A Great Day

I arrived at the reserve in heavy rain, always promising at this time of year and looking out form Tern hide I saw 4 bar-tailed godwit, migrants headed north grounded by the weather. Otherwise things were pretty much as the day previous day, including two very smart black-necked grebe, always a massive treat in breeding plumage.

The night had been cold (again), but there were a few moths in the trap including two new for the year, an iron prominent.

iron prominent

iron prominent

And a great prominent.

great prominent

great prominent

The moth trap does not only catch moths and looking through pictures from a few days ago I noticed a small fly I had not yet identified. It turned out to be a Tephritid fly, more often called picture-winged flies. Most of these have larvae that eat plants, especially seedheads of composites such as thistles. I identified this one as Euphranta toxoneura as species that is a brood parasite or predator on sawflies of the genus Pontania which make leaf galls on willows. It appears to be quite a scarce species and certainly one I had not seen before and a new species for the reserve.

Euphranta toxoneura

Euphranta toxoneura

Around lunchtime,as the weather cleared, an osprey flew over, it headed off east and was maybe the one seen at Lower Test nature reserve later. Unfortunately I missed it, I think at least the third one to have flown over me so far this year without my seeing any of them. The only other birds of note today were 14 black-tailed godwit and a whimbrel, briefly with the bar-tailed godwit in flight over Ibsley Water, a common sandpiper and a screaming group of about 40 swift.

Advertisements

Changeable

The last week or so has been very strange, with the arrival of several migrants and further snow.

gorse flower in snow 3

Spring!

On the migrant front there are now small numbers of sand martin hawking over several of the lakes, the most I have seen together is only six. On Ibsley Water there have been at least 2 little ringed plover, but be warned as there has also been a ringed plover. Other waders in the snow last weekend included a few dunlin and 3 golden plover. A single swallow has been recorded on several days and is perhaps the one reported in North Gorley as well. In the woodland small numbers of chiffchaff are singing and near Tern hide a pair of wheatear have been seen for the last four days. Perhaps the greatest excitement has been the sighting of 2 osprey passing singly overhead in the last week. typically for spring birds, they did not linger.

Other notable sightings have included up to 5 stonechat beside Ibsley Water, this is usually a very scarce species on the reserve, I suspect these are birds that had returned to the open Forest before snow and moved into the valley to escape the worst of the conditions. Two adult little gull have been over Ibsley Water where numbers of Mediterranean gull are increasing and the ring-billed gull is still being seen int he evening roost.

As thought to highlight the confusion of the seasons there have been birds starting to nest and the dawn chorus has gone up a gear. The picture below was taken through my kitchen window and shows blue tits investigating a nestbox in the snow.

blue tit pair at box in snow

The drive to start breeding is not stopped by changeable weather.

 

Thayer’s Gull

There has been much excitement in recent days at Blashford Lakes over the sighting of a potential Thayer’s gull. I say potential because these are not easy birds to identify or at least it is not easy to know exactly what you are looking at. Larger gulls are a particularly tricky bunch, they can vary quite a lot within species and not much at all between species and (even worse) sometimes hybridise!

So how do you ever know what you are looking at? For all the species there are the “Classic” birds, the ones that look like the have just stepped off the pages of the field guide, these should not be too difficult, although some genetic studies suggest even some of these might not be quiet what they seem. The others are more problematic, at least for people who like to put a name to them. Often it then comes down to looking at the various characters and scoring what is positive and what negative, after that you can consult experts or, for the more free-wheeling just decide if you are happy or not. For some there is no “right” answer, just the balance of probability.

So is this Thayer’s gull the real thing? The short answer is I don’t know and it will probably get decided by committee in the end and some will accept the decision and others not. Having seen the bird at some distance last night and then rather better tonight I have a few observations. The books often say they are structurally like Iceland gull and a claimed one I saw many years ago in Ireland was, to my eyes, identical in structure to Iceland gulls nearby. This bird looks bulkier than what I would expect for an Iceland gull, but it has the same wide, round head so typical of that species. Iceland gulls do have broader bodies and heads than herring gulls but this bird looks very heavy indeed. The wings do not look long and the rear of the bird on the water looks less attenuated than typical for Iceland, but this may be due to the rather large body size and males gulls are often a lot larger than females. As far as I can tell the plumage looks as though it has all the expected features.

Whatever it is, it is interesting and different from any other gull I have seen before, even the other one claimed as Thayer’s. It is quite obvious in the roost, it certainly stands out as different. Another way of looking at it is what might it be if it is not a Thayer’s gull? It seems American herring gull will hybridise with Thayer’s gull and that they will also hybridise with Glaucous-winged gull producing offspring that look like Thayer’s gulls. However it seems that these various hybrids tend not to have the round head, which this bird certainly does have.

If you are a bird lister it really matters if this is or is not a Thayer’s gull, importantly if it is accepted as such by the rarities committee once they have weighed up the pros and cons. Whatever they decide it is a very interesting bird and I am pleased I have seen it, I have looked at many, many thousands of gulls and never seen one quiet like it before. There is a school of thought that Thayer’s gull is just a form of Iceland gull and not a full species at all.

All this begs the question of just what defines a species, actually an important question for conservationists as rarity often drives much funding and conservation effort. A rare species will attract more effort than attract more effort than a sub-species. The definition of a species is  not a simple thing and not as clear as you might think and subject to change. Actually what matters are populations, we need to conserve populations, it does not really matter if they are species, sub-species or separate groups of one species. Keeping populations viable ensures their survival whatever their status, we should not consider them less because they are not a separate species by the current definition.

As for the Thayer’s gull, I enjoyed seeing it whatever it is eventually decided to be. Come to that I enjoyed seeing all the other gulls in the roost too. All 9,000 or so of them, including a juvenile Iceland gull, yellow-legged gulls, Mediterranean gulls and the thousands of lesser black-backed gulls and black-headed gulls. If you are interested there are pictures of the Thayer’s gull on the HOS go birding website, mine are so bad I will not torture you with them!

Elsewhere, away from the gulls, “Walter” the great white egret was on Ivy Lake and 2 black-necked grebe on Ibsley Water along with a single Bewick’s swan, a  real rarity here these days, although there were almost 200 wintering in the valley a few decades ago.

Cake and Colours

A fine Blashford day and better still one with cake, because we hosted the Pop-up Café once again today. The reserve was fairly busy, both with visitors and birds. At opening up time Ivy Lake was busy with ducks, nothing unusual, but a good mix of species.

Ivy Lake

Ivy Lake with lots of wildfowl

The trees are in particularly good colour just now, with the oak just turning, joining the beech, hazel, willows and others. Some hazel are still completely green while others are in their autumn glory.

hazel

Hazel in full autumn colour

Although there are few on the reserve, the guelder rose draws attention at this time of year thanks to very bright leaves.

guelder rose

guilder rose

Field maple, like all the Acers, has very good autumn colour, although most of their leaves seem already to have fallen at Blashford.

field maple leaves

fallen field maple leaves

Not all the colour comes from leaves though, I know Tracy posted a picture of it on Friday but I cannot resist another one of the cobalt crust fungus.

cobalt fungus

cobalt crust fungus

The colour is amazing! It seems it is uncommon and mostly found on ash twigs and branches, at Blashford it is on rotting willow branches lying on the ground in deep shade.

Out on the reserve both the water pipit and pink-footed goose were on show at Tern hide on and off throughout the day. Over 30 goosander were present well before dusk and 3000 or so starling gave a rather brief display before going to roost rather earlier than I had expected.  Three Cetti’s warbler were singing around Ivy Lake and a fourth was calling beside Lapwing hide. At Woodland hide a redpoll, a couple of brambling and a firecrest were all reported and a woodcock was seen in the willows near the Centre car park. At dusk on Ivy Lake, Walter our regular great white egret was again roosting in his favourite dead alder beside the cormorant roost.

Ibsley Water

Ibsley Water towards the end of the day from Lapwing hide.

 

At Last

Ever since I started work at Blashford Lakes I had harboured a hope that I might find a lesser scaup on one of the lakes. This North American duck resembles scaup in pattern but is the size of a tufted duck, there are a number of other detail differences which allow certain separation from the many lookalike hybrid diving ducks that can muddy the water. Lesser scaup was a “mega-rarity”  on this side of the Atlantic twenty years ago and although more frequent now is still a rare bird. It had also never been recorded in Hampshire, despite having been seen in neighbouring counties, so was a likely candidate to turn up sometime soon.

So it was with some pleasure and a little personal disappointment, that I learnt that one had been found at Blashford last Saturday when I was away on holiday. In fact it now seems it was probably the “scaup” that was reported on Ivy Lake on Friday, although not accurately identified at that time.

The lesser scaup seems to be favouring Blashford Lake, aka Spinnaker Lake (the sailing lake) with occasional excursions to Snails Lake and Ivy Lake. If you do go to Blashford Lake to look for it please respect the sailing club, their car park is not a public access site so access there is at their discretion. It is possible to see the bird from the public footpath along the northern and western sides of the lake. Parking is not really possible along Ivy Lane so please use the nature reserve car park and walk down the Rockford/Ivy lake path, a bit of a walk, but not too far for such a fine bird.

Other birds around the reserve yesterday included the peregrine sitting on a post outside Tern hide first thing, along with a water pipit in the meadow pipit flock. Ibsley Water had at least 45 pochard, not a large count by historical standards, but quiet a few these days, there were also two goldeneye, my fist of the season, although I know they were seen on Friday.

P1080910

Early sunset over Ivy silt pond

The clocks going back will no doubt increase the intensity of gull watching, so watch this space for more rarities. The gull roost offers birders perhaps their best chance of finding a rarity, although it takes dedication and some skill to pick out the unusual.

 

February round up

We’ve had a busy half term, with Winter Craft themed Wild Days Out, an evening under the stars (of which there really were many!) with the Fordingbridge Astronomers and our usual Young Naturalists monthly meeting.

Our Wild Days Out saw the children getting very messy in the clay pit, den building, fire lighting, creating dream catchers and baskets from willow and ice art sculptures. Lots of arty and hands on activities that involved natural materials! We even attempted to make burn out bowls in the fire, using hollowed out pieces of elder as straws. It was a slow process…

Our Young Naturalists did a great job making bird boxes, using a plan to mark up their planks of wood, cutting up the individual pieces and nailing them all together. The bird boxes along with a number made by the volunteers will replace some of the older ones on the reserve which are a little past their best, and will be a welcome addition. Thank you guys for all your hard work!

We also spent quite a while watching the kingfisher catching newts from the Education Centre pond – a very good distraction! The pond has become a favourite hunting spot for at least two birds, which are best viewed from inside the Centre as they don’t hang around for long when disturbed – hopefully they will leave a few newts for us to catch over the summer!

kingfisher

Kingfisher by the Education Centre pond

The wild daffodils by the Woodland Hide are probably now at their best and definitely worth a visit, adding a welcome splash of yellow to the woodland floor.

daffodils

Wild daffodils near the Woodland Hide

The feeders at the Woodland Hide are still being visited by three brambling and at least one lesser redpoll, whilst a number of reed bunting have been foraging around on the ground.

Goldeneye, black necked grebe and goosander are still present on Ibsley Water whilst lapwing numbers are increasing, with some beginning to display over the lake with their distinctive flip-floppy flight. The water pipit has also been viewed from Tern Hide.

We’re expecting the bittern and great white egret to leave us any day now – if indeed they are still here! The bittern was seen on Sunday whilst Jim’s most recent view of the great white was last Wednesday.

A tawny owl has also decided to roost at the southern end of Ivy Lake, best viewed from the last window in Ivy South Hide. Noticed on Sunday, it has been there most mornings and still there some evenings so it’s definitely worth a scan of the trees on the lake edge.

Finally, thank you very much to Dave Levy for sharing with us this sequence of photos of a pair of great crested grebe displaying on Ivy Lake. Spring must definitely be here!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017…

Another misty start to the day this morning, although by no means as misty as yesterday when from Tern Hide all that could be seen were the silhouettes of coot and a couple of pairs of goldeneye which were feeding close to the shoreline immediately in front of the hide.

This morning all of Ibsley Water could be seen, albeit through a misty haze, but most of the wildfowl was further offshore towards the north of the lake among the feathered leavings of the overnight gull roost which is now very extensive and covering a huge proportion of the lake by dusk. Evenings are also still seeing a “mini-murmuration” of a couple of thousand or so starlings, currently often settling in for the night in the reedbed in Ibsley Pond north of Lapwing Hide. What was immediately in front of the hide today, furtling around in the gravel for invertebrates, was a very obliging green woodpecker who would have posed beautifully for anyone armed with a camera had they been there (I just had a ‘phone)… Unfortunately by mid-morning what had started as a relatively clear day had soon disintegrated back into dense mist again… from Lapwing Hide you could just see past the end of the “spit” by about 11am!

A misty start. It didn't last!

A misty start. It didn’t last!

Look closely for the green woodpecker!

Look closely for the green woodpecker!

Ivy Lake was equally misty. No bittern or water rail when I opened up Ivy North Hide, although both species were obliging yesterday and later on in the day today. The water rail in the alder carr  opposite the Woodland Hide that Bob reported in the previous blog entry has also continued :

img_20161231_090919

At the Woodland Hide itself reedbunting and brambling (at least two) are still present along with the usual multitude of other species which makes a visit to this hide consistently enjoyable. Not that many decided to visit the feeder when I tried taking a picture during my “rounds”:

img_20161231_091549

There were mallard and shoveler in Ivy Silt Pond on the way down to Ivy South Hide where from the hide itself all the regular wildfowl could be seen, with some gadwall, wigeon and tufted duck all feeding (and in the case of the gadwall and mallard, very noisily and “splashily” displaying and setting up/defending pairings):

img_20161231_092112 img_20161231_092256

The relatively mild weather and now lengthening daylight hours are also bringing with it other signs of spring and the New Year – as well as ducks pairing up, the great crested grebes are apparently setting up territories on Ivy Lake and a great tit has been stridently calling out “teacher” on and off all day around the centre. A lovely early introduction of the bird song that is still to come and with that I’ll leave you with the welcome sight of the recently emerged snowdrop shoots ushering in 2017, a New Year and new beginnings….

img_20161231_094503

I shall post this now and update at the end of the day as necessary with anything particularly noteworthy for anyone heading out this way tomorrow to kick start their year-lists. I’ve been office bound this morning and for the early part of the afternoon but will be heading out a little earlier than usual to stretch my legs, beat the bounds and swap the 2016 sightings record books for 2017’s. Hopefully the mist will lift again so I can see something! Who knows, I could even finish the year with an otter! But probably not!

Unfortunately the weather is not looking too favourable for tomorrow so what is traditionally the reserves busiest day of the year visitor wise may not be…

However for anyone who does make it out tomorrow don’t forget that Nigel and Christine will be in the centre classroom with their Pop-up cafe from 10.30am-3.30pm tomorrow with hot drinks and home baked cakes, a proportion of the takings from which goes into supporting our conservation and access work on the nature reserve.

Happy New Year everyone!

 

The Cutting Crew

Recent visitors to the reserve may have noticed that there has been a lot of work going on in the area between the main car park and Goosander hide, where the concrete block plant used to be. We have been waiting for the site to be restored for some years as it will give us a path directly from the car park to Goosander hide and so a circular route around the reserve. It will also give us about 2ha of open ground potentially ideal for nesting lapwing and little ringed plover. It is not yet part of the reserve, but hopefully will be before too long and in anticipation of this we are working to make sure it can deliver as much as possible.

Today the Tuesday volunteers were cutting a huge bramble clump that covered the shore of the lake west of Goosander hide cutting the lake off from the open ground. The plan is for this bank to be grassland in the long run, although this is going to need a few years of hard work. Hopefully it will be good for both nesting lapwing and feeding wigeon. We got  a lot done today as the pictures below show.

before

before

As you can see, although I have labelled this “before” we have already done two days work in previous weeks.

after

after

The new banks that flank what will be the path from the main car park will be planted with willows and brambles to provide habitat for small birds and many of the open areas will have wildflower seed spread on them to provide nectar for insects.

When I opened up this morning it was noticeable that there were no swallows or martins over Ibsley Water. Scanning around I saw two of the three garganey and a group of small waders which proved to be 3 dunlin and a single little stint. Later we saw 5 pochard, the most I have seen in ages. Late in the day when I was locking up I again saw the great white egret on Ibsley Water along with all three garganey, a pair of Mandarin duck and an adult yellow-legged gull.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 28

As I get to the end of the 30 Days it is clear that they have been far from typical and that a lot of things we took for granted at the start we can no longer rely upon. Quite what the changes to come will mean for wildlife habitats, the environment our landscape and nature conservation is hard to predict. One thing is for sure, we will continue to hold our wildlife and countryside in high regard and will remain home to many of the world’s finest naturalists.

Britain is characterised by a varied landscape and the diversity of wildlife that produces. Locally we have the New Forest, the downlands of the inland chalk and the Island, the chalk streams and the Solent coast, all uniquely characteristic of their place, fashioned by geography and human history. In various ways they have benefited from EU money and protection, with this going we will need to ensure that remain cherished landscapes with improving habitat quality and rich in wildlife, it will be a time of change but must not be a time of loss.

Whilst we ponder the future there are still all the usual things to get on with in the moment. Day 28 was a Tuesday, so we had a volunteer team working at Blashford, we continued work to improve the grassland along the western shore of Ibsley Water, removing bramble regrowth. The lakeshore is grazed by New Forest ponies and I was wondering if they might have been there today as they are due any time now. Many things have been reduced in recent days but the size of this pony still came as a shock!

pony

tiny pony!

I have absolutely no idea how a small plastic pony had found its was half way up the shore of Ibsley Water.

The sunny weather of the morning gave way to rain in the afternoon, so the grass snake that was happily basking outside the Ivy South hide when I opened up was long gone when I closed up.

grass snake

basking grass snake

Looking towards the common tern rafts it is clear that there are lots of chicks out there growing fast. I decided to take a few minutes to see what the brood sizes were. I can do this easily for the rafts with just one or two pairs, the answer for these was that each of the three pairs had three young, or put another way 100% chick survival since hatching, as they only lay three eggs. I then watched as adult terns came in with fish, once the young no longer need brooding they gather in small groups but when their parent arrives they run towards it for food, allowing the brood size to be determined. I watched as seven different broods were fed and again all had three chicks. Although this was only a sample of ten pairs, it seems clear that it would be fair to say “So far so good”. I do know that one pair that made an attempt on a shingle island in Ibsley Water last week have failed, but all the others seems to be going well.

 

3o Days Wild – Day 20

A very wet day, it rained for the whole morning and showers continued in the afternoon until quite late. I was watching the skies quite closely as we had a plan to go out to the gull nesting island to ring some young black-headed gulls, but we needed it to be dry. Our luck was in, after four o’clock the rain stopped and the sun even came out, so the trip was on.

approaching the island

Approaching the island

Due to poor weather we were rather later than usual this year and as a result most of the gull chicks had already flown or just swan into the lake and watched us from a safe distance. We have been ringing some each year for a while now, but only in the last few have we been colour-ringing them, this enables the ring to be read in the field and results in a lot more records. It also means that we don’t need to catch so many birds to get results. The rings are large and easy to see with a telescope or even binoculars if the bird is close.

colour ringing the gull chicks

gull chick with a new colour-ring

Although most of the black-headed gull chicks were large there were a few nests with eggs or very tiny chicks, these nests were probably relays, that is second attempts by pairs that lost their first clutch.