The Terns are arriving at Blashford

There have been quite a few arrivals recently, the keen eyed of you will have noticed (without needing binoculars) that Jack Medley, our new Reserves Officer has now started. I am sure he will do a blog introducing himself soon, but at the moment he has quite a lot of information to absorb, Blashford is a big site with a lot of history!

Of the winged variety of arrivals – the Sand Martin wall has had a flurry of activity, and a Swift or two have been spotted around Lapwing hide. The CES monitoring has also started, with Kevin reporting many returning Reed Warblers.

Those of you who have been out on the reserve recently will have noticed the Terns arriving in small numbers, and Jack thought it was time to begin putting out the rafts. The tern rafts are put out gradually, as the gulls do have a habit of taking over, and we very much want at least a few to be occupied by terns!

With the help of Simon King and others from our Lower Test team, one Tern raft has now been deployed on Ivy Lake. The regular Blashford work party groups have been instrumental in getting the rafts up together and ready for this season, alongside Jo from Fishlake and Jack. Over the next few weeks the rafts for Ibsley Water will be prepared, and more rafts will be put out on both Ivy Lake and Ibsley Water as Tern numbers increase.


30 Days Wild – Day 12

A bit of a delay with Day 12, I managed a Tweet but not the blog. Friday was a decidedly mixed day, fine enough in the morning but with heavy rain in the afternoon, at least it refilled the water butts at the Centre after I had emptied them to top up the pond earlier in the week.

The last few days have brought at least some rain and a spurt in growth is just starting. Plants need both water and sunshine for growth, so where the ground remained wet from the winter growth is already spectacular, after one of the wettest winters followed by the sunniest spring plants like common reed will probably reach record heights.



The reeds near Lapwing hide are already mostly overtopping last year’s maximum height and they should grow on a good bit more yet before they stop growth and start putting their energy into flowering.

The higher light levels are also apparent in the woodland, here light levels are typically low and many plants rely on just a short period of sunlight a day, or even no direct sunlight at all. With such high light levels this year growth even in shade has been good so long as there has been enough water. The shaded vegetation under the trees by the boardwalk often struggles, there is plenty of water but light is at a premium, but ever here growth has been vigorous. The variation caused by the different sized openings in the canopy where trees have fallen produces a wonderfully mixed vegetation  and wonderful habitat for lots of species. This is one area of the reserve where there is almost no habitat management and we let nature takes its course, a miniature rewilding.

willow swamp

Willow swamp vegetation

I am sometimes asked why we don’t rewild more of our reserves, it would be a great thing to do, but we are limited by the demands of safe public access, so it is only really in areas that the public cannot access that we can safely leave things. Although a passion for tidiness in some quarters is a significant factor in the amount of habitat such as deadwood and especially standing deadwood that is left for wildlife, the need to provide what is seen as a safe place for people I at least as significant. Certainly at Blashford there would be  a lot more standing deadwood habitat if the only consideration was the needs of wildlife. The irony is that although all trees will fall eventually most of them actually fall when they are not dead. This I found myself when I came to leave yesterday and found a willow had fallen across the entrance track. A combination of a large load of leaves, a weight of water from the rain and some gust y winds had proved too much for it. Willows do this a lot and rarely break off, they go from vertical to horizontal and just keep on growing, or at least they would if we let them. As I wanted to get home this one was cut back, rewilding is all very well but I was getting hungry!

fallen tree

fallen willow blocking the way

The Turn of the Season

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.

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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.

A Busy Week, (With Moths).

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.   oak beauty 2The other moth was the common quaker, which is often very abundant indeed in early spring.common quakerThe 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.

A Clearer View

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.Ibsley NE shore before

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.Ibsley NE shore after

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.gull roost