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:

IMG_2195

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.

making-a-fly-agaric.jpg

 

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!

IMG_2151

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

Update 1

A few sightings from the last couple of days:

Yesterday (Sunday): On Ibsley Water the female red-breasted merganser was again with a group of goosander and the black-necked grebe was frequenting the northern part of the lake, as they usually do. The more regularly seen of the two ring-billed gull was in early, being seen from about 1pm and later the roost included Mediterranean and yellow-legged gulls as well. The water pipit was showing well first thing from Tern hide, which was good as there was fog at the time and the only other bird visible was a single tufted duck.

Elsewhere, there were firecrest at the Woodland hide and in the holly trees alongside the Dockens Water, today there were two reported from the area between the Woodland hide and Ivy North. The water rail was again in the pool under the alders close to the Woodland hide, showing very well and others were seen from Ivy North hide. The bittern showed at times from Ivy North, as it did again today and “Walter” the great white egret was perched on a branch there all afternoon and was joined by the second bird at roost in the dead alder at dusk, there were both there again this evening too.

At the Woodland hide the food is attracting 2 or 3 brambling and lots of chaffinch, also around 5 or so reed bunting as well as all the regulars.

Opening up this morning I saw 5 raven on the eastern side of Ibsley Water, whilst at dusk  a ring-billed gull was reported again, although viewing conditions were difficult.

Some news from just up the road, a cattle egret was found with a small group of little egret in a field beside Church Lane at Harbridge.

I did run the moth trap last night, but the moth list for 2017 remains the same, with just mottled umber and winter moth so far.

Coppicing, Snipe and Great Whites

A brilliant sunny day, not a great surprise to Blashford aficionados, is was Thursday and so volunteer day, (it almost never rains on a Thursday morning). The volunteers continued coppicing and using the brash to make a new dead hedge in the former Hanson plant site. This hedge should grow up with bramble and so provide valuable cover and habitat. The earth bank has steep south-facing slopes and these should be great for insects and hopefully also reptiles. Unfortunately I still have no firm date on the opening of the new path but at least the preparations are progressing well.

In the afternoon I was leading a winter bird walk, it is always good to get out on site and see some wildlife and this afternoon was glorious. We started at Tern hide with good views of water pipit and 3 snipe close to the hide.

snipe-2

one of three snipe feeding along the shore near the hide

A dead gull on the shore just east of the had attracted a crow which was tucking in, but very soon it was pushed off the prize by two buzzard, and two magpie also came down to see what they could snatch.

carrion-feeders

carrion feeders

A meal of meat is always welcome to these birds but in cold weather such as we are having now could make all the difference to these birds survival. It may seem a little gory, but nothing goes to waste.

Looking further out onto the lake we managed to miss the black-necked grebe that had been reported but did find a  female red-breasted merganser, these close relatives of the goosander are usually found on the coast and it is some years since there was one on the reserve. We also saw several of our regular goosander by way of comparison, these are larger and although the females are similar, the goosander have an overall cleaner look.

At the Woodland hide we saw a good range of the regular smaller birds, but the highlight was the water rail feeding in the pool under the alder carr just outside the hide, it gave wonderful views and seemed completely unconcerned by our watching it. After failing to see a bittern, we headed back to Tern hide and were rewarded with great views of a green sandpiper on the shore below the hide, it only flew off when a second came by.

When I went to lock up I saw a great white egret roosting in the trees on Ivy Lake from the Ivy North hide, “Walter” on his usual perch. By the time I got to Ivy South hide and looked across there were two! Presumably the second bird which has been using the area just north of the reserve had joined him, it will be interesting to see if they both roost there regularly.

 

Taking the Ruff with the Smews

Bird News: Ibsley Waterruff 1, red-breasted merganser 2, yellow-legged gull 1, Mediterranean gull 1. Ivy Lakebittern 2, smew 2.

A fantastic Blashford day, it started fine then just got better and better, sunny and warm. In addition the birds were performing and perhaps most surprisingly the reserve was not that busy so there was no problem getting into the hides to se them.

The mild night meant another good moth catch and another water beetle, this time a big one, a great diving beetle, it is easy to see that it is a female as the males have smooth elytra.

great diving beetle

The morning was taken up with a volunteer task and the afternoon leading a guided walk with the same group. The Woodland hide delivered great views of lesser redpoll and siskin. A good range of ducks were at the Ivy South hide, including this pochard which was diving close to the hide. 

As so often recently it was the Ivy North hide that really delivered, although it took two visits. A bittern was fishing just below the hide, as it moved through the tangled Glyceria all we could see at times was a gently shift of the vegetation and then up would come the head and it would peer around before descending again. There were also water rails and a singing Cetti’s warbler. On the way there for our second visit, I noticed a small sycamore tree beside the path with the telltale signs of having been got at by a great spotted woodpecker for the purpose of sap-sucking. To do this they make a series of very evenly spaced small holes to make in a horizontal line around the trunk. The runs were very prominent as the runs showed up white, probably due to mould. North American woodpeckers are well-known for this behaviour, ours less so.

signs of woodpecker sap sucking

I returned to Ivy North again to lock up and saw the 2 smew, under the trees on the eastern shore. This meant that when I was at the Tern hide right at the end of the day and saw the red-breasted merganser with twenty or so goosander I had seen all three British saw-bill ducks in the one day. It later turned out that what I saw was a merganser, rather than the merganser, as two redheads were reported today. Other notable reports included a ruff on Ibsley Water.

A Day to Dance About

Bird News: Ibsley Waterred-breasted merganser 1, black-necked grebe 1, oystercatcher 3, black-tailed godwit 9, Mediterranean gull 2+, barnacle goose 5. Ivy Lakebittern 2, smew 2. Centrebrambling 1.

I was doing a water bird count this morning and got off to a good start when I saw the female red-breasted merganser fly out of the roost on Ibsley Water with 5 goosander and fly north up  the valley, disappearing over Ibsley Church. At Ivy North hide a bittern was one view and I also saw 2 water rail. I then circled round to count Ellingham Lake, then to the eastern side of Ibsley Water. From the Lapwing hide I had good views, relatively, of the black-necked grebe.

black-necked grebe

Most of the wildfowl numbers have started dropping now as they begin to move off toward their breeding areas. One exception is the diving duck, pochard and tufted duck, numbers of the last especially have risen quite sharply. Many winter further south and especially west and stop off at Blashford en route back to the continent. Although I have not totalled everything yet it is clear that there were about 600 tufted duck, surely enough to have a chance fo a lesser scaup one day? Tufted duck do also breed at Blashford of course as do moorhens.

moorhen

Moorhens seem like birds that don’t go anywhere and a good few probably don’t, but some at least visit us from the near continent for the winter. Not every thing is leaving, some birds are coming back. Today I saw the pair of oystercatcher that have been around for a few days, but there was also another bird, so three-quarters of our breeding population are now back.

oystercatcher

The pair of oystercatcher were doing display flights for a short while and they were not the only birds displaying, I saw at least four pairs of great crested grebe doing so including the pair below, they did the full weed-dance, but they were quick and I was too slow, so the picture shows them just after they had dropped their beakfuls of weed.

great crested grebe pair

The mild night produced the best moth catch of the year so far with pale and small brindled beauties.

pale brindled beauty

New for the year were twin-spot Quaker and dotted chestnut.

dotted chestnut

There were also several chestnut and 3 satellite.

satellite

Having missed them when I was doing the main count I managed to end the day by catching up with the 2 smew on Ivy Lake, a day that starts with a bittern and ends with 2 smew can’t be bad.

 

More Gulls, Fewer Finches

Bird News: Ibsley Waterred-breasted merganser 1, oystercatcher 1, black-tailed godwit 6, barnacle goose 5, Mediterranean gull 1, common gull 743+. Ivy Lakebittern 3, Egyptian goose 2, water rail 1, little egret 2, goosander 1.

Today was my only working day this week, as it was Volunteer Thursday. We worked beside the Goosander hide putting the finishing touches to the sand martin bank in readiness for their imminent return.

the finishing touches

After the task some of the volunteers went down to the Ivy North hide to see bittern, once again up to three were seen today and I managed to see one as I opened up and when I went to lock up at the end of the day. In the evening it was fishing just below the hide and I watched it for about ten minutes as it probed into the Glyceria clumps. It was just getting on with life about twenty feet from me, fabulous, one of those things you just never expect to see. In the morning I did get a picture of the same bird fishing to the left of the hide, a more typical view.

bittern - usually what I would class as a good view

Having not been in for a few days I was struck by the silence, or at least the loss of the continuous twittering of siskin that was going on last Friday. I imagine the warmer weather has made some fo the me move on, but today there wer every few small finches; siskin, goldfinch and lesser redpoll, on the reserve, whereas last week the nyger feeders were packed with them.

siskin and lesser redpoll

I expect there will be more passing through as the spring approaches as a lot went south in the autumn. Most of the finches have been with us in lower numbers this winter, brambling are almost absent, chaffinches certainly fewer, but greenfinches seem much as usual and bullfinches more frequent.

greenfinch male

When I went to lock the Ivy South hide, I had a good look round, just in case, partly to see if I could find the smew, which was on Ivy Lake yesterday, but also to follow up a report of an American wigeon. Sadly this potential Blashford “Mega” was not in evidence, lots of other wildfowl though, including a few small mixed feeding groups.

feeding group

On Ibsley Water at dusk the gull roost is getting larger again, most dramatically the number of common gull has reached a new record, I counted 743, but these were not all that were present as some were hidden. Common gull are not usually at all common at Blashford, typically ten or so roost.

Other birds on Ibsley Water today included the redhead red-breasted merganser, I suspect it is actually a young duck, an oystercatcher, probably one of the ones that breeds here, 6 black-tailed godwit and an adult Mediterranean gull.