Not the Otter I wanted to See

I posted the other day about seeing an otter in Ivy Lake, it always a treat to see them. They are so superbly adapted to their environment and have come back from the very brink of extinction in this country. When I started taking an interest in wildlife the very idea of seeing one seemed fantasy.

I saw one again today, however the circumstances were altogether different. This one, perhaps even the same one as I saw last Sunday, was dead beside Ellingham Drove.

dead otter

The end of an otter

Taking a look at the body the many adaptations that make them so at home in the water were clear. The strong, muscular tail, huge webbed feet and dense fur. A particular feature I noticed though was the whiskers, they were very long and pointed down under the chin and out to the sides at least as far as the head was wide on each side.

otter whiskers

Otter whiskers are very long indeed!

These whiskers will act as “feelers” helping the animal to seek out prey, much of which is found in dense weed or under banks. Although they do catch fish in open water, they also enjoy digging out signal crayfish from under overhanging tree roots or eels from reedmace roots.

A lot of otters get killed on roads, they are not very fast on land and seem to have no road sense at all. Most will have large territories and cover a lot of ground each day. Blashford Lakes is a good area for otters but it is criss-crossed with roads. Although there are many lakes, a lot now have otter fencing around them to keep otters out and protect valuable fish kept for anglers. In effect this fragments the habitat forcing the animals to travel more and cross more roads making accidents more likely. I hope this casualty was not the one I enjoyed watching on Sunday, but I fear it was.

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Back Again

I was back at Blashford after a week away in North Wales. It was a good many years since I was there and it was great to visit familiar places and some new ones too. Seeing wildlife that I don’t see at home was also good. Birds such as dipper, chough, whooper swan, black guillemot and hen harrier were all a treat.

So it was back to work today, but as if to emphasise that it is not so bad, as if I needed reminding, on the way in I saw a hawfinch which flew across the road. Opening up the Tern hide a black-necked grebe was on view. Outside the Centre two male brambling were by the feeder and from Ivy South hide Walter the great white egret and an otter. There really are worse places to work!

I was in the office for a good part for the day, there is no way to escape the after-break email backlog. This did mean that I saw lots of people coming and going from the Pop-up cafe, which did a good trade despite it being quite q quiet day for visitors. If you want the chance to sample the splendid homemade cakes on offer there are just two more opportunities this winter, they will be back on the first and third Sundays in March and then taking their break until next autumn. It is a testament to the quality on offer that some of today’s customers were returnees who came in just for the cake and did not even visit the reserve.

There was one negative event to report, a car was broken into int he main car park, although nothing was stolen. Although a very rare event at Blashford, with well under one break-in a year it still pays to be careful. Just as in the New Forest car parks you should obviously not leave valuables on display, but also don’t put them in the boot in the car park, if you are being watched this just shows the criminal where to look and that there is something to steal. Either don’t leave things in the car or put them out of the way at a stop before you arrive to park. If you see anything or anyone suspicious let us know, note down a car number or anything else that might help. The reserve has always been very safe and we would like to keep it that way.

Locking up at the end of the day it was evident that there was no otter around Ivy Lake, the ducks were looking very relaxed, in stark contrast to their demeanour in the morning. Although we might think of otters as fish eaters they are far from averse to duck and locally they seem to favour signal crayfish when they are abundant.

P1090870

Evening on Ivy lake, peace and quiet.

The cormorant have returned to roost in the trees around Ivy Lake after going elsewhere for a while, although they are only using the ones on the spit. I also noticed that “Walter” had come back to roost in his favoured dead alder tree, if you look closely you can just make him out as a white spot on the right hand side of the picture. I expect he will be heading back to France soon, he rarely stays into March and often goes in January. Hopefully he will be back in the late summer, but as he approaches his fifteenth year of life he is a grand old great white egret now and at some point we will not see him again.

At the very end of the day the gull roost included the ring-billed gull, a couple of Caspian gull, but no Thayer’s gull, despite it having been seen flying south over Alderholt for the day spent feeding in pig fields at Tidpit. It has evidently found an alternative roost, perhaps in Christchurch Harbour.

Making Preparations

Although it feels very much like winter there are preparations for the coming spring afoot. At Blashford Lakes I spent Tuesday working with our volunteer team clearing the Long Spit island and the open ground of the old Hanson plant making the ground ready for nesting lapwing, little ringed plover, common tern and black-headed gull. Lapwing can settle down to nest as early as the start of March and will be pairing up at nest sites well before then if the weather is suitable.

before

The Long Spit before clearance

after

Long Spit after clearance

It was very cold and we had feared we would also get wet as there were some fierce showers, luckily they mostly missed us and by the time we had finished the sun was out.

By way of proof of approaching spring I spotted a pair of blue tit checking out a nest box outside my kitchen window, luckily the Blashford boxes have all been cleaned out, a reminder for me to do mine at home.

blue tit investigating

Blue tit checking out the nest box outside my kitchen window at the weekend.

Today we were working with our new volunteer team at Fishlake Meadows, again we were making preparations for later in the year. This time it was scrub cutting in preparation for grazing parts of this new reserve. Although much of the reserve is open water and reedbed there are areas of wet grassland that is gradually getting ranker and invaded by willow and bramble. To arrest this we plan a light grazing regime to maintain the mix of grass, fen and small patches of low scrub. Today we removed some young willow and cleared small alder to leave a few larger trees that will provide valuable shade for cattle in the summer sun.

start

Making the first cuts – the Fishlake volunteers starting out.

We were lucky with the weather, it was cold, but we managed to stay out of the wind and in the sun making it feel rather pleasant, hopefully we will be as lucky next time.

finish

With the scrub removed these trees will provide valuable shade for the cattle later in the year.

As we walked out to the worksite I saw a distant great white egret and on the way back we watched 2 red kite sparring with a pair of crow.

In the afternoon I returned to Blashford Lakes and got a quick picture of a water pipit outside Tern hide, nit the best I have seen but the best picture I have managed,

water pipit

water pipit

I am very lucky to be able to see quite a lot of wildlife as I go about my working day, however there are times when I should definitely have been looking the other way. As we headed out to work on the Long Spit on Tuesday we apparently disturbed an otter from the lakeside and it then swam by the Tern hide, somehow none of us saw it!

At Blashford we are also at the start of preparations of a different kind, we are planning a number of improvements around the reserve. To fund this we are hoping to apply for a grant and part of this process involves sounding out our visitors for their experience of the reserve. If you have visited recently it would be very useful to have your views, a questionnaire is attached here: Blashford Lakes Questionnaire if you are able to complete it and email it to us it would greatly help us with our grant application.

 

Pull the otter one!

Firstly, my apologies… this blog is a bit of a personal indulgence:

For regular readers of this blog and the Blashford volunteer team the following announcement will be completely unbelievable but it is absolutely true and I have witnesses in Assistant Education Officer Tracy and long-term volunteer placement Emily to prove it:

I took a short break after lunch to stretch my legs, ostensibly to see if the Ivy Lake tawny owl was still in residence (it was, but as good as that is, it is not the purpose of this blog), but partly also on the off-chance that I might catch a glimpse of the otter that a visitor casually mentioned having seen in Ivy Silt Pond this morning.

I didn’t see an otter.

I saw THREE!

Watched over by a kingfisher perched over the water we watched three otters playing in and out of the reeds for about 5 minutes as they worked their way from the bottom of the pond to about midway along at which point they disappeared into the reeds and did not re-materialize.

Magic!

Haven’t stopped grinning since!

1000 and Still Going!

As the others have headed off for Christmas I get to blog today and this is the 1000th post on this version of the Blashford Blog! We started this WordPress blog in November 2011, since when the 999 posts have had 397,501 views. We have covered lots of wildlife, loads of events and the continuing Herculean work of the great Blashford Volunteers, education and craft activities, birthday parties and the pop up café, there has been a lot going on and there continues to be.

Over this time we have seen a good few changes of personnel, although Jim has remained constant throughout and I have only made brief forays elsewhere. The reserve has passed its 20th year and the partnership which has made the whole reserve possible continues. Regular readers will know that the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust manages the reserve on land (and water) belonging to Bournemouth Water and Wessex Water and that our work is also supported by New Forest District Council. Together we are able to provide a popular nature reserve and a busy education program and hopefully we will continue to do so for many years more.

More change is on the horizon, soon I hope to be able to report the opening of the new path between the main car park and Goosander hide, this will provide a circular route round the whole reserve for the first time. This will also add a fair patch of extra dry land to the reserve and in time might develop into interesting habitat for insects as well as providing nesting area for lapwing and little ringed plover.

If you ventured out today you will know that the morning was one for staying inside. The afternoon was better though and I ventured over to Tern hide in the late afternoon where the gull roost was large and mobile, I could not see the ring-billed gull but it was probably there somewhere. I did see at least 8 yellow-legged gull and 40 pochard. Yesterday I did an “In to roost” event and we saw about 2000 or so starling come in, tonight either I missed them or they went elsewhere.

One bird that comes to roost each evening is goosander and I recently tried putting out a trailcam to see if I could catch them displaying, it turns out I could not, but I did get a few on camera.

goosanders

goosander gathering at dusk

I also got one shot of a female looking under the water, something they often do to see if there are any tasty looking fish in range.

goosander-looking-underwater

Just taking a look

Mostly though I just got pictures of rippling water or coot.

coot

a typical trailcam coot shot

My best picture today was of one of the many fungi that are again coming up all over the place. I think it is stag’s horn or candle snuff, but it did seem to be growing on leaves rather than wood. This close up shot shows how drops of water can act like lenses.

wet-fungus

Candle-snuff fungus with rain drops.

At dusk I counted at least 121 roosting cormorant on Ivy Lake along with one great white egret, I think it was “Walter” but I could not see any rings in the gloom.

I also have a little late news from yesterday, when there was an otter swimming in Ivy lake as we opened up the Ivy South hide, it was not close but we got to watch it for several minutes as it swam along and dived near the southern shore. We called Jim, who rushed down, arriving just after it had gone up the bank, so his ambition to one day have a good view of an otter at Blashford remains intact.

Lastly there was a break-in to a car in the main car park yesterday afternoon. It would appear that the culprit was watching as valuables were stowed into the boot of the car, so knew exactly which car to attack and where to look. It is always wise not to leave anything of value on show, but this also reminds us to remember that you might be being watched too. I would also ask that if you spot anyone looking suspicious in or around the car parks or elsewhere on the reserve do please let us know, along with as much information as you can easily and safely add. Luckily this is a very rare event at the reserve, but I am very keen that we keep it that way!

Last of all, I would like to thank all of you blog post readers, followers, especially those who comment (it is always good to know what you think) and the senders of the many superb pictures.

 

“What’s On?” at Blashford…

…well quite a lot actually!

“Walking Picnics” are back with the Pop-up Cafe tomorrow (Sunday 18th December), although Christine will probably be manning the cakes and refreshments by herself as Nigel is more likely to be involved with the Young Naturalists group who are meeting tomorrow a week earlier than their usual meeting date of the last Sunday of the month. Rightly or wrongly we weren’t convinced that there would be a big turn out on 25th December!

That will be the last activity until Wildlife Tots on January 2nd, although the reserve and centre will be open as usual everyday except Christmas Day itself.

Thanks to a combination of birders restarting their year lists and families out for the traditional New Years Day walk, the 1st January is typically the reserves busiest day of the year – if the weather is fair. This year there will be an added incentive to visit the reserve, even if the weather is less than perfect, because it is the first Sunday of the month and therefore the Pop-up Cafe will be open again! A combination of a lovely walk on a lovely nature reserve combined with a generous slice of one of Christine’s cakes all washed down with a mug of hot coffee or tea could be the perfect hangover cure!

In the New Year there is a busy program of walks, courses and activities planned. The next “What’s On?” covering January-March was emailed to the printers yesterday but for a sneak preview you can download or print your own copy here: 161207-blashford-whats-on-jan-mar-ts

Currently the reserve is relatively quiet, as it tends to be in the run up immediately before Christmas, although there is still a steady flow of visitors dropping in for a brief visit throughout the day as they escape the hustle and bustle of shopping and other preparations.

There’s certainly always something to see; yesterday opening up I saw water rail and bittern from Ivy North Hide and heard a very otter like splash from Ivy Silt Pond. In keeping with tradition I didn’t actually see an otter of course, but I’m 90% sure that is what it would have been!

This morning Ibsley Water was largely obscured by mist, but 5 handsome drake goldeneye were all close to the shore in front of Tern Hide and easy to see and enjoy. Didn’t see a bittern this morning (although one was reported again later on, so still there!), but had a lovely view of a roe buck silhouetted against a misty skyline among the tree’s on top of the bank from Woodland Hide.

The unexpected highlight today however was that of a tawny owl flying in the alder carr at the back of the centre when I went round the back to open up the shutters. Although not an uncommon bird at Blashford the linear nature of the woodland on the reserve is such that even at night you don’t always hear them if you are at the “wrong end” of their territory and I certainly haven’t seen one by day on site before.

Coastal Bird and Wildlife Spotting

Yesterday was a great wildlife spotting day. On opening up Tern Hide, a male Goldeneye was clearly visible on Ibsley Water and this was soon followed by views of an otter on the far side of Ivy Silt Pond, a first for me at Blashford and a great start to the day.

It was then time to head over to Keyhaven Marshes with our Young Naturalists, on our first outing from Blashford Lakes.

minibus

Young Naturalists on our first outing to Keyhaven, raring to go on a great bird spotting adventure

We got off to a great start, with views of a juvenile marsh harrier from the car park and even better views once we had started walking of it hunting over the reed bed. We also watched a fox making its way through scrub and grassland, disturbing the birds as it got closer to them.

group

In total, we clocked a grand figure of 74 different species, including a great white egret, 2 Dartford warbler, a peregrine, a ruff, Mediterranean gull, eider and red-breasted merganser. A number of species were present in large flocks, such as golden plover, knot, dunlin, wigeon, teal, black-tailed godwit and lapwing. The bird spot of the day though had to go to Jackson, who spotted 3 spoonbill flying over. We kept our eyes peeled for them as we carried on walking and had distant views of them feeding out on the salt marsh.

The find that excited the group the most however, was this dead juvenile Brent goose, close enough to the footpath for Bob to reach so we could take a closer look. On close inspection it appeared to have perished from natural causes as there were no obvious signs of predation. The bird would likely have hatched somewhere on the Taymyr peninsula, in northern Siberia, making the long journey here to overwinter on our warmer shores. Whilst many do survive the journey, this goose had a somewhat sadder ending!

Thanks to Bob for joining us for the day and providing a wealth of local site and bird watching knowledge, and to Nigel for driving the minibus.

hurst-castle

Hurst Castle with the Isle of Wight behind

 

Otterly missed it again…

There was a very autumnal feel to this morning – as I drove to work through mist and foggy patches the diffuse light really reinforced and emphasised  the changing colour of the tree canopy across the forest and it is definitely a bit cooler in the mornings. Cool enough that a combination of that, the damp in the air and a stinking cold and tiredness from number 3 not sleeping because of his stinking cold, meant that today I even resorted to wearing trousers! For regular visitors to the reserve that is usually the first sign of winter drawing nearer…*

The fog (mist?) meant that the far side of Ibsley Water could not be seen first thing, but Walter (“our” great white egret) was very handily on the near shore just to the right of Tern Hide again this morning where he was somewhat disdainfully watching a couple of grey herons having a bit of a set too over a stretch of adjacent shore line.

The light trap did not hold a huge amount this morning – a dead minotaur beetle, a couple of large caddis flies and on the moth front, a chestnut, a couple of red-line quakers and common wainscots, a common marbled carpet and, keeping to the autumnal theme, a November moth:

november-moth-2

And finally, in keeping with true Blashford tradition, I narrowly missed out on seeing another otter this morning… approaching Ivy South Hide to open up, a visitor scanning Ivy Silt Pond mouthed “otter” as we got closer to him. He had just watched it chase and catch a large carp. We (volunteer Jacki and I) saw nothing! Having opened the hide we did give it a good 20 minutes or so but apart from hearing a (very large!) splash followed by the sight of a mini-tidal wave of ripples emanating from a different part from that which we were watching (of course!) which could have been otter, and a flurry of splashes from smaller fish jumping, we saw nothing… maybe next time?!

Still, nice to know it/they are still around, even if they continue to elude me.

*For non-regular visitors to the reserve I should perhaps point out that my resorting to trousers is in place of the shorts that I normally can be seen wearing throughout much of the rest of the year, not that I am wandering around the nature reserve a naturist mistaken for a naturalist!

Getting ‘Otter

The last couple of days have really warmed up and you get the feeling that spring has really set in. The oak trees are coming into leaf and well before the ash too, so if you believe the rhyme we should be in for a warm summer. The warm weather has resulted in another one of our emperor moth hatching out, this time a male.

the Emperor

You can see the feathery antennae which are how he “smells” the air for the female’s pheromones.

There have also been  a lot more butterflies and other insects out and about, I saw several peacock and brimstone today and this slightly tattered comma.tattered comma

There are also other insects, although not as many as I would have expected, hoverflies seem very few, apart from the drone-fly Eristalis pertinax here posing on a cowslip.

Eristalis pertinax on cowslip

The spring flowers are moving on, the wild daffodil are almost all over and the bluebells are starting, less spectacular but still attractive are the tiny flowers of moschatel, or town-hall clock.

Mochattel

Yesterday I cam across a lot of tiny round growths on a tree stump, some with pale lumps on top, presumably the reproductive phase of something, I am not sure what, perhaps a slime mould? It is not a great picture,  but they were very, very small.

odd things

The winter birds have been continuing to go, I could not find any goldeneye today and the wigeon are down to a handful and even the shoveler down to a few tens. The Slavonian grebe may actually have gone as well, unusually it was asleep in the middle of the lake yesterday evening, quite at odds with usual behaviour and I am guessing it was having a good rest before flying off. On the other side of the coin there was a common tern today, tantalisingly it was a ringed bird, but I could not read the ring. There has also been a welcome return by Cetti’s warbler to the Ivy silt pond, after a long absence.

However the highlight of the last two days came yesterday as I was heading to open Ivy South hide, I noticed some commotion in the water beside the path and guessed maybe it was a cormorant, coot or maybe a moorhen. It was close by so I stopped and looked down over a tree stump and there just 2.5m away were two otter they looked up at me for perhaps five seconds, then dived off to go under some overhanging trees, some 10m away. I phoned the office but by the time Jim and Tracy had arrived they had headed off across the pond and out of sight. I could have got a great picture, but actually would not have done, by the time I had got the camera out and ready they would have gone, so instead I enjoyed a fabulous close encounter. The only close-up picture of a mammal I can offer is this young rabbit snapped with my 60mm macro lens today.

bunny

 

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.