Bittern again

After almost a week with no reported sightings a bittern was finally seen (for just a few minutes typically!) to the left of Ivy North Hide by a couple of visitors  this afternoon. They didn’t get a picture…

Firecrests are also still showing themselves off to our visitors – I spoke to one gentleman this afternoon who was delighted by his view of one between Ivy South and Woodland Hide. It wouldn’t hang around long enough to have a picture taken either, but we did receive this picture of a goldcrest taken earlier in the week by Corinne, as well as this nice shot of the Cetti’s warbler outside Ivy North Hide:

Goldcrest by Corinne Yarwood

Goldcrest by Corinne Yarwood

Cetti's warbler by Corinne Yarwood

Cetti’s warbler by Corinne Yarwood

Snipe are another more secretive bird that are being encountered on a regular basis around the margins of all of the lakes currently -Sally Grant e-mailed this one, again taken from Ivy North Hide:

Snipe by Sally Grant

Most of our school visits take place in the summer months, but the diversity of habitats and the facilities at Blashford Lakes means that schools can, and do, visit all year round. Indeed although classic habitat study activities (“minibeasting”, pond dipping etc.) are always going to be best done in the summer when more insects are on the wing, some areas of study are actually best undertaken in the autumn and winter months.

Having said that, even I wasn’t sure how well our first school group visit of the year would go yesterday! However the hardy 4 and 5 year olds from Verwood First School did just fine and had a brilliant day learning about birds and then using their experiences to create artistic representations of them from the clay, leaves, sticks and other natural woodland resources.

With 58 children altogether we were exploring the reserve and visiting Ivy North Hide and the Woodland Hide in  relatively large groups of about 20 children, accompanied by the teaching staff and parent helpers. Recognising that the winter is a busy time of year for visiting bird watchers we posted up signs outside the two affected hides at the start of the day to warn everyone that we would be on our way and using said hides for short periods.

Thank you to everyone that made space in the hides for us!

Sadly the whole day was marred somewhat for one of our dedicated volunteers by an encounter with a visitor who it seems was not happy to be sharing the nature reserve with a school group and who rather forcefully suggested that it was ridiculous that they were there as they were far too young to get anything out of it… although entitled to his opinion, needless to say I disagree entirely with him!

In fact the children did learn a lot about their local area and local wildlife – and had a very enjoyable day to boot.

Blashford Lakes is a great nature reserve for birds (and other wildlife) and we do what we can to help people, all people, access and enjoy it.

Sometimes that means children.

It’s a bit cheesy, but true so I’m going to say it anyway; children are the future! If we are going to keep what precious little wildlife and wild places we have left, children have to be given the chance to play and learn in outdoor wild places so they can discover for themselves how special and how amazing it is. We facilitate that at Blashford Lakes.

In light of this I make no apologies at all to the gentleman concerned, but of course I do hope that he was able to enjoy the remainder of his visit around the rest of the nature reserve.

Butterflies, Bees and a good Soaking

Friday was a warm if not particularly sunny day, apart from right at the end , but I will try not to dwell on that!

Although the reserve is known for the lakes we are lucky to have some very good woodland and small areas of heath, most of which is lichen heath. However some of the heath is the more traditional kind with patches of heather and these are now in full flower.



Heather not only looks good it also produces lots of nectar which attracts lots of insects and despite the lack of sunshine these included several butterflies and bees. I saw common blue, brown argus and this small copper all enjoying a good feast and sitting with wings open to gain as much warmth as they could from the weak sunshine.

small copper on heather

small copper on heather

We have probably all heard of heather honey as being one of the most sought after, and heather is often visited by honey bees, but the bees visiting these plants were much smaller, one of the solitary Colletes species.

small bee on heather

small bee on heather

Having looked it up I am pretty sure they were Colletes succinctus , a common species that especially favours heather flowers. I also saw at least one bee wolf, a wasp that hunts bees and especially honey bees, I wondered if it would take the little solitary bees but it did not seem interested in them, perhaps waiting for larger prey.

The heather was not the only plant flowering though, there was just enough sunlight to open the flowers of common centaury.

common centaury

common centaury

This attractive little plant has flowers which only open if the sun is more or less out, as this when the insects that will pollinate it will be flying.

It was quite a good day for butterflies all round, at least in terms of species seen, I also saw silver-washed fritillary and clouded yellow as well as the commoner species. I failed to get any pictures of clouded yellow or fritillary, although I did get this female meadow brown with wings open, something they don’t tend to do when the sun is fully out as they get too hot.

meadow brown female on fleabane

meadow brown female on fleabane

I locked up the hides at the end of the day as Jim and Tracey were setting up things for the Ellingham Show, if you can, go along and say hello to them, they have lots of activities with them and the show attracts lots of participants, so is well worth a visit. A feature of the locking up process was mandarin ducks, I saw two juveniles on Ivy Lake, one on Ibsley Water and no less than four on the Clearwater Pond. They have obviously had a good nesting season, as have almost all species it seems. On Ivy Lake there are still four common tern chicks to fledge and I saw several broods of tufted duck, especially on Ibsley Water.

It started to rain hard as I locked up the Tern hide, normally the last hide to visit, but unfortunately from there I could see that the windows of the Lapwing hide had been left open and I knew that heavy rain would soak the hide, so I went up to close them. By the time I got there the seats and arm rests were drenched as was the hide log book. On the plus side I did see 3 common sandpiper, a green sandpiper, 3 shoveler, a teal and a snipe, I also got very, very wet!


Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? ( or Fungus?)

Those of a certain age may remember a TV programme , having (nearly) the same title as this posting, in which a panel of ‘experts’ were challenged to identify an object from a museum collection.   It sometimes feels like I’m on the panel when a visitor asks questions about something they have seen on the Reserve.  Fortunately, for the most part, I’m usually able to give a plausible (if not invariably correct) answer or direct them to somewhere or someone who can.  I don’t pretend to be an oracle and mis-identifications are always possible. (Thanks to those who pointed out that the long-tailed tit’s nest of last week is almost certainly that of a wren)

For the most part these questions concern the animal or vegetable (fauna and flora) on the reserve, not too many people are concerned with the minerals,  the extraction of which (sand and gravel) created what we have today.   One such question, from a conservation volunteer the other day, concerned a plant/fungus that he’d seen. From the description given both Jim and I concluded that he’d been looking at the young, emergent stage of the Horsetail or Marestail. Just like these on the reserve…

Horsetail - looking rather like an alien invader

Horsetail – looking rather like an alien invader

 I believe these are variously known as Common Horsetail, Giant Horsetail or Field Horsetail or sometimes Marestail – probably Equisetum arvense ( or perhaps you know different??).  More interesting than the name is that they are among the few remaining species of a genus which for more than 100 million years was the predominant type of land based plant life, some of which reached over 30 metres tall and eventually formed the coal measures.  So they certainly have ‘staying power’ which is probably why they are a persistent weed and are much un-loved by gardeners .

Talking of strange organisms, I’m sure many of you will have spotted strange excrescences, often white or yellow though sometimes pink, on logs and tree trunks in the woods. One such caught our eyes the other day and we went back to investigate, and take a picture of this rather magnificent slime mould   

Slime mould

Slime mould

Looking superficially like a fungal growth, I’d always bracketed them in with this group of organisms.  I did, however, know that the lump you see is really a sort of super ‘love-in’ where millions ( billions?) of single-celled organisms had grouped together to form this fruiting body.  They normally live thinly spread in the forest floor and at some signal migrate to one spot to swap DNA and reproduce via spores.  Quite how this is organised or triggered is still a bit of a mystery and the things themselves are, I believe, no longer classified as fungi – probably more like amoeba, feeding on algae and bacteria in the soil.   Also nearby was one of the resultant spore masses ….

Slimemould spore mass

Slime mould spore mass

Truly the more one sees the more mysterious are some of the things around us and just to round off this section I’ll include a picture of an outgrowth on the branches of a tree close to the small car-park near the entrance. I think they’re called ‘Witch’s Broom‘ and I believe they’re caused by insects or a virus – but perhaps someone out there knows better.

Witch's Broom - just one of many such clusters of tiny twigs growing on one tree

Witch’s Broom – just one of many such clusters of tiny twigs growing on one tree

 On a more prosaic level the warblers reported last week have been augmented by at least two garden warblers, one of which was bold enough to perch out on the side of  a bush, giving reasonable views and a so-so image was possible at extreme range..

Garden warbler

Garden warbler

Although not a spectacular breeding site for wading birds we do get our fair share through the winter and it’s always nice to see some at this time of year. From the Tern Hide there were little ringed plover, redshank common sandpiper,  lapwing  and  a snipe has been seen. 

Redshank on edge of Ibsley Water

Redshank on edge of Ibsley Water

As well as many black-headed gulls, tufted duck  and thirteen mute swan , Ibsley Water was hosting at least six common tern and little grebe nesting close by the Goosander Hide.   At the Woodland Hide a lone brambling (doesn;t he know it’s time to go?)  was still in evidence  and we still have some magnificent siskin on display.

Two fine male siskin - getting food for their mates?

Two fine male siskin – getting food for their mates?

Nobbi Tern

Although it was another unpromising start to the day as we arrived to open up a distinctly soggy reserve under grey skies and light rain, the great spotted woodpecker was drumming from a large tree next to the Centre. A song thrush too was assuring us that spring was here with its distinctive repetitious singing of differing phrases. Trumping even these two was the wonderfully evocative sound of a chiffchaff calling out its own name in song.

Over Ibsley Water sand martins were seen hawking for insects. Whether these birds will be staying with us in the recently refurbished sand martin bank, or are just some of those moving through we will never know.

It’s very much a period of shift change as some of the late winter visitors haven’t all departed yet. Indeed the probable late winter/early spring shortage of natural food means we seem to be hosting ever larger numbers of brightly coloured finches, taking advantage of  the largess of the Trust in providing considerable quantities of niger seed, sunflower seed  and peanuts. As well as the siskin and redpoll coming into their breeding finery there are  quite large numbers  of (forty or more) around the Woodland Hide with at least ten brambling.   Some more brambling, and other finches including greenfinch,  are around the feeders near the Centre car-park. (Picture taken by Sheila).

Brambling P1390262a

Brambling by feeder close to Centre building

A buzzard has been making its presence fairly obviously around the Woodland Hide, much to the consternation of some of the smaller birds and a few of our visitors. One even asked if it had been taking many of the smaller birds, personally I should think this unlikely as most of the finches and tits are probably too agile to be caught by a buzzard. Most likely its scavenging some of the spilt food, I’ve had a friend ‘phone me today reporting just such buzzard behaviour from her garden.

The snipe has been re-located from the Ivy North Hide but there has been (to my knowledge) no sighting of any bittern today – hence the title of this piece (Just in case you were wondering if there is a strange species of tern on the reserve!!!).

Still a few ducks around including pochard, wigeon, teal, mallard, gadwall, tufted duck and goldeneye.  A couple of keen-eyed visitors spotted a pair of mandarin duck on Ibsley Water and some black-necked grebe are also still there.

Perhaps the most delightful sighting was by a couple of regularly visitors who were fortunate enough to see a barn owl flitting from post to post on the fence alongside Rockford Lake. The owl was trying to hunt in the open, but was being mobbed by black-headed gulls, the whole menagerie eventually flying off in the direction of Ivy Lake.

Moth-er’s Day

A two-in-one posting today, as I didn’t get round to one yesterday.

The diminished activity of bittern has been one feature of the last two days. Although there have been some good views of one,  seen regularly throughout the day from the Ivy North Hide, there is little evidence of more than one being around.   Having said that, to my certain knowledge there were at least four people who had their first ever views of bittern today and another visitor (from Kent , where they have breeding bittern!)  ventured to say that he’d had his best views ever and added that he’d had one of his most memorable days of birdwatching with  excellent views of brambling and  lesser redpoll  from the Woodland Hide, which he described as ‘magic’.

With the bittern, by way of diversion, there was a snipe, hunkered down in what remains of the now somewhat ragged and tatty remnants of reeds and reedmace. A kingfisher was also seen from Ivy North.

A range of waterfowl species are still present, but in smaller numbers.  Goosander have given a number of visitors a great deal of pleasure and many of the drake  goldeneye,  gadwall , wigeon, teal and even mallard are looking particularly smart at present.

Another  measure of the somewhat chaotic temperature regime of late was the presence of a singing chiffchaff close by the Lapwing Hide yesterday.

It’s also that time of year when amphibians and reptiles are desporting themselves in any available small bodies of water.  I always think it’s amazing that they are inspired to such ‘passion’  whan the prevailing temperature has many of us reaching for the thermal underwear. Even so there have been mixed ‘flocks’ of common toad and common frog spawning in some of the wet areas close to the Woodland Hide and yesterday it  was warm enough to tempt an adder out to bask on the path close to the Lapwing hide.

As most people cannot have failed to realise, given the commercial pressures these days, today is Mothering Sunday – or to give it its now more familiar North American epithet “Mother’s Day”.   As those of you who know me will testify, I have a tendency to  mis-interpret some words for comedic effect.  Prompted by this, and a request from ‘she who must be obeyed‘ , I set out the light trap overnight to see if we could capture a few nocturnal lepidoptera.  Unfortunately given the time of year and the cool conditions it wasn’t conducive to producing the most spectacular array of moth species, but Blashford is used to attracting some very different characters including this Hebrew Character, though I don’t think they come here from Israel!


Hebrew Character – named, I believe, from the shape of the prominent dark markings on each wing.

The only other moth in the trap was a Small Brindled Beauty.    The female of this species doesn’t have wings and like many (all?)  moths attracts a mate by releasing pheromones which the male detects with its large feathery antennae visible here.


SO not the most dramatic or impressive array of moths caught in our overnight trap, but it does give me the excuse for wishing you a happy Moth-er’s Day……