13th January – Great White and Yellow-browed

Another busy day on the reserve with the yellow-browed warbler performing pretty well throughout the day and drawing a steady flow of admirers to its favoured area neat Ivy South hide. It was not the only warbler on show though, there were Cetti’s warbler at Ivy North hide and at the silt pond neat Ivy South hide. Chiffchaff have been particularly frequent this winter and today I saw them near Ivy South hide, on the approach to Goosander hide and near Lapwing hide.

In the brief bit of sunshine we enjoyed around midday I went to have a quick practice with the new camera, these are some of the results.

chaffinch female

female chaffinch with scaly-leg

siskin male

siskin, a male not really showing his best side.

Although finch numbers at the Woodland hide are not large, they are increasing with siskin leading the charge and also an occasional redpoll.

tufted duck drake 2

tufted duck drake

At dusk there were at least 187 cormorant roosting in the trees beside Ivy Lake, which I photographed earlier in the day when there was more light.

view from ivy south hide

Ivy Lake from Ivy South hide with the very first few of the cormorant gathering to roost.

As Jim mentioned yesterday the car park nearest the Education Centre will be completely closed from tomorrow morning for at least the next week, this will mean no access along the track to the Centre, either for vehicles or pedestrians, you can still walk to the Centre using the footpath to the left of the track, always the safest route. The work is aimed at  levelling the car park surface to reduce the large puddles that are sometimes an unwelcome feature.

Further works are in the pipeline, so please keep an eye on things here to keep up to date with events.

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Another Year

What a great start to the New Year, a beautiful morning and the reserve was busy with visitors and birds for them to see. So busy in fact that the Pop-up cafe ran out of cake! This may also be because word is getting around that the cakes are exceedingly fine so people get in early, they will be back next Sunday though, so all is not lost.

A New Year means a new “list” not that I ever manage to keep one going to year’s end, but a good start for me at least, with 78 species recorded, 75 of them at Blashford.

Ibsley Water featured at least two (although I think there must be more) water pipit, seen from all three hides during the day, the black-necked grebe, typically near the north-western shore, a fly-over by the dark-bellied brent goose (rare at Blashford), a marsh harrier, green sandpiper and all the usual wildfowl. In the afternoon the Caspian gull was in the roost along with about 10 yellow-legged gull.

Meanwhile Ivy Lake had the bittern on view on and off for much of the day at Ivy North hide along with a supporting caste of Cetti’s warbler, chiffchaff and water rail, joined later by first one and then two great white egret which stayed to roost with the cormorants.

At Woodland hide the regular woodland birds have now been joined by a few reed bunting, but there is no sign as yet of any redpoll or brambling, but it is early days. More widely around the reserve a firecrest was at the road crossing to Goosander hide and several more chiffchaff were in the reeds and willows on the walk to Lapwing hide, where there was a reed bunting giving brief snatches of song, they usually don=t start until well into the spring.

Despite recording 75 species on the reserve, I never saw a greenfinch! and there were a few other species missing that are generally not that difficult to see.

I saw just four mammal species (not counting humans) all day and two of those were non-natives, grey squirrel, fallow deer, roe deer and a wood mouse, live-trapped in the loft. Meanwhile the year’s moth list got off to a roaring start with a single mottled umber, although by convention moths are recorded as being on the previous day as most fly just after dusk, so this is when they are attracted to the light.

mottled umber

a very well marked mottled umber

 

A Fishlake Wander, Recent sightings and Festive Opening

Work at the new Trust reserve at Fishlake Meadows is picking up, with the fencelines being cut out and plans being made for the start of willow coppicing, both to maintain some of the low scrub and to open up some new views across the reserve. As part of this planning process we were out on site at the start of the week, luckily we picked a good day.

P1090322

View across part of Fishlake Meadows

On our wandering in some of the damp fields we encountered a large number of Cetti’s warbler, the reserve has large areas of almost perfect habitat for them. We also flushed a fair few snipe including one jack snipe. Perhaps our most surprising sighting was of 2 hawfinch perched in a small tree near a flock of fieldfare. There has been a once in a lifetime invasion of hawfinches this winter with many thousands arriving from the continent. These two were probably some of these immigrants rather than local birds, but with the New Forest being the UK hotspot for the species they could have been more local.

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a view across the lower lake

 

mistletoe at Fishlake

Mistletoe on poplar at Fishlake

Around the drier margins and especially along the canal path there are still many live poplars and quiet a few of them have a festive bunch or two of mistletoe high in their branches.

Meanwhile at Blashford Lakes latest reports are that the ring-billed gull is now being seen regularly in the gull roost on Ibsley Water as is the first winter Caspian gull, with a 2nd winter bird also reported recently, the roost also includes 2 Mediterranean gull. The starlings have been putting on quite show, with some estimates of up to 50000 birds coming into roost, usually just to the west of Ibsley water so seen from the hill at the back of the main car park. On Ibsley Water itself there have been up to 104 goosander roosting, 14 goldeneye and a single black-necked grebe. At least one of the pink-footed geese can be seen on and off with the greylag. There continue to be something like 90 pochard and 25-30 pintail as well.

On Ivy Lake “Walter” the great white egret is being seen fairly regularly and was joined by a second bird the other day. From Ivy North hide water rail and Cetti’s warbler are regular, although we have yet to get a report of a bittern this winter. The Woodland hide has one or two brambling and lesser redpoll as well as the occasional and less desirable report of brown rat.

robin

Robin

CHRISTMAS OPENING: We will be open as usual over Christmas apart from Christmas Day itself when we will be closed. In addition on New Years Day we will have the Pop-up Café again in the Centre, so you can start your birdlist for the year and get a hot cup of something and some excellent homemade cakes.

 

A Returning Visitor

Not a great day to be out and about, the temperature topped out at 4 degrees and it rained throughout the daylight hours. As a result the reserve was quiet, at least for visitors, there was a good range of birds about though. All the usual wildfowl were seen, apart from either of the pink-footed goose, although it might have been there as some of the geese were lurking behind the islands.

The woodland was busy with redpoll and several bullfinch much in evidence. The nyger feeders are starting to attract siskin and goldfinch already, so I think we might be needing considerable extra supplies before the winter is out, they don’t usually start feeding on these feeders in numbers until well after Christmas.

The peak time to be out was at dusk, the starling roost was again well over 25000 birds, mostly arriving from the north, although they did not perform for long before going to roost, perhaps conserving their energy with a cold night ahead. The gull roost included a ring-billed gull for the first time this winter. I think it was the returning adult that has joined the roost over the last few winters. I managed to get a few rather poor shots of it, typically it was not playing ball, mostly facing away from me.

ring-billed gull 2

ring-billed gull, preening.

This picture does show the pale grey mantle and narrow white tips to the tertials and scapulars. On a common gull these are much more obvious, being both broader and contrasting more strongly with the darker grey mantle of that species.

ring-billed gull 1

ring-billed gull

This picture shows the heavier ringed-bill than common gull and the pale iris, most common gull have a dark iris (although a few do not, so this is a character not to be used in isolation).

Last of all and when it was almost completely dark, I saw “Walter” the great white egret roosting in the dead alder beside Ivy Lake.

Early Birds

I decided to get on site early on Sunday so that I could count the goosander as they left their roost on Ibsley Water. I managed to get my best count of the season so far, 72 birds. I also saw a group of 7 drake goldeneye, all displaying to a single female. Other species included 12 pintail and the usual range of ducks.

Walking back to the Centre I saw at least 3 chiffchaff, a firecrest and 2 hawfinch. The last are occasionally recorded at Blashford, almost always in ash and field maple trees close to Ellingham Drove, which is where these were. This winter has seen an unprecedented influx of this species, with flocks being seen in lots of places and will probably be my best chance to get them on my garden list. In fact overall it loos like  a good finch winter, with numbers of brambling and redpoll also in evidence.

I was working with volunteers clearing a ride along one of the butterfly transects and so saw rather few birds after my early excursion. The pink-footed goose was again in the greylag flock and a single dunlin was feeding out on the islands in Ibsley Water. At dusk I saw “Walter” the great white egret roosting in his favourite dead alder beside Ivy Lake.

Cake and Colours

A fine Blashford day and better still one with cake, because we hosted the Pop-up Café once again today. The reserve was fairly busy, both with visitors and birds. At opening up time Ivy Lake was busy with ducks, nothing unusual, but a good mix of species.

Ivy Lake

Ivy Lake with lots of wildfowl

The trees are in particularly good colour just now, with the oak just turning, joining the beech, hazel, willows and others. Some hazel are still completely green while others are in their autumn glory.

hazel

Hazel in full autumn colour

Although there are few on the reserve, the guelder rose draws attention at this time of year thanks to very bright leaves.

guelder rose

guilder rose

Field maple, like all the Acers, has very good autumn colour, although most of their leaves seem already to have fallen at Blashford.

field maple leaves

fallen field maple leaves

Not all the colour comes from leaves though, I know Tracy posted a picture of it on Friday but I cannot resist another one of the cobalt crust fungus.

cobalt fungus

cobalt crust fungus

The colour is amazing! It seems it is uncommon and mostly found on ash twigs and branches, at Blashford it is on rotting willow branches lying on the ground in deep shade.

Out on the reserve both the water pipit and pink-footed goose were on show at Tern hide on and off throughout the day. Over 30 goosander were present well before dusk and 3000 or so starling gave a rather brief display before going to roost rather earlier than I had expected.  Three Cetti’s warbler were singing around Ivy Lake and a fourth was calling beside Lapwing hide. At Woodland hide a redpoll, a couple of brambling and a firecrest were all reported and a woodcock was seen in the willows near the Centre car park. At dusk on Ivy Lake, Walter our regular great white egret was again roosting in his favourite dead alder beside the cormorant roost.

Ibsley Water

Ibsley Water towards the end of the day from Lapwing hide.

 

Wednesday 15th November – A Little Report

A “Little Report” because there is not much to report from today. The reserve was busy with a large group visiting from Christchurch U3A, but the bird news was fairly unremarkable.

Opening Tern hide I heard the or at least a water pipit calling, but could not see it. The lake had the now usual gathering of pochard. My count of 96 yesterday was by some margin the largest I have seen for a good while, there was a time when they were common at the lakes, with flocks into several hundred. Over the last few years pochard numbers have declined, not just here but right across Europe. Over the last 25 years there has been a 67% decline in wintering pochard in the UK. There are many possible reasons for this. They particularly like eating stoneworts, aquatic plants that grow well in oligotrophic (low nutrient) lakes, newly flooded gravel pits usually have very few nutrients and so are very good for them. However over time lakes acquire nutrients form many sources becoming less suitable for stoneworts and pochard. This is probably one of the main reasons for the decline at Blashford.

It might be expected that gravel pits in lowland England would gain nutrients, weed will grow and die, birds will import droppings and fish will mobilise sediments as well as adding their own contribution. In addition the rain is known to be contaminated with nitrogen which it picks up from the atmosphere, where we have added additional nitrous oxide to that naturally present. Recent reports by researchers at the British Geological Survey have highlighted that nitrogen fertilizers have leached their way down into the groundwater and will be coming out for decades to come.  These sources of nutrients do not include straight forward pollution by industry, sewerage etc. The increase in nutrients is impacting both natural and man-made waters and means that we are faced with a future where most lakes, at least in lowlands will be eutrophic, that is nutrient rich. Ultimately such lakes are likely to be dominated by algae, with little higher plant growth upon which most of our wildfowl depend.

Unfortunately for the pochard it seems that it is not just increasingly unsuitable waters that are against them. It has long been known that wintering flocks in the UK hold more drakes than ducks. Last winter wildfowl counters across Europe were asked to provide the sex ratio of the flocks they counted. This showed that across the whole of Europe the proportion of drakes in flocks had risen from 61% in 1989-90 season to 70% in 2016. The proportion of drakes being higher in northern Europe with more female wintering in southern Europe. It might be expected that females would suffer higher mortality at nesting as they nest on the ground where they are vulnerable to predators. However this is probably not the only reason fro the discrepancy. By wintering in southern Europe where hunting is more popular they are probably more often shot, but worse still they are especially vulnerable to ingesting shot and are more likely to do so in areas where there is more shooting. The paper outlining this research will be available soon at http://www.wwt.org.uk/conservation/saving-wetlands-and-wildlife/publications/wildfowl/ .

Anyway back to the day’s news, at the Woodland hide brambling was again seen and overhead a few redpoll could be heard in the siskin flock, things are looking good for large finch flocks later on. Towards dusk heading out to lock up I heard a firecrest again near the car park and this time also saw it, my first one seen this winter at Blashford, although  one was reported the other day from the main car park. On Ivy Lake Walter the great white egret was again at his roost in the dead alder with 150 or so cormorant also roosting in the trees around the lake.

I did have one non-bird sighting of interest, a common darter dragonfly still on the wing, my first for ten days or so, each year I hope to beat my latest dragonfly date of 19th November, which I have managed three times, I don’t think this is going to be the year though, with so few still flying.

Bittern doing what bittern do best…

…hiding! There are bittern around the reserve this winter, but whether because of high water levels, or because the relatively mild weather so far this winter has kept numbers on the reserve down again this year, they are being seen consistently on a pretty much daily basis, but often only one sighting in a day from different locations. Andy Copleston kindly sent in this picture earlier in the week of a bittern in the reeds fringing the southern shore of Ivy Lake:

Bittern by A Copleston

Bittern by A Copleston

Yes, I know. I had to look twice too! Try double clicking the picture to open it and zoom on the mid-point. It is there honest!

When you do see a bittern like this it does make you wonder how many others are out there under your nose being overlooked!

Kingfisher are showing quite well at the moment, particularly from Ivy North Hide and over Ivy Silt Pond, the ring-billed gull and long-tailed duck are still about, as is the great white egret (usually on Mockbeggar, Rockford or Ivy Lakes). New to the Blashford winter scene this season though are redpoll with sightings of a couple of birds feeding on the alder with siskin near Lapwing Hide. They have yet to be seen from the Woodland Hide though, where siskin are also thin on the ground still, with the birds preferring the alder and silver birch seeds of which there is apparently still plenty supply. Brambling have been seen in the Forest, but as yet have not made it to Blashford this winter…

A lovely day in the end today, it was very icy first thing this morning, with black ice all along Ellingham Drove and particularly by the entrance to the reserve. Last year (and this year so far) were so mild it is easy to forget, but this particular spot is always nasty in a cold snap so please do take care as you slow down on the approach and also be aware that the main car park (Tern Hide) can at times be terribly treacherous and that staff may choose to keep the car park (and possibly Tern Hide itself) closed if we deem it too dangerous. Forewarned is forearmed!

April showers…

Typical weather for the time of the year today… at last! Quite a cold wind made it feel a bit fresh even in the sunshine and though there was plenty of that there were some fairly dramatic showers too!

The following two pictures were taken of the north shore of Ivy Lake, the first from the southern screen along the Ivy/Rockford path and the second 5 minutes later from the northern screen on the same path:

130427Blashford3 by J Day_resize130427Blashford4 by J Day_resize

This same cooler weather meant that our moth light was not particularly successful – with just one hebrew character to show for it:

130427Blashford7 by J Day_resize

This morning I was busy leading the second part of a “Tracks, traps and signs” session which was begun last night with a short talk, bat walk, and setting and deployment of some Longworth small mammal traps. Somewhat surprisingly considering the coolness of the evening and lack of insects, we did record a small number of bats with the bat detectors – I’m not confident of what particular species they were but think that there were at least some pipistrelle, but suspect that there was at least one other species as well. It may be a sign of just how hungry they are in the unusually cold and late spring that they were out feeding at all in les than ideal conditions for them. Sarah Bignell, one of the Trusts ecologists is booked in to do 3 surveys this summer (when hopefully conditions will have improved!) and we look forward to finding out more about our bat population then. 

Nor were the mammal traps particularly successful: out of 16 traps (including two back up “fail safes” in the loft and one in the compost bin!) we only caught one small mammal, but one was better than none!

Preparing the trap:

130427Blashford1 by J Day_resize

One young female woodmouse (and proud captor Theo)!

130427Blashford5 by J Day_resize

The release!

130427Blashford6 by J Day_resize

Other news from the reserve include a sighting of a spotted redshank from Tern Hide on Thursday, at least a couple of whimbrel Thursday and Friday. Around the Woodland Hide and other feeders there are still siskin, redpoll (including some very handsome males now) and even the odd brambling still.

The most notable bird for me today however was willow warbler whose distinctive cascading song stood out from the rest of the bird song wherever I was on the reserve throughout the day, lovely!

Moth-er’s Day

A two-in-one posting today, as I didn’t get round to one yesterday.

The diminished activity of bittern has been one feature of the last two days. Although there have been some good views of one,  seen regularly throughout the day from the Ivy North Hide, there is little evidence of more than one being around.   Having said that, to my certain knowledge there were at least four people who had their first ever views of bittern today and another visitor (from Kent , where they have breeding bittern!)  ventured to say that he’d had his best views ever and added that he’d had one of his most memorable days of birdwatching with  excellent views of brambling and  lesser redpoll  from the Woodland Hide, which he described as ‘magic’.

With the bittern, by way of diversion, there was a snipe, hunkered down in what remains of the now somewhat ragged and tatty remnants of reeds and reedmace. A kingfisher was also seen from Ivy North.

A range of waterfowl species are still present, but in smaller numbers.  Goosander have given a number of visitors a great deal of pleasure and many of the drake  goldeneye,  gadwall , wigeon, teal and even mallard are looking particularly smart at present.

Another  measure of the somewhat chaotic temperature regime of late was the presence of a singing chiffchaff close by the Lapwing Hide yesterday.

It’s also that time of year when amphibians and reptiles are desporting themselves in any available small bodies of water.  I always think it’s amazing that they are inspired to such ‘passion’  whan the prevailing temperature has many of us reaching for the thermal underwear. Even so there have been mixed ‘flocks’ of common toad and common frog spawning in some of the wet areas close to the Woodland Hide and yesterday it  was warm enough to tempt an adder out to bask on the path close to the Lapwing hide.

As most people cannot have failed to realise, given the commercial pressures these days, today is Mothering Sunday – or to give it its now more familiar North American epithet “Mother’s Day”.   As those of you who know me will testify, I have a tendency to  mis-interpret some words for comedic effect.  Prompted by this, and a request from ‘she who must be obeyed‘ , I set out the light trap overnight to see if we could capture a few nocturnal lepidoptera.  Unfortunately given the time of year and the cool conditions it wasn’t conducive to producing the most spectacular array of moth species, but Blashford is used to attracting some very different characters including this Hebrew Character, though I don’t think they come here from Israel!

Image

Hebrew Character – named, I believe, from the shape of the prominent dark markings on each wing.

The only other moth in the trap was a Small Brindled Beauty.    The female of this species doesn’t have wings and like many (all?)  moths attracts a mate by releasing pheromones which the male detects with its large feathery antennae visible here.

Image

SO not the most dramatic or impressive array of moths caught in our overnight trap, but it does give me the excuse for wishing you a happy Moth-er’s Day……