It’s a Small World

Boxing Day was quite busy at Blashford, with a fair few visitors on the reserve, most who were prepared to spend the time waiting saw the bittern at Ivy North hide. Whilst they waited good views were to be had of water rail and Cetti’s warbler.

From the hides on Ibsley Water the black-necked grebe could be distantly seen along with at least two water pipit and near Tern hide, at least 85 linnet. An adult female marsh harrier crossed over the lake a few times and a sparrowhawk was seen trying to hunt the small starling roost int he late afternoon. The starling roost has evidently relocated having dropped from tens of thousands to a few hundred. I could also find no sign of any great white egret, even at dusk when I looked at the usual roost site, none could be found.

linnets

Part of the linnet flock on the shore beside Tern hide, there are lots of them but they are hard to pick out!

I had a look through the gull roost and there were good numbers of lesser black-backed gull and black-headed gull, but only 14 common gull, two yellow-legged gull and no sign of the ring-billed gull or Caspian gull. Obviously I could not check all the gulls present but conditions were very good, so I was disappointed not to find either species.

Away from the birds I came across an oak branch with a remarkable habitat growing across it, just one branch had it’s own forest of lichen, moss and fungi, small in scale but extraordinary.

lichens

lichen and moss on oak branch

lichen and moss 2

More lichen and moss

hair lichen

hair-like lichen

fungus

A small fungus (I think)

It might be only just after Christmas, but signs of spring were to be found. I saw snowdrops pushing through the ground and the hazel catkins are opening.

hazel catkins

hazel catkins

I also heard singing mistle thrush and great tit as well as the year round singers like robin and Cetti’s warbler.

Back From the Brink(s) or Beyond and now at Blashford!

On the shortest day of the year it is perhaps appropriate to consider things turning, from here on the days will lengthen for the next six months and today at Blashford it was possible to see several species that have experience a turnaround in fortune.

We had another visit from the white-tailed eagle today, it circled over Ibsley Water causing mayhem for about five minutes before heading off toward the New Forest. These amazing birds used to breed widely in Scotland and around our rocky coastlines where there were cliffs of sufficient height, local the western end of the Isle of Wight was the nearest location but they died out there centuries ago due to persecution. They hung on in more out of the way places in Scotland until the early 20th century before finally being exterminated. Now they are back, admittedly with a good bit of help from a fairly large scale reintroduction program, but they have also recovered well in mainland Europe too and our bird is probably form there rather than Scotland. When I started birdwatching there were none in the UK and few enough in nearby Europe, so I would never have expected to see one. A combination of reduced persecution, active conservation efforts and strategic reintroduction have reestablished viable populations over large areas of their former range.

At Ivy North hide the bittern was showing well on and off all day. As I locked up it showed wonderfully well, walking out into the open on a cut pile of vegetation, then adopting a threat posture with feathers raised and wings stretched, before flying off to roost. Bittern got close to extinction in the UK, in the early 1990s there were fewer than 20 territorial males in the whole country and the numbers were falling year on year. Targeted habitat management and some large scale habitat creation projects have turned things around dramatically. It helped that the habitat they require, wet reedbed,  is easy to create, so long as there is the will to do it. The greatest example is the Avalon Marshes project near Glastonbury, now home to tens of bittern territories and much else besides.

Looking across the lake from Ivy North hide after the bittern had gone to roost I could see three great white egret roosting in the dead alder opposite. I suspect “Walter” was one of them, he first came to us in 2003, when they were still a rare bird in Britain. In the 1980s they looked likely to go completely extinct in western Europe and numbered only hundreds of pairs in eastern Europe and rapidly declining. They and the two small egrets have undergone remarkable changes in fortune. All the egrets had been shot for their plumes for many years and this along with habitat degradation had reduced all of them to low numbers. Increased efforts at conserving wetlands and reduced persecution has turned things around and now all are doing well.

Other birds today were 52 pintail on Ibsley Water, along with about 210 wigeon, the black-necked grebe and a water pipit, all as I opened up the Tern hide. The weather seems set reasonably fair over the Christmas week and the reserve will be open every day apart from Christmas Day itself. I think we can say there will certainly be a nice range of species on offer and on New Years Day we also have the pop-up cafe to look forward to.

There are great pictures of the eagle and bittern taken to day at Blashford on the HOS sightings site Hampshire Goingbirding photos .

 

An Eagle at Lunchtime

Tuesday is one of our volunteer task days, but the forecast was not promising, however as it turned out the morning was not as bad as predicted. We were felling sycamore from the edge of the car park near the Centre to give the oak a bit more space, luckily the poor forecast kept visitors away so we did not have to hold up too many people as we cleared the trees from the entrance track. Towards the end of the morning the rain set in and we decided to call it a day, just as we did a visitor arrived to tell us that the white tailed eagle, that has been up the road in the New Forest, had paid us a visit and was perched on an island in Ibsley Water.

white-tailed eagle with crows

White-tailed eagle with crows

It really was a huge bird! with a massive hooked beak and feet to match, magnificent and if the possible introduction project on the Isle of Wight comes to fruition perhaps a regular sight in the future. The very definition of “Charismatic megafauna”.

white-tailed eagle with crow

White-tailed eagle with crow

The crows did not seem obviously intimidated, and strolled around within a few feet, the gulls were a lot more circumspect, even the great black-backed gull only made a few, quite distant, mobbing swoops.

white-tailed eagle with crow 2

Showing off a seriously big pair of wings!

It was a good way off but we could clearly see that it had a metal ring on its right leg and no colour-rings. It is a juvenile so will have been ringed as a nestling somewhere last summer. A lot, perhaps even most, ringed eagle chicks receive a coloured ring or wing tag at the same time as being ringed with a standard metal ring, as this enables their movements to be tracked more easily. This bird seems to have been an exception so we have no idea where it might have come from, it could be from Scotland, but is probably more likely to be from Scandinavia somewhere. The juveniles move much further than the older birds and the adults will usually try to stay on their nesting territory all year if the food supply allows.

Unsurprisingly this was a first record for the reserve and although relatively few people were about to see it due to the poor weather, I know it was a new bird for quite a few. Some lucky people went on to the Ivy North hide and had very good views of bittern as well, not a bad bit of birdwatching for a bad weather day!

Other birds today included a water pipit at Tern hide whilst looking at the eagle, the black-necked grebe was also seen in the distance and there were 112 pochard there also, with 57 more on Ivy Lake. Locking up at dusk in the tipping rain, there were two great white egret roosting in the dead alder trees beside Ivy Lake.

All in all not a bad day for birds on the reserve, or any site in the UK. As most will know access to the reserve is free, but we do still need to raise money to keep things going and hopefully improve them so donations are always more than welcome, in fact they are essential! So if you visit and have a good time please consider making a donation. We have a had a lot of generous donations to our appeal for various improvements, including a new Tern hide and dipping pond, but it is the year round donations that keep us running day to day.

Dec 17th – Mist & Missed (again)

The wet ground combined with a cold dawn to give a misty morning with frost in the hollows and ice on the puddles. Opening Tern hide it was good to see the linnet flock still present, although I could only count 57 today. Out on the water 14 pintail were the most I have seen so far this winter.

frosty morning

The misty, cold approach to Ivy North hide

At Ivy North I saw two great white egret stalking the shallows for an early morning snack and heard a Cetti’s warbler.

Leaving the hide I found some funnel fungi covered in frost. I think they might be Clitocybe sinopica but I am very far from certain.

Funnel

funnel fungus

It was a morning of odd jobs and on my way back from blowing the debris off the boardwalk I was told of a cattle egret at the Ivy North hide. I still have not seen one of these on the reserve despite multiple sightings of up to three this year, so I went to take a look. Unsurprisingly it had gone, just one little egret was on show with a fly past by the great white egret, two out of three but I had missed again! At least I did spot the bittern in the reedmace.

My afternoon was spent in a meeting in the main office, on the way I passed the crowd of people in a lay-by by the A31 armed with telescopes and binoculars, I suspect looking at the white- tailed eagle, but no time to stop so, missed again!

By the time I returned it was dark and my only birds on locking up were grey heron and mandarin heard calling at Ivy Silt Pond.

15th Dec – Rain

A wet day from start to finish making getting around the reserve unpleasant and seeing wildlife difficult. It was no surprise that there were few visitors, but those that did venture out could still see something.

Ibsley Water: Water pipit at least 2 and probably 3, but as usual scattered around the lake shore. The single black-necked grebe was along the north-western shore of the lake, but lost to view in the heavier rain. Otherwise the continue to be more pochard than usual, over 60 sheltering in the south-west corner of the lake, three drake pintail did circuits of the lake all day and there were a few wigeon, shoveler and teal about. Close to Tern hide three snipe were feeding on the shore and at least 70 linnet were picking seeds from amongst the gravel.

Ivy Lake: A single great white egret was present in the morning and at dusk two were roosting, unsurprisingly the bittern was not seen and other birds of interest were confined to hearing Cetti’s warbler and water rail.

News has dribbled out of a white-tailed eagle not far from the reserve in the New Forest, these eagles often frequent wetlands so it is certainly worth keeping an eye out, no doubt it will cause a stir should it drift our way!

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.

Damp Days

The long, hot summer seems an age away now, with most days dominated by drizzle (Friday excepted). It is still very mild, but the combination of damp and mildness makes for difficult working conditions. Winter work on the reserve is mostly fairly heavy, with lots of protective clothing and machinery, things that do not go well with mild damp weather. Despite this we have been busy with the volunteers clearing sites and generally preparing for the planned updates to the reserve. Alongside this there is still the usual maintenance to be done and today I was out with the team repairing the boardwalk and trimming back the path sides.

The Pop-up Cafe was in the Centre again today, sadly things were rather quiet, probably a result of the poor weather, the cakes were as good as ever, if you missed them, they will be back on the 16th of December and New Year’s Day with more.

Out on the reserve things seem fairly quiet, I say this but there was quiet a lot to see. On Ibsley Water there was a black-necked grebe, 2 dunlin, green sandpiper, a variety of duck including pintail, wigeon, pochard, goosander, goldeneye and at dusk the gull roost and starling murmuration. I just missed seeing a peregrine take a drake pochard, I would have thought rather a bulky prey item for this falcon. Other birds today included red kite, chiffchaff, Cetti’s warbler and at dusk on Ivy Lake three roosting great white egret, all in all not bad for a “quiet day”!

 

The Turn of the Season

As autumn slips into winter and the last of the leaves get blown from the trees we are seeing the wildlife of the reserve taking on a more wintry feel too. At the weekend the goosander roost passed 100 birds for the first time, whilst the gull roost is now well up into the thousands. A black-necked grebe has returned to Ibsley Water, although as is typical, it is frequenting the extreme northern shore of the lake. The startling roost in reeds just west of the A338 Salisbury Road, but best viewed from the main car park area or Lapwing hide, had built up and is now quite a sight in a fine evening.

IMG_9789 (2)[3497]

Starling murmuration by Jon Mitchell

At times this gathering is attracting various predators, over the last ten days or so I have seen peregrine, sparrowhawk, marsh harrier and goshawk all eyeing up the roost for a potential snack.

Green sandpiper and water pipit are still being regularly seen at various points around Ibsley Water, but Goosander hide seems to be the most frequent place for good views of both. At least 3 great white egret are wandering the reserve and out into the valley, I have not managed to see more than three at any one time, but I strongly suspect there are more, perhaps up to five?

Visitors to the reserve may find diversions or short path closures over the next few weeks as we are doing some tree thinning, it should be possible to access all the hides though. The trees we are removing are mainly planted aliens species such as grey and Italian alder or species such as sycamore and Scots pine that are crowding more desirable species oak, elm and ash. The objective is to thin areas that were planted too densely and promote native species over non-natives, this should benefit a range of wildlife in the long run. Where possible we will be leaving standing dead trees, or lying dead wood for beetles and other invertebrates.

Blashford Lakes”What’s On?”….

… our events and courses leaflet for the coming months will be available from the Centre soon and is available to view/print from this blog post HERE right now!

The next family event is Festive Family Willow Wreaths on December Sun 9th, 10.30am – 12.30pm: Creative family craft in time for Christmas – enjoy a short walk gathering materials before creating and decorating a willow wreath to take home. Donation £4 per person, booking essential (telephone 01425 472760 or email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk)

And the next course is Astronomy for Beginners on 6th, 13th, 27th Feb and 6th Mar, 6.30 – 8.30pm with course tutor Stephen Tonkin to learn about the night sky, recognising constellations, understanding the solar system and deep space? Cost £96 (to book please telephone our head office, 01489 774400 or e-mail courses@hiwwt.org.uk)

In the meantime, because no blog post is complete without at least one lovely picture, the following have been sent in by visitors over the last few weeks but not yet made it into the blog and this seems a suitable place to belatedly post them! Both species are still very much in evidence. In fact, Bob had a lovely view of a peregrine harassing the small (“just” a few thousand) starling murmuration last night. Thanks to Caroline Herbert for the great white egrets and David Stanley-Ward for the peregrine:

Walter plus one by Caroline HerbertPeregrine

Look forward to seeing you soon…

The Best of Blashford

The second Pop-up Cafe of the winter today and, thankfully, the weather was a great deal better than the damp day we had at the start of the month. The reserve was busy and there was a good deal to see from most points, for most of the day.

Opening up Tern hide I saw a water pipit, although my first notable birds were at the main gate, where there was a fieldfare with a couple of redwing and a pair of bullfinch. 

I then spent a couple of hours attending to various tasks about the office before getting out to Lapwing and Goosander hides. We have done quite a bit of work on and beside the paths in this area with the object of both maintaining good access and making the walk more interesting for visitors and wildlife. To this end we have been scraping back the path edges and thinning the small trees to make clearings, increase the light and open up some views over the reeds. This work should also benefit insects and the reptiles that use this area, so we have been making sunny sheltered clearings and have dug one new sandy bank for solitary bees.

Up at Lapwing hide I was surprised to see several hundred large gulls, it was only late morning, so way to early for a roost gathering. I noticed the other day that there were  a lot of large gulls on the lake very early in the day. I suspect there are two possible explanations, either they are feeding very nearby and dropping in and out between bouts of feeding, or they have found somewhere with so much food that they are getting their fill in just a couple of hours. Looking through the gulls I saw the Caspian gull found yesterday, it is a “textbook” first winter bird, which always helps with these potentially difficult to identify birds.

At Goosander hide on the way back there were 2 green sandpiper and a dunlin, the latter flushed from the Long Spit in the company of a snipe by a peregrine. I took the long way back as I wanted to investigate some tyre tracks I had noticed on the Lichen Heath last Monday. Hidden away on the far side of the water treatment works I found out where they had been heading and why, a heap of fly-tipped material. I suspect dumped in the rain last Saturday, since it must have been in the day and when there were not many people around. We are certainly welcoming donations at the moment, but not this kind! It goes without saying that if you are on the reserve and ever see anything suspicious like this please make a note of what you safely can and let us know.

We always welcome donations of course, but at present we are trying to raise money to make a number of improvements to the reserve. The largest of these is the replacement of the Tern hide, the existing hide is suffering a bit and we recently won a grant to replace it, if we can raise the rest of the funds, to find out how you can help us see The Blashford Appeal

On my way back from a bird food buying trip I dropped in at Tern hide and saw 3 great white egret in the distance flying north up the Avon valley, I assume our regulars, but who knows? After another spell in the office I got out again in the late afternoon where there was a marsh harrier visible in the distance. Out on the lake the numbers of gulls had increased a lot and were more than I have seen this winter so far by some margin. I found the ring-billed gull deep in the flock, but unfortunately had to take off my glasses and when I looked back I could not find it again.

The Pop-up Cafe had done well, they will be back with more excellent cake on the first Sunday of December, so if you missed them today you could come then, or on the 16th of December, or both and New Year’s Day as well. You can also get a range of Wildlife Trust gifts and Christmas cards.

Locking up I saw 2 great white egret as usual at Ivy North hide, there were also at least 160 cormorant roosting in the trees and at least 161 tufted duck on the water.

It had felt like a good day almost all round, fly-tipping excepted. The reserve was busy with a range of people watching wildlife, from keen rarity hunters to families enjoying the nuthatch and the fine male sparrowhawk perched at the Woodland hide and there was cake too. Blashford Lakes is fortunate to have elements that appeal to a wide audience, we have popular events for ages from toddlers onward and different parts of the reserve that offer highlights for all types of wildlife seekers. Hopefully the reserve can continue to enthuse a wide and growing audience, our wildlife needs all the supporters it can get!