So long (almost!) and thanks for all the wildlife…

I haven’t managed to blog much over the past year, but this blog sadly will be my last.

I do really enjoy writing them and sharing either what we’ve been up to with regular groups or on other events, alongside all the wonderful wildlife Blashford has to offer (a really good excuse to go for a walk around the reserve) but sadly since reducing my hours with the Trust there generally haven’t been enough hours in the day to fit everything in. I also like to share lots of photos, which take an age to upload at Blashford over our rubbish internet connection…

I am though now off to pastures (almost) new. Some of you will be aware I took up the part time role of Education Officer for the Watercress and Winterbournes Landscape Partnership Scheme with Wessex Rivers Trust last March. The scheme is hosted by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, so although I am employed by Wessex Rivers Trust I am still working closely with colleagues within the Trust.

I have now been offered more hours with Wessex RT to oversee the educational elements of a number of other projects, so whilst I will really miss Blashford – Jim, Bob and Chloe, our lovely volunteers, the regular (and less regular!) visitors and of course all the amazing wildlife (I have learnt SO much over the last almost eight years) – I am excited to be heading over there full time.

So, I thought I’d finish off now with some wildlife and nature sightings – my last day at Blashford is next Monday, but I doubt I’ll have time to blog anything else between now and then, I still have admin tasks to finish off and more importantly, one more Wildlife Tots…

Thank you all very much for reading my blogs, especially the super long ones!

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There are signs of spring all over the reserve. The snowdrops are still putting on a good display by the Education Centre, the wild daffodils by the Woodland Hide are flowering, the primroses are out and some of the scarlet elf cups are huge:

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

Wild daffodils

Wild daffodils

Primroses

Primroses

Scarlet elf cups

Scarlet elf cups

If you look really closely at the hazel, you might be lucky enough to spot one of the tiny female flowers. Hazel has both male and female flowers on each tree, but the flowers must be pollinated by pollen from other hazel trees. The tiny pink flowers are female, whilst the male flowers are clustered together to form catkins.

Hazel flower

Pink female flower on Hazel, with the male catkins in the background

Lesser redpoll are still visiting the feeders by the Woodland Hide along with siskin and reed bunting. I haven’t managed to get a photograph, but I’ve seen sparrowhawk at or near to the Woodland Hide the last few times I’ve walked past.

Reed bunting

Reed bunting

Reed bunting 2

Reed bunting

Chaffinch

Chaffinch

We’ve had recent sightings of otter both on Ibsley Water (by Bob, I think from memory he said last weekend) and today on Ivy Silt Pond by a lucky visitor. Kingfisher have also been showing really well on Ivy Silt Pond and in front of both Ivy Lake hides – last night when I locked up one was sat on the great reedmace (more commonly known as bulrush) in front of Ivy North Hide:

kingfisher by Ivy North Hide

Kingfisher by Ivy North Hide

A mute swan has also been busy constructing a nest in the reedbed to the right hand side of Ivy North Hide:

swan on nest

Swan constructing its nest

The bittern was seen again today so is still present, it was about 3m to the right of the swan’s nest.

It’s also time to look out for great crested grebes pairing up and displaying with their elaborate courtship dance: pairs will swim towards each other, sometimes with an offering of weed, before rising up out of the water and shaking their heads.

Great crested grebe

Great crested grebe from Ivy South Hide

A number of cormorants continue to roost in the trees around the edge of Ivy Lake.

Cormorants roosting

Cormorants roosting

Goldeneye, goosander and the ring-billed gull are also still frequent visitors to Ibsley Water. If you’re planning a visit soon and we haven’t shared any recent wildlife sightings, it’s always worth having a look on the Go Birding Hampshire website where you can search for sightings by site. I tend to look there to keep up with what’s been sighted recently, where I’m not at the reserve much, but having said that we haven’t had a huge amount reported for Blashford over the last few days.

I will finish off with some great photos sent in by David Cuddon from a visit earlier in the month, on the 7th February – apologies David for not sharing them sooner.  

Wigeon by David Cuddon

Wigeon by David Cuddon

Siskin by David Cuddon

Siskin by David Cuddon

Long-tailed tit by David Cuddon

Long-tailed tit by David Cuddon

Kingfisher by David Cuddon

Kingfisher by David Cuddon

Goldcrest by David Cuddon

Goldcrest by David Cuddon

Bittern by David Cuddon

Bittern by David Cuddon

In between weaving

I’ve been meaning to write another blog for a while now, but have been ever so slightly pre-occupied by cutting willow and wreath making, with our decorate a wreath activity turning out to be staggeringly popular! As of today, I’ve made 80 willow wreaths (with a little help from Jim who finished some I’d started off for me) and 72 have been ‘sold’ for a donation, so a huge thank you to every one who has joined in, donated and spread the word. We’ve had some fantastic feed back from both individuals and families and it’s been lovely to weave outside the front of the Centre and chat to people as they head off collecting. We may have to do it this way next year, as it clearly works!

I decided to have a break from making today as the weather has resulted in a quiet day visitor wise, but I have more willow cut and ready to weave into hoops for the rest of the week. I haven’t managed to get many photos of finished wreaths but do have a couple:

Oliver is one of our Wildlife Tots and, missing our usual wreath making December session, his mum asked if they could make their wreath as well as decorate it. They were very pleased with the finished result!

I haven’t just been standing outside the front of the Centre weaving, although most of my time spent out on the reserve does now involve staring at every willow I come across, looking for nice straight rods to harvest and weave with at a later date.

Here are a stonechat, marsh tit and robin I’ve photographed whilst out and about: 

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Stonechat on the edge of the main car park, when the sun was shining!


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Marsh tit on the feeder by the Welcome Hut


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Robin along the path by Ivy Silt Pond

We’ve also had some really lovely photos sent in by Doug Masson and Phil West. Thank you both very much for sharing them, and sorry for the delay in putting them on the blog!

Chiffchaff by Doug Masson

Chiffchaff by Doug Masson


Goldcrest by Doug Masson

Goldcrest by Doug Masson


Goldfinch by Doug Masson

Goldfinch by Doug Masson


Female mallard by Doug Masson

Female mallard by Doug Masson


Siskin by Doug Masson

Siskin by Doug Masson


Treecreeper by Doug Masson

Treecreeper by Doug Masson


Treecreeper 3 by Doug Masson

Treecreeper by Doug Masson

 

Fallow deer by Phil West

Fallow deer by Phil West


Fallow deer 2 by Phil West

Fallow deer by Phil West

Aside from photographing the wildlife on the reserve, the dewy and frosty mornings we’ve had recently have also provided some good opportunities for taking photos. A few more frosty mornings and a little less rain would be very nice… 

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Dewy seed heads on the edge of the lichen heath


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Dewy spiders web by the car park


Another wreath has just gone, so tomorrow I think I will be back weaving – definitely not a bad way to spend the day!

Newt Enlightenment

When I opened the Education Centre shutters this morning there was a young smooth newt hiding under the door, no doubt waiting to get education and enlightenment from within. As this was not the safest place for a newt to be, I moved it into the edge of the wood.

smooth newt

a young smooth newt waiting at the Education Centre door this morning

I saw almost all the wildlife I encountered all day in the few minutes it took me to open the hides this morning, after the newt at the Centre I saw the, or more accurately a, bittern at Ivy North hide, it was seen on and off all day.

bittern

Bittern at Ivy North hide

Walking to open Ivy South hide I had very close views of a goldcrest, sadly I did not get any good pictures of it, although I did get one that I thought interesting. It was of the bird hovering, the wings are a blur but the head is dead still. They often do this to get at insects and spiders that take refuge at the very end of leaves and twigs, out of reach of less agile predators.

goldcrest

hovering goldcrest

The ringers were in this morning continuing a project looking at moult in young blue tit and trying to catch wintering finches. They seemed to think there were few finches about but a visit to the Woodland hide would suggest otherwise, at least as far as numbers of goldfinch and siskin were concerned.

siskin and goldfinch

siskin and goldfinch at feeder beside Woodland Hide

Meanwhile the various developments continue, the new pond at the Centre is being dug, the footings of the Information Hut are in and the site of the new Tern hide is being cleared of an old concrete pad.

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.

ringing-demonstration-resized

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.

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!

bittern-talia-f-resized

Bittern spotting by Talia Felstead

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

Bittern again

After almost a week with no reported sightings a bittern was finally seen (for just a few minutes typically!) to the left of Ivy North Hide by a couple of visitors  this afternoon. They didn’t get a picture…

Firecrests are also still showing themselves off to our visitors – I spoke to one gentleman this afternoon who was delighted by his view of one between Ivy South and Woodland Hide. It wouldn’t hang around long enough to have a picture taken either, but we did receive this picture of a goldcrest taken earlier in the week by Corinne, as well as this nice shot of the Cetti’s warbler outside Ivy North Hide:

Goldcrest by Corinne Yarwood

Goldcrest by Corinne Yarwood

Cetti's warbler by Corinne Yarwood

Cetti’s warbler by Corinne Yarwood

Snipe are another more secretive bird that are being encountered on a regular basis around the margins of all of the lakes currently -Sally Grant e-mailed this one, again taken from Ivy North Hide:

Snipe by Sally Grant

Most of our school visits take place in the summer months, but the diversity of habitats and the facilities at Blashford Lakes means that schools can, and do, visit all year round. Indeed although classic habitat study activities (“minibeasting”, pond dipping etc.) are always going to be best done in the summer when more insects are on the wing, some areas of study are actually best undertaken in the autumn and winter months.

Having said that, even I wasn’t sure how well our first school group visit of the year would go yesterday! However the hardy 4 and 5 year olds from Verwood First School did just fine and had a brilliant day learning about birds and then using their experiences to create artistic representations of them from the clay, leaves, sticks and other natural woodland resources.

With 58 children altogether we were exploring the reserve and visiting Ivy North Hide and the Woodland Hide in  relatively large groups of about 20 children, accompanied by the teaching staff and parent helpers. Recognising that the winter is a busy time of year for visiting bird watchers we posted up signs outside the two affected hides at the start of the day to warn everyone that we would be on our way and using said hides for short periods.

Thank you to everyone that made space in the hides for us!

Sadly the whole day was marred somewhat for one of our dedicated volunteers by an encounter with a visitor who it seems was not happy to be sharing the nature reserve with a school group and who rather forcefully suggested that it was ridiculous that they were there as they were far too young to get anything out of it… although entitled to his opinion, needless to say I disagree entirely with him!

In fact the children did learn a lot about their local area and local wildlife – and had a very enjoyable day to boot.

Blashford Lakes is a great nature reserve for birds (and other wildlife) and we do what we can to help people, all people, access and enjoy it.

Sometimes that means children.

It’s a bit cheesy, but true so I’m going to say it anyway; children are the future! If we are going to keep what precious little wildlife and wild places we have left, children have to be given the chance to play and learn in outdoor wild places so they can discover for themselves how special and how amazing it is. We facilitate that at Blashford Lakes.

In light of this I make no apologies at all to the gentleman concerned, but of course I do hope that he was able to enjoy the remainder of his visit around the rest of the nature reserve.

Just a few Birds

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

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

Across the water from the Tern Hide

Across the water from the Tern Hide

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

Male chaffinch

Male chaffinch

Female chaffinch

Female chaffinch

Greenfinch

Greenfinch

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

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

and a seasonal favourite…………..

A Blashford Christmas robin ?

A Blashford Christmas robin ?

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

Great tit

Great tit

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

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

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

Kingfisher in reedbeds to right of Ivy North Hide

Kingfisher in reedbeds to left of Ivy North Hide

In branches to left of Ivy North Hide

In branches to left of Ivy North Hide