What a difference a day makes!

After a gorgeously sunny Christmas Day yesterday, today saw the return of the rain and I got soaked opening up the hides – needless to say the reserve has been very quiet today! Even the wildlife decided to stay in the warm and dry – we have been keeping an eye on the Tawny Owl box as something has definitely moved in and made itself a very dry and cosy home out of oak leaves and soft rush. Although not the owl we had been hoping for, it is still very nice to see a grey squirrel up close on camera, although you can’t see much when it hunkers down inside its nest:

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Squirrel making itself at home in the owl box

Last week we realised one had stashed food in the box as we noticed it rummaging through the wood chip that had been put in the bottom – clearly it decided with all the rain we’ve been having this was a good spot, came back and made some home improvements. This morning I watched it look out the hole a few times before it decided it was better off back in bed:

Wet grey days are definitely for catching up with the blog, and this one may turn out to be quite long as I am two Young Naturalists sessions behind, one of which was our November residential at the Countryside Education Trust’s Home Farm in Beaulieu…

Unfortunately the weather was not quite on our side then either, although we were able to dodge most of the showers. We began on the Friday night with an excellent talk by Steve Tonkin about the night sky – sadly it was too cloudy to head outside for any observing so we will have to invite Steve again another evening, but the group enjoyed the talk and asked some excellent questions that definitely kept Steve on his toes.

Astronomy 2

Astronomy talk

On Saturday morning we headed to Rans Wood, just outside Beaulieu, to meet Sally Mitchell from Wild Heritage for a fungi walk. We didn’t have to stray too far from the car park and were rewarded with over thirty species which was great for late Autumn. Before heading off Sally tested the group’s current fungi knowledge with an identification activity – they knew a few edible and inedible species and were also very good at erring on the side of caution with those they weren’t sure about.

Fungi foray

Testing our knowledge

Fungi is not my strong point so it was brilliant to go looking with someone able to identify what we saw and also be so enthusiastic about it. Sally also has permission from Forestry England to pick the fungi for identification purposes (not to eat as there is a no picking ban for this in the Forest), so we were able to study some close up and take a closer look at the gills or pores. We also used mirrors to look under some, including the Amethyst deceiver, so we could see underneath without picking.

We did quite a lot of sniffing! Here are some of the different species we found – I think my favourites were the Amethyst deceivers, the bright Yellow club and looking at the tubular pores inside the Beefsteak fungus:

We also paused to have a go at ‘creating’ a Fly agaric – sadly we were unable to find any – using a balloon and a tissue. The tissue was held over the balloon and sprayed with water to make it damp. When air was blown into the balloon, the balloon became larger and the tissue broke up into smaller pieces as this happened, to create the speckled effect of white spots seen on the Fly agaric fungus.

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Making a fly agaric 2

Making a Fly agaric

We also found a huge oak tree so decided to see how many Young Naturalists could fit around it:

Tree hugging

Hugging a very large oak tree!

After thanking Sally we headed to Hatchet Pond and had lunch with the Mute swans, Black-headed gulls and donkeys.

We then spent the afternoon at Roydon Woods, another Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust nature reserve, and tested the fungi identification skills learnt that morning, keeping our fingers crossed for a glimpse of a Goshawk whilst we wandered. We last visited the reserve in the Spring, when the woodland floor had been carpeted in bluebells and other Spring flowers, so it was nice to return in the Autumn.

Some of the group were also lucky enough to spot a Goshawk fly past, but only because we had stopped to wait for others to catch up and it flew past behind them. A lucky encounter!

On the Sunday the group enjoyed a farm feed session first thing with Education Officer Steve whilst Michelle and I tidied and cleaned Home Farm ready for our departure. They love doing this as they can get up close to many of the animals and help out with the feeding:

We then visited the New Forest Wildlife Park and were joined by another couple of the group who had been unable to stay for the weekend. We had arranged a guided tour with one of the park’s education team and Laila was brilliant – I think she enjoyed a slightly older audience to usual and the group were great at engaging in conversation about the wildlife and different conservation projects. I was impressed by how much they knew. We got caught in a couple of heavy showers whilst we were there which made taking photos a bit difficult, but here are a few, the harvest mice were popular…

We had a brilliant weekend so although it was a while ago now, would like to thank Steve for the astronomy session, Sally for her fungi knowledge, Steve for the farm feed session and Laila for the brilliant tour around the wildlife park. We also couldn’t run residentials without volunteer support so would like to say a huge thank you to Geoff, Nigel and Michelle for giving up their weekends to join us and help with all the cooking, cleaning, minibus driving and evening entertainment (we had a quiz Saturday night which was hilarious)…

Sticking with the Young Naturalists theme, on Saturday we ventured over to Poole for a boat trip with Birds of Poole Harbour. The group had been fortunate to win the boat trip as their prize for coming first in the bird trail here at Blashford back in May, and we were able to open it up to other group members who hadn’t been able to join us on the day and turn it into our December session.

It was rather cold and wet at times, and we saw a lot of rainbows whilst out in the harbour, but also managed at least 26 species of bird including Red-breasted merganser, Shag, Great black-backed gull, Great crested grebe, Great northern diver, Brent goose, Gadwall, Avocet, Shelduck, Teal, Shoveler, Cormorant, Black-tailed godwit, Grey heron, Oystercatcher, Grey plover, Dunlin, Knot, Little egret, Wood pigeon, Sandwich tern, Goldeneye, Starling, Carrion crow, Spoonbill (very distant!) and Curlew.

We had some nice views of Brownsea Island and the lagoon…

Brownsea

Brownsea Island

Brownsea lagoon

Lagoon at Brownsea

…and a very distant view of a rather grey Corfe Castle:

Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle

The rainbow photographing opportunities were numerous:

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

Thanks for reading! Here’s a sunnier photo taken just up the road at Ibsley when I was passing yesterday morning as a reward for getting to the end, hopefully it will stop raining again soon!

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View from Ibsley Bridge – the River Avon is just out of shot to the right

Ducking and Diving

On Tuesday I was up at Kitts Grave with the volunteers clearing a ride through the scrub/woodland. Although it does not look much like it from the pictures below, we did clear quite long length!

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Looking N before we started

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Looking N near the end of the day

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Looking S at the start

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Looking S at the end of the day

Actually, looking again it hardly looks as if we were there at all! If you visit you will see a difference though.

This part of the Martin Down NNR is a fabulous mosaic of scrub and chalk grassland, we have been cutting scrub in order to maintain this mix of habitat, since without control the woody plants would take over completely. It may come as a surprise to many that trees will actually grow over most of lowland Britain without being planted, in fact stopping them doing so need active intervention. Our longer term plan is to introduce  a light grazing regime in the hope that we can maintain the mosaic without the constant need for cutting.

Despite the fact that trees will grow unbidden, they are also under threat and this fact formed the backbone of today’s work. We were out at Blashford looking at trees that will need to be cut as a result of ash die-back disease. This non-native fungal disease was imported into Europe with nursery trees and looks like killing 95% or so of all ash trees. Where these are away from roads, buildings etc. this will provide a big increase in deadwood habitat and so not an entirely bad thing. However a lot will have to be felled to maintain safety and we have to check them for potential bat roosts before any work can be planned.

As we criss-crossed the reserve we came across various fungi including this puffball type, full of spores.

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puffball fungus full of spores

We also found what I think was a slime mould on an alder stump, an especially bright coloured one at that.

orange slime mould

orange slime mould (I think)

At dusk this evening I went over to Goosander Hide to see how many goosander came into the roost, the answer was at least 63, with a bonus side order of at least 24 fallow deer on the shore beside them.

goosander and deer at dusk

Goosander roost and fallow deer in the near darkness.

My goosander roost picture may be rather poor quality, but wait until you see my last offering! The long-tailed duck that has been on Ibsley Water for a number of days now finally had enough of the northern shore and appeared in front of Tern Hide today, an ideal opportunity to get some pictures of it at last. My best effort is below, it illustrate perfectly the perils of digi-scoping.

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long-tailed duck……almost.

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!