It is properly grim out there today so just a quick post with a truly blue stunning insect to cheer up your weekend!
Just three individual moths in the light trap this morning, two of which were this awesome moth, a blue underwing (which sadly you can’t see in my picture so you’ll just have to imagine the sky blue/black banded hindwings!), or Clifden Nonpareil.
A one time resident of the UK it became extinct during the mid-20th Century with just occasional sightings of migrants each year. More recently however it has become more frequent and is thought to be making a very welcome back 😊
Recent bird highlights include a grey phalarope which has been present on Ibsley Water all week and showing relatively well. To the best of my knowledge not seen yet today by the handful of visitors braving the downpours, but the hundreds (thousands?) of house martins skimming hither & thither across the surface of the lake are very impressive to behold!
On Tuesday I accompanied Bob to the north eastern shore of Ibsley Water so he could fell some of the willows into the lake, creating perches over the water for birds like heron and egret to fish from. I did fell a few smaller trees, but admit I was mainly there as first aid cover and did make the most of the opportunity of being in a different spot, enjoying a wander along the edge of the bay where I’ve only been once before.
Bob felling trees into the bay north of Lapwing Hide
The view across Mockbeggar Lake towards Ibsley Common
Whilst we were up there, a goosander flew overhead and a couple of pied wagtails made themselves comfortable on the osprey perch:
On the walk back I noticed some blackening waxcaps on the edge of the lake near Lapwing Hide, which were beginning to change colour. A grassland fungi, blackening waxcaps turn black with age, hence the name, but prior to blackening they can be red, orange or yellow in colour.
Blackening waxcap, beginning to blacken
The view towards Tern Hide from in front of Lapwing Hide
There is plenty of fungi in accessible locations on the reserve, with candlesnuff fungus seemingly everywhere if you look closely enough at the woodland floor along the footpath edges:
Candlesnuff fungus on a moss covered log
I also found a couple of earthfans on the edge of the lichen heath. They can be found on dry sandy soil and have a rosette like fruiting body which is usually reddish brown to dark chocolate brown in colour.
There were also a number of russula growing in amongst the lichen. There are approximately 200 russula species in the UK and the generic name means red or reddish. Although many have red caps, many more are not red and those that are usually red can also occur in different colours. This species could be Russula rosea, the rosy brittlegill, but I’m not completely sure so will stick with the genus russula on this occasion!
Russula species in amongst the lichen
There was also a branch covered in jelly ear fungus along the ‘Wild Walk’ loop, close to the acorn sculpture:
Jelly ear fungus
Also known as wood ears or tree ears, the fruiting body is ear shaped and is usually found on dead or living elder.
With the colder, wetter weather we have begun to get a number of more unwelcome visitors in the centre, usually wood mice or yellow-necked mice. Although we enjoy catching small mammals as an education activity, they are less welcome additions to the centre loft where they have in the past chewed through the cables. So we trap them in the loft too, using the Longworth small mammal traps, and safely relocate any we do catch to the further reaches of the reserve. On Sunday morning there were two mice in the loft, so I took them up to Lapwing Hide and released them into the undergrowth.
Mouse released from one of the mammal traps by Kate Syratt, who joined me for a socially distant wander to release them
There have been a good variety of moths in the light trap recently, with the highlights including mottled umber, streak, red-green carpet, green-brindled crescent, feathered thorn and December moth:
Green brindled crescent by Kate Syratt
Although I haven’t seen any sign of the brambling recently, the feeder by the Welcome Hut is being regularly visited by at least one marsh tit. We had a pair around the centre regularly over the summer so it has been really nice to get great views of at least one feeding frequently.
Starling numbers have been increasing and on Tuesday evening there were several thousand north of Ibsley Water. They are best viewed on a clearer evening from the viewing platform which is accessible on foot through the closed main car park and gives panoramic views of Ibsley Water.
Ibsley Water from the viewpoint
This is the perfect spot to watch the starlings put on a show as they twist, turn, swoop and swirl across the sky in mesmerising shape-shifting clouds. These fantastic murmurations occur just before dusk as numerous small groups from the same area flock together above a communal roosting site. The valley boasts a sizeable starling murmuration most years, with the reedbeds to the north of Ibsley Water often used, along with those on the other side of the a338 to the west and the smaller reedbed by Lapwing Hide in the east, so from this higher vantage point all possible roost sites can be seen.
Although I don’t have any photos to share of the murmuration, taking a video instead the last time I watched them, it’s also a really nice spot to watch the sun set.
Sun setting to the west of Ibsley Water from the viewing platform
Earlier in the year little did I know that when I locked up and left Blashford, somewhat appropriately as it happens, on Friday 13th March, that I would not be back until the 2nd July, thanks to a cocktail of a poorly child with a high temperature having to stay off school, subsequent quarantining of myself and family, lockdown and, later, furloughed leave.
A lot has changed in that time, at home, in the UK and across the World, for the Trust and, specifically, for Blashford Lakes.
Any regular readers of the Blashford Blog will know how Bob continued to manage and warden the site throughout lockdown, monitoring and dealing with the affects of ash dieback on the woodland despite, or in-spite, of the restrictions that lone-working imposed and his having to deal with the impacts that “cov-idiots” including poachers, dog walkers and cyclists were having upon the reserve and the wildlife.
As lockdown restrictions were eased he was joined by Tracy and they worked hard together to make and adjust to new socially distanced working procedures and hygiene arrangements whilst planning how the nature reserve might most safely be reopened to the public.
I for one am very grateful for all that they did and I am sure that our visitors are too, albeit that many won’t know that they are, or should be!
I returned to work from furloughed leave on 1st July, worked from home on that first day and returned to Blashford itself on the 2nd to reacquaint myself with the site and acquaint myself with new ways of working.
The site itself is much as it always was, although now displaying an awful lot more directional signage to aid visitors around the new one-way circular walking routes and with more of Tracy’s educational and insightful mini-interpretation notices which highlight particular aspects of wildlife as you explore the nature reserve.
The insects have been fabulous, none more so that the clouds of common blue damselflies which were particularly in evidence when I first got back at the beginning of the month.
The wilder areas around the dipping ponds as well as the relatively recently (last Summer) created ornamental raised flower beds and wildflower turf around the Welcome Hut at the front of the Centre have been, and are, full of insect life. Indeed our butterfly survey volunteers are finding that although the northern transect is doing well the southern transect is generally quite poor this year – with the exception of that area around the Education Centre.
One of the highlights of returning to work has been being able to view the moths attracted to the light trap over night, although always tinged a little with sadness that this summer we have not been sharing the same with our school group visitors:
The bird hides remain closed and are not set to open as normal anytime soon so glimpses of the lakes are infrequent and few but the view from the Ibsley Water viewing platform at the back of the main car park remains open and does still give a fantastic, if distant, view of that lake – and indeed it was from there that a number of visitors enjoyed views of an osprey perched on the perch placed out in that lake with just that purpose in mind. The sweet honey like scent of the creeping thistle which is growing in profusion there, alongside other fantastic nectar sources like ragwort and teasel is pretty special too:
So all in all, although the hides remain closed, there is still plenty of wildlife to see and you never know, you might get lucky and see something more unusual like an osprey, or, as other visitors have reported seeing on different days over the last couple of weeks, Blashford treats like kingfisher or treecreeper, or slightly more unusually, an otter or a family of stoats.
And visitors we are getting; plenty of regulars just like the “old days” before lockdown, but also lots of new visitors. Since restrictions eased further and holidays were allowed we’ve seen a lot of families and visitors new to the nature reserve on their holidays but we are also continuing to welcome local visitors who have and are staying close to home and who having done so are looking for new places close to home to explore and enjoy.
As a result the nature reserve is actually probably attracting more visitors this month than it would normally do so at this time of year and I suspect that this will continue over the next couple of months.
Tracy and I are continuing to develop the means by which we can engage with both visitors to the nature reserve and visitors, including schools, who might normally visit the nature reserve but are unable to do so at the present time.
A big step forward has been the installation of WiFi boosters outside the Centre which has not only allowed us to lead live virtual pond dipping activities (Tracy with her Young Naturalists meeting and myself with the Year 1 and Year 2 classes at Ringwood Infant School), but which will also enable us to offer other live virtual meetings, including “mini-beasting” or emptying the light trap for example.
Another benefit of the much improved WiFi has been our being able to re-open the Welcome Hut on an occasional basis, at least for now.
As mentioned earlier in this post, we are seeing lots of new visitors, but with the Centre and Welcome Hut closed and our Welcome Volunteers still stood down at present, there often is not someone available to provide assistance or guidance when required.
The improved WiFi coverage means that we can log on to the Wildlife Trusts remote desktop and continue to work on office and admin work from the Welcome Hut while being on hand to greet and provide assistance to visitors as needs be.
There are a number of benefits to this new working environment, not least of which is that it is a very pleasant place to work – with the doors fully opened and side windows ajar there is a lovely natural “air-conditioning”, the sound of bird song with an accompaniment of Roesel’s bush-cricket and grasshopper from the adjacent wildflower “meadow” fills the air and there is a lovely view of the tree’s around the Centre car park. Of course if anyone needs assistance we are there to help – and, as an added bonus should any further incentive to work out there be required, although it’s a bit early to be sure that it is a pattern and not just a coincidence, visitor donations seem to have gone up since I moved “office”.
This latter point is actually really important – the Wildlife Trust relies on its income from membership contributions as well as donations and at Blashford we especially rely on donations to help fund all elements of our work, from administration, to conservation, to education to access repair and improvements. Our income has been hit hard with none of the donations from group visits that we would normally receive throughout the summer, nor the usual donations from our “every day” visitors, despite there being more of them in recent weeks. This is, in part at least, because fewer and fewer people are carrying or using cash in our post-lockdown world. Bob recently made up some new “donation ask” signs with a QR code that visitors can use to make a donation to the Trust electronically and this too may have prompted more visitors who can to make a cash donation during their visit.
Time will tell whether it is my welcoming face, the new QR code or something else which will help our coffers over coming weeks!
Yesterday I was keeping an eye on things at Blashford and after a bit of time finishing things off in the office (the last couple of days have been filled with emails, creating signs and cancelling events and school visits) I had lunch outside the back of the centre with one of our very friendly robins for company and decided to make the most of the glorious weather and venture out onto the reserve.
Being at Blashford with the car park empty and the sun shining did remind me of the very quiet days we have on the reserve in the summer, when you know everyone has headed to the beach and the coast to stay cool. The main reminder of spring was the increase in birdsong, it was lovely to hear chiffchaff calling, and also the new growth on the trees.
New growth on the willow
Nearing the entrances however it was apparent people were very much still out and about and there were a fair few cars parked up. Fortunately most people were respecting social distancing, however I did have to stand in vegetation at one point to allow a group to pass who were quite happy to walk, albeit in single file, down the middle of the footpath. Out footpaths are not that wide… so please do take care out there and give people space!
Keeping the car parks closed does encourage fewer people to visit the reserve, which gives everyone a chance to keep their distance, but it does also reduce the risk of fly tipping on the site. Between me leaving on Friday and arriving back on Sunday a large amount of rubbish, including a couple of single mattresses, had been dumped in the first lay by on Ellingham Drove, if coming from the A338, and although this may have happened over night we have in the past had fly tipping occur during day inside our gates on the approach to Tern Hide and also on the nature reserve itself, near the water treatment works. Although those who fly tip will always sadly find somewhere for it to go, at least having the reserve secure at all times will reduce the opportunities available for fly tipping on the reserve itself, where the site is now generally quieter and our staff presence lower. Unfortunately with quieter roads this issue is something that may sadly increase over the next few weeks and months.
My real reason though for venturing close to the entrance was to stare at the very fine display of moss growing on the top of the wooden fence by our gate. I had been waiting for a sunny day to photograph it and usually when I am passing I am driving, either having just arrived or heading home. After a bit of searching, I think it is capillary thread moss, but am happy to be corrected if wrong!
Capillary thread moss
The hazel trees near the entrance are also displaying fresh bright green leaves and lesser celandine carpets the woodland floor below them.
I followed the path along the Dockens Water, spotting a brimstone butterfly but it did not settle for a photo. On my way up to Lapwing Hide I saw great tit and blue tit feeding amongst the willows and nearer to the hide itself chiffchaff, Cetti’s warbler, water rail and little grebe were all calling and I saw a reed bunting in the trees.
I also spied my first adder of the year, something I wasn’t necessarily expecting as it was now mid afternoon and had warmed up considerably.
Adder in amongst dead wood
On the edges of the paths colt’s-foot is flowering. It looks like a short dandelion but has a much rounder middle. Flowering early in spring, the flowers appear before the leaves do which has led to the plant getting the name ‘Son-before-father’.
Blackthorn is also blossoming and looking very pretty against a bright blue sky:
After walking round to Goosander Hide I cut back across to Tern Hide via the closed Hanson path and saw my first peacock butterfly of the year, which was more obliging than the brimstone and paused just long enough for a photo.
I popped in to Tern Hide to check all was well and see if there were any little ringed plover yet on the shore line. I couldn’t see any, or the common sandpiper which had been quite frequent, but did see teal, wigeon, tufted duck, goldeneye, shovelar, goosander and good numbers of pintail out on the water.
Tern Hide and Ibsley Water from the viewing platform
On heading back to the Centre I decided to keep following the path along the Dockens Water to see if there were any signs of flowers on the bluebells (not yet, but it won’t be long!) and also to check the boardwalk was still taped off at either end where it is currently closed.
The hawthorn along the path is another tree coming into leaf. Its flowers are similar to blackthorn, however hawthorn comes into leaf first, and will not flower until May, whereas the flowers of blackthorn appear before the leaves, as seen in the photo above.
All in all it was a very nice wander around the reserve in the sunshine. I am working from home today, listening to the chaffinch and dunnock singing outside, and will be doing so more over the coming weeks and months so it was good to get out on the reserve while I still could. I will be spending more time in my little garden and walking my dog down to the closest stretch of the River Bourne in Laverstock, or possibly up to the Laverstock Downs themselves if they remain quiet. So I will finish this blog with a photo of a primrose, as there are still plenty flowering on the reserve:
Blashford Lakes are a great place to see lots of birds. Both Ibsley Water and Ivy Lake have large numbers of duck at present with each often having over one thousand wigeon on most days recently.
There are also hundreds of pintail on Ibsley Water, they have been attracted up the Avon Valley along with a lot of the wigeon due to the flooding of the fields. These ducks tend to spend the day resting on the open water, only going out to feed in the valley after dark. By contrast most of the gadwall will be found feeding on the lakes during the day, with fewer flying out at dusk.
Ivy Lake is home to a large cormorant roost, these fly in at dusk to perch high in the trees around the lake shore, so far this winter I have managed to count only about 150 birds, but this roost can get to over 200.
For really large numbers of birds the time to visit is just before dusk, if you stand on the viewpoint at the back of the Main Car Park, from where you can see several thousand gulls fly in to roost on the water and tens of thousands of starling. Last evening the starling roosted in two locations, most to the north of the lake, but several thousand also to the west.
The birds were making impressive shapes in the air as they were being chased by at least one peregrine and we also saw a marsh harrier fly past. We could also see goosander flying in to roost on the lake and as it got dark a load of cackling greylag flew in to spend the night on the water.
The reserve is not all about birds though and as I locked up in the morning there were three roe deer feeding in the reeds just beside Ivy North Hide.
Roe deer in the reeds
If you are visiting, I can now report that the Main Car park is open as usual as the flooding has now receded.
The new Tern Hide is going up, work started on Monday with the footings, Tuesday saw the framework go up.
Framework going in
As you can see this is a somewhat different structure to the old hide. It has a steel frame and is raised off the ground, the old hide suffered when the floor started rotting out, not helped by the odd flood when water was flowing under the hide base.
By the end of the day the panels are starting to go up
It will take time to get all the sides up and roof on, and then there are the windows and internal fixings to do, but work is progressing well despite the windy conditions.
Starting to look like a hide now
The hide will have some higher level windows to make it easier to stand up and use a telescope on a tripod, hopefully a boon when doing a winter gull watch. Although it may not look it, it is larger in every dimension so it should also not get quiet so much of a crush when we do get a crowd in.
We have also made a more defined and level view point on the bank at the rear of the car park, which will give a great overall view of the lake and valley as a whole. Hopefully much better viewing all round.
I still do not expect work to be completed before the end of the month, but as you can see progress is now good.
This project has been made possible thanks to funds from the Veolia Environmental Trust.
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.
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.
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 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 (actually the bittern is in this picture, but I doubt you can see it!!)
No pictures today as my camera has died on me. Opening the hides first thing there was a water pipit at Tern hide (later I also had singles at both Goosander and Lapwing hides as well), also from there a new high count of linnet 108, and a chiffchaff beside the hide. At Ivy North hide the bittern was standing high in the reedmace giving great views. At the Woodland hide the reed bunting count had risen to 7 along with all the usual woodland birds.
Walking round the reserve the number of species singing was notable, I heard mistle thrush,song thrush, great tit, treecreeper, robin and Cetti’s warbler between the Centre and Ivy South hide.
In the afternoon a first winter Caspian gull was showing well swimming among the larger gulls from at least 2 o’clock. Despite searches by a few people no other notable gulls were found apart from rather more yellow-legged gull than recently seen, with perhaps 10 or more.
Towards dusk a green sandpiper was at Goosander hide, a great white egret flew over heading south, I assumed the egret was heading to roost in the trees at Ivy Lake, but when I got there none were to be seen. A small starling roost gathered over the north end of Ibsley Water, maybe 1000 or so birds, being chased by a peregrine. The peregrine them forced low over the water, so low that many wings broke the surface and produced a sudden flash of spray.
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.
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.
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.
On Sunday we are running a training course on the identification of gulls at Blashford, this will mean that the Tern, Goosander and Lapwing hides will be in use by groups on the course from mid afternoon, so if you are visiting on Sunday and not on the course you might want to visit these hides in the morning or early afternoon instead.
I am sometimes asked for an advised route around the reserve and although the “best” route is always a matter of circumstances on the day there are some general rules that hold true. So Ivy North hide faces south-east, this makes it difficult on a sunny morning, Ivy South faces east and likewise difficult early on in sunshine, so both of these are probably best in the afternoon. The Woodland hide is less of an issue, although the light is best here in the afternoon also. The Tern hide faces north so is pretty good all day. Goosander hide faces north west, so is at its best in the morning and the same is true of Lapwing hide, which faces almost due west, so is very hard work on a sunny afternoon.
The above obviously is only a choice dictated by the direction of the light, there are other factors too of course. Wind direction can be important, most birds will seek shelter and this needs to be considered. In a strong northerly, Tern hide will be both a long way from the birds sheltering under the northern shore of Ibsley Water, nearly a kilometre away and if you open the window you will be looking into the teeth of the wind! By contrast the northern end of Ivy Lake near Ivy North hide will be sheltered and with luck full of birds.
Then there is what you want to see, not a problem if you just want to see a range of birds, being guided by the weather and lighting will probably be the best option. There are some obvious rules, the birds that gather to roost will only be doing so at the end of the day and you will need to be in the right place to see them. The gulls roost on Ibsley Water is well known and is the attraction for the identification course. Ibsley also hosts a roost gathering of goosander, which mainly roost in the bay at Goosander hide, although they are usually only there in the minutes just before darkness. They fly in from all directions but can often be best seen doing so from the bank at the back of the main car park, which is also the best place to view the starling murmuration and get an overview of the gull roost. If it is great white egret you want to see then Ivy North at the end of the day is the place, recently there have been three there each evening, there is also a cormorant roost in the trees here.
By contrast if you are looking for finches, don’t leave it too late, they tend to get up late and go to bed early, the Woodland hide feeders will be busy with tits from dawn ’til dusk but the finches tend to turn up in the middle part of the morning and are often heading off to roost not long after 3:00 pm in the winter.
Some species are more obvious at certain times of the day, birds of prey will soar around mainly during the middle part of the day when the ground has warmed to aid this kind of flight by causing upward air currents. Water rail and Cetti’s warbler are usually far more vocal around dusk. Pochard tend to feed at night and roost during the day, whereas tufted duck are typically the reverse, feeding in the day and roosting at night.
So if planning a birding trip consider the conditions on the day and what you are most keen to see and you should get the most out of your visit. The above is just about Blashford Lakes, but every destination will have a range of factors that will be at play. Wherever you go it always pays to be lucky of course, but to some degree you can make your own luck by making good decisions about how you go about your visit.