Spring has definitely sprung

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.

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Lunchtime company

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.

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New growth on the willow 

willow catkins

Willow catkins

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

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.

hazel leaves

Hazel leaves

lesser celandine

Lesser celandine

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.

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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’.

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Colt’s-foot

Blackthorn is also blossoming and looking very pretty against a bright blue sky:

blackthorn blossom

Blackthorn blossom

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.

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Peacock

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.

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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.

hawthorn

Hawthorn leaves

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:

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Primrose

More autumnal fun!

Last week we had two Autumn themed Wild Days Out, where we looked for fungi, collected leaves to preserve in wax and cooked toffee apples over the fire.

We spotted lots of fungi on our walk including some fresh fly agaric in the meadow by Ivy North Hide. We also saw a species of Mycena, a blackening waxcap and candlesnuff fungus, along with plenty of common puffballs which the children enjoyed poking to see how they dispersed their spores.

After lunch we headed over to the campfire area with the leaves we had collected on the morning’s walk. Before melting the wax which would be used to preserve the colour of the leaves, we had a go at cooking toffee apples over the fire. First we whittled a stick then pierced the skin of the apple a number of times using a fork. The apple was then warmed up over the fire then removed so a sugar and cinnamon mix could be sprinkled over. This process was then repeated until the sugar had caramelised nicely – they tasted delicious!

Once the fire had begun to die down we melted some wax in a pan then tied a piece of string to our favourite leaves and carefully dunked them into the melted wax. The wax will preserve the colour of the leaves so they stay looking autumnal for longer and they make great bunting or mobiles.

Whilst the leaves were left to dry on the line, Jim demonstrated how to ignite the dry fruiting bodies of King Alfred’s Cakes, another fungi we had found and collected that morning. Once ignited they can be used as kindling to start a fire, which explains the other names that have been given to this fungus, including carbon balls and coal fungus.

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King Alfred’s Cake used as kindling

Once lit, the King Alfred’s Cake can smoulder gently for a long time, which has led to the speculation that in the past people could have used the fungus to transport fire from place to place.

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King Alfred’s Cake

We also found time to have a rummage in search of bugs and Thomas found this impressive beetle larva under one of the logs:

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Beetle larva

Our Wild Days Out will return next year at February Half Term, where we will be using natural materials to sculpt and weave along with fire to melt and create with pewter! To be added to our Wild Days Out mailing list to receive information and details on how to book via Eventbrite please email BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk

To see what else we have coming up over the Autumn and Winter please visit the website.

As well as our Wild Days Out last week, Jim attended the New Forest National Park’s Wild Play Day at Holmsley, expertly assisted by volunteers Nora and Nathanial. Armed with plenty of clay they were overseeing the wonderfully titled ‘Brown and Sticky’ activity and a messy time was had by all. Here are some of the creations sculpted on the day:

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Ice, Ice

Blashford was unusually quiet today, not really surprising as roads to the reserve were treacherous and the fog meant that seeing more than a few tens of metres was impossible. This is not to say that there was nothing to see however. At the Woodland hide there were at least 2 male brambling feeding with the chaffinch and from Ivy South hide the ducks were concentrated close to the hide, giving great views. However the real things to look at were the effects of the cold weather on the everyday things around the reserve, the heavy frost on the trees and grass and frosted seed heads. Best of all, in my opinion were some amazing iced leaves embedded in some of the frosted puddles.

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Iced leaves

The mass of leaves looked good but some of the single leaves were even more impressive.

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Ice leaf

I think the effect comes from little pockets of air trapped along the leaf veins, but I don’t remember seeing it before.

Today was also notable as the day our new apprentices started, they are working with us until the end of March as part of the “Our Past, Our Future” project with the New Forest National Park.