A wet and wild week

 

After a super busy summer term the holidays are here and we’re just as busy with our usual monthly events and our Wild Days Out programme of children’s holiday activities.

Our Young Naturalists met last Sunday for a beginners photography session led by local photographer Clifton Beard. Cliff was a brilliant tutor, keeping things simple and remembering the group would be taking photos with a variety of equipment from smart phones to point and shoot to digital SLRs.

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Cliff set us little tasks throughout the session, encouraging us to think more before merrily snapping away and ran through the importance of light, composition and moment. We looked for certain colours, lines, edges and lots more and tried focusing on macro subjects before having a mini photo competition with our best images of the day.

As we didn’t stray far from the building, it was really interesting to see what everyone managed to find close by. Cliff’s parting advice was that the best camera is the one you have on you, which really is true, if you don’t have it with you then you will miss the shot!

Thanks to Cliff for giving up his day to share his knowledge and expertise with the group and to Amy Hall and Corinne Bespolka from the Cameron Bespolka Trust for joining us too.

Wednesday was an entirely different affair, with a very wet and soggy Wild Day Out. Not to be deterred from our ‘Wildlife Safari’, we began the day dissecting some owl pellets, an activity the group thoroughly enjoyed. We had fun picking them apart with cocktail sticks and trying to decide which bits of small mammal we were looking at; a rib, or a shoulder blade, or a jaw bone or a skull. To tie in with this we also had lots of bones and other signs of wildlife to look at and hold.

After a short while we decided it was about time we braved the elements, pulled on our waterproofs and headed outside. Despite the rain, we soon spotted lots of cinnabar caterpillars on the ragwort on the lichen heath. As we looked closer we also disturbed a grasshopper and realised the wildlife was still all around us, just hunkering down low to avoid the wet weather. Probably a very sensible thing to be doing!

Our first sign of something ever so slightly bigger than our grasshopper was this pile of rabbit droppings:

Muddy ground is great for spotting tracks, however the first ones we noticed were not of the wildlife kind, or at least not the wildlife we were after:

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Vehicle tracks in the soft mud

We then headed towards the Dockens, taking the path towards the road crossing to Goosander hide and playing pooh sticks on the bridge over the river. Continuing along the path, we found a safe spot to get into the river then explored upstream, occasionally having to get back out again and walk along the bank when the pools became too deep. Whilst exploring the river we came across a number of deer tracks in the soft mud.

We were now quite wet, although some were wetter than others, and Isabelle and Millie had to empty their wellies after our river wanderings.

We picked blackberries on our way to Goosander hide, looking forward to a dry spot for lunch. We were stopped in our tracks by a scattering of feathers, trying to decide what had happened, who had been eaten (we decided a duck after studying the feathers) and by whom (we thought fox). A little further along the path we found the kill site, spotting a hollow off to the side of the path which contained the remains of two different birds. One of the skeletons was complete and as it was a bit on the large size for a duck we thought it could be a goose. The other we weren’t so sure!

We lunched in Goosander Hide, watching the rain get heavier and the sand martins and swallow flitting low over the water. Despite the weather we saw herons, cormorant, black headed gull, mute swans, little grebe and great crested grebe. The highlight though was the kingfisher, who didn’t seem put off by the rain or the bunch of 7-12 year olds picnicking in the hide and flew across in front of us a number of times, pausing for a while on one of the branches in the water.

We headed back to the Education Centre, dried off and warmed up with the help of a hot chocolate, happy in the knowledge that even in the pouring rain there were still plenty of signs of life and the wildlife itself to entertain us!

Thursday’s Wild Day Out was somewhat drier, a nice change to Wednesday! We were in search of dragons so headed to the pond to see what we could catch and keeping our fingers crossed the sun would put in an appearance and bring dragonflies hawking above the surface of the water.

By the time we had eaten, the weather had brightened up considerably and we headed over to the meadow, munching blackberries along the way. It was too wet to meadow sweep but we still embarked on a still hunt, finding a quiet spot in the meadow to just sit and look and watch the meadow world go by. We then had a go at stealthily catching some of the creatures we had been watching using bug pots. Slightly harder than using a sweep net, it certainly made us look closer.

We also managed to spot five wasp spiders in the meadow, making sure we left them safely in their webs:

wasp-spider

After discovering the miniature world of the meadow we headed to the Woodland Hide in search of birds then went on to Ivy South Hide, spotting a grass snake on the edge of Ivy Silt Pond.

We then returned to the Education Centre the long way (there were lots more blackberries to pick the long way back), seeing how many small children it takes to hug a rather large oak tree (I can’t remember the answer, but it was a fair few!) and playing pooh sticks on the bridge over the river.

Tree hugging

Tree hugging, with I think seven 5-8 year olds!

Pooh sticks

Pooh sticks on the Dockens Water, and looking for fish!

It’s been a rather wet and wild week!

We still have some spaces left on our upcoming Wild Days Out this summer, if you know of someone who might like to join us please visit the website for details and to book.

April Catch-up

April is flying by and we’ve been busy! We’re sorry for the rather long gap between this and the last blog, but hopefully this one explains a little of what we’ve been up to and what’s currently out and about on the reserve.

The sunshine brought plenty of visitors to our local craft event, who enjoyed the excellent refreshments provided by Nigel and Christine’s pop-up café (which will return in November) along with basket making, hurdle making and wood turning demonstrations and the chance to have a go at making bird feeders from willow.

Willow bird feeders

Willow bird feeders made at our craft event

This was swiftly followed by Wildlife Tots, who got into the spirit of Spring by making excellent nests for our cuddly birds.

Jessie with nest

Jessie with her nest for a Teal

We then entertained a holiday club visiting from London with den building and fire lighting activities, followed by a night walk. We’ve welcomed new six-month volunteer placement Harry, who is with us now until September and thrown him in at the deep end with a group of beavers who were here to enjoy a river dip. Luckily that didn’t put him off and Emily and the other volunteers have been busy showing him the ropes.

This week we’ve had two wet Wild Days Out, pond and river dipping in search of newts, fish and other monsters, rescuing ducks, floating boats, building dams and enjoying a balloon free water fight. Our most monstrous find was this awesome Great Diving Beetle Larva, which tried to devour anything in its sight:

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Great Diving Beetle larva ready to pounce

Our volunteers have been super busy, with the warmer weather bringing with it the start of our butterfly transects and reptile surveys. The butterfly transects have had an excellent start, with Peacock, Orange Tip, Brimstone, Speckled Wood, Comma and Small White all recorded and Holly Blue, Green Veined White and Small Tortoiseshell also seen around. They have already recorded more than they did in the whole of April last year, so fingers crossed numbers will continue to be good!

Grass snakes and adders have started to venture into areas accessible to visitors so if the cloud disappears and the temperature warms up again keep your eyes peeled! Two grass snakes were seen recently from Ivy South hide, but out of the window at the far end rather than their usual basking spot on the log outside the front; whilst the grass verges too and from Lapwing hide are usually good places to try for a basking adder.

In bird news, Lapwing, Common sandpiper, Redshank and Little ringed plover have all been showing nicely in front of Tern Hide, along with the Black headed gulls which are getting more and more vocal! An osprey reportedly flew over the reserve on Wednesday and a Common tern was also seen on Wednesday from Tern Hide.

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Thank you to Richard Smith for emailing across a photo of two very busy Little ringed plover:

Little Ringed Plovers by Richard Smith

Little ringed plover by Richard Smith

A Great spotted woodpecker has been busy excavating a hole in a tree trunk near Ivy Lake and best viewed from the far right hand window in Ivy North hide. Brambling were also still being spotted from the Woodland Hide this week, looking very smart as they develop their summer plumage and our first fledglings have been seen too – Robin and Dunnock – so keep an eye out for parent birds feeding their young.

Thanks to Lyn Miller and Steve Michelle for also sending in some great photos from recent visits to the reserve:

Kingfisher by Lyn Miller

Hungry kingfisher devouring a newt by Lyn Miller

Redpoll by Steve Michelle

Lesser redpoll by Steve Michelle

Black Headed Gull by Steve Michelle

Black headed gull by Steve Michelle

Finally thank you to everyone who’s popped in to tell us what they’ve seen, Jim and I have unfortunately been slightly office bound when not out and about leading events and group visits, so it’s great to know what’s going on out on the reserve!

We will try not to leave such a long gap between this and next blog, Bob’s back from leave soon so fingers crossed!

See that blob? That’s the owl…

The much talked about/sought after tawny owl was on show again all day today with various people coming to see it having heard how regular it is (for where to look, see my description in the comments of the preceding “Pull the otter one” blog).

To avoid disappointment for anyone making a special effort to get here and expecting fabulous views thought I’d post a picture:

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So, see that vaguely owl shaped blob in the middle of the frame? That’s it – digi-scoped  this afternoon and to be fair to myself I haven’t seen pictures much better taken by visitors with decent kit so there’s my gauntlet to our readers: if you have taken a better picture you are happy to share feel free to email it in with permission for us to blog it to blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk !

Other exciting wildlife news from a little earlier in the week was the first reports of a bat flying over the centre car park. Last spring we were treated to fantastic views of up to three soprano pipistrelle over the centre and Woodland Hide from mid-afternoon onwards so hopefully we can look forward to more of the same this year. Thank you to Lauren Bissell for a) sharing the sighting with us and b) sending in pictorial proof (far better than my owl I’m pleased to say!):

soprano-pipistrelle-by-lauren-bissell-2soprano-pipistrelle-by-lauren-bissell-1

The kingfisher are still hammering the centre pond newt population – for a good chance of seeing it through the classroom window whilst enjoying a cup of coffee and slice of cake come along to the Pop up Cafe which is open  in the centre again tomorrow…

And finally, thank you to Sue Marshall for her lovely feedback and a selection of the images that she took following Bobs guided walk on Thursday:

“I went on my 3rd walk yesterday at Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve and yet again I got an image of a Bird that is new to me…  I love these walks and the  information that Bob Chapman gives out is just amazing! I don’t know how he remembers it all, he is like knowledge on legs! When I attended the February walk I saw and got my very first image of a Cetti’s Warbler  and yesterday was truly amazing.. I saw and got my very first image of a Sparrowhawk,  neither of which would I have seen if I had not been on Bobs walk, I am looking forward to attending more.. thank you” :

Cetti's Warbler Blashford by Sue MarshallMale Sparrowhawk Blashford Lakes by Sue Marshall

Thank you Sue!

Bobs next walk is “Signs of Spring”, 2-4pm on 16th March – booking (on 01425 472760) essential!

 

Pull the otter one!

Firstly, my apologies… this blog is a bit of a personal indulgence:

For regular readers of this blog and the Blashford volunteer team the following announcement will be completely unbelievable but it is absolutely true and I have witnesses in Assistant Education Officer Tracy and long-term volunteer placement Emily to prove it:

I took a short break after lunch to stretch my legs, ostensibly to see if the Ivy Lake tawny owl was still in residence (it was, but as good as that is, it is not the purpose of this blog), but partly also on the off-chance that I might catch a glimpse of the otter that a visitor casually mentioned having seen in Ivy Silt Pond this morning.

I didn’t see an otter.

I saw THREE!

Watched over by a kingfisher perched over the water we watched three otters playing in and out of the reeds for about 5 minutes as they worked their way from the bottom of the pond to about midway along at which point they disappeared into the reeds and did not re-materialize.

Magic!

Haven’t stopped grinning since!

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!

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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.

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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!

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A weekly round up

Firstly, please accept our apologies for the recent infrequency of posts – we are doing our best, we are still here, and if we are not managing to post more frequently it is only because we are busy!

Comedy award this week goes to our lovely Long-term Volunteer Placement Emily – with thanks to Geoff for very kindly taking and sharing the picture below:

Emily... she's got that sinking feeling...

Emily… she’s got that sinking feeling…

I’m sure Emily will be thrilled to have made it onto the blog again (it wouldn’t have been so bad if she didn’t end up doing exactly the same thing again…several times!).

Joking aside Emily has been a huge help since she started with us on a long-term basis in September and we will be sad to see her “leave” when the 6 month post finishes in March. She has in turn benefitted from a wide range of work experience across all aspects of conservation and education work on the reserve and her first job interview requests are starting to roll in. We of course hope that she secures a suitable job soon (and ideally we hope that the suitable job is local so we can continue to benefit from her hard-work and enthusiasm in the future!).

We will shortly be advertising for a new long-term (6 month) volunteer at Blashford Lakes on the website and elsewhere so if you, or anyone you know, might be interested, do check out the jobs section next week: http://www.hiwwt.org.uk/jobs

The post that Emily was trying to erect in the picture was one of several forming a deer fence in front of the old Hansons office which will (hopefully!) protect the tree’s that were then subsequently planted there by the Thursday volunteer team from the ravages of grazing deer.

Sadly we still have no news on when we will be able to finally open the long awaited footpath between Tern and Goosander Hides, but rest assured that as soon as we can we will and we will be sure to let you know on this blog when we do too…

Perhaps the biggest wildlife news of the week, and certainly today, is that of sightings of (a single male) lesser redpoll on the feeders outside Woodland Hide for much of the day – unusually for this winter the visitor who first reported it to me had seen that, but no brambling! Thanks to Niall Ferguson for his pictures of brambling and a long-tailed tit taken late last week:

brambling-by-niall-ferguson longtailed-tit-by-niall-ferguson

Ivy Lake still plays host to a large number of wildfowl, particularly notable this week after a long absence has been the arrival of teal. Both the great white egret and bittern continue to be in residence – thank you to Steve White for sending these pictures in:

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The bittern clearly doing what it does best, quickly darting from one side of the clearing to the other!

This morning our Wildlife Watch group were in and todays main activity was nest box building:

The finished article!

The finished article!

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Early arriving Wildlife Watch members had a fantastic view through the classroom window of a kingfisher over the centre pond where it remained on and off throughout the day delighting any number of visitors of all ages!

I was particularly pleased to be able to call a couple of visitors into my office to see it before they left this morning, as I’d been chatting with them when I opened up Ivy South Hide and they told me how much they wished to see one but had never yet managed it on a visit yet. After they had left and headed over the boardwalk I walked back up to the centre right past a kingfisher fishing from the reeds at the back of Ivy Silt Pond near the Woodland Hide!

Their view of one over the dipping pond made their morning however 😉

 

 

Weaving willow for birds

Today our Young Naturalists were back at Blashford for their December session and we began the day with a quick look in the light trap. It really was a quick look, with only two moths present, a December moth and a Red-line Quaker:

We then headed over to our willow wood for a morning of pollarding the willows and turning our cut stems into a number of simple platforms for nesting birds. In particular, Bob has Little egrets in mind, so fingers crossed they may be tempted by our creations! Little egrets tend to nest in colonies, with coastal birds preferring small colonies or even nesting alone. Their nests are usually small platforms made of sticks, 30-35cm wide and 10-15cm high. Hopefully our platforms will be a good starting point for nest building once they have been carefully positioned out on the reserve.

We began pollarding one section while volunteer Geoff carefully strimmed another part of the area, so we would be able to see all the hidden holes and dips in the uneven ground.

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Edie and Poppy pollarding

will-and-jackson-pollarding-willow

Will and Jackson pollarding

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Geoff strimming

We then used some of our cuttings to weave the nesting platforms, trying out both a round and circular design. I’m not sure which, if any, the birds will prefer!

round-platform

Weaving a round platform from the pollarded willow

nesting-platforms

Three of our finished platforms

We will have to see what the birds, and Bob, make of them, but they’re a good start!

After lunch we visited Goosander, Lapwing and Ivy North hides and were rewarded with a good mix of birds including a kingfisher, a number of goosander and flocks of siskins jingling around the tree tops in search of seeds. Sadly there was no bittern to be seen, but one was seen yesterday.

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Great crested grebe by Talia Felstead

 

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Snoozing Tufted duck by Talia Felstead

Thanks everyone for your hard work today and to volunteers Geoff and Nigel for helping out.

Our Young Naturalists group is generously supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. Do visit their newly re-launched website to find out more.

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