Festive opening and a wild winter challenge

This is just a quick reminder to say Christmas Day is the one day of the year we do not open, so the car park and portable toilets will remain closed next Friday. They will be back open on Boxing Day.

If you fancy a midwinter nature challenge, why not sign up to 12 Days Wild, The Wildlife Trusts mini festive take on the summer challenge 30 Days Wild. 12 Days Wild encourages you to do one wild thing a day from the 25th December to the 5th January, on those days between Christmas and the New Year when you might have a little more time on your hands and winter wildlife is just waiting to be explored.

Your wild acts could be little things to help nature, for example recycling your Christmas tree, picking up litter whilst out on a walk or feeding the birds, or ways to connect to the natural world, like walking off your Christmas dinner in the woods, photographing nature or watching a starling murmuration.

You can sign up on The Wildlife Trusts website for more ideas and if you do manage to get out and about why not share your winter random acts of wildness on social media using #12DaysWild

‘Tis the season to go wild and have fun!

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Ivy Lake from the screen by Ivy North hide this morning, nice to have a bit of sunshine!

A Better View

With the clocks going back and autumnal wind and rain not to mention an increasing likelihood of further restrictions on going out returning, things have been a little gloomy of late. However as many people have found in recent times being able to get out into nature, even in the rain does undoubtedly help lift the mood. In normal times most people mainly make use of the bird hides to view wildlife at Blashford Lakes, with these closed there is a need to seek other opportunities. Luckily the paths between the hides go through some interesting habitat and offer lots of chances to see all sorts of wildlife, something often forgotten as people rush from hide to hide in normal times. Unfortunately when it comes to viewing the lakes themselves and the wildfowl on them the hides are important, without them there are just a few screens and the high viewpoint at the rear of the Main Car Park near Tern Hide.

It had seemed possible that we might be getting to a point where we would be able to open the hides, with some restrictions, but sadly this now seems much less likely and we may have to face up to having no hide access this winter. This means looking for alternative viewing opportunities and the first one identified is just beside Ivy North Hide. Thanks to the gravel surface already being there and the screen facing the right way opening up a viewpoint was relatively easy. So on Friday afternoon I cut the vegetation between the screen and the lake and made an opening in the screen. This means that Ivy Lake is now viewable from three directions, looking north-west from the southern end of the Rockford path, looking west from further north up that path and now looking south from beside Ivy North Hide.

Ivy North screen
Now with an opening and views out over the Ivy Lake

We have also recently given a haircut to a lot of the bushes and small trees that were starting to get in the way of the view of Ibsley Water from the viewpoint, the panoramic view from there is quite impressive, all we need now are some starlings to put on a show.

Go Wild this June!

June is almost upon us and 30 Days Wild is back for its sixth year! It is a fun, feel-good challenge run annually by The Wildlife Trusts which aims to bring people closer to nature and take small actions on a daily basis that can collectively have a big impact, for their health, wellbeing and for the planet.

You can sign up to the nature challenge here, where you will get a downloadable pack full of wild ideas to see you, your family or those in your care through the month. You could plant for pollinators, go on a bug hunt, give up plastics for a day, dig a pond, make a bug home, litter-pick, listen to birdsong, cloud watch, walk barefoot through the grass, get up to watch the sunrise, the options are endless.

If you’re on social media, you can share your random acts of wildness by using the #30DaysWild and @HantsIWWildlife on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. We’d love to see what you’re up to!

The website also has lots of extra ideas for those of you who are currently homeschooling, how to stay connected to nature if you are working from home and how to create a wildlife garden.

Have fun going wild!

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Ivy Lake in the sunshine

Back to Blashford

Last Monday I helped Bob put a couple of tern rafts out on Ivy Lake, something he had been hoping to do for a while but needed someone on site whilst he went out on the water. So when I say ‘help’, I do mean it in the loosest sense of the word as I kept an eye on him from the comfort of Ivy South hide.

Ivy Lake 3

The view from Ivy South hide – the spiders have moved in and the vegetation is taking over!

Luckily, two of the rafts were still on the edges of the lake, so they just needed moving out into position in the middle and securing in place. By the end of the day there were six common terns interested in one of the rafts and this number has gradually increased over the course of the week. In wandering down there today there were at least twenty either on the raft itself or flying around overhead, with a few black-headed gulls. We would usually put out more rafts but without volunteer support to make them and move them (not a job that allows for social distancing) they will have to make do with these two instead.

Ivy Lake 2

A blurred Bob out on Ivy Lake with two tern rafts (I liked the foreground!)

Whilst waiting for Bob I listened to the reed warblers with their distinctive chatty song and watched a pair of great crested grebes out on the water. I also noticed lots of newly emerged damselflies, yet to develop their full colours and markings, on the stems growing outside the hide. It takes a few days for them to develop their colouring, a useful survival mechanism as at present they are not quite ready to fly so blend in rather well with the vegetation. Lower down you could make out the cast skins or exuvia clinging on to the vegetation following their final moult and emergence as an adult.

Bob has also been busy strimming step asides into the edges of some of the footpaths, where it has been possible to do so, to create areas for people to pass each other more easily and aid social distancing when walking around.

In addition we have been busy planning extra signage for some of the footpaths and will be making some routes one way, again to aid social distancing and enable people to visit safely. Crossing the stretches of boardwalk safely will be particularly difficult, so people will be directed over these a certain way. We hope to begin putting signage up this week, at the entrances to the reserve and also at path junctions, so if and when you do visit please keep an eye out for them. Hopefully we will have ironed out any snags by the time we are able to open a car park, which fingers crossed will not be too far off now, we will keep you all posted…

It has been nice to spend a bit of time out on the reserve – I was back just in time to experience the bluebells along the Dockens Water, although they are going over now, and also heard my first cuckoo of the year this week. I wasn’t sure I was going to hear one this spring. There is also still some greater stitchwort flowering along the Dockens path:

On Ibsley Water the large raft is mainly occupied by black-headed gulls, although there were a couple of common tern on there early last week. It’s lovely to see the common terns back again for another summer.

By the Centre there has been plenty of insect life around the pond, with beetles, bees, dragonflies and damselflies making the most of the sunshine:

On Wednesday Bob and I were sat having lunch when the female mallard he had noticed on the new Education Centre pond made an appearance, followed by 13 ducklings. We watched them topple off the boardwalk into the water, one or two at a time, and enjoyed their company whilst we finished eating. Later on that afternoon they moved over to the original centre pond but I haven’t seen them since, so I hope they are ok.

It has also been really nice to be able to rummage through the moth trap again, although with a few cold nights it has been quite quiet. Here are some moth highlights:

There have also been a number of cockchafers in the light trap. Also known as May bugs or doodlebugs these large brown beetles also fly around at dusk.

May bug

Cockchafer, May bug or doodlebug

On Thursday I found the exuvia or final moult of a hawker dragonfly in the pond and fished it out to take a closer look:

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

Leaving it out in a sunny spot to dry out I completely forgot about it, only remembering once I had driven home that evening. By this morning though it had found its way onto my desk, so Bob must have spotted it too!

I have also visited the meadow a couple times, the oxeye daisies are looking beautiful now they are coming into flower, rivalling the gorgeous pink display of ragged robin by the Welcome Hut which Jo shared a photo of last week. The common vetch and buttercups are also flowering and there are a few common blue butterflies on the wing.

The beautiful green beetle above has many names, it is known as the thick-legged flower beetle, false oil beetle and swollen-thighed beetle. Only the males have thickened hind legs, I might have to visit the meadow again in search of a female.

Spring showers

Yesterday morning after opening up the hides, welcome volunteer Hilary and I were treated to views of a Common or Lesser redpoll close to the Welcome Hut. It was hopping around on the ground looking for food before flying up onto the feeder base where it investigated the hole the feeder usually sits in, unfortunately not currently there in an attempt to deter the rats from getting too at home, pausing long enough for me to get an ok-ish photo then flew off.

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Redpoll disappointed by the lack of a bird feeder!

Redpoll have been noticeably absent this winter and early spring, my only view prior to this being two feeding on the bird feeder station outside the Woodland Hide from the TV in the Education Centre lobby – admittedly a very good view but not quite the same! Two have been coming to the feeders by the Woodland Hide regularly now for a few days, today there was a record of three in the hide diary, so it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re at the reserve and haven’t managed to spy one yet this year.

After this rather exciting sighting, I got ready for a willow weaving event and spent the morning helping participants have a go at making fish and snails using willow from the reserve and adding in a bit of soft rush to the fish to make them nice and stripey. The finished results looked brilliant, especially the fish as they were so colourful. A fun time was I think had by all!

Yesterday was a very mixed day weather wise, when the sun was out it was lovely, but we also had a hail shower and another couple of showers which did pass through quickly but were very heavy. I had gone out to re-write a couple of temporary signs when I got caught out by one of these, and seeing blue sky in the distance decided to shelter under a holly tree and wait it out, where I was joined by the Saunders family who decided to do the same thing.

We were talking and they rather excitedly said they had just seen a duck sat high up in a tree, something they had heard of but never actually seen before. I have never seen a duck up in a tree either, and when it stopped raining they very kindly walked back along the path to show me. I had walked straight past her, so it was a brilliant spot!

Mallard

Female mallard

She is quite high up, so I assume she is nesting, and fingers crossed she’s successful. She was certainly looking content!

As well as being lucky enough to see the mallard yesterday, I also watched two treecreepers having what I assume was a territorial dispute. They were both making their way up to the tops of two separate but very close to each other trees, then on reaching the top flew at each other before tumbling down to the ground together. They then went back to the trees, climbed to the tops, did it all over again before flying further apart. If it wasn’t a territorial dispute, perhaps it was some kind of courtship behaviour, but either way it was fascinating to see. Treecreepers seem to be particularly visible and easy to spot at the minute, partly because the trees are yet to be covered in leaves, and they are a lovely bird to watch. I was too busy watching their fluttery tumbling to get a photo but did manage this one afterwards:

treecreeper

Treecreeper

A heavy shower is enough to form a rather large puddle in the main nature reserve car park at present where the ground water levels are so high, and although yesterday you could skirt the edge after a heavy downpour without wellies it is worth bearing this in mind if you visit after a heavy shower. After checking the water levels in the car park I spent a short while in the hide watching a pair of Pied wagtails moving on the shore of Ibsley Water.

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Pied wagtail

The Long-tailed duck was still present yesterday, along with a Common sandpiper on the shoreline and two Marsh harrier. Pintail are still present on Ibsley Water in large numbers and the male Goldeneye have been displaying, tossing their heads back before stretching their necks up and pointing their bills to the sky.

Today work experience student Megan and I ventured up to Lapwing Hide to cut some of the more colourful willows that are growing in the reedbed and spotted a Common snipe hiding amongst the soft rush. Its stripes and barring provide excellent camouflage:

snipe

Spot the snipe!

We were also ever so slightly distracted by the Kingfisher which returned to the Education Centre pond today, it seems to prefer this spot it when its wet! It did perch briefly on one of the antlers of the willow deer:

Kingfisher

Kingfisher perched on the willow deer

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Kingfisher by the Education Centre pond

Finally, jumping back to yesterday and just to prove it was a very showery kind of day, there was a lovely double rainbow over Ivy Lake when I locked Ivy South Hide. If I’d had my camera on me I might have got it in one photo, but had to make do with two instead:

 

Birds, Birds, Birds

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.

wigeon

drake wigeon

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.

gadwall

drake gadwall

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.

cormorant roost

cormorant roost

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.

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Starling murmuration

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.

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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.

 

All Change

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.

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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.

goosander flock preening

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.

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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

Misty Ivy Lake (actually the bittern is in this picture, but I doubt you can see it!!)

13th January – Great White and Yellow-browed

Another busy day on the reserve with the yellow-browed warbler performing pretty well throughout the day and drawing a steady flow of admirers to its favoured area neat Ivy South hide. It was not the only warbler on show though, there were Cetti’s warbler at Ivy North hide and at the silt pond neat Ivy South hide. Chiffchaff have been particularly frequent this winter and today I saw them near Ivy South hide, on the approach to Goosander hide and near Lapwing hide.

In the brief bit of sunshine we enjoyed around midday I went to have a quick practice with the new camera, these are some of the results.

chaffinch female

female chaffinch with scaly-leg

siskin male

siskin, a male not really showing his best side.

Although finch numbers at the Woodland hide are not large, they are increasing with siskin leading the charge and also an occasional redpoll.

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tufted duck drake

At dusk there were at least 187 cormorant roosting in the trees beside Ivy Lake, which I photographed earlier in the day when there was more light.

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Ivy Lake from Ivy South hide with the very first few of the cormorant gathering to roost.

As Jim mentioned yesterday the car park nearest the Education Centre will be completely closed from tomorrow morning for at least the next week, this will mean no access along the track to the Centre, either for vehicles or pedestrians, you can still walk to the Centre using the footpath to the left of the track, always the safest route. The work is aimed at  levelling the car park surface to reduce the large puddles that are sometimes an unwelcome feature.

Further works are in the pipeline, so please keep an eye on things here to keep up to date with events.

29th Dec – Sightings

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.

 

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.