Another quick update…

Sorry, I know lots of people look forward to reading the blog, but as I explained today Ed is a computer down at the moment and we’ve been busy – hopefully Steve will manage to post a more interesting blog tomorrow while the rest of the team attend the HIWWT bi-monthly staff meeting…

BUT in the meantime I will just let you know that the main car park was open as normal today, though still with a reasonable amount of water in it so with the wind howling outside as I type and heavy wind and rain forecast it may not be open in the morning!

It is hard to believe that there are any more tree’s/branches that are likely to come down after recent months, but you never know. Do take care if you visit the reserve tomorrow, hopefully it won’t be a problem, but do please respect any path closures that are deemed  necessary and equally if you find anything that requires attention, please let Steve know!

Goosander Hide is STILL closed (sorry!), but if you are planning a visit you may want to look out for the redhead smew that was see on and off throughout the day on Ivy Lake again today.

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A warm welcome at Blashford Lakes

130209Blashford2 by J Day

I mentioned the general increase in bird song a few blog entries ago, and this trend has continued. The last couple of mornings it has been this song thrush that has been particularly making itself heard, not least because it is favouring a song post in an old elder immediately above the entrance gate that we unlock every morning. A warm welcome in the morning indeed.

130209Blashford1 by J Day_resize

Bittern continue to cavort across Ivy Lake and the surrounding environs, the green-winged teal has been showing well, this morning at least, and wigeon, like those pictured here outside Ivy South Hide continue to dominate the wildfowl.

As promised, I did run the light trap last night, though I had not anticipated the rain that fell and which sadly kept the catch down. So pictured here is the catch in its entirety! One pale brindled beauty and one Tortricodes alternella (thanks to Hants Moths for my identification of the latter):

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Pale brindled beauty

130209Blashford4 by J Day_resize

Tortricodes alternella

130209Blashford1 by J Day_resize

I spent the morning finishing off the reconstruction work to the upper Dockens Water debris dam that was started with the Thursday volunteer team – here’s the end result, unfortunately I missed the “before” photo. Originally constructed as part of a river restoration project in 2006 the constant and extreme flood conditions of the last few months had wreaked havoc, punching a fair-sized hole through that was flowing down the old canalised channel even at normal water level. We have now completed a willow “fedge” in front and behind the original log jam that will allow water to flow through for the time-being, but prevent the situation from worsening and then trap silt, sticks, leaves and other water-borne debris in the autumn, thus effectively re-sealing the gap.

After a short talk to a visiting group after lunch I headed out to see what else the volunteers have been up to in the willow scrub/reed bed on the way up to Lapwing Hide. I was impressed! Continuing the willow clearance begun with Bob last winter they have cleared significantly more over the last few weeks:

Before:

 130209Blashford2 by J Day_resize

After!

 130209Blashford3 by J Day_resize

The clearing that results will hopefully encourage a re-growth of reed and/or flowering plants, which, sheltered by the surrounding tree’s will in turn favour invertebrates and reptiles. The cleared willows themselves have been formed into a very neat (and photogenic – see below!) dead-hedge which will provide cover for both those animals, small mammals and birds. As it decomposes the dead wood will also provide suitable conditions for deadwood fungi and invertebrates.

130209Blashford4 by J Day_resize

On the way back to the centre I stopped off to look for green-winged teal unsuccessfully, but did catch up with visitors who had seen redhead smew on Ivy Lake (from the southern-most screen). I missed that too, but was delighted by both views of a kingfisher fishing, first in Rockford and then Ivy Lake and by this view of great crested grebes courting:

 130209Blashford5 by J Day

An awful picture of a special sight, which included the full-blown neck stretching, head shaking, weedy gift proffering, body-up-out-of-the-water dancing courtship works!

Shovelers, Shovelers, Shovelers

I sneaked into Blashford today from my usual haunt at Farlington and surrounds and had a quick look around. The highlight of the day was a record-breaking count of shoveler, Rob Hume counted 1070 on Ibsley Water. Only a couple of places regularly get this kind of count and they are much larger sites such as the Somerset Levels or Ouse Washes.

Other birds today were 2 barnacle geese on Ibsley Water, 2 bittern on Ivy Lake (for a picture of this I will have to lure you away to http://solentreserves.wordpress.com/ – “The 108ft blog”), the redhead smew was also reported from there and I added a further 26 shoveler to the reserve total. A Cetti’s warbler was also seen from the Ivy North hide, reassuring that it had survived the cold weather. Lastly a knot was seen to fly onto the shore of Ibsley Water, I have seen one previous one in mid-winter here but it is certainly unusual.

Heralds of Spring

Lots of visitors today so plenty of sightings being reported including bittern being spotted just outside the Ivy North Hide by a number of people.  On Ibsley Water  black-necked grebe and red-crested pochard were seen from the Tern Hide, together with high numbers of waterfowl including unusually large rafts of shoveler.   Many visitors were pleased to see pintail in among the other ducks. No reports of the smew that had been seen, I believe, on Rockford Lake, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been seen or isn’t there, just that no one mentioned it to us.

In and around the Woodland Hide and elsewhere on the reserve the wonderful mixed flocks of tits and finches continue to delight by their constant attendance on the seed and peanut feeders. The goldfinch, chaffinch and greenfinch numbers being augmented by their smaller cousins, siskin and lesser redpoll on the niger seed feeders, and a few brambling mixed in with the chaffinch flocks on the ground.

Jim kindly set out the light trap last night (first time this year), and as I’d seen reports from other moth-ers of some un-seasonal species being  caught recently, with eager anticipation we set to unloading the trap to find……………just one moth – a Spring Usher.  A little early, but nonetheless a welcome sight

First moth for the teay in our light trap

First moth for the year in our light trap

In the floral line it’s nice to report that some of our more delightful winter flowers are starting to give us a glimpse of glories to come, in the form of these pioneering snowdrops poking through the leaf litter near to the Centre car-park.

A cheering sight - hopefully not a herald of weather to come!!!

A cheering sight – but, hopefully, not a herald of weather to come!!!

Taking the Ruff with the Smews

Bird News: Ibsley Waterruff 1, red-breasted merganser 2, yellow-legged gull 1, Mediterranean gull 1. Ivy Lakebittern 2, smew 2.

A fantastic Blashford day, it started fine then just got better and better, sunny and warm. In addition the birds were performing and perhaps most surprisingly the reserve was not that busy so there was no problem getting into the hides to se them.

The mild night meant another good moth catch and another water beetle, this time a big one, a great diving beetle, it is easy to see that it is a female as the males have smooth elytra.

great diving beetle

The morning was taken up with a volunteer task and the afternoon leading a guided walk with the same group. The Woodland hide delivered great views of lesser redpoll and siskin. A good range of ducks were at the Ivy South hide, including this pochard which was diving close to the hide. 

As so often recently it was the Ivy North hide that really delivered, although it took two visits. A bittern was fishing just below the hide, as it moved through the tangled Glyceria all we could see at times was a gently shift of the vegetation and then up would come the head and it would peer around before descending again. There were also water rails and a singing Cetti’s warbler. On the way there for our second visit, I noticed a small sycamore tree beside the path with the telltale signs of having been got at by a great spotted woodpecker for the purpose of sap-sucking. To do this they make a series of very evenly spaced small holes to make in a horizontal line around the trunk. The runs were very prominent as the runs showed up white, probably due to mould. North American woodpeckers are well-known for this behaviour, ours less so.

signs of woodpecker sap sucking

I returned to Ivy North again to lock up and saw the 2 smew, under the trees on the eastern shore. This meant that when I was at the Tern hide right at the end of the day and saw the red-breasted merganser with twenty or so goosander I had seen all three British saw-bill ducks in the one day. It later turned out that what I saw was a merganser, rather than the merganser, as two redheads were reported today. Other notable reports included a ruff on Ibsley Water.

A Day to Dance About

Bird News: Ibsley Waterred-breasted merganser 1, black-necked grebe 1, oystercatcher 3, black-tailed godwit 9, Mediterranean gull 2+, barnacle goose 5. Ivy Lakebittern 2, smew 2. Centrebrambling 1.

I was doing a water bird count this morning and got off to a good start when I saw the female red-breasted merganser fly out of the roost on Ibsley Water with 5 goosander and fly north up  the valley, disappearing over Ibsley Church. At Ivy North hide a bittern was one view and I also saw 2 water rail. I then circled round to count Ellingham Lake, then to the eastern side of Ibsley Water. From the Lapwing hide I had good views, relatively, of the black-necked grebe.

black-necked grebe

Most of the wildfowl numbers have started dropping now as they begin to move off toward their breeding areas. One exception is the diving duck, pochard and tufted duck, numbers of the last especially have risen quite sharply. Many winter further south and especially west and stop off at Blashford en route back to the continent. Although I have not totalled everything yet it is clear that there were about 600 tufted duck, surely enough to have a chance fo a lesser scaup one day? Tufted duck do also breed at Blashford of course as do moorhens.

moorhen

Moorhens seem like birds that don’t go anywhere and a good few probably don’t, but some at least visit us from the near continent for the winter. Not every thing is leaving, some birds are coming back. Today I saw the pair of oystercatcher that have been around for a few days, but there was also another bird, so three-quarters of our breeding population are now back.

oystercatcher

The pair of oystercatcher were doing display flights for a short while and they were not the only birds displaying, I saw at least four pairs of great crested grebe doing so including the pair below, they did the full weed-dance, but they were quick and I was too slow, so the picture shows them just after they had dropped their beakfuls of weed.

great crested grebe pair

The mild night produced the best moth catch of the year so far with pale and small brindled beauties.

pale brindled beauty

New for the year were twin-spot Quaker and dotted chestnut.

dotted chestnut

There were also several chestnut and 3 satellite.

satellite

Having missed them when I was doing the main count I managed to end the day by catching up with the 2 smew on Ivy Lake, a day that starts with a bittern and ends with 2 smew can’t be bad.

 

Red-headed Stars of the Big Screen

Bird News: Ibsley Waterbarnacle goose 5, goldeneye 35, yellow-legged gull 3, Mediterranean gull 8. Ivy Lakebittern 2,water rail 2, smew 2, little egret 1.

A grey, mild morning, a foretaste of days to come if the weatherman is to be believed. Opening up the hides the best location by far was the Ivy North hide where I saw a bittern fishing, a water rail feeding int he open and 2 smew fishing all in the space of five minutes or so. The light was so poor that pictures were not really possible, but that did not stop me trying.

water rail

The mild night did produce a few moths including the regular chestnuts and Hebrew characters, along with the first March moth of the year.

March moth

March moths are one of several winter flying species that have flightless females. I have wondered why this strategy is so common at this time of the year and never actually sought an answer. My guess would be that it means the females can save resources for egg production by not wasting energy on flying, leaving the males to find them by following the pheromone trail. The downside is that it must make dispersal difficult, limited by how far the females or caterpillars can walk, which is presumably not far. Unless they have other ways of hitching a ride to new places.

In the lobby of the Centre we have a big screen which shows the output from one of our cameras out on site, recently we have had the one looking at a corner of Ivy Lake as the most frequently displayed and it has shown a good range of species, shoveler, wigeon, teal, tufted duck and pochard are all regular. Yesterday a drake goosander swam past, a new species for the screen, but today this was eclipsed by the 2 smew. The same output is streamed on the web as well so it was possible to watch them from the comfort of your own home. We are still awaiting a bittern though, despite a couple of possible large flappy birds that have passed through too quickly to be identified.

I spent a good part of the morning cutting vegetation on the shore of Ibsley Water to improve conditions for nesting waders.  If it stays mild lapwings will be displaying any day now and could be nesting within a couple of weeks, so any remaining work has to be done in the next few days.

At dusk I had  a better than usual look at the gull roost on Ibsley Water, the gulls are overwhelmingly small ones now, I estimated 6300 black-headed gulls tonight with a few hundred common gull, although their numbers are now falling fast. I also found 8 Mediterranean gull, all adults and mostly in full or almost full breeding plumage. It is unsurprising that the early movement involves mostly adults as they will be the first to get back to their nesting sites, followed by the first time breeders and then the non-breeding younger birds. The situation is similar with the black-headed gulls, at present most are adults but by late March the flocks are mostly of first year birds. The numbers of larger gulls are much reduced, but I did pick out 3 yellow-legged gull, all adults, but I have still had no luck with the Iceland gull.

 

Beauty and the Bittern

Bird News: Ibsley Watersmew 1, black-necked grebe 1, oystercatcher 2, black-tailed godwit 7, Mediterranean gull 6. Ivy Lakebittern 3, water rail 2, Cetti’s warbler 1, smew 1.

A much milder night has seen a thaw of the remaining ice, much to the benefit of the bitterns, at least three of which were in evidence again for most of the day. The brighter of the two smew was also on Ivy Lake in front of the Ivy North hide for a time and I saw the duller bird on Ibsley water as I opened up. At the Ivy North hide first thing, I spotted one bittern just visible round the trunk of the tree off to the left of the hide.

lurking bittern

The mild night resulted in a modest catch of moths including an oak beauty, hebrew character and chestnut.

oak beauty

Looking ahead the next few days do have a very spring-like appearance, perhaps we will even see a sand martin before the end of February. The wild daffodils are starting to come out and will be sped up by a bit of warmth, meanwhile the snowdrops are still looking good, but will soon be finished.

snowdrops

When it comes to finding ways to allow people to get close to wildlife the provision of a hide is a frequent choice, but it is not the only one. Obviously a hide that really works will mean that the wildlife will not know you are watching and will give the truest picture of what they get up to. With some wildlife habituation is a possibility, this technique relies on the fact that many species will get used to a moderately close approach under certain conditions. Wildfowl like to be able to see a threat, this is why they will actually follow a fox along the shore of a lake, a threat they can see cannot surprise them. Likewise they will see humans a s a threat but can learn to tolerate people within defined limits. With this in mind I have been cutting the vegetation alongside the path to the Ivy South hide to produce a low dense hedge. This means the ducks can see people but equally the barrier means they can easily see that we are not too close. This is slowly producing results and recently there have been several gadwall, mallard, tufted duck and a few shoveler using the pond, allowing quite good views without the constraints of a hide.

shoveler pair relaxing on Ivy Silt Pond

There was not much other news today, a black-necked grebe on Ibsley Water was new and will perhaps stay to moult. At dusk the numbers of large gulls are again declining, but there was further evidence of the arrival of smaller gulls with at least 6 Mediterranean gulls reported, all adults.

 

 

Snow, Smew and More Lashes

Bird News: Ibsley Watersmew 1, black-tailed godwit 14. Ivy Lakebittern.

Quite the most wintery morning of the season so far, with sleety snow falling and a cool easterly wind. Opening the Tern hide I was pleased to see the duck smew once again to the east of the hide, later in the day it was seen from the Goosander hide. We were back in the Tern hide later as there were two groups going round today and I was to meet them both to set them on their way. This did allow one further notable observation, 14 black-tailed godwit, the most there have been this winter, we will need some real rain before we get a good flock though.

One group were photographers, who will have struggled in the conditions. The other were walkers and we did a short walk on the reserve before they headed off towards the New Forest and a pub lunch. I don’t often get into the hides in the middle of the day and it was good to see the numbers of finches now around the Woodland hide, although there were still no brambling that we could see. Unfortunately we evidently walked passed a bittern stood up in the reeds beside the Ivy Silt Pond. It had been watched flying in from Ivy lake, probably as a result of being chased off by another bittern, I should have been more observant.

It was not really a day for pictures, but I promised I would try for a better one of the eyelash fungus, it could be better still, but in case I don’t get the chance again, here it is.

eyelash fungus close-up

The next two days are dominated by the Reserve’s Officers favourite activity, meetings, so reports may be a little sparse.