As autumn slips into winter and the last of the leaves get blown from the trees we are seeing the wildlife of the reserve taking on a more wintry feel too. At the weekend the goosander roost passed 100 birds for the first time, whilst the gull roost is now well up into the thousands. A black-necked grebe has returned to Ibsley Water, although as is typical, it is frequenting the extreme northern shore of the lake. The startling roost in reeds just west of the A338 Salisbury Road, but best viewed from the main car park area or Lapwing hide, had built up and is now quite a sight in a fine evening.
Starling murmuration by Jon Mitchell
At times this gathering is attracting various predators, over the last ten days or so I have seen peregrine, sparrowhawk,marsh harrier and goshawk all eyeing up the roost for a potential snack.
Green sandpiper and water pipit are still being regularly seen at various points around Ibsley Water, but Goosander hide seems to be the most frequent place for good views of both. At least 3 great white egret are wandering the reserve and out into the valley, I have not managed to see more than three at any one time, but I strongly suspect there are more, perhaps up to five?
Visitors to the reserve may find diversions or short path closures over the next few weeks as we are doing some tree thinning, it should be possible to access all the hides though. The trees we are removing are mainly planted aliens species such as grey and Italian alder or species such as sycamore and Scots pine that are crowding more desirable species oak, elm and ash. The objective is to thin areas that were planted too densely and promote native species over non-natives, this should benefit a range of wildlife in the long run. Where possible we will be leaving standing dead trees, or lying dead wood for beetles and other invertebrates.
It is the same every year, at the end of October we are looking forward to the winter tasks with the whole season stretched out before us. Then, suddenly it is February and there is still lots of winter work, but not much winter. So it has been lucky that this week the weather has been kind and the schedule of meetings and other “interruptions” has allowed us to really get on with some tasks out on the reserve.
We have cleared bramble clumps to encourage grassland and maintain path edges, layered willows to thicken up habitat for breeding warblers and provide screening, cut rushes along Ibsley Water shore to increase suitability for breeding lapwing and grazing wigeon, cleared brash piles left by the power line clearance and cut around the Woodland hide to improve the viewing. When I think about it we also got a few other odd jobs done as well, but then winter is fast leaving us.
This point has been brought home when I have run the moth trap, only a couple of species caught but both typical early spring ones rather than winter species. One of my favourite early moths is the oak beauty, the closest relative of the peppered moth, well known a the classic example of industrial melanism. The other moth was the common quaker, which is often very abundant indeed in early spring.The reserve has continued to host a wide range of birds over the week, with both the black-necked grebe and Slavonian grebe being seen on Ibsley Water along with the usual goldeneye, goosander and good numbers of shoveler (over 200), wigeon (1000+) and some pintail. At dusk the large gull roost has included the regular ring-billed gull, three or possibly even four Caspian gull and several Mediterranean gull, these always increase during February, so far about five or six, but they might top twenty in a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile the bittern and great white egret have been seen fairly regularly on Ivy Lake and a the Woodland hide has hosted small numbers of brambling, lesser redpoll, reed bunting and masses of siskin.
On Tuesday myself, Ed and two of our regular volunteers, set about opening up the view of the north-eastern part of Ibsley Water as viewed from the Lapwing hide. Over the years the bramble clumps have slowly expanded and merged and the willows grown up and shut off the view of the lake. You could make a case for clearing all of this vegetation, but this area has a good population of adder so maintaining some cover within a generally grassy area is the best option. So we settled for trimming back the bramble clumps and opening up the gaps between them and reducing the height so it is possible to see over the top of them.
This job illustrates a common problem that land managers have, there is rarely one objective of management, it is necessary to balance, sometimes competing interests and come up with an option. Very often this is one of managing a mosaic of habitats, unfortunately this usually means frequent management, which takes time and money. Much of the attraction of Blashford lies in the variety of habitats, finding ways of maintaining these effectively is one of the key jobs of reserve management. We are lucky to have a strong volunteer team who help out a great deal and this task at the Lapwing hide was one that we could not have easily done without their help. This is what it looked like when we had finished.
During the day there were reports of great views of the bittern from Ivy North hide and of brambling and lesser redpoll at the Woodland hide. About the only birds I saw were the thousands of gulls coming into the roost at dusk, nothing rare but always an impressive sight to my mind.