When I arrived at Blashford on Friday afternoon to join our brilliant volunteer team for the annual “Thank you” event I was greeted with news that there had been a water shrew seen on “Pondcam”, I was a very envious! Water shrews are aquatic hunters of invertebrates and even small fish. They have long hairs on their feet and under-tail which aid swimming and are as frantic underwater as their terrestrial cousins are on land.
They are not uncommon, but not easy to see and so probably very under recorded. Just as I was bemoaning my bad luck there was a swirl of debris in front of the camera and it was back! A frenetic silver predator scattering everything before it. They look silver underwater due to the layer of air trapped in their fur. Although great swimmers they also hunt on land taking larger prey than other native shrews as befits their greater size, they are about twice the weight of a common shrew.
Blashford Lakes clocked up another “First” for Hampshire this weekend when a Thayer’s gull was found in the roost on Ibsley Water at dusk on Sunday. The finder was also responsible for the last county first found at Blashford, last autumn’s lesser scaup. Both of these species are from the western side of the Atlantic. The gull breeds in high Arctic Canada and mostly winters on the Pacific coast of Canada and the USA. Although considered as having a population of only a few thousand pairs it has been occurring with increasing frequency on the east coast of N. America and very rarely in W. Europe. Although usually listed as a full species it seems quite possible that it will be “lumped” in with Iceland gull and Kumlien’s gull, they are structurally very, very similar.
Not unexpectedly when I returned to Blashford this evening, after spending most of the day at Fishlake Meadow, there was a good crowd gathered in the hope of seeing the Thayer’s gull. Sadly they were disappointed, as it never showed up. I was not too surprised as the few Iceland gulls that have appeared in the roost over the years have almost always only been there on one evening, still it was a shame and there is still a chance it is around somewhere locally.
Okay, so they do not quite have the “wow factor” of gorillas, but they were all that I could see when I arrived to do the monthly waterfowl count this morning.
Pochard in the mist
It had been pretty cold overnight and there was quite a frost on the vegetation and even some ice on the puddles.
frosty creeping thistle
Waiting for the mist to rise I went through the reedbed to Lapwing hide, seeing a couple of chiffchaff on the way.
Early morning reedbed
Eventually the sun did start to burn off the murk.
The sun breaking through
Finally I could start counting in earnest.
Mist finally clearing from Ibsley Water
On the whole the counts were not high, but I did see the largest number of goosander I have seen so far this autumn, exactly how many I am not quiet sure, 39 flew out at dawn, but then 5 flew in, then 9 flew over followed by another 2, so anything from 39 to 55!
Despite visiting all the lakes I failed to find the lesser scaup or the ferruginous duck, I suspect that both may not have taken kindly to the weekend’s fireworks, perhaps they will return in a few days. I did see out great white egret and either three pairs of raven or perhaps one pair three times. The pink-footed goose was again with the greylag flock on Ibsley Water. For its size Ivy Lake had the most birds, including 118 gadwall, our only internationally important species at Blashford. This importance is based on the fact that we regularly have more than 1% of the north-west European wintering population.
Things are getting increasingly wintery, there was a frost on the grass this morning, 2 brambling were visiting the feeder by the car park and the Pop-up Café returned! Although the brambling have been around for a few day today was the first time that I had seen them, in fact I saw a few things for the first time this season today, I caught up with the pink-footed goose and saw a very smart first winter Caspian gull at dusk. Other firsts were mostly cake!
The first marbled chocolate cake of the winter.
Others were personal firsts and very tasty too.
Apricot, lemon and pistachio cake – a “tick” for me.
The Pop-up Café is once again being operated by Walking Picnics, just a sit was last winter and will be at Blashford on the first and third Sunday of each month and New Years Day.
The Walking Picniceers and happy customers.
There was no sign of the lesser scaup today as far as I know, possibly put off by fireworks last night but the ferruginous duck was spotted, distantly by the northern shore of Ibsley Water, somehow I avoided it when I counted the pochard flock in that very area, there were 66 by the way, quite a lot by the standard of recent years.
Elsewhere a couple of chiffchaff and a raven flying over and a few goldeneye and goosander on Ibsley Water were the best I could find. The sun did tempt out a few red admiral butterflies but I saw no dragonflies, which surprised me, as the sun was quiet warm.
All of the above actually happened in the afternoon as my morning was spent with the first Sunday of the month volunteers widening the margins of the path beside Ellingham Lake to provide more sheltered areas for insects and, hopefully reduce the tendency for brambles to overhang the path next summer. Increasing the area of transition between the path and the scrub by having a margin of grass and herb species should provide habitat for butterflies and other insect next year, in effect we have made a miniature woodland ride. As ever the team did a load of work even though we only worked for a couple of hours or so.
This time of year is often a rather quiet one for wildlife, typically the summer visitors are gone and we are waiting for the winter birds to arrive. However at the moment the reserve has a lot to see, perhaps not in terms of numbers yet, but certainly in variety. Hampshire’s first ever lesser scaup seems to be settling down on Blashford Lake (aka Spinnaker Lake), which is part of the reserve, although it has no hides and is not often checked for birds by visitors.
On Ibsley Water the water pipit is being seen quite regularly from Tern hide, often close to the hide. Yesterday a pink-footed goose was spotted in the greylag flock, although origin is always hard to be certain of with geese, this is the time of year when birds migrating from Iceland can easily get lost, especially lone juveniles.
Brambling have been seen at the feeders in recent days raising the prospect that we are in for a “Finch Winter”. The couple of pictures below were sent in by Andy Tew, thanks Andy.
brambling by Andy Tew
Brambling by Andy Tew
When I have opened up Tern hide recently there has often been an adult peregrine perched close to the hide and David Stanley-Ward got the couple of pictures below, much better than my earlier efforts, despite being further away!
Peregrine by David Stanley-Ward
Peregrine by David Stanley-Ward
My person contribution to the days sightings and photographs is a little less animated and comes in the form of what I think is a new slime mould for the reserve, I know not the most immediately exciting life-forms, but they are very strange. This tiny one was found on the picnic table as I was eating lunch.
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.
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.
…that was the aim of last night and this morning, and despite the coldest night of the autumn so far, we were successful!
Looking at the moths in the light trap caught the night before on arrival (a pretty good haul in marked contrast to that of last night, including many November moths, several lovely feathered thorns, a red-green carpet and the star of the show, a merveille du jour, amongst a few others), last night we met in the classroom for a crash course in the how, why and wherefore’s of setting a Longworth small mammal trap before doing just that and deploying them around the dipping pond surrounds at the back of the centre.
We then left the traps in peace in the hope that the local mice and vole population would venture into them once we were gone and, with plummeting temperatures and several noisy children, we somewhat optimistically headed out for a short night walk to see if we could encounter any deer or hear any bats on our bat detectors… perhaps not unsurprisingly we did neither! There were a couple of very brief and distant flybys by soprano pipistrelle’s but nothing that I could say with certainty any but a small number of the group had heard so it was with some relief that when I tried calling tawny owls we got a response and, unusually for Blashford which because of the linear nature of its woodland habitat does not appear to support a large tawny population normally, actually got a response from at least two owls, and possibly even three.
This morning we retrieved the 16 traps that had gone out the night before and I was instantly relieved to see that despite the cold temperatures (one of our volunteers from Ringwood even had to scrape ice of his car this morning!) about half of the traps had closed doors indicating that something at least had investigated them, even if it was just large slugs! As it was a couple of the doors had become fouled on twigs or leaves in the trap openings and therefore not closed properly, allowing the occupants to enjoy a soft bed, nibble on some bird seed and apple, wee and poo a lot and then leave before we got there, but the remainder resulted in 5 woodmice and 1 bank vole – not a bad catch from 16 traps.
Having been transferred to tanks for observations and photographic purposes the small mammals were then released, unharmed(!) back in the area from which they were caught and we had a short walk along the river in search of otter, deer and other larger mammal tracks and signs to finish our morning.
**In other news a lesser scaup has been reported on the reserve today – Ivy Lake in front of Ivy North Hide this afternoon and on Blashford (Spinnaker) Lake this morning. Scaup, presumably todays lesser scaup, was also recorded in the Ivy North Hide sightings log book by a visitor yesterday afternoon**
I arrived at the reserve and opened the Tern hide and then had a bit of brief excitement, as there was what, at first sight, appeared to be a lesser scaup with the drake tufted duck. Lesser scaup is a North American species, rare in the UK but regular nowadays, although never yet seen in Hampshire, so was this going to “Break the duck?”. Lesser scaup look somewhere between a tufted duck and a scaup, but was this one or not?
But is it a lesser scaup???
Sadly the answer was NO, although it looks pretty good the flanks are clean white, without any fine bars and the “tuft” is a little too prominent. the body shape is also very greater scaup in overall look and the conclusion was that I tis a drake hybrid between a tufted duck and a greater scaup. This picture was my attempt in rather poor light through the telescope, if you look at Jim’s post from the other day you will see much better shots.
As it was Thursday it was volunteer day and we spent some time distributing seeds in an area that was covered with rhododendron, in an attempt to restore the original woodland flora. Along the way we came across an especially fine example of a stinkhorn fungus, usually they are already in a state collapse by the time I find them, but this one was perfect.