Improvement update and birds, birds, birds!

Just a quick reminder to anyone who hasn’t visited us in a while or missed any previous blogs or onsite signage, improvements on the reserve are now well on the way so if you do decide to visit us soon, please bear with us!

The main nature reserve car park is open as usual, however Tern Hide is no longer there (it was dismantled at the start of the month so there was plenty of time to do the all important ground works) and the installation of the new hide will not take place until next month – if all goes to plan it should be open by the end of March.

The new pond by the Education Centre should be finished soon and the Welcome Hut which arrived on Monday should be completed by the end of the week – with both these works taking place so close to the Centre, along with deliveries arriving over the next few days for other aspects of our improvement works, car parking at the Centre is limited. If you are able to park in the main car park and walk across to this side of the nature reserve please do!

The Education Centre itself, Lapwing, Goosander, Ivy North, Ivy South and the Woodland hides are all open as usual.

Last week saw the delivery and installation of some brilliant chainsaw carved sculptures by Simon Groves, a chainsaw artist from West Sussex (to see some photos of these being enjoyed by some of our younger visitors, please read on!) and on Sunday our Young Naturalists worked with willow artist Kim Creswell on three dragonfly sculptures which will also be added to our newly named ‘Wild Walk‘ along with more of Kim’s wonderful work. A separate blog about Young Naturalists will follow!

On the bird front, two Bittern were seen from Ivy North hide on Sunday and at least one has been seen from there this week, including excellent views today, and a pair of Redpoll continue to visit the feeders at the Woodland hide.

And birds are the real reason for this blog, as last week was half term and it was a busy bird filled one, with a family event weaving willow bird feeders and two bird themed Wild Days Out where we were lucky enough to get a little closer to some of our native owls and raptors, courtesy of Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre, made a lot of bird feeders and visited the Woodland and Ivy South hides in whatever time we had left in a girls vs boys who could spot the most species challenge.

We were joined by John from Liberty’s on Wednesday and Jayson on Thursday, with both giving brilliant talks to the children about the different birds they had bought with them, encouraging them to ask questions and letting them stroke the owls, a definite highlight! On Wednesday we were treated to a Kestrel, Peregrine falcon, Golden eagle (which really was huge and delighted the children by going to the toilet in the classroom) and Barn owl and on Thursday saw a Tawny owl, Little owl (definitely my favourite), Kestrel, Peregrine falcon and Goshawk.

On both days the children loved seeing the birds up close and being able to stroke some of them, and they asked some very sensible questions. It was definitely a highlight and we would like to thank John and Jayson from Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre for taking the time to join us and supporting our Wild Days Out in this way. They once again very kindly demonstrated their birds free of charge to support Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, something they were only too pleased to be able to do as long standing “Wildlife Investors” of the Trust.

To find out how your business can support the work of the Trust at Blashford Lakes, or anywhere across the two counties, follow the link or contact Steph Watson on 01489 774400 or email Steph.Watson@hiwwt.org.uk.

Liberty’s owls and raptors were once again a hard act to follow, but whilst we had been waiting for them to arrive the children had been busy making popcorn bird feeders by threading popcorn onto a piece of wire, and fat balls using a suet, bird seed and sultana mix, so we headed outside to make our feeders for the fat balls to go into.

On the Thursday we had a few children who were bird feeder pro’s, having already made one either the day before or earlier in the month at Wildlife Watch, so they had a go at a different design, weaving one solely from willow instead of using the wooden disc base.

All three feeder designs looked great and everyone went away with two fabulous feeders. We then had just enough time to visit both the Woodland hide and Ivy South hide in two teams, boys vs girls, to see who could spot the most species of bird. On Thursday we even had time to walk a slightly longer loop so we could admire the new chainsaw sculptures that had been installed earlier in the week. The children loved them, with the badger in particular proving popular.

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Despite having photographic evidence of the boys using their binoculars to bird watch, I have to say the girls did spot more species both days, we were obviously being too competitive for photography! They also, rather sneakily, lulled Jim’s boys team into a false sense of security on the Thursday by making a right noise when the two teams crossed paths with each other, but up until this point had been super quiet and determined to see the most…

I know the boys did see a few bird species we didn’t see, but the girls’ lists over the two days included Coal tit, Great tit, Blue tit, Robin, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Long tailed tit, Goldfinch, Siskin, Blackbird, Greenfinch, Reed bunting, Jay, Jackdaw, Moorhen, Cormorant, Coot, Tufted duck, Great crested grebe, Black-headed gull, Mallard, Gadwall, Pochard, Collared dove, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Pheasant, Carrion crow, Grey heron, Little grebe and Wood pigeon. I was particularly impressed with Megan for spotting the treecreeper! It was pretty good for a quick bird watch and I know they all really enjoyed their day.

Our Wild Days Out will be back for the Easter holidays, where we will be heading out onto the reserve in search of our reptiles and amphibians. Bookings may be made on-line only and are taken 4-6 weeks in advance of the activities via: https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product-category/events/

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Blashford Bird Trail 2017

Well I told Tracy I’d blog the Bird Trail and as she told everyone in her last post that I would be I suppose I really should!

The Bird Trail is a joint event run by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust with the Hampshire Ornithological Society with the express intent of engaging groups of children and young people in wildlife and, of course, in bird watching in particular.

The 2017 Bird Trail was another great success and it would not have been so without the support of many people and organisations: first off I will thank all of the Hampshire Ornithological Society and HIWWT volunteers who helped out on the day and ensured that it was the great success it was! Volunteers led on a multitude of tasks from photographing the event, to supervising the road crossings or administering the group registration and totaling up the bird lists, to leading activities including owl pellet dissection, pond dipping and river dipping to name but a few! Thank you!

We are also very grateful to Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre, Waders for Real, Bird Aware Solent and the Natural History Museum for attending on the day with some fantastic displays, information and interactive activities as well as British Trust for Ornithology volunteers for their bird ringing demonstration – a definite highlight for many.

We had some fantastic prizes with thanks to sponsorship from Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Group, Hampshire Swifts, In Focus, Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre, Nutbags, Pearsons and Birds of Poole Harbour – thank you!

Thank you to Chris Packham, President of HOS and long-term supporter of the Bird Trail since it’s very first inception many, many years ago, who once again somehow managed to find time in a very full calendar of filming and other commitments to support the event himself and gave a typically short but well made, pointed yet humorous talk on wildlife watching, why we should all do it and how we can all help it as well as awarding the prizes and spending time with the volunteers, young people and exhibitors participating in the activities. This year the focus of his talk, having only recently returned from there, was the on-going illegal slaughter of 100’s of 1000’s of songbirds in Cyprus for it’s restaurant trade…

And finally of course, thank you to the groups of children and young people themselves and particularly the group leaders and parent helpers who gave up their Sunday to bring them… although to be fair I think you had almost as much fun (as much fun?!) as the children did!

Guided, chaperoned and instructed by HOS volunteers our groups (this year including multiple teams from Ringwood and Fordingbridge Beaver Scouts, Blashford and Havant Wildlife Watch groups, Titchfield Haven Wildlife Explorers and our own Young Naturalists) set off at intervals on a set route around the nature reserve to see (or hear!) as many species of bird as they could. Before or after starting their bird watch groups also had the opportunity to participate in a raft of other activities including pond dipping, river dipping, a BTO bird ringing demonstration and owl pellet dissection as well as enjoy interactive displays laid on by our visiting project exhibitors.

The winning team – 3rd Ringwood Beavers (team 1) came top on the day with over 5o species of birds (their list has subsequently gone missing in action and I can’t remember the exact total!) and they won individual pairs of Opticron Vega binoculars (courtesy of In Focus) as well as individual tickets for each team member and an accompanying adult to join the Birds of Poole Harbour Christmas Birdwatching cruise.

Close behind, with 47 species, was our very own Young Naturalist group winning family tickets to Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre, and in third place, with 42 species was Titchfield Haven Wildlife Explorers who won themselves a “Nutbags” sunflower heart filled bird feeder and a FSC guide to the Top 50 Garden Birds, courtesy of the Hampshire Swift Group.

All entrants were awarded with an embroidered “Bird Trail” camp blanket badge (sponsored by Christchurch Ornithological Society) and a certificate (printed by Pearsons) signed personally by Chris Packham himself.

Bird highlights? Goldcrest in the hand at the ringing demo, and peregrine and kingfisher sightings. Other highlights? Definitely the pond dipping and the owl pellet dissection!

Now just need to start thinking about Bird Trail 2018…?

The start… and getting used to our binoculars!

Bird watching…

Pond dipping…

Owl pellet dissection…

Activities and displays with our visiting exhibitors…

Bird ringing demonstration…

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Adjudicating the final scores!

And the winners!

Go Team!

Last Sunday our Young Naturalists participated in the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and Hampshire Ornithological SocietyBird Trail” here at Blashford Lakes.

The bird watching and wildlife event for teams of children and young people was hugely fun to participate in, and I’m sure another blog from Jim will follow shortly!

We had a while to wait until our allocated start time, so swiftly headed over to the bird ringing demonstration led by British Trust for Ornithology bird ringers Graham Giddens and Marcus Ward. The group have always enjoyed watching bird ringing demonstrations as it is such a good way to see the birds up close – we were lucky enough to see blue tit, great titnuthatch and goldfinch. Thomas spotted a chiff-chaff being caught but the bird made a speedy getaway so we were unable to get a closer view. A couple of the group, including Thomas below, had a go at holding then releasing the birds, a real privilege!

We then visited Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre‘s static display of birds, again enjoying such close up views.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Kestrel

Kestrel

Still having time to wait we headed over to the Education Centre to have a look at the moths caught in the light trap the night before and the Natural History Museum stand, which contained lots of interesting identification guides and survey projects.

Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum

Finally it was time for us to start the trail, so we headed over towards Ivy North Hide, spotting robin, chaffinch, woodpigeon on our way with Thomas taking charge of our list. Before reaching the hide we were treated to distant views of a Peregrine falcon which we watched for some time. At Ivy North Hide we focused on the water birds, spotting cormorant, mute swan, Canada goose, grey heron, coot, gadwall, great crested grebe, shoveler and tufted duck. We also saw jay, swallow and herring gull.

Bird spotting

Bird spotting from Ivy North hide

On our way to the woodland hide we added a few more woodland birds to our list, including blackbird, siskin, long-tailed tit, dunnock, coal tit and greenfinch. Sadly though, despite our best efforts we couldn’t spot a wren

Pausing by the silt pond in the hope of a flash of blue, we heard Cetti’s warbler and rook whilst from Ivy South hide we watched mallard, black-headed gull and little grebe. From Ivy South hide we headed over the boardwalk and followed the path back along the Dockens Water. Backtracking for Thomas’ rucksack we spied a kingfisher (thanks Thomas!) then on making it to Ibsley Water we saw little egret, grey wagtail, greylag goose, Egyptian goose, lapwing, starling, lesser black-backed gull, jackdaw and buzzard from Goosander and Tern hides.

In total we had spotted a very respectable 47 species – thank you to HIWWT volunteer Nigel Owen and HOS volunteer John Shillitoe for expertly helping us with our bird identifying and for verifying our finds. Thanks too to Corinne Bespolka who was able to join us for the day.

On heading back to the Centre and handing in our sightings sheet, we were delighted to discover our bird spotting efforts had paid off and we had come second! I know those who joined us will thoroughly enjoy their prize, a family ticket to Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre – thank you Liberty’s for supporting the event!

 

Young Nats by Corinne Bespolka

Our team, minus those who had to leave early, with Chris Packham and Karima from Bird Aware Solent, by Corinne Bespolka

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

The Big Blashford Bird Watch – with a little help from our friends

It’s been another busy week of school holiday activities this week – and to be honest, pretty busy generally with the lovely sunshine we have had every day except Wednesday filling both the car parks and the hides with visitors.

Being winter, and birds being a Blashford winter speciality, birds have been the theme of all of our half-term activities this week, be they with families from the Ringwood and Fordingbridge Children’s Centres, public events, or our “Wild Days Out” activities.

This week we were delighted to host Jayson and John from Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre . The centre is named after Liberty, their Alaskan Bald Eagle, whom they did not bring, but they did bring a number of native birds of prey to “show and tell” to the children on both Wild Days Out activity days and the children were treated to an intimate talk about, and close encounter with, a kestrel, peregrine falcon, tawny owl and barn owl, all of which can of course be seen wild on the nature reserve. Therefore the golden eagle was somewhat of a (nice!) surprise – for all that it fit the bill of native, I’m not sure when last a wild golden eagle will have graced the skies above the Avon Valley! Indeed it was with the golden eagle which one of the children almost had a VERY close encounter with:

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Whoops!

Fortunately it missed her (very narrowly)!

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The golden eagle was a surprise!

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Peregrine falcon – apparently with their telescopic vision they can pick out a wood pigeon from 40 miles away!

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A kestrel in the hand worth two in a bush?

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Tawny owl

The highlight for I think everyone (staff included) was not only being so much closer to the birds than would have been the case at a “normal” demonstration, but also being able to stroke both the tawny and barn owl:

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Befriending a barn owl

We are very grateful to Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre for supporting our event this way – it was really appreciated by the children and I must stress that they very kindly demonstrated their birds free of charge to support Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, something they were only too pleased to be able to do as long standing “Wildlife Investors” of the Trust.

To find out how your business can support the work of the Trust at Blashford Lakes, or anywhere across the two counties, follow the link or contact Steph Watson on 01489 774412 or email Steph.Watson@hiwwt.org.uk.

But back to “Wild Days Out” – to be fair Liberty’s were a hard act to follow but the children did thoroughly enjoy a range of activities the rest of the day, including making popcorn bird feeders, bird puppets out of a mixture of woodland and recycled materials, making wooden “crow calls” (they were supposed to be duck, but in the end we decided that they were probably nearer crow – if not peacock some of them!), and finished by splitting into two teams for a “bird race” competition to see who could see the most bird species.

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Popping corn for bird feeders (any excuse for a camp fire)

It has to be said that the bird race really captured the children’s imagination and many of the visitors who were (un)fortunate enough to share a hide with us commented on how lovely it was to see the children as keen and excited by the wildlife as they were.

Tracy’s team won day one with 38 species verses our 30, (even after I had included the plastic eagle owl from the water skiing clubs pontoon!), but I’m pleased to report that my team won day two with 36 species verses her 30… either way none of the teams did badly in about an hours bird watching. Credit for that probably more down to how good Blashford is rather than our birding skills!

Wild Days Out will be back at Easter with amphibian and reptile themed activities see the Trust events page to find out more.