Filling in the gaps

It has been some time since my last blog… I’m sorry about the gap! I had a bit of time off over New Year – which seems like a super long time ago now – and since the lockdown I have been part time furloughed (and spending more time exploring more locally to me in Salisbury), so I’m at Blashford three days a week at present.

So, after Christmas I had a break from weaving willow wreaths – our final wreath total was a whopping 94 (out of 100) sold for a donation, which was a fantastic response to the activity and we hope those who bought them enjoyed decorating them. I think we may have to offer it again next year…

This was briefly replaced with a ‘Forest Folk’ activity for our younger visitors, where they could make their own forest friend or stickman then enjoy some simple activities along the wild walk loop. Although short lived, due to the lockdown, a number of families took part and we will be able to put the activity and signs out again when restrictions are lifted.

I’ve also been out and about helping Bob more, mainly to provide first aid cover whilst he’s chainsawing, and it’s been nice to spend time on other bits of the reserve. We’ve spent a bit of time widening the footpath up by the screens on the approach to Lapwing Hide:

Whilst out and about it’s easy to get distracted by the signs of spring – it’s nice to know it’s on its way! I’ve seen my first scarlet elf cups and primroses are also in flower. The snowdrops near the Centre have emerged and the buds are very close now to opening fully.

I also found a nice clump of jelly ear fungus along the Dockens Water path…

… and a very nice blob of Yellow brain or witches’ butter:

yellow brain

Yellow brain fungus or Witches’ butter

According to European folklore, if yellow brain fungus appeared on the gate or door of a house it meant a witch had cast a spell on the family living there. The only way to remove the spell was to pierce the fungus several times with straight pins until it went away, which gave it the common name ‘witches’ butter’. In Sweden, it was burnt to protect against evil spirits.

Another sign of spring I like to look for each year is on the hazel trees. If you look really closely at the hazel you might be able to spot some of its incredibly tiny pink flowers, which look a bit like sea anemones. Hazel is monoecious, with both the male and female flowers found on the same tree. The yellow male catkins appear first before the leaves and hang in clusters, whilst the female flowers are tiny, bud-like and with red styles.

Once pollinated by pollen from other hazel trees, the female flowers develop into oval fruits which then mature into hazelnuts.

On the insect front, the only moth I’ve seen recently was this mottled umber, which greeted me on the Centre door as I was opening up one morning:

mottled umber

Mottled umber

The robins near Ivy Silt Pond continue to be very obliging, posing for photos, and I’ve also been watching the kingfisher by the pond outside the back of the Centre. It seems to prefer this spot when the lake levels are higher and visibility poorer, making it harder to fish for food.

robin

Robin

kingfisher

Kingfisher

And we have on occasion had some rain! These photos were from the heavy downpours last week:

On Sunday I was half expecting to arrive to a snowy scene, but it seemed to just miss the reserve. On my drive in it became less and less wintery and I arrived to a thin layer of melting slush, having left behind a rather white Salisbury. Given I had to get home again it was probably a good thing, but I admit I was slightly disappointed! It was though a good day for photographing water droplets, as everything was melting and there were plenty around!

I will finish with a blue tit enjoying the sunshine up by Lapwing Hide, and will endeavour to blog again soon… I’m woefully behind with my Young Naturalists updates…

blue tit

Blue tit enjoying the sunshine

Tern Hide open…

…but only if you are wearing wellies!

The rain on Tuesday night, on top of what has generally been a wet few weeks, was enough to bring the Dockens Water up higher than I have seen it for about four years. Although by no means as high as I have seen it in the past, it was sufficiently up that Ellingham Drove was within its flood plain and, unfortunately, that means that the main car park was too, as the river flows along the road until it reaches the roadside entrance to the reserve at which point it does what water does and flows downhill and into the car park. With groundwater levels now very high it is likely to take a little while for the flood water remaining in the car park to soak away so, for now at least, the Main car park remains closed.

The outer gates to the car park are now open however, so please do park here for the next few days until we are able to open the car park proper again – as I anticipate that with the favourable weather forecast for the weekend, coupled with the Centre classroom playing host to the last Pop Up Cafe of this winter season, we are likely to see  lots of visitors, and parking on the Centre side of the reserve alone is unlikely to meet the demand for parking places – and Christine’s sausage rolls!.

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Please park beyond the roadside entrance gates along the approach to the car park for the next few days until we are able to open the main car park up again. 

 

 

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Despite this, the flood water has subsided quite significantly since Wednesday morning  so today Tern Hide has been opened, although with several inches of water across the width of the car park you can only get to it (and the viewing platform) with wellies – and a slow, careful walk too avoid “bow waves”!

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The route to Tern Hide from the footpath across the car park. Wellies essential!

The view from Ibsley Water this morning saw it as full as I have ever seen it I think. The photo below shows just how little of the small island nearest the Tern Hide there is left just poking up above the water! It still has black-necked grebe and long-tailed duck and the valley still has a sizable startling murmuration – although yesterday at least it seems to have split into two with half of the starlings north of Mockbeggar Lane and the other half in the reed bed behind Lapwing Hide.

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Ivy Lake however is still the place to go if you aren’t worried about seeing particular birds, but do want to just sit and watch lots of wildlife:

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As always our visitors take far better pictures than me so here now with some brilliant kingfisher pictures taken by Jon Mitchell from Ivy South Hide last weekend:

Kingfisher 2 by Jon Mitchell (2)Kingfisher 1 by Jon Mitchell (1)

Spooked ducks by Jon Mitchell

I know these aren’t kingfishers! In between the kingfisher posing for portraits, something in the lake – assumed to be an otter – disturbed all of the wildfowl. Gives you some idea of just how many birds are on Ivy Lake  at present.

Our Welcome Volunteer Doug Masson spent a few hours in Ivy South Hide on Wednesday this week too, and got these lovely shots of Cetti’s warbler – images Bob admitted to being quite jealous of, as, despite his best efforts, he has yet to get any Cetti’s to match these!

Cetti's warbler by Doug MassonCetti's warbler 2 by Doug Masson

Elsewhere on the reserve, and on more of a macro scale than the bird life, the lichen is all looking absolutely fantastic after all of this wet weather. An assemblage of species which can appear quite grey and lifeless during the summer when it is dry, is now fresh and vibrant and really brings a vivid splash of colour to what can otherwise appear to be a fairly drab landscape – and nowhere more so than the edge of the lichen heath where this picture of Cladonia sp. was taken:

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For spring colour however nothing can rival the scarlet elf cup fungi which thrive so well on the wet decaying logs in and around our woodlands. We don’t normally expect to see much evidence of it until a little later in the year in February, but there is actually already quite a few of the fruiting bodies to be seen:

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From all Corners

There were birds from all over the place on the reserve today. All the way from Siberia; the yellow-browed warbler was again near Ivy South hide as I opened up, giving good views until it disappeared before our very eyes. It makes astonishingly fast changes of direction which mean that following its movements for very long is incredibly difficult.

From North America we had; lesser scaup, a drake near the furthest shore of Ibsley Water, probably last winter’s bird returned by popular demand. These duck are similar in appearance to the greater scaup which is much more familiar in Europe, but smaller, around the size of a tufted duck.

From all over northern and eastern Europe we had all the other wildfowl and a good few other birds too. Arrived from the Alps and now to be seen on the shores of Ibsley Water are the water pipit, I got a mediocre picture of one today.

water pipit

water pipit from Tern hide

And finally from just up the road somewhere we have the rest, including this adult female peregrine, seen here in another iffy picture!

peregrine

adult female peregrine

Other birds to be seen out and about on the reserve today were the bittern at Ivy North hide along with Walter the great white egret. Other birds to be seen on Ibsley Water included green sandpiper, pintail and in the gull roost several yellow-legged gull and three Mediterranean gull. 

However the reserve is not just about birds, today there was also cake and lots of it, with another successful day for the pop-up cafe.  I also took some non-birdy pictures, largely due to a failure to get very good ones of the birds. There are quite a few fungi about now, scarlet elf-cup are just starting to appear in numbers as are lost of Turkeytail.

turkeytail

Moss, fern and Turkeytail

The bare trees make it possible to appreciate how much lichen some of them have on their branches, the willow near Lapwing hide are especially heavily festooned.

lichen on willow twigs

lichen on willow twigs

Other species grow on the trunks of trees.

lichen on birch trunk

lichen on birch trunk

Lichens are a mash-up of alga and fungus, although it now appears it is probably rather more complicated than this.

The reserve was busy today despite reduced parking due to the ongoing levelling works near the Centre, but hopefully this work will be completed by the end of the coming week and things will be slightly closer to normal again, at least for a time.

Then the Thaw

Sunday was a day of great change, at first the snow was still thick in many places, turning to slush on the paths, but still making the roads a little difficult in places.

After the cold of the previous few days the warm sun of a proper springlike day was very welcome. The change during the day was remarkable, by lunchtime the entrance track was largely clear of snow and the Dockens Water was starting to rise and flood through the woodland.

Dockens Water

Dockens Water levels starting to rise

There rapid change resulted in some unusual sightings, perhaps the oddest and something I don’t think I had seen before, was a banded snail crawling across the snow surface. Unfortunately when I tired to take a picture it retreated into its shell, so in the picture you can just see the foot still out, but the rest of the body is hidden.

snail on snow

snail on snow

Another unusual sight, although not as surprising, was that of scarlet elf-cup poking up through the snow.

Elf cup in snow

scarlet elf-cup in snow

I noted in the morning that there were still no lapwing on the nesting areas, I have known birds to be egg-laying by the first week of March. However by the afternoon in the sunshine there were two males on territory on the former Hanson plant site and several more wandering around the shore nearby.

By the end of the day the Dockens Water was flooding through the alder carr and through the silt pond into Ivy Lake.

alder carr flooding

Dockens Water flooding through the alder carr

Having not been on the reserve fro a few days it was pleasing to see that there are still a good few brambling around the Woodland hide along with 8 or more reed bunting. In the afternoon the ring-billed gull was in the gull roost and, rather late in the day and distantly, also the Thayer’s gull.

Preparations for Spring

It was a properly frosty morning, but walking round to open up the hides this morning signs of approaching spring were everywhere.

Frosty thistle

Frosty thistle

The snowdrops near the store are well out now and primroses are flowering around the car park edge, near the Woodland hide the leaves of the wild daffodils have been up for  a while, but now the flower buds can be seen. Along the path sides shiny, bright green wild arum leaves are showing everywhere and near the alder carr there are the brilliant red spots of colour provided by scarlet elf cup fungi.

As it was Tuesday we had a volunteer task today and we were also looking forward to the warmer days. Our task was clearing back the path sides on the way to the Ivy South hide to open up sheltered scallops to give something of the feeling of a woodland ride. This path runs almost exactly north-south and so has many sun-traps beloved of insects and reptiles. Out plan was to create more such spots in the hope of making more encounters with these creatures later in the year.

pathside clearance

Cleared path sides to create sunny “scallops”.

The end of the day saw rather fewer birders at the Tern hide hoping for a sight of the Thayer’s gull, they were disappointed again. There was the usual ring-billed gull, several yellow-legged gull, a first winter Caspian gull and an adult Mediterranean gull in the roost. My own sightings were rather few, “Walter” our great white egret was fishing in Ivy Lake and on Ibsley Water 2 shelduck and 3 oystercatcher were the most interesting records.

Tomorrow we are working at Fishlake Meadows again, clearing cut willow into dead hedges to create new views across the reedbeds and pools.

 

Some Moths and No Bins!

I ran the moth trap last night for the first time in a while and caught a dozen moths of five species, all typical early spring ones, but good to see for all that. The most frequent was common Quaker.common quaker

Next commonest was Hebrew character.hebrew character

Then small Quaker.small quaker

One thing that has not changed was the need to keep a close eye on the catch and keep it away from our resident robin.robin

There were also single clouded drab and early grey, but neither posed well for pictures.

Out on the reserve today the Woodland hide was busy with the usual good numbers of siskin, lesser redpoll, chaffinch and commoner woodland birds. When I was there I also saw 4 brambling and 7 reed bunting. It is always good to see the buntings as these are probably our nesting birds and feeding up well at this time of year has been shown to increase nesting success, important for a species that has been declining in recent years.

Out on the reserve reports received suggest that both of the black-necked grebe are still on Ibsley Water as was the Slavonian grebe. I saw a single adult Mediterranean gull, but I do not know if the ring-billed gull was seen today.

Near the Woodland hide there are quite  a lot of scarlet elf cup now, perhaps a little later than usual, but as bright as ever.scarlet elf cup

Although not as prominent as the many wild daffodil in the same area.wild daffodil

I spent the afternoon dealing with various odd jobs around the reserve. Although it was dry and quite pleasant the reserve was relatively quiet so I took the opportunity of the low traffic to fill in a few more of the pot holes in the entrance track, there are still quite a few but it is getting better.

Unfortunately towards the end of the day I realised that, at some point in the afternoon, I had put down my binoculars and as hard as I looked I could not find them anywhere. Although now rather battered I will be very sad if they do not turn up, they have been my constant companions for pretty much every day of the last twenty plus years, lots of birds seen through good times and bad. If you happen to see a lost looking pair of binoculars, please let me know!

A Dull Day Brightened Up

It was strangely warm today, at first misty and then just very, very dull. The damp grey conditions were livened up by quite a good showing of fungi around the reserve. The logs beside the track between the Centre and Woodland Hide are particularly good, many have clusters of turkey-tail fungus.turkey tails

The moss covered, more rotted ones sometimes have candle snuff.candle snuff

There are also increasing numbers of scarlet elf-cups, a species that is always around in greatest numbers in late January.scarlet elf cup

I also found a few more conventional “toadstools”, one group on an old alder stump.fungi on alder stump

Also these tiny pale ones on a moss covered willow trunk.small fungi

The fallen branches often have various fungi on and one had a brightly coloured fungus  encrusted all along it.sheet fungus

Some fungi live in association with algae to produce lichens, spore production brings out their fungal side.lichen

With all this emphasis on fungi you might think it was autumn, but there was a distinct feel of spring with the first few of the wild daffodil near the Woodland hide already in flower.wild dafodil

You may have noticed that these pictures were taken using a flash, this was because it was so dull today that I could not get a picture of any of these without it!

Out on the reserve the bittern was at Ivy North on and off all day and out on Ibsley Water the usual black-necked grebe and Slavonian grebe had hundreds of duck for company. I counted exactly 200 pintail, my highest count so far this winter.

In the late after noon the gull roost was joined by the first winter Caspian gull which stood out on the shingle spit to the right of the Tern hide for all to see, including me, which was pleasing as I had previously failed to catch up with it.

 

 

 

 

The Scarlet and the Red

Bird News: Ibsley Waterblack-tailed godwit 5. Ivy Lakebittern 2, smew 1.

A busy day with a training course going on, three minibus groups and all the usual visitors. Luckily they were not disappointed with a smew and one or two bitterns performing well all day. I snapped one (again) as I opened up.

bittern (again)

I could apologise for including yet another bittern shot, but they will be gone soon and they are fabulous birds, even if you se them almost every day.

Another even warmer night produced more moths, although not as many as I had hoped, perhaps we just need a few more days for things to get going. It is not only moths that fly on warm nights and last night there were obviously a few water beetles on the move, although I have not identified this one to species.

water beetle

It was volunteer Thursday, so perhaps it should not have come as a surprise that the sun came out and there were butterflies about, I saw at least two red admirals. It used to be said that these did not overwinter here as they could not survive if we had any real frosts. When it became clear that some were doing so the explanation was that this was because winters were milder. Both last year and this my first butterflies have been red admirals and in both cases we have certainly had some real frosts, so perhaps there is more to this story than meets the eye.

It felt really spring-like today and we must be only a week or so away from the first summer migrant birds arriving. The last signs of winter will soon fade for another year. The scarlet elf cups are now starting to flatten out and will soon fade away, in the meantime they are the brightest things on the reserve.

scarlet elf cup

I am colour blind, but even I can’t miss these!