Preparations for Spring

It was a properly frosty morning, but walking round to open up the hides this morning signs of approaching spring were everywhere.

Frosty thistle

Frosty thistle

The snowdrops near the store are well out now and primroses are flowering around the car park edge, near the Woodland hide the leaves of the wild daffodils have been up for  a while, but now the flower buds can be seen. Along the path sides shiny, bright green wild arum leaves are showing everywhere and near the alder carr there are the brilliant red spots of colour provided by scarlet elf cup fungi.

As it was Tuesday we had a volunteer task today and we were also looking forward to the warmer days. Our task was clearing back the path sides on the way to the Ivy South hide to open up sheltered scallops to give something of the feeling of a woodland ride. This path runs almost exactly north-south and so has many sun-traps beloved of insects and reptiles. Out plan was to create more such spots in the hope of making more encounters with these creatures later in the year.

pathside clearance

Cleared path sides to create sunny “scallops”.

The end of the day saw rather fewer birders at the Tern hide hoping for a sight of the Thayer’s gull, they were disappointed again. There was the usual ring-billed gull, several yellow-legged gull, a first winter Caspian gull and an adult Mediterranean gull in the roost. My own sightings were rather few, “Walter” our great white egret was fishing in Ivy Lake and on Ibsley Water 2 shelduck and 3 oystercatcher were the most interesting records.

Tomorrow we are working at Fishlake Meadows again, clearing cut willow into dead hedges to create new views across the reedbeds and pools.

 

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New Years Day – Listers, Cakes and a Wolf Moon

As might have been expected the reserve was busy today, with birders out to start their yearlists, lots of people out for a walk and a bit of wildlife and everyone able to take advantage of a special extra Pop-up Cafe day.

I had to go around all the hides to take in last year’s logbooks and put out the new ones, so I took advantage of walking to whole reserve and starting my own yearlist. By the time I had opened up all the hides I was already on 53 species of birds and 3 species of mammals. I actually saw Walter, our great white egret when I was opening the Centre as he flew over the car park, perhaps a good thing as he was not at his usual roost at dusk, probably because of the cold wind that got up later in the day. Two pairs of mandarin duck on Ivy Lake were a little unexpected and 96 pintail on Ibsley Water was the most I have seen this winter.

I still had to go to Goosander and Lapwing hides and my trip there saw me add black-necked grebe, in fact there were two, one distantly near Gull Island and the other quite close to the hide. A water pipit at Lapwing hide was also good to see.

It was not all about the birds though I saw two flowering plants in bloom, primrose – living up to its name of “prime rose” or first flower.

Primrose

The first flower – primrose

The second was a small clump of the undoubtedly planted snowdrop beside the car park, although the flowers of these were not quite open yet.

snowdrop

snowdrop

Later in the day I managed to add some more bird species to my list, including a fine male brambling, the ring-billed gull, a first winter Caspian gull and an adult Mediterranean gull, meaning that I ended with 73 species. Not a bad total as I always think anything over 70 in a day at Blashford is good. I missed at least ten species that others saw or I know were there, so I could have got 80 with a very fair wind, maybe one day.

Closing up the Moon was very large and full in the sky, apparently this is the day when the full Moon is the closest to Earth that it will be in the whole of 2018. I am also told it was a “Wolf Moon” it seems this is the first full Moon of the New Year. Whatever you call it, it was certainly very striking.

Full Moon with duck

Full Moon over Ivy Lake (2018’s “Super Moon” and “Wolf Moon” in one go).

Driving home I was surprised to see lots of Winter moth flying in the headlight beams as I drove down Ellingham Drove, my first moths of the year.

Approaching Spring

Although not quite as pleasant a day as it was on Saturday, Sunday was still mild and busy with visitors on the reserve, the Pop-up Café probably helping numbers with tea and homemade cake. A good range of birds also helps, 2 great white egret were seen on Ivy Lake, whilst on Ibsley Water a drake scaup, black-necked grebe and a white-fronted goose were all seen. The scaup was only the second adult drake I have seen on the reserve, this winter has seen unusual numbers of scaup in southern England so perhaps it was not such a surprise that we would get one on the reserve. The black-necked grebe is now progressing well into breeding plumage with the golden ear tufts now visible. The white-fronted goose was presumably the juvenile that has spent the winter with the local greylag goose flock.

In the woodland the warm weather is spurring many birds to start singing and the constant twitter of siskin is now the main background sound near the Woodland hide. It will not be long before some resident birds start nesting, signs of spring are everywhere now.

snowdrops

snowdrops

There were sightings of brambling again at the Woodland hide and 2 firecrest were also seen.

Saturday had seen the first butterfly of the year, a brimstone and the first reptile, a female adder.

The bittern was seen on Saturday, but not on Sunday, it will surely be departing soon. It was also very noticeable that there were many fewer gulls, with only 2 Mediterranean gull and no ring-billed gull visible in the roost last night.

I did have one last minute highlight though, the drake ferruginous duck, which usually frequents an inaccessible private lake to the south of the complex, was on Ivy Lake as I locked up the hides.

What a difference a few hours can make!

It was a slow drive to work across the Forest this morning and the view over Ibsley Water was fairly non-existent:

a-misty-start

The view from Tern Hide at 8.45am…

 

4 hours later it was a very different scene indeed!

a-sunny-finish

The same view from Tern Hide at 2pm!

Everything was fairly distant, but lovely to see all the lapwing that have started gathering on the shore line – mostly on the spit and grassy eastern bank this afternoon but last night they were much closer to Tern Hide around the little island in particular.

Bittern was present again at Ivy North Hide, where this morning when I opened up a goldeneye was an unusual record for Ivy Lake – a handsome drake.

Lesser redpoll and brambling were both seen on and off from the Woodland Hide during the day and they and the sunshine have been delighting everyone!

 

Apparently Blashford snowdrops were the photo leading the BBC weather last night – I missed it so here is my offering that you are unlikely to see on the BBC! The wild daffodils which are now flowering outside Woodland Hide are my spring favourite though:

Last nights “Night Senses” event went well, although there was a disappointing lack of stars. The cloud cover bought the evening temperature back up however so we did see a few moths around the light trap – they were much easier to photograph this morning in daylight however!

 

Should be nice again tomorrow so expecting another busy day – if you are joining us remember your purse/wallet so you can take advantage of the treats available from the Pop up café in the classroom from 10am-3.30pm!

Ducking and Diving

Just a short posting, as this is my first spell on duty for 2014, I’ll bid you a belated Happy New Year! from a somewhat soggy Blashford Lakes Reserve.

First things first. One of our regular visitors,  Ian Sibsey, whilst watching from the Lapwing hid  was lucky enough to see a great northern diver early today.  Also reported were a black-necked grebe and large numbers of pintail.

Given the predicted weather conditions we had cancelled a proposed birdwatching walk today and although the rain wasn’t as bad as I’d expected, this was just as well as it wouldn’t have been much fun. Even the ducks on Ivy lake didn’t seem to be very impressed by the conditions.  The rain also deterred many prospective visitors and I didn’t see more than four people before mid-day.   Those visitors who did ‘flood in’ later were rewarded with views of both lesser redpoll and mealy redpoll together with good numbers of siskin.

As no blog is really complete without a picture here’s a sample of the wonderful display of snowdrops close to the Centre car-park.

Just a small clump of snowdrops.

Just a small clump of snowdrops.

W-otter disappointment!

One of our visitors came in to the centre to report a fantastic view of an otter playing in Ivy Silt Pond yesterday morning – of course Michelle and I went to have a look a couple of times over the course of the rest of the day and, of course, were disappointed. What was particularly noticeable (other than the lack of a large mustelid!) was the complete absence of birds on the pond:

No otter here - or birds either!

No otter here – or birds either!

This morning it was one of the first things I checked after a I arrived and was greeted by the usual array of mallard, coot, tufted duck and cormorant so I could be fairly confident that the otter, if still around, was at least lying low.

Where there are birds, I strongly suspect, there is no otter! Ivy Silt Pond this morning.

Where there are birds I strongly suspect there is no otter! Ivy Silt Pond this morning.

I did check one of the habitual spraint sites (otter are very territorial and, like many other mammals, use their faeces as boundary markings) and was treated to the sight (and scent!) of both tracks and spraint:

Otter signs - as close to a wild otter as I usually get, and am as likely to get, at Blashford!

Otter signs – as close to a wild otter as I usually get, and am as likely to get, at Blashford!

Top-tip! Otter and mink spraint look very similar, and, due to their shared habitat preferences and diet, will be found in similar locations, but mink spraint has a very powerful unpleasant smell and will often contain more mammal remains than fish (including hair)whilst otter spraint is composed primarily of fish bones and scales and has a pleasant fresh fish smell, which is even likened to the scent of jasmine tea!

Other current wildlife news include reports of a mealy redpoll at the woodland hide feeding alongside the lesser redpolls, marsh tit (again at the woodland hide) and two black necked grebes on Ibsley Water. The great white egret is still with us at the moment, but probably won’t be for many more weeks as it is about time that it headed back south to France. Already seemingly departed are the starlings that entertained everyone so spectacularly before Christmas and also the Ivy Lake bitterns.  I am not surprised that the starlings have moved on as in previous years (with substantially smaller murmurations admittedly) they have usually gone by this time, but it is unusual not to have bitterns now – but of course it has never actually been significantly cold for a significant time as yet this winter and on top of that the rain over the last few weeks has really impacted the lake water levels. Having said that it maybe that there are still bittern on the reserve, but rather that they have just moved elsewhere, or even if they have left it is entirely possible that they, or others, return in the event that winter actually kicks in and we get some cold weather over the course of coming weeks.

Otherwise everything is as you would expect but for once the sun was shining:

All the usual suspects on Ivy Lake

All the usual suspects on Ivy Lake – but more noteworthy is the lack of clouds!

All this week I have been aware that the song birds are becoming more vocal – particularly things like the great tit, blackbirds and robins, and today in the sun shine, that was particularly the case. Even the great spotted woodpecker joined in with a drum roll this morning! Additional evidence of the passing of the season are the snowdrops by the centre:

Snowdrops

Snowdrops peeping through the leaf litter