Ringing in the New

Despite the weather being somewhat poorer than originally expected the reserve was busy with a mixture of general visitors and listers out to get a good start to 2016. I knew it would be, as there are several species that you are more perhaps likely to see at Blashford than anywhere else in Hampshire. Species like brambling, and two obliged for much of the day at the Woodland hide, Slavonian and black-necked grebe, which both showed all day on Ibsley Water and of course goosander and goldeneye. Then there are the gulls, with regular yellow-legged gulls and, albeit rather late in the day, the ring-billed gull. The only species that really let the side down was bittern, which failed to show at all, as far as I know.

I managed to see 66 species of birds on the reserve today, not a bad start to the year. Along the way I found a hibernating peacock butterfly and a very well developed group of orchid rosettes, hopefully they will cope with any frosts we do eventually get.orchid

I had the rather pleasant task of putting the new hide logbooks in each hide today, so I got to visit them all. From the Goosander hide it was pleasing to see a group of wigeon grazing the eastern shore of Ibsley Water, just reward for all the volunteers’ hard work.grazing wigeon

I also saw a colour-ringed first winter black-headed gull standing on the rails, I think it was a red ring coded 230A, but it was hard to be sure, can you make it out?ringed black-headed gull

The recent rain has also been beneficial to the ephemeral ponds, these only hold water for part of the year, but have a whole range of specialist species that depend upon them. The volunteers have been involved with these too, treading the mud in the bases so they hold water for longer, a process known as puddling. temporary ponds

As well as a good range of species there were a few notable counts during the day, mostly at dusk. I could not get into the Tern hide, there was such a crush of gull watchers, so I looked from the mound at the back of the car park. From there I saw the ring-billed gull and, after a long absence, a flock of starling. Not quite a fully fledged murmuration , but at least 3000 birds. Later on Ivy Lake there were at least 161 roosting cormorant, a new record. I also counted 239 tufted duck, a large number, but there must have been many more as I could mostly only make out the drakes with their white flanks as it was so dark.


Bank Holiday Birds with a Twist

A rainy August Bank Holiday and unsurprisingly Blashford was not very busy with visitors, although there were quiet a few birds of interest. When I opened the hides the great white egret was perched in front of Ivy North and at Ivy South 3 wigeon hint at the winter to come. I had hoped for a few waders or terns to drop in, rain often forces them down from their high level flights overland, but all Ibsley Water had to offer were a couple of common sandpiper. The rain had forced in a huge flock of hirundines to feed low over the water though, I estimated at least a thousand, roughly 40% swallow, 40% house martin and 20% sand martin.

Having just returned from holiday I had a backlog of office work to deal with, being in the office was not so bad when the rain was pouring down outside. Still by lunchtime I had to get out for a bit and went over to the Tern hide to see if anything had changed, the answer was yes. There were terns, only three but they were 2 adult common tern and a  juvenile Arctic tern. There were also more waders, I counted at least 4 and probably 6 common sandpiper, also a dunlin, a little ringed plover and a juvenile little stint. In addition 14 shoveler were flushed by a grey heron and flew over to Mockbeggar Lake.

The rain continued and I returned to the office. Luckily by mid afternoon it stopped and so before doing the round for locking up I went for a quick look on the edge of the lichen heath, in search of Autumn lady’s-tresses, a small orchid that seems to be having a good year. As far as I know it has only been recorded once at Blashford and that some years ago. I looked pretty hard, even using binoculars and was about to give up when I found one, only one, but a good size for this usually small species.

Autumn lady's tresses

Autumn lady’s-tresses

Admittedly not as big as it looks in the picture, perhaps 12cm high. Their Latin name is Spiranthes spiralis and it is easy to see how it got the name from the way the flowers twist around the stem. The recent rain has greened up the heath and caused lots of the plants to flower again, the blue fleabane being especially abundant.

blue fleabane

blue fleabane

When I closed up the Tern hide all I could find of the earlier birds was the Arctic tern and a couple of common sandpiper, so perhaps the improvement in the weather had persuaded the rest to move on. Even the hirundines has mostly gone leaving more or less just sand martin, although I estimated there were now over 300 of them.