Improvement update and birds, birds, birds!

Just a quick reminder to anyone who hasn’t visited us in a while or missed any previous blogs or onsite signage, improvements on the reserve are now well on the way so if you do decide to visit us soon, please bear with us!

The main nature reserve car park is open as usual, however Tern Hide is no longer there (it was dismantled at the start of the month so there was plenty of time to do the all important ground works) and the installation of the new hide will not take place until next month – if all goes to plan it should be open by the end of March.

The new pond by the Education Centre should be finished soon and the Welcome Hut which arrived on Monday should be completed by the end of the week – with both these works taking place so close to the Centre, along with deliveries arriving over the next few days for other aspects of our improvement works, car parking at the Centre is limited. If you are able to park in the main car park and walk across to this side of the nature reserve please do!

The Education Centre itself, Lapwing, Goosander, Ivy North, Ivy South and the Woodland hides are all open as usual.

Last week saw the delivery and installation of some brilliant chainsaw carved sculptures by Simon Groves, a chainsaw artist from West Sussex (to see some photos of these being enjoyed by some of our younger visitors, please read on!) and on Sunday our Young Naturalists worked with willow artist Kim Creswell on three dragonfly sculptures which will also be added to our newly named ‘Wild Walk‘ along with more of Kim’s wonderful work. A separate blog about Young Naturalists will follow!

On the bird front, two Bittern were seen from Ivy North hide on Sunday and at least one has been seen from there this week, including excellent views today, and a pair of Redpoll continue to visit the feeders at the Woodland hide.

And birds are the real reason for this blog, as last week was half term and it was a busy bird filled one, with a family event weaving willow bird feeders and two bird themed Wild Days Out where we were lucky enough to get a little closer to some of our native owls and raptors, courtesy of Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre, made a lot of bird feeders and visited the Woodland and Ivy South hides in whatever time we had left in a girls vs boys who could spot the most species challenge.

We were joined by John from Liberty’s on Wednesday and Jayson on Thursday, with both giving brilliant talks to the children about the different birds they had bought with them, encouraging them to ask questions and letting them stroke the owls, a definite highlight! On Wednesday we were treated to a Kestrel, Peregrine falcon, Golden eagle (which really was huge and delighted the children by going to the toilet in the classroom) and Barn owl and on Thursday saw a Tawny owl, Little owl (definitely my favourite), Kestrel, Peregrine falcon and Goshawk.

On both days the children loved seeing the birds up close and being able to stroke some of them, and they asked some very sensible questions. It was definitely a highlight and we would like to thank John and Jayson from Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre for taking the time to join us and supporting our Wild Days Out in this way. They once again very kindly demonstrated their birds free of charge to support Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, something they were only too pleased to be able to do as long standing “Wildlife Investors” of the Trust.

To find out how your business can support the work of the Trust at Blashford Lakes, or anywhere across the two counties, follow the link or contact Steph Watson on 01489 774400 or email Steph.Watson@hiwwt.org.uk.

Liberty’s owls and raptors were once again a hard act to follow, but whilst we had been waiting for them to arrive the children had been busy making popcorn bird feeders by threading popcorn onto a piece of wire, and fat balls using a suet, bird seed and sultana mix, so we headed outside to make our feeders for the fat balls to go into.

On the Thursday we had a few children who were bird feeder pro’s, having already made one either the day before or earlier in the month at Wildlife Watch, so they had a go at a different design, weaving one solely from willow instead of using the wooden disc base.

All three feeder designs looked great and everyone went away with two fabulous feeders. We then had just enough time to visit both the Woodland hide and Ivy South hide in two teams, boys vs girls, to see who could spot the most species of bird. On Thursday we even had time to walk a slightly longer loop so we could admire the new chainsaw sculptures that had been installed earlier in the week. The children loved them, with the badger in particular proving popular.

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Despite having photographic evidence of the boys using their binoculars to bird watch, I have to say the girls did spot more species both days, we were obviously being too competitive for photography! They also, rather sneakily, lulled Jim’s boys team into a false sense of security on the Thursday by making a right noise when the two teams crossed paths with each other, but up until this point had been super quiet and determined to see the most…

I know the boys did see a few bird species we didn’t see, but the girls’ lists over the two days included Coal tit, Great tit, Blue tit, Robin, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Long tailed tit, Goldfinch, Siskin, Blackbird, Greenfinch, Reed bunting, Jay, Jackdaw, Moorhen, Cormorant, Coot, Tufted duck, Great crested grebe, Black-headed gull, Mallard, Gadwall, Pochard, Collared dove, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Pheasant, Carrion crow, Grey heron, Little grebe and Wood pigeon. I was particularly impressed with Megan for spotting the treecreeper! It was pretty good for a quick bird watch and I know they all really enjoyed their day.

Our Wild Days Out will be back for the Easter holidays, where we will be heading out onto the reserve in search of our reptiles and amphibians. Bookings may be made on-line only and are taken 4-6 weeks in advance of the activities via: https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product-category/events/

Caught on Camera

It has been a busy week at Blashford Lakes with volunteer work parties on four days, despite unpromising weather we actually got a lot done. On Sunday we repaired some damaged sections of the boardwalk, Tuesday saw us felling some non-native grey alder trees, Thursday’s task was scrub clearance to increase habitat connectivity for reptiles and today we were clearing the shore of Ibsley Water to improve habitat for nesting lapwing next spring.

About ten days ago the apprentices put out a trailcam and today we got it in to look at the images. There were not a great many but the range of species captured was impressive. There was one shot of a passing fox, several of fallow deer and grey squirrel. Bird were fewer with one shot each of blackbird and blue tit, but several of tawny owl and on more than one night too. The picture quality was not great but the owl was landing in front of the camera, possibly to take small invertebrate prey.

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tawny owl caught on trailcam

Throughout the week I have been checking the roosting great white egret on Ivy Lake when I go to lock up the hides, I suspect there are as many as five around but still have yet to see more than four together, this evening there were three.

The rain today caused the Dockens Water to flood into Ivy Lake and it is now filling at last, hopefully the reedbed in front of Ivy North hide will have enough water for the bittern to favour this area soon, one was seen from there on Wednesday.

A feature of this winter is the unusual number of pochard on the lakes, or at least unusual for recent years. This morning there were 109 on Ivy Lake and at dusk at least 150. It appears that they gather on Ivy Lake in the late afternoon before flying off at dusk in groups of ten to twenty, probably to feed. At the same time the tufted duck, which used to roost on Ivy Lake also leave, I am not sure where they go but I did notice a lot fly in just as it got dark when I was counting the goosander from Goosander hide on Tuesday, I suspect they go to roost there rather than to feed. Walking back from Ivy South hide after locking up usually happens more or less in the dark at this time of year and a feature has been the squeaking calls of mandarin duck gathered on the silt pond, in the gloom I have just been able to make out as many as ten drakes displaying on some evenings.

The black-necked grebe has been seen daily on Ibsley Water as has at least one water pipit and green sandpiper. The grebe has been favouring the western shore to the north of the low islands, the water pipit and sandpiper the shore near Tern and Goosander hides. However for many visitors it has not been the rarer bird that have attracted to interest but the starling roost. The numbers are not exceptionally large but they can put on quiet a good show looking west into the last light of the setting sun. this evening they were especially spectacular, climbing high into the air in an effort to avoid a hunting peregrine.

Starlings 1

Starling murmuration starting to form over the trees west of Tern hide

Starlings 2

The gathering twisting to avoid a peregrine, there is a small group coming int to join them towards the top left.

Starlings 3

Some of the flock trying to funnel down into the roost site

Starlings 4

The peregrine was keeping the main flock high in the air but the draw of the roost was strong and they were falling down in a column whenever they could risk it.

Starlings 5

One group broke away in an exceptionally tight ball of birds and just dropped like a stone from the spiralling flock.

The starlings had all gone to roost by about 16:15, so if you want to give them a try I would try to arrive by 16:00 at the latest, viewing is good from the high point at the back of the main car park and possible, but sometimes less easy, from the Tern hide.