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.

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30 Days Wild – Day 6

Monday and I was up before dawn to head out to do a breeding bird survey in the south-east of the county before heading into Blashford for the day. Although I like being up at this time it does get to be quite hard when it means getting up before 04:00 in the morning! The first couple of hours of daylight are often the best of the day and there is something about being out and about when almost everyone else is still tucked up in bed.

Being the first week of June I came across several great spotted woodpecker nests with large, noisy chicks hanging out of them and also saw the first family parties of great tits. The site is a woodland and as well as the birds I frequently see roe deer, often at close range and perhaps not expecting anyone to be about so early in the day. I also found a swarm of tiny moths dancing over the tops of some bracken fronds.

Adela croesella

Adela croesella

It was not easy to get a shot as it was early and rather dark underneath the tree canopy, but you can see that they are rather splendid creatures with extraordinarily long antennae.

The woodland has a wide range of tree species and much of it is clearly ancient, with a ground flora including bluebell, wild daffodil, ramsons and Solomon’s seal. There is also a good amount of standing dead wood, beloved of woodpeckers and fungi. On one partly dead oak I spotted a clump of sulphur polypore.

sulphur polyphore

sulphur polypore

 

 

Snakes Alive

There are now at least five grass snakes being seen on the logs outside the Ivy South Hide, although three of these reported yesterday were quite small.  Although not as warm as yesterday when opening up the hide, some were basking – how many I leave for you to decide….

Basking Grass Snake(s) ???

Basking Grass Snake(s) ???

A close up of the head of one snake shows a distinctly blue cast to the eye,

Old 'blue-eyes'

Old ‘blue-eyes’

 

probably indicative that it is getting ready to slough off its outer skin, which , I believe happens as they get larger. literally bursting out of their skin.

Early morning, before too many people are around the wildlife has the place largely to itself and it’s probably a bit of a shock when we turn in to open the place up. Yesterday morning, I startled a couple of roe deer that were lurking near the Woodland Hide

Roe Deer and young

Roe Deer and young

Though still suffering some predation, we can run the light trap without too many losses. providing its stuffed full of egg-boxes. Highlights from yesterday and today were this Coxcomb Prominent,

 

Coxcomb Prominent

Coxcomb Prominent

 

a rather butterfly-like Common Emerald,

Common Emerald

Common Emerald

a distinctively marked and appositely named Blood-vein, contrasting nicely with the black of the light trap,

Blood-vein

Blood-vein

and star turn, a Privet Hawkmoth, which when seen with wings closed is quite impressive,

Privet Hawkmoth

Privet Hawkmoth

but with its wings open and spread out reveals a body clad in a rugby shirt of black and pink stripes.

Privet Hawkmoth

Privet Hawkmoth

Reports of birds in and around the Reserve, include a flyover Hobby and a rapacious Sparrowhawk which caught a Sand Martin just outside the Goosander Hide.

Near the Centre a juvenile Great-spotted Woodpecker was being fed, from our feeder, by an adult male Great-spotted Woodpecker — presumably its Dad – quite appropriate for Fathers Day!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

W-otter disappointment!

One of our visitors came in to the centre to report a fantastic view of an otter playing in Ivy Silt Pond yesterday morning – of course Michelle and I went to have a look a couple of times over the course of the rest of the day and, of course, were disappointed. What was particularly noticeable (other than the lack of a large mustelid!) was the complete absence of birds on the pond:

No otter here - or birds either!

No otter here – or birds either!

This morning it was one of the first things I checked after a I arrived and was greeted by the usual array of mallard, coot, tufted duck and cormorant so I could be fairly confident that the otter, if still around, was at least lying low.

Where there are birds, I strongly suspect, there is no otter! Ivy Silt Pond this morning.

Where there are birds I strongly suspect there is no otter! Ivy Silt Pond this morning.

I did check one of the habitual spraint sites (otter are very territorial and, like many other mammals, use their faeces as boundary markings) and was treated to the sight (and scent!) of both tracks and spraint:

Otter signs - as close to a wild otter as I usually get, and am as likely to get, at Blashford!

Otter signs – as close to a wild otter as I usually get, and am as likely to get, at Blashford!

Top-tip! Otter and mink spraint look very similar, and, due to their shared habitat preferences and diet, will be found in similar locations, but mink spraint has a very powerful unpleasant smell and will often contain more mammal remains than fish (including hair)whilst otter spraint is composed primarily of fish bones and scales and has a pleasant fresh fish smell, which is even likened to the scent of jasmine tea!

Other current wildlife news include reports of a mealy redpoll at the woodland hide feeding alongside the lesser redpolls, marsh tit (again at the woodland hide) and two black necked grebes on Ibsley Water. The great white egret is still with us at the moment, but probably won’t be for many more weeks as it is about time that it headed back south to France. Already seemingly departed are the starlings that entertained everyone so spectacularly before Christmas and also the Ivy Lake bitterns.  I am not surprised that the starlings have moved on as in previous years (with substantially smaller murmurations admittedly) they have usually gone by this time, but it is unusual not to have bitterns now – but of course it has never actually been significantly cold for a significant time as yet this winter and on top of that the rain over the last few weeks has really impacted the lake water levels. Having said that it maybe that there are still bittern on the reserve, but rather that they have just moved elsewhere, or even if they have left it is entirely possible that they, or others, return in the event that winter actually kicks in and we get some cold weather over the course of coming weeks.

Otherwise everything is as you would expect but for once the sun was shining:

All the usual suspects on Ivy Lake

All the usual suspects on Ivy Lake – but more noteworthy is the lack of clouds!

All this week I have been aware that the song birds are becoming more vocal – particularly things like the great tit, blackbirds and robins, and today in the sun shine, that was particularly the case. Even the great spotted woodpecker joined in with a drum roll this morning! Additional evidence of the passing of the season are the snowdrops by the centre:

Snowdrops

Snowdrops peeping through the leaf litter

Day starts misty optically, but ends optimistically

As we approach the winter solstice its, perhaps, not surprising that there are days when what little sunlight we receive is often obscured by cloud. Today was just such a one and the associated drizzle didn’t improve matters. Deposits of the damp stuff on hide windows further reduces visibility. So in a Canute like effort to improve matters I set about cleaning off the worst of the mist from the Woodland Hide windows, to some effect.

wet, wintery

Clearly not very clear

A clearer view

A clearer view

At least now the feeding greenfinch, goldfinch, nuthatch, great spotted woodpecker , blue tits and great tits can be seen.
Back at the Centre one of the daily routines is to check in the loft to see if any mice have wandered into our (humane) traps. At this time of year it seems a lot of youngsters are dispersing and the attraction of a warm dry loft isn’t to be sneered at. The incidence of mice finding the loft seems to be increasing at the moment, so I had the dubious pleasure of taking a woodmouse off on its ‘holiday’ to be released back into the community!

On an otherwise not terribly inspiring day, it was good to see the great white egret on the TV screen in the Centre lobby.

Star of screen ......, but also visible from hides!!

Star of screen ……, but also, often, visible from hides!!

The, newly re-furbished, camera is positioned viewing an area between Ivy North and South Hides, which is just not readily accessible, so without it we couldn’t see this area – or the egret.
Just after this image was taken the egret left – suddenly – being pursued by a grey heron. It would appear that despite the somewhat greater stature of the egret, standing ‘head and beak’ above a grey heron, it’s a little less than confident in standing its ground (water?) against our more common native bird.

Yesterday’s starling murmuration was well attended, by both starlings and spectators, although the light levels weren’t terrific for photography. We don’t know how much longer this spectacle is likely to continue but at least a large number of people have been fortunate enough to get here to view it over the last couple of weeks.

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Didn’t get over to the Tern Hide car-park tonight as when the weather is so grim they usually sneak in and settle so there didn’t seem to be much point. There’s always the chance that with less inclement weather, the display may continue for a while longer.
Also of note today, there were a number of siskin on the feeder by the Centre car-park, a start to the build-up of wintering finches we hope will be with us soon.
A couple of visitors had reported good sightings of the great white egret. As I closed down it was foraging in the reeds, about thirty feet away from the Ivy North Hide — don’t rate it’s chances if it runs into one of our bittern!!!!

Nobbi Tern

Although it was another unpromising start to the day as we arrived to open up a distinctly soggy reserve under grey skies and light rain, the great spotted woodpecker was drumming from a large tree next to the Centre. A song thrush too was assuring us that spring was here with its distinctive repetitious singing of differing phrases. Trumping even these two was the wonderfully evocative sound of a chiffchaff calling out its own name in song.

Over Ibsley Water sand martins were seen hawking for insects. Whether these birds will be staying with us in the recently refurbished sand martin bank, or are just some of those moving through we will never know.

It’s very much a period of shift change as some of the late winter visitors haven’t all departed yet. Indeed the probable late winter/early spring shortage of natural food means we seem to be hosting ever larger numbers of brightly coloured finches, taking advantage of  the largess of the Trust in providing considerable quantities of niger seed, sunflower seed  and peanuts. As well as the siskin and redpoll coming into their breeding finery there are  quite large numbers  of (forty or more) around the Woodland Hide with at least ten brambling.   Some more brambling, and other finches including greenfinch,  are around the feeders near the Centre car-park. (Picture taken by Sheila).

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Brambling by feeder close to Centre building

A buzzard has been making its presence fairly obviously around the Woodland Hide, much to the consternation of some of the smaller birds and a few of our visitors. One even asked if it had been taking many of the smaller birds, personally I should think this unlikely as most of the finches and tits are probably too agile to be caught by a buzzard. Most likely its scavenging some of the spilt food, I’ve had a friend ‘phone me today reporting just such buzzard behaviour from her garden.

The snipe has been re-located from the Ivy North Hide but there has been (to my knowledge) no sighting of any bittern today – hence the title of this piece (Just in case you were wondering if there is a strange species of tern on the reserve!!!).

Still a few ducks around including pochard, wigeon, teal, mallard, gadwall, tufted duck and goldeneye.  A couple of keen-eyed visitors spotted a pair of mandarin duck on Ibsley Water and some black-necked grebe are also still there.

Perhaps the most delightful sighting was by a couple of regularly visitors who were fortunate enough to see a barn owl flitting from post to post on the fence alongside Rockford Lake. The owl was trying to hunt in the open, but was being mobbed by black-headed gulls, the whole menagerie eventually flying off in the direction of Ivy Lake.