view it is often the trees of most safety concern that are the very ones that we would most want to keep. So getting them partially felled is a useful way to make them safe and keep a good part of the wildlife value.

I am hoping the good weather will continue and we can have  another productive week. So often the winter work program ends in a rush to get what we can finished before spring races in. So far this winter we have done really well, although I am sure there will be tasks outstanding when the end of February comes, but then the task of reserve management is never one that has a real end point.

Update 1

A few sightings from the last couple of days:

Yesterday (Sunday): On Ibsley Water the female red-breasted merganser was again with a group of goosander and the black-necked grebe was frequenting the northern part of the lake, as they usually do. The more regularly seen of the two ring-billed gull was in early, being seen from about 1pm and later the roost included Mediterranean and yellow-legged gulls as well. The water pipit was showing well first thing from Tern hide, which was good as there was fog at the time and the only other bird visible was a single tufted duck.

Elsewhere, there were firecrest at the Woodland hide and in the holly trees alongside the Dockens Water, today there were two reported from the area between the Woodland hide and Ivy North. The water rail was again in the pool under the alders close to the Woodland hide, showing very well and others were seen from Ivy North hide. The bittern showed at times from Ivy North, as it did again today and “Walter” the great white egret was perched on a branch there all afternoon and was joined by the second bird at roost in the dead alder at dusk, there were both there again this evening too.

At the Woodland hide the food is attracting 2 or 3 brambling and lots of chaffinch, also around 5 or so reed bunting as well as all the regulars.

Opening up this morning I saw 5 raven on the eastern side of Ibsley Water, whilst at dusk  a ring-billed gull was reported again, although viewing conditions were difficult.

Some news from just up the road, a cattle egret was found with a small group of little egret in a field beside Church Lane at Harbridge.

I did run the moth trap last night, but the moth list for 2017 remains the same, with just mottled umber and winter moth so far.

Laying around

On Sunday, as it was the first Sunday of the month the reserve had both a volunteer work party and a Pop-up Café. The volunteers worked on laying part of the hedge along the western side of the reserve near Ellingham Lake. This was planted in 2005 and has now grown tall, but not very thick, wildlife tends to prefer a wide, thick hedge to a narrow, tall one. We did not do the classic hedge laying, which is good if the object is to keep in livestock, instead we only lightly trimmed the tops of the plants and laid them over. This should produce a wider hedge with at least some flowering and fruit production in the first year. It is also a much quicker and easier and within my skillset, true hedge laying is well beyond me.  We need to give the young growth at the base of the plants some protection so we put the trimmings and any bramble we had to cut out around the base of the hedge to try ands keep the deer and rabbits off. We managed to do 20m of hedge in our two hour session.

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Before we could lay the hedge we had to remove the old rabbit fencing and tree guards.

Meanwhile, back at the Centre the Pop-up Café had been laying out cake and some of the volunteers stopped for a slice before heading for home. Both the hedge and cake were excellent.

Perhaps because of the approach of Christmas the reserve was not that busy despite the bright sunshine. This was a shame as  the birds were putting on a good show with both great white egret seen as well as a beautiful firecrest in the ivy covered trees beside the Woodland hide. On Ibsley Water both of the adult ring-billed gull were eventually found in the gull roost. They seem to take absolutely no notice of one another despite being far from home. They are North American natives and there would appear to be only about three in the UK at present, so quite why two of them should be at Blashford is a bit of a mystery.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.