Skies Alive!

Today may have been the last day of April, but it felt more like the last day of January! a bitter north-east wind was blowing hard across Ibsley Water making it foolish to open the windows at the Tern hide. The cold had brought thousands of aerial feeders low in over the water in a desperate search for any sort of flying insects to eat. At first I though they were mostly swallow and sand martin, but it turned out things were a little more complicated.

Close to Tern hide there were  a lot of swallow, whilst further out over the water sand martin were the majority. Further away house martin dominated, especially close to the northern shore of the lake. All this made estimating numbers a bit tricky. In the end I “guestimated” around 4000 hirundines were present with slightly more than half being sand martin, perhaps 2000-2500, then house martin with around 1000 and then 500-700 swallow. All in all it was quite a sight, although one that featured birds that were not at all happy. Luckily the promised rain never arrived and it actually got a little brighter later on and many of the birds left to feed elsewhere. Perhaps oddly by the end of the day swift were  one of the more numerous species, maybe 500 were feeding over the water, many more than in the morning.

Other sightings today included a yellow wagtail and a white wagtail close to Tern hide, from where I also saw a single black-tailed godwit, 2 common sandpiper and 3 goosander. Elsewhere 2 drake pochard were notable as was a single whitethroat, an oddly scarce bird at Blashford and mainly seen in autumn.

The moth trap contained just 2 common Quaker, moths don’t like cold, windy nights, but then who does.

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Back to some birds

I have been off for the week and today was my first day back. In my absence the reserve has turned green! Many of the trees have leaves bursting through and around the lakes emergent plants are doing what they do best and emerging.

The change of seasons is very apparent, with Ibsley Water having swallow, sand martin and a few house martin swooping over at least 47 wigeon and a goldeneye, reminders of winter. A fine adult little gull was hunting insects over the lake in the morning, but seemed to have gone in the afternoon. The rain of early afternoon brought in a flock of 25 Arctic tern, always a treat and at the end of the day some of them had joined the 4 common tern on the shingle near Tern hide giving a great comparison.

Migrants generally are still rather few apart from chiffchaff and blackcap, which are both around the reserve in good numbers. Today I found just singles of willow warbler and reed warbler, we usually have just one pair of willow warbler but there should be many more reed warbler to come.

Other more random sightings I had today included a red kite, a pair of mandarin duck, 4 goosander and 3 snipe. I also had reports of 2 white wagtail and a common sandpiper.

Counting and Estimating

It was a very grey dawn that broke as I waited in Lapwing hide this morning in an attempt to count the goosander roost on Ibsley Water. Unfortunately I think a lot of them  had already left as I saw only 54, I would have expected over a hundred at this stage of the winter. Luckily, although it was very grey, there was almost no wind, making counting the wildfowl quite easy. Overall the counts on Ibsley Water were poor, a few years ago there could have been totals of a thousand or more, but poor weed growth has meant there is little food for many species this winter. The highlight was seeing both of the black-necked grebe together, although they then went their own ways very quickly, one remaining close the southern shore the other up to the north-west corner as usual.

Luckily some of the other lakes do have a good growth of weed, most notably Ivy Lake which held 356 gadwall and 318 wigeon, although only 31 coot was a real surprise as they are also weed-eaters. It seems the coot were mostly on Rockford Lake, where there were 340, but only a few dozen each of wigeon and gadwall. Perhaps they prefer different types of weed or maybe the coot are going after weed in deeper water. Recent conditions may mean that the ducks do not need to follow the coot around to get at the weed they drag up and can feed on floating fragments.

Wildfowl are relatively easy to count on a lake, they do not move fast and if you have a good viewpoint you can see them all, at least if they are not diving. Later in the I encountered birds that were rather more difficult to count.

In the afternoon I was at our new reserve at Fishlake Meadows, to look at what will eventually be the reserve storage area and yard. We will not have access to it for a while but it was valuable to see the site and where service entry points are. Setting up a new site is always exciting but dealing with all the elements that need to be in place to make things work at their best taxes my brain at times.

After dealing with the boring but essential site details we walked the canal path and witnessed the modest but still impressive starling roost. I say modest, but I was quite unable to count them, an estimate would be perhaps 8-10,000, nothing like the 60,000 or more that were seen a couple of weeks ago. They arrived in several groups, the largest landed quite quickly.

dropping down to roost

The flock dropping into roost

Shortly after this a buzzard flew low over the roost which took flight and then mostly landed in neighbouring trees and bushes.

starlings sitting in trees

bushes full of starlings

All the while extra groups of birds were flying in. Quite a sight and they attracted a fair crowd of local people, it is always good to see people able to enjoy wildlife on their own doorstep. There is something especially satisfying about being able to walk out from your own home and see wildlife, or better still be able to see it in, or from your own garden. Wildlife should really be living around us, not just experienced by travelling to special places, one of the great things about Fishlake Meadows is its proximity to the town of Romsey, wildlife on their doorstep.

A Cold and Frosty Morning

Ivy Lake from Ivy South hide

Ivy Lake on a chill morning

Despite the chill, seven volunteers turned out today to do a dead hedging task at Blashford Lakes. I am a great fan of the dead hedge, when we are scrub cutting, or coppicing or just dealing lop and top it provides a great way to clear the branches without the damage caused by burning. Conservationists are great at leaving log piles for invertebrates, often forgetting that the smaller branches and twigs are home to even more species. In addition the dense tangle of a dead hedge provides cover for nesting birds, hibernating insects and also makes a good barrier. We use them as shelter to promote bramble, both as barrier features and habitat in its own right.

Out on the reserve on Ibsley Water the black-necked grebe was still present as were both pink-footed geese, although the juvenile looks very unwell. I counted 118 pochard, my largest count for some years, although I missed the goosander roost, a disappointment as I expect there are well over 100 now.  Near the Centre and at the Woodland hide there were a few brambling and one or two lesser redpoll. 

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a very poor record shot of the juvenile pink-footed goose

Dusk saw a somewhat reduced number of starling coming to roost, although they gave a good show thanks to being attacked by a peregrine. The gull roost included the regular ring-billed gull, although it seems there has been another bird seen recently, although I don’t think both have been seen on the same evening. “Walter” our great white egret was back on his dead alder roost on Ivy Lake near the cormorant roost, but there still seems to be no sign of a bittern yet.

I got an almost equally poor record shot of the black-necked grebe the other day as well, poor but still the best I have managed!

black-necked grebe

It will close with a last shot of the Ivy Silt Pond with almost perfect reflections in the calm chill of the morning as I opened up the hides.

silt pond reflections

Ivy Silt Pond reflections

Don’t forget the Pop-up cafe will be in again on New Years Day, see you there!

A Fishlake Wander, Recent sightings and Festive Opening

Work at the new Trust reserve at Fishlake Meadows is picking up, with the fencelines being cut out and plans being made for the start of willow coppicing, both to maintain some of the low scrub and to open up some new views across the reserve. As part of this planning process we were out on site at the start of the week, luckily we picked a good day.

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View across part of Fishlake Meadows

On our wandering in some of the damp fields we encountered a large number of Cetti’s warbler, the reserve has large areas of almost perfect habitat for them. We also flushed a fair few snipe including one jack snipe. Perhaps our most surprising sighting was of 2 hawfinch perched in a small tree near a flock of fieldfare. There has been a once in a lifetime invasion of hawfinches this winter with many thousands arriving from the continent. These two were probably some of these immigrants rather than local birds, but with the New Forest being the UK hotspot for the species they could have been more local.

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a view across the lower lake

 

mistletoe at Fishlake

Mistletoe on poplar at Fishlake

Around the drier margins and especially along the canal path there are still many live poplars and quiet a few of them have a festive bunch or two of mistletoe high in their branches.

Meanwhile at Blashford Lakes latest reports are that the ring-billed gull is now being seen regularly in the gull roost on Ibsley Water as is the first winter Caspian gull, with a 2nd winter bird also reported recently, the roost also includes 2 Mediterranean gull. The starlings have been putting on quite show, with some estimates of up to 50000 birds coming into roost, usually just to the west of Ibsley water so seen from the hill at the back of the main car park. On Ibsley Water itself there have been up to 104 goosander roosting, 14 goldeneye and a single black-necked grebe. At least one of the pink-footed geese can be seen on and off with the greylag. There continue to be something like 90 pochard and 25-30 pintail as well.

On Ivy Lake “Walter” the great white egret is being seen fairly regularly and was joined by a second bird the other day. From Ivy North hide water rail and Cetti’s warbler are regular, although we have yet to get a report of a bittern this winter. The Woodland hide has one or two brambling and lesser redpoll as well as the occasional and less desirable report of brown rat.

robin

Robin

CHRISTMAS OPENING: We will be open as usual over Christmas apart from Christmas Day itself when we will be closed. In addition on New Years Day we will have the Pop-up Café again in the Centre, so you can start your birdlist for the year and get a hot cup of something and some excellent homemade cakes.

 

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.

Pochards in the Mist

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

pochard in the mist

Pochard in the mist

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

frosty thistle

frosty creeping thistle

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

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Early morning reedbed

Eventually the sun did start to burn off the murk.

sun clearing the mist

The sun breaking through

Finally I could start counting in earnest.

misty Ibsley Water

Mist finally clearing from Ibsley Water

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

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

 

 

 

Some Seasonal Firsts!

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

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The first marbled chocolate cake of the winter.

Others were personal firsts and very tasty too.

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

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

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The Walking Picniceers and happy customers.

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

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

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

 

February round up

We’ve had a busy half term, with Winter Craft themed Wild Days Out, an evening under the stars (of which there really were many!) with the Fordingbridge Astronomers and our usual Young Naturalists monthly meeting.

Our Wild Days Out saw the children getting very messy in the clay pit, den building, fire lighting, creating dream catchers and baskets from willow and ice art sculptures. Lots of arty and hands on activities that involved natural materials! We even attempted to make burn out bowls in the fire, using hollowed out pieces of elder as straws. It was a slow process…

Our Young Naturalists did a great job making bird boxes, using a plan to mark up their planks of wood, cutting up the individual pieces and nailing them all together. The bird boxes along with a number made by the volunteers will replace some of the older ones on the reserve which are a little past their best, and will be a welcome addition. Thank you guys for all your hard work!

We also spent quite a while watching the kingfisher catching newts from the Education Centre pond – a very good distraction! The pond has become a favourite hunting spot for at least two birds, which are best viewed from inside the Centre as they don’t hang around for long when disturbed – hopefully they will leave a few newts for us to catch over the summer!

kingfisher

Kingfisher by the Education Centre pond

The wild daffodils by the Woodland Hide are probably now at their best and definitely worth a visit, adding a welcome splash of yellow to the woodland floor.

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Wild daffodils near the Woodland Hide

The feeders at the Woodland Hide are still being visited by three brambling and at least one lesser redpoll, whilst a number of reed bunting have been foraging around on the ground.

Goldeneye, black necked grebe and goosander are still present on Ibsley Water whilst lapwing numbers are increasing, with some beginning to display over the lake with their distinctive flip-floppy flight. The water pipit has also been viewed from Tern Hide.

We’re expecting the bittern and great white egret to leave us any day now – if indeed they are still here! The bittern was seen on Sunday whilst Jim’s most recent view of the great white was last Wednesday.

A tawny owl has also decided to roost at the southern end of Ivy Lake, best viewed from the last window in Ivy South Hide. Noticed on Sunday, it has been there most mornings and still there some evenings so it’s definitely worth a scan of the trees on the lake edge.

Finally, thank you very much to Dave Levy for sharing with us this sequence of photos of a pair of great crested grebe displaying on Ivy Lake. Spring must definitely be here!

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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.