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/

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Back to Beaulieu…

At the end of November we headed back to the Countryside Education Trust‘s Home Farm in Beaulieu for another two night Young Naturalists residential. With a few different people to our last visit in May, we had plans to re-visit some of the activities and places we enjoyed earlier in the year, whilst also doing something a little bit different. Here’s what we got up to…

After meeting on the Friday night, we woke up early on Saturday morning to a heavy frost. We had set some mammal traps the night before in the hope of catching a wood mouse or a bank vole, but given how cold it was overnight were relieved to find these were all empty!

Mammal trapping

Emptying our empty mammal traps!

Jess and Megan went off in search of some frosty photos whilst we cooked breakfast:

We then headed over to the Needs Ore Marshes, which form part of the North Solent National Nature Reserve for a beach clean in the sunshine. The group spent about an hour litter picking smaller items (sadly and not surprisingly there was an awful lot of plastic on the shoreline) and also dragging some of their more larger finds back along the shore to where we had based ourselves, including a rather large lobster pot and a rather large sheet of plastic! They didn’t seem too phased when I said we had to take everything back to the track to be collected on Monday by Reserves Officer Adam Wells…

We managed to find time to explore the shoreline for some more natural finds, discovering this sea urchin and oystercatcher skull amongst lots of other shells, crabs legs and more:

After lunch we headed over to the bird hides to see what else we could spot. We had begun a bird list that morning and had already spotted 33 different species on the drive to Needs Ore marshes and whilst on the shoreline: black headed gull, mute swan, mallard, blackbird, dunnock, rook, pheasant, feral pigeon, wood pigeon, peacock (!), red legged partridge, jackdaw, magpie, blue tit, long tailed tit, buzzard, lapwing, brent goose, oystercatcher, pied wagtail, knot, meadow pipit, common tern, little egret, chaffinch, stonechat, cormorant, turnstone, wheatear, robin, crow, kestrel and raven.

Heading to the hides

Heading to the hides

Whilst in and around the hides we added the following birds to our list: grey heron, curlew, coot, wigeon, Canada goose, black tailed godwit, shoveler, starling, goldfinch, gadwall, great tit, teal, tufted duck, pochard, pintail, shelduck, goldcrest, goosander, song thrush, wren, herring gull and greater black backed gull.

The most exciting spots however were the marsh harrier, which we watched hunting over the reed bed and a scaup:

Scaup by Megan Conway

Scaup by Megan Conway

We had been very lucky with the weather, although cold the sky had been a beautiful blue all day and we made the most of the photo opportunities the light provided us with.

sunlight-through-the-reedbed-by-jess-parker 2

Sunlight through the reed bed by Jess Parker

moon-by-jess-parker 2

Moon by Jess Parker

lobster-pot-by-jess-parker 2

Lobster pot by Jess Parker

We then headed back to Home Farm, for an early evening astronomy talk by Steve Tonkin, who gave us a guided tour of the night sky and entertained us with tales of Greek mythology.

Astronomy talk

Astronomy talk with Steve Tonkin

After the talk we headed outside to observe the night sky using binoculars and a selection of telescopes Steve had bought with him, spotting Cassiopeia, the Seven Sisters and the Andromeda galaxy. Whilst outside Talia set up her camera and took some fantastic photos of the sky.

On the Sunday, we met James from the CET for another fun farm feed session, assisting with some of the feeding tasks and collecting eggs. It was brilliant to once again get up close to the different animals.

We were then joined by Paul from Amews Falconry, who delighted the group with another fantastic talk on the history of falconry and a spectacular flying display. We were able to see up close a peregrine falcon, North American red tailed hawk, kestrel, European eagle owl, harris hawk and gyrfalcon and learnt lots about each bird.

Harris hawk by Talia Felstead

Harris hawk by Talia Felstead

European eagle owl by Talia Felstead

European eagle owl by Talia Felstead

Gyrfalcon 2 by Talia Felstead

Gyrfalcon by Talia Felstead

Gyrfalcon by Talia Felstead

Gyrfalcon by Talia Felstead

Peregrine falcon by Talia Felstead

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Harris hawk by Talia Felstead

North American red tailed hawk by Talia Felstead

Whilst listening to Paul’s talk, we spotted house sparrow and marsh tit which took our grand total of bird species for the weekend up to 59.

In the afternoon, we headed into the forest to meet Craig Daters from the New Forest National Park Authority, to discover more about the wild places on our doorstep. We met Craig at the pony sales yard and had a look around, learning more about commoning, conservation grazing and the New Forest pony.

NPA

Discovering more about the New Forest and commoning, with Craig from the New Forest National Park Authority

We then headed from Shatterford towards Denny Wood, pausing to discuss the New Forest’s different habitats, namely at this point heathland, mire and streams before reaching the woodland and engaging in some sensory activities:

After taking the time to explore this spot, something everyone in the group seemed to really enjoy, we discussed conservation designations with the help of a game and the different threats to national parks and other protected landscapes.

We had met up with Craig primarily as the group have begun to work towards their John Muir Award, and whilst the 10 minute video clip we watched on the Friday evening was a good introduction to the award, it was great to get outside and think about John Muir, the award and the special qualities of the wild spaces on our doorstep with someone else, so thank you Craig for joining us! We will be exploring other parts of the Forest over the coming months as we work towards completing the award.

It was then time to head back to Home Farm at the end of another busy weekend. the group had a lovely time, with their particular highlights being the time spent on the shore near Needs Ore and the activities in the Forest with Craig.

Shoreline

Exploring the shoreline

Thanks to Talia, Megan and Jess for taking lots of great photos over the weekend and for sharing them with me so I could include them on the blog. Thanks too to Craig from the New Forest NPA, James from the CET, Steve Tonkin and Paul from Amews Falconry for joining us and enthusing the group with their different specialisms.

Finally, thank you to volunteers Michelle, Geoff, Emily and Jonathan for giving up their weekend to join us, we definitely couldn’t offer a residential without your help and hard work!

Our Young Naturalists group is supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.