The Best of Blashford

The second Pop-up Cafe of the winter today and, thankfully, the weather was a great deal better than the damp day we had at the start of the month. The reserve was busy and there was a good deal to see from most points, for most of the day.

Opening up Tern hide I saw a water pipit, although my first notable birds were at the main gate, where there was a fieldfare with a couple of redwing and a pair of bullfinch. 

I then spent a couple of hours attending to various tasks about the office before getting out to Lapwing and Goosander hides. We have done quite a bit of work on and beside the paths in this area with the object of both maintaining good access and making the walk more interesting for visitors and wildlife. To this end we have been scraping back the path edges and thinning the small trees to make clearings, increase the light and open up some views over the reeds. This work should also benefit insects and the reptiles that use this area, so we have been making sunny sheltered clearings and have dug one new sandy bank for solitary bees.

Up at Lapwing hide I was surprised to see several hundred large gulls, it was only late morning, so way to early for a roost gathering. I noticed the other day that there were  a lot of large gulls on the lake very early in the day. I suspect there are two possible explanations, either they are feeding very nearby and dropping in and out between bouts of feeding, or they have found somewhere with so much food that they are getting their fill in just a couple of hours. Looking through the gulls I saw the Caspian gull found yesterday, it is a “textbook” first winter bird, which always helps with these potentially difficult to identify birds.

At Goosander hide on the way back there were 2 green sandpiper and a dunlin, the latter flushed from the Long Spit in the company of a snipe by a peregrine. I took the long way back as I wanted to investigate some tyre tracks I had noticed on the Lichen Heath last Monday. Hidden away on the far side of the water treatment works I found out where they had been heading and why, a heap of fly-tipped material. I suspect dumped in the rain last Saturday, since it must have been in the day and when there were not many people around. We are certainly welcoming donations at the moment, but not this kind! It goes without saying that if you are on the reserve and ever see anything suspicious like this please make a note of what you safely can and let us know.

We always welcome donations of course, but at present we are trying to raise money to make a number of improvements to the reserve. The largest of these is the replacement of the Tern hide, the existing hide is suffering a bit and we recently won a grant to replace it, if we can raise the rest of the funds, to find out how you can help us see The Blashford Appeal

On my way back from a bird food buying trip I dropped in at Tern hide and saw 3 great white egret in the distance flying north up the Avon valley, I assume our regulars, but who knows? After another spell in the office I got out again in the late afternoon where there was a marsh harrier visible in the distance. Out on the lake the numbers of gulls had increased a lot and were more than I have seen this winter so far by some margin. I found the ring-billed gull deep in the flock, but unfortunately had to take off my glasses and when I looked back I could not find it again.

The Pop-up Cafe had done well, they will be back with more excellent cake on the first Sunday of December, so if you missed them today you could come then, or on the 16th of December, or both and New Year’s Day as well. You can also get a range of Wildlife Trust gifts and Christmas cards.

Locking up I saw 2 great white egret as usual at Ivy North hide, there were also at least 160 cormorant roosting in the trees and at least 161 tufted duck on the water.

It had felt like a good day almost all round, fly-tipping excepted. The reserve was busy with a range of people watching wildlife, from keen rarity hunters to families enjoying the nuthatch and the fine male sparrowhawk perched at the Woodland hide and there was cake too. Blashford Lakes is fortunate to have elements that appeal to a wide audience, we have popular events for ages from toddlers onward and different parts of the reserve that offer highlights for all types of wildlife seekers. Hopefully the reserve can continue to enthuse a wide and growing audience, our wildlife needs all the supporters it can get!

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Sunday Birds

I was running a bird watching course at Blashford today so I was pleased to wake to a dry and fairly bright day with little or no wind, more or less ideal conditions. There were ten people booked on, although only eight actually came along in the end. We did a tour of the hides starting with the furthest away. This gave us the walk along the Dockens Water to look and listen out for woodland birds. We did not see anything unusual, although along the way we had good views of goldcrest, treecreeper, nuthatch, redwing and long-tailed tit. In fact we found several bands of long-tailed tits, each one the core of a small mixed flock of woodland birds.

Up at the Lapwing hide one bird we did not see was lapwing, but we did find a small group of goldeneye, there were at least eight around today, a marked increase, no doubt due to the colder weather, there was also a flock of 20 pochard, probably newly arrived.

After a brief stop in the Goosander hide, where we did see goosander, it was back over the road to the Ivy Lake hides. Arriving at Ivy South we learnt that we had just missed the bittern, but we did see lots of ducks, including gadwall and wigeon.

wigeon pair

a pair of wigeon

At the Woodland hide we had the usual great views of lots of the common woodland birds as well as a fine male brambling with the many chaffinch feeding on the ground.

We tried the Ivy North hide for the bittern, but failed and finished off in the Tern hide (where of course there are now no terns) seeing lots of greylag geese, little grebe and ducks. Hopefully everyone had enjoyed themselves and taken a way a few tips for getting more enjoyment out of their bird watching in future. I have watched birds all my life and never tire of them, you never know what you will see. There is always lots more to learn, they also have the advantage of being almost everywhere at all times of the year and relatively easy to see.

Later in the afternoon I went over to the Tern hide again to check out the birds arriving to roost as I have a “Coming to roost” event tomorrow evening. There were lots and lots of gulls, but sadly no starlings, still perhaps a cold snap will bring them back.

gull roost

Gull roost (just a VERY small part!)

There was no obvious sign of the ring-billed gull this evening, but it might just have got lost in the mass of birds, there were at least 20 common gull though, I have been struggling to find more than five so far this winter.

Locking up on Ivy Lake I counted at least 67 cormorant in the roost, earlier I had also seen a single little egret with them, but by dusk it had gone.

little egret with cormorants

Little egret in the cormorant roost

It was very pleasant to be able to get right round the reserve, something I had not done in ages and on a remarkably pleasant day, albeit one that did start to get a bit chilly as the sun set.

nearly dark

Nearly dark

Some Birds, Winter is Coming

Although we are still mostly waiting for the winter birds to arrive and as a result the reserve seems quiet at present, yesterday saw two significant reports. On Ibsley Water, close to the Tern hide a Slavonian grebe was giving good views, this small grebe is much rarer inland than black-necked grebe and was a welcome addition, being the first since the reserve was established. The second record of note was the reappearance of the drake ferrunginous duck on Ivy Lake, after having first been seen a couple of weeks ago on the lakes to the north of Ibsley village. It is most probably the same bird that has been returning for the last few winters. The move tot he north by the winds made the day much colder and was perhaps also the reason for there being several redwing around in the tree tops near the Centre. Perhaps things are picking up……………..

Still wet and getting wetter!

*TERN HIDE, TERN HIDE CAR PARK AND GOOSANDER HIDE ARE ALL CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE*

There had been a lot of rain over night so I was amazed to find that Tern Hide car park was actually wadeable (in wellies) when I arrived this morning. It didn’t cross my mind to open up the car park at all as, as you can tell from the photo below, it was still pretty wet, but I did dither a bit over whether or not to open up the hide. In the end I erred on the side of caution and didn’t open it and as I write this at about 3pm this afternoon, it was the right choice to make!

A (relatively) dry car park first thing today!

A (relatively) dry car park first thing today!

Although I didn’t see bittern this morning, bittern were seen throughout the day by those few visitors to brave the weather and the great white egret was very obliging too – him I did see when I opened up:

Great white doing its best to lurk like a bittern in the reeds but failing miserably at the whole camouflage thing!

Great white doing its best to lurk like a bittern in the reeds but failing miserably at the whole camouflage thing!

However the main news of the day really does have to be the rain and its affects on the Dockens Water. I headed out armed with loppers and bow-saw to tackle the willows and brambles leaning ever heavier over many of the footpaths and watched the river getting higher and higher throughout the day:

Ellingham Drove not long after the Dockens Water started flowing along it again this afternoon - hopefully the dead hedge only just re-instated on Thursday stands up to it this time!

Ellingham Drove not long after the Dockens Water started flowing along it again this afternoon – hopefully the dead hedge only just re-instated on Thursday stands up to it this time!

The old public footpath footbridge over the Dockens Water - actually this was underwater less than an hour after taking the picture.

The old public footpath footbridge over the Dockens Water – actually this was underwater less than an hour after taking the picture.

Footpath shortly after the Dockens Water flooded over it again - it will be even higher now! Please do take care along the river at the moment - even on the footpaths there can be deceptively deep sections, the footpath edge is not always very clear and the river can be flowing at a fair lick in places too.

Footpath shortly after the Dockens Water flooded over it again – it will be even higher now! Please do take care along the river at the moment – even on the footpaths there can be deceptively deep sections, the footpath edge is not always very clear and the river can be flowing at a fair lick in places too.

We are not faring very well with hides over Ibsley Water way at the moment – not only is Tern Hide currently closed due to flooding, Goosander Hide is also closed, and has been since Monday, due to a broken lock which unfortunately has sheared off (we are not suspecting foul play!). A locksmith is attending to it but it is a somewhat specialist lock that will require ordering in so it will be closed for at least a little while yet.

Lapwing Hide, for the moment at least, is open, but I was rather disappointed to  find that someone had somewhat foolishly/selfishly left one of the windows open:

It should go without saying, but please do close hide windows before you leave!

It should go without saying, but please do close hide windows before you leave!

The gloomy and wet weather did not make for the best bird watching, but it was nice to see a small flock of redwing feeding in the grass to the south of the hide and there certainly were plenty of wildfowl to peer at through rain spattered binoculars – including pintail, goldeneye, wigeon, gadwall, goosander, gadwall and tufted duck:

Ibsley Water

Ibsley Water (the “dots” at the mouth of the bay are birds!)

Ibsley Water is remarkably high at the moment – the little spit that normally sits out in front of Lapwing Hide is now completely submerged, and the perches won’t be long before they are also under:

No wigeon grazing here now!

No wigeon grazing here now!

Outside Lapwing Hide the upper path through the reedbeds is now completely underwater. Never one to take a chance if I don’t have to, fortunately I had volunteer Jacki with me this morning and could send her out to test the depth. She didn’t go too far!

Don't try this!

Don’t try this!

Heading back to "dry land"

Heading back to “dry land”

The rain did finally stop at about 3.15pm – by which time we had had a reasonably significant rainfall of about 22mm since yesterday:

Todays rainfall

Todays rainfall

By no means a record, it is still a fair amount on top of what has already come and what is still forecast to come – and more than enough to get the river well up. By the end of the day rain fall alone had significantly “topped” up the flooding in Tern Hide car park and with the vast majority of Ellingham Drove underwater and a lag time of 2-3 hours between rain falling on the Forest and reaching the reserve via the Dockens Water it won’t be long until this trickle of river water on the approach to the footpath/kissing gates to Tern Hide becomes more of a steady torrent and I am quite happy that I made the right call in keeping Tern Hide closed today! And looking at the weather forecast, don’t expect it to be open again for a few days either!

Not far to the car park now...

Not far from the river to the car park now…

Sun Bitterns

Bird News: Ibsley Waterbarnacle goose 5, Caspian gull 1, pintail 14, peregrine 1. Ivy Lake –  bittern 3, water rail 2, Cetti’s warbler 1. Woodlandbrambling 1, lesser redpoll 20+.

I was going to post last night but fell asleep! So two days in one this time.

A party of 5 barnacle geese on Ibsley Water for the last two days are probably feral birds, but with cold coming in from the east we have had just the right conditions for the arrival of real ones. That said I have not heard of any others so perhaps caution should be excersised this time. Yesterday afternoon I finally  caught up with the adult Caspian gull on Ibsley Water. A notable feature of the cold spell has been the return of lots of gulls to the roost and the big rise in common gull numbers, perhaps we will get our own Iceland gull soon.

It was really cold overnight and driving up to the Centre this was made very clear when I looked at the Dockens Water which was frozen right across in places.

Ice on the Dockens Water

At the Ivy North hide I could make out 2 bittern standing high in the reeds on the lake edge about ten metres apart, they were in the first spot on the reed edge to catch the sun and the need to warm up had obviously taken precedence over their usual pugnatiouness, at least for a while.

The Woodland hide continues to attract more and more birds and I heard a brambling again this morning, there have been very few so far this winter and don’t expect many, even next month. The lesser redpoll and siskin numbers at the feeders are going up everyday as is the spend on nyger seed. The ringers were in again yesterday and caught sixty-five birds, including a couple of siskin and a lesser redpoll ringed at Blashford in previous years and a lesser redpoll ringed elsewhere. The weather yesterday was good for ringing, as it was for the volunteers. We were working in the small willow coppice patches near the Centre, where luckily we were nicely out of the easterly breeze and in the sun. Instead of dead hedging the cuttings were laid them on the ground around the cut stumps to try and deter the deer which completely stopped any regrowth last year, we will see how it works.

volunteers working in willow coppice

It was back to the Dockens Water this afternoon as we had a little job to do fixing some handrails. When we got to the site we found our first casualty of the cold snap, a redwing that seems to have landed on the ice, partly fallen though and then frozen to death.

frozen redwing

I am next in on Sunday, with the weather forecast as it is I wonder what will be in store, maybe some snow and almost certainly some new birds. Even if the snow does not reach us, the cold to the east will be pushing birds westwards, let’s hope it is not so cold that the lakes freeze. I will sign off for now with another Dockens Water shot, this time from towards the end of the day.

Icy Dockens Water