A Fine Day on the Reserve

Thursday dawned calm and slightly misty with a promise of sunshine to come.

Misty morning at Ivy North

Early morning over Ivy Lake

I am not sure if they were doing the Wildlife Trust’s 7 Days of Wild Christmas, checkout #7DaysofWildChristmas for more on this, but there were lots of visitors on the reserve on Wednesday and they certainly saw a lot of wildlife.

From Ivy North hide the bittern was seen by most who were willing to spend a little time looking and some had excellent views. The picture below was sent in by John Parr after he took it on Saturday from Ivy North hide.

Bittern by John Parr

Bittern by John Parr

As well as the bittern, water rail and Cetti’s warbler were also frequently on show from Ivy North hide. Further out on Ivy Lake a good variety of ducks were on view, there remains an unusually large number of pochard around, with up to 100 on Ivy Lake alone at times. At dusk a single great white egret roosted in the trees.

At the Woodland hide the usual common woodland birds have now been joined by a few reed bunting, attracted by the seed spread on the ground, we have still yet to see any brambling though.

On Ibsley Water the flock of linnet was again feeding on the shore near Tern hide whilst out on the lake up to a dozen goldeneye, over 40 pintail, 200 or so wigeon and the single black-necked grebe. In the late afternoon the gull roost included a Caspian gull, but there was still no sign fop the ring-billed gull, which looks increasingly likely to have moved on somewhere.

As it was Thursday there was a volunteer task on the reserve and six volunteers joined me in doing some willow scrub clearance and pollarding in the reedbed area between Goosander and Lapwing hides. The area is a former silt pond and had grown up with a very uniform cover of closely spaced and rather weakly growing willows, not a habitat with great wildlife value. By opening up clearings and making pollards of the stronger growing willows we can diversify the habitat, making it suitable for a much wider range of wildlife. In particular the open clearings have proved very popular with the areas strong adder population.

The mild weather continues and there are signs of this all around the reserve. On the path to Ivy North hide I found a red campion still in flower.

red campion flower

red campion in flower

Nearby the leaves of lord’s and ladies are well up through the leaf litter.

lords and ladies

lords and ladies

Near the Centre there are patches of speedwell in the gravel and many are in flower.

speedwell

speedwell

The mild conditions, along with the damp conditions are proving good for fungi, with many particularly small species to be found if you look closely. One of the commonest species on well rotted wet logs is the candle snuff fungus.

candle snuff

candle snuff

 

 

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An Eagle at Lunchtime

Tuesday is one of our volunteer task days, but the forecast was not promising, however as it turned out the morning was not as bad as predicted. We were felling sycamore from the edge of the car park near the Centre to give the oak a bit more space, luckily the poor forecast kept visitors away so we did not have to hold up too many people as we cleared the trees from the entrance track. Towards the end of the morning the rain set in and we decided to call it a day, just as we did a visitor arrived to tell us that the white tailed eagle, that has been up the road in the New Forest, had paid us a visit and was perched on an island in Ibsley Water.

white-tailed eagle with crows

White-tailed eagle with crows

It really was a huge bird! with a massive hooked beak and feet to match, magnificent and if the possible introduction project on the Isle of Wight comes to fruition perhaps a regular sight in the future. The very definition of “Charismatic megafauna”.

white-tailed eagle with crow

White-tailed eagle with crow

The crows did not seem obviously intimidated, and strolled around within a few feet, the gulls were a lot more circumspect, even the great black-backed gull only made a few, quite distant, mobbing swoops.

white-tailed eagle with crow 2

Showing off a seriously big pair of wings!

It was a good way off but we could clearly see that it had a metal ring on its right leg and no colour-rings. It is a juvenile so will have been ringed as a nestling somewhere last summer. A lot, perhaps even most, ringed eagle chicks receive a coloured ring or wing tag at the same time as being ringed with a standard metal ring, as this enables their movements to be tracked more easily. This bird seems to have been an exception so we have no idea where it might have come from, it could be from Scotland, but is probably more likely to be from Scandinavia somewhere. The juveniles move much further than the older birds and the adults will usually try to stay on their nesting territory all year if the food supply allows.

Unsurprisingly this was a first record for the reserve and although relatively few people were about to see it due to the poor weather, I know it was a new bird for quite a few. Some lucky people went on to the Ivy North hide and had very good views of bittern as well, not a bad bit of birdwatching for a bad weather day!

Other birds today included a water pipit at Tern hide whilst looking at the eagle, the black-necked grebe was also seen in the distance and there were 112 pochard there also, with 57 more on Ivy Lake. Locking up at dusk in the tipping rain, there were two great white egret roosting in the dead alder trees beside Ivy Lake.

All in all not a bad day for birds on the reserve, or any site in the UK. As most will know access to the reserve is free, but we do still need to raise money to keep things going and hopefully improve them so donations are always more than welcome, in fact they are essential! So if you visit and have a good time please consider making a donation. We have a had a lot of generous donations to our appeal for various improvements, including a new Tern hide and dipping pond, but it is the year round donations that keep us running day to day.

15th Dec – Rain

A wet day from start to finish making getting around the reserve unpleasant and seeing wildlife difficult. It was no surprise that there were few visitors, but those that did venture out could still see something.

Ibsley Water: Water pipit at least 2 and probably 3, but as usual scattered around the lake shore. The single black-necked grebe was along the north-western shore of the lake, but lost to view in the heavier rain. Otherwise the continue to be more pochard than usual, over 60 sheltering in the south-west corner of the lake, three drake pintail did circuits of the lake all day and there were a few wigeon, shoveler and teal about. Close to Tern hide three snipe were feeding on the shore and at least 70 linnet were picking seeds from amongst the gravel.

Ivy Lake: A single great white egret was present in the morning and at dusk two were roosting, unsurprisingly the bittern was not seen and other birds of interest were confined to hearing Cetti’s warbler and water rail.

News has dribbled out of a white-tailed eagle not far from the reserve in the New Forest, these eagles often frequent wetlands so it is certainly worth keeping an eye out, no doubt it will cause a stir should it drift our way!

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.

IMAG0005

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.

A Misty Morning

A fine and frosty morning, perhaps the first that has felt properly wintry. Having scraped the frost from my windscreen I headed to Blashford across a New Forest washed with mist. I stopped briefly near our reserve at Linwood and took the picture below.

Lookinmg across Dockens Valley S of Linwood

The valley of the Dockens Water on a frosty morning

In the Avon Valley the mist was thicker and there was almost nothing within viewing range at the hides, but it still made for an atmospheric scene.

misty morning over Ivy Lake

The misty view from Ivy South hide

The mist soon cleared and the day was a fine one for working with the volunteers out on the reserve. Our team is somewhat larger than usual at present as we have two Apprentice Rangers from the New Forest National Park working on the reserve until early January. Today we were felling grey alder trees on the path towards Lapwing hide. These trees are similar to our native alder but tend to grow rather larger and faster and have a habit of spreading far and wide by seed. We are removing them to allow the native alder to grow unhindered and diversify the habitat along the path edges where more light will now get down to the ground layer.

felling grey alder

Felling grey alder beside the path to Lapwing hide

I took advantage of the fine evening to make a count of the goosander roost, I managed to see at least 118 gathered in two groups near the Goosander hide, there were at least 35 adult drakes, very close to the average of one third that I have recorded over many years. The rest were what are known as “redheads” that is birds with grey bodies and reddish-brown heads, these will include both adult females and immature birds of both sexes. Other bird in the bay were a single green sandpiper very close to the hide and at least 14 goldeneye.

Yesterday evening as I closed Ivy North hide I could clearly see 4 great white egret roosting in the dead alder trees. I have suspected there were more than the three that are often seen for sometime now but have been unable to prove it before. Generally yesterday was a better day for bird sightings despite the poorer weather, but then using a chainsaw all day is not particularly conducive to seeing birds! Other sightings yesterday included the black-necked grebe on Ibsey Water, along with at least 78 pochard, a good count these days and all the better as there were at least 73 on Ivy Lake as well. Ten or twenty years ago these figures would have been unremarkable, but these ducks are in decline all over Europe for a variety of reasons including lowered breed success due to a significant imbalance of the sexes.

Out on the reserve yesterday I flushed a woodcock between Goosander and Lapwing hides, my first of the winter, whilst in the same area 2 raven flew over and a chiffchaff was calling in the willows. At dusk I took a quick look at the gull roost, I could not find the ring-billed gull, but there were at least 11 yellow-legged gull, all adult and including the atypical adult bird with the heavily marked head. Yellow-legged gull adults usually have all white heads in winter, in contrast to most of the other large gulls, this well marked bird is similar to those of the race that is found on the Azores,  separated as the race “atlantis”. Gull watching came to an end when an adult female peregrine made several low passes over the roost, scattering it in all directions.

With more wintry weather it is perhaps unsurprising that the moth trap is getting quieter, despite this, but appropriate to the season recent catches have included Winter moth, December moth and mottled umber.

Damp Days

The long, hot summer seems an age away now, with most days dominated by drizzle (Friday excepted). It is still very mild, but the combination of damp and mildness makes for difficult working conditions. Winter work on the reserve is mostly fairly heavy, with lots of protective clothing and machinery, things that do not go well with mild damp weather. Despite this we have been busy with the volunteers clearing sites and generally preparing for the planned updates to the reserve. Alongside this there is still the usual maintenance to be done and today I was out with the team repairing the boardwalk and trimming back the path sides.

The Pop-up Cafe was in the Centre again today, sadly things were rather quiet, probably a result of the poor weather, the cakes were as good as ever, if you missed them, they will be back on the 16th of December and New Year’s Day with more.

Out on the reserve things seem fairly quiet, I say this but there was quiet a lot to see. On Ibsley Water there was a black-necked grebe, 2 dunlin, green sandpiper, a variety of duck including pintail, wigeon, pochard, goosander, goldeneye and at dusk the gull roost and starling murmuration. I just missed seeing a peregrine take a drake pochard, I would have thought rather a bulky prey item for this falcon. Other birds today included red kite, chiffchaff, Cetti’s warbler and at dusk on Ivy Lake three roosting great white egret, all in all not bad for a “quiet day”!

 

Advance Notice

On Sunday we are running a training course on the identification of gulls at Blashford, this will mean that the Tern, Goosander and Lapwing hides will be in use by groups on the course from mid afternoon, so if you are visiting on Sunday and not on the course you might want to visit these hides in the morning or early afternoon instead.

I am sometimes asked for an advised route around the reserve and although the “best” route is always a matter of circumstances on the day there are some general rules that hold true. So Ivy North hide faces south-east, this makes it difficult on a sunny morning, Ivy South faces east and likewise difficult early on in sunshine, so both of these are probably best in the afternoon. The Woodland hide is less of an issue, although the light is best here in the afternoon also. The Tern hide faces north so is pretty good all day. Goosander hide faces north west, so is at its best in the morning and the same is true of Lapwing hide, which faces almost due west, so is very hard work on a sunny afternoon.

The above obviously is only a choice dictated by the direction of the light, there are other factors too of course. Wind direction can be important, most birds will seek shelter and this needs to be considered. In a strong northerly, Tern hide will be both a long way from the birds sheltering under the northern shore of Ibsley Water, nearly a kilometre away and if you open the window you will be looking into the teeth of the wind! By contrast the northern end of Ivy Lake near Ivy North hide will be sheltered and with luck full of birds.

Then there is what you want to see, not a problem if you just want to see a range of birds, being guided by the weather and lighting will probably be the best option. There are some obvious rules, the birds that gather to roost will only be doing so at the end of the day and you will need to be in the right place to see them. The gulls roost on Ibsley Water is well known and is the attraction for the identification course. Ibsley also hosts a roost gathering of goosander, which mainly roost in the bay at Goosander hide, although they are usually only there in the minutes just before darkness. They fly in from all directions but can often be best seen doing so from the bank at the back of the main car park, which is also the best place to view the starling murmuration and get an overview of the gull roost. If it is great white egret you want to see then Ivy North at the end of the day is the place, recently there have been three there each evening, there is also a cormorant roost in the trees here.

By contrast if you are looking for finches, don’t leave it too late, they tend to get up late and go to bed early, the Woodland hide feeders will be busy with tits from dawn ’til dusk but the finches tend to turn up in the middle part of the morning and are often heading off to roost not long after 3:00 pm in the winter.

Some species are more obvious at certain times of the day, birds of prey will soar around mainly during the middle part of the day when the ground has warmed to aid this kind of flight by causing upward air currents. Water rail and Cetti’s warbler are usually far more vocal around dusk. Pochard tend to feed at night and roost during the day, whereas tufted duck are typically the reverse, feeding in the day and roosting at night.

So if planning a birding trip consider the conditions on the day and what you are most keen to see and you should get the most out of your visit. The above is just about Blashford Lakes, but every destination will have a range of factors that will be at play. Wherever you go it always pays to be lucky of course, but to some degree you can make your own luck by making good decisions about how you go about your visit.

 

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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skies Alive!

Today may have been the last day of April, but it felt more like the last day of January! a bitter north-east wind was blowing hard across Ibsley Water making it foolish to open the windows at the Tern hide. The cold had brought thousands of aerial feeders low in over the water in a desperate search for any sort of flying insects to eat. At first I though they were mostly swallow and sand martin, but it turned out things were a little more complicated.

Close to Tern hide there were  a lot of swallow, whilst further out over the water sand martin were the majority. Further away house martin dominated, especially close to the northern shore of the lake. All this made estimating numbers a bit tricky. In the end I “guestimated” around 4000 hirundines were present with slightly more than half being sand martin, perhaps 2000-2500, then house martin with around 1000 and then 500-700 swallow. All in all it was quite a sight, although one that featured birds that were not at all happy. Luckily the promised rain never arrived and it actually got a little brighter later on and many of the birds left to feed elsewhere. Perhaps oddly by the end of the day swift were  one of the more numerous species, maybe 500 were feeding over the water, many more than in the morning.

Other sightings today included a yellow wagtail and a white wagtail close to Tern hide, from where I also saw a single black-tailed godwit, 2 common sandpiper and 3 goosander. Elsewhere 2 drake pochard were notable as was a single whitethroat, an oddly scarce bird at Blashford and mainly seen in autumn.

The moth trap contained just 2 common Quaker, moths don’t like cold, windy nights, but then who does.

Just the Job

The Pop-up cafe was back and so were our splendid Blashford volunteers, for their first task of the new year. I had planned a hedge-laying task but the cold morning and brisk north-east wind caused me to rethink and look for a more sheltered work site. So we ended up clearing a patch of small willow, birch and alder that have invaded the boggy reeds at the top end of the Ivy Silt Pond. I had been meaning to do this task for a while but somehow other things kept pushing this down the list.

start

At the start

This is one of rather few boggy habitats we have on the reserve and it is home to a few species we do not have elsewhere, such as royal fern, bog myrtle and Sphagnum moss. I suspect all arriving there via the Dockens Water. It is amazing what five people working for a couple of hours can do!

end

At the end of a couple of hours work

We dead-hedged the material we cut, much quicker and less damaging than burning. Perhaps the most obvious thing int he second picture is the tall stumps, we usually cut at between knee and waist height, I know this will seem strange to many trained to cut stumps as low as possible, but I do have my reasons.

If we are working with handtools it is very difficult to cut very low to the ground, so cutting at this level is just easier. Low stumps are also hard to see when dragging cut material away so there is a trip risk, the taller stumps are easier to avoid. If I want to I can go round and cut them really low with a chainsaw once the site is clear, or I can treat them with less chance of missing any.  For some species such as birch and alder I have also found that fewer grow back at this height than if cut flush to the ground and then the remaining stump becomes a useful bit of standing deadwood.

Surprisingly on a day when visitors were complaining of the cold, it was very pleasant working int he sunshine and out of the wind and we all had to shed a layer or two to avoid overheating!

The reserve was busy with visitors all day and a good range of birds were to be seen, despite the wind. On Ibsley Water one of the black-necked grebe was close to Goosander hide for most of the day and I counted 129 pochard, a good count these days. A ring-billed gull was reported, but most of the duck were sheltering close to the northern shore.

Ivy Lake is much more sheltered and held at least one thousand wildfowl, including about 250 teal. There were also good numbers of gadwall and wigeon along with a few shoveler, pintail, mallard, coot and diving ducks. Walter the great white egret was also there during the day but seems to have found a more sheltered roost site than his usual exposed dead alder.

At the Woodland hide several brambling and a good range of other woodland species are increasingly evident. I suspect we may get good numbers later on in February and March.