In between weaving

I’ve been meaning to write another blog for a while now, but have been ever so slightly pre-occupied by cutting willow and wreath making, with our decorate a wreath activity turning out to be staggeringly popular! As of today, I’ve made 80 willow wreaths (with a little help from Jim who finished some I’d started off for me) and 72 have been ‘sold’ for a donation, so a huge thank you to every one who has joined in, donated and spread the word. We’ve had some fantastic feed back from both individuals and families and it’s been lovely to weave outside the front of the Centre and chat to people as they head off collecting. We may have to do it this way next year, as it clearly works!

I decided to have a break from making today as the weather has resulted in a quiet day visitor wise, but I have more willow cut and ready to weave into hoops for the rest of the week. I haven’t managed to get many photos of finished wreaths but do have a couple:

Oliver is one of our Wildlife Tots and, missing our usual wreath making December session, his mum asked if they could make their wreath as well as decorate it. They were very pleased with the finished result!

I haven’t just been standing outside the front of the Centre weaving, although most of my time spent out on the reserve does now involve staring at every willow I come across, looking for nice straight rods to harvest and weave with at a later date.

Here are a stonechat, marsh tit and robin I’ve photographed whilst out and about: 

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Stonechat on the edge of the main car park, when the sun was shining!


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Marsh tit on the feeder by the Welcome Hut


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Robin along the path by Ivy Silt Pond

We’ve also had some really lovely photos sent in by Doug Masson and Phil West. Thank you both very much for sharing them, and sorry for the delay in putting them on the blog!

Chiffchaff by Doug Masson

Chiffchaff by Doug Masson


Goldcrest by Doug Masson

Goldcrest by Doug Masson


Goldfinch by Doug Masson

Goldfinch by Doug Masson


Female mallard by Doug Masson

Female mallard by Doug Masson


Siskin by Doug Masson

Siskin by Doug Masson


Treecreeper by Doug Masson

Treecreeper by Doug Masson


Treecreeper 3 by Doug Masson

Treecreeper by Doug Masson

 

Fallow deer by Phil West

Fallow deer by Phil West


Fallow deer 2 by Phil West

Fallow deer by Phil West

Aside from photographing the wildlife on the reserve, the dewy and frosty mornings we’ve had recently have also provided some good opportunities for taking photos. A few more frosty mornings and a little less rain would be very nice… 

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Dewy seed heads on the edge of the lichen heath


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Dewy spiders web by the car park


Another wreath has just gone, so tomorrow I think I will be back weaving – definitely not a bad way to spend the day!

Christmas is coming…

…like it or not, it actually is, and, at Blashford at least, it’s looking like it could be a white Christmas too. A great white egret Christmas that is!

Up to 5 great white egret, with up to 13 little egret “in attendance” are being seen on the reserve at present,  mostly on or around Ibsley Water where they are particularly enjoying spending time hanging out over the water at the south western corner of the lake on the willows that we have been felling along that shore and over the lake to vary the habitat, improve nesting capacity for birds like little and great crested grebes and coot, and, at the same time, impede access to those users (abusers) of the nature reserve who insist on being where they shouldn’t be…

Sadly it would appear that the famous, one and only “original” Blashford great white egret, affectionately known to all as Walter White, is not one of those five 😦

As regular readers of this Blog and visitors to the nature reserve will know Walter was a distinctive bird with leg rings which he received as a chick in France in 2003 so could always be readily identified upon his return, usually at some point in August, although at times both earlier and later than that month. Tipped to become Europes  oldest great white egret (record currently stands at 17 years) it would appear that Walter sadly may well have matched it, but has not exceeded it, as we have neither seen or had reports of a ringed great white this winter.

There is still hope however,  albeit slim. It was only last year (maybe the year before) that Bob, having given up hope of Walter’s return, effectively wrote an obituary for this  much loved bird on these pages – only for Walter to be sighted the very next day. So fingers crossed everyone!

Elsewhere in the general environs around Ibsley Water I can’t not mention the starling murmuration. Although still very much not on the scale of some winters there are, at present, still a good number of several thousand birds gathering and roosting in Valley and although perhaps not big on numbers some evenings at least they have been performing some great displays and throwing some stunning shapes! Good to see the goosander coming into roost too – so far Bob has recorded a little over 50 and there are now 10+ goldeneye too.

Around the woodland habitats on the reserve, this winter looks like being a good one for redpoll with a number feeding in the tree tops amidst the siskin – although not yet coming down to feed on the bird feeders. We also still have a pair of marsh tits established in an area roughly from the Centre down to Ivy South Hide – both have now been ringed by BTO volunteer bird ringers Kevin & Brenda so if you see a marsh tit without a ring let us know because it will mean we actually have more than just the two birds!

Further to  Tracy’s last post, in which she described the DIY wreath activity you can enjoy on your next visit, should you choose, I just thought I’d give a plug for the various items which can be bought from the Welcome Hut while you are here, the proceeds from which will all go towards supporting the education and conservation work here at Blashford Lakes. Just bear us in mind for some of those stocking fillers for your nature loving loved ones – just like the high street, we need your support (and if like many you are doing a lot of your shopping online at present remember you can still support the Trust either by purchasing direct from our online shop ( http://www.hiwwt.org.uk/shop-support-wildlife ) or by shopping via Amazon Smile or Easyfundraising and nominating Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust as your chosen charity.

But now for more in terms of what we can sell you from here when you visit!

The Welcome Hut remains closed to visitors (not very welcoming I know – sorry!), but it is making a very handy additional office space so we can better manage our socially distant safe working practices, and it does mean one of us is usually around to take your money if there is anything in particular you are interested in buying 😉

If you arrive and there isn’t anyone working from the hut do knock on the Centre door or call the mobile phone number which will have been left out on a sign outside the Hut.

At present we have Christmas cards (either handmade ones for sale at 2 for £3, or packs of 10 Wildlife Trust cards for £3), lovely handturned wooden ballpoint pens (£3), a wide variety of FSC wildlife identification guides (4 of which are shown below – £3.30 or £4 each), a small selection of children’s picture books, bird nest boxes and bat boxes (£10) and bug homes (£5).

A different view

On Tuesday I accompanied Bob to the north eastern shore of Ibsley Water so he could fell some of the willows into the lake, creating perches over the water for birds like heron and egret to fish from. I did fell a few smaller trees, but admit I was mainly there as first aid cover and did make the most of the opportunity of being in a different spot, enjoying a wander along the edge of the bay where I’ve only been once before.

Bob tree felling

Bob felling trees into the bay north of Lapwing Hide

Across Mockbeggar towards Ibsley Common

The view across Mockbeggar Lake towards Ibsley Common

Whilst we were up there, a goosander flew overhead and a couple of pied wagtails made themselves comfortable on the osprey perch:

pied wagtail 2

Pied wagtail

On the walk back I noticed some blackening waxcaps on the edge of the lake near Lapwing Hide, which were beginning to change colour. A grassland fungi, blackening waxcaps turn black with age, hence the name, but prior to blackening they can be red, orange or yellow in colour.

Blackening waxcap

Blackening waxcap, beginning to blacken

Looking back towards Tern Hide

The view towards Tern Hide from in front of Lapwing Hide

There is plenty of fungi in accessible locations on the reserve, with candlesnuff fungus seemingly everywhere if you look closely enough at the woodland floor along the footpath edges:

Candlesnuff fungus

Candlesnuff fungus on a moss covered log

I also found a couple of earthfans on the edge of the lichen heath. They can be found on dry sandy soil and have a rosette like fruiting body which is usually reddish brown to dark chocolate brown in colour.

Earthfan

Earthfan

There were also a number of russula growing in amongst the lichen. There are approximately 200 russula species in the UK and the generic name means red or reddish. Although many have red caps, many more are not red and those that are usually red can also occur in different colours. This species could be Russula rosea, the rosy brittlegill, but I’m not completely sure so will stick with the genus russula on this occasion!

Russula

Russula species in amongst the lichen

There was also a branch covered in jelly ear fungus along the ‘Wild Walk’ loop, close to the acorn sculpture:

Jelly ear

Jelly ear fungus

Also known as wood ears or tree ears, the fruiting body is ear shaped and is usually found on dead or living elder.

With the colder, wetter weather we have begun to get a number of more unwelcome visitors in the centre, usually wood mice or yellow-necked mice. Although we enjoy catching small mammals as an education activity, they are less welcome additions to the centre loft where they have in the past chewed through the cables. So we trap them in the loft too, using the Longworth small mammal traps, and safely relocate any we do catch to the further reaches of the reserve. On Sunday morning there were two mice in the loft, so I took them up to Lapwing Hide and released them into the undergrowth. 

mouse Kate Syratt

Mouse released from one of the mammal traps by Kate Syratt, who joined me for a socially distant wander to release them

There have been a good variety of moths in the light trap recently, with the highlights including mottled umber, streak, red-green carpet, green-brindled crescent, feathered thorn and December moth:

mottled umbar

Mottled umber

streak

Streak

Red green carpet

Red-green carpet

green brindled crescent Kate Syratt

Green brindled crescent by Kate Syratt

Feathered thorn

Feathered thorn

December moth

December moth

Although I haven’t seen any sign of the brambling recently, the feeder by the Welcome Hut is being regularly visited by at least one marsh tit. We had a pair around the centre regularly over the summer so it has been really nice to get great views of at least one feeding frequently.

marsh tit (3)

Marsh tit

Starling numbers have been increasing and on Tuesday evening there were several thousand north of Ibsley Water. They are best viewed on a clearer evening from the viewing platform which is accessible on foot through the closed main car park and gives panoramic views of Ibsley Water.

Ibsley Water from Viewpoint

Ibsley Water from the viewpoint

This is the perfect spot to watch the starlings put on a show as they twist, turn, swoop and swirl across the sky in mesmerising shape-shifting clouds. These fantastic murmurations occur just before dusk as numerous small groups from the same area flock together above a communal roosting site. The valley boasts a sizeable starling murmuration most years, with the reedbeds to the north of Ibsley Water often used, along with those on the other side of the a338 to the west and the smaller reedbed by Lapwing Hide in the east, so from this higher vantage point all possible roost sites can be seen. 

Although I don’t have any photos to share of the murmuration, taking a video instead the last time I watched them, it’s also a really nice spot to watch the sun set.

sunset

Sun setting to the west of Ibsley Water from the viewing platform

Seasonal Shift

Although the hides remain closed good views can be had of Ibsley Water from the viewpoint at the back of the main car park. Although views of most things on this large lake are distant at least from there you can see most of the lake. I have found one or two people wandering off the paths recently to try to get to the lakeshore, this is unacceptable which is highlighted by the fact that it has been the birds taking flight that has brought it to my attention. I also found someone standing on a badger sett the other day, also unacceptable. In each case the people concerned have failed to see much and caused any birds nearby to fly off.

From the viewpoint this morning I saw a merlin, a peregrine, over 50 wigeon, a few pintail (yesterday there were 8), 18 goosander, about 40 shoveler and over a 1000 house martin, not bad for a quick scan. The martins have been held up by the inclement weather and have been feeding over the lake for a few days, there have also been a few swallow and one or two sand martin. Later when I was checking the hide the peregrine was perched on a post near Tern Hide and I got the shot below. With that beak and those claws it is easy to see why this is such a feared predator.

I have yet to stay until dusk to check the gull roost, but numbers are building now, a quick look before leaving yesterday yielded 3 yellow-legged gull in the hundreds of lesser black-backed gull and a single first winter common gull in the black-headed gull part of the flock.

Elsewhere on the reserve there are good numbers of chiffchaff, so far no yellow-browed warbler, but I will keep looking. Two marsh tit have been visiting the feeders, the first for a few years. It looks like being a good winter for finches, with a steady movement of siskin and recently also redpoll overhead on several days. The first redwing will be along any day now and maybe a brambling or tow passing through.

For all of the sings of approaching winter it is still quite warm by day and speckled wood remain flying in good numbers with a few whites and red admiral too. Most of the solitary bees have ended their season now but I did see this one today, I think an orange-footed furrow bee.

possibly orange-footed furrow bee

Likewise there are still some hoverflies on the wing, today’s brightest was this Sericomyia silentis.

Sericomyia silentis

I will end with a quick warning that tomorrow morning we will be working beside the path and boardwalk near Ivy South Hide, this will mean that the path may be closed for short periods.

W-otter disappointment!

One of our visitors came in to the centre to report a fantastic view of an otter playing in Ivy Silt Pond yesterday morning – of course Michelle and I went to have a look a couple of times over the course of the rest of the day and, of course, were disappointed. What was particularly noticeable (other than the lack of a large mustelid!) was the complete absence of birds on the pond:

No otter here - or birds either!

No otter here – or birds either!

This morning it was one of the first things I checked after a I arrived and was greeted by the usual array of mallard, coot, tufted duck and cormorant so I could be fairly confident that the otter, if still around, was at least lying low.

Where there are birds, I strongly suspect, there is no otter! Ivy Silt Pond this morning.

Where there are birds I strongly suspect there is no otter! Ivy Silt Pond this morning.

I did check one of the habitual spraint sites (otter are very territorial and, like many other mammals, use their faeces as boundary markings) and was treated to the sight (and scent!) of both tracks and spraint:

Otter signs - as close to a wild otter as I usually get, and am as likely to get, at Blashford!

Otter signs – as close to a wild otter as I usually get, and am as likely to get, at Blashford!

Top-tip! Otter and mink spraint look very similar, and, due to their shared habitat preferences and diet, will be found in similar locations, but mink spraint has a very powerful unpleasant smell and will often contain more mammal remains than fish (including hair)whilst otter spraint is composed primarily of fish bones and scales and has a pleasant fresh fish smell, which is even likened to the scent of jasmine tea!

Other current wildlife news include reports of a mealy redpoll at the woodland hide feeding alongside the lesser redpolls, marsh tit (again at the woodland hide) and two black necked grebes on Ibsley Water. The great white egret is still with us at the moment, but probably won’t be for many more weeks as it is about time that it headed back south to France. Already seemingly departed are the starlings that entertained everyone so spectacularly before Christmas and also the Ivy Lake bitterns.  I am not surprised that the starlings have moved on as in previous years (with substantially smaller murmurations admittedly) they have usually gone by this time, but it is unusual not to have bitterns now – but of course it has never actually been significantly cold for a significant time as yet this winter and on top of that the rain over the last few weeks has really impacted the lake water levels. Having said that it maybe that there are still bittern on the reserve, but rather that they have just moved elsewhere, or even if they have left it is entirely possible that they, or others, return in the event that winter actually kicks in and we get some cold weather over the course of coming weeks.

Otherwise everything is as you would expect but for once the sun was shining:

All the usual suspects on Ivy Lake

All the usual suspects on Ivy Lake – but more noteworthy is the lack of clouds!

All this week I have been aware that the song birds are becoming more vocal – particularly things like the great tit, blackbirds and robins, and today in the sun shine, that was particularly the case. Even the great spotted woodpecker joined in with a drum roll this morning! Additional evidence of the passing of the season are the snowdrops by the centre:

Snowdrops

Snowdrops peeping through the leaf litter

Words and Birds

Hello again.  It’s been a while (three weeks) since I posted on this blog, having been away and then, last week, after spending a time trimming back seed heads from buddleia to prevent them overrunning the reserve, and afterwards not feeling inspired enough to write anything.  I was berated, earlier this week,  by one of our regular volunteers and reader of the blog (you know who you are!!!) for not writing anything last Sunday, so I thought I’d better make an effort today.  Those of you who do any writing will probably recognise the problems of either  not feeling they have anything to say and/or struggling to find the words.     Along those lines,  I remember the tale of one professional writer who couldn’t think of a particular word for two weeks – but then it suddenly came to him….’fortnight’!!!

Having said all this, I guess most of you will want to read some news from Blashford, so here goes.

The bittern(s) is still in being seen regularly from Ivy South Hide, but has also been viewed, in its more usual habitat, in the reed beds outside Ivy North Hide. Whilst closing the reserve last Sunday,  I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this bird in the left hand side of the reeds, far off to the right side of the Ivy North Hide. As no one else has posted any pictures of this bird yet, I’ll start with this rather poor, distant image, taken in low light conditions ( getting all my excuses in first!!)  as evidence that the bird is here. P1460717 bittern Recent addition to the avifauna n the form of a ferruginous duck reported yesterday from Ivy South Hide. Otherwise the red-crested pochard is still around as are good numbers of many of the other ducks such as  mallard, shoveller, gadwall, wigeon, teal, pochard, goldeneye and tufted duck. A few green sandpiper  are scattered around the margins of the lakes.

For the gull fans (I know there are a few of you out there) up to nine yellow-legged gulls were seen coming in to roost on Ibsley Water yesterday.  Roost time can also produce increased numbers of goosander as they fly in from the Avon Valley to spend the night here.  Also in residence in and on the water, in roughly decreasing size order, we have mute swan, Canada goose, greylag goose, Egyptian goose, great-crested grebe, lapwing, coot, moorhen and little grebe. 

The alders are providing enough food to keep a regular flock of siskin in and around the Woodland Hide area.  This abundance of natural food means that many of the  winter visitors to our seed feeders haven’t yet put in much of an appearance although some lesser redpoll have been reported.  otherwise the usual collection of tit species including marsh tit as well as nuthatch and treecreeper are being seen from the Woodland Hide.  A water rail was seen, by some lucky visitors,  feeding on a fish (the rail feeding, not the visitor!), just outside the Ivy South Hide for about twenty minutes in the mid-afternoon.

A party from an RSPB local group have chosen Blashford for a day trip. One of the party reported seeing a large bird of prey flying low over the heath and going into the trees, from the description one of ‘our’ buzzards.

To finish here is a picture of what must be one of but maybe not the last ‘summer’ flowers to be seen on the reserve

red campion

red campion