April Catch-up

April is flying by and we’ve been busy! We’re sorry for the rather long gap between this and the last blog, but hopefully this one explains a little of what we’ve been up to and what’s currently out and about on the reserve.

The sunshine brought plenty of visitors to our local craft event, who enjoyed the excellent refreshments provided by Nigel and Christine’s pop-up café (which will return in November) along with basket making, hurdle making and wood turning demonstrations and the chance to have a go at making bird feeders from willow.

Willow bird feeders

Willow bird feeders made at our craft event

This was swiftly followed by Wildlife Tots, who got into the spirit of Spring by making excellent nests for our cuddly birds.

Jessie with nest

Jessie with her nest for a Teal

We then entertained a holiday club visiting from London with den building and fire lighting activities, followed by a night walk. We’ve welcomed new six-month volunteer placement Harry, who is with us now until September and thrown him in at the deep end with a group of beavers who were here to enjoy a river dip. Luckily that didn’t put him off and Emily and the other volunteers have been busy showing him the ropes.

This week we’ve had two wet Wild Days Out, pond and river dipping in search of newts, fish and other monsters, rescuing ducks, floating boats, building dams and enjoying a balloon free water fight. Our most monstrous find was this awesome Great Diving Beetle Larva, which tried to devour anything in its sight:

Great diving beetle lava 2

Great Diving Beetle larva ready to pounce

Our volunteers have been super busy, with the warmer weather bringing with it the start of our butterfly transects and reptile surveys. The butterfly transects have had an excellent start, with Peacock, Orange Tip, Brimstone, Speckled Wood, Comma and Small White all recorded and Holly Blue, Green Veined White and Small Tortoiseshell also seen around. They have already recorded more than they did in the whole of April last year, so fingers crossed numbers will continue to be good!

Grass snakes and adders have started to venture into areas accessible to visitors so if the cloud disappears and the temperature warms up again keep your eyes peeled! Two grass snakes were seen recently from Ivy South hide, but out of the window at the far end rather than their usual basking spot on the log outside the front; whilst the grass verges too and from Lapwing hide are usually good places to try for a basking adder.

In bird news, Lapwing, Common sandpiper, Redshank and Little ringed plover have all been showing nicely in front of Tern Hide, along with the Black headed gulls which are getting more and more vocal! An osprey reportedly flew over the reserve on Wednesday and a Common tern was also seen on Wednesday from Tern Hide.

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Thank you to Richard Smith for emailing across a photo of two very busy Little ringed plover:

Little Ringed Plovers by Richard Smith

Little ringed plover by Richard Smith

A Great spotted woodpecker has been busy excavating a hole in a tree trunk near Ivy Lake and best viewed from the far right hand window in Ivy North hide. Brambling were also still being spotted from the Woodland Hide this week, looking very smart as they develop their summer plumage and our first fledglings have been seen too – Robin and Dunnock – so keep an eye out for parent birds feeding their young.

Thanks to Lyn Miller and Steve Michelle for also sending in some great photos from recent visits to the reserve:

Kingfisher by Lyn Miller

Hungry kingfisher devouring a newt by Lyn Miller

Redpoll by Steve Michelle

Lesser redpoll by Steve Michelle

Black Headed Gull by Steve Michelle

Black headed gull by Steve Michelle

Finally thank you to everyone who’s popped in to tell us what they’ve seen, Jim and I have unfortunately been slightly office bound when not out and about leading events and group visits, so it’s great to know what’s going on out on the reserve!

We will try not to leave such a long gap between this and next blog, Bob’s back from leave soon so fingers crossed!

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Busy Badgers and Disgruntled Wasps

Every day seems very busy at the moment at Blashford, not necessarily with lots of visitors, just a very great number of things going on. Today I had the Lower Test volunteer team clearing willow regrowth on the western shore of Ibsley Water,  the contractor working in the old concrete plant, a visit from the two Apprentice Rangers who will be working with us in the New Year as well as all the usual coming and goings. There were also quiet a few birds of note to be seen and a moderate number of visitors seeing them.

When I opened up the hides I came across a scatter of wasp nest debris on the path just before the Ivy South hide.

wasp-nest-debris

wasp nest debris

A sure sign that a badger had been at work, badgers love eating wasp grubs and will dig out the nests to get at them, the wasps are not so keen, but badgers have thick skins and seem to be able to put up with mass attacks. The nest is now open to the elements but still quite full of wasps, one good rain shower may well destroy now though.

wasp-nest-opened-up-by-badger

Opened up wasp nest, complete with rather discontented wasps.

Although wasps make similar hexagonal cells for their larvae to develop in they are made of paper rather than wax as the brood cells of honey-bees are. They make the paper by chewing up dead wood, summer visitors to the reserve will probably have heard them gnawing at the hides and I wouldn’t mind betting some of this nest was made from chewed up Ivy South hide.

During the day various wildlife reports came in. The osprey was seen again at Ivy Lake, this time perched outside Ivy North hide for about 10 minutes. I was shown some very good video of it by a visitor, it apparently flew in just after I had left the hide with the visiting apprentice rangers. Also from Ivy North came reports of water rail and Cetti’s warbler. Meanwhile over on Ibsley Water the great white egret was on show and a black-necked grebe was seen, the latter a very clean bird, so probably an adult that has wintered with us before, if so it should stay around. Other birds includes a few lingering swallow, a green sandpiper and, right at the end of the day, 2 rock pipit on the shore in front of Tern hide. I got a rather poor picture of one of them, my excuse is that the light was already going, at least you can tell it was a rock pipit.

rock-pipit

Rock pipit outside Tern hide

Although these pipits usually live on the seashore we have had one spend a fairly long stay with us before and I would guess these birds are most probably the same ones I saw the other day, when I could only be sure that one of them was actually a rock pipit. British rock pipits tend to stay close to home, particularly once they have a territory, youngsters move further but many of the birds that winter on our saltmarshes, where they do not breed, will be from Scandinavia. If I am right this looks like an adult, with very worn inner-tertials, the outer one looks to have been moulted, juveniles should be neater than this and with all these feather of the same age. As a British adult is unlikely to be migrating overland my guess is that this is probably a Scandinavian bird.

A Good Day for a Spot of Fishing

After another rainy night, adding 14 further millimetres of rain to yesterday’s 28, most of the day was fine. There was no sign of the bittern today, but “Walter” put on a show outside the Tern hide and I even got a couple of shots.

great-white-egret

“Walter White” Blashford’s returning great white egret doing a spot of fishing outside the Tern hide.

Of course we know it is the same bird because of the colour-rings, although they are getting a bit discoloured by now, with only the red one showing prominently at any distance.

great-white-egret-with-rings

Showing off the leg rings.

Unfortunately his fishing was cut short when he was disturbed by the work of the contractor undertaking the restoration works in the old concrete block plant, although he did fly far. The only other notable sighting of the day as far as I know, was of an osprey which did not stay and was last seen heading off southwards.

Wider Views and New Surfaces

It seems to have been a week with a lot going on, the phalarope’s three day stay has pleased the birders, although it has now left us. Meanwhile we have been clearing fallen trees from near Ivy North which should please everyone who uses the hide as it should be possible to see quite  a lot more. Further and perhaps even more widely welcomed, will be the news that the main track to the Centre and path to Ivy North and Woodland hides have been improved with a newly rolled surface.

The view from Ivy North was:

view-from-ivy-north-before

View from Ivy North before

It is now:

view-form-ivy-north-after

View from Ivy North after clearance of fallen trees.

The path surface is now as good as new.

p1050898

Resurfaced path to Ivy North

Although the phalarope has gone and I managed to miss the reported osprey, garganey and common swift, my day was not entirely without wildlife. We had lunch accompanied by our regular, and now very smart looking robin.

robin

Freshly moulted and now very smart

There was also a fine southern hawker flying about us and it briefly landed, allowing a quick shot.

migrant-hawker

southern hawker

The last few nights have been very warm and numbers of moths have picked up, although the range of species has not been that large. A few autumn species are starting to show up, with rosy rustic and pink-barred sallow a sure sign of the moving seasons.

 

Black and Yellow

A quick update only today. Today at last saw us get our first black tern of the autumn, sadly they only stayed a few minutes and I missed them but a group of four is good and hopefully there will be more to come. When I have opened the Tern hide the last couple of days there have been lots of wagtails, mostly pied but yesterday 3 and today 4 yellow wagtail, not common birds here. The osprey from the weekend has been seen everyday until today, and I suspect that it was the “large bird” seen by a visitor to the west of Ibsley Water that flushed lots of grey heron, so I am pretty sure it is still around.

Hopefully more to report tomorrow.

One Day, Two Reserves

I am not often at Blashford on a Saturday, but this weekend I was, I managed to intersperse catching up on paperwork with a walk round all the hides. Getting around the reserve is very pleasant but also highlights all the tasks that need planning into the coming winter season, I think an eight month winter would just about be enough!

Opening up the hides I saw a greenshank and three wheatear from the Tern hide, which suggested that there might well be migrants about and with luck “something” might turn up.

As usual the day proper started with a look through the moth trap. This contained no rarities but one unexpected moth, a very fresh dark form coronet, this is an attractive moth and one we see quite often, but it flies in June and July. If I was to get one at this time of year, I would have expected it t be an old, battered one on its last legs, not a pristine newly emerged one.

coronet late season

coronet

The cumulative results of my wanderings throughout the day indicated that there were indeed a reasonable scatter of migrants around the reserve. Chiffchaff were frequently to be seen, although willow warbler were many fewer than last week. In one mixed flock of birds near the Lapwing hide I saw a very smart juvenile lesser whitethroat, a rather rare bird at Blashford these days. On the south side of the main car park a spotted flycatcher was catching insects from the small trees and there were several blackcap eating blackberries.

In the early afternoon I was in Tern hide when I spotted an osprey in the distance flying towards us down the valley, it looked as if it was going to come low over Ibsley Water, but as it came over Mockbeggar North lake a large gull started to chase it and, rather than brush off this minor irritation, it gained height and headed off at speed to the south. It was a young bird and is going to have to learn to tough out such attention.

It was not a bad day for insects, I saw red admiral, painted lady, small white and speckled wood, despite almost no sunshine and there were good numbers of migrant hawker and brown hawker about. I also saw more hornet than I had noticed so far this summer and very widely about the reserve too.

Other birds of note were mostly signs of approaching autumn, a single snipe near the Lapwing hide was the first I have seen since the spring here and later wigeon, one on Ivy Lake and 4 on Ibsley Water were also the first returns that I have seen.

For a couple of years now I have been noticing increasingly large floating mats of vegetation in the Ivy Silt Pond and kept meaning to identify the plant species involved. I finally did so yesterday and one of them, the one with the rosettes of pointed leaves, is water soldier, a rare plant in Hampshire and mostly found on the Basingstoke canal!

water soldier

water soldier

It is probably most likely to be here as a result of escaping from a local garden pond, but might be wild, anyway it seems to be a notable record and as far as I know it has not been recorded here before.

In the evening I went out to another reserve in my area, Hythe Spartina Marsh, it was close to high water and I was interested to see if there was a wader roost. There was, not a large one but interesting, it included 74 ringed plover, 30 dunlin, 2 turnstone, 3 grey plover and a single juvenile curlew sandpiper. In addition 2 common sandpipers came flying north up  edge and on the way across the marsh I saw a clouded yellow butterfly nectaring on the flowers of the sea aster. I also saw that on e of the juvenile ringed plover had got colour rings on its legs, however it would only ever show one leg so all I could see was a white ring above a red ring on the left leg, not enough to identify where it had come from. Ringed plover can breed locally on our beaches or have spent the summer way off in the high Arctic of Canada, so it would have been good to see all the rings.

Rather More News

Tuesday was a busy day on the reserve, with volunteers working on tern rafts and a contractor improving the habitat at the base of the gravel spit on Ibsley Water. Along the way I saw the common tern reported over the last couple of days. It is a rather odd bird with an all dark bill and rather grey under-parts and contrasting white cheeks, some of the characteristics of the eastern race of this species, but much better views will be needed to clear up if it really is one of these.

Other reports were quiet exciting, an osprey was seen heading north up the valley, a duck garganey was on Ibsley Water and  a sedge warbler was singing near the Lapwing hide, all new for 2016.

My own sightings were rather less interesting, but I did see my first violet in flower near the Centre.

viiolet

The moth trap contained common Quaker, small Quaker, twin-spot Quaker, Hebrew character, clouded drab and yellow horned.

common quaker

Common Quaker.

A Purple Patch

The osprey returned again today, visiting the perch in Ibsley Water at least twice. It was out there as we were mowing on the western shore of Ibsley Water and the Gull Island, in fact Ed saw it fly more or less over my head as I was head down wrestling with the mower on the steep bank. Before we had finished cutting it was back, this time with a fish which it set to eating on the perch.

As it is not every day that you can see an osprey, after we got back and put the tools away we went over to take a closer look, by this time it was about 4 o’clock. We arrived just in time to see it flying off towards the river again, however our disappointment was tempered by noticing a first winter little gull flying close to the hide, it came into view just as the osprey was going behind the trees, they are always a treat to see and this was a very smart one.

As Ed tried to get some pictures of the gull I scanned around and there was an otter swimming up the centre of the lake. As it approached the northern shore it spooked a mixed group of tufted duck and coot which flew off in panic, any one of them would be a good meal for an otter. We watched it swim into the extreme north-western corner and just as it was lost to view I noticed a drake common scoter flying about the centre of the lake, eventually it settled with a small group of tufted duck.

A very hectic five minutes of Blashford wildlife! Hopefully Ed will be able to post some pictures later.

A Risky Day to be a Fish

It was my turn to cover Sunday today and as a relief from the necessary deskwork I was determined to walk the reserve as it has been many weeks since I have done so. I decided also to keep a list of all the birds I recorded during the day, the result was a list of 65 species, not bad. My highlights were the osprey, which once again visited the perch in Ibsley Water and my first fieldfare of the season. The great white egret was reported but not seen by me.

Actually the most notable sighting in some ways was the weasel that ran across the entrance track as I opened the gate as I arrived, I have seen them only three or four times previously at Blashford. For those that saw it the otter that spent some time outside the Goosander hide will perhaps have been the most exciting record of the day. What with an otter and an osprey about it was not the best day to be a fish in Ibsley Water!

Out on the reserve, despite the recent dry weather, there are quite a good few fungi. A fair few brilliant red fly agaric are about now, a sure sign of autumn. I did find a reminder of summer in the shape of a field grasshopper.

field grasshopper

field grasshopper

A Better Class of Osprey

It was a mostly quiet and cloudy day at Blashford today, although busy with a training course and meetings. I eventually stopped for lunch at 2:45 and decided to go to the Tern hide, “just in case”. My reward was an especially discerning osprey, perched on the large branch that Ed and I put out for this species back in July. The last one we had on Ibsley Water had  foolishly ignored it, but this was clearly a better class of bird altogether!

Osprey on the perch provided

Osprey on the perch provided

It is getting quite late for them now and this juvenile will probably not hang around for long.

The moth trap has been quite for a while now, with only a few species each night, although caddisflies have been more in evidence. Many species are rather hard to identify, but these are two of the easier ones.

Glyphotaelius pellucidus, the mottled sedge

Glyphotaelius pellucidus, the mottled sedge

Halesus radiates, the caperer

Halesus radiatus, the caperer

When I went round to lock up the hides, somewhat later than usual, the cormorant roost on Ivy Lake was much in evidence, I counted 75 birds tonight and they were still arriving. This roost has grown from nothing in just a few seasons.

cormorant roost

cormorant roost

I was still too early for the main gull roost, but I did see in excess of 3500 black-headed gull, 7 yellow-legged gull and a variety of lesser black-backed gull. The lesser black-backs vary in the shade of their back and various other things, British birds being typically palest grey with dirty heads and black primaries with white mirrors at this time of year, they also tend to be quite compact compared to some. At the other end of this spectrum are birds with very dark, sometimes almost black “backs”, clean white heads, unmoulted, all black primaries and a long and slender look. They typically have a very high “stern” and a very pointed looking rear end.

lesser black-backed gull, of the darker, more slender type.

lesser black-backed gull, of the darker, more slender type.

At the extreme end they usually show small, round heads too, the bird in the picture is not the blackest, nor the slightest I have seen but it is quite different from the average British lesser black-back. They probably come from further north and east and the most extreme examples may well actually be the recently split Baltic gull, but that is another story and one for the true Laridophiles.