September’s End

Another fine day although with more of an autumnal feel that yesterday. There was still mist over the lakes as I opened the hides, from Tern hide the highlight was the unringed great white egret flying past the hide, heading south.

I made the most of the cooler conditions to go and do some path trimming, in places the bramble growth has pushed the path almost completely off the gravel surface. I was working near the southern end of Ellingham Lake  and the hedge there has some large ivy growths, some of it now flowering and on these I saw a few of the ivy bee Colletes hederae. This is quite large for a solitary bee and flying so late in the season is very obvious, so it seems extraordinary that it was only described as new to science in 1993, since when it has been found over much of Europe. It was first found in the UK in Dorset in 2001 and has now spread as far north as Norfolk.

ivy bee

Ivy bee Colletes hederae

In the late afternoon I went over to Goosander and Lapwing hides. In the reedbed and willows there were a few chiffchaff but no other migrants. From Lapwing hide I saw 2 green sandpiper and at least 1 common sandpiper. The screens overlooking the silt pond behind Lapwing hide proved worth a look with 2 mandarin and 2 snipe on show and some bullfinch in the willows.

At Goosander hide there has been a feeding frenzy going on for many days now. The cormorant seem to have got a large shoal of small carp hemmed in the bay near the hide and they are attracting everything that can swallow a small fish. There were the cormorant of course along with little egret, a great white egret (Walter this time), grey heron, great crested grebe, little grebe, black-headed gull and even mallard. The mallard and gulls are mostly steeling dropped fish, but a lot of the cormorant seem not to be bothering to eat everything they catch. Sometimes the cormorant are coming up with large perch or even pike, these are also in on the hunt for small carp, but run the risk of becoming a meal themselves in the process.

Goosander hide feeding frenzy 2

Cormorant flock fishing for carp

The cormorant dive for the fish which are driven into the weedy shallows in an attempt to escape, where they then run into the line of heron and egret.

Goosander hide feeding frenzy

Grey heron, little egret and great white egret waiting to the carp to be driven near to the shore

Finally, as I locked up the tern hide right at the end of the day I was delighted to see the reported wood sandpiper just in front of the hide. It was a juvenile, with fresh yellowish spangled feathers looking very splendid in the golden glow of the setting sun. To add to the scene the grey phalarope flew in and landed some 100m away, despite trying I could not see the juvenile garganey that was also seen earlier, but tomorrow is another day.

 

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Back to some birds

I have been off for the week and today was my first day back. In my absence the reserve has turned green! Many of the trees have leaves bursting through and around the lakes emergent plants are doing what they do best and emerging.

The change of seasons is very apparent, with Ibsley Water having swallow, sand martin and a few house martin swooping over at least 47 wigeon and a goldeneye, reminders of winter. A fine adult little gull was hunting insects over the lake in the morning, but seemed to have gone in the afternoon. The rain of early afternoon brought in a flock of 25 Arctic tern, always a treat and at the end of the day some of them had joined the 4 common tern on the shingle near Tern hide giving a great comparison.

Migrants generally are still rather few apart from chiffchaff and blackcap, which are both around the reserve in good numbers. Today I found just singles of willow warbler and reed warbler, we usually have just one pair of willow warbler but there should be many more reed warbler to come.

Other more random sightings I had today included a red kite, a pair of mandarin duck, 4 goosander and 3 snipe. I also had reports of 2 white wagtail and a common sandpiper.

Listing, Lessons and Speculations

Like lots of people who look at wildlife I cannot resist keeping lists, not usually very thorough and I usually lose interest in about mid-February each year. So far I have kept going and find that I have seen 116 species of birds so far this year, all of them in Hampshire and at least 105 of them on visits to Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust reserves.

Of the 116 species I can see that five of them are introduced alien species (Canada goose, Egyptian goose, Mandarin duck, pheasant and red-legged partridge) and another an introduced population of a former native (greylag).  All of these  have been either introduced for “sport” or escaped from parkland collections.

Of the native species I am struck by the many species that have changed their status radically since I arrived in Hampshire. There are various reasons for this, the white trio of little egret (now breeding), great white egret (soon to be breeding here?) and spoonbill (perhaps likewise), have increased in number and range right across western Europe. The same could be said for Cetti’s warbler, avocet, yellow-legged gull and Mediterranean gull.

Birds of prey have increased, more or less across the board and seeing red kite, marsh harrier and peregrine is not now especially notable and buzzard has spread right across the county rather than being a New Forest bird. All of these species have benefited from a more benign environment, in which they are less exposed to harmful chemicals and suffer less persecution, at least in lowland England. One other species has gained from the same change is the raven, which now nests across most of the county. Goshawk has also colonised the county and benefited similarly, although the population is of escaped , or released, origin.

When I first came to Hampshire in 1978 there was no accepted record of ring-billed gull and I am not sure there was even such a thing as a Caspian gull thought about.

I estimate that if I had been doing the same thing forty years ago my list would most likely not have included at least 14 of those I have seen this year, so more than 10% of my list are birds that would have seemed remarkable then. Of course there would have been some species that I would have expected to see then by mid January, that we have now more or less lost, or at least which now need more particular seeking. For example Bewick’s swan, white-fronted goose, grey partridge, willow tit, corn bunting, yellowhammer and tree sparrow.

So listing may well be a rather pointless exercise in many ways but reflecting upon my list so far certainly tells a story of how much has changed and of course makes one think how much might change in the future. So what might a list in another forty years include?

I suspect we will have established populations of additional alien species, most likely is ring-necked parakeet (I suspect this will happen quite soon), but I think black swan may also get a firmer foothold too and Egyptian goose could become very common. Who knows perhaps even sacred ibis could make it over here in time if the continental populations develop uncontrolled.

Natural colonists that look like becoming regulars include, cattle egret and glossy ibis, both already occasional visitors. It is interesting to note the preponderance of wetland birds that are expanding their ranges. A bit of a wildcard might be the potential for a whole range of essentially  Pacific Arctic species to turn up as winter vagrants. The ice melt along the northern coast of Russia has opened up a route for many previously unconsidered species. The occurrence in Europe in recent years of slaty-backed gull hints at the potential for species to come via this route in years to come.

Unfortunately I think a lot of species are going to get much rarer. Coastal species will be under particular pressure, in forty years time there will be little or no saltmarsh along most of the Solent shoreline and much reduced mudflats, so wintering coastal wader populations will surely be much reduced. Couple this with and increase in “short-stopping”, which means that wintering birds coming from the north and east just don’t come so far in the increasingly mild winters. Overall I think it certain that the Solent will not be nearly so significant for wintering wetland birds.

This discussion of change is only considering the winter, our breeding birds could be in for at least as great a change, who knows I might speculate on this in a later blog.

 

New Years Day – Listers, Cakes and a Wolf Moon

As might have been expected the reserve was busy today, with birders out to start their yearlists, lots of people out for a walk and a bit of wildlife and everyone able to take advantage of a special extra Pop-up Cafe day.

I had to go around all the hides to take in last year’s logbooks and put out the new ones, so I took advantage of walking to whole reserve and starting my own yearlist. By the time I had opened up all the hides I was already on 53 species of birds and 3 species of mammals. I actually saw Walter, our great white egret when I was opening the Centre as he flew over the car park, perhaps a good thing as he was not at his usual roost at dusk, probably because of the cold wind that got up later in the day. Two pairs of mandarin duck on Ivy Lake were a little unexpected and 96 pintail on Ibsley Water was the most I have seen this winter.

I still had to go to Goosander and Lapwing hides and my trip there saw me add black-necked grebe, in fact there were two, one distantly near Gull Island and the other quite close to the hide. A water pipit at Lapwing hide was also good to see.

It was not all about the birds though I saw two flowering plants in bloom, primrose – living up to its name of “prime rose” or first flower.

Primrose

The first flower – primrose

The second was a small clump of the undoubtedly planted snowdrop beside the car park, although the flowers of these were not quite open yet.

snowdrop

snowdrop

Later in the day I managed to add some more bird species to my list, including a fine male brambling, the ring-billed gull, a first winter Caspian gull and an adult Mediterranean gull, meaning that I ended with 73 species. Not a bad total as I always think anything over 70 in a day at Blashford is good. I missed at least ten species that others saw or I know were there, so I could have got 80 with a very fair wind, maybe one day.

Closing up the Moon was very large and full in the sky, apparently this is the day when the full Moon is the closest to Earth that it will be in the whole of 2018. I am also told it was a “Wolf Moon” it seems this is the first full Moon of the New Year. Whatever you call it, it was certainly very striking.

Full Moon with duck

Full Moon over Ivy Lake (2018’s “Super Moon” and “Wolf Moon” in one go).

Driving home I was surprised to see lots of Winter moth flying in the headlight beams as I drove down Ellingham Drove, my first moths of the year.

The Cutting Crew

Recent visitors to the reserve may have noticed that there has been a lot of work going on in the area between the main car park and Goosander hide, where the concrete block plant used to be. We have been waiting for the site to be restored for some years as it will give us a path directly from the car park to Goosander hide and so a circular route around the reserve. It will also give us about 2ha of open ground potentially ideal for nesting lapwing and little ringed plover. It is not yet part of the reserve, but hopefully will be before too long and in anticipation of this we are working to make sure it can deliver as much as possible.

Today the Tuesday volunteers were cutting a huge bramble clump that covered the shore of the lake west of Goosander hide cutting the lake off from the open ground. The plan is for this bank to be grassland in the long run, although this is going to need a few years of hard work. Hopefully it will be good for both nesting lapwing and feeding wigeon. We got  a lot done today as the pictures below show.

before

before

As you can see, although I have labelled this “before” we have already done two days work in previous weeks.

after

after

The new banks that flank what will be the path from the main car park will be planted with willows and brambles to provide habitat for small birds and many of the open areas will have wildflower seed spread on them to provide nectar for insects.

When I opened up this morning it was noticeable that there were no swallows or martins over Ibsley Water. Scanning around I saw two of the three garganey and a group of small waders which proved to be 3 dunlin and a single little stint. Later we saw 5 pochard, the most I have seen in ages. Late in the day when I was locking up I again saw the great white egret on Ibsley Water along with all three garganey, a pair of Mandarin duck and an adult yellow-legged gull.

 

Butterflies, Bees and a good Soaking

Friday was a warm if not particularly sunny day, apart from right at the end , but I will try not to dwell on that!

Although the reserve is known for the lakes we are lucky to have some very good woodland and small areas of heath, most of which is lichen heath. However some of the heath is the more traditional kind with patches of heather and these are now in full flower.

heather

heather

Heather not only looks good it also produces lots of nectar which attracts lots of insects and despite the lack of sunshine these included several butterflies and bees. I saw common blue, brown argus and this small copper all enjoying a good feast and sitting with wings open to gain as much warmth as they could from the weak sunshine.

small copper on heather

small copper on heather

We have probably all heard of heather honey as being one of the most sought after, and heather is often visited by honey bees, but the bees visiting these plants were much smaller, one of the solitary Colletes species.

small bee on heather

small bee on heather

Having looked it up I am pretty sure they were Colletes succinctus , a common species that especially favours heather flowers. I also saw at least one bee wolf, a wasp that hunts bees and especially honey bees, I wondered if it would take the little solitary bees but it did not seem interested in them, perhaps waiting for larger prey.

The heather was not the only plant flowering though, there was just enough sunlight to open the flowers of common centaury.

common centaury

common centaury

This attractive little plant has flowers which only open if the sun is more or less out, as this when the insects that will pollinate it will be flying.

It was quite a good day for butterflies all round, at least in terms of species seen, I also saw silver-washed fritillary and clouded yellow as well as the commoner species. I failed to get any pictures of clouded yellow or fritillary, although I did get this female meadow brown with wings open, something they don’t tend to do when the sun is fully out as they get too hot.

meadow brown female on fleabane

meadow brown female on fleabane

I locked up the hides at the end of the day as Jim and Tracey were setting up things for the Ellingham Show, if you can, go along and say hello to them, they have lots of activities with them and the show attracts lots of participants, so is well worth a visit. A feature of the locking up process was mandarin ducks, I saw two juveniles on Ivy Lake, one on Ibsley Water and no less than four on the Clearwater Pond. They have obviously had a good nesting season, as have almost all species it seems. On Ivy Lake there are still four common tern chicks to fledge and I saw several broods of tufted duck, especially on Ibsley Water.

It started to rain hard as I locked up the Tern hide, normally the last hide to visit, but unfortunately from there I could see that the windows of the Lapwing hide had been left open and I knew that heavy rain would soak the hide, so I went up to close them. By the time I got there the seats and arm rests were drenched as was the hide log book. On the plus side I did see 3 common sandpiper, a green sandpiper, 3 shoveler, a teal and a snipe, I also got very, very wet!

 

A Bittern Battle and a Paleface

Got to Blashford again today, at least for the morning, then off to a meeting at Langford Lakes, north of Salisbury. I was early so I opened up the reserve, which brought the bonus of a great view of 2 bittern in the Ivy Silt Pond, they were occupied having a scrap when I saw them and only broke off when they spotted me. The bitterns were not the only birds of note on the silt pond though, there was also a pair of Mandarin duck perched on one of the fallen branches. All in all a pretty good start to the day.

Looking from the Tern hide there were once again a few diving duck around the wooden rail outside the hide.

drake tufted duck

drake tufted duck

The typical tufted ducks included one with a white face, these birds quite often get misidentified as female scaup, which have white faces, but they are also quite a bit larger structurally different, the bird books often fail to say that tufted ducks can have white faces too.

female tufted duck

female tufted duck

Looking from Ivy South hide there were 105 pochard on Ivy Lake, which is a fairly high count for recent years, although when the lakes were newly created counts exceeded 500. There are several reasons for this decline, for one thing generally milder winters have meant many wildfowl don’t make it this far, short-stopping on the near continent unless the weather gets really cold. However the main reason is that the lakes have developed over time, the most important change has been the increase in nutrients. New lakes are very nutrient poor, or oligotrophic, as plants grow and fish and birds use them they gain nutrients and become more and more eutrophic. Pochard really like eating stoneworts which are classic occupants of nutrient poor lakes, but over time these get replaced with water plants like the Elodea, so beloved by coot and gadwall. These water quality issues are important for wildlife, but also for us as drinkers of water.

Weeds, views and shrews

Image

The amazing Blashford volunteers in a frenzy of weeding activity.

The Thursday volunteers were in as usual today, and we started the task of clearing weeds from the shore of Ibsley Water. We concentrated on the area in front of the Tern hide, removing dock, willow herbs, small willows and birches amongst others. The reason for this is to improve the view of the shore line and to try to encourage little ringed plovers to breed next year. Unfortunately no little ringed plovers bred this year and this is probably due to various reasons like presence of corvids and foxes around the lake but also possibly because the habitat has become too weedy and over grown with plants. The volunteers did a fantastic job as usual and the shore is much improved already, but still needs another session or two. When I locked the hide at 5pm it was pleasing to see several lapwing and starlings feeding around the disturbed ground where we had weeded. 

In the afternoon Adam and I cut back the vegetation along the path by the Ivy silt pond to improve the view of pond, in anticipation of all the rare birds that are going to be seen in there this autumn and winter!

Image

Adam improving the view.

Unfortunately the Avon osprey seen yesterday hasn’t showed up yet but wildlife reported today included a female ruddy duck, ruff, common sandpiper and green sandpiper on Ibsley Water. Plus some migration of around a hundred or so house martins. A female mandarin duck  was seen by the sand martin wall and wasp spiders in the grassland by Goosander hide. A lesser spotted woodpecker at the woodland hide was the first in some time. The highlight today for me was a water shrew in the tool store this afternoon. I have no idea what it was doing in there, they eat invertebrates and it wouldn’t have been interested in any of the stored bird seed. Unfortunately any attempt to photograph or catch it was foiled as it was just too quick and ran out the door! As far I can work out this is the first record for the reserve.

Nobbi Tern

Although it was another unpromising start to the day as we arrived to open up a distinctly soggy reserve under grey skies and light rain, the great spotted woodpecker was drumming from a large tree next to the Centre. A song thrush too was assuring us that spring was here with its distinctive repetitious singing of differing phrases. Trumping even these two was the wonderfully evocative sound of a chiffchaff calling out its own name in song.

Over Ibsley Water sand martins were seen hawking for insects. Whether these birds will be staying with us in the recently refurbished sand martin bank, or are just some of those moving through we will never know.

It’s very much a period of shift change as some of the late winter visitors haven’t all departed yet. Indeed the probable late winter/early spring shortage of natural food means we seem to be hosting ever larger numbers of brightly coloured finches, taking advantage of  the largess of the Trust in providing considerable quantities of niger seed, sunflower seed  and peanuts. As well as the siskin and redpoll coming into their breeding finery there are  quite large numbers  of (forty or more) around the Woodland Hide with at least ten brambling.   Some more brambling, and other finches including greenfinch,  are around the feeders near the Centre car-park. (Picture taken by Sheila).

Brambling P1390262a

Brambling by feeder close to Centre building

A buzzard has been making its presence fairly obviously around the Woodland Hide, much to the consternation of some of the smaller birds and a few of our visitors. One even asked if it had been taking many of the smaller birds, personally I should think this unlikely as most of the finches and tits are probably too agile to be caught by a buzzard. Most likely its scavenging some of the spilt food, I’ve had a friend ‘phone me today reporting just such buzzard behaviour from her garden.

The snipe has been re-located from the Ivy North Hide but there has been (to my knowledge) no sighting of any bittern today – hence the title of this piece (Just in case you were wondering if there is a strange species of tern on the reserve!!!).

Still a few ducks around including pochard, wigeon, teal, mallard, gadwall, tufted duck and goldeneye.  A couple of keen-eyed visitors spotted a pair of mandarin duck on Ibsley Water and some black-necked grebe are also still there.

Perhaps the most delightful sighting was by a couple of regularly visitors who were fortunate enough to see a barn owl flitting from post to post on the fence alongside Rockford Lake. The owl was trying to hunt in the open, but was being mobbed by black-headed gulls, the whole menagerie eventually flying off in the direction of Ivy Lake.

Blossom, Bees and Balsam

Bird News: Ibsley Waterwater pipit 1, mandarin 1, Egyptian goose 2, sand martin 2, green sandpiper 1, Mediterranean gull 1. Ivy Lakewater rail 2.

Yet another brilliant sunny day with temperatures topping twenty degrees. The hawthorn is coming into leaf and the blackthorn into bloom.

blackthorn bloom, or just possibly another Prunus as the blossom is a bit large.

Opening the Tern hide I saw the water pipit briefly before it flew off with about a dozen meadow pipits when a male sparrowhawk flew down Ibsley Water. There were 2 sand martin over the lake, but they did not stay and a single adult Mediterranean gull bathing before heading off north. The sighting of the morning though was a drake mandarin that flew north right up the centre of the lake. It turns out there was also one on Ivy Lake a short while later and in the afternoon I saw a pair on Mockbeggar Lake, so I am not really sure how many there were in all.

At the Ivy North hide the water rail pair were calling loudly, I took this as complaint as they were being chased around by a belligerent moorhen.

There were butterflies all over the reserve today, although I still could not find an orange tip. I suspect there could be large red damselflies out somewhere, I have seen them in March before, but only once and some years ago, I had a search of likely spots but unsuccessfully. Other insects were out in good numbers, bumblebees including several common carder bees.

common carder bee

The bee-fly Bombylius major was out in force and I saw the hoverfly Tropidia scita for the first time this year. These were near the Dockens Water where I also found several plants, some more desirable than others. The fertile stems of the horsetails are shooting up now.

horsetail, fertile stems

Near the horsetails I came across a clump of arum, or cuckoo-pint of the form with dark spotted leaves.

arum with spotted leaves

At the top of the undesirable finds was a rash of tiny two-leaved seedlings, they were seedling Himalayan balsam, almost makes me want a short sharp frost to thin them out.

Himalayan balsam seedling

During the afternoon I was working near the Lapwing hide and came across my first adder of the year, I know they have been out for ages, I just had not seen one myself. On my way back to the Centre I was passing the rather inappropriately named Clearwater Pond when I spotted a pair of mandarin ducks and digi-binned this very iffy picture to prove it.

mandarin pair

Just before I left I was locking up the Tern hide and saw a green sandpiper on the shore just below the hide, the first I have seen on the south side of the lake for ages.