Boardwalk replacement work begins!

It is with many thanks to everyone who gave to our appeal for donations to replace the deteriorated boardwalk connecting Ivy South Hide with the Ellingham Lake walk, an integral part of the ever-popular short circular route called the “Wild Walk”, that we are pleased to report that the work to replace it has begun!

Unfortunately this does necessitate the closure of this part of the route while the existing boardwalk is removed and the new one is constructed and we apologise for the inconvenience that this will cause for the duration of the work. Please check the website and blog for updates on progress and, in the meantime, please observe and abide by the warning signs and path closures. It will be worth the wait! Thank you.

In other news if you are saddened to know that the boardwalk is closed it may be of some small conciliation to know that Bob has now cut the first “bittern channel” through the reed bed to the east of Ivy North Hide. As long as other jobs including the boardwalk construction task, time & weather allow, the intention is to cut the usual additional channels and possibly lengthen this one as well:

The first channel has been cut through the reedbed to facilitate views of elusive wildlife including water rail and bittern

Although there were a few sporadic sightings of bittern towards the end of the summer and the beginning of autumn we believe these to be “local” UK breeding birds who are moving on south from breeding territories and just stopping off here temporarily on route. If we are to see any obliging over-wintering bittern historically we don’t tend to see them until a week or so before Christmas, so fingers-crossed for this year.

The relatively mild and sunny autumn has really bought out the autumn colours across the country in recent weeks, and Blashford has been no exception:

On the wildlife front the light trap has been consistently catching albeit in low numbers, including the rather lovely December moth:

December moth

There is a small, but reliable, starling murmurartion in the Valley again this winter, with wonderful views of it now possible from the Ibsley Water viewing platform which Bob and the volunteers have now really opened up the views from by carefully removing some of the silver birch and willows which had been obscuring the views. At least 5 goldeneye and 30+ goosander duck have now joined the other wildfowl on the lake. Firecrests have very much been in evidence across the reserve in recent weeks and Bob also reported seeing two cattle egret coming in to roost with the little egrets among the tree’s on the eastern shore of Ivy Lake.

Meanwhile Tracy and Chloe have made good use of some of the willow arisings from the viewing platform work to make a fantastic start weaving the wreath hoops for the self-guided wreath decorating activity walk which opens this weekend – for more information see the website here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-11-28-decorate-willow-wreath

Wreath frames ready – just add natural greenery!

Willow is one commodity we are not short of at Blashjford Lakes and it does not look as if we are likely to run out of the withy’s required to form the hoops anytime soon!

Should keep Tracy and Chloe out of mischief over the next few weeks…might even have to help out myself Mine will be the wonky ones if you happen to pick one of those out 😉 !

On mammals and murmurations…

Further to the last couple of short blog posts with information about the storm damage and the impact upon access at Blashford Lakes, I can confirm that all is now well with the exception of just two short sections of path (one between Ivy North & Woodland Hide, one along the Dockens Water) which remain closed due to the ongoing danger posed by large branches which have been torn from the tree’s and caught up in lower branches at height over the footpath.

Visitors have been asking about starlings for several weeks now and last night I saw my first more significant murmuration of the season. Consisting of several thousand starlings, they gathered to the west of the A338 before going to roost shortly after 4.30pm in the old gravel pits north of Ellingham. It’s still early days and bodes well, I think, for another good sized roost and wildlife spectacle later this winter. As always we recommend viewing the starlings from the viewing platform at the back of the main car park – where you will never be particularly close, but from where it is almost always possible to view the birds regardless of where they actually choose to roost in the valley.

Last week was half-term, as anyone with children or grandchildren will know (they’ve only been back at school a week and it already seems an age ago!). As such we once again held our popular “Wild Day Out” activity days and, once again, everyone had fun and, once again, it was questionable who had most fun – the staff and volunteers or the children!

This time round the theme was one of mammals and the day began with a “what am I quiz?” as they arrived – a collection of various animal remains and leavings to be identified (not all mammal it has to be said). The children did very well, albeit with the odd clue or hint dropped here or there 😉

We then bought in our Longworth small mammal traps which were put out around the Education Centre at the end of the preceding day and left out overnight with the hope that if we were lucky we might catch mouse or vole or two. And lucky we were! On the first day 15 traps resulted in one common shrew, 4 bank voles and 3 wood mice and 14 traps on day two resulted in 3 bank voles and 4 wood mice which is a pretty good return by anyone’s reckoning! Interestingly we did not capture a single yellow-neck mouse – despite these currently being the most commonly trapped mouse in the Centre loft, where they are trapped and removed to be released in suitable habitat at the far end of the nature reserve (far enough away, we hope, not to come back to the Centre and cause damage) on an almost daily basis at this time of year.

The mild, misty, weather at the start of last week clearly suited our small mammal quarry but the conditions also very much suited molluscs and as a result, in addition to the mammals described above, we also released at least as many Arion ater, common slugs, and which are easily large and heavy enough to “trip” the traps.

Sadly for the molluscs I think it is fair to say that most children were more interested in the mammals we released!

With such a good haul in the traps we took our time and were all ready for lunch after the last animal had been released back into the place it had been trapped. Post lunch we took ourselves off for a walk to think about how we might hone our senses to become more aware of the wildlife around us and practice our tracking skills with a couple of games and activities, including one in which we split into two teams, one of whom laid trails of sticks, stones, bird seed and other marks for the seeking team to follow to the end and try and spot the hiding, trail laying, first team and then swap. I think it is fair to say that this activity was for most participants (and volunteers!) the best bit of the day and many (but not all!) particularly enjoyed the opportunity to “camouflage” their faces (and in some cases arms, hands and legs) with charcoal and clay…

Some of the children really were exceptional at hiding themselves away at the end of the trail – thanks to a combination of their camo-“facepaint”, camo clothing and the very un-childlike ability to be still AND quiet for a surprisingly long length of time while the “seekers” tried to find them. These two boys were exceptional 🙂

Can you see them? We couldn’t for ages, even when stood right next to them! They are a bit easier to spot with a close up:

…others of course, despite their best efforts, were not quiet so well hidden 🙂

Sorry Nigel 😉

I’ll round off this blog with a lovely observation from one of the children at the end of the day that really struck a chord with me:

“What I really liked was doing new things and meeting other people. I don’t get to do that much anymore”.

That’s why we do what we do and why we will keep on doing so.

No Wild Days Out over the Christmas holidays but you can email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org,uk to be put on the mailing list for Wild Days Out updates if you want to find out when and what Wild Days Out we are holding over February half-term.

Hope you enjoyed reading this post almost as much as we enjoyed our Wild Days Out!

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).

Blashford Lakes”What’s On?”….

… our events and courses leaflet for the coming months will be available from the Centre soon and is available to view/print from this blog post HERE right now!

The next family event is Festive Family Willow Wreaths on December Sun 9th, 10.30am – 12.30pm: Creative family craft in time for Christmas – enjoy a short walk gathering materials before creating and decorating a willow wreath to take home. Donation £4 per person, booking essential (telephone 01425 472760 or email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk)

And the next course is Astronomy for Beginners on 6th, 13th, 27th Feb and 6th Mar, 6.30 – 8.30pm with course tutor Stephen Tonkin to learn about the night sky, recognising constellations, understanding the solar system and deep space? Cost £96 (to book please telephone our head office, 01489 774400 or e-mail courses@hiwwt.org.uk)

In the meantime, because no blog post is complete without at least one lovely picture, the following have been sent in by visitors over the last few weeks but not yet made it into the blog and this seems a suitable place to belatedly post them! Both species are still very much in evidence. In fact, Bob had a lovely view of a peregrine harassing the small (“just” a few thousand) starling murmuration last night. Thanks to Caroline Herbert for the great white egrets and David Stanley-Ward for the peregrine:

Walter plus one by Caroline HerbertPeregrine

Look forward to seeing you soon…

Some Bird Sightings

A few sightings from the reserve today, mostly from Ibsley Water. When I opened up the Tern hide there were 4 pintail (3 drakes), 3 green sandpiper (the most I have seen so far this season) and a drake shelduck.  I dropped in there briefly at lunchtime and saw a water pipit just in front of the hide and did not see the juvenile pink-footed goose which was hiding in a large flock of greylag.

Elsewhere there were reports of one or two brambling from near the Centre and Woodland hide.

At closing time there was a first winter Caspian gull in the large gull roost on Ibsley Water, I estimated about 7000 lesser black-backed gull. There was also a gathering of starling, still in the 3000+ range, so enough to be a decent flock but not a really spectacular gathering yet.

As it was almost dark, I could just make out “Walter” our returning great white egret roosting in his favourite dead alder tree beside Ivy Lake.

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017…

Another misty start to the day this morning, although by no means as misty as yesterday when from Tern Hide all that could be seen were the silhouettes of coot and a couple of pairs of goldeneye which were feeding close to the shoreline immediately in front of the hide.

This morning all of Ibsley Water could be seen, albeit through a misty haze, but most of the wildfowl was further offshore towards the north of the lake among the feathered leavings of the overnight gull roost which is now very extensive and covering a huge proportion of the lake by dusk. Evenings are also still seeing a “mini-murmuration” of a couple of thousand or so starlings, currently often settling in for the night in the reedbed in Ibsley Pond north of Lapwing Hide. What was immediately in front of the hide today, furtling around in the gravel for invertebrates, was a very obliging green woodpecker who would have posed beautifully for anyone armed with a camera had they been there (I just had a ‘phone)… Unfortunately by mid-morning what had started as a relatively clear day had soon disintegrated back into dense mist again… from Lapwing Hide you could just see past the end of the “spit” by about 11am!

A misty start. It didn't last!

A misty start. It didn’t last!

Look closely for the green woodpecker!

Look closely for the green woodpecker!

Ivy Lake was equally misty. No bittern or water rail when I opened up Ivy North Hide, although both species were obliging yesterday and later on in the day today. The water rail in the alder carr  opposite the Woodland Hide that Bob reported in the previous blog entry has also continued :

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At the Woodland Hide itself reedbunting and brambling (at least two) are still present along with the usual multitude of other species which makes a visit to this hide consistently enjoyable. Not that many decided to visit the feeder when I tried taking a picture during my “rounds”:

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There were mallard and shoveler in Ivy Silt Pond on the way down to Ivy South Hide where from the hide itself all the regular wildfowl could be seen, with some gadwall, wigeon and tufted duck all feeding (and in the case of the gadwall and mallard, very noisily and “splashily” displaying and setting up/defending pairings):

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The relatively mild weather and now lengthening daylight hours are also bringing with it other signs of spring and the New Year – as well as ducks pairing up, the great crested grebes are apparently setting up territories on Ivy Lake and a great tit has been stridently calling out “teacher” on and off all day around the centre. A lovely early introduction of the bird song that is still to come and with that I’ll leave you with the welcome sight of the recently emerged snowdrop shoots ushering in 2017, a New Year and new beginnings….

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I shall post this now and update at the end of the day as necessary with anything particularly noteworthy for anyone heading out this way tomorrow to kick start their year-lists. I’ve been office bound this morning and for the early part of the afternoon but will be heading out a little earlier than usual to stretch my legs, beat the bounds and swap the 2016 sightings record books for 2017’s. Hopefully the mist will lift again so I can see something! Who knows, I could even finish the year with an otter! But probably not!

Unfortunately the weather is not looking too favourable for tomorrow so what is traditionally the reserves busiest day of the year visitor wise may not be…

However for anyone who does make it out tomorrow don’t forget that Nigel and Christine will be in the centre classroom with their Pop-up cafe from 10.30am-3.30pm tomorrow with hot drinks and home baked cakes, a proportion of the takings from which goes into supporting our conservation and access work on the nature reserve.

Happy New Year everyone!

 

More of a murmur than a murmuration

Well, for anyone who was wondering, there were starlings this evening, but with the rain coming down they didn’t hang around but rather came in various small-middling sized flocks and went straight to roost rather than gathering for the usual pre-roost spectacular flyby’s. I watched it from 4.15-4.25pm, so it maybe that there was more of a display earlier on that I missed, but either way they certainly didn’t gather on mass.

As for other news, other than the Mum’s and babies/toddlers who arrived for the regular buggy walk, making the best of the weather this morning, perhaps emboldened somewhat by the thought of the table booked for a post walk Christmas gathering at a local hostelry(!), it has been at best grey and dismal and worst wet and dreary so there haven’t been many visitors today! Having said that the great white egret was on show on the web-cam on and off throughout the day, there were reports of one bittern at Ivy North Hide and a brief but arresting glimpse of two merlins chasing, tumbling and fighting their way over the centre and car park, heading from the south to the north.