A taste of spring?

A misty start on Ivy Lake

A misty start on Ivy Lake

When I arrived this morning things did not bode well for this mornings family bird watching event. It was icy (I had to defrost the lock of my car before I could get going this morning) and as I drove from Sway across the Forest I soon left brilliant sunshine behind and entered quite dense fog – which just got worse as I got nearer Blashford! Opening up the hides I was hard pressed to see anything, but there were a few obliging shoveller and teal on Ivy Lake at least.

Fortunately by mid-morning the fog had turned to mist and by late morning the sun was out and the sky was blue. There have been no exceptional sightings today, but everyone enjoyed the spring sunshine – people and birds alike. This morning was the first morning this year that I have really heard the great spotted woodpeckers really going for it with their territorial drumming. Perhaps taking advantage of the fact that the sound would travel further in the mist?

Neither bittern nor great white egret have been seen since the start of the week so I suspect they may have flown (but have said that before at least twice on this blog and been proven wrong the next day, so we will see!). Although at least one mealy redpoll was seen at the Woodland Hide, on the whole the number of birds both on the water and in the woodland does seem to have decreased noticeably with the recent mild weather, so they at least are confident that spring is here.

Not a lot else to report from today but as it has been so unusual to be able to do so this winter I will just confirm that all the car parks, footpaths and hides remain open, and have done so all week! Hurrah!

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Of Moths and Men(& Women) visitors

For the first time in a while I’ve just spent two consecutive days on duty here and they couldn’t have been more different.

Yesterday was fairly busy, the pleasant weather and sunshine enticed several tens of visitors, including a couple of organised group visits. Today, however, the promising start soon deteriorated and only a minority of the stalwarts stayed on much after lunch time.

Bird wise there have been the ‘usual suspects’, although the two mealy redpoll have been elusive and its looking increasingly likely that the great white egret has flown to pastures new (France?). The red-crested pochard is still hanging around and at least one black-necked grebe was on show from Lapwing Hide. One of our regular watchers reported, yesterday, that the osprey platform was being investigated as a possible nest site. Unfortunately the putative nest builders were a couple of Egyptian geese – so not such good news!!!

Today’s ‘best bird’ was a firecrest, spotted by Bob Chapman, in hanging ivy near the woodland hide.

Two different observers reported a strange continuous  ‘trilling’/ ‘warbling’ sound from low down in reed beds close to the Lapwing Hide. Trying to attribute this sound to any likely bird species proved impossible, but the suggestion it might be a frog species (Bull frog??) seemed to fit, but, as Patrick Moore used to say, ‘we just don’t know’.

The mild conditions and predicted overnight dry spell, encouraged me to put the light trap on for its first outing this year. Not surprisingly for the time of year there wasn’t a massive number of moths, only seven in total.

I’ll leave you with a few pictures of the moths…

P1470558 Oak beauty

P1470521 March Moth P1470551 hebrew Character P1470563 Chestnut

From top to bottom these are Oak Beauty, the rather seasonally named March Moth, Hebrew Character and Chestnut.

The last few days in pictures…

Wild daffodils are here again...

Wild daffodils are here again…

It has actually brightened up over the course of this morning, but despite the first of the wild daffodils flowering outside the Woodland Hide and the fact that the smooth newts are arriving back at the centre pond  (I only know this because from my office window I watched a kingfisher sitting on a perch bashing 7 bells out of one an hour ago!), it really didn’t feel very spring like at all while opening up and filling the bird feeders.

Currently the main car park and all of the hides are open with the exception of Goosander Hide which remains closed until a replacement lock has been received from the manufacturer and fitted. Two of the footpaths around the reserve are blocked or partially blocked by fallen tree’s (see below). More rain means the ground is going to be even more water logged and we risk even more tree’s being uprooted. Pictured below are photo’s of the some of the recent casualties:

Another oak bites the dust - this time along the dipping area. It was the branches of this oak that had come down across the entrancve track to the centre that volunteer Jacki and I spent the best part of Saturday morning removing.

Another oak bites the dust – this time along the dipping area. It was the branches of this oak that had come down across the entrance track to the centre that volunteer Jacki and I spent the best part of Saturday morning removing.

The other end of the same tree.

The other end of the same tree.

A slightly smaller oak, but still down and blocking access along the path north of the dipping area that heads towards the Waterskiing entrance track and on around Ellingham Pound and Lake.

A slightly smaller oak, but still down and blocking access along the path north of the dipping area that heads towards the Waterskiing entrance track and on around Ellingham Pound and Lake.

The large Scots pine impeding progress along the Dockens Water path that runs parallel with Ellingham Drove

The large Scots pine impeding progress along the Dockens Water path that runs parallel with Ellingham Drove.

Unfortunately, because of the danger posed by the downed power line near the entrance on Tuesday morning, we had to cancel our “Wild Days Out” activity day for 8-12 year olds. Disappointing for them of course, but also for us as the beginning of the recession a couple of years ago saw the number of children booking on to what had been incredibly popular days plummet, but numbers over the last 6 months have been steadily creeping back up and this February half-term had seen bookings back up to their pre-crash levels. Hopefully no one has been put off and we will see everyone back again at Easter.

On the other hand yesterdays Wild Days Out for 5-7 year olds, fully booked (with a reserve list!) was able to go ahead – and it didn’t even rain! The theme for the day was birds and bird watching and it does seem that we may have taught them something by the end of the day, judging by the discussions that some of the children were having with their parents as they left! Visits to Tern Hide and the Woodland Hide, duck identification games and bird feeder making (a very sticky activity that we were very glad to be doing outside in the sunshine rather than in the centre classroom!) were supplemented and complimented beautifully by the presence of Kevin Sayer and his bird ringing team, allowing the children a privileged close encounter with a siskin and a couple of treecreepers.

A "Wild Days Out" wild encounter with Kevin - and a siskin

A “Wild Days Out” wild encounter with Kevin – and a siskin

The highlights for the children? Lunch(!), wading through the remnants of the flood in the car park and climbing on, over and around the fallen pine, just going to show that when a tree falls over in a woodland it very quickly provides habitat for new life!

There are some advantages to fallen tree's...

There are some advantages to fallen tree’s…

...hours of fun!

…hours of fun!

As for the ringers, they had a good morning too, including another mealy redpoll (pictured with a lesser for comparison below), a re-trapped lesser redpoll, first caught on the reserve 4 years ago, and a re-trapped siskin from 2 years ago. The complete list of 40 birds was:

Lesser Redpoll 8

Siskin 12

Common Redpoll 1

Song Thrush 2

Nuthatch 1

Treecreeper 2

Blue Tit 3

Great Tit 2

Chaffinch 3

Dunnock 2

Goldfinch 3

Robin 1

Lesser and mealy redpolls (photo by B. Cook)

Lesser and mealy redpolls (photo by B. Cook)

Ducking and Diving

Just a short posting, as this is my first spell on duty for 2014, I’ll bid you a belated Happy New Year! from a somewhat soggy Blashford Lakes Reserve.

First things first. One of our regular visitors,  Ian Sibsey, whilst watching from the Lapwing hid  was lucky enough to see a great northern diver early today.  Also reported were a black-necked grebe and large numbers of pintail.

Given the predicted weather conditions we had cancelled a proposed birdwatching walk today and although the rain wasn’t as bad as I’d expected, this was just as well as it wouldn’t have been much fun. Even the ducks on Ivy lake didn’t seem to be very impressed by the conditions.  The rain also deterred many prospective visitors and I didn’t see more than four people before mid-day.   Those visitors who did ‘flood in’ later were rewarded with views of both lesser redpoll and mealy redpoll together with good numbers of siskin.

As no blog is really complete without a picture here’s a sample of the wonderful display of snowdrops close to the Centre car-park.

Just a small clump of snowdrops.

Just a small clump of snowdrops.

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