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!


Spring Between the Showers

On Thursday the volunteers were working out on the shore of Ibsley Water putting out fresh shingle patches for nesting little ringed plover and oystercatcher. Now that the old concrete block plant has been removed and the site opened up to the lakeshore there is a much larger area of suitable habitat for these species and for lapwing, so we have high hopes for the coming nesting season.


“Plover patches” small areas of fresh shingle ideal for nesting little ringed plovers.

It turned out we were just in time as on Friday the first little ringed plover of the season was seen! They are usually one of the first of the spring migrants along with sand martin. There are lots of other signs of approaching spring around the reserve now, the hazel catkins and flowers are out.


Hazel catkins, these are the familiar male flowers that produce lots of pollen.

The tiny female flowers are easily overlooked and very different, each tree will have both the catkins and female flowers, you just need to look closely to see them.


Female flower of hazel.

It is not just hazel that has catkins, those of alder are also out now and rather similar to look at.


Alder catkins, with last year’s seed cones.

I was also working with the volunteers today, although in less benign conditions, it rained and hailed and we took shelter by the Centre and made nest boxes. However Jim had thought to put out the moth trap and I was quite impressed to find it contained five moths, 2 twin-spot Quaker, a small Quaker, an oak beauty and a yellow-horned, so we got to see a little wildlife at least.


Yellow-horned moth, the first of the season.

I did get lucky as I was opening up the Ivy North hide as the bittern was in the open beside the “pool” just below the western end of the hide, it must surely be thinking of going soon. At the end of the day I took a quick look at the gull roost, now mostly smaller gulls with about 3000 black-headed gull, only 21 common gull and just a single Mediterranean gull.

In Between Times

A cold and frosty start to the day saw mist rising from the lakes as the sun came up.


Ivy Lake, early morning

It was warm in the sun though and where it touched the frost disappeared quickly.

It might be “Christmas week” but as it was Thursday the volunteers were out in force to continue a willow cutting task in the reedbed area towards the Lapwing hide. This is a curious area of habitat, an old silt pond that filled with reeds and willows as it dried out. Normally the willows grow up and the reed dies off, here though, the willows are struggling and the reed seems to be doing better each year. The original plan was to manage it as willow scrub, but the willow refuses to grow and so we are opting for a reedbed with scattered willow instead. So we are cutting areas of the weak willow and allowing the reed space to expand.


Ten volunteers turned out today to continue willow cutting in the reedbed.

We have also been cutting willows in the old silt pond near the Centre, although here they grow back vigorously. Our last task there was the Thursday before Christmas and despite the lure (?) of Christmas shopping there was a good turn out then too. We always try to make positive use of the cuttings where we can, today we were making a dead hedge which will probably grow up with brambles giving some valuable habitat. The dead twigs are also a valuable habitat in their own right, we are often told of the value of log piles for wildlife, but deadwood does not have to be large to be good for wildlife lots of species will use smaller deadwood.

The brash from the sallows near the Centre is being used to top the bank alongside the new path that is going in between the main car park and Goosander hide. I am hoping this bank will grow a bramble top which will provide cover for lots of species and nectar for insects and this will grow up in the shelter of the dead hedge.


The source coppice


The destination

Although the weather has turned colder so far it has not resulted in much change in the wildlife on offer on the reserve. There still appear to be 2 great white egret about, the regular bird, “Walter” mainly around Ivy Lake and usually roosting there each evening and the newer arrival which seems to prefer the area from the north of Ibsley Water and off the reserve towards Mockbeggar Lake and Ibsley North lakes. A bittern is still being seen somewhat intermittently from Ivy North hide, where there are also water rail and Cetti’s warbler. At the Woodland hide up to 3 brambling are being seen as are a few reed bunting along with all the regular woodland species. Under the alder carr just outside the Woodland hide there was a water rail feeding in the open for most of today in the wet area just by the path, giving a great opportunity to see this usually shy bird well.

On Ibsley Water the gull roost is still as large as ever and includes 2 or 3 Mediterranean gull, 2 different ring-billed gull (although it is some days since both were seen on the same evening), 10 or more yellow-legged gull and a few gulls that remain a challenge to even the most dedicated. If you look at enough gulls you realise there are a few that just don’t “fit”, perhaps hybrids or birds of more distant and unfamiliar races or just plain oddities. A Bewick’s swan made an appearance late yesterday, although it did not seem to come to roost this evening, so has perhaps moved on. On the eastern shore of the lake this morning there were at least 8 raven attracted by some carrion on the bank. In the evening a small roost of starling behind the Lapwing hide have been trying their best to put on a bit of a show, but with only about 2000 birds it is not quite ready to rival Rome city centre. Two snipe were very obliging in front of Tern hide this afternoon and a green sandpiper always seems to be there just after dark as I hear it calling when I lock the car park.

Don’t forget the Pop-up Café returns to Blashford on New Year’s Day, so you can come and see some great birds and eat great cake too!

Water, Water

Everywhere! Rainwater ran through the main car park and all through the woodland, and topped up the lakes. Since Friday we have had over 70mm of rain! I went to retrieve a trailcam I put out on Friday, and the lake had risen right up to it although I had set it at least 30cm above the water at the time. I am not sure if the water had actually reached the camera – it was certainly wet, but after all the rain everything was. Fortunately the flash card still had the pictures on it. It turns out that Ivy Lake is very popular with teal after dark.


Teal on Ivy lake after dark

Perhaps not surprisingly I also caught the great white egret.


great white egret

There was also a little egret, but I only got it in reflection.


little egret in reflection

You can see it is a little egret as the yellow feet are clearly visible.

I saw very little until the very end of the day today when locking up I saw the great white egret perched on a branch in the Ivy Silt Pond; it then flew over the trees to Ivy Lake. Almost immediately a bittern flew up and circled the pond twice before also flying over to Ivy Lake.

Lastly and when it was near enough dark, I could just see over Ibsley Water where there were lots of gulls, but curiously very few lesser black-backed gull. Usually the most numerous, there were fewer than 500. By contrast there were 7000 or more black-headed gull, more than usual – presumably the stormy weather, or flooding, has prompted a change in roosting behaviour.


A Better Class of Osprey

It was a mostly quiet and cloudy day at Blashford today, although busy with a training course and meetings. I eventually stopped for lunch at 2:45 and decided to go to the Tern hide, “just in case”. My reward was an especially discerning osprey, perched on the large branch that Ed and I put out for this species back in July. The last one we had on Ibsley Water had  foolishly ignored it, but this was clearly a better class of bird altogether!

Osprey on the perch provided

Osprey on the perch provided

It is getting quite late for them now and this juvenile will probably not hang around for long.

The moth trap has been quite for a while now, with only a few species each night, although caddisflies have been more in evidence. Many species are rather hard to identify, but these are two of the easier ones.

Glyphotaelius pellucidus, the mottled sedge

Glyphotaelius pellucidus, the mottled sedge

Halesus radiates, the caperer

Halesus radiatus, the caperer

When I went round to lock up the hides, somewhat later than usual, the cormorant roost on Ivy Lake was much in evidence, I counted 75 birds tonight and they were still arriving. This roost has grown from nothing in just a few seasons.

cormorant roost

cormorant roost

I was still too early for the main gull roost, but I did see in excess of 3500 black-headed gull, 7 yellow-legged gull and a variety of lesser black-backed gull. The lesser black-backs vary in the shade of their back and various other things, British birds being typically palest grey with dirty heads and black primaries with white mirrors at this time of year, they also tend to be quite compact compared to some. At the other end of this spectrum are birds with very dark, sometimes almost black “backs”, clean white heads, unmoulted, all black primaries and a long and slender look. They typically have a very high “stern” and a very pointed looking rear end.

lesser black-backed gull, of the darker, more slender type.

lesser black-backed gull, of the darker, more slender type.

At the extreme end they usually show small, round heads too, the bird in the picture is not the blackest, nor the slightest I have seen but it is quite different from the average British lesser black-back. They probably come from further north and east and the most extreme examples may well actually be the recently split Baltic gull, but that is another story and one for the true Laridophiles.

Lots and Lots of Birds

I was filling in at Blashford today, but it was a good day to be there with mostly good weather and lots of birds to see. It started misty, but was clearing as I opened up the hides. Outside the Ivy South hide there was  a very obliging female tufted duck diving around the fallen tree trunks just below the hide.

female tufted duck

female tufted duck

When I got back to the office there was a message to say that there was a long-tailed duck on Ibsley Water. I was planning to go up to the Lapwing hide in the morning anyway so this was an added incentive. The sun was breaking through and the day looked very promising, perhaps there would be late dragonflies as well as birds to see. After a little while attending to a few things I set out for the Lapwing hide, heading along the Dockens Water path the sun seemed a little less bright and as I headed north along the path from Ellingham Drove it was plain that the fog was rolling in, by the time I got to the Lapwing hide I could make out just a few hazy shapes on the nearest part of the lake, there was no chance of seeing a long-tailed duck somewhere in mid-lake. So I headed back towards the Centre, the reedbed area east of the Lapwing hide is looking very good and is already flooded again and is clearly home to several very noisy water rail. Looking across Mockbeggar Lake I saw the great white egret preening in a tree, I had seen it earlier in the tv screen in the Centre when it must have been on Ivy Lake, so I knew it was about today.

Eventually the fog cleared and the day became very pleasant, although not as sunny as it had briefly been, I never did see any dragonflies, but I did see a red admiral and at least one other was also seen. Later in the afternoon I went over to the Main Car Park where a moderate crowd was gathering in the hope of seeing the Franklin’s gull. The hide was soon packed and I decided to stand on the bank to the south of the car park from where there is a very good panoramic view of the lake and valley. I finally spotted the long-tailed duck, a rather drab looking juvenile bird, off to the west of the Tern hide, then I saw the black-necked grebe and 2 ruddy duck drakes. The gull roost was starting to build and news came through that the Franklin’s gull was near the Goosander hide and most of the gathering in the Tern hide decamped. I stayed on the bank and watched the gathering mass of starlings. At times they came right over our heads.



More usually they were over the trees near the A338, more distant but the swirling effect was more impressive, as the numbers increased the light dimmed and this was the best shot I could get of the main flock.

starling flock

starling flock

I estimated about 25000 birds were present, although the flock often split making more than a very rough estimate very difficult.

The Franklin’s gull eventually swam out of the bay and was also seen well from the bank and the Tern hide, so I think everyone was happy with the views they got. The day was rounded off with a tawny owl calling as I locked up the car park. By the end of the day I had recorded 73 species of birds, not at all bad for Blashford.

A Bit of Drizzle!

A pretty quite day at Blashford on Monday, the heavy showers kept people indoors and I can’t say I can blame them!

heavy rain!

heavy rain!

Despite the rain there was warm sunshine in between and this brought out a good few butterflies around the Centre, including silver-washed fritillary, red admiral, comma and small tortoiseshell, but best of all there was a humming bird hawk moth.

I walked the paths to clear any fallen branches brought down by the rain and strong winds of the weekend, approaching the Ivy North hide I saw a stick across the path, then realised it was moving, it was a large grass snake.

By the time I locked up the rain had passed and looking from the Tern hide I saw this black-headed gull, it was perched on the weed mat in front of the hide. As I have mentioned before I don’t think I have ever seen so much weed on Ibsley Water, or such thick mats of it, in fact this gull was perched on weed floating in 4 metres or more of water, although it looks pretty relaxed about it!

black-headed gull on weed

black-headed gull on weed

The gulls are starting to gather on Ibsley Water now, not in the numbers they will be later in the autumn but today I saw at least four yellow-legged gull (3 juveniles and 1 first summer), a pair of great black-backed gull with a fledged juvenile in attendance, and the usual scatter of herring gull and lesser black-backed gull. The lesser black-backs included one with an almost black, rather than dark grey back, so probably a bird from Scandinavia already on the move to wintering areas on the West African coast.

Rings, Radio and Moths

No real news today, I did not really see anything, being either in the office or out working with the volunteers. The weather was, of course, fine and surprisingly warm, Thursday luck continues.

As I have no news as such I thought I would mention a few things that might be of interest. You may remember the two colour-ringed gulls I saw last month, the following is a link to the site about the gull ringing project in the Channels Islands, where one of the birds had been ringed, others from the project have gone huge distances in the opposite direction.

With the end of another year it might be a good time to consider our place in the world and the Radio 4 program “Saving Species” at 20:00 tomorrow (Friday) evening should be an interesting if, possibly disquieting listen.

For the future, I found out today that next year’s “National Moth Night”, actually runs over three days in June and has an old industrial site theme, exactly right for Blashford, the dates are 21st-23rd June, so watch this space for more news.


Frustration Always Rings Twice

Bird News: Ibsley Waterblack-necked grebe 1, goosander 35+, goldeneye 11+, yellow-legged gull 10+. Centre lesser redpoll 3+.

A very busy day on the reserve today. The largely fine weather coupled with the closure of many schools seemed to have brought out more visitors than for some days. We also had the Lower Test Volunteer team in felling the diseased alder trees near the Centre, it seems we lose more each year. Jim and Michelle were busy with an education volunteer training session and on top of all this the fencing of the northern boundary of the reserve was cracking on at a good pace.

I seemed to spend a good bit of time moving between these various activities checking all was going to plan. On the way I did not see many birds but I did come across a few fungi. On the Dockens Water path running east one of the shaggy parasol mushrooms still stands.

shaggy parasol

Returning to the tree felling I came across a small clump of sulphur tuft fungi on a pile of logs that resulted from last year’s felling of diseased alders.

sulphur tuft

Sometime ago I put up some rails in the lake outside the Goosander hide, these were to provide some more attraction for birds close to the hide. I hoped they would be used by perching gulls, cormorants and similar, incidentally I thought that it would also mean they would be close enough for any colour-rings to be read. Since I put them in I had not really been over to have a look at how they were working, but this afternoon I did. There were lots of gulls on the lake at 3:30 when I got there and several on the perching rails, including a couple of yellow-legged gull.

yellow-legged gull, sub-adult, probably 3rd winter

The one above is not quite adult, the brownish markings in the tertials and dark band on the bill give this away, but at any range in the roost would be hard to spot. The mid-grey mantle and yellowish legs, or here just leg, identify the specie. An adult also hopped onto the perch for  a time as well, one of at least seven or eight on the water nearby.

yellow-legged gull, adult

This particular one is not as clean white-headed as most at this time of year, still cleaner than almost any herring gull, but well-marked for a yellow-legged. I then realised that there was a colour-ringed adult lesser black-backed gull as well and that I could easily read the code printed on the ring.

lesser black-backed gull, ringed

The code is A2C4 engraved in white on a black ring. It is usually quiet straight forward to track down the scheme that has ringed such birds, there is a good website that lists all the schemes operating in Europe, but this one has foxed me so far, several scheme seem to use similar codes, but none are just right, so where it comes from will have to remain a mystery for now.

Then I spotted another ringed bird, this time a herring gull with a faded white ring engraved in red with B+V, obviously form a quite different scheme. I got home hoping to find out where two of our gull came from, after one disappointment it was all up to the herring gull. However it was not to be, I could not find a scheme to match this bird either.

herring gull ringed

Obviously it is interesting to know where the birds come from but it can also be of more importance than that, especially if the bird has been seen many times during the years since to was ringed. Our great white egret is colour-ringed and so we know it is the same bird every year and that it is now eight years old. Hopefully these gulls will also give up some interesting information if I can ever track down where they came from.

New Views

Ivy Lake view looking West

View from new camera position

View from new camera position looking East

Still learning how to put this together, but two pictures uploaded is a start. The shots show the potential views we should get from the new camera position. Incidentally these are completely new to me as I have never been to this particular spot in the reserve before.

I did see a little more wildlife at the end of the day, although it was all of the gull kind. Something like 2000 black-headed gull, 3 common gull, 7500+ lesser black-backed gull and at least 2 yellow-legged gull.