Things Moving On

The unseasonably warm weather has yet to produce any summer migrant birds at Blashford, although elsewhere in the country there have been multiple sightings of swallow, sand martin and house martin, a swallow has even reached Shetland! We do have lots of signs of spring though, the wild daffodil are coming out in numbers, especially near the Woodland Hide and the moth trap is turning up some species more typical of March than February.

oak beauty 4x3

oak beauty

twin-spot quaker

twin-spotted Quaker

satellite

satellite

Things are also moving on with the various works on the reserve and are likely to pick up further next week. The new Centre pond is almost ready to receive water.

pond progress

New pond under construction

Some things don’t seem so keen to move though, the bittern remains regularly seen outside Ivy North Hide, at times showing very well.

bittern 2

bittern fishing outside Ivy North Hide yesterday

The other notable heron species that had been seen regularly there, the great white egret does seem to have made the move though, with no sightings in the last few days. My last known sighting of “Walter” the colour-ringed egret was last Saturday, I am guessing he has returned to France for the summer.

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Substitutes and Declines

It was feeling very spring-like today, I got very warm as I worked with the volunteers felling some grey alder beside the path to Lapwing Hide. These trees were planted as a “substitute” for native alder, which is not a hard tree to source, when the restoration planting was done after the gravel working ceased. Sadly truly native trees are not always specified in planting schemes, even when they are supposedly done for nature conservation and even when they are, substitutes are often allowed. Often even if the tree species is native they are not from a UK source, importing trees has brought us several diseases that have significantly impacted upon native woodland. These imports are also often adapted to a different climate so will flower or leaf earlier out of sync with native insects. Let’s have more native trees that are really native, ideally grown from the seed of trees as local to the planting site as possible.

wild daffodil

Wild daffodil just coming into flower, a good indicator of remaining ancient woodland at Blashford Lakes.

Having said all this planting trees is an often seriously over rated activity, if they establish well we end up with secondary woodland that will not be more than a pale shadow of an ancient woodland in even a thousand years. The best way to extend woodland cover is to allow existing ancient woods to grow outwards, letting them seed into neighbouring open ground, something that will happen naturally in most places if grazing or mowing are stopped. This way we will get locally adapted trees establishing where they will do best and other species can move out from the old wood into the new. It will also serve to buffer the older woodland and reduce the distance to the nearest neighbouring wood. I am prepared to make an exception for hedges though, so many of these have been lost that replanting is the only practical way to get them back, but the need for locally plant stock remains important.

There has been a good bit of coverage of the severe global decline in insect numbers in the media over the last few days and it is very alarming. A series of studies are now coming to very similar conclusions and these are that insects are in trouble globally with significant declines not just in developed western Europe but in tropical forests as well. Insects may be small but their abundance and diversity mean they are vital to the effective functioning of almost all terrestrial ecosystems. They are predators and prey, decomposers, pollinators and grazers, in fact they are almost everywhere and everywhere they are, they perform essential functions. I have run a moth trap for many years monitoring the species caught before releasing them and I can attest to a great drop in numbers over the years, I see as many species but none in great abundance as I used to.

pale brindled beauty

Pale brindled beauty, a typical late winter species, there were two in the trap last night.

Over the last few weeks things have been a bit hectic on the reserve with work going on all over the place, the new pond is being dug behind the Education Centre and preparations continuing for the installation of the new Tern hide next month. We are doing our best to keep the reserve up and running in the meantime, but there will be occasional interruptions to normal service, such as temporary closure of the main car park or limitations on the use of parts of the car parks.

Out on the reserve two bittern have been seen a number of times recently at Ivy North hide as have two great white egret. I am especially keen to try to record the last sighting of “Walter” our colour-ringed great white egret, he usually heads off back to France around this time of year so any definite sightings gratefully received. At the weekend an otter was seen at Ivy North hide and this morning I have very, very, brief views of one near Ivy South hide, so it is well worth keeping an eye out.

roost

A roosting great white egret with lots of cormorant, it might have been “Walter” but I could not see the legs to check for rings.

 

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!!)

Oh Deer!

I was doing a waterbird count today, but despite this my main memory of the day was of deer, they seemed to be everywhere. On my way to open Ivy North hide a muntjac sauntered across the path in front of me, strictly they are Reeve’s muntjac and were introduced to the UK from the Far East. They are now widespread across much of England aided by being able to breed at as early as seven months! The muntjac was to quick for me to get a picture, or rather I was too slow to get the camera ready. A few metres further on a roe buck was on the lichen heath, but he headed off at speed. However by the Woodland hide there were two young roe and they wandered slowly to the side of the path before stopping to look back at me.

roe deer

roe deer near Woodland Hide

On my way to Lapwing hide I disturbed a groups of fallow deer, these are less desirable as they go round in large groups and can do a lot of damage to our coppice and even pollards, as they will stand up on their hind legs to reach growth as high as 1.8m. This group of fallow is a real mixed bunch with typical spotted ones, white, beige and even black individuals.

fallow

fallow, just beside the path “hiding”

I did count the wildfowl, but I have to say numbers are pretty poor this winter, well below the five year average for almost all species apart from pochard. I found at least 21 goldeneye, but this included only four adult drakes and I know there were six earlier on, so perhaps I missed some, or they have already moved on. Other birds of note were 2 water pipit and two great white egret or just possibly one twice.

The only other thing that really caught my eye was a group of fungi, so far I have failed to get close to a name, so if you have any ideas I would be glad to hear from you.

fungus

unknown fungus

Tern(ed) Down

Well the deed is done, today we took down the Tern Hide, after a bit of a slow start we got into our stride and it came down more or less in sections as planned. It was in pretty good condition for the most part, until we took up the floor, the supports were in a poor state. It will be about two months until the new hide is up and ready, this might seem a long time, but I had only a couple of days each week when there are enough of our brilliant volunteers to tackle this scale of job and it could not have been done if the day had been windy, so I decided to allow a two week window to get it done. Before the new hide can go up we have to remove a large slab of concrete, which will take a while, so extra days might prove useful later on.

staring to demolish tern hide

Just making a start

going

about half way there

almost gone

Just the last two panels to go

Meanwhile, back at the Education Centre, progress on the pond has been slower, but hopefully will pick up tomorrow. The car park there is now usable again, the surface is not the finished article yet, the final layer will have to wait until all the other works are complete, but it is fine to park on. There is still fencing up in places with some restrictions on access but the paths are open as is the Centre and hides. I am still hopeful that the path from the main car park to Goosander hide will be opened up soon, now that all the works have been finished.

I did not hear many reports of wildlife today, although the yellow-browed warbler was apparently seen in the brambles right in front of Ivy South hide. Locking up I had good views of water rail at Ivy North hide, I also heard a Cetti’s warbler singing and saw a great white egret roosting in the trees. The two first winter Caspian gull were again in the roost on Ibsley Water along with at least one Mediterranean gull.

At lunchtime I saw a common toad swim past the camera on Pondcam, my first of the year, although I am not sure if I can count “seen on Pondcam”.

Four Finches and a Hide Away

A fine if chilly day on the reserve and it seemed lots of people were out looking for brambling, although there has been one seen at the Woodland Hide I think it will be a week or tow more before they are regular. Although they are “Winter” finches, they are actually most frequent at our feeders in early spring, so March is often the best month. I think the reason is that they tend to come to artificial feed once the natural food sources reduce. There are certainly more finches at the feeders now than before Christmas, with siskin now present most of the time, with the males singing whenever the sun comes out.

singing siskin

singing siskin

Greenfinch are now probably scarcer than siskin at garden feeders, a reflection of the fall in their numbers as well as an undoubted rise in siskin abundance.

greenfinch

Greenfinch, not as common a sight as once it was

One finch that rarely comes to garden feeders is the linnet, it is a bird of more open habitats, there is a good flock on the shore of Ibsley Water at present and I got a shot of part of the group today.

linnet flock

part of the linnet flock

I took the shot above from Tern hide, by way of a farewell, the hide will be closed as of this evening and tomorrow we start to take it down in readiness for replacing it with a brand new hide. This will mean that part of the car park will be closed tomorrow, although the Centre car park should be back on stream, so overall there will still be plenty of parking.

Although everyone seemed to be looking for brambling, their resident close relative the chaffinch is a very fine bird which we perhaps disregard too easily, probably because it is so common.

male chaffinch

male chaffinch

Reports from around the reserve today included –

At Ivy North Hide: the bittern and great white egret, with supporting caste of water rail.                                                                                                                                                        At Woodland Hide: reed bunting and all the regulars.                                                                At Tern Hide: 3 Mediterranean gull, probably 2 Caspian gull and well over 100 common gull, as well as the linnet flock noted above.

As far as I know the yellow-browed warbler has not been certainly seen for a few days now, although I have heard rumours of sightings at various points between Ivy North hide and south of the boardwalk, so who knows?

If you do visit over the next few weeks there will be various works going on, I would ask that you take note of any signs and fences, these will be in place to keep you safe when there is machinery moving around and working. Apart from the Tern hide, which is being replaced, all the other hides remain open and there will always be parking available. The Centre and toilets should be available as usual.

 

Thinning

Not a reference to the effects of advancing age but to today’s volunteer task on the reserve, which was felling some sycamore trees to open up some space. In places we have dense stands of very tall, thin sycamores which tend to over-top and then shade out other species. To reduce the negative effects of this we are thinning out a lot of the smaller trees, especially where they are growing amongst other species such as oak. It was the perfect day for felling, at least until the rain started, being cool, so I did not overheat in the protective chainsaw gear and calm, so the trees would hopefully fall where I intended them to.

volunteers clearing felled sycamore

Volunteers clearing away the upper branches of a felled sycamore

By the end of the day we had cleared quite a few trees, but the more we took down the more there seemed to be! At the same time there was a more open feel to the area so we must have done something. We did come across quiet a few small, self-sown hazel and even one covered in honeysuckle and these should benefit from some more sunlight.

the aftermath of sycamore thinning

the aftermath of sycamore thinning

I left a number of the stumps fairly high, this allows me to ring-bark the stump reducing the chance of it growing back, without using pesticide and also gives the opportunity to make some cut slots and holes to allow rot to get a hold and make habitat for various invertebrates.

Chainsawing for most of the day does reduce the chance of seeing wildlife somewhat, but not completely. Locking up the hides at dusk I was lucky enough to see both great white egret and bittern at Ivy North hide. I understand the yellow-browed warbler was again near Ivy South hide and out on Ibsley Water there were peregrine, Mediterranean gullyellow-legged gull and black-necked grebe, but no sign of the lesser scaup, perhaps it has moved to Blashford Lake where it spent much of its time last winter when it was here. At Woodland hide there was also a brambling reported, perhaps the same bird that Tracy saw yesterday.

walter in the reedmace

Walter hiding amongst the reedmace in the gloom of dusk

 

From all Corners

There were birds from all over the place on the reserve today. All the way from Siberia; the yellow-browed warbler was again near Ivy South hide as I opened up, giving good views until it disappeared before our very eyes. It makes astonishingly fast changes of direction which mean that following its movements for very long is incredibly difficult.

From North America we had; lesser scaup, a drake near the furthest shore of Ibsley Water, probably last winter’s bird returned by popular demand. These duck are similar in appearance to the greater scaup which is much more familiar in Europe, but smaller, around the size of a tufted duck.

From all over northern and eastern Europe we had all the other wildfowl and a good few other birds too. Arrived from the Alps and now to be seen on the shores of Ibsley Water are the water pipit, I got a mediocre picture of one today.

water pipit

water pipit from Tern hide

And finally from just up the road somewhere we have the rest, including this adult female peregrine, seen here in another iffy picture!

peregrine

adult female peregrine

Other birds to be seen out and about on the reserve today were the bittern at Ivy North hide along with Walter the great white egret. Other birds to be seen on Ibsley Water included green sandpiper, pintail and in the gull roost several yellow-legged gull and three Mediterranean gull. 

However the reserve is not just about birds, today there was also cake and lots of it, with another successful day for the pop-up cafe.  I also took some non-birdy pictures, largely due to a failure to get very good ones of the birds. There are quite a few fungi about now, scarlet elf-cup are just starting to appear in numbers as are lost of Turkeytail.

turkeytail

Moss, fern and Turkeytail

The bare trees make it possible to appreciate how much lichen some of them have on their branches, the willow near Lapwing hide are especially heavily festooned.

lichen on willow twigs

lichen on willow twigs

Other species grow on the trunks of trees.

lichen on birch trunk

lichen on birch trunk

Lichens are a mash-up of alga and fungus, although it now appears it is probably rather more complicated than this.

The reserve was busy today despite reduced parking due to the ongoing levelling works near the Centre, but hopefully this work will be completed by the end of the coming week and things will be slightly closer to normal again, at least for a time.

Change is in the Air

Actually change is the only thing that seems constant on the reserve just at the present. Levelling the car park near the Centre is well underway, but will mean this area is closed to parking for at least the whole of this week. In addition work is advancing on the remaining issues that have been preventing us gaining permission to use the new path to Goosander hide, so watch this space for updates on this.

A further sign of the times is that most of the reserve signs are being replaced, sounds simple enough perhaps, but working out exactly what has to be put on each and precisely where they should be placed takes time. Too many sites are over-signed and I don’t want this for Blashford, ideally there should be just enough to do the job and they should be obvious without being intrusive. Only time will tell how close we get to this ideal.

Out on the reserve the yellow-browed warbler continues to please most visitors that seek it, today mostly just to the north of Ivy South hide from what I understand, I did not see it myself. I did see a small flock of eight lesser redpoll in a birch in the same area though, my first this year. At Tern hide the water pipit, or at least a water pipit, seemed to be present for much of the day as did a flock of linnet, although their numbers seem to have reduced. The Woodland hide was very busy, with all the usual suspects present and especially large numbers of goldfinch and siskin when I looked in.

At Ivy North hide the bittern was seen occasionally as were water rail and Cetti’s warbler. When I locked up there was a great white egret, although it was not Walter, as it had no rings.

Lastly, just up the road at Harbridge a single Bewick’s swan continues to feed with the herd of mute swan, sometimes very close to the road.

High-brow

I was elsewhere yesterday so was only able to read about the bird of the day, the yellow-browed warbler seen near Ivy South hide. It was not a great surprise as they are now scarce migrants and winter visitors in Hampshire despite breeding in Asia and being smaller than a chiffchaff! Although climate change might be expected to lead to more southern bird species spreading north and it probably has, there also seems to be a strong trend for traditionally Siberian species to be spreading west. Several formerly very rare species are now occurring much more frequently in western Europe and even nesting.

So as I opened up the hides I was keeping an eye out for a long-tailed tit flock as the warbler was tagging along with one yesterday. Leaving the Ivy South hide there was a flock just behind the hide and there it was, high in an alder, the yellow-browed warbler had found me! Only brief views as they don’t stay still for long, but I did grab a quick picture.

yellow-browed warbler

yellow-browed warbler

These birds are common in Asia breeding across a wide area and migrating south to winter mostly in tropical south-east Asia. On the face of it their now regular arrival in some numbers in western Europe in autumn and wintering in south-west Europe would seem very unlikely and may be related to a westward range extension in the summer.

I understand the bittern was seen several times today and a Caspian gull was in the roost on Ibsley Water. I was busy all day so my only other sighting of any note was at dusk from Ivy North hide where there were two water rail and two great white egret in the trees. It was a magnificent evening with a splendid sky at sunset.

sunset from main car park

sunset from the main car park