Weather warning news and a general catch up

Have been planning on writing a blog for a while as it has been far too long since the last post, but a yellow weather warning for wind and particularly strong winds forecast for overnight has finally prompted me to post!

If the weather is as unpleasant tomorrow as the forecast predicts it will be we don’t anticipate the reserve being particularly busy tomorrow (we’re aware of only two visitors so far today and they weren’t here long!).

If you are planning a visit here tomorrow (Thursday 11th March) do check here on the blog for site opening updates first, and do not plan to arrive first thing as even if the site does open tomorrow we will certainly be doing a site check when we arrive to ascertain that it is safe to open to visitors before opening the gates to the car park a little later than normal, assuming they open at all.

Todays weather is a far cry from that of the last few days which have been really very pleasant out of the wind in the sunshine. Nature has certainly been responding to the increase in temperatures and daylight length.

Bob reported seeing his first grass snake on Wednesday last week and indeed Tracy and I have both also seen the same snake basking in the same location on several occasions since. Adders have also now emerged and can be seen basking from the shelter of the dead-hedges along the footpath through the reedbed between Lapwing and Goosander Hide.

A beautiful and most welcome sight of Spring! One of several females seen on Monday – you can tell she is female due to the bronze colouration, males being silver.

Other animals who are stirring or making their presence felt this Spring include black-tailed godwit who have been present around Ibsley Water in significant numbers of up to 2,000 or more last week and really putting on quite spectacular flight displays at times. Although staff have yet to see one, sand martins have also been reported flying around Ibsley Water over the last few days. Green woodpecker, noticeable by their absence the last couple of years have been “yaffling” fairly consistently and the great spotted woodpeckers have also been drumming of course too. Nest boxes and natural cavities are all being investigated for their potential as nest sites by any number of birds, most conspicuous of which have been the nuthatches who have been very busy in numerous locations as they inspect the “real estate”.

Drier nights (tonight and last night being the exceptions!) have also led to our running the light trap more regularly for moths and although not teeming with moths in the morning, the rewards have generally been worth the effort of putting it out:

Yellow horned moth (is it just me or is it doing rather a good impression of a cat?!)
Oak beauty

On the mammal front the badgers, whose sett is in the vicinity of Woodland Hide, seem to have made a massive comeback – they all but disappeared from this location a few years ago for reasons unknown, but were clearly back last year and this Spring are incredibly active with any number of fresh diggings, latrines and piles of discarded bedding materialising!

One of the new (or newly “renovated” at least) sett entrances, with the old discarded bedding turfed out and visible on top of the spoil to the left of the picture.
Signs of so much badger activity!

The first of the wild daffodils started flowering 2-3 weeks ago but have only started to come into their best over the last few days:

Wild daffodils adjacent to Woodland Hide
In my opinion at least, one of our loveliest of Spring sights

Other wildflowers that have been becoming more prominent in recent days include coltsfoot, lesser celandine, primroses and willow catkins:

Coltsfoot
Beautiful lesser celandines
“Pussy” willow catkins, just now beginning to open and reveal their pollen riches.

I’ve often pondered the “yellow-ness” of Spring – certainly not all of our Spring flowers are yellow, but it is true that a great many are, as illustrated above, so I did a bit of research on this phenomena a couple of weeks ago and the general belief seems to be that this colour must be the most obvious to insects throughout the relatively low hours of daylight early in the year. Whatever the actual reason, all of these bright, colourful, flowers are a most welcome burst of colour after the greyness of winter! Another such welcome splash of colour is the vivid red of the scarlet elf cups which thrive on the decaying wood in the damp and shady areas of Blashford woodland, although having been fruiting for several months they are now starting to lose some of their vibrancy and will not be with us for very much longer:

Scarlet elf cup fungi

Other welcome signs of Spring include the slow but steady greening up of our tree’s and hedgerows, with the leaf buds of both elder and hawthorn now swelling and opening:

Elder
Hawthorn. This in the planted “lazily laid” hawthorn hedge that Bob has been working on in sections with the volunteers along the A338 for the last few years: reaping the rewards of all their hard work, it is becoming quite a fine dense hedgerow which, although not as pretty as a traditionally laid and woven hedge, is far easier to produce and at least as good for wildlife!

A less welcome sign of better weather is an increase in the number of “rogue” visitors accessing the site. Although by far the majority of visitors visit, use and respect the nature reserve as we intend a small minority do not. Illegal fishing and poaching activity has noticeably increased on the nature reserve, particularly on Ellingham Lake where it is less of a wildlife conservation issue, but also on Ibsley Water where it does pose significant risks to the ground nesting birds who nest around it and who are so readily disturbed by trespassers, be they anglers, birders or walkers who “just want to look at the lake”. Fly-tipping and of course littering, the latter of which is not usually an issue at Blashford Lakes fortunately, has also increased, and I was very saddened to see that most awful and unnecessary of modern British countryside sights for the first time at Blashford Lakes just a couple of weeks ago: that of a plastic bag of dog mess swinging from the branches of a tree along the Ivy Lake/Rockford permissive footpath ūüė¶ .

Readers of this blog are, I am sure, all respectful of our wildlife generally and of our nature reserve particularly, so please do let us know if you witness anyone behaving inappropriately. There often is no one in the office to pick up the phone but you are welcome to call 01425 472760 and leave a message, or alternatively email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk – if you could include a date, time, place and brief description of the wrong-doer and wrong-doing it would be very helpful, particularly as at least some of the inappropriate activity is undertaken on a fairly routine basis by the same individuals.

Please do not however attempt to challenge anyone directly as we would not want a more significant incident to deal with!

Sadly, like elsewhere in the County and across the country, we are seeing a small increase in antisocial behaviour at Blashford Lakes ūüė¶

With this Monday seeing us, as a nation, begin our journey out of lockdown with the children returning to school, the Trust is reviewing how we manage our work and sites alongside the easing of restrictions.

Some of our volunteer wardens will return this week adding to eyes and ears “on the ground” which will no doubt help with some of the aftermath of less welcome visitors and all being well our Welcome Volunteers will return at the end of the month and it is at the end of the month that we will review making the portable toilets available to visitors as well. For the time-being the guidance from the Government is to “stay local” and we are operating our sites under that premis.

Look forward to welcoming everyone back soon! In the meantime, stay safe.

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‚Äô 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

Still Going

As Jim said in his recent post, I am still going into the reserve most days, mainly to keep and eye on things and do some routine maintenance tasks. Generally the reserve is very quite, although there is a small minority of people who are still out and about. Some are walking out from the nearest houses for their daily exercise. A few are still driving to the reserve, not really approved of these days, but in small numbers perhaps not a big problem. Unfortunately some are taking advantage of there being few people about to engage in poaching and other undesirable activity, probably inevitable but a shame all the same.

Yesterday morning was especially pleasant and I went right around the reserve to check on things. When there is nothing amiss I have to count myself really lucky to be still able to get out. I came across a group of basking male adder, there were at least three in one mass, but it was hard to work out how many exactly, a single nearby made for a better photo though.

adder

adder

There are surprising number of wildfowl still on the reserve, I suspect because we have had predominantly north-easterly winds and they don’t much like flying into a headwind when migrating. Earlier this week there were still over a thousand duck on Ibsley Water, with as many as 400 shoveler and hundreds of wigeon and pintail as well. There has also been a flock of black-tailed godwit around, at least 250, probably more, they are presumably feeding on the Avon floods now they have receded a bit, every so often they are lifted by a passing bird of prey and wheel about. The ducks are on the move now that the winds have eased and will be heading towards Scandinavia, the godwits will probably wait a couple of weeks or so before heading off to Iceland. By then I hope we will have a lot more summer visitors.

Despite the sunshine and generally rather spring-like feel to the weather there have been rather few summer visitors around so far. I have seen a very small number of sand martin, but no more than ten and no swallow or house martin. A few years ago there were sand martin excavating the first nest holes in the last week of March, and hundreds over the lake. There are a good few chiffchaff and blackcap singing now, but no other migrants.

The forecast is for warmer conditions next week, so perhaps we will get an arrival of summer visitors, we can be wait.

 

It’s a Small World

Boxing Day was quite busy at Blashford, with a fair few visitors on the reserve, most who were prepared to spend the time waiting saw the bittern at Ivy North hide. Whilst they waited good views were to be had of water rail and Cetti’s warbler.

From the hides on Ibsley Water the black-necked grebe could be distantly seen along with at least two water pipit and near Tern hide, at least 85 linnet. An adult female marsh harrier crossed over the lake a few times and a sparrowhawk was seen trying to hunt the small starling roost int he late afternoon. The starling roost has evidently relocated having dropped from tens of thousands to a few hundred. I could also find no sign of any great white egret, even at dusk when I looked at the usual roost site, none could be found.

linnets

Part of the linnet flock on the shore beside Tern hide, there are lots of them but they are hard to pick out!

I had a look through the gull roost and there were good numbers of lesser black-backed gull and black-headed gull, but only 14 common gull, two yellow-legged gull and no sign of the ring-billed gull or Caspian gull. Obviously I could not check all the gulls present but conditions were very good, so I was disappointed not to find either species.

Away from the birds I came across an oak branch with a remarkable habitat growing across it, just one branch had it’s own forest of lichen, moss and fungi, small in scale but extraordinary.

lichens

lichen and moss on oak branch

lichen and moss 2

More lichen and moss

hair lichen

hair-like lichen

fungus

A small fungus (I think)

It might be only just after Christmas, but signs of spring were to be found. I saw snowdrops pushing through the ground and the hazel catkins are opening.

hazel catkins

hazel catkins

I also heard singing mistle thrush and great tit as well as the year round singers like robin and Cetti’s warbler.

Garganey!

When I opened up the Tern hide this morning I was greeted by the sight of a pair of garganey feeding just to the right of the hide. It is always a treat to see these small ducks, our only duck species that visits for the summer having wintered in Africa. They used to be called “Cricket teal” after the call of the drake, or “Summer teal” because they are about the size of a teal and come here for the summer. The only other notable birds was a another common tern, at present they seem to be adding one a day.

Later in the morning I was amazed to hear that there were now 7 garganey on Ibsley Water, some years we don’t even record a single one, clearly there had been a significant arrival of these ducks.

It has been much more spring-like in the last two days and there have been lots of butterflies seen, including brimstone, peacock, small tortoiseshell and comma in some numbers. Adder have been spotting basking by the paths north of Ellingham Drove and the great tit are nest building in earnest. Perhaps spring has finally arrived.

common dog violet

common dog violet, one of the real signs of spring.

The Big Chill

Like many people I have been pretty much holed up for the last couple of days. I did venture out onto the edge  of the Forest on Thursday. It was very quiet with only a few blackbird and robin digging about in the leaf litter. I came across a group of New Forest ponies, showing just how hardy they are, eating gorse with a covering of snow on their backs. The snow covering shows just how good their coats are at insulating them, the longer hairs that form the winter coat trap layer of air, just as we are told to if we are to keep warm.

a hardy New Forest pony

New Forest pony eating gorse in the snow.

The area I was in is prime nightjar habitat and somewhere I often visit to listen to and watch them. It is remarkable to think that they will probably be churring away here in under two months.

Nightjar habitat

Nightjar habitat

Despite the undoubtedly wintery weather we are actually on the very edge of spring. As thought to emphasise this there were a pair of garganey at Farlington Marshes at the end of last week and sand martin usually arrive at Blashford around the end of the first week of March.

Some signs of spring start a little earlier than the arrival of long-distance migrants. Plants are often our first signs and wild daffodil have been out for a while as have lesser celandine and primrose.

Yesterday I ventured out again and got as far as our Hythe Spartina Marsh reserve, it was very bleak indeed!

Hythe Spartine Marsh

Hythe Spartina Marsh

There were flocks of wigeon and various waders feeding along the water’s edge where the seawater was keeping the mud unfrozen. The wind was cold, blowing across Southampton Water and I did not stay long.

When I decided that opening up on Thursday was not going to happen I did wonder if I had done the right thing. At the time I could have got to the reserve, but the forecast was not promising. Since my way home would have been along the A31, I am very pleased I opted not to open as I might well not have got home the same day!

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.