Birds, Birds, Birds

Blashford Lakes are a great place to see lots of birds. Both Ibsley Water and Ivy Lake have large numbers of duck at present with each often having over one thousand wigeon on most days recently.

wigeon

drake wigeon

There are also hundreds of pintail on Ibsley Water, they have been attracted up the Avon Valley along with a lot of the wigeon due to the flooding of the fields. These ducks tend to spend the day resting on the open water, only going out to feed in the valley after dark. By contrast most of the gadwall will be found feeding on the lakes during the day, with fewer flying out at dusk.

gadwall

drake gadwall

Ivy Lake is home to a large cormorant roost, these fly in at dusk to perch high in the trees around the lake shore, so far this winter I have managed to count only about 150 birds, but this roost can get to over 200.

cormorant roost

cormorant roost

For really large numbers of birds the time to visit is just before dusk, if you stand on the viewpoint at the back of the Main Car Park, from where you can see several thousand gulls fly in to roost on the water and tens of thousands of starling. Last evening the starling roosted in two locations, most to the north of the lake, but several thousand also to the west.

roosts-001

Starling murmuration

The birds were making impressive shapes in the air as they were being chased by at least one peregrine and we also saw a marsh harrier fly past. We could also see goosander flying in to roost on the lake and as it got dark a load of cackling greylag flew in to spend the night on the water.

The reserve is not all about birds though and as I locked up in the morning there were three roe deer feeding in the reeds just beside Ivy North Hide.

roe deer

Roe deer in the reeds

If you are visiting, I can now report that the Main Car park is open as usual as the flooding has now receded.

 

Recently on the Reserve

There is a good range of species around the lakes at present, although numbers are not very high. Ibsley Water does not have a lot of wildfowl this winter due to rather weak water-weed growth, but what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in variety. The long-tailed duck has been showing well at times near Goosander and Tern hides and there is now a black-necked grebe frequenting the northern shore of the lake. Recent rain has resulted in some local flooding in the Avon Valley, conditions which lead to increases in numbers of pintail and black-tailed godwit, both of which will visit Ibsley Water during the day. Recently there have been 70 or more pintail and up to 400 godwit at times on the lake. In addition we have a wintering common sandpiper and at least 1 water pipit, both sometimes right in front of Tern Hide.

By contrast Ivy Lake has been very busy with large numbers of wildfowl with hundreds of gadwall, wigeon and coot. There have also been up to 4 great white egret, including “Walter”. Cetti’s warbler seem to be at an all time high on the reserve with one even using the woodland near the Centre and frequently in the vegetation beside the dipping pond. There have been a number of firecrest around, with the hollies along the Dockens Water a favourite location, this very fine picture was sent in last week.

Firecrest by Doug Masson

Firecrest by Doug Masson

Doug also sent in a nice shot of a female shoveler, a duck that is present in only moderate numbers this winter so far.

Shoveler by Doug Masson

Shoveler by Doug Masson

Each winter for the last few years we have had two apprentices from the New Forest National Park working on the reserve for a couple of months, they provide valuable assistance to me on days when I have no volunteer working parties. The apprentices have been doing great work recently, laying two sections of hedge along the western side of Ellingham Lake and on Friday we took to the water and cleared three of the islands on the western side of Ibsley Water of their annual vegetation.

P1110542

A section of hedge being prepared for laying.

On Saturday I ran a gull identification workshop in partnership with Hampshire Ornithological Society. These things are rather hit and miss when it comes to going out to see the gulls, so much depends upon the weather and even then the gulls may decide to roost distantly from the hides. We did not find any unusual gulls, but the long-tailed duck, black-necked grebe, goosander roost and a very fine peregrine were all highlights. I was with a group at Tern Hide and we had the peregrine perch on a post close to the hide.

peregrine

Peregrine perched close to Tern Hide

Other recent sightings have included a regular female marsh harrier, a modest starling roost to the north of Ibsley Water, a young female scaup on Rockford Lake and an otter near Ivy South hide, although an American mink was seen there at the weekend. The Ibsley Water gull roost has contained 6 or more yellow-legged gull, an adult Caspian gull and up to 2 Mediterranean gull.

At Last, a Bit of Fine Weather

As December starts the winter has turned a little more like winter, with frost at night and finally a drier spell. This has allowed us to get a few outstanding tasks done, yesterday’s was clearing the vegetation in front of the Ivy North Hide and opening up the channels through the reedbed.

before

Looking out from Ivy North Hide before we started.

after

The main channel cleared

As we worked at least 2 Cetti’s warbler were moving about in the reeds and water rail were squealing frequently, although went typically unseen.

Other recent tasks have included laying some hedge lengths, clearing bramble from grassland areas and also making a start on removing some infected ash trees. The last will be a large task in the next couple of years. You may have heard about ash die-back, it is a fungal infection that kills ash trees and is expected to result in over 95% of our ash being lost. The disease originated in the Far East and probably arrived in Europe via the horticultural trade.

Where these trees are deep in the woods this will mean more standing deadwood habitat, so not an entirely bad thing. Where we have paths , hides, roads and car parks they will have to be felled before they fall. There is no doubt this is going to have a noticeable impact as ash is a frequent tree and it will impact upon species that depend upon this tree. It is also going to be a very expensive task for land managers, at Blashford we only have a couple of hundred, but still a lot of work. The one positive note is that work at Kew Gardens has revealed that some British ash trees show some immunity, so if these survive they will be available to provide a seed source to enable restocking. It will still be a long time before we get back to ash being once again a frequent tree in our landscape.

Out on the reserve things have also taken a more wintery turn, wildfowl numbers have picked up, although only on Ivy Lake is this very noticeable. The goosander roost on Ibsley Water is growing and has over 80 birds now. Also on Ibsley Water a long-tailed duck has been present for a while now and on Monday 3 black-necked grebe were present, but were perhaps only passing through as I don’t think they were seen yesterday. Less seasonal is the common sandpiper, these usually just pass through in autumn and only green sandpiper normally winter with us. The rain has resulted in a significant rise in water levels, the water pipits have become much less obvious following the rise, perhaps because the rise has covered a lot of the exposed weed along the shore.

We are hoping the dry weather will hang on for a day or two more so we can fill the pot-holes in the entrance track, with luck we will be doing this on Thursday, so access to the Centre car park will be somewhat restricted.

Ducking and Diving

On Tuesday I was up at Kitts Grave with the volunteers clearing a ride through the scrub/woodland. Although it does not look much like it from the pictures below, we did clear quite long length!

3

Looking N before we started

4

Looking N near the end of the day

1

Looking S at the start

2

Looking S at the end of the day

Actually, looking again it hardly looks as if we were there at all! If you visit you will see a difference though.

This part of the Martin Down NNR is a fabulous mosaic of scrub and chalk grassland, we have been cutting scrub in order to maintain this mix of habitat, since without control the woody plants would take over completely. It may come as a surprise to many that trees will actually grow over most of lowland Britain without being planted, in fact stopping them doing so need active intervention. Our longer term plan is to introduce  a light grazing regime in the hope that we can maintain the mosaic without the constant need for cutting.

Despite the fact that trees will grow unbidden, they are also under threat and this fact formed the backbone of today’s work. We were out at Blashford looking at trees that will need to be cut as a result of ash die-back disease. This non-native fungal disease was imported into Europe with nursery trees and looks like killing 95% or so of all ash trees. Where these are away from roads, buildings etc. this will provide a big increase in deadwood habitat and so not an entirely bad thing. However a lot will have to be felled to maintain safety and we have to check them for potential bat roosts before any work can be planned.

As we criss-crossed the reserve we came across various fungi including this puffball type, full of spores.

puffed

puffball fungus full of spores

We also found what I think was a slime mould on an alder stump, an especially bright coloured one at that.

orange slime mould

orange slime mould (I think)

At dusk this evening I went over to Goosander Hide to see how many goosander came into the roost, the answer was at least 63, with a bonus side order of at least 24 fallow deer on the shore beside them.

goosander and deer at dusk

Goosander roost and fallow deer in the near darkness.

My goosander roost picture may be rather poor quality, but wait until you see my last offering! The long-tailed duck that has been on Ibsley Water for a number of days now finally had enough of the northern shore and appeared in front of Tern Hide today, an ideal opportunity to get some pictures of it at last. My best effort is below, it illustrate perfectly the perils of digi-scoping.

dived

long-tailed duck……almost.

This weeks bird of the week…

…is the long-tailed duck.

Present on Ibsley Water since Monday this immature drake doesn’t have a long tail!

Normally a sea duck, and a winter visitor and passage migrant to the UK, it has been seen daily, including today, since Bobs first sighting on Monday morning.

They feed by diving for molluscs, crustaceans and some small fish and although they usually feed close to the surface, they are apparently capable of regularly diving to depths of 60 m and possibly even as deep as nearly 150 meters. They are the only ducks that use their wings to dive, which gives them the ability to dive much deeper than other ducks. Of course it won’t be diving quite as deep as that in Ibsley Water but its superb underwater swimming ability does make it one of the more challenging birds to keep tabs on as once its dived there is no telling when, or where, it is going to surface again!

Many thanks to Paul Swann for sharing this picture with us:

Longtailed duck by Paul Swann

Although we have not had any near the amount of rain that other parts of the UK have had, it has been pretty wet this week, albeit with moments of clear skies and sunshine. Paul captured one of these moments on the same day he snapped the long-tailed duck (Monday 4th November):

Ibsley rainbows by Paul Swann

Other wildlife news this week includes a general increase in both the number and diversity of wildfowl  across the nature reserve, sightings of water pipit and the first arrivals of goldeneye (both on Ibsley Water), increasing numbers of goosander (including at least two birds on Ivy Lake yesterday), the on-going presence of at least two great white egret (including Walter), in the Avon Valley and lakes in various locations by day but roosting on Ivy Lake at night, the arrival of our first sizeable flocks of siskin (one of those magical, Blashford Autumn special wildlife sightings for me), the beginning of at least a small evening murmuration (a few thousand birds) of starlings in the Valley, viewable from Tern Hide and the viewing platform at the back of the car park if you manage to get the timing and conditions right… I haven’t done so yet!

There is no Pop-Up Café tomorrow, but “Walking Picnics” will be back serving delicious cakes and savoury bakes with warm drinks next Sunday, 17th November, and if they do as well as they did last weekend you would do well to come early before they sell out!

 

 

 

 

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!

Very Different Days

I was at Blashford again today after a couple of days off. I was last in on Thursday, when it rained all day and I left in a thunderstorm with hail and torrential rain. Today was quite different, warm, often sunny and altogether very pleasant. Both days produced notable migrants though, despite the very different conditions. On Thursday I arrived to find an osprey perched on the stick in Ibsley Water, the one that Ed Bennett and I put out there for the very purpose of giving an osprey somewhere to rest, it is always good when it works!

osprey in the rain

an osprey in the rain

Also in the rain a pair of Mandarin landed outside the new Tern Hide, they did not look much happier than the osprey.

mandarin

Mandarin in the rain

Today was more about butterflies, I saw good numbers of peacock, speckled wood, brimstone and orange-tip. But there were still migrant birds too, today’s highlight was a flock of 12 adult little gull, some in full breeding plumage and with a pink flush to their underparts, surely one of the best of all gulls in this plumage.

The other top birds today were the brambling, with 100 or more around the Centre and Woodland Hide area, many were feeding around the Woodland Hide giving great views, even I could get a half decent picture.

brambling male

male brambling

There are still small numbers of all the winter duck around, although numbers are declining day by day now. Today I saw nine goldeneye, although I am pretty sure there are still 11 around, there were also goosander, wigeon, teal and shoveler in small numbers. A few pairs of shoveler have been regularly in front of Tern Hide allowing the chance of a picture.

shoveler male

drake shoveler

Next week will see some further work at the Centre, with car park resurfacing and landscaping. There will also be some work at the Tern Hide at the end of the week, which is likely to mean that it will be closed for a day or so.

Also next week, In Focus will be doing optics sale in the Tern Hide on Tuesday.

All Change

After a cold and snowy end to last week,  Sunday saw me arriving to find almost the whole of Ibsley Water frozen over and Ivy Lake completely so.

frosty silt pond

Ivy Silt Pond on Sunday morning

Things actually started to thaw during the day on Sunday, so that by the end of the day there was more open water, at least on Ibsley Water.

goosander flock preening

a group of goosander preening near Lapwing hide

The cold resulted in a typical increase in the number of common gull in the roost, with over 400 reported and, more excitingly, the return of the ring-billed gull, probably it had come in with the common gull influx, but where has it been?

Even at dusk  on yesterday Ivy Lake was still frozen over and this seemed to put off the cormorant roosting flock, instead of the usual 150 or more birds there were just two! Others did fly in and around the trees but headed off elsewhere. A single great white egret, probably “Walter” roosted in the trees, but away from the two cormorant.

Today was quite different, mild and wet, a combination of snow melt and rain resulted in the Dockens Water flooding through the alder carr and into Ivy Lake, probably to the great relief of the bittern which was back in the reedmace at Ivy North Hide as I locked up this evening.

bittern

Bittern in the reedmace below Ivy North hide

I am pretty confident that every sighting of bittern that I have had this winter has been of the same bird, as have been all the pictures I have seen. On a couple of occasions I have seen threat behaviour that I would usually associate with there being a second nearby, but have never seen another bird. So reports of two seen on Friday were interesting, although the second bird could just have been displaced by the cold as they often are when lakes freeze. However today I see that two were seen in early January, so perhaps there really have been two all along! As they are territorial it may just be that the second is usually too far from the hide for us to see it, there is a good bit of reedbed off the west of the Ivy North Hide where it would be very difficult to see a lurking bittern.

By dusk this evening it was quite hard to see very much in any case, as the mist descended over the lakes.

misty Ivy Lake

Misty Ivy Lake (actually the bittern is in this picture, but I doubt you can see it!!)

Watching Wildlife

First Blashford Wildlife Watch meeting of the year this morning and as such I thought we’d start off with a meeting to reflect the name of the Wildlife Trusts children’s membership club for 6-12 year olds – and watch some wildlife!

So during a delayed start while we waited for latecomers (who didn’t come anyway!) we kept ourselves occupied with bird “Top Trumps” , and word searches, before heading out for a short walk via Tern Hide and Goosander Hide to see what we could see:

On route to Tern Hide: blue tit, nuthatch, blackbird, jackdaw, robin, chaffinch and linnet.

The linnets put on a lovely show with a couple of flocks of 40 or so birds reeling between the cherry laurels by the entrance to the car park, the willows in the dead hedge along the edge of the car park and the shore outside Tern Hide itself.

From Tern Hide: dunnock, coot, Canada goose, cormorant, little grebe, goosander, tufted duck, mute swan, lesser black backed gull, common gull, herring gull.

img_20190112_120140

Blackcurrant, biscuit and a kestrel!

From Goosander Hide: shoveler, kestrel, water pipit, mallard, moorhen, golden eye. We also had a nice chat with some of the very friendly photographers in there who enjoyed showing the children bird pictures they had taken that day and elsewhere – and who had seen the kestrel take a shrew from just beneath the hide shortly before we arrived.

The children also enjoyed, what I think must have been a rare treat from the reaction it received, a cup of hot black currant squash and a chocolate digestive biscuit. For some reason all of them ended up with bits of biscuit floating around in their drinks having dunked, which just seems terribly wrong to me, but maybe I’m just too old to appreciate it!

On route back to Centre: coal tit, great tit.

Not an extensive list, but everyone enjoyed themselves and we also took time out from the birds to admire the hazel catkins and scarlet “flowers”, candlesnuff and curtain crust fungus, and flowering common field speedwell.

Sticking with a bird theme when we next meet in February (10.30am-12.30pm, Saturday 9th) we will concentrate on woodland birds and make some bird feeders to put out on the reserve and take home. For more information about our Wildlife Watch group email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk, or to find out if there is another group nearer you email wildlifewatch@hiwwt.org.uk

One of our members nipped off down to Ivy South Hide with her Dad before they left to see if they could catch up with the yellow-browed warbler. They did, and so did lots of other birders today as well!

It continues to haunt the area between Woodland Hide and just beyond Ivy South Hide, often, but not always, associating with a flock of long-tailed tits, and around Ivy South Hide more often than not. There were already about half a dozen birders looking for it even before we had opened up this morning and there has been a steady flow of people coming to see it all day, usually successfully.

Also showing today has been the bittern, again, as yesterday, predominantly to the right of the hide rather than the left where it has been seen most often prior to this week.

Bob may well re-mention it again tomorrow if he finds time to post a blog but please be warned that the centre car park and track up to it will be closed from this Monday. There will still be pedestrian access up the footpath through the willow wood adjacent to the track so everyone can still access the Centre (and toilets!) and all of the hides, but the vehicle access track will be closed to both cars and pedestrians for as long as it takes to level the car park – contractors are going to be re-working it ahead of the visitor access improvements this spring in order to improve the drainage off the car park. At this point we do not know how long these preliminary works will take but we are allowing up to two weeks, although we hope it will take less time than that and will obviously re-open the track and car park as soon as we can do so.

In the meantime parking will be limited on the south side of the nature reserve and I therefore urge visitors to park in the main Tern Hide car park if they are able to do so – it will avoid parking frustration and free up parking nearer the centre for less mobile visitors who really need it.

 

 

Caught on Camera

It has been a busy week at Blashford Lakes with volunteer work parties on four days, despite unpromising weather we actually got a lot done. On Sunday we repaired some damaged sections of the boardwalk, Tuesday saw us felling some non-native grey alder trees, Thursday’s task was scrub clearance to increase habitat connectivity for reptiles and today we were clearing the shore of Ibsley Water to improve habitat for nesting lapwing next spring.

About ten days ago the apprentices put out a trailcam and today we got it in to look at the images. There were not a great many but the range of species captured was impressive. There was one shot of a passing fox, several of fallow deer and grey squirrel. Bird were fewer with one shot each of blackbird and blue tit, but several of tawny owl and on more than one night too. The picture quality was not great but the owl was landing in front of the camera, possibly to take small invertebrate prey.

IMAG0005

tawny owl caught on trailcam

Throughout the week I have been checking the roosting great white egret on Ivy Lake when I go to lock up the hides, I suspect there are as many as five around but still have yet to see more than four together, this evening there were three.

The rain today caused the Dockens Water to flood into Ivy Lake and it is now filling at last, hopefully the reedbed in front of Ivy North hide will have enough water for the bittern to favour this area soon, one was seen from there on Wednesday.

A feature of this winter is the unusual number of pochard on the lakes, or at least unusual for recent years. This morning there were 109 on Ivy Lake and at dusk at least 150. It appears that they gather on Ivy Lake in the late afternoon before flying off at dusk in groups of ten to twenty, probably to feed. At the same time the tufted duck, which used to roost on Ivy Lake also leave, I am not sure where they go but I did notice a lot fly in just as it got dark when I was counting the goosander from Goosander hide on Tuesday, I suspect they go to roost there rather than to feed. Walking back from Ivy South hide after locking up usually happens more or less in the dark at this time of year and a feature has been the squeaking calls of mandarin duck gathered on the silt pond, in the gloom I have just been able to make out as many as ten drakes displaying on some evenings.

The black-necked grebe has been seen daily on Ibsley Water as has at least one water pipit and green sandpiper. The grebe has been favouring the western shore to the north of the low islands, the water pipit and sandpiper the shore near Tern and Goosander hides. However for many visitors it has not been the rarer bird that have attracted to interest but the starling roost. The numbers are not exceptionally large but they can put on quiet a good show looking west into the last light of the setting sun. this evening they were especially spectacular, climbing high into the air in an effort to avoid a hunting peregrine.

Starlings 1

Starling murmuration starting to form over the trees west of Tern hide

Starlings 2

The gathering twisting to avoid a peregrine, there is a small group coming int to join them towards the top left.

Starlings 3

Some of the flock trying to funnel down into the roost site

Starlings 4

The peregrine was keeping the main flock high in the air but the draw of the roost was strong and they were falling down in a column whenever they could risk it.

Starlings 5

One group broke away in an exceptionally tight ball of birds and just dropped like a stone from the spiralling flock.

The starlings had all gone to roost by about 16:15, so if you want to give them a try I would try to arrive by 16:00 at the latest, viewing is good from the high point at the back of the main car park and possible, but sometimes less easy, from the Tern hide.