More autumnal fun!

Last week we had two Autumn themed Wild Days Out, where we looked for fungi, collected leaves to preserve in wax and cooked toffee apples over the fire.

We spotted lots of fungi on our walk including some fresh fly agaric in the meadow by Ivy North Hide. We also saw a species of Mycena, a blackening waxcap and candlesnuff fungus, along with plenty of common puffballs which the children enjoyed poking to see how they dispersed their spores.

After lunch we headed over to the campfire area with the leaves we had collected on the morning’s walk. Before melting the wax which would be used to preserve the colour of the leaves, we had a go at cooking toffee apples over the fire. First we whittled a stick then pierced the skin of the apple a number of times using a fork. The apple was then warmed up over the fire then removed so a sugar and cinnamon mix could be sprinkled over. This process was then repeated until the sugar had caramelised nicely – they tasted delicious!

Once the fire had begun to die down we melted some wax in a pan then tied a piece of string to our favourite leaves and carefully dunked them into the melted wax. The wax will preserve the colour of the leaves so they stay looking autumnal for longer and they make great bunting or mobiles.

Whilst the leaves were left to dry on the line, Jim demonstrated how to ignite the dry fruiting bodies of King Alfred’s Cakes, another fungi we had found and collected that morning. Once ignited they can be used as kindling to start a fire, which explains the other names that have been given to this fungus, including carbon balls and coal fungus.

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King Alfred’s Cake used as kindling

Once lit, the King Alfred’s Cake can smoulder gently for a long time, which has led to the speculation that in the past people could have used the fungus to transport fire from place to place.

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King Alfred’s Cake

We also found time to have a rummage in search of bugs and Thomas found this impressive beetle larva under one of the logs:

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Beetle larva

Our Wild Days Out will return next year at February Half Term, where we will be using natural materials to sculpt and weave along with fire to melt and create with pewter! To be added to our Wild Days Out mailing list to receive information and details on how to book via Eventbrite please email BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk

To see what else we have coming up over the Autumn and Winter please visit the website.

As well as our Wild Days Out last week, Jim attended the New Forest National Park’s Wild Play Day at Holmsley, expertly assisted by volunteers Nora and Nathanial. Armed with plenty of clay they were overseeing the wonderfully titled ‘Brown and Sticky’ activity and a messy time was had by all. Here are some of the creations sculpted on the day:

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Round up of recent events

So far each month this year has seen us recording a record number of visitors to the reserve. October may prove to be the exception, due, no doubt, to it being generally rather wet and gloomy. It hasn’t deterred everyone however and those visitors who have braved the rain have reported/recorded some good sightings – including the following by one of our Welcome Volunteers, Doug, taken a couple of weeks ago on one of the few days where there was actually some sunshine(!):

great crested grebe by Doug Massongrass snakes by Doug Massongrass snake by Doug MassonTawny by Doug Masson

I think the grass snakes may actually have given up and found somewhere to hibernate over winter by now but they had been pretty active outside Ivy South Hide in the usual spot. When I say pretty active I actually mean unusually VERY active, particularly given the time of the year… the picture of the three together above were actually mating and another visitor had reported seeing the same behaviour a few days prior to Doug capturing it on “film”, although all of the guide books suggest that this usually only happens in or around April soon after they have emerged from hibernation.

The tawny owl shot is fabulous and Doug is the second photographer that I am aware of who has been fortunate enough to chance upon one of “our” owls hiding out on the reserve during the day this year.

Visitors to the Centre may have had a fiddle with the wildlife camera controller fixed up to the TV in the lobby and discovered that additional camera’s are now live – in addition to the original pond and compost camera’s and the new Woodland Hide feeder camera, there is now a bird box camera, tawny owl box camera and an artificial badger sett camera.

Being new and the wrong time of year, there is absolutely nothing going on on these new additions, but fingers crossed, they will see activity next year! Actually, I say there is nothing going on in them, but there is a lovely cobweb across the front of the badger cam and at times the spider is in evidence too 😉

Out on the water autumn arrivals are dropping in in dribs and drabs but goosander are now to be seen on a daily basis on Ibsley Water as are teal, pochard and wigeon across the site. Walter and friends are still around too, although they have kept a low profile for much of this month. The great white egrets do seem to be back roosting on Ivy Lake near the cormorants again though with at least two birds around regularly and three individuals seen yesterday. Also on Ivy Lake Bob saw otter again when he locked up one evening last week. First otter sightings for a while that we are aware of and he saw it from both Ivy North and Ivy South Hide and the wildfowl saw it too – and were not very happy about it!

Not so good for our visitor numbers the wet weather has certainly been good for fungi, with fantastic displays of puffball species, parasol and fly agaric mushrooms in particular.

Puffballs by Daisy MeadowcroftParasol by Daisy MeadowcroftFly agaric by Daisy Meadowcroft

There have been occasional nice beefsteak fungi too, but sadly foragers did for the best of these before reaching their prime.

I haven’t got anything against the gathering and consumption of wild fungi personally and have been known to indulge myself on more than one occasion, but I only ever collect a few specimens from locations where that species is abundant and I always ensure that plenty are left to complete their life-cycle and spore. It is very unfortunate that, as with many pastimes, a few selfish and/or thoughtless individuals spoil it for the many.

Feel free to question the actions of visitors foraging at Blashford, or let staff/volunteers know, as, unless part of an organised fungus group survey, they will almost certainly not have permission to be collecting!

Half-term next week and we have “Wild Days Out” activity days on Tuesday and Thursday and, if we get any more bookings (they’re rather thin at the moment) we have a Stargazing event with Fordingbridge Astronomers on Tuesday evening.

And finally, for lovers of fine food everywhere, we are very pleased to announce the most welcome and long-awaited return of the Pop Up Café in the Centre classroom a week on Sunday (Sunday 3rd November)!

Nigel and Christine from Walking Picnics are back serving hot drinks and delicious home baked cakes and savoury snacks from 10.30am-3.30pm on New Years Day and the first and third Sundays of November, December and January with possible additional dates later in the year to follow. Enjoy!

Fungi spotting

Autumn is a great time to go looking for fungi, so on Sunday after spying a few whilst unlocking the reserve in the morning, we decided to head off in search of more during our Young Naturalists session.

We began however with a rather nice job of weeding the path which leads to our campfire – although possibly not the most exciting of jobs, it was one that needed to be done and it was very satisfying to be able to see just how much they had managed to clear in the hour or so we were out there. We did however decide to do the rest another day when the showers became heavier!

After lunch and a disappointing rummage through the light trap which contained a number of crane fly but not much else, we headed off with a couple of guide books and cameras to see what we could spot. Fungi is definitely not my strong point, so it was a learning curve for all but we enjoyed looking out for different types and photographing them to hopefully identify later.

Now is a great time of year to look for them as many of the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting bodies are emerging above ground, either on the soil or on decaying wood.

We found a number of very smart looking Beefsteak fungus, also known as ox-tongue, oozing red droplets that did look a lot like blood:

We also spotted some Sulphur tuft and Common puffballs nearby:

Near to Ivy South Hide we saw Honey fungus along with a couple of different colour variations of Turkey tail:

On a branch near the boardwalk we spied the tiniest mushrooms growing, I don’t know what they are but they were so delicate we had to stop to photograph them:

We took the long route back to the Education Centre, choosing the path that runs parallel to the main road so we came out by Ellingham Pound, as I was hopeful here we would find a number of Fly agaric. So far we had only seen a couple that had been nibbled or fallen over. We were not disappointed:

We also spotted what might be a Bay Bolete, but Jim’s told me off for not checking the ‘gills’:

Bolete

Here’s a selection of some of the others we found, the first I think could be a young puffball, but the others I’m afraid I’m not sure about.

We had a fun wander with lots of the group taking photos, so perhaps next time we could invite someone who knows a bit more about fungi to come with us!

Finally, Daisy and I spotted a number of relatively young Parasol mushrooms near Ivy North Hide when locking up last night – when I unlocked this morning, the one we had been admiring had opened up more and had a Common darter resting on it, making the most of today’s sunshine.

Common darter on parasol mushroom

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

Moths and Birds and no Snowberry

Despite the autumnal weather the moth trap continues to catch a reasonable range of species, Friday’s catch included two of the bigger wainscots, the large wainscot,

large wainscot

large wainscot

and the bulrush wainscot.

Bulrush wainscot 2

bulrush wainscot

Neither of them particularly colourful species, unlike the frosted orange.

frosted orange

frosted orange

I know I have already posted this species a few times, but they are very fine and this one was very fresh. Autumn moths tend to be either bright yellow, orange or very dull indeed and the deep brown dart is certainly at the dull end, at least in terms of colour.

deep brown dart

deep brown dart

Despite the extremely dull weather today there were some birds to see, the ruff remains on Ibsley Water and there were also 2 green sandpiper and a common sandpiper there too. A sign of the changing season is the slowly increasing number of wigeon, I saw at least 25 today, but there were also something over 75 hirundines, mostly swallow but also a number of house martin and even a few sand martin.

Recently the Goosander hide has been attracting  allot of photographers trying to get shots of a fairly cooperative kingfisher. It also seems to be good for quiet a few other species too. I was especially pleased to see  the trees that we leaned into the lake there being well used as perches by a range of species, including today, Walter, our returning great white egret.

Walter

Walter, our returning great white egret, you can just make out some of his rings.

The perches near the Goosander hide are being used by lots of birds, the rails I put up  a few years ago were very popular with cormorant today.

cormorants

A “drying-off” of cormorant.

Large numbers of cormorant have been mass fishing in Ibsley Water recently, something they only do when there are very large shoals of fish, of just the right size, on offer. This year there seem to be large numbers of perch and rudd to be caught, to judge from the many pictures we have been sent of cormorant with fish recently.

These same rails are also popular with gulls and I saw three different yellow-legged gull on there this afternoon, including this first winter bird.

Yellow-legged gull 1st W

Yellow-egged gull, in first winter plumage (or if you prefer 1st cy)

It was the first Sunday of the month and despite unpromising weather four volunteers turned out for a task this morning. For several years I have been meaning to get around to removing a patch of snowberry near the Ivy North hide, it has not spread very far but is a garden plant that really should not be in a semi-natural woodland. Finally today we got rid of it, or at least of as much of it as we could dig up, next spring we will see how much we missed!

I will end with a sure sign of autumn, a fungus, the reserve has  a lot of fungi just now, I really struggle to identify them, but I think I know what this is, until someone puts me right, a fly agaric – this one complete with flies.

Fungus Gnat Agaric

fungus gnat agaric

 

Recent Reports and a Trip North

The last week has been very busy at Blashford Lakes, lots of work getting done around Ibsley Water, up the road at Linwood as well as several large education groups.

On the wildlife front the birds have been rather few, although reports of a brambling at the Woodland hide were interesting as I don’t think we have had one at the feeders in October before, perhaps we are in for  a “Finch Winter”. On this note there have been large flocks of siskin about with 70 or more around the Centre this week. On a slightly more mundane note 3 house sparrow by the Tern hide on Thursday were unusual as was a red-legged partridge there on Friday.

The wildlife highlight of the week, without doubt, has been the many sighting of otter in Ibsley Water, mainly from the Goosander hide, but also from Tern hide and from the descriptions it would have been visible from Lapwing hide several times too. There are pictures, but I don’t have any of them at present.

On Friday Ed and I had a trip north, well up to Winchester at least. WE went to look at the trust’s excellent Winnall Moors reserve and look at the grazing management for breeding waders and other species. It also enabled us to catch up with a little piece of Blashford.

The entrance to Winnall Moors made from a fallen Blashford oak.

The entrance to Winnall Moors made from a fallen Blashford oak.

The reserve is grazed by part of the herd of British White cattle that the Trust now uses to manage much of the grazing on our reserves. They do a wonderful job of grazing and browsing, produce very good beef and are easy to find, thanks to their white colour.

British White cattle on Winnall Moors

British White cattle on Winnall Moors

It was a beautiful, misty morning and as the mist burnt off it left droplets handing on every bit of vegetation and cobweb. Winnall Moors is a wetland site with many channels and lots of sluices that control the flow of water around the reserve.

Sluice at Winnall Moors

Sluice at Winnall Moors

As we walked round we were looking at how it might be possible to improve the habitat for nesting waders, such as lapwing and redshank. I suspect redshank may be gone for the foreseeable future as their fortunes, especially inland do not look good. Lapwing might be tempted back, but they often nest on spring ploughed arable land and to specially manage the herb rich wet grasslands at Winnall might result in more being lost than gained, so as with much land management balancing different interests will make for difficult decisions.

The afternoon saw us back at Blashford and making plans for more work on Ibsley Water, hopefully we will cut the main nesting island next week to stop trees and brambles growing on it and maybe prepare an extra area for terns to nest next year.

All in all a very fine autumn day, and as though to emphasise the season, I found this very smart fly agaric.

fly agaric

fly agaric

Season of Mist and a Feeder Frenzy

The harsh sting of autumn, with forebodings of  winter, struck home this morning as I  scraped the frost from the car windscreen before setting off to get here. Such conditions can, however, have their compensations, imbuing  even some of the most familiar views with a  magical mystique as here, where the mist seems to be boiling off the lake.

Misty view over Ivy Lake

It also makes plain some of the activity of often overlooked wildlife with the drapery of icy droplets on  this spider’s web.

Spider’s web outside Ivy South Hide.

It’s also the season for fungi in abundance and we are not under-endowed here at Blashford,  just don’t ask me to name them all,. Here are a few that I’m prepared to stick my neck out on their names,  seen as we opened up the hides this morning.

Candle Snuff fungus

Lycoperdon species – I think

Fly Agaric

This last one is so distinctive as to be unmistakable, a much-loved fungus by the illustrators of children’s books.   These particular fungi do, however, have other connotations. Their common name refers to  use as an insecticide  to poison flies.   They grow in close association with birches and are, therefore, very common in the dense birch forests of northern Scandinavia.   The toxin, which is  presumably the agent that kills flies, is,  in small amounts, a psychoactive agent causing hallucinations (so I’m told!).  One version of  folklore (other versions are available) suggests that in the long dark and boring nights above the Arctic circle the fly agaric would be introduced into the food for the domesticated reindeer (they normally eat lichen and fungi anyway).  Drinking the fluid that the reindeer excreted would deliver a ‘safe’, diluted  dose of the toxin and give the drinker a ‘high’ including feelings of being able to fly.  So if we mix all these factors together, something ( someone!)  red and white , reindeer and flying, in a land near the North Pole gives us —-well I’ll let you think it through, answers by Christmas.

The colder weather has increased the amount of bird activity around the feeders, especially the one close to the Centre. I mentioned, in Thursday’s posting, that we were in the process of adding some more feeders.   At the time we lacked the necessary low tensile wire on which to hang the feeders, but that has now been supplied, thanks to one of our volunteers, Rex, who, with Pete, put up the posts on Thursday. The result looks a lot like this :-

New feeding station by edge of Centre car park

Only two feeders at present, we’ll probably add more as the season progresses and the number of birds increases. Gratifyingly within a couple of hours there were several birds making use of the new facility, including a robin and this great tit.

Great tit investigating the new feeder

Even more satisfyingly, for the present at least, an inquisitive grey squirrel made an exploratory foray to try to get at the seeds, but failed.

In anticipation of a busy winter we used the opportunity of the warm sunshine to set-to and clean about a dozen feeders that had been put away over the summer, but which needed cleaning before being used again.  At the moment the usual collection of tits including a couple of very smart coal tits, together with nuthatch, greenfinch and a selection of siskin, goldfinch and the occasional redpoll with, I’m assured by at least two visitors, a brambling have been our guests at the  feeders.

Although cold overnight, this hasn’t deterred a few insects from strutting their stuff.  A slightly disappointing collection of only four moths in the light trap,  but two of these were rather smart Angle Shades

Angle Shades – one of only four moths in the light trap

Of the other insects, a pair of Southern Hawker dragonflies were seen by some visitors, but for me this  Common Darter seems epitomise the innate optimism of an evolutionary process that pushes to the boundary the idea of a sensible time to shift from a growing phase  to a  reproductive stage in what is the fag-end of the warm season.

Common Darter – resting up whilst its wings harden

Our attention was drawn to this insect  by the brightly glistening wings, which I’ve always taken as a sign that it’s not long emerged. There is also a definite red colour to the veins in the wings, but I don’t think it’s a Red-veined Darter –or is it??

Closing down tonight was a delight. The last duty is to close the Tern Hide and we spent about 20 minutes enjoying good views of the, mostly, Black-backed gulls coming to roost, a number of waterfowl  including good numbers of coot, tufted duck, shoveler, a few wigeon and teal and a single female goosander,  shades of things to come.  A buzzard, sitting on the recently cleared peninsular to the right of the hide, mysteriously disappeared when we took our eyes off it for a few seconds, but a couple of Egyptian geese hauled themselves out in much the same area that the buzzard had been. Could they have frightened him off????

Count

Bird News: Ibsley Watergreen sandpiper 2, dunlin 1, black-necked grebe 1, goldeneye 9, goosander 41, yellow-legged gull 7, chiffchaff 2. Mockbeggar Lakegreat white egret 1, little egret 33. Ivy Lakewater rail 2, chiffchaff 2.

We did our monthly waterbird count today, conditions were pretty good as I started my part of the count just after first light at the Lapwing hide. The black-necked grebe was showing well and I saw the last few goosander as they left the roost, but I knew I would count them at the end of the day as they returned. Ibsley Water is very busy at present, with birds more or less right across the whole Lake in good numbers. Most numerous are coot, I counted 975 out of a total across all the lakes of 1904. The most “important” species at Blashford is the gadwall, today there were 570, just short of the 600 that constitutes 1% of the NW European population.

There was no sign of the bittern today, but a total of 4 chiffchaff were of interest, it was only recently that they turned up for the winter. One of these was in a favourite spot just outside the Lapwing hide where I surprised a cock pheasant which flew up into a thin willow sapling.

cock pheasant

The birds were not the only things of interest though, I saw one butterfly, a red admiral, I think there would have been more if the sun had ever come out. However it was the fungi that were the most impressive, lots have appeared all over the reserve and beyond.

fly agaric

Towards dusk I went to the Goosander hide to count the roost, 41 goosander flew in and the gull roost included at least 7000 lesser black-backed gull, 2200 black-headed gull and at least 7 yellow-legged gull.

dusk over Ibsley Water

Goldeneyes and Agarics

Bird News: Ibsley Watergoldeneye 6, curlew 1. Ivy LakeCetti’s warbler 1.

The six goldeneye I saw from the Tern hide as I opened up were a sign of a continuing, if slow, arrival of wildfowl. They looked like four drakes and two ducks, there has been a young duck and a young drake for a while but I think the others have come in over the last two days. The second duck seems to be an adult but the others are probably all youngsters. Otherwise it was a fairly quick dash round to open up before heading off to today’s meeting. I did hear a Cetti’s warbler singing at the Ivy North hide, I am still not sure if the same bird is also in the reeds in the Ivy silt pond, so there could be two around.

View from the Tern hide.

The recent damp weather, combined with very mild temperatures have resulted in a flush of fungi.

Fly Agarics

This group of fly agarics have been quite heavily munched, presumably by slugs and snails. These are very poisonous fungi with strong effects on the nervous system. As such they have been used by traditional societies to induce the altered states associated with Shamanism. Presumably slugs are unaffected, if not one can only struggle to imagine what they experience.

Lycoperdon perlatum

There are also several new groups of a type of stemmed puff-ball fungus, I think it is Lycoperdon perlatum the round body of the fungus is covered with a forest of tiny spikes. These are usually common from early autumn, but this year was so dry that we have not seen that many.