The Turn of the Season

As autumn slips into winter and the last of the leaves get blown from the trees we are seeing the wildlife of the reserve taking on a more wintry feel too. At the weekend the goosander roost passed 100 birds for the first time, whilst the gull roost is now well up into the thousands. A black-necked grebe has returned to Ibsley Water, although as is typical, it is frequenting the extreme northern shore of the lake. The startling roost in reeds just west of the A338 Salisbury Road, but best viewed from the main car park area or Lapwing hide, had built up and is now quite a sight in a fine evening.

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Starling murmuration by Jon Mitchell

At times this gathering is attracting various predators, over the last ten days or so I have seen peregrine, sparrowhawk, marsh harrier and goshawk all eyeing up the roost for a potential snack.

Green sandpiper and water pipit are still being regularly seen at various points around Ibsley Water, but Goosander hide seems to be the most frequent place for good views of both. At least 3 great white egret are wandering the reserve and out into the valley, I have not managed to see more than three at any one time, but I strongly suspect there are more, perhaps up to five?

Visitors to the reserve may find diversions or short path closures over the next few weeks as we are doing some tree thinning, it should be possible to access all the hides though. The trees we are removing are mainly planted aliens species such as grey and Italian alder or species such as sycamore and Scots pine that are crowding more desirable species oak, elm and ash. The objective is to thin areas that were planted too densely and promote native species over non-natives, this should benefit a range of wildlife in the long run. Where possible we will be leaving standing dead trees, or lying dead wood for beetles and other invertebrates.

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The Best of Blashford

The second Pop-up Cafe of the winter today and, thankfully, the weather was a great deal better than the damp day we had at the start of the month. The reserve was busy and there was a good deal to see from most points, for most of the day.

Opening up Tern hide I saw a water pipit, although my first notable birds were at the main gate, where there was a fieldfare with a couple of redwing and a pair of bullfinch. 

I then spent a couple of hours attending to various tasks about the office before getting out to Lapwing and Goosander hides. We have done quite a bit of work on and beside the paths in this area with the object of both maintaining good access and making the walk more interesting for visitors and wildlife. To this end we have been scraping back the path edges and thinning the small trees to make clearings, increase the light and open up some views over the reeds. This work should also benefit insects and the reptiles that use this area, so we have been making sunny sheltered clearings and have dug one new sandy bank for solitary bees.

Up at Lapwing hide I was surprised to see several hundred large gulls, it was only late morning, so way to early for a roost gathering. I noticed the other day that there were  a lot of large gulls on the lake very early in the day. I suspect there are two possible explanations, either they are feeding very nearby and dropping in and out between bouts of feeding, or they have found somewhere with so much food that they are getting their fill in just a couple of hours. Looking through the gulls I saw the Caspian gull found yesterday, it is a “textbook” first winter bird, which always helps with these potentially difficult to identify birds.

At Goosander hide on the way back there were 2 green sandpiper and a dunlin, the latter flushed from the Long Spit in the company of a snipe by a peregrine. I took the long way back as I wanted to investigate some tyre tracks I had noticed on the Lichen Heath last Monday. Hidden away on the far side of the water treatment works I found out where they had been heading and why, a heap of fly-tipped material. I suspect dumped in the rain last Saturday, since it must have been in the day and when there were not many people around. We are certainly welcoming donations at the moment, but not this kind! It goes without saying that if you are on the reserve and ever see anything suspicious like this please make a note of what you safely can and let us know.

We always welcome donations of course, but at present we are trying to raise money to make a number of improvements to the reserve. The largest of these is the replacement of the Tern hide, the existing hide is suffering a bit and we recently won a grant to replace it, if we can raise the rest of the funds, to find out how you can help us see The Blashford Appeal

On my way back from a bird food buying trip I dropped in at Tern hide and saw 3 great white egret in the distance flying north up the Avon valley, I assume our regulars, but who knows? After another spell in the office I got out again in the late afternoon where there was a marsh harrier visible in the distance. Out on the lake the numbers of gulls had increased a lot and were more than I have seen this winter so far by some margin. I found the ring-billed gull deep in the flock, but unfortunately had to take off my glasses and when I looked back I could not find it again.

The Pop-up Cafe had done well, they will be back with more excellent cake on the first Sunday of December, so if you missed them today you could come then, or on the 16th of December, or both and New Year’s Day as well. You can also get a range of Wildlife Trust gifts and Christmas cards.

Locking up I saw 2 great white egret as usual at Ivy North hide, there were also at least 160 cormorant roosting in the trees and at least 161 tufted duck on the water.

It had felt like a good day almost all round, fly-tipping excepted. The reserve was busy with a range of people watching wildlife, from keen rarity hunters to families enjoying the nuthatch and the fine male sparrowhawk perched at the Woodland hide and there was cake too. Blashford Lakes is fortunate to have elements that appeal to a wide audience, we have popular events for ages from toddlers onward and different parts of the reserve that offer highlights for all types of wildlife seekers. Hopefully the reserve can continue to enthuse a wide and growing audience, our wildlife needs all the supporters it can get!

Windy Fishlake

I made a short visit to Fishlake Meadows today, luckily it was dry and sunny, I managed to miss the squalls that came through earlier in the day and the showers that came later. The recent rain was evident in the increased mud on the paths, something we hope will reduce once the paths are resurfaced.

The wind meant that I saw rather few birds, I heard the odd water rail and Cetti’s warbler. A flock of over a hundred fieldfare were gathering, possibly to roost. Unfortunately I had to leave before the starlings arrived, I gather something over 55,000 came in to roost this evening. I also managed to miss the marsh harrier that was seen several times by others I met. I did see both sparrowhawk and kestrel, the latter are regularly there suggesting a good population of small mammals. The habitat would suggest that harvest mice could be common, I will have to look out for abandoned summer nests in the reeds when we are working later in the winter.

 

Lightning bolts…

Regular visitors Dee and Stan Maddams have been even more regular than usual over recent weeks, staking out Goosander Hide for kingfishers alongside many other kindred spirits – it was Dee that emailed in that cracking picture of a honey buzzard she had taken from there a few days ago and which I posted in my blog last Saturday.

She has also sent in a few (of a great many!) of the kingfisher pictures she has taken for us to share. Blashford is a great place to see kingfisher throughout the year and Goosander Hide in late summer has been a reliable place to photograph them for a few years now so we have been lucky enough to see lots of kingfisher images taken on site. What makes these stand out from the cowd is that they include more than the “usual” shots of perched kingfisher (as lovely as they are too!):

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A rare shot of a kingfisher in flight by Dee Maddams

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Kingfisher by Dee Maddams

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Kingfisher coming up from a dive by Dee Maddams

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Kingfisher by Dee Maddams

Last night Stan e-mailed us with an update on their visit yesterday morning:

“My wife and I were in the Goosander hide again this morning and shortly after arriving we spotted one of the kingfishers hovering near the clump of trees/vegetation 30 or so metres in front of the hide, his or her partner was on a branch.

The hovering bird set off towards one of the perches in front of the hide when, out of nowhere, a bird of prey swooped down, grabbed the kingfisher and was gone. Happened so quickly and it was quite dark so we were unable to positively ID the raptor but it was possibly a sparrowhawk.

I would imagine the partner wanted to keep a low profile after, as during the next 4 hours there was only a single very brief sighting!”

Although the bird of prey could have been a peregrine or a hobby, both of which are regulars over Ibsley Water, sparrowhawk is the most likely suspect in this instance – the last time the sand martin wall was in use before this summer it/they were frequently being visited by a sparrowhawk who very successfully hunted there.

One of those moments in nature that can be hard to watch on the one hand, but on the other is always an exciting and rare privilege too.

Many thanks to Stan and Dee for sharing their pictures and observations with us.

See that blob? That’s the owl…

The much talked about/sought after tawny owl was on show again all day today with various people coming to see it having heard how regular it is (for where to look, see my description in the comments of the preceding “Pull the otter one” blog).

To avoid disappointment for anyone making a special effort to get here and expecting fabulous views thought I’d post a picture:

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So, see that vaguely owl shaped blob in the middle of the frame? That’s it – digi-scoped  this afternoon and to be fair to myself I haven’t seen pictures much better taken by visitors with decent kit so there’s my gauntlet to our readers: if you have taken a better picture you are happy to share feel free to email it in with permission for us to blog it to blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk !

Other exciting wildlife news from a little earlier in the week was the first reports of a bat flying over the centre car park. Last spring we were treated to fantastic views of up to three soprano pipistrelle over the centre and Woodland Hide from mid-afternoon onwards so hopefully we can look forward to more of the same this year. Thank you to Lauren Bissell for a) sharing the sighting with us and b) sending in pictorial proof (far better than my owl I’m pleased to say!):

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The kingfisher are still hammering the centre pond newt population – for a good chance of seeing it through the classroom window whilst enjoying a cup of coffee and slice of cake come along to the Pop up Cafe which is open  in the centre again tomorrow…

And finally, thank you to Sue Marshall for her lovely feedback and a selection of the images that she took following Bobs guided walk on Thursday:

“I went on my 3rd walk yesterday at Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve and yet again I got an image of a Bird that is new to me…  I love these walks and the  information that Bob Chapman gives out is just amazing! I don’t know how he remembers it all, he is like knowledge on legs! When I attended the February walk I saw and got my very first image of a Cetti’s Warbler  and yesterday was truly amazing.. I saw and got my very first image of a Sparrowhawk,  neither of which would I have seen if I had not been on Bobs walk, I am looking forward to attending more.. thank you” :

Cetti's Warbler Blashford by Sue MarshallMale Sparrowhawk Blashford Lakes by Sue Marshall

Thank you Sue!

Bobs next walk is “Signs of Spring”, 2-4pm on 16th March – booking (on 01425 472760) essential!

 

So Close and Yet so Far

A rather better day today, sunshine in place of steady rain. My first sight upon looking across Ibsley Water was of a merlin sitting on the osprey perch out in the lake, not a bird I see at Blashford very often. I was also at the reserve to lock up yesterday when the bird of prey of the day was a marsh harrier feeding on something on the western shore of Ibsley Water. Also on Ibsley Water today were a black-tailed godwit, a curlew and 4 pintail. yesterday evening at dusk I counted 45 pochard and 22 goosander, so the waterfowl roosts are slowly increasing in numbers. In the same vein, tonight there were a few thousand starling gathering to the north of the reserve and the first indication of a greenfinch roost near the main car park, with perhaps thirty birds gathering.

With the day set fair I took the chance to clear some of the paths of leaves and do so cutting back. Despite the recent frosts there are still quite a few fungi about.

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candlesnuff fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon)

Candlesnuff is one fungus that can be seen all year round, but I rather liked this group with water droplets on them, they were beside the path between Ivy North and the Woodland hide.

Along the Dockens Water path I saw a firecrest in the holly and for a change it was not hidden in the shadows but out in the sun, looking very jewel-like. This path is looking really good at the moment with the trees in full colour.

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Dockens Water path

Clearing leaves from the path towards Rockford Lake I found a raptor plucking post with the remains of a jay, it could have been taken by a female sparrowhawk although, these days, a goshawk might be just as likely.

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remains of a jay at a plucking post

I had seen “Walter” the great white egret at Ivy North hide when I opened up and heard water rail and Cetti’s warbler there too, but the bird of the day from there was the ferruginous duck, which spent the afternoon in front of the hide. Unfortunately I missed it as by the time I heard about it it was more or less dark. This is no doubt the drake that has been returning to Blashford for some years, although it usually frequents one of the private lakes to the south of the reserve.

In the late afternoon I was at the Goosander hide hoping to see some colour-ringed gulls on the perching rails there. There were gulls, but none with rings.

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Lesser black-backed gull, yellow -legged gull, herring gull and black-headed gulls.

Yellow-legged gull are slightly large and darker than herring gull and typically have whiter heads in winter, lacking the grey streaking of herring gull. The picture above shows a fairly dark lesser black-backed gull, with the yellow-legged gull in the centre and a typical herring gull on the right.

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yellow-legged gull, adult.

As I went to lock up the Moon was just rising, close to the horizon it always look large and this evening it looked especially so. It has good reason though as apparently it is closer to us at present than it has been for 68 years, so I really never have seen the Moon look so big.

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A big Moon

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Ivy Lake as I locked up after sunset.

 

Snakes Alive

There are now at least five grass snakes being seen on the logs outside the Ivy South Hide, although three of these reported yesterday were quite small.  Although not as warm as yesterday when opening up the hide, some were basking – how many I leave for you to decide….

Basking Grass Snake(s) ???

Basking Grass Snake(s) ???

A close up of the head of one snake shows a distinctly blue cast to the eye,

Old 'blue-eyes'

Old ‘blue-eyes’

 

probably indicative that it is getting ready to slough off its outer skin, which , I believe happens as they get larger. literally bursting out of their skin.

Early morning, before too many people are around the wildlife has the place largely to itself and it’s probably a bit of a shock when we turn in to open the place up. Yesterday morning, I startled a couple of roe deer that were lurking near the Woodland Hide

Roe Deer and young

Roe Deer and young

Though still suffering some predation, we can run the light trap without too many losses. providing its stuffed full of egg-boxes. Highlights from yesterday and today were this Coxcomb Prominent,

 

Coxcomb Prominent

Coxcomb Prominent

 

a rather butterfly-like Common Emerald,

Common Emerald

Common Emerald

a distinctively marked and appositely named Blood-vein, contrasting nicely with the black of the light trap,

Blood-vein

Blood-vein

and star turn, a Privet Hawkmoth, which when seen with wings closed is quite impressive,

Privet Hawkmoth

Privet Hawkmoth

but with its wings open and spread out reveals a body clad in a rugby shirt of black and pink stripes.

Privet Hawkmoth

Privet Hawkmoth

Reports of birds in and around the Reserve, include a flyover Hobby and a rapacious Sparrowhawk which caught a Sand Martin just outside the Goosander Hide.

Near the Centre a juvenile Great-spotted Woodpecker was being fed, from our feeder, by an adult male Great-spotted Woodpecker — presumably its Dad – quite appropriate for Fathers Day!!!