Listing, Lessons and Speculations

Like lots of people who look at wildlife I cannot resist keeping lists, not usually very thorough and I usually lose interest in about mid-February each year. So far I have kept going and find that I have seen 116 species of birds so far this year, all of them in Hampshire and at least 105 of them on visits to Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust reserves.

Of the 116 species I can see that five of them are introduced alien species (Canada goose, Egyptian goose, Mandarin duck, pheasant and red-legged partridge) and another an introduced population of a former native (greylag).  All of these  have been either introduced for “sport” or escaped from parkland collections.

Of the native species I am struck by the many species that have changed their status radically since I arrived in Hampshire. There are various reasons for this, the white trio of little egret (now breeding), great white egret (soon to be breeding here?) and spoonbill (perhaps likewise), have increased in number and range right across western Europe. The same could be said for Cetti’s warbler, avocet, yellow-legged gull and Mediterranean gull.

Birds of prey have increased, more or less across the board and seeing red kite, marsh harrier and peregrine is not now especially notable and buzzard has spread right across the county rather than being a New Forest bird. All of these species have benefited from a more benign environment, in which they are less exposed to harmful chemicals and suffer less persecution, at least in lowland England. One other species has gained from the same change is the raven, which now nests across most of the county. Goshawk has also colonised the county and benefited similarly, although the population is of escaped , or released, origin.

When I first came to Hampshire in 1978 there was no accepted record of ring-billed gull and I am not sure there was even such a thing as a Caspian gull thought about.

I estimate that if I had been doing the same thing forty years ago my list would most likely not have included at least 14 of those I have seen this year, so more than 10% of my list are birds that would have seemed remarkable then. Of course there would have been some species that I would have expected to see then by mid January, that we have now more or less lost, or at least which now need more particular seeking. For example Bewick’s swan, white-fronted goose, grey partridge, willow tit, corn bunting, yellowhammer and tree sparrow.

So listing may well be a rather pointless exercise in many ways but reflecting upon my list so far certainly tells a story of how much has changed and of course makes one think how much might change in the future. So what might a list in another forty years include?

I suspect we will have established populations of additional alien species, most likely is ring-necked parakeet (I suspect this will happen quite soon), but I think black swan may also get a firmer foothold too and Egyptian goose could become very common. Who knows perhaps even sacred ibis could make it over here in time if the continental populations develop uncontrolled.

Natural colonists that look like becoming regulars include, cattle egret and glossy ibis, both already occasional visitors. It is interesting to note the preponderance of wetland birds that are expanding their ranges. A bit of a wildcard might be the potential for a whole range of essentially  Pacific Arctic species to turn up as winter vagrants. The ice melt along the northern coast of Russia has opened up a route for many previously unconsidered species. The occurrence in Europe in recent years of slaty-backed gull hints at the potential for species to come via this route in years to come.

Unfortunately I think a lot of species are going to get much rarer. Coastal species will be under particular pressure, in forty years time there will be little or no saltmarsh along most of the Solent shoreline and much reduced mudflats, so wintering coastal wader populations will surely be much reduced. Couple this with and increase in “short-stopping”, which means that wintering birds coming from the north and east just don’t come so far in the increasingly mild winters. Overall I think it certain that the Solent will not be nearly so significant for wintering wetland birds.

This discussion of change is only considering the winter, our breeding birds could be in for at least as great a change, who knows I might speculate on this in a later blog.

 

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A Cold and Frosty Morning

Ivy Lake from Ivy South hide

Ivy Lake on a chill morning

Despite the chill, seven volunteers turned out today to do a dead hedging task at Blashford Lakes. I am a great fan of the dead hedge, when we are scrub cutting, or coppicing or just dealing lop and top it provides a great way to clear the branches without the damage caused by burning. Conservationists are great at leaving log piles for invertebrates, often forgetting that the smaller branches and twigs are home to even more species. In addition the dense tangle of a dead hedge provides cover for nesting birds, hibernating insects and also makes a good barrier. We use them as shelter to promote bramble, both as barrier features and habitat in its own right.

Out on the reserve on Ibsley Water the black-necked grebe was still present as were both pink-footed geese, although the juvenile looks very unwell. I counted 118 pochard, my largest count for some years, although I missed the goosander roost, a disappointment as I expect there are well over 100 now.  Near the Centre and at the Woodland hide there were a few brambling and one or two lesser redpoll. 

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a very poor record shot of the juvenile pink-footed goose

Dusk saw a somewhat reduced number of starling coming to roost, although they gave a good show thanks to being attacked by a peregrine. The gull roost included the regular ring-billed gull, although it seems there has been another bird seen recently, although I don’t think both have been seen on the same evening. “Walter” our great white egret was back on his dead alder roost on Ivy Lake near the cormorant roost, but there still seems to be no sign of a bittern yet.

I got an almost equally poor record shot of the black-necked grebe the other day as well, poor but still the best I have managed!

black-necked grebe

It will close with a last shot of the Ivy Silt Pond with almost perfect reflections in the calm chill of the morning as I opened up the hides.

silt pond reflections

Ivy Silt Pond reflections

Don’t forget the Pop-up cafe will be in again on New Years Day, see you there!

Birds and a Little More

This time of year is often a rather quiet one for wildlife, typically the summer visitors are gone and we are waiting for the winter birds to arrive. However at the moment the reserve has a lot to see, perhaps not in terms of numbers yet, but certainly in variety. Hampshire’s first ever lesser scaup seems to be settling down on Blashford Lake (aka Spinnaker Lake), which is part of the reserve, although it has no hides and is not often checked for birds by visitors.

On Ibsley Water the water pipit is being seen quite regularly from Tern hide, often close to the hide. Yesterday a pink-footed goose was spotted in the greylag flock, although origin is always hard to be certain of with geese, this is the time of year when birds migrating from Iceland can easily get lost, especially lone juveniles.

Brambling have been seen at the feeders in recent days raising the prospect that we are in for a “Finch Winter”. The couple of pictures below were sent in by Andy Tew, thanks Andy.

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brambling by Andy Tew

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Brambling by Andy Tew

When I have opened up Tern hide recently there has often been an adult peregrine perched close to the hide and David Stanley-Ward got the couple of pictures below, much better than my earlier efforts, despite being further away!

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Peregrine by David Stanley-Ward

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Peregrine by David Stanley-Ward

My person contribution to the days sightings and photographs is a little less animated and comes in the form of what I think is a new slime mould for the reserve, I know not the most immediately exciting life-forms, but they are very strange. This tiny one was found on the picnic table as I was eating lunch.

slime mould Physarum cinereum

Physarum cinereum – a slime mould

 

At Last

Ever since I started work at Blashford Lakes I had harboured a hope that I might find a lesser scaup on one of the lakes. This North American duck resembles scaup in pattern but is the size of a tufted duck, there are a number of other detail differences which allow certain separation from the many lookalike hybrid diving ducks that can muddy the water. Lesser scaup was a “mega-rarity”  on this side of the Atlantic twenty years ago and although more frequent now is still a rare bird. It had also never been recorded in Hampshire, despite having been seen in neighbouring counties, so was a likely candidate to turn up sometime soon.

So it was with some pleasure and a little personal disappointment, that I learnt that one had been found at Blashford last Saturday when I was away on holiday. In fact it now seems it was probably the “scaup” that was reported on Ivy Lake on Friday, although not accurately identified at that time.

The lesser scaup seems to be favouring Blashford Lake, aka Spinnaker Lake (the sailing lake) with occasional excursions to Snails Lake and Ivy Lake. If you do go to Blashford Lake to look for it please respect the sailing club, their car park is not a public access site so access there is at their discretion. It is possible to see the bird from the public footpath along the northern and western sides of the lake. Parking is not really possible along Ivy Lane so please use the nature reserve car park and walk down the Rockford/Ivy lake path, a bit of a walk, but not too far for such a fine bird.

Other birds around the reserve yesterday included the peregrine sitting on a post outside Tern hide first thing, along with a water pipit in the meadow pipit flock. Ibsley Water had at least 45 pochard, not a large count by historical standards, but quiet a few these days, there were also two goldeneye, my fist of the season, although I know they were seen on Friday.

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Early sunset over Ivy silt pond

The clocks going back will no doubt increase the intensity of gull watching, so watch this space for more rarities. The gull roost offers birders perhaps their best chance of finding a rarity, although it takes dedication and some skill to pick out the unusual.

 

A Lull

The last few days have been quiet, we are in an interim period, almost all the summer visitors and migrants have gone, but as yet, most of the wintering birds have yet to arrive. This reflected in this week’s sightings, a few chiffchaff remain, especially around the main car park. A juvenile ruff dropped into Ibsley Water for a day, but there are still only a few tens of wigeon around.

This does not mean there has been nothing to see though. Opening up Tern hide this week I have twice seen an adult peregrine perched on the small shingle island near the hide.

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adult peregrine

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peregrine, stretching before heading off

During the day on Friday the two New Forest National Park apprentices paid us a visit, they will be working at Blashford for three months from November. As it was their first visit we took a look around the reserve to see some of the areas they will be working in. The sun was out and it was remarkably warm, along the way we saw lots of butterflies, at one spot on the Dockens Water path we could see 4 red admiral, 5 speckled wood and a comma and we saw many more elsewhere along with a single peacock. There were also a few reptiles, including this very small adder, proof that they have bred successfully on the reserve again this year.

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“adderling”

Our best sighting though was when we visited the Tern hide, there was very little to see as all there attested and the lake looked at best sparsely dotted with birds. However I glanced at the shingle just in front of the hide and realised that with the couple of meadow pipit strolling around was a woodlark, my best views ever of this species.

I will end with a plea, at this time of year rats will be spreading out looking for a good place to winter, something we do not want them to do on the reserve if we can avoid it. To this end we try not to have food lying on the ground during the autumn, we only ground feed in the late winter. Recently I have found a number of piles of bird food on logs and seats, or just on the ground as I have been going to lock up at the end of the day. This shows that the birds are not eating it, so it will be consumed by rodents overnight, potentially by rats. If any rats find enough food for them to decide to settle with us we will be unable to ground feed in the late winter when the finches are at their best. So my plea is for visitors to please not leave bird food around the reserve where rats and rodents can get to it.

 

Go Team!

Last Sunday our Young Naturalists participated in the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and Hampshire Ornithological SocietyBird Trail” here at Blashford Lakes.

The bird watching and wildlife event for teams of children and young people was hugely fun to participate in, and I’m sure another blog from Jim will follow shortly!

We had a while to wait until our allocated start time, so swiftly headed over to the bird ringing demonstration led by British Trust for Ornithology bird ringers Graham Giddens and Marcus Ward. The group have always enjoyed watching bird ringing demonstrations as it is such a good way to see the birds up close – we were lucky enough to see blue tit, great titnuthatch and goldfinch. Thomas spotted a chiff-chaff being caught but the bird made a speedy getaway so we were unable to get a closer view. A couple of the group, including Thomas below, had a go at holding then releasing the birds, a real privilege!

We then visited Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre‘s static display of birds, again enjoying such close up views.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Kestrel

Kestrel

Still having time to wait we headed over to the Education Centre to have a look at the moths caught in the light trap the night before and the Natural History Museum stand, which contained lots of interesting identification guides and survey projects.

Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum

Finally it was time for us to start the trail, so we headed over towards Ivy North Hide, spotting robin, chaffinch, woodpigeon on our way with Thomas taking charge of our list. Before reaching the hide we were treated to distant views of a Peregrine falcon which we watched for some time. At Ivy North Hide we focused on the water birds, spotting cormorant, mute swan, Canada goose, grey heron, coot, gadwall, great crested grebe, shoveler and tufted duck. We also saw jay, swallow and herring gull.

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Bird spotting from Ivy North hide

On our way to the woodland hide we added a few more woodland birds to our list, including blackbird, siskin, long-tailed tit, dunnock, coal tit and greenfinch. Sadly though, despite our best efforts we couldn’t spot a wren

Pausing by the silt pond in the hope of a flash of blue, we heard Cetti’s warbler and rook whilst from Ivy South hide we watched mallard, black-headed gull and little grebe. From Ivy South hide we headed over the boardwalk and followed the path back along the Dockens Water. Backtracking for Thomas’ rucksack we spied a kingfisher (thanks Thomas!) then on making it to Ibsley Water we saw little egret, grey wagtail, greylag goose, Egyptian goose, lapwing, starling, lesser black-backed gull, jackdaw and buzzard from Goosander and Tern hides.

In total we had spotted a very respectable 47 species – thank you to HIWWT volunteer Nigel Owen and HOS volunteer John Shillitoe for expertly helping us with our bird identifying and for verifying our finds. Thanks too to Corinne Bespolka who was able to join us for the day.

On heading back to the Centre and handing in our sightings sheet, we were delighted to discover our bird spotting efforts had paid off and we had come second! I know those who joined us will thoroughly enjoy their prize, a family ticket to Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre – thank you Liberty’s for supporting the event!

 

Young Nats by Corinne Bespolka

Our team, minus those who had to leave early, with Chris Packham and Karima from Bird Aware Solent, by Corinne Bespolka

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

The Birds Just Keep Coming Back

As any regular readers of this blog will know Blashford Lakes has a lot of regular visitors, including “Walter” the great white egret which has been coming to the reserve since August 2003. In December 2014 a ring-billed gull was found on Ibsley Water, it returned again last winter and today it was back again for a third winter. You might say does not one gull look much like another? Well yes, but this one is on the small side for a ring-billed gull and has a distinct tertial crescent, which many do not show so well, so I think it is a fair bet that it is the same one returning.

It might seem a bit strange that these two birds, both a good way from home when they first arrived, should keep coming back. In fact many birds return to the same places year after year; if a place has served you well once it is likely to do so again, so coming back makes good sense.

Once again we have received a number of pictures of notable birds taken around the reserve. On several days recently a marsh harrier has been seen around Ibsley Water and yesterday it had a go at the Egyptian goose that has been on the long shingle spit for some time; it has a damaged wing and cannot fly.  Despite this it would seem a very large prey item for a marsh harrier and in fact the attack was unsuccessful.

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Marsh Harrier trying to catch an Egyptian goose. (by Phil West)

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diving underwater to escape (by Phil West)

Eventually the commotion attracted a peregrine and the harrier gave up the chase.

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Marsh Harrier and peregrine (by Phil West)

Although it was not seen today I am pretty sure the bittern will still be somewhere in the reeds beside Ivy Lake, as snapped the other day.

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Bittern (by Lynda Miller)

Another bird that has been around for a few days, but does not always get seen in the water pipit which frequents the area in front of and to the east of Tern hide. Lorne, who sent the egret pictures featured in the last post sent in this great picture; water pipit are always difficult birds to photograph.

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water pipit (by Lorne Bissell)

Lorne is having a bit of a purple patch at Blashford just now also being the first one to spot the returning ring-billed gull today, despite it being at rather long range.

Elsewhere on the reserve today the firecrest was still doing circuits of the car park near the Centre and I heard at least 3 chiffchaff around Ivy lake. I normally think of this time of the year as one of the only times that I do not see chiffchaff on the reserve, typically passage goes on into late October and the wintering birds turn up in late November or early December, perhaps prolonged north-east winds brought them here early this year. Lastly Walter was once again roosting with the cormorants on Ivy Lake as I locked up the hides, after a night elsewhere.

Remember this Sunday sees the return of the Pop-up Café, a treat not to be missed if you are visiting.

 

A Few Birds and the Promise of More Cake

Over the last few days there have been regular sightings of “Walter” the great white egret as well as a few further ones of the second, un-ringed, bird. Other observers have also confirmed my impression that the new bird is quiet a bit smaller, this probably confirms that Walter is indeed a “He”, since males are larger than females in this species. We were sent these pictures of both egrets by Lorne Bissell a couple of days ago.

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The two great white egret, Walter is on the right with the rings.

Bittern sightings have been intermittent from Ivy North hide, usually to the east (left) of the hide and water rail are being seen regularly. the wildfowl on Ivy Lake remain very unsettled, I suspect this is due to otter activity, but I have no sightings to confirm this as yet.

In the alder and birch trees around the Centre a large flock of siskin can be seen and heard, I estimate there are at least 150 birds in this flock. Also in this area a firecrest is regularly being seen associating with the mixed tit flock that frequents the willows.

A black-necked grebe was on Ibsley Water yesterday, but I do not think anyone saw it today. The marsh harrier that has made a number of visits recently was again around Ibsley Water today, spending about half an hour perched at various points. There was also a peregrine seen. At dusk the gull roost was as large as ever and something like 3000 starling gave a brief flying display to the north, before going to roost. Hopefully they will stay around and grow in number for my “In to Roost” event next Wednesday afternoon, there should still be places if you would like to come along, but please call us to book (01425 472760) or email BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk.

Another up-coming event is the return of the, soon to be legendary, Pop-up Café. It had a premiere on the first Sunday of this month and proved a great hit with visitors and it will be back at the Centre this coming Sunday serving hot drinks, very fine home made cakes and probably a few other things besides. We will also have the very fine Trust calendar for 2017, wildlife Christmas cards, books and various other things available for sale.

The café will return throughout the winter on the first and third Sunday of each month.

 

 

Walter Returns!!

I am delighted to say that I was wrong to suggest that we might have seen the last of our returning great white egret “Walter White” as today he appeared, way beyond his usual return time but here none the less. It was good to see him back at about 13 and a half years old he is a grand old bird now.

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A rather distant Walter but with his distinctive set of rings, so we know it really is him (you can’t see the rings in this shot though).

It was actually quite a good day to be looking at birds on the reserve today. When I arrived Ibsley Water was alive with house martin, at least 1500 by my estimate and lots perching in the bushes around the main car park too.

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House martins around the bushes in the main car park.

During the afternoon there were 3 garganey on Ibsley Water, they spent a good bit of their time well out in the centre picking insects off the surface, it seems that they were first seen on Friday, although not noted yesterday. Other ducks were few in number but included a pochard, shoveler, wigeon and teal. There were also still 2 ringed plover and 2 dunlin as well as single common sandpiper and green sandpiper. It was also a good day for birds flying over with red kite, peregrine, raven and marsh harrier being seen. We also saw the first common gull of the season as well, despite their name not usually a common bird at Blashford. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the most unusual record of the day was probably a female house sparrow in the bushes beside the Main Car Park.

In the morning there was a volunteer working party, we were working on the grassy bank near Ivy North hide, mending the fence and digging out Turkey oak saplings. This is an interesting area and gets very warm as the bank faces south and is angled at about 30 degrees, as the sun warmed up we counted at least 5 small copper butterflies.

Mothless, well Almost

Yesterday I ran a “Moth event” at Blashford, unfortunately I forgot to tell the moths and there were probably more human participants than moths! Usually late August is a good time for catching large numbers of moths, but big catches require warm, calm nights following warm settled days. What we had was a windy, mostly clear night following a rather stormy day.

Luckily the day got more settled as it went on, at least until late afternoon anyway. This brought out good numbers of insects, including as many dragonflies as I have seen this year. Around the reserve I saw several brown hawker, southern and migrant hawkers, an egg-laying emperor dragonfly and a fair few common darter. Damselflies included common blue, azure, red-eyed, small red-eyed and blue-tailed.

Butterflies were rather fewer, most that I saw were whites, with all three common species near the Centre. Out on the reserve a few meadow brown and gatekeeper are still flying and speckled wood are increasing again. Near the Lapwing hide I saw both red admiral and painted lady, perhaps indicating some continued arrival of passage insects.

The sunshine in the middle of the day brought out reptiles as well and I saw two grass snake and an adder. The adder was very fat and I suspect a female which will shortly be giving birth, since adders have live young rather than laying eggs as grass snakes do.

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adder

I have heard reports of wasp spider being seen around the reserve recently and today I finally saw one.

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wasp spider

This is a female, the males are much, much smaller and wander about seeking the females.

I had hoped for a few different birds, following the rough weather, perhaps a few terns, but there was little change form the past week. A few extra waders were the best that could be found, 2 dunlin, 2 oystercatcher, 2 common sandpiper, 1 redshank and the pick of the day, 3 greenshank, although they only flew through. There are starting to be a few more ducks around, I saw 8 shoveler and 3 teal, but there are still no wigeon on the reserve, although they should not be far away. Away for the water looking up there were 2 raven, and single hobby and peregrine. Whilst low over the water before the day warmed there were 1000+ sand martin and c200 house martin.

Perhaps the sighting of the day for many visitors though was the female roe deer that spent part of the morning in front of the Woodland hide.

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roe deer doe at the Woodland hide