Tern Hide open…

…but only if you are wearing wellies!

The rain on Tuesday night, on top of what has generally been a wet few weeks, was enough to bring the Dockens Water up higher than I have seen it for about four years. Although by no means as high as I have seen it in the past, it was sufficiently up that Ellingham Drove was within its flood plain and, unfortunately, that means that the main car park was too, as the river flows along the road until it reaches the roadside entrance to the reserve at which point it does what water does and flows downhill and into the car park. With groundwater levels now very high it is likely to take a little while for the flood water remaining in the car park to soak away so, for now at least, the Main car park remains closed.

The outer gates to the car park are now open however, so please do park here for the next few days until we are able to open the car park proper again – as I anticipate that with the favourable weather forecast for the weekend, coupled with the Centre classroom playing host to the last Pop Up Cafe of this winter season, we are likely to see  lots of visitors, and parking on the Centre side of the reserve alone is unlikely to meet the demand for parking places – and Christine’s sausage rolls!.

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Please park beyond the roadside entrance gates along the approach to the car park for the next few days until we are able to open the main car park up again. 

 

 

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Despite this, the flood water has subsided quite significantly since Wednesday morning  so today Tern Hide has been opened, although with several inches of water across the width of the car park you can only get to it (and the viewing platform) with wellies – and a slow, careful walk too avoid “bow waves”!

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The route to Tern Hide from the footpath across the car park. Wellies essential!

The view from Ibsley Water this morning saw it as full as I have ever seen it I think. The photo below shows just how little of the small island nearest the Tern Hide there is left just poking up above the water! It still has black-necked grebe and long-tailed duck and the valley still has a sizable startling murmuration – although yesterday at least it seems to have split into two with half of the starlings north of Mockbeggar Lane and the other half in the reed bed behind Lapwing Hide.

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Ivy Lake however is still the place to go if you aren’t worried about seeing particular birds, but do want to just sit and watch lots of wildlife:

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As always our visitors take far better pictures than me so here now with some brilliant kingfisher pictures taken by Jon Mitchell from Ivy South Hide last weekend:

Kingfisher 2 by Jon Mitchell (2)Kingfisher 1 by Jon Mitchell (1)

Spooked ducks by Jon Mitchell

I know these aren’t kingfishers! In between the kingfisher posing for portraits, something in the lake – assumed to be an otter – disturbed all of the wildfowl. Gives you some idea of just how many birds are on Ivy Lake  at present.

Our Welcome Volunteer Doug Masson spent a few hours in Ivy South Hide on Wednesday this week too, and got these lovely shots of Cetti’s warbler – images Bob admitted to being quite jealous of, as, despite his best efforts, he has yet to get any Cetti’s to match these!

Cetti's warbler by Doug MassonCetti's warbler 2 by Doug Masson

Elsewhere on the reserve, and on more of a macro scale than the bird life, the lichen is all looking absolutely fantastic after all of this wet weather. An assemblage of species which can appear quite grey and lifeless during the summer when it is dry, is now fresh and vibrant and really brings a vivid splash of colour to what can otherwise appear to be a fairly drab landscape – and nowhere more so than the edge of the lichen heath where this picture of Cladonia sp. was taken:

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For spring colour however nothing can rival the scarlet elf cup fungi which thrive so well on the wet decaying logs in and around our woodlands. We don’t normally expect to see much evidence of it until a little later in the year in February, but there is actually already quite a few of the fruiting bodies to be seen:

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Recently on the Reserve

There is a good range of species around the lakes at present, although numbers are not very high. Ibsley Water does not have a lot of wildfowl this winter due to rather weak water-weed growth, but what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in variety. The long-tailed duck has been showing well at times near Goosander and Tern hides and there is now a black-necked grebe frequenting the northern shore of the lake. Recent rain has resulted in some local flooding in the Avon Valley, conditions which lead to increases in numbers of pintail and black-tailed godwit, both of which will visit Ibsley Water during the day. Recently there have been 70 or more pintail and up to 400 godwit at times on the lake. In addition we have a wintering common sandpiper and at least 1 water pipit, both sometimes right in front of Tern Hide.

By contrast Ivy Lake has been very busy with large numbers of wildfowl with hundreds of gadwall, wigeon and coot. There have also been up to 4 great white egret, including “Walter”. Cetti’s warbler seem to be at an all time high on the reserve with one even using the woodland near the Centre and frequently in the vegetation beside the dipping pond. There have been a number of firecrest around, with the hollies along the Dockens Water a favourite location, this very fine picture was sent in last week.

Firecrest by Doug Masson

Firecrest by Doug Masson

Doug also sent in a nice shot of a female shoveler, a duck that is present in only moderate numbers this winter so far.

Shoveler by Doug Masson

Shoveler by Doug Masson

Each winter for the last few years we have had two apprentices from the New Forest National Park working on the reserve for a couple of months, they provide valuable assistance to me on days when I have no volunteer working parties. The apprentices have been doing great work recently, laying two sections of hedge along the western side of Ellingham Lake and on Friday we took to the water and cleared three of the islands on the western side of Ibsley Water of their annual vegetation.

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A section of hedge being prepared for laying.

On Saturday I ran a gull identification workshop in partnership with Hampshire Ornithological Society. These things are rather hit and miss when it comes to going out to see the gulls, so much depends upon the weather and even then the gulls may decide to roost distantly from the hides. We did not find any unusual gulls, but the long-tailed duck, black-necked grebe, goosander roost and a very fine peregrine were all highlights. I was with a group at Tern Hide and we had the peregrine perch on a post close to the hide.

peregrine

Peregrine perched close to Tern Hide

Other recent sightings have included a regular female marsh harrier, a modest starling roost to the north of Ibsley Water, a young female scaup on Rockford Lake and an otter near Ivy South hide, although an American mink was seen there at the weekend. The Ibsley Water gull roost has contained 6 or more yellow-legged gull, an adult Caspian gull and up to 2 Mediterranean gull.

Round up of recent events

So far each month this year has seen us recording a record number of visitors to the reserve. October may prove to be the exception, due, no doubt, to it being generally rather wet and gloomy. It hasn’t deterred everyone however and those visitors who have braved the rain have reported/recorded some good sightings – including the following by one of our Welcome Volunteers, Doug, taken a couple of weeks ago on one of the few days where there was actually some sunshine(!):

great crested grebe by Doug Massongrass snakes by Doug Massongrass snake by Doug MassonTawny by Doug Masson

I think the grass snakes may actually have given up and found somewhere to hibernate over winter by now but they had been pretty active outside Ivy South Hide in the usual spot. When I say pretty active I actually mean unusually VERY active, particularly given the time of the year… the picture of the three together above were actually mating and another visitor had reported seeing the same behaviour a few days prior to Doug capturing it on “film”, although all of the guide books suggest that this usually only happens in or around April soon after they have emerged from hibernation.

The tawny owl shot is fabulous and Doug is the second photographer that I am aware of who has been fortunate enough to chance upon one of “our” owls hiding out on the reserve during the day this year.

Visitors to the Centre may have had a fiddle with the wildlife camera controller fixed up to the TV in the lobby and discovered that additional camera’s are now live – in addition to the original pond and compost camera’s and the new Woodland Hide feeder camera, there is now a bird box camera, tawny owl box camera and an artificial badger sett camera.

Being new and the wrong time of year, there is absolutely nothing going on on these new additions, but fingers crossed, they will see activity next year! Actually, I say there is nothing going on in them, but there is a lovely cobweb across the front of the badger cam and at times the spider is in evidence too 😉

Out on the water autumn arrivals are dropping in in dribs and drabs but goosander are now to be seen on a daily basis on Ibsley Water as are teal, pochard and wigeon across the site. Walter and friends are still around too, although they have kept a low profile for much of this month. The great white egrets do seem to be back roosting on Ivy Lake near the cormorants again though with at least two birds around regularly and three individuals seen yesterday. Also on Ivy Lake Bob saw otter again when he locked up one evening last week. First otter sightings for a while that we are aware of and he saw it from both Ivy North and Ivy South Hide and the wildfowl saw it too – and were not very happy about it!

Not so good for our visitor numbers the wet weather has certainly been good for fungi, with fantastic displays of puffball species, parasol and fly agaric mushrooms in particular.

Puffballs by Daisy MeadowcroftParasol by Daisy MeadowcroftFly agaric by Daisy Meadowcroft

There have been occasional nice beefsteak fungi too, but sadly foragers did for the best of these before reaching their prime.

I haven’t got anything against the gathering and consumption of wild fungi personally and have been known to indulge myself on more than one occasion, but I only ever collect a few specimens from locations where that species is abundant and I always ensure that plenty are left to complete their life-cycle and spore. It is very unfortunate that, as with many pastimes, a few selfish and/or thoughtless individuals spoil it for the many.

Feel free to question the actions of visitors foraging at Blashford, or let staff/volunteers know, as, unless part of an organised fungus group survey, they will almost certainly not have permission to be collecting!

Half-term next week and we have “Wild Days Out” activity days on Tuesday and Thursday and, if we get any more bookings (they’re rather thin at the moment) we have a Stargazing event with Fordingbridge Astronomers on Tuesday evening.

And finally, for lovers of fine food everywhere, we are very pleased to announce the most welcome and long-awaited return of the Pop Up Café in the Centre classroom a week on Sunday (Sunday 3rd November)!

Nigel and Christine from Walking Picnics are back serving hot drinks and delicious home baked cakes and savoury snacks from 10.30am-3.30pm on New Years Day and the first and third Sundays of November, December and January with possible additional dates later in the year to follow. Enjoy!

30 Days Wild – Day 16

Since Thursday evening something dramatic has happened to the breeding gulls on Ibsley Water, they have completely abandoned their nesting island. I know there were lots of large chicks still on there, so I can only assume that a ground predator reached the island and predated a lot of them. Perhaps most likely is that a fox swam out there and spent some time wandering about killing chicks, but it could have been an otter or mink. Luckily some of the chicks had already flown, so this was not a complete colony loss.

The moth trap overnight caught rather little, unsurprisingly as it was again very windy, with a few showers. There was one notable species though, a lunar yellow underwing, this is a species of very dry grassland and regularly found at only two sites in Hampshire. Curiously I have several times caught them on nights that would generally be thought of as poor for moths, I once caught three in a night of high winds and rain when the total catch was only twelve moths.

lunar yellow underwing

lunar yellow underwing

Wet and windy weather is not good for insects, unsurprising really as they mostly like warm sunshine! I found one casualty in the new Centre pond yesterday.

Emperor dead

Dead emperor dragonfly

The rain and wind has brought down a few trees, a combination of wet ground and a heavy weight of leaves making them much more unstable. In the afternoon we suffered a power cut when a tree fell on the overhead power lines, hopefully to be restored by the start of the new working week. All trees will fall eventually and most will go onto have a value for wildlife, either by continuing to grow or by providing a deadwood resource. One group that uses deadwood are the slime moulds and I found what I think was one on a dead willow stump.

slime mould possibly

A slime mould (possibly)

The patchy sunshine brought out good numbers of insects and other warmth loving species, after a few days in hiding they were keen to get active if they could.

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grass snake on the stump at Ivy South Hide

 

I saw three different large female grass snake during the day, no doubt tempted out by the sunny spells, but not so warmed up that they were really active.

Other insects out and about included this distinctive click beetle.

Agrypnus murinus

Agrypnus murinus

There were also quiet a lot of solitary bees about, including this yellow-face bee.

yellow faced bee

yellow-face bee (not sure which species)

 

Substitutes and Declines

It was feeling very spring-like today, I got very warm as I worked with the volunteers felling some grey alder beside the path to Lapwing Hide. These trees were planted as a “substitute” for native alder, which is not a hard tree to source, when the restoration planting was done after the gravel working ceased. Sadly truly native trees are not always specified in planting schemes, even when they are supposedly done for nature conservation and even when they are, substitutes are often allowed. Often even if the tree species is native they are not from a UK source, importing trees has brought us several diseases that have significantly impacted upon native woodland. These imports are also often adapted to a different climate so will flower or leaf earlier out of sync with native insects. Let’s have more native trees that are really native, ideally grown from the seed of trees as local to the planting site as possible.

wild daffodil

Wild daffodil just coming into flower, a good indicator of remaining ancient woodland at Blashford Lakes.

Having said all this planting trees is an often seriously over rated activity, if they establish well we end up with secondary woodland that will not be more than a pale shadow of an ancient woodland in even a thousand years. The best way to extend woodland cover is to allow existing ancient woods to grow outwards, letting them seed into neighbouring open ground, something that will happen naturally in most places if grazing or mowing are stopped. This way we will get locally adapted trees establishing where they will do best and other species can move out from the old wood into the new. It will also serve to buffer the older woodland and reduce the distance to the nearest neighbouring wood. I am prepared to make an exception for hedges though, so many of these have been lost that replanting is the only practical way to get them back, but the need for locally plant stock remains important.

There has been a good bit of coverage of the severe global decline in insect numbers in the media over the last few days and it is very alarming. A series of studies are now coming to very similar conclusions and these are that insects are in trouble globally with significant declines not just in developed western Europe but in tropical forests as well. Insects may be small but their abundance and diversity mean they are vital to the effective functioning of almost all terrestrial ecosystems. They are predators and prey, decomposers, pollinators and grazers, in fact they are almost everywhere and everywhere they are, they perform essential functions. I have run a moth trap for many years monitoring the species caught before releasing them and I can attest to a great drop in numbers over the years, I see as many species but none in great abundance as I used to.

pale brindled beauty

Pale brindled beauty, a typical late winter species, there were two in the trap last night.

Over the last few weeks things have been a bit hectic on the reserve with work going on all over the place, the new pond is being dug behind the Education Centre and preparations continuing for the installation of the new Tern hide next month. We are doing our best to keep the reserve up and running in the meantime, but there will be occasional interruptions to normal service, such as temporary closure of the main car park or limitations on the use of parts of the car parks.

Out on the reserve two bittern have been seen a number of times recently at Ivy North hide as have two great white egret. I am especially keen to try to record the last sighting of “Walter” our colour-ringed great white egret, he usually heads off back to France around this time of year so any definite sightings gratefully received. At the weekend an otter was seen at Ivy North hide and this morning I have very, very, brief views of one near Ivy South hide, so it is well worth keeping an eye out.

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A roosting great white egret with lots of cormorant, it might have been “Walter” but I could not see the legs to check for rings.

 

Whilst I was Away

A real frost this morning, the cold going well with the arrival of goldeneye and goosander on Ibsley Water. There were four goldeneye reported yesterday but today there were at least seven, including two adult drakes. The goosander required patience, as it was not until dusk that I got the full count, 20 were present around lunchtime, but at the end of the day I counted 51 gathered to roost.

Having not been on the reserve for a week, I was catching up on sightings whilst I was away. Without doubt the top spot goes to a report of a shore lark seen right in front of Tern hide at around 11:00 on 23rd October, a really good bird anywhere in Hampshire and probably the first ever inland record for the county. Other notable records have been of two marsh harrier seen on several days, including today, a little gull and a cattle egret seen yesterday, a water pipit reported a couple of times and the bittern, on one occasion seen on the Ivy Silt Pond at the same time as an otter. Great white egret are still being seen all around the lakes and there are clearly at least three around, including “Walter”.

Whittling wands…

If you have children or grand children you will be well aware that it’s half term holidays for Dorset and Hampshire children this week – and to be honest even if you haven’t by now you have probably worked out that it is given the increased number of children at the swimming pool/around town!

So that’s our excuse for the reduction in blog activity this week – I was off the first half of the week, Bob’s been off all week and Tracy has been holding the fort solo much of the week and dealing with everything that comes up on a daily basis and therefore not managed to find time to blog as well…

On the wildlife front the most remarkable thing really to happen this week so far is that as of the latter half of this week, and today in particular, Autumn really has settled in. I even put the heating back on in the Education Centre yesterday! That said earlier in the week we were still seeing common darter dragonflies and the odd peacock butterfly on the wing in the sunshine and there has been up to two swallows around Tern Hide most of the week as well. I didn’t see one this morning, but was welcomed by one huddled up on the hide roof yesterday. Bird wise there has been marsh harrier around on and off, including two individuals earlier in the week and we still have three great white egrets (including Walter of course…). Wildfowl numbers continue to creep up, most noticeably with an arrival of pochard and up to five goosander recorded in the Tern Hide sightings book too. Elsewhere there have been one off sightings of both bittern and otter in Ivy Silt Pond…

As usual half term holidays allow opportunity for Tracy and I to get out on site and play… this weeks “Wild Days Out” were themed “Wild Witches and Wizards” and we both had a lovely time – I’m reasonably confident that the children did too!

Beginning with an indoor craft activity whilst everyone arrived and was signed in origami bats, cobweb making and general colouring in were all well received. I was particularly impressed by the small group of boys who took the bat template and then diligently both up and down scaled it:

Then we headed out in search of magical ingredients for our cauldron… who would have thought that we might find troll fur, fairy goblets and goblin eyeballs on our walk, but we did! These were then supplemented with other special finds which Tracy had hidden earlier and marked on a map to test the children’s (and Tracy’s!) orienteering skills… ground unicorn horn, dragons blood, pixie juice, troll snot, charred bone and more all discovered all of the ingredients went into the cauldron and were stirred. All very exciting, but definitely time for lunch afterwards. Must have been the troll snot whetting our appetite…

Post lunch we turned our attention to wand whittling and broom making with one enterprising individual foregoing a broom in favour of a “Gandalf staff”, complete with clay and plant decorated head and ornamentation. Not sure he’s ever been so quiet and it has to be said the same was true of all the children while they carefully whittled their wands. Such concentration!

181025WDO_WildWitches by J Day (8)

Finally there was just time (okay, actually there wasn’t quite time but we did it anyway and over ran by a few minutes!) to light the fire to bake some campfire “toffee apples” to finish our day. They looked pretty awful but did taste delicious (trouble with running a bit late and trying to cook on the fire while it was still blazing rather than having died down to perfect cooking embers). Tracy and I were more than happy enough to polish off the spares anyway!

181025WDO_WildWitches by J Day (10)

No Wild Days Out over Christmas but they will be back at February half term with a bird theme… bookings will be taken online on the Trusts “shop” from mid January:  https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product-category/events/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

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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.