So long (almost!) and thanks for all the wildlife…

I haven’t managed to blog much over the past year, but this blog sadly will be my last.

I do really enjoy writing them and sharing either what we’ve been up to with regular groups or on other events, alongside all the wonderful wildlife Blashford has to offer (a really good excuse to go for a walk around the reserve) but sadly since reducing my hours with the Trust there generally haven’t been enough hours in the day to fit everything in. I also like to share lots of photos, which take an age to upload at Blashford over our rubbish internet connection…

I am though now off to pastures (almost) new. Some of you will be aware I took up the part time role of Education Officer for the Watercress and Winterbournes Landscape Partnership Scheme with Wessex Rivers Trust last March. The scheme is hosted by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, so although I am employed by Wessex Rivers Trust I am still working closely with colleagues within the Trust.

I have now been offered more hours with Wessex RT to oversee the educational elements of a number of other projects, so whilst I will really miss Blashford – Jim, Bob and Chloe, our lovely volunteers, the regular (and less regular!) visitors and of course all the amazing wildlife (I have learnt SO much over the last almost eight years) – I am excited to be heading over there full time.

So, I thought I’d finish off now with some wildlife and nature sightings – my last day at Blashford is next Monday, but I doubt I’ll have time to blog anything else between now and then, I still have admin tasks to finish off and more importantly, one more Wildlife Tots…

Thank you all very much for reading my blogs, especially the super long ones!

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There are signs of spring all over the reserve. The snowdrops are still putting on a good display by the Education Centre, the wild daffodils by the Woodland Hide are flowering, the primroses are out and some of the scarlet elf cups are huge:

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

Wild daffodils

Wild daffodils

Primroses

Primroses

Scarlet elf cups

Scarlet elf cups

If you look really closely at the hazel, you might be lucky enough to spot one of the tiny female flowers. Hazel has both male and female flowers on each tree, but the flowers must be pollinated by pollen from other hazel trees. The tiny pink flowers are female, whilst the male flowers are clustered together to form catkins.

Hazel flower

Pink female flower on Hazel, with the male catkins in the background

Lesser redpoll are still visiting the feeders by the Woodland Hide along with siskin and reed bunting. I haven’t managed to get a photograph, but I’ve seen sparrowhawk at or near to the Woodland Hide the last few times I’ve walked past.

Reed bunting

Reed bunting

Reed bunting 2

Reed bunting

Chaffinch

Chaffinch

We’ve had recent sightings of otter both on Ibsley Water (by Bob, I think from memory he said last weekend) and today on Ivy Silt Pond by a lucky visitor. Kingfisher have also been showing really well on Ivy Silt Pond and in front of both Ivy Lake hides – last night when I locked up one was sat on the great reedmace (more commonly known as bulrush) in front of Ivy North Hide:

kingfisher by Ivy North Hide

Kingfisher by Ivy North Hide

A mute swan has also been busy constructing a nest in the reedbed to the right hand side of Ivy North Hide:

swan on nest

Swan constructing its nest

The bittern was seen again today so is still present, it was about 3m to the right of the swan’s nest.

It’s also time to look out for great crested grebes pairing up and displaying with their elaborate courtship dance: pairs will swim towards each other, sometimes with an offering of weed, before rising up out of the water and shaking their heads.

Great crested grebe

Great crested grebe from Ivy South Hide

A number of cormorants continue to roost in the trees around the edge of Ivy Lake.

Cormorants roosting

Cormorants roosting

Goldeneye, goosander and the ring-billed gull are also still frequent visitors to Ibsley Water. If you’re planning a visit soon and we haven’t shared any recent wildlife sightings, it’s always worth having a look on the Go Birding Hampshire website where you can search for sightings by site. I tend to look there to keep up with what’s been sighted recently, where I’m not at the reserve much, but having said that we haven’t had a huge amount reported for Blashford over the last few days.

I will finish off with some great photos sent in by David Cuddon from a visit earlier in the month, on the 7th February – apologies David for not sharing them sooner.  

Wigeon by David Cuddon

Wigeon by David Cuddon

Siskin by David Cuddon

Siskin by David Cuddon

Long-tailed tit by David Cuddon

Long-tailed tit by David Cuddon

Kingfisher by David Cuddon

Kingfisher by David Cuddon

Goldcrest by David Cuddon

Goldcrest by David Cuddon

Bittern by David Cuddon

Bittern by David Cuddon

A winter wander

I’m a little out of sync with Jim and Chloe’s last few blogs, but on Boxing Day I was back at Blashford and after catching up with my emails in the morning (only getting slightly distracted by the view from the office window of the Chiffchaff below, I’m still waiting for the Kingfisher…) I decide to head out for a wander.

chiffchaff 2

Chiffchaff by the Education Centre pond

The day had begun quite grey but after a brief stop in Tern Hide to see if anything was close enough to the shore to photograph the sun did start to break through the clouds.

pochard

Pochard from Tern Hide

I cut across the closed path from Tern Hide to Goosander Hide (will 2022 be the year we can finally open the path to visitors?! We can but hope!) and paused to look through the screen at the ephemeral ponds.

view from screen on old concrete site

Ephemeral ponds with Ibsley Water in the distance

A large flock of Redwing were feeding around the edges of the ponds and in amongst the grass along with a Mistle thrush and Pied wagtail.

Mistle thrush 3

Mistle thrush

Mistle thrush 4

Mistle thrush

I watched the Mistle thrush for some time as it hopped about between the pools of water, at one point it extracted a rather large earthworm from the ground and proceeded to gulp it down.

The Redwings were more easily spooked by my presence at the screen and kept their distance, but on continuing along the path they would fly up to the larger trees at the sound of my footsteps and eventually I got lucky with one perching in a smaller silver birch.

redwing

Redwing

I also watched a small flock of Goldfinch and Siskin feeding on the seeds in amongst the alder cones – there is still plenty of food for them in amongst the tree tops:

goldfinch

Goldfinch pausing in a silver birch to finish feeding

siskin 3

Siskin feeding on alder seeds

From Goosander Hide I watched a pair of Goosander in the bay, along with Coot, Grey heron and Tufted duck.

view from Goosander Hide

View from Goosander Hide

On my way up to Lapwing Hide I followed a flock of Long-tailed tits and scanned a flock of Chaffinch feeding on the ground for a Brambling, but sadly I was not in luck. We have though had a pair of females and one male seen from the Woodland Hide over the last couple of days, so there’s still time!

Near Lapwing Hide I had another good view of a Chiffchaff as it flitted about in the tree tops:

chiffchaff

Chiffchaff near Lapwing Hide

The water immediately in front of Lapwing Hide was quite quiet, apart from the gulls which took it in turns to sit and call loudly from the posts in the water:

P1180189

Lesser black-backed gull – I think!

P1180193

Black-headed gull in its winter plummage, without its dark chocolate-coloured head

view from lapwing hide

Ibsley Water from Lapwing Hide

From Lapwing Hide I headed back to the road crossing and followed the path along the Dockens Water.

woodland along Dockens Water

Woodland along the Dockens Water

Volunteer Geoff had mentioned a fungi near the bridge that crosses over the Dockens, he had spotted it on the walk back at the end of our Young Naturalists session before Christmas (a blog will follow at some point!) so I stopped to have a look:

wood cauliflower

Wood cauliflower, Sparassis crispa

Unsure of what it was, I asked one of our welcome volunteers, Bryn, today and after heading off in search of it he reported back to say it was Wood cauliflower, although it sadly no longer looks quite as nice as it does in the above photo. 

Back at the Education Centre I looked for the first signs of snowdrops in amongst the leaf litter, and sure enough they are starting to come up:

snowdrops pushing through

Snowdrops starting to push through the soil and leaf litter by the Education Centre

Given the afternoon had turned out quite nice, I decided to have a quick look at the feeder on the edge of the path by the Woodland Hide, watching Chaffinch, Blue tit, Marsh tit, Goldfinch, Dunnock and Siskin either on the feeder, on the ground or in amongst the surrounding trees. I also saw a bank vole scurrying around on the ground.

P1180212

Dunnock by the Woodland Hide

siskin

Siskin by the Woodland Hide

Turkey tail fungus can be seen growing on the logs to the edge of the path whilst Candlesnuff fungus can be found on old tree stumps. Soon it will be the turn of the Scarlet elf cup which likes to grow on decaying sticks and branches in amongst the leaf litter, but I haven’t spotted any yet…

A look over the dead hedge to Ivy Silt Pond added Kingfisher to my list of birds for the day, and on that note I decided it was time I headed back to the office to get a couple more jobs done before it was time to start locking the reserve.

By the end of the day the temperature had dropped and a mist had descended over the lichen heath. As I peered through the screen by Ivy North Hide a flock of Redwing flew in to roost in the neighbouring trees.

view from Ivy North Hide

Evening view from Ivy North Hide

lichen heath in mist

Misty lichen heath

Today has been another very grey affair, so here’s a photograph of the Spindle which is brightening up the edge of the Centre car park:

spindle

Bright pink fruit of the Spindle, Euonymus europaeus

This evening I’m hoping my locking up will be accompanied by the chattering and twittering of starlings from the reed beds near Ivy North and South Hides and the Silt Pond – Happy New Year!

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’ 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

Signs of Spring…

Yesterday was grey, murky and pretty miserable – this morning the sun is out and everywhere is looking beautiful, and yes, despite an apparent lack of winter so far this year, Spring does seem to be drawing near, if not upon us already.

Although we have yet to encounter any on the nature reserve earlier in the week I found some frogspawn in a shallow pool near home in the New Forest and the last couple of evenings I have encountered “toad patrols” out helping  migrating toads cross roads safely outside Poulner and Sway – these volunteers do an amazing job under difficult, and, at times, dangerous conditions in the dark, saving many thousands of toads from an untimely and unnatural demise under the wheels of our cars. Readers of this blog are likely to be considerate, respectful and appreciative of their efforts, but of course many motorist’s are not and quickly succumb to “road rage” if required to slow down on their commute home so do watch out, take care and vouch for the toad volunteers where ever and whenever you can!

On the reserve itself the great spotted woodpeckers are drumming on their favourite drumming posts, including the usual dead “stag head” branches of the large oak between the river and the centre car park, tits are being seen investigating nest boxes and although the snowdrops have been flowering for some weeks, and scarlet elf cups fruiting for some weeks, this week they have been doing so in force and, down by the Woodland Hide, the first of our wild daffodils is now flowering too:

A more unusual, or at least early, first sighting of the year was that of a large female grass snake outside Ivy North Hide this morning and reported to me by visitors Mark & Alison as I wrote this blog post! Mark very kindly emailed me his picture:

First grass snake of 2020 by Mark Dartnall

First grass snake of 2020 by Mark Dartnall

Elsewhere it is really business as usual with not much changing – still no bittern, still a kingfisher at Ivy South Hide, still loads of wildfowl on Ivy Lake and still a starling murmurartion in the valley, although this does now seem to have moved from Mockbeggar to a roost site west of the A338 just north of Ellingham Village and best viewed (hopefully against a stunning sunset!) from the viewing platform at the back of the main car park.

With the lighter evenings the starlings are now starting to gather shortly after 4.30pm and going to roost by about 5pm. It’s not often the car park is closed bang on 4.30pm, but it does happen on occasion and although we are as flexible as possible sometimes the staff or volunteers locking up do need to leave when they need to leave. As the evenings continue to draw out do consider parking the car outside the car park gates, safely off the roadside, so you can watch  the starlings perform without interruption should the site need securing in a more timely fashion!

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.

 

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