Back to Beaulieu…

At the end of November we headed back to the Countryside Education Trust‘s Home Farm in Beaulieu for another two night Young Naturalists residential. With a few different people to our last visit in May, we had plans to re-visit some of the activities and places we enjoyed earlier in the year, whilst also doing something a little bit different. Here’s what we got up to…

After meeting on the Friday night, we woke up early on Saturday morning to a heavy frost. We had set some mammal traps the night before in the hope of catching a wood mouse or a bank vole, but given how cold it was overnight were relieved to find these were all empty!

Mammal trapping

Emptying our empty mammal traps!

Jess and Megan went off in search of some frosty photos whilst we cooked breakfast:

We then headed over to the Needs Ore Marshes, which form part of the North Solent National Nature Reserve for a beach clean in the sunshine. The group spent about an hour litter picking smaller items (sadly and not surprisingly there was an awful lot of plastic on the shoreline) and also dragging some of their more larger finds back along the shore to where we had based ourselves, including a rather large lobster pot and a rather large sheet of plastic! They didn’t seem too phased when I said we had to take everything back to the track to be collected on Monday by Reserves Officer Adam Wells…

We managed to find time to explore the shoreline for some more natural finds, discovering this sea urchin and oystercatcher skull amongst lots of other shells, crabs legs and more:

After lunch we headed over to the bird hides to see what else we could spot. We had begun a bird list that morning and had already spotted 33 different species on the drive to Needs Ore marshes and whilst on the shoreline: black headed gull, mute swan, mallard, blackbird, dunnock, rook, pheasant, feral pigeon, wood pigeon, peacock (!), red legged partridge, jackdaw, magpie, blue tit, long tailed tit, buzzard, lapwing, brent goose, oystercatcher, pied wagtail, knot, meadow pipit, common tern, little egret, chaffinch, stonechat, cormorant, turnstone, wheatear, robin, crow, kestrel and raven.

Heading to the hides

Heading to the hides

Whilst in and around the hides we added the following birds to our list: grey heron, curlew, coot, wigeon, Canada goose, black tailed godwit, shoveler, starling, goldfinch, gadwall, great tit, teal, tufted duck, pochard, pintail, shelduck, goldcrest, goosander, song thrush, wren, herring gull and greater black backed gull.

The most exciting spots however were the marsh harrier, which we watched hunting over the reed bed and a scaup:

Scaup by Megan Conway

Scaup by Megan Conway

We had been very lucky with the weather, although cold the sky had been a beautiful blue all day and we made the most of the photo opportunities the light provided us with.

sunlight-through-the-reedbed-by-jess-parker 2

Sunlight through the reed bed by Jess Parker

moon-by-jess-parker 2

Moon by Jess Parker

lobster-pot-by-jess-parker 2

Lobster pot by Jess Parker

We then headed back to Home Farm, for an early evening astronomy talk by Steve Tonkin, who gave us a guided tour of the night sky and entertained us with tales of Greek mythology.

Astronomy talk

Astronomy talk with Steve Tonkin

After the talk we headed outside to observe the night sky using binoculars and a selection of telescopes Steve had bought with him, spotting Cassiopeia, the Seven Sisters and the Andromeda galaxy. Whilst outside Talia set up her camera and took some fantastic photos of the sky.

On the Sunday, we met James from the CET for another fun farm feed session, assisting with some of the feeding tasks and collecting eggs. It was brilliant to once again get up close to the different animals.

We were then joined by Paul from Amews Falconry, who delighted the group with another fantastic talk on the history of falconry and a spectacular flying display. We were able to see up close a peregrine falcon, North American red tailed hawk, kestrel, European eagle owl, harris hawk and gyrfalcon and learnt lots about each bird.

Harris hawk by Talia Felstead

Harris hawk by Talia Felstead

European eagle owl by Talia Felstead

European eagle owl by Talia Felstead

Gyrfalcon 2 by Talia Felstead

Gyrfalcon by Talia Felstead

Gyrfalcon by Talia Felstead

Gyrfalcon by Talia Felstead

Peregrine falcon by Talia Felstead

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Harris hawk by Talia Felstead

North American red tailed hawk by Talia Felstead

Whilst listening to Paul’s talk, we spotted house sparrow and marsh tit which took our grand total of bird species for the weekend up to 59.

In the afternoon, we headed into the forest to meet Craig Daters from the New Forest National Park Authority, to discover more about the wild places on our doorstep. We met Craig at the pony sales yard and had a look around, learning more about commoning, conservation grazing and the New Forest pony.

NPA

Discovering more about the New Forest and commoning, with Craig from the New Forest National Park Authority

We then headed from Shatterford towards Denny Wood, pausing to discuss the New Forest’s different habitats, namely at this point heathland, mire and streams before reaching the woodland and engaging in some sensory activities:

After taking the time to explore this spot, something everyone in the group seemed to really enjoy, we discussed conservation designations with the help of a game and the different threats to national parks and other protected landscapes.

We had met up with Craig primarily as the group have begun to work towards their John Muir Award, and whilst the 10 minute video clip we watched on the Friday evening was a good introduction to the award, it was great to get outside and think about John Muir, the award and the special qualities of the wild spaces on our doorstep with someone else, so thank you Craig for joining us! We will be exploring other parts of the Forest over the coming months as we work towards completing the award.

It was then time to head back to Home Farm at the end of another busy weekend. the group had a lovely time, with their particular highlights being the time spent on the shore near Needs Ore and the activities in the Forest with Craig.

Shoreline

Exploring the shoreline

Thanks to Talia, Megan and Jess for taking lots of great photos over the weekend and for sharing them with me so I could include them on the blog. Thanks too to Craig from the New Forest NPA, James from the CET, Steve Tonkin and Paul from Amews Falconry for joining us and enthusing the group with their different specialisms.

Finally, thank you to volunteers Michelle, Geoff, Emily and Jonathan for giving up their weekend to join us, we definitely couldn’t offer a residential without your help and hard work!

Our Young Naturalists group is supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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At Last

Ever since I started work at Blashford Lakes I had harboured a hope that I might find a lesser scaup on one of the lakes. This North American duck resembles scaup in pattern but is the size of a tufted duck, there are a number of other detail differences which allow certain separation from the many lookalike hybrid diving ducks that can muddy the water. Lesser scaup was a “mega-rarity”  on this side of the Atlantic twenty years ago and although more frequent now is still a rare bird. It had also never been recorded in Hampshire, despite having been seen in neighbouring counties, so was a likely candidate to turn up sometime soon.

So it was with some pleasure and a little personal disappointment, that I learnt that one had been found at Blashford last Saturday when I was away on holiday. In fact it now seems it was probably the “scaup” that was reported on Ivy Lake on Friday, although not accurately identified at that time.

The lesser scaup seems to be favouring Blashford Lake, aka Spinnaker Lake (the sailing lake) with occasional excursions to Snails Lake and Ivy Lake. If you do go to Blashford Lake to look for it please respect the sailing club, their car park is not a public access site so access there is at their discretion. It is possible to see the bird from the public footpath along the northern and western sides of the lake. Parking is not really possible along Ivy Lane so please use the nature reserve car park and walk down the Rockford/Ivy lake path, a bit of a walk, but not too far for such a fine bird.

Other birds around the reserve yesterday included the peregrine sitting on a post outside Tern hide first thing, along with a water pipit in the meadow pipit flock. Ibsley Water had at least 45 pochard, not a large count by historical standards, but quiet a few these days, there were also two goldeneye, my fist of the season, although I know they were seen on Friday.

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Early sunset over Ivy silt pond

The clocks going back will no doubt increase the intensity of gull watching, so watch this space for more rarities. The gull roost offers birders perhaps their best chance of finding a rarity, although it takes dedication and some skill to pick out the unusual.

 

The martins have landed…

Sand martins that is, yesterday in fact, although they didn’t hang around long, not being there at the start or the end of the day, or indeed, this morning! Good to know that Spring is definitely here though and further demonstrated today by the little ringed plover on the bank east of Tern Hide.

Not sure if it has been around today, but earlier in the week the water pipit was still being reported – thanks to Steve Farmer for sending in this picture to blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk :

water-pipit by Steve Farmer

Water pipit by Steve Farmer

An adult drake scaup was also seen again on Ibsley Water yesterday where up to two red kites have also been seen, possibly attracted to the road kill roe deer that has also drawn in raven – indeed yesterday there was a raven there throughout the day that hardly moved at all!

At the Woodland Hide visitors are still seeing brambling and lesser redpoll, and chiffchaff arrived earlier in the week – not sure when exactly but certainly on Tuesday morning there were chiffings and chaffings from all across the site! The winter wildfowl on the other hand have all but left us, as apparently, has the tawny owl that delighted all that saw him by perching out in the open south of Ivy Lake. He, I’m sure, is still there, but probably in a more discrete, and typical location. David Cuddon rose to the challenge set in one of my previous blogs and e-mailed this picture in last week (thanks David!):

Tawny owl by David Cuddon

Tawny owl by David Cuddon

Tomorrow see’s the penultimate “Pop-up café” of the winter so don’t miss out on Christine’s home-baked treats in the centre classroom from 10.30am-3.30pm.

And finally, if you have children or grandchildren aged 5-12 years don’t let them miss out on a “Wild Days Out!” this Easter – bookings are being taken now via the Trusts online shop for this holidays pond and river themed children’s activity days:

For 7-12 year olds on Tuesday 11th April: https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product/wild-days-out-wet-n-wild-7-12s/

For 5-8 year olds on Wednesday 12th April: https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product/wild-days-out-wet-n-wild-5-8s/

And a final finally, if you don’t have children/grandchildren or even if you do and you are wondering why they should have all the fun then wonder no more… Instead call 01425 472760 or email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk and book onto our “Pond and River Dipping for Grown Ups – Adults Only!” session on the morning of 1st April, 10.30am-12pm!

 

 

 

 

 

Thunder Snow?

We were promised dramatic weather today and so I would not have been surprised if not many volunteers came to this morning’s task. However it was Thursday morning and, as we all know, this is the best part of any week, so we actually had a little light rain but mostly it was dry and surprisingly not cold. Of course it also never pays to underestimate the Blashford volunteers! They came out – in fact ten people worked all morning and together we completed a long length of the new dead hedge that is going on top of the bank that runs alongside what will be the new path to the Goosander hide. It will provide some support for brambles that, along with some planted scrub, will provide a habitat corridor between the willow scrub between Goosander and Lapwing hides and the woodland along Ellingham Drove.

volunteers-dead-hedging

Volunteers dead hedging new bank.

The weather did go downhill somewhat later and my “In to Roost” event at dusk was something of a washout, although it was just possible to make out a Mediterranean gull and the most regular of the ring-billed gulls. Something of a contrast with yesterday evening when Ivy Lake was very serene, with ducks gathering to roost under the light of the full Moon.

ducks-and-moonlight

Ivy Lake at dusk (yesterday)

Amongst the duck on Ivy Lake yesterday was a young drake scaup, not a common sight at Blashford, I did have a quick look for it today but with no luck. First thing today the lakes were calm and I managed to see the black-necked grebe relatively close to Tern hide and, even better, the bittern feeding in the long channel at Ivy North hide, my best sighting of it so far this winter. On both the last two evenings just one great white egret has roosted in the tree beside Ivy Lake. Tonight I think this may have been a mistake as it is a very exposed site and it looked as if it was having difficulty hanging on, and it must be very cold high up in the wind and sleet. The only other reports of note today were of the water rail near Woodland hide and the water pipit seen again at Tern hide.

The final news is of a temporary closure of the boardwalk beyond Ivy South hide. This is due to a large tree having snapped off and now hanging over the path. It will need a tree surgeon to deal with it safely. Luckily it does not affect access to the hide, just cuts off the link across to the Ellingham path, so is not really much more than an inconvenience. Please respect the tape and signs though as I don’t want to find anybody squashed under a fallen branch. Hopefully it will be cleared next week.

As I headed home it was sort of snowing, but there was no thunder, so the “Thunder snow” never materialised.

30 Days Wild – Day 9

I arrived at the reserve and opened the Tern hide and then had a bit of brief excitement, as there was what, at first sight, appeared to be a lesser scaup with the drake tufted duck. Lesser scaup is a North American species, rare in the UK but regular nowadays, although never yet seen in Hampshire, so was this going to “Break the duck?”. Lesser scaup look somewhere between a tufted duck and a scaup, but was this one or not?

duck 1

But is it a lesser scaup???

Sadly the answer was NO, although it looks pretty good the flanks are clean white, without any fine bars and the “tuft” is a little too prominent. the body shape is also very greater scaup in overall look and the conclusion was that I tis a drake hybrid between a tufted duck and a greater scaup. This picture was my attempt in rather poor light through the telescope, if you look at Jim’s post from the other day you will see much better shots.

As it was Thursday it was volunteer day and we spent some time distributing seeds in an area that was covered with rhododendron, in an attempt to restore the original woodland flora. Along the way we came across an especially fine example of a stinkhorn fungus, usually they are already in a state collapse by the time I find them, but this one was perfect.

stinkhorn

stinkhorn

Moth Night 2016

Ran the light trap and had possibly the best catch of the year so far – hope it is as good for the “Moth” event that Bob is leading tomorrow morning, 10-11am!

For me at least the catch of the day was this goat moth:

Goat moth by JDay R

Goat moth (and background flame beneath and behind it)

The Goat Moth allegedly gets its English name because the caterpillar has a strong ‘goaty’ aroma. Although the adults are rarely caught in the light trap we know that they are a relatively common species as the large, intestine like (I think!), pinky red caterpillars are commonly encountered lumbering around the reserve in search of somewhere to pupate during late summer. As a result I’ve sniffed plenty and not smelt a goat yet, but maybe the smell is only produced if they feed on a particular type of tree – after hatching the caterpillars burrow into the trunks of various deciduous trees, including willow which would seem to be the tree of choice for Blashford goat moth caterpillars, where they feed on the wood. Because of the long digestion period required for their choice of food, the larvae often live for up to five years before pupating.

Also in the trap today, to name but a few, were peach blossom, buff tip, light brocade, heart and dart, privet and poplar hawk moths, light emerald, common wave, sharp angled peacock, flame, lesser swallow prominent, green carpet, dingy shell, white and buff ermine…

Other news this week includes a rather unusual sighting of a peregrine falcon dropping in to Woodland Hide briefly, and at Tern Hide there has been what, to me at least, looks like a drake scaup for the last couple of days (David Cuddon kindly sent me the pictures below so someone more knowledgeable than I can confirm it). Also at Tern Hide there have been at least three rather cute balls of lapwing chick fluff running around, a family of mandarin with 6 ducklings on the Clearwater Pond near Goosander Hide and the mute swans resident on Ivy Lake have 6 cygnets  on Ivy Silt Pond this morning where a grass snake is also being seen almost as regularly as the one on the tree stumps outside Ivy South Hide!

Possible scaup by David CuddonPossible scaup rear view by David Cuddon

Thanks David!

Finding Gold and Watching Out for Tough Ted

Bird News: Ibsley Waterruff 1, little ringed plover 2, water pipit 1, goldeneye 7, mandarin duck 1, sedge warbler 1, Cetti’s warbler 1. Ivy LakeCetti’s warbler 1, scaup 1, garden warbler 1, water rail 2+.

Apart from the odd shower the day was largely sunny, although with an increasingly brisk south-west wind. Opening the Tern hide I saw the water pipit briefly before it flew off to the south over Ellingham Drove, I have seen it do this before and I wonder if it goes to the shingle area around Ellingham Pound, I must make time to check sometime. A single ruff remains and I saw at least 2 little ringed plovers distantly up the lake. A drake mandarin duck flew west over the lake, it seems we have a pair around regularly at present, perhaps they will breed locally this year.

Over beside Ivy Lake I heard my first garden warbler of the year, just south of the Woodland hide. It was also good to see a water rail on the silt pond, there is a pair at the Ivy North hide and it seems there may also be potential for a further breeding territory ont he silt pond as well. The Cetti’s warbler was also singing by the pond and I heard a report of another singing near the Lapwing hide, another species that has not bred on the reserve in my time working here.

Despite a return to more normal weather for the time of year there are still signs of the season moving on, I saw a group of bluebells in full flower and the pendulous sedge near the Centre is coming into flower as well, the long drooping flower heads have masses of pollen.

pendulous sedge in flower

Another plant I noticed in flower today was one that I only realised even grew on the reserve earlier this year, what’s more it is easily visible from one of the paths I walk down several times each day, which just shows how unobservant I am! I am not talking about a single plant either but two large patches a few metres across, the plant is opposite-leaved golden saxifrage, a plant of damp or even wet woodland.

opposite-leaved golden saxifrage

During the day I heard reports of a sedge warbler singing near the Lapwing hide, the first this year and rather later than in most years, in fact there often reed warblers about by now, so although this has been a rather early year for most species is has not been for all. There were a few sand martin, swallow and a house martin or two about over several of the lakes at different times, although numbers of sand martin are still very low, hopefully they are still out there somewhere.

When I went to lock up the hides I was in for a surprise on Ivy Lake, the return of the drake scaup, it seems to have settled in with the local tufted ducks and was displaying to a female tufty, so perhaps it will stay all summer. I was also amused to see the logbook in the Ivy North hide, which included reference to a bird we might want to avoid, the “Tough Ted duck”.

Closing the Tern hide I saw a group of 7 goldeneye, including 2 adult drakes, I doubt they will be with us much longer.

Bread and Cheese

Bird News: Ibsley Waterblack-tailed godwit 1, redshank 2. Ivy Lakebittern 1, scaup 1. Woodlandbrambling 1.

Another misty morning and I was not expecting to see much as I opened the hides, in fact the visibility meant that it was not possible to see much from the Tern hide. At the Ivy North hide I had very good views of a Cetti’s warbler in the reedmace and saw a water rail briefly in flight. However it was the Ivy South hide that delivered the surprise of the morning, I scanned around the lake, the usual scatter of tufted duck and shoveler, then I saw a very fine drake scaup. He was head bobbing and neck stretching, clearly keen to take flight, but none of the tufted duck seemed to share this desire to get away. I had hoped this would mean it would decide to stay, but no, within a couple of minutes it was off, circling the lake then off high into the murk to the south-east, the bird of the day well and truly gone.

Several people came into the Centre to ask where they could see the bittern, they were directed toward the Ivy North hide, along with the opinion that they were probably too late and the bitterns had probably gone. I have suggested we have seen the last of the bitterns several times now, you might have thought I would have learnt my lesson by now and once again I was proved wrong. If there is one thing harder to establish than the presence of a bittern it is the absence of one.

I continued clearing rubbish from around the reserve and yet again have filled the skip I ordered and still have more to go into it. One of my rubbish piles was over beside Mockbeggar Lake and on my way there I passed the hawthorn hedge we had a go at layering to thicken a couple of years ago, it is really looking quite good now.

roadside hedge, Ellingham Drove

The next stage will be to remove the old fence altogether and keep the hedge trimmed to allow it to really thicken up. It is not as good as the classic plashed hedge of old, but much quicker to do and within my capabilities. It has the additional advantage of retaining enough of the top growth that it will flower and fruit the first season after being done. The leaf buds are starting to open on some of the bushes now and the tiny flower buds can also be seen. These shoots can be eaten and were known as “Bread and cheese”, for some reason the advent of burgers and crisps seems to have dented enthusiasm for nibbling the hedgerows.

bread and cheese

We are still awaiting a real arrival of migrants, but I did hear news of an arrival today, a swallow was seen just north of Ibsley village, an impressively early date, especially in a spring when things seem to be on the late side, despite apparently good weather. I also heard that the long-staying whooper swan is still in the fields north of Harbridge church.