A little bit of everything…

Yesterday our Young Naturalists were back at Blashford for a varied session in search of birds and fungi and a practical task in our camp fire meadow. Kevin and Jack, BTO bird ringers, were ringing at Goosander Hide in the morning so we headed straight up there to try and catch them before they had finished. Whilst we were there, we were lucky enough to watch Jack ring a robin and a chiffchaff and talk us through the process.

Thank you Kevin and Jack for taking the time to chat to the group and explain what you were up to and looking for, giving a great overview of bird ringing.

Whilst in Goosander Hide, Young Naturalist Talia took some great photos of some of the birds on Ibsley Water:


Grey Heron with six Little Egrets by Talia Felstead

It was then time to rummage through the light trap which revealed a really nice variety of moths for us to identify, including this lovely Feathered Thorn:

The most abundant moth by far was the November moth sp. but we also had the following:

Close to the Education Centre we found this fantastic Shaggy Ink Cap, which sadly by this morning had become too top heavy and is now in two bits! Unfortunately this photo doesn’t do its size justice, it was super tall!


Shaggy Ink Cap – ‘Coprinus comatus’

After lunch it was time to do something practical and we spent the afternoon in our camp fire meadow, raking up the vegetation strimmed by volunteers Emily and Geoff in the morning. We also cut up some of our old den building poles to use as firewood, as these will be replaced with new poles cut over the Winter.


Cameron and James raking the cut grass


Cutting up the old den building poles for firewood

We finished our time in the meadow with more toffee apple cooking over the fire, with newcomers Gregory and Jodie having a go at fire lighting and old hands James, Cameron and Talia showing how it’s done.


More toffee apple cooking!

With time left at the end of the session, we checked our mammal traps in the loft which revealed two wood mice, who had ventured into the building where the nights are now cooler.


Two wood mice, being well photographed by the Young Naturalists


Finally, we went on a short walk to Ivy South Hide, spotting fungi on the way and a Red admiral butterfly making the most of the October sun’s warmth:

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


Squatters evicted…

Pretty much everyone I spoke to today commented on how unseasonably warm it is and that may explain some of the unseasonal fungus sightings – newly emerged stinkhorn near Woodland Hide, this very fresh shaggy ink cap in the reed bed near Lapwing Hide as well as the more worn looking, but perhaps more striking Clitocybe fungus (giant funnel fungus?) pictured below and photographed along the Dockens Water on the way to Goosander Hide:

Unseasonal shaggy ink cap

Unseasonal shaggy ink cap

Giant funnel cap fungus

Giant funnel cap fungus

Elsewhere on the reserve I caught up with the black necked grebe (ducking and diving as only a black necked grebe can!) near to the south western shore of Ibsley Water and some un/lucky visitors enjoyed brilliant, but frustrating, views of a bittern enjoying an extended fishy lunch – brilliant because it performed well for a decent period of time, frustrating because most of the photographers could not get a decent shot of it from amongst the reeds where it was hunting and feeding!

Pre-empting the wet weather to come this morning I had headed out towards Lapwing Hide with the “footpath underwater” signs. Although absolutely fine at the moment there is already a puddle in the lowest section of path and I didn’t figure it would do any harm to get the signs in before they were needed! It was nice to see a nice mix of birds in front of Goosander Hide, including some goosander and goldeneye as well as the raft of pochard pictured below and I had lovely views of a kingfisher close to the path on the approach by the “Clear Water Pond”:

View from Goosander Hide

View from Goosander Hide

On route I released this young woodmouse a suitable distance away from the Centre where it would no doubt have caused a nuisance of itself left to its own devices. Always a problem at this time of the year (last year in one very expensive, but short, period of time they cost us nearly £800 in call out charges and damage to the alarm system wiring!), they had been pretty quiet but for the last fortnight we have been trapping them in the loft at the rate of at least one every couple of days or so. Certainly not coming in out of the cold, we often get an influx after heavy rain, presumably when their woodland habitat along the adjacent Dockens Water is flooded:

Evicted squatter

Evicted squatter

Walking back from Tern Hide I spotted what looked like a large bag leaning against the entrance fencing – closer inspection confirmed  my suspicions, that this was part of a dodgy anglers stash. In this instance we were missing the fishing gear itself, but rather the anglers creature comforts – a pair of wellies, a sleeping bag and a two man tent. Thinking that that was the kids Christmas present sorted (tent to play in in the back garden!) I was rather disappointed when a woodmouse hopped out leaving behind the rather cosy nest it had made in the sleeping bag and a couple of large holes in the sides of the tent… it was all decent gear too, and obviously hadn’t been there that long… oh well. Hopefully Father Christmas will have more luck!

What we need is a resident stoat to help control the population (of mice that is, not anglers!); thanks to Mike Jarrett who kindly (and with some glee it has to be said!) shared these pictures with us, taken from a bench along the Dockens Water footpath earlier in the month. Far better than any of my efforts above, so a good place to leave this blog!

Stoat by Mike Jarrett

Stoat by Mike Jarrett

Stoat by Mike Jarrett

Stoat by Mike Jarrett





Wildlife stars in abundance!

Blashford is at least as lovely place a place to work as it is to visit… although unfortunately time spent necessarily, although very reluctantly, in the office, does mean that we staff often miss out on sightings that some lucky visitors enjoy. Yesterday this included an otter (watched for 10 minutes swimming around Ibsley Silt Pond, the small lake just north of/behind Lapwing Hide) and a bittern (first reported sighting of this season, observed in the usual hot spot in the reed bed by Ivy North Hide).

Of course being here every day there are other “stars” whom we are privileged to see very regularly and even, dare I say it, take a little bit for granted at times; birds like kingfisher (had a lovely view of one perched/fishing in front of Ivy South Hide this morning) and, of course, the great white egret. Christened Walter White by Ed (for reasons known only unto himself!), this lovely picture of it in flight by Tern Hide earlier in the week, was sent in by David:


Great white egret by David Stanley Ward

Great white egret by David Stanley Ward

Perhaps of less interest to some, but even more interest to others, is this moth which I recorded in the light trap this morning. Obviously a footman, it was larger than I am used to and I have identified it as a (male) four-spotted footman. Don’t worry about the lack of spots, it is the female that bears those! It is possible that I have misidentified it, but if not this is, according to the book, a nationally scarce moth with a small population in the New Forest (and other small populations else where in southern England and west Wales). The caterpillars of this species feed on tree lichens, of which we certainly have plenty on the reserve.

Four-spotted footman?

Four-spotted footman?

Speaking of lichens, I did take a picture of some on the lichen heath this morning, for no other reason than they looked quite stunning in the wet, grey and overcast weather:

Lichen on the lichen heath

Lichen on the lichen heath

As is often the case, the photo does not really do it justice! They do seem to be doing well this year; possibly as a result of the particular weather conditions, or possibly associated with the small reduction in visitors which the weather has bought about, and an associated decrease in trampling by the same, as we know that they do not fare well with regular trampling and this is why the footpaths across the reserve all skirt around the lichen heath.

Also flourishing in the warm wet conditions this month are fungi:

I mentioned the earth stars that have come up in a previous blog, but was unable to take a picture at the time. I have now recovered the camera and couldn’t resist photographing this very lovely specimen this morning:

Earth star

Earth star

This nearby shaggy ink cap was also particularly impressive:

Shaggy ink cap

Shaggy ink cap

Unfortunately the picture is not great, but, with my binoculars in-situ for scale, I hope you can appreciate the awesome majesty of this fungus, which has to be the largest example of this particular species that I have ever come across!


Reserve on the Turn

I guess by now it’s pretty common knowledge that quite a big ‘blow’ is forecast for tonight.  Fortunately today as I opened up, despite a ‘bit of a blow’ and quite a lot of rain last night (8mm in rain gauge this morning), there is very little to report, apart from  lots of leaves on the ground.  Fortunately, Ed, Adam and the Lower Test team have already removed a number of potentially falling trees, so we should be O.K. , but here’s wishing Ed good luck for tomorrow, anyway.

Although there are a number of different species of woodland birds around, we don’t yet have large numbers, although one visitor did report seeing 100s of robin!  There was a report of the bittern from Ivy North Hide and great white egret has also been seen.  On the water there are increasing numbers of birds including over ten goosander as well as our tame (?) red-crested pochard seen from Lapwing hide.

The wind was really making the water quite choppy and most of the waterfowl were bobbing up and down. It put me in mind of one of my idle speculations about what would be the worst malady to have if you were a particular animal. (e.g. a cow with hay fever), but perhaps being a duck with a tendency to sea-sickness would be as bad.

The leaves accumulating on the paths reminds us of the approach of winter, but apparently this year, because of the hot summer, we are to be rewarded with a rich display of autumn colour (something to do with sugars in the leaves). Always supposing the wind tonight doesn’t strip all the trees.  We already have a small foretaste of some autumn colour here.

A litle bit of colour in the Centre car-park

A little bit of colour by the Centre car-park

Individual fallen leaves can be quite photogenic.

Maple or more likely sycamore leaf

Maple or more likely sycamore leaf

Sometimes even on leaves still attached to trees the pattern of colours from the fading leaf and the fungi growing on it make some brilliant patterns.

Dark patches of fungal growth.i

Dark patches of fungal growth.

Quite possibly some of these fungi may only grow on particular host species.

The freshly cut faces of logs provides another interest like the rich russet of the recently cut alder ( I think) logs.

Freshly cut alder logs

Freshly cut alder logs

More obvious fungi have also been giving good value for money this year like this particularly fine crop of Shaggy Ink Cap or Lawyer’s Wig  (Coprinus comatus), at the side of the path to Lapwing and Goosander hides.

Shaggy Ink Cap or Lawyer's Wig

Shaggy Ink Cap or Lawyer’s Wig

The Lawyer’s Wig name seems obvious from the look of these, the ink cap name arises from the fact that, as they ripen, the gills ‘auto digest’  forming a black inky fluid which drips from the opening cap. Whether this was once used as an ink seems somewhat in doubt.

Autumn colour and finery are also to be found on the drake waterfowl as they come out of their eclipse plumage. This is adopted to make them less conspicuous whilst moulting their flight feathers, but they change into their breeding finery about now.  This image, captured last week, is of a pair of mallard, who appear to have had a bit of a falling out.

"%$&£"@**&^£ ???"

“%$&£”@**&^£ ???”

Can’t imagine what she’s saying to him, but it looks like he’s in trouble.  I heard it, but it was in ‘mallard’ , it might as well have been ‘double duck’ – or Mandarin??!