One Day, Two Reserves

I am not often at Blashford on a Saturday, but this weekend I was, I managed to intersperse catching up on paperwork with a walk round all the hides. Getting around the reserve is very pleasant but also highlights all the tasks that need planning into the coming winter season, I think an eight month winter would just about be enough!

Opening up the hides I saw a greenshank and three wheatear from the Tern hide, which suggested that there might well be migrants about and with luck “something” might turn up.

As usual the day proper started with a look through the moth trap. This contained no rarities but one unexpected moth, a very fresh dark form coronet, this is an attractive moth and one we see quite often, but it flies in June and July. If I was to get one at this time of year, I would have expected it t be an old, battered one on its last legs, not a pristine newly emerged one.

coronet late season

coronet

The cumulative results of my wanderings throughout the day indicated that there were indeed a reasonable scatter of migrants around the reserve. Chiffchaff were frequently to be seen, although willow warbler were many fewer than last week. In one mixed flock of birds near the Lapwing hide I saw a very smart juvenile lesser whitethroat, a rather rare bird at Blashford these days. On the south side of the main car park a spotted flycatcher was catching insects from the small trees and there were several blackcap eating blackberries.

In the early afternoon I was in Tern hide when I spotted an osprey in the distance flying towards us down the valley, it looked as if it was going to come low over Ibsley Water, but as it came over Mockbeggar North lake a large gull started to chase it and, rather than brush off this minor irritation, it gained height and headed off at speed to the south. It was a young bird and is going to have to learn to tough out such attention.

It was not a bad day for insects, I saw red admiral, painted lady, small white and speckled wood, despite almost no sunshine and there were good numbers of migrant hawker and brown hawker about. I also saw more hornet than I had noticed so far this summer and very widely about the reserve too.

Other birds of note were mostly signs of approaching autumn, a single snipe near the Lapwing hide was the first I have seen since the spring here and later wigeon, one on Ivy Lake and 4 on Ibsley Water were also the first returns that I have seen.

For a couple of years now I have been noticing increasingly large floating mats of vegetation in the Ivy Silt Pond and kept meaning to identify the plant species involved. I finally did so yesterday and one of them, the one with the rosettes of pointed leaves, is water soldier, a rare plant in Hampshire and mostly found on the Basingstoke canal!

water soldier

water soldier

It is probably most likely to be here as a result of escaping from a local garden pond, but might be wild, anyway it seems to be a notable record and as far as I know it has not been recorded here before.

In the evening I went out to another reserve in my area, Hythe Spartina Marsh, it was close to high water and I was interested to see if there was a wader roost. There was, not a large one but interesting, it included 74 ringed plover, 30 dunlin, 2 turnstone, 3 grey plover and a single juvenile curlew sandpiper. In addition 2 common sandpipers came flying north up  edge and on the way across the marsh I saw a clouded yellow butterfly nectaring on the flowers of the sea aster. I also saw that on e of the juvenile ringed plover had got colour rings on its legs, however it would only ever show one leg so all I could see was a white ring above a red ring on the left leg, not enough to identify where it had come from. Ringed plover can breed locally on our beaches or have spent the summer way off in the high Arctic of Canada, so it would have been good to see all the rings.

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A Walk in the Sunshine

Bird News: Ibsley Watergrey plover 1, black-tailed godwit 9, barnacle goose 5, ruddy duck 1. Ivy Lakebittern 1.

Working with the volunteers all morning pollarding and coppicing, we made great progress and have almost completed the area to be cut this winter. It may seem like winter will go on for ages now, but within a couple of weeks we could be more or less at the end of winter work if it warms again. I usually find that the winter work program ends, not because we have completed the work but because the winter runs out.

In the afternoon we had a guided walk and a liitle while before we were about to set of the sun came out. We started at the Tern hide, it was so warmed by the sun that sitting there was actually very pleasant, the lack of wind also helped. We saw the drake ruddy duck but failed to see the grey plover or barnacle geese, although they were there again today.

I don’t often get to the Woodland hide in the middle part of the day, so going there today was something of a treat. There were no particularly unusual birds, but the lesser redpolls, siskinnuthatch and just sheer number of birds up close are always worth seeing.

Then we went on to the Ivy South hide, which was particularly good today the number and variety of ducks looked very fine in the bright sunshine. Over a hundred shoveler and really close views of gadwall and wigeon were highlights and no matter how many times I see them I always enjoy watching these birds.

Unfortunately the Ivy North hide rather let us dow, the bittern had been seen well earlier, but was hiding well when we got there and the best sighting was of two roe deer grazing the sedges just to the right of the hide.

Ringing in the Cold

Bird news: Ibsley Watergrey plover 1, peregrine 1, ruddy duck 1, barnacle goose 5. Ivy Lakebittern 1, Cetti’s warbler 2, smew 1.

All of today’ s bird news comes courtesy of visitors as I managed to avoid pretty much all the wildlife. This is not to say that I saw no wildlife, just none of the more notable things. Near the Ivy Silt Pond a party of 5 bullfinch were good value, they were eating the buds on one of the sallow trees. Nor were these the only bullfinch I saw, at least three were at the entrance gate and another three or four in the hedge alongside Ellingham Drove beside Mockbeggar Lake. I also had reports of groups near the Lichen Heath and on the Rockford path. We always have a few about the reserve but this seems like the result of a bit of an arrival of birds, possibly in response to the cold weather.

The ringers were in again this morning and had a good session catching over sixty birds, mostly siskin, but including a few lesser redpoll, goldfinch and a goldcrest.

siskin male in the hand

Ringing offers real insights into the lives of birds, it tells us where they go and how long they live, all crucial to understanding how best to conserve them. I never cease to be amazed at the information it throws up, recently an oystercatcher has passed the forty-year old mark and one of the greenshank ringed at the Wildlife Trust’s Farlington Marshes reserve when I was working there has been caught sixteen years later. The ringing of siskin and lesser redpoll at Blashford has already shown that they return year after year, despite breeding in Northern England, Scotland or even further afield, they really do benefit from the reserve being here.

Of course part of the reason for many of the birds visiting is that we put out food for them, something that a lot of the birds were very grateful for today as it was very cold, making their need to take on calories the more urgent. The fat feeder outside my office was busy with birds all day.

long-tailed and blue tits on fat feeder

Not the greatest picture as it was taken through the window with the camera just held up to the glass. It is not just food that is put out that benefits the birds though, hopefully if we get the management of the reserve right there will be more natural food as well and the very act of providing a safe place means that birds do not have to move about as much and can conserve energy, especially important when times are tough.

There were some god sightings on the reserve today, the highlight must be the grey plover seen on the shore of Ibsley Water at the Lapwing hide, they are scarce here at any time of the year, but winter records are especially unusual. The bittern showed exceptionally well at the Ivy North hide in the afternoon and the redhead smew is now in also to be seen there. Just as the two did last year it is frequenting the edge fo the reedmace and lurking under the overhanging trees.

From slightly further afield came news of over 450 common gull on Mockbeggar North Lake, an exceptional count, but consistent with the trend of numbers increasing dramatically in cold weather. Another cold weather arrival was the ruddy duck drake, I assume the same one as earlier in the winter which seems to head off when it gets mild only to return after a couple of frosts.