Birds and a (mini) Beast

As promised here are a couple of excellent pictures of the avocet that dropped into Blashford Lakes on Monday, many thanks to Keith Beswick for sending them in.

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Avocet by Keith Beswick

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Avocet by Keith Beswick

What is immediately obvious is that this is a juvenile bird, the brownish feathers would be black in an adult. Juvenile birds tend to turn up in slightly unusual places as they learn about their environment and where best to be, this one will probably join the large wintering flock in Poole Harbour.

Signs of the changing season are all around now, opening the Tern hide yesterday I saw 8 shoveler, 7 teal, a wigeon (although this was probably the bird that summered with us), a shelduck and a garganey. There were also at least 3 common sandpiper and a green sandpiper. At the end of the day the lake was dominated by fish-eating birds with at least 50 grey heron, 6 little egret, 1 great white egret (“Walter”) and 195 cormorant.

During the day I was working with the volunteers on efforts to establish a grassland in the old concrete plant site, we are making good progress and I think it will be a valuable addition to the reserve. The new path is still not open yet as the necessary agreements with our landlords are still not in place. On our way back for lunch the volunteers found a splendid caterpillar, it reminded me of Dougal the dog, a reference that will date me for those who recognise it.

sycamore caterpillar

sycamore caterpillar

The sycamore moth is rather a dull pale grey species but the caterpillar is a wonderful creature.

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Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017…

Another misty start to the day this morning, although by no means as misty as yesterday when from Tern Hide all that could be seen were the silhouettes of coot and a couple of pairs of goldeneye which were feeding close to the shoreline immediately in front of the hide.

This morning all of Ibsley Water could be seen, albeit through a misty haze, but most of the wildfowl was further offshore towards the north of the lake among the feathered leavings of the overnight gull roost which is now very extensive and covering a huge proportion of the lake by dusk. Evenings are also still seeing a “mini-murmuration” of a couple of thousand or so starlings, currently often settling in for the night in the reedbed in Ibsley Pond north of Lapwing Hide. What was immediately in front of the hide today, furtling around in the gravel for invertebrates, was a very obliging green woodpecker who would have posed beautifully for anyone armed with a camera had they been there (I just had a ‘phone)… Unfortunately by mid-morning what had started as a relatively clear day had soon disintegrated back into dense mist again… from Lapwing Hide you could just see past the end of the “spit” by about 11am!

A misty start. It didn't last!

A misty start. It didn’t last!

Look closely for the green woodpecker!

Look closely for the green woodpecker!

Ivy Lake was equally misty. No bittern or water rail when I opened up Ivy North Hide, although both species were obliging yesterday and later on in the day today. The water rail in the alder carr  opposite the Woodland Hide that Bob reported in the previous blog entry has also continued :

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At the Woodland Hide itself reedbunting and brambling (at least two) are still present along with the usual multitude of other species which makes a visit to this hide consistently enjoyable. Not that many decided to visit the feeder when I tried taking a picture during my “rounds”:

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There were mallard and shoveler in Ivy Silt Pond on the way down to Ivy South Hide where from the hide itself all the regular wildfowl could be seen, with some gadwall, wigeon and tufted duck all feeding (and in the case of the gadwall and mallard, very noisily and “splashily” displaying and setting up/defending pairings):

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The relatively mild weather and now lengthening daylight hours are also bringing with it other signs of spring and the New Year – as well as ducks pairing up, the great crested grebes are apparently setting up territories on Ivy Lake and a great tit has been stridently calling out “teacher” on and off all day around the centre. A lovely early introduction of the bird song that is still to come and with that I’ll leave you with the welcome sight of the recently emerged snowdrop shoots ushering in 2017, a New Year and new beginnings….

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I shall post this now and update at the end of the day as necessary with anything particularly noteworthy for anyone heading out this way tomorrow to kick start their year-lists. I’ve been office bound this morning and for the early part of the afternoon but will be heading out a little earlier than usual to stretch my legs, beat the bounds and swap the 2016 sightings record books for 2017’s. Hopefully the mist will lift again so I can see something! Who knows, I could even finish the year with an otter! But probably not!

Unfortunately the weather is not looking too favourable for tomorrow so what is traditionally the reserves busiest day of the year visitor wise may not be…

However for anyone who does make it out tomorrow don’t forget that Nigel and Christine will be in the centre classroom with their Pop-up cafe from 10.30am-3.30pm tomorrow with hot drinks and home baked cakes, a proportion of the takings from which goes into supporting our conservation and access work on the nature reserve.

Happy New Year everyone!

 

Counting Day

Once a month we count the wildfowl on the reserve and also on the other lakes in the area to get an idea of how many there are and so how populations are fairing. Wildfowl are counted right across NW Europe once a month during the autumn and winter and this provides estimates of total populations and changes. In Britain the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS counts) started in 1969 and now covers all our estuaries and inland wetlands. The counts we do of the lakes are actually in addition to the WeBS counts as we cover only the lakes, the full counts are co-ordinated along the whole valley from Christchurch Harbour northwards.

I started by counting Ibsley Water and from the Lapwing hide was greeted by the sight of a flock of wigeon grazing just in front of the hide.

wigeon

wigeon from the Lapwing hide

Despite this overall numbers of birds on the lake were not very large, probably due to a combination of relatively poor weed growth and the rather strong wind. One a factor that will depress numbers throughout this winter the other just weather, which can make a great difference to where the birds will be from day to day. Although not a bird for the count, I was pleased to see the water pipit on the cut grass heaps on the lakeshore, digging in the grass for insects.

The total number of waterfowl counted on all the lakes combined was just under 3900, not bad for November as the peak usually comes around mid-winter, so there is time for it to rise yet. The most numerous species were coot 976, wigeon 936, gadwall 521, tufted duck 291 and shoveler 261. Different lakes provide conditions for different species and we also find that factors like weed growth vary greatly from year to year and in different lakes. This year weed growth in Ibsley Water is quite poor, but it has been good in Rockford Lake and Blashford Lake and it is these lakes are attracting the large numbers of coot, gadwall and wigeon as a result. Ibsley Water seems especially attractive to pochard just now with 72 there today, whereas Mockbeggar Lake is shoveler central, with over 200 feeding on there and probably more, as it is a difficult to see through the trees from the path to Lapwing hide.

Although I missed them it seems probable that both great white egret were seen today, I may have seen both actually as I saw white birds though trees where they should have been! The bittern was also seen briefly from Ivy North hide and on one of the lakes north of the reserve I saw the ferruginous duck. This bird has been returning for some years and favours Kingfisher Lake on the outskirts of Ringwood, but this lake cannot be viewed as it once could. So far this winter though it has made one trip to Ivy Lake and today it was visible from the public footpath north of Mockbeggar Lane on the larger of the two lakes there. Hopefully it will oblige and spend more time in places where it can be seen, it is certainly worth checking the diving ducks on any of the lakes, just in case. I understand that the ring-billed gull put in an appearance on Ibsley Water in the afternoon, I suspect we will see it until the spring now.

I heard earlier this week that a car was broken into in one of the car parks last week, thankfully a rare thing at Blashford, this is only the second time it has happened, but it would be wise to take care not to leave valuables on show, or ideally in your car at all.

 

Walter Returns!!

I am delighted to say that I was wrong to suggest that we might have seen the last of our returning great white egret “Walter White” as today he appeared, way beyond his usual return time but here none the less. It was good to see him back at about 13 and a half years old he is a grand old bird now.

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A rather distant Walter but with his distinctive set of rings, so we know it really is him (you can’t see the rings in this shot though).

It was actually quite a good day to be looking at birds on the reserve today. When I arrived Ibsley Water was alive with house martin, at least 1500 by my estimate and lots perching in the bushes around the main car park too.

house-martins

House martins around the bushes in the main car park.

During the afternoon there were 3 garganey on Ibsley Water, they spent a good bit of their time well out in the centre picking insects off the surface, it seems that they were first seen on Friday, although not noted yesterday. Other ducks were few in number but included a pochard, shoveler, wigeon and teal. There were also still 2 ringed plover and 2 dunlin as well as single common sandpiper and green sandpiper. It was also a good day for birds flying over with red kite, peregrine, raven and marsh harrier being seen. We also saw the first common gull of the season as well, despite their name not usually a common bird at Blashford. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the most unusual record of the day was probably a female house sparrow in the bushes beside the Main Car Park.

In the morning there was a volunteer working party, we were working on the grassy bank near Ivy North hide, mending the fence and digging out Turkey oak saplings. This is an interesting area and gets very warm as the bank faces south and is angled at about 30 degrees, as the sun warmed up we counted at least 5 small copper butterflies.

Seeing the Light

I frequently include moths in this blog and this is because we regularly run a moth trap at Blashford Lakes, but it is also an important part of the species recording program on the reserve. Over 2500 species of moths have been recorded in Britain and they occupy all terrestrial habitats and even a few aquatic ones. Many species occupy very specific habitats and they can be indicators of habitat health and help to identify key habitat elements for management. Moths are also attractive and, although common, rather rarely seen by most people, so we find them very useful for the education team as well.

The recent very warm nights have resulted in some much better catches and opening the trap on Thursday morning we found a good range of species including one rare New Forest speciality, the light crimson underwing.

light crimson underwing

light crimson underwing

It does have crimson hind-wings but at rest you cannot see them. It lives in old oak woods and over the years we have caught a few at Blashford, enough to suggest they breed on the reserve and this highlights the value of our old woodland along the Dockens Water.

One strange fact about moth trapping is that nobody really knows why moths are attracted to lights. There are theories of course, but none entirely stand up. We also know that different types of light attract more moths than others and even that some species don’t really come to light at all. Our light trap is one that produces a lot of light in the ultra-violet range, this is the part of the spectrum that attracts the greatest range of moths so most light trap use this type of bulb.

In contrast to moths we have very few species of butterflies in Britain, but they are generally much more familiar. Overall this summer has been a poor one for butterflies and moths, with most species being seen in relatively low numbers. I did come across one of Blashford’s scarcer species yesterday when I saw a brown argus nectaring on a small patch of heather.

brown argus

brown argus

Very few birds to report unfortunately, Wednesday’s first pintail of the autumn had moved on by Thursday. Other wildfowl of note were 14 shoveler and 7 pochard, but waders and other migrants are still scarce.

 

Mothless, well Almost

Yesterday I ran a “Moth event” at Blashford, unfortunately I forgot to tell the moths and there were probably more human participants than moths! Usually late August is a good time for catching large numbers of moths, but big catches require warm, calm nights following warm settled days. What we had was a windy, mostly clear night following a rather stormy day.

Luckily the day got more settled as it went on, at least until late afternoon anyway. This brought out good numbers of insects, including as many dragonflies as I have seen this year. Around the reserve I saw several brown hawker, southern and migrant hawkers, an egg-laying emperor dragonfly and a fair few common darter. Damselflies included common blue, azure, red-eyed, small red-eyed and blue-tailed.

Butterflies were rather fewer, most that I saw were whites, with all three common species near the Centre. Out on the reserve a few meadow brown and gatekeeper are still flying and speckled wood are increasing again. Near the Lapwing hide I saw both red admiral and painted lady, perhaps indicating some continued arrival of passage insects.

The sunshine in the middle of the day brought out reptiles as well and I saw two grass snake and an adder. The adder was very fat and I suspect a female which will shortly be giving birth, since adders have live young rather than laying eggs as grass snakes do.

adder

adder

I have heard reports of wasp spider being seen around the reserve recently and today I finally saw one.

wasp spider

wasp spider

This is a female, the males are much, much smaller and wander about seeking the females.

I had hoped for a few different birds, following the rough weather, perhaps a few terns, but there was little change form the past week. A few extra waders were the best that could be found, 2 dunlin, 2 oystercatcher, 2 common sandpiper, 1 redshank and the pick of the day, 3 greenshank, although they only flew through. There are starting to be a few more ducks around, I saw 8 shoveler and 3 teal, but there are still no wigeon on the reserve, although they should not be far away. Away for the water looking up there were 2 raven, and single hobby and peregrine. Whilst low over the water before the day warmed there were 1000+ sand martin and c200 house martin.

Perhaps the sighting of the day for many visitors though was the female roe deer that spent part of the morning in front of the Woodland hide.

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roe deer doe at the Woodland hide

 

Getting ‘Otter

The last couple of days have really warmed up and you get the feeling that spring has really set in. The oak trees are coming into leaf and well before the ash too, so if you believe the rhyme we should be in for a warm summer. The warm weather has resulted in another one of our emperor moth hatching out, this time a male.

the Emperor

You can see the feathery antennae which are how he “smells” the air for the female’s pheromones.

There have also been  a lot more butterflies and other insects out and about, I saw several peacock and brimstone today and this slightly tattered comma.tattered comma

There are also other insects, although not as many as I would have expected, hoverflies seem very few, apart from the drone-fly Eristalis pertinax here posing on a cowslip.

Eristalis pertinax on cowslip

The spring flowers are moving on, the wild daffodil are almost all over and the bluebells are starting, less spectacular but still attractive are the tiny flowers of moschatel, or town-hall clock.

Mochattel

Yesterday I cam across a lot of tiny round growths on a tree stump, some with pale lumps on top, presumably the reproductive phase of something, I am not sure what, perhaps a slime mould? It is not a great picture,  but they were very, very small.

odd things

The winter birds have been continuing to go, I could not find any goldeneye today and the wigeon are down to a handful and even the shoveler down to a few tens. The Slavonian grebe may actually have gone as well, unusually it was asleep in the middle of the lake yesterday evening, quite at odds with usual behaviour and I am guessing it was having a good rest before flying off. On the other side of the coin there was a common tern today, tantalisingly it was a ringed bird, but I could not read the ring. There has also been a welcome return by Cetti’s warbler to the Ivy silt pond, after a long absence.

However the highlight of the last two days came yesterday as I was heading to open Ivy South hide, I noticed some commotion in the water beside the path and guessed maybe it was a cormorant, coot or maybe a moorhen. It was close by so I stopped and looked down over a tree stump and there just 2.5m away were two otter they looked up at me for perhaps five seconds, then dived off to go under some overhanging trees, some 10m away. I phoned the office but by the time Jim and Tracy had arrived they had headed off across the pond and out of sight. I could have got a great picture, but actually would not have done, by the time I had got the camera out and ready they would have gone, so instead I enjoyed a fabulous close encounter. The only close-up picture of a mammal I can offer is this young rabbit snapped with my 60mm macro lens today.

bunny

 

First Flowering

I was acting as substitute Jim today as he is on leave, it made a change to be on the reserve on a Saturday and a very pleasant one, in the fine spring sunshine. After a morning spent tying up various loose ends from the year end, I took the chance to get out tin the sun after lunch. I wanted to check out a few of the projects we have done over the years and see how they have worked. First I went to an area we cleared of rhododendron some five years ago, it had been one of the few areas not dug for gravel and still had a few large, old hazel stools growing up through it. We cleared the rhododendron and planted  a few hazel in their place. The ground flora had all been killed off by decades of deep shade from the rhododendron, so we decided to try collecting some wild daffodil seed from near the Woodland hide and spreading it on the bare ground, to see if we could establish some new plants. The seedlings came up and today I found the first flower!first daffodil

Wild daffodil are a feature of the reserve, or at least the areas that were not destroyed by gravel extraction, so re-establishing them to places they would once have been and removing planted garden daffodils is a thing we have been to do for some time.

I then went to the western side of Ellingham Lake to look at the hedge we laid last winter. It has suffered somewhat from being nibbled by rabbits, but is not looking too bad on the whole.hedge

The sunshine had brought out lots of butterflies, I saw good numbers of brimstone, a few peacock and a single small tortoiseshell.small tortoiseshell

Most of the butterflies were nectaring, as this small tortoiseshell was, on ground ivy, one of the best sources of food for butterflies and bees at this time of year.ground ivy

I also found a fine grass snake enjoying the sunshine, it was on very open ground so rather than slip off to cover it reared up in threat and then froze, allowing me to get some shots.grass snake

With a little effort I managed to creep really close and get some headshots, when I did it became apparent that it had some sort of damage around the upper jaw, it looks quite nasty, but the snake seemed to be in otherwise good shape.snake head

There had evidently been some arrival of migrants overnight, with a couple of willow warbler singing near the main gate as I opened up and there were noticeably more chiffchaff and blackcap. The highlight though, was a male wheatear on the lichen heath near Ivy North hide.

As I ate my lunch I watched a pair of long-tailed tit collecting spider’s web for their nest from under the eaves of the Education Centre and the resident pair of robin were courtship feeding on the picnic tables.

Closing up the Tern hide a sudden commotion flushed all the shoveler from the south-east part of Ibsley Water out into the centre of the lake, allowing me to get a good count, the total was 283, pretty good for April. There was little else to report, although the Slavonian grebe was still there somewhere apparently, although I failed to see it myself.

 

Seasonal Signs

Although spring has been creeping up on us for a little while now, today felt like one of the first really spring-like days. Perhaps it was because I got out of the office and around the reserve. We went on a walk around the northern part of the reserve to check on various jobs that will need doing and to seek out a reported cracked tree that might require work.

There were chiffchaff singing and a couple of blackcap and the wild daffodil and lesser celandine along the Dockens Water were putting on a good show. A few brimstone, a peacock and even a speckled wood were enjoying the warm sunshine.speckled wood

The speckled wood was my first spring butterfly, by which I mean the first of the species that emerge from the pupa in spring as opposed to the brimstone, peacock and the like that hibernate over winter as adult butterflies.

Towards the Lapwing hide we saw both grass snake and adder, also soaking up the sunshine. One sign of spring that we did not see in this area was the seasonal path that runs north to Mockbeggar Lane. This is indicated on our leaflets and elsewhere as being open from April 1st to 30th September, however it was not open today. This area is no longer part of the nature reserve and is now within Somerley Estate who manage the path. If it opens I will let you know.

Other birds we saw today included 2 red kite, at least 3 little ringed plover, good numbers of shoveler, on Ibsley Water I counted 179 that I could see from Tern hide, but later I understand 205 were seen. There are still some winter birds around though, with a group of wigeon grazing the eastern shore, until flushed by a wandering visitor and at least 13 goldeneye, including 3 adult drakes. The Slavonian grebe was reported again and is now starting to get some breeding plumage. Several lapwing are taking up territory and I saw a couple starting to make nest scrapes.

 

 

Spring is Sprung?

Well a bit maybe, at least today saw the first arrival of undoubted migrants with at least 15 sand martin over Ibsley Water this afternoon. Earlier in the week there had been a scatter of chiffchaff, more than have over-wintered, so some must have come in from somewhere.

Other signs of a slow change in the season have been a few peacock, red admiral and brimstone butterflies, although today’s cold kept them tucked up somewhere. Sunshine in mid week resulted in a good number of sightings of adder and grass snake.

Moth numbers are also picking up and this week we have seen oak beauty, yellow-horned, common Quaker, small Quaker, twin-spot Quaker, Hebrew character and clouded drab in increasing numbers.

Although many of the wildfowl have left there were still at least 431 shoveler on Ibsley Water today and the bittern continues to be seen from Ivy North hide, surely it will be leaving soon. Also on Iblsey Water the Slavonian grebe is still present as are the 2 black-necked grebe, now looking very smart in their full breeding colours.

The gull roost remains very large, although the big gulls have almost all departed they have been replaced by thousands of smaller gulls, mostly black-headed gull, but including 20 or more Mediterranean gull, tonight there were at least five second winter birds, 1 first winter and 15 or so adults. Unusually for Blashford, this winter has seen good numbers of common gull in the roost, typically we struggle to get double figures, unless it is very cold, but tonight I counted at least 412 and along the way saw an adult ring-billed gull. This last American visitor was not the one that spent the winter with us, but one that has arrived in the last few days, in fact it seems we may have had three different birds recently (some claim perhaps four!). During the afternoon there were also 3 adult little gull, these would be migrants, the smallest of the gulls we get and probably the most elegant.

At the Woodland hide numbers of finches are declining, but there are still good numbers of siskin, a few lesser redpoll and 10 or so brambling, including  a number of very smart males. There are also several reed bunting feeding there regularly and today, and this was a first for me, a drake mallard, not a species that immediately springs to mind as feeding outside the Woodland hide.

Spring may not exactly have sprung but it is slowly unfurling, at last.