As I walked around the reserve today I noticed lots of people, and lots of lichen! Those of you that have visited Blashford Lakes know that we have a wonderful ‘lichen heath’ where balls of lichen grow freely on the ground. There is also an incredible amount of lichen and mosses all around the reserve, and when you take the time to look at it you can see beautiful patterns, and a huge variety of colours too. Healthy lichen communities are good natural indicators of air quality, long many they continue to thrive here!
…but only if you are wearing wellies!
The rain on Tuesday night, on top of what has generally been a wet few weeks, was enough to bring the Dockens Water up higher than I have seen it for about four years. Although by no means as high as I have seen it in the past, it was sufficiently up that Ellingham Drove was within its flood plain and, unfortunately, that means that the main car park was too, as the river flows along the road until it reaches the roadside entrance to the reserve at which point it does what water does and flows downhill and into the car park. With groundwater levels now very high it is likely to take a little while for the flood water remaining in the car park to soak away so, for now at least, the Main car park remains closed.
The outer gates to the car park are now open however, so please do park here for the next few days until we are able to open the car park proper again – as I anticipate that with the favourable weather forecast for the weekend, coupled with the Centre classroom playing host to the last Pop Up Cafe of this winter season, we are likely to see lots of visitors, and parking on the Centre side of the reserve alone is unlikely to meet the demand for parking places – and Christine’s sausage rolls!.
Despite this, the flood water has subsided quite significantly since Wednesday morning so today Tern Hide has been opened, although with several inches of water across the width of the car park you can only get to it (and the viewing platform) with wellies – and a slow, careful walk too avoid “bow waves”!
The route to Tern Hide from the footpath across the car park. Wellies essential!
The view from Ibsley Water this morning saw it as full as I have ever seen it I think. The photo below shows just how little of the small island nearest the Tern Hide there is left just poking up above the water! It still has black-necked grebe and long-tailed duck and the valley still has a sizable startling murmuration – although yesterday at least it seems to have split into two with half of the starlings north of Mockbeggar Lane and the other half in the reed bed behind Lapwing Hide.
Ivy Lake however is still the place to go if you aren’t worried about seeing particular birds, but do want to just sit and watch lots of wildlife:
As always our visitors take far better pictures than me so here now with some brilliant kingfisher pictures taken by Jon Mitchell from Ivy South Hide last weekend:
Our Welcome Volunteer Doug Masson spent a few hours in Ivy South Hide on Wednesday this week too, and got these lovely shots of Cetti’s warbler – images Bob admitted to being quite jealous of, as, despite his best efforts, he has yet to get any Cetti’s to match these!
Elsewhere on the reserve, and on more of a macro scale than the bird life, the lichen is all looking absolutely fantastic after all of this wet weather. An assemblage of species which can appear quite grey and lifeless during the summer when it is dry, is now fresh and vibrant and really brings a vivid splash of colour to what can otherwise appear to be a fairly drab landscape – and nowhere more so than the edge of the lichen heath where this picture of Cladonia sp. was taken:
For spring colour however nothing can rival the scarlet elf cup fungi which thrive so well on the wet decaying logs in and around our woodlands. We don’t normally expect to see much evidence of it until a little later in the year in February, but there is actually already quite a few of the fruiting bodies to be seen:
There were birds from all over the place on the reserve today. All the way from Siberia; the yellow-browed warbler was again near Ivy South hide as I opened up, giving good views until it disappeared before our very eyes. It makes astonishingly fast changes of direction which mean that following its movements for very long is incredibly difficult.
From North America we had; lesser scaup, a drake near the furthest shore of Ibsley Water, probably last winter’s bird returned by popular demand. These duck are similar in appearance to the greater scaup which is much more familiar in Europe, but smaller, around the size of a tufted duck.
From all over northern and eastern Europe we had all the other wildfowl and a good few other birds too. Arrived from the Alps and now to be seen on the shores of Ibsley Water are the water pipit, I got a mediocre picture of one today.
And finally from just up the road somewhere we have the rest, including this adult female peregrine, seen here in another iffy picture!
Other birds to be seen out and about on the reserve today were the bittern at Ivy North hide along with Walter the great white egret. Other birds to be seen on Ibsley Water included green sandpiper, pintail and in the gull roost several yellow-legged gull and three Mediterranean gull.
However the reserve is not just about birds, today there was also cake and lots of it, with another successful day for the pop-up cafe. I also took some non-birdy pictures, largely due to a failure to get very good ones of the birds. There are quite a few fungi about now, scarlet elf-cup are just starting to appear in numbers as are lost of Turkeytail.
The bare trees make it possible to appreciate how much lichen some of them have on their branches, the willow near Lapwing hide are especially heavily festooned.
Other species grow on the trunks of trees.
Lichens are a mash-up of alga and fungus, although it now appears it is probably rather more complicated than this.
The reserve was busy today despite reduced parking due to the ongoing levelling works near the Centre, but hopefully this work will be completed by the end of the coming week and things will be slightly closer to normal again, at least for a time.
Boxing Day was quite busy at Blashford, with a fair few visitors on the reserve, most who were prepared to spend the time waiting saw the bittern at Ivy North hide. Whilst they waited good views were to be had of water rail and Cetti’s warbler.
From the hides on Ibsley Water the black-necked grebe could be distantly seen along with at least two water pipit and near Tern hide, at least 85 linnet. An adult female marsh harrier crossed over the lake a few times and a sparrowhawk was seen trying to hunt the small starling roost int he late afternoon. The starling roost has evidently relocated having dropped from tens of thousands to a few hundred. I could also find no sign of any great white egret, even at dusk when I looked at the usual roost site, none could be found.
I had a look through the gull roost and there were good numbers of lesser black-backed gull and black-headed gull, but only 14 common gull, two yellow-legged gull and no sign of the ring-billed gull or Caspian gull. Obviously I could not check all the gulls present but conditions were very good, so I was disappointed not to find either species.
Away from the birds I came across an oak branch with a remarkable habitat growing across it, just one branch had it’s own forest of lichen, moss and fungi, small in scale but extraordinary.
It might be only just after Christmas, but signs of spring were to be found. I saw snowdrops pushing through the ground and the hazel catkins are opening.
I also heard singing mistle thrush and great tit as well as the year round singers like robin and Cetti’s warbler.
It was strangely warm today, at first misty and then just very, very dull. The damp grey conditions were livened up by quite a good showing of fungi around the reserve. The logs beside the track between the Centre and Woodland Hide are particularly good, many have clusters of turkey-tail fungus.
The moss covered, more rotted ones sometimes have candle snuff.
There are also increasing numbers of scarlet elf-cups, a species that is always around in greatest numbers in late January.
I also found a few more conventional “toadstools”, one group on an old alder stump.
Also these tiny pale ones on a moss covered willow trunk.
The fallen branches often have various fungi on and one had a brightly coloured fungus encrusted all along it.
Some fungi live in association with algae to produce lichens, spore production brings out their fungal side.
With all this emphasis on fungi you might think it was autumn, but there was a distinct feel of spring with the first few of the wild daffodil near the Woodland hide already in flower.
You may have noticed that these pictures were taken using a flash, this was because it was so dull today that I could not get a picture of any of these without it!
Out on the reserve the bittern was at Ivy North on and off all day and out on Ibsley Water the usual black-necked grebe and Slavonian grebe had hundreds of duck for company. I counted exactly 200 pintail, my highest count so far this winter.
In the late after noon the gull roost was joined by the first winter Caspian gull which stood out on the shingle spit to the right of the Tern hide for all to see, including me, which was pleasing as I had previously failed to catch up with it.
Blashford is at least as lovely place a place to work as it is to visit… although unfortunately time spent necessarily, although very reluctantly, in the office, does mean that we staff often miss out on sightings that some lucky visitors enjoy. Yesterday this included an otter (watched for 10 minutes swimming around Ibsley Silt Pond, the small lake just north of/behind Lapwing Hide) and a bittern (first reported sighting of this season, observed in the usual hot spot in the reed bed by Ivy North Hide).
Of course being here every day there are other “stars” whom we are privileged to see very regularly and even, dare I say it, take a little bit for granted at times; birds like kingfisher (had a lovely view of one perched/fishing in front of Ivy South Hide this morning) and, of course, the great white egret. Christened Walter White by Ed (for reasons known only unto himself!), this lovely picture of it in flight by Tern Hide earlier in the week, was sent in by David:
Perhaps of less interest to some, but even more interest to others, is this moth which I recorded in the light trap this morning. Obviously a footman, it was larger than I am used to and I have identified it as a (male) four-spotted footman. Don’t worry about the lack of spots, it is the female that bears those! It is possible that I have misidentified it, but if not this is, according to the book, a nationally scarce moth with a small population in the New Forest (and other small populations else where in southern England and west Wales). The caterpillars of this species feed on tree lichens, of which we certainly have plenty on the reserve.
Speaking of lichens, I did take a picture of some on the lichen heath this morning, for no other reason than they looked quite stunning in the wet, grey and overcast weather:
As is often the case, the photo does not really do it justice! They do seem to be doing well this year; possibly as a result of the particular weather conditions, or possibly associated with the small reduction in visitors which the weather has bought about, and an associated decrease in trampling by the same, as we know that they do not fare well with regular trampling and this is why the footpaths across the reserve all skirt around the lichen heath.
Also flourishing in the warm wet conditions this month are fungi:
I mentioned the earth stars that have come up in a previous blog, but was unable to take a picture at the time. I have now recovered the camera and couldn’t resist photographing this very lovely specimen this morning:
This nearby shaggy ink cap was also particularly impressive:
Unfortunately the picture is not great, but, with my binoculars in-situ for scale, I hope you can appreciate the awesome majesty of this fungus, which has to be the largest example of this particular species that I have ever come across!
Bird News: Ibsley Water – goldeneye 1 pair, common tern 7.
Very little bird news today, although I was only on site briefly first thing I had still expected a few birds given the brisk south-east wind and occasional very heavy showers, the kind of conditions that I associate with migrants dropping in at sites like Ibsley Water. The rain of the last few days have given the reserve a very green look with many trees coming into leaf and the ground getting rapidly covered with a fresh growth of nettles, lords and ladies and ground-ivy, among many other plants.
The reserve is a good site for a wide range of lichens and the rain has allowed them to soak up water and look their best, the lichen heath is obviously a good site but there are many growing on the trees as well.
On the heath they grow with mosses and a range of tiny higher plants.
I am pleased we have finally had some rain, although I doubt we will have enough to make the sand martins safe, for that we would need enough to get the lake up over the dry shore below the nesting bank, a rise of 20cm or so. A couple of years ago the level was something like 75cm above the present level, I needed waders to get along the base of the nesting bank then!
Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve, as many will know, actually belongs to two water companies, Sembcorp Bournemouth Water and Wessex Water, they too will be happy to see some rain falling, although it will take some months of above average rainfall to make them really happy. The problem for both water companies and wildlife habitats is the drop in ground water levels that a prolonged dry spell produces. It reduces river flows and dries out ditches, ponds, bogs and marshes, all habitats with specialised wildlife dependant upon a good water supply. More rain will help but taking less for human use will also play a part. For more on this see: http://www.wessexwater.co.uk/water-and-sewerage/twocol.aspx?id=8052 One thing that surprised me when I heard it recently, was that we are actually using less water per head today than we were ten years ago and that usage is still falling. I get so used to hearing that despite knowing that resources are finite we cannot take this in as a reality and go on consuming at an ever greater rate. This water use story significantly bucks this trend. just maybe we can learn to live within the planet’s means after all.