Wet and Wild

I think that about sums up the conditions at present, the rain seems to have been fairly continuous since September! The lakes have gone from almost the lowest I can remember to as high as I have ever seen.

flooded boardwalk

Flooding under the boardwalk south of Ivy South Hide

The flooding has been widespread and the Avon Valley is awash, this encourages wildfowl to come up from the coast to feed on the flooded fields. They mainly feed there at night spending the day on the lakes, but as they, which is why there are over 340 pintail regularly on Ibsley Water just now and today I counted 1470 wigeon on Ivy Lake alone!

The floods mean the gull roost has declined as many are now roosting in the valley rather than on Ibsley Water. But this does not mean there is no roost spectacle to be seen as there is a large starling roost just to the north which is best seen from the viewpoint at the rear of the Main Car Park. Although this at some distance from the roost it does give a full view of the whole gyrating flock once a real murmuration gets going as it frequently has with two or more peregrine trying to catch a late meal most evenings.

starlings 2

Starlings

starlings 1

More starlings

It is very difficult to guess at numbers, but I would say there are at least 25000.

The high water levels have meant we have seen very few snipe this winter, I think they have all gone off into the valley, although I did spot one the other morning from tern Hide.

snipe

common snipe, more or less hiding

The most regular wader this winter has been the unseasonal common sandpiper, these usually migrate well to the south for the winter and the few that do stay in the UK are almost all on the coast. It was around daily until around the New Year when it disappeared, I thought the chancy strategy of wintering so far north had caught up with it, but on Sunday it reappeared on the shore outside Tern Hide again.

common sandpiper

common sandpiper

A less welcome sight outside the same hide, and all along the southern shore were two dogs, it seems they stray from a garden nearly a mile away, bad for wildlife and a real risk to the dogs as they cross or run down the road on their way here.

dogs!

Dogs!

We also had an incident of people on the reserve with dogs in circumstances suggestive of attempted poaching, luckily they were seen by an eagle-eyed visitor and reported to us. If you are visiting and see anything that seems untoward, please let us know, if possible at the time, our numbers are posted in the hides. Whilst the reserve is well respected by almost everyone and this is key to its success there is always the chance that the actions of a few can spoil things for the many.

As you may know the reserve is dog-free apart from the public footpaths, so on most of the reserve the wildlife does not associate people with dogs. One consequence of this is that the roe deer are relatively approachable, often just spotting to look at you before wandering off rather than racing away in panic.

roe deer

Three roe on the path to Ivy North Hide on a gloomy morning

As we passed into 2020 I had to admit that we seem to have no bittern for the year-listers this winter as last autumn’s bird has not been seen for some time. We do still have Europe’s oldest great white egret though, “Walter” has made it into 2020 and now has just about four and a half months to his 17th birthday.

Walter

Walter, and gull – again in the gloom, the light has mostly been terrible for taking pictures!

Even though it has felt like it has rarely stopped raining and right now it is blowing a gale outside there has been some respite and even a bit of sunshine, as when this rainbow appeared over Ibsley Water on Sunday, when we were also visited by the ferruginous duck on a brief foray away from its hiding place on Kingfisher Lake.

rainbow over Ibsley Water

rainbow over Ibsley Water

 

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.

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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.

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!

 

 

 

 

Look out behind you

Behind You!

Many thanks to Jon Mitchell for sending in the “action shot”!

Just thought you might like to see a photo I took from Ivy South on Sunday afternoon (whilst waiting for a kingfisher to perch – no joy!). Us photographers were keeping ourselves amused by taking shots of a female brown hawker that was depositing eggs on the underwater parts of the branches of the fallen tree in front of the hide. At one point, a coot shot in to try and catch the hawker and have a nice high-protein meal.

Fortunately (for the hawker – not for the coot) the dragonflies eyes were good enough to see the coot coming behind her – and she flew away just in time.”

Otherwise things are much the same as they were last time I blogged although the number of hirundines on site has certainly dropped. There are still at least three great white egrets (reported again this morning, on Ibsely Water) and photographers are still semi-permanently encamped in Ivy South Hide waiting for a stunning kingfisher picture. The kingfisher is still very much in evidence but this week I think there have been far more kingfisher sightings than pictures!

The stinkhorns I posted last week are now limp stipes, but have been replaced by new ones which have emerged sequentially every few days and I’ve spotted the odd beefsteak fungus starting to form now too.

 

Autumn well underway

IMG_20190907_091428

There has been a very autumnal feel to this week with hundreds of martins gathering over Ibsley Water each morning and today I was there as they continued with their migration southward – one moment they were all zipping around just above the lake surface and in the blink of an eye, at some signal unseen by me, they launched their way skywards in a fairly close spiral and very quickly were lost to sight.

There’s plenty of other signs of the changing season too – including the fact that this morning I chose to wear a jumper AND jacket into work!

The grasslands have been looking lovely first thing each day as well, festooned with their dew-laden cobwebs as they have been, and everywhere you go (there, the woodland, and even the car parks and outside the Centre) the ground is liberally covered with badger droppings whose diet has now very clearly moved on from plum to blackberry!

It’s still very dry so the fungi have not yet fruited in earnest but there are still some to be found, including this newly erect (there’s no other word for it really!) stinkhorn photographed near Woodland Hide this morning.

I’ve smelt it coming for a few days now, but not managed to see it, presumably because it was still in its “egg” form as opposed to my just being unobservant as it was particularly fresh looking this morning. They don’t tend to last overly long, but this one will soon be replaced by another marked by a new “egg” bottom left of the photograph. Weird things these eggs, and far more easily overlooked than the mature fungus (which, lets face it, is also pretty weird!) as they often form just below the ground, so nice to see and get a photo of it today.

IMG_20190907_092238

You can just see a fly coming in in the top left corner of the picture. Attracted by the rotten/sweet small of the fungus it will become coated with the sticky jelly carrying spores and so assist the fungi in its dispersal as it flies away on whatever business flies get up to when not lured by stinkhorns.

Kingfishers have continued to oblige this summer, to an extent at Goosander Hide, but in recent weeks at Ivy South Hide in particular.

There are still at least two great white egrets around, debatably 3, one of which is “Walter” and yesterday afternoon they have been joined by another of our seasonal herons, with a bittern seen in flight by half-a-dozen visitors as it flew over the reed/reedmace bed, from left to right, in front of Ivy North Hide, giving all a fantastic view.

It will probably be a while before the next sighting, and even longer before anyone gets a picture as the reeds are all so tall and dense still at this time of year, but good to know that there is at least one around so keep your eyes peeled on your next visit and you never know!

 

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.

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”.