Of Nadders and Noranges

Especially early start today, with the clocks going forward. I was most impressed on my journey here, to see that the public clock in Burley had been re-set correctly. Did someone get up specially to put it forward or, being fairly new, is it adjusted automatically from a radio signal, like the clock in my car???

Given the clock change, I was expecting a fairly quiet morning, but the fine weather encouraged a goodly supply of visitors. it appears that many were here to see and photograph our adders.  Several were seen throughout the morning although by the time I got up to the Lapwing Hide only one was partially visible. There have been several good images on earlier postings so I’ve resisted the temptation to adder nother.

The early start meant that a few animals were ‘caught-out’ by my sudden appearance,  they get used to having the reserve to themselves earlier in the day. Of particular note were the pair of mandarin on the settlement pond near Ivy South Hide.

 

Pair of mandarin on settlement pond

Pair of mandarin on settlement pond

 

They get their name from the fine costume of the drake and the fact that they were imported from China. Originally in a collection at Virginia Water, in Surrey, some escaped and found the U.K. to their liking, to such an extent that there are now more here than in China.   A more common connotation of the name is with a small fruit of the orange family, and as these ducks nest in holes in trees, like the fruit they also grow on trees!!!

Regular readers will recall that I have a slightly quirky take on language – hence the title above which refers to the fact that in English both adders and oranges have changed their names over the years. They each used to be preceded with an ‘n’ as  ‘a nadder’ and ‘a norange’ , but the ‘n’ migrated across the gap to what we have today.

Spring is really sprung now and everywhere there is bird song. The sheer ebullience of the males in securing a territory and attracting a mate has made them extremely vocal and quite bold. In my early morning tour round I managed to see at least four of the many wrens, whereas normally I would only hear them. Later on, one of the three  blackcaps I heard was obliging enough to show itself well enough for me to take a halfway decent picture.

P1470972 Blackcap

an obliging blackcap

The, now, long staying red-crested pochard was causing some kerfuffle among a group of other ducks, trying to impress them with its magnificence, probably a testosterone fuelled aggression generated by the lack of females of its own species.

P1470923 Red crested pochard

red-crested pochard chasing anything in feathers

Across the lakes there are still considerable numbers of duck, although we may have local breeding populations of mallard, teal, tufted duck, goosander and others we will loose pintail, goldeneye, wigeon and shoveler for the summer. Running to their own timetable there is still a little time before they push off to regions northwards. We can only marvel at the strength of purpose that drives them on their travels several hundreds or even thousands of miles to their northerly breeding grounds.

The lovely sunshine of late encourages one to look around, sometimes spotting things that have been around all the time, but just weren’t so obvious. Such a view was the abundance of witch’s broom festooning a tree near Docken’s water.

P1470877 which's broom

witch’s broom on tree by Docken’s Water

The power of the life force in humble seeds is well demonstrated by the emergence of this small tree (sycamore?) growing out of one of the drain covers on the tarmacked drive near the reserve entrance.

P1470881 sycamore

sycamore(?) growing in a roadside drain

This burgeoning abundance of life provides us with some beautiful sights like these willow catkins just outside the Lapwing Hide.

P1470920 catkins

catkins in sunshine

Even a very primitive plant, mare’s tail, presents us with a startling image in its young stage.

P1470956 mare'stail

dramatic looking shoot of mare’s tail

Mare’s tail are truly ancient plants – related to the ferns that formed the backdrop to forests at the time (or even earlier) when dinosaurs ruled.  A plant of damp or even wet places they have survived  the millennia and are nowadays a bit of a nuisance, being quite difficult to eradicate if they pop up in your garden.  It’s also  difficult to ignore another gardeners’  ‘problem’ plant, celandine, its cheerful bright yellow flowers adorning the woodland areas of the reserve.

P1470980 celendine

the cheerful flower of celandine – like a beacon on the forest floor

Talking of ‘problems’, I remember being out on a wild flower walk many years ago,  with an extremely knowledgeable  local botanist, but who admitted that field identification of a lot of the little ‘dandelion like’ flowering plants was nigh on impossible at times. There are, however, a few that have such distinctive features making identification fairly easy. One such plant is the colt’s foot which is one of our earliest flowers and has a distinctive, stout stem.

P1470959 coltsfoot

Colt’s foot with its distinctive stems

A lot of the later yellow flowers in this style are a bit of a nightmare to separate.

Talking of nightmares of this sort, for me and I believe a lot of other’s interested in moths, members of the pug family can be quite difficult to identify accurately. Many of them are on the wing in the middle months of the year, so at the momenta lot of species can be  eliminated from the possibilities. Working on this principle I think the pug which turned up in the light trap this morning is a brindled pug.

P1470857 brindled pug

brindled pug

From the smallest to the largest and another brindled specimen was this strikingly patterned brindled beauty.

P1470863 brindled beauty

brindled beauty

Sitting more like a butterfly than most moths, the group known as ‘thorns’ can also exercise observational skills – fortunately this one is one of the more distinctive types and its appearance at this time of year chimes in well with the name – early thorn.

P1470854 early thorn

early thorn

As Jim reported earlier in the week, our overnight light trap has attracted the attention of avian predators, probably the robin which waited in attendance when I was emptying the trap last week. Nevertheless, last night Jim had crammed the trap full of egg boxes so that any bird would find it difficult to move around inside. I did find one pair of wings this morning and any moths that had settled around the outside of the trap had been eaten, but  there were over 100 moths in the trap.  A fitting result for Mother’s (Moth-er’s) Day!!!

The most numerous were common quakers , nearly fifty of them.

P1470851 common quaker

common quaker

Our avian predator may well be from the pair of robins  who, in an indefatigable effort are striving to create a nest in the roof of the outside shelter by the Education Centre.

A spectacular piece of avian engineering!!!

A spectacular piece of avian engineering!!!

 

P.S. If anyone has lost a rather smart looking monopod on the reserve, it has been handed in – please ‘phone to identify and arrange collection.

 

 

 

 

 

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Of Moths and Men(& Women) visitors

For the first time in a while I’ve just spent two consecutive days on duty here and they couldn’t have been more different.

Yesterday was fairly busy, the pleasant weather and sunshine enticed several tens of visitors, including a couple of organised group visits. Today, however, the promising start soon deteriorated and only a minority of the stalwarts stayed on much after lunch time.

Bird wise there have been the ‘usual suspects’, although the two mealy redpoll have been elusive and its looking increasingly likely that the great white egret has flown to pastures new (France?). The red-crested pochard is still hanging around and at least one black-necked grebe was on show from Lapwing Hide. One of our regular watchers reported, yesterday, that the osprey platform was being investigated as a possible nest site. Unfortunately the putative nest builders were a couple of Egyptian geese – so not such good news!!!

Today’s ‘best bird’ was a firecrest, spotted by Bob Chapman, in hanging ivy near the woodland hide.

Two different observers reported a strange continuous  ‘trilling’/ ‘warbling’ sound from low down in reed beds close to the Lapwing Hide. Trying to attribute this sound to any likely bird species proved impossible, but the suggestion it might be a frog species (Bull frog??) seemed to fit, but, as Patrick Moore used to say, ‘we just don’t know’.

The mild conditions and predicted overnight dry spell, encouraged me to put the light trap on for its first outing this year. Not surprisingly for the time of year there wasn’t a massive number of moths, only seven in total.

I’ll leave you with a few pictures of the moths…

P1470558 Oak beauty

P1470521 March Moth P1470551 hebrew Character P1470563 Chestnut

From top to bottom these are Oak Beauty, the rather seasonally named March Moth, Hebrew Character and Chestnut.

Christmas and all that…

2013 Blashford volunteers_resize

 

Yesterday afternoon and evening we hosted the annual Christmas gathering of volunteers, partly as a thank you for everyone’s time and hard work over the last 12 months, partly as just an opportunity to get together for a bit of fun without the work and, as I told them last night, partly to keep everyone sweet so they continue to turn out week after week and help us manage and maintain the nature reserve and educational work to the high standard that we strive for. It always sounds cheesy, but it is true that without them the site would not be half the site that it is. Pictured above (in a slight interruption to the starling roost watching that we had been doing and continued to do after the photo was taken!) are just some of the volunteers that help us keep up our good work – thanks again everyone : ).

And in case anyones wondering, yes the starlings did turn up though possibly not in quite the numbers that there have been and with a somewhat gloomy and overcast sky, nor was it one of the more breathtaking displays, but nice to see none-the-less.

True to form the volunteers managed to come to Blashford during the better weather and today it has been pretty miserable! I expected the Dockens Water to be high after last nights rain and I wasn’t disappointed – although it regularly does run a lot deeper/wider (at least a foot deeper than this along this section by the river dipping area), it was higher this morning than I’ve seen for a while – good for sea trout!

The Dockens Water this morning - looking out from the information panel opposite the "lower centre car park".

The Dockens Water this morning – looking out from the information panel opposite the “lower centre car park”.

With more rain on the way it seemed prudent to check on the flood prone footpaths on the approach to Lapwing Hide – all still passable in walking boots at the moment if you take care, but I wouldn’t try it in shoes or trainers, so we did put out the temporary signs advising visitors to take the “long way” up to Lapwing Hide around the edge of the reedbed rather than that up through the middle. It was nice to get to a bit of the reserve I don’t get to so much, even in the rain, doubly so as the wildfowl are so much closer to the hides on that side of Ibsley Water than they are at Tern Hide. Lapwing Hide in particular had good numbers of wigeon, gadwall and coot and reports in the record book of black necked grebe  on Thursday, while in the more sheltered water at Goosander Hide there were at least 20 goosander, loads of pintail ducks and a red crested pochard.

View from Lapwing Hide, with wigeon on the grassy spit.
View from Lapwing Hide, with wigeon on the grassy spit.
View from Goosander Hide - the goosander were all either on, or just off, the bank of the spit opposite the hide.

View from Goosander Hide – the goosander were all either on, or just off, the bank of the spit opposite the hide.

The great white egret is still on Ivy Lake and with siskin coming down to the feeders more I put up a niger feeder in the centre car park – within 3 minutes 3 siskin had found it and since then most of the feeder ports have had siskin on for most of the day. No redpoll yet though!

It didn't take long for the siskin to find the feeder!

It didn’t take long for the siskin to find the new feeder!

Other than that the only other things of any particular note were treecreeper (a bird that seems to do well at Blashford, or at least is more easily seen here than in other woodlands), of which I saw 3 while opening up (unless of course it was the same bird in different locations).  The white of the belly contrasting starkly with the otherwise gloomy and grey background today.

Christmas opening times:

I am now looking forward to a few days off with the family over Christmas but someone will be in to open up as normal everyday except Christmas Day over the coming couple of weeks.

So on that note it only leaves me to wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year from all of the staff at Blashford (pictured below for the first time!).

Happy Christmas from the team! Steve, Adam, Ed, Bob, Jim and Michelle!

Happy Christmas from the team! Steve, Adam, Ed, Bob, Jim and Michelle!

A happy (and a not so happy) ending…

A beautiful day drew in a steady stream of visitors to the reserve throughout the day – with great views of bittern (from Ivy North hide) and kingfisher (on Ivy Silt Pond) and also reports of the red crested pochard (from Goosander Hide). Much of the wildfowl was concentrated around the eastern side of Ibsley Water so the best views were always going to be from Goosander and Lapwing Hides, but I took this picture of wigeon and coot when I opened up Tern this morning:

View from Tern Hide this morning

View from Tern Hide this morning

I failed (again!) to see bittern, but the early morning sun gave the reed on Ivy Lake, where one would be seen later in the day, quite beautiful  and almost ethereal:

Ivy Reed beds

Ivy Reed beds

Nothing out of the ordinary was to be seen from Ivy South either, but still worth a picture of a nice assemblage of wildfowl, including wigeon, coot, tufted duck, gadwall and great crested grebe:

View from Ivy South Hide

View from Ivy South Hide

Given the recent mild (and dry) weather I decided to run the light trap last night as it had not been run for weeks, if not months – and of course it cleared overnight to a frosty start this morning! None the less I am able to report 3 species as having been on the wing last night (albeit only 5 individual moths actually caught) – December moth, mottled umber and scarce umber. Pictured here are the December moth and mottled umber, both quite attractive species, the December moth especially so with it’s warm “woolly coat” and heavily feathered antennae, necessary to help keep the insect insulated against the winter cold!

Mottled umber

Mottled umber

December moth

December moth

 

A close up of those remarkable antennae!

A close up of those remarkable antennae!

As for the blog title? I’m delighted, and more than a little surprised, to report a happy ending for a mute swan that Ed and Adam retrieved from Ivy Silt Pond by boat a few weeks ago following reports of a swan in difficulties and apparently ensnared by fishing line. In fact it had swallowed the line as well as been trapped in it and really looked to be on it’s last legs. Fortunately our local wildlife rescue experts, Joel and Mike, from “Wildlife Rescue” who operate from Moyles Court, were able to take the swan in and in turn then passed it on to specialist swan rescue centre near London. Fortunately for the bird it seems that it was rescued in the nick of time and despite having swallowed a massive length of line all the way into its gizzard, there was no hook on the end of it and after several days on a drip she has made a  remarkable recovery and was released onto Ibsley Water this afternoon:

Ready, steady...

Ready, steady…

..GO!

…GO!

In less than a minute she had made new friends and was off. Aah!

In less than a minute she had made new friends and was off. Aah!

Hats off to Mike, Carla and Joel who give an inordinate amount of their time to rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife and do an absolutely remarkable job  for little or no reward other than the satisfaction that they receive from helping injured animals. Sadly I’m sure we will be in touch with them again before too long, but we at least are extremely grateful for their work – and the fact that they are so close!

On my way back across to the centre I came across another animal whose end was was not quite so happy; glancing into the river as I crossed the footbridge I saw this (once) lovely sea trout washed up in the shallows of the Dockens Water:

The untimely demise of a sea trout?

The untimely demise of a sea trout?

It isn’t ever so clear in the picture, but when I headed down the bank for a closer look it soon became apparent that the trout had actually been predated – with a big chunk of its belly missing, almost certainly the work of an otter, though it maybe that mink also leave similar tell-tale signs. It’s been a little while since we had enough rain to bring the sea trout up river with the spate conditions, so hopefully it had spawned before becoming someones dinner.

Stripping the willow

Yesterday, Thursday, was volunteer day and I’d love to tell you that mid-way through the task everyone broke into some spontaneous traditional dancing, but sadly(?) that wasn’t the case and the blog title actually refers to the fact that we continued the osier willow pollarding that was begun last week…

Pollards before...

Pollards before…

...and after.

…and after.

As always everyone worked really hard and by the end of the morning, although there is still some to be cut, particularly around the margins, the bulk of this block has now been cleared. Over the next few weeks that will be finished and work will begin on re-coppicing some of the surrounding willow blocks. The willow poles, or withies, that are cut are stacked into a number of cradles (one of which is pictured in the foreground above) ready for use either on-site or elsewhere. The cradles lift them off the ground, mostly to lift them out of the reach of the rabbits who will gnaw at the bark and wood rendering them useless, but also partly to stop them rooting into the soil and growing.

Although probably not true osiers the withies that are harvested are almost as flexible and can be, and have been in the past, used in basketry work by local basket makers and on courses at the centre.  Some of the willow will be used by Michelle and myself with school and community groups or events to make everything from toasting sticks, to wreaths and bird feeders, but there is always far more than we have a use for, so every year we will sell what we can (for a donation) to schools, youth and community groups and private individuals. If you are interested, or know someone who might be interested, please do let them know and get in touch with us to arrange collection (01425 472760 or BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk). The smaller stems are approximately 0.5cm in diameter and 1.5m long, the larger stems approximately 1.5cm in diameter and 3m long. In addition to the a fore mentioned use in baskets and crafts these willows are ideal for planting to create living willow sculptures.

Sherry modeling some freshly harvested willow!

Sherry modeling some freshly harvested willow!

While most people were engaged in the pollarding work mention should also go to Russel and Phillip. Russel stoically helped Michelle tackle the ever ending bramble “seedlings” in what should be one of our meadow sweep netting areas, but as long as it is as bramble infested as it is, with out reinforced sweepnets(!) it is not really useable as such. Between the two of them they removed loads, but sadly, there are still plenty more to go…

Russel getting to the root of our bramble problem

Russel getting to the root of our bramble problem

Phillip meanwhile was armed with the leaf blower and managed to clear the leaves from the paths between Ivy North, Woodland and Ivy South Hides, as well as making good headway along the woodland/Dockens Water footpath between the Tern Hide and Goosander Hide. It may seem a little strange to “waste” time, fuel and effort on removing leaves from the footpaths on a nature reserve, but the truth is that the consequences of not doing so will prove far more expensive both in terms of time and resources in the long run. One of the great things about Blashford Lakes as a nature reserve for many people is the accessibility of the paths – unfortunately if leaves are left on the paths they really quite quickly get trodden in and decompose down to a nice organic substrate that is perfect for grass and other plants to root into and in a relatively short space of time what were easily accessible gravel paths become grown over with far less accessible tussocks of grass and other vegetation. This has happened already on other, more remote, parts of the reserve which we know are going to need some attention over the next 12 months to improve them and bring them back up to spec.

Phillip - armed and ready to blow!

Phillip – armed and ready to blow!

Bird wise I’ve not much to report from yesterday – I’m not even aware of bittern having been seen, but as I type I have just had a visitor report seeing the red-crested pochard and four goosander on Ibsley Water. Not that the goosander are unusual, but it is less common for them to be seen on the lake in the middle of the day except in inclement weather.

Words and Birds

Hello again.  It’s been a while (three weeks) since I posted on this blog, having been away and then, last week, after spending a time trimming back seed heads from buddleia to prevent them overrunning the reserve, and afterwards not feeling inspired enough to write anything.  I was berated, earlier this week,  by one of our regular volunteers and reader of the blog (you know who you are!!!) for not writing anything last Sunday, so I thought I’d better make an effort today.  Those of you who do any writing will probably recognise the problems of either  not feeling they have anything to say and/or struggling to find the words.     Along those lines,  I remember the tale of one professional writer who couldn’t think of a particular word for two weeks – but then it suddenly came to him….’fortnight’!!!

Having said all this, I guess most of you will want to read some news from Blashford, so here goes.

The bittern(s) is still in being seen regularly from Ivy South Hide, but has also been viewed, in its more usual habitat, in the reed beds outside Ivy North Hide. Whilst closing the reserve last Sunday,  I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this bird in the left hand side of the reeds, far off to the right side of the Ivy North Hide. As no one else has posted any pictures of this bird yet, I’ll start with this rather poor, distant image, taken in low light conditions ( getting all my excuses in first!!)  as evidence that the bird is here. P1460717 bittern Recent addition to the avifauna n the form of a ferruginous duck reported yesterday from Ivy South Hide. Otherwise the red-crested pochard is still around as are good numbers of many of the other ducks such as  mallard, shoveller, gadwall, wigeon, teal, pochard, goldeneye and tufted duck. A few green sandpiper  are scattered around the margins of the lakes.

For the gull fans (I know there are a few of you out there) up to nine yellow-legged gulls were seen coming in to roost on Ibsley Water yesterday.  Roost time can also produce increased numbers of goosander as they fly in from the Avon Valley to spend the night here.  Also in residence in and on the water, in roughly decreasing size order, we have mute swan, Canada goose, greylag goose, Egyptian goose, great-crested grebe, lapwing, coot, moorhen and little grebe. 

The alders are providing enough food to keep a regular flock of siskin in and around the Woodland Hide area.  This abundance of natural food means that many of the  winter visitors to our seed feeders haven’t yet put in much of an appearance although some lesser redpoll have been reported.  otherwise the usual collection of tit species including marsh tit as well as nuthatch and treecreeper are being seen from the Woodland Hide.  A water rail was seen, by some lucky visitors,  feeding on a fish (the rail feeding, not the visitor!), just outside the Ivy South Hide for about twenty minutes in the mid-afternoon.

A party from an RSPB local group have chosen Blashford for a day trip. One of the party reported seeing a large bird of prey flying low over the heath and going into the trees, from the description one of ‘our’ buzzards.

To finish here is a picture of what must be one of but maybe not the last ‘summer’ flowers to be seen on the reserve

red campion

red campion

Reserve on the Turn

I guess by now it’s pretty common knowledge that quite a big ‘blow’ is forecast for tonight.  Fortunately today as I opened up, despite a ‘bit of a blow’ and quite a lot of rain last night (8mm in rain gauge this morning), there is very little to report, apart from  lots of leaves on the ground.  Fortunately, Ed, Adam and the Lower Test team have already removed a number of potentially falling trees, so we should be O.K. , but here’s wishing Ed good luck for tomorrow, anyway.

Although there are a number of different species of woodland birds around, we don’t yet have large numbers, although one visitor did report seeing 100s of robin!  There was a report of the bittern from Ivy North Hide and great white egret has also been seen.  On the water there are increasing numbers of birds including over ten goosander as well as our tame (?) red-crested pochard seen from Lapwing hide.

The wind was really making the water quite choppy and most of the waterfowl were bobbing up and down. It put me in mind of one of my idle speculations about what would be the worst malady to have if you were a particular animal. (e.g. a cow with hay fever), but perhaps being a duck with a tendency to sea-sickness would be as bad.

The leaves accumulating on the paths reminds us of the approach of winter, but apparently this year, because of the hot summer, we are to be rewarded with a rich display of autumn colour (something to do with sugars in the leaves). Always supposing the wind tonight doesn’t strip all the trees.  We already have a small foretaste of some autumn colour here.

A litle bit of colour in the Centre car-park

A little bit of colour by the Centre car-park

Individual fallen leaves can be quite photogenic.

Maple or more likely sycamore leaf

Maple or more likely sycamore leaf

Sometimes even on leaves still attached to trees the pattern of colours from the fading leaf and the fungi growing on it make some brilliant patterns.

Dark patches of fungal growth.i

Dark patches of fungal growth.

Quite possibly some of these fungi may only grow on particular host species.

The freshly cut faces of logs provides another interest like the rich russet of the recently cut alder ( I think) logs.

Freshly cut alder logs

Freshly cut alder logs

More obvious fungi have also been giving good value for money this year like this particularly fine crop of Shaggy Ink Cap or Lawyer’s Wig  (Coprinus comatus), at the side of the path to Lapwing and Goosander hides.

Shaggy Ink Cap or Lawyer's Wig

Shaggy Ink Cap or Lawyer’s Wig

The Lawyer’s Wig name seems obvious from the look of these, the ink cap name arises from the fact that, as they ripen, the gills ‘auto digest’  forming a black inky fluid which drips from the opening cap. Whether this was once used as an ink seems somewhat in doubt.

Autumn colour and finery are also to be found on the drake waterfowl as they come out of their eclipse plumage. This is adopted to make them less conspicuous whilst moulting their flight feathers, but they change into their breeding finery about now.  This image, captured last week, is of a pair of mallard, who appear to have had a bit of a falling out.

"%$&£"@**&^£ ???"

“%$&£”@**&^£ ???”

Can’t imagine what she’s saying to him, but it looks like he’s in trouble.  I heard it, but it was in ‘mallard’ , it might as well have been ‘double duck’ – or Mandarin??!

Heralds of Spring

Lots of visitors today so plenty of sightings being reported including bittern being spotted just outside the Ivy North Hide by a number of people.  On Ibsley Water  black-necked grebe and red-crested pochard were seen from the Tern Hide, together with high numbers of waterfowl including unusually large rafts of shoveler.   Many visitors were pleased to see pintail in among the other ducks. No reports of the smew that had been seen, I believe, on Rockford Lake, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been seen or isn’t there, just that no one mentioned it to us.

In and around the Woodland Hide and elsewhere on the reserve the wonderful mixed flocks of tits and finches continue to delight by their constant attendance on the seed and peanut feeders. The goldfinch, chaffinch and greenfinch numbers being augmented by their smaller cousins, siskin and lesser redpoll on the niger seed feeders, and a few brambling mixed in with the chaffinch flocks on the ground.

Jim kindly set out the light trap last night (first time this year), and as I’d seen reports from other moth-ers of some un-seasonal species being  caught recently, with eager anticipation we set to unloading the trap to find……………just one moth – a Spring Usher.  A little early, but nonetheless a welcome sight

First moth for the teay in our light trap

First moth for the year in our light trap

In the floral line it’s nice to report that some of our more delightful winter flowers are starting to give us a glimpse of glories to come, in the form of these pioneering snowdrops poking through the leaf litter near to the Centre car-park.

A cheering sight - hopefully not a herald of weather to come!!!

A cheering sight – but, hopefully, not a herald of weather to come!!!