Caught on Camera

It has been a busy week at Blashford Lakes with volunteer work parties on four days, despite unpromising weather we actually got a lot done. On Sunday we repaired some damaged sections of the boardwalk, Tuesday saw us felling some non-native grey alder trees, Thursday’s task was scrub clearance to increase habitat connectivity for reptiles and today we were clearing the shore of Ibsley Water to improve habitat for nesting lapwing next spring.

About ten days ago the apprentices put out a trailcam and today we got it in to look at the images. There were not a great many but the range of species captured was impressive. There was one shot of a passing fox, several of fallow deer and grey squirrel. Bird were fewer with one shot each of blackbird and blue tit, but several of tawny owl and on more than one night too. The picture quality was not great but the owl was landing in front of the camera, possibly to take small invertebrate prey.

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tawny owl caught on trailcam

Throughout the week I have been checking the roosting great white egret on Ivy Lake when I go to lock up the hides, I suspect there are as many as five around but still have yet to see more than four together, this evening there were three.

The rain today caused the Dockens Water to flood into Ivy Lake and it is now filling at last, hopefully the reedbed in front of Ivy North hide will have enough water for the bittern to favour this area soon, one was seen from there on Wednesday.

A feature of this winter is the unusual number of pochard on the lakes, or at least unusual for recent years. This morning there were 109 on Ivy Lake and at dusk at least 150. It appears that they gather on Ivy Lake in the late afternoon before flying off at dusk in groups of ten to twenty, probably to feed. At the same time the tufted duck, which used to roost on Ivy Lake also leave, I am not sure where they go but I did notice a lot fly in just as it got dark when I was counting the goosander from Goosander hide on Tuesday, I suspect they go to roost there rather than to feed. Walking back from Ivy South hide after locking up usually happens more or less in the dark at this time of year and a feature has been the squeaking calls of mandarin duck gathered on the silt pond, in the gloom I have just been able to make out as many as ten drakes displaying on some evenings.

The black-necked grebe has been seen daily on Ibsley Water as has at least one water pipit and green sandpiper. The grebe has been favouring the western shore to the north of the low islands, the water pipit and sandpiper the shore near Tern and Goosander hides. However for many visitors it has not been the rarer bird that have attracted to interest but the starling roost. The numbers are not exceptionally large but they can put on quiet a good show looking west into the last light of the setting sun. this evening they were especially spectacular, climbing high into the air in an effort to avoid a hunting peregrine.

Starlings 1

Starling murmuration starting to form over the trees west of Tern hide

Starlings 2

The gathering twisting to avoid a peregrine, there is a small group coming int to join them towards the top left.

Starlings 3

Some of the flock trying to funnel down into the roost site

Starlings 4

The peregrine was keeping the main flock high in the air but the draw of the roost was strong and they were falling down in a column whenever they could risk it.

Starlings 5

One group broke away in an exceptionally tight ball of birds and just dropped like a stone from the spiralling flock.

The starlings had all gone to roost by about 16:15, so if you want to give them a try I would try to arrive by 16:00 at the latest, viewing is good from the high point at the back of the main car park and possible, but sometimes less easy, from the Tern hide.

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Damp Days

The long, hot summer seems an age away now, with most days dominated by drizzle (Friday excepted). It is still very mild, but the combination of damp and mildness makes for difficult working conditions. Winter work on the reserve is mostly fairly heavy, with lots of protective clothing and machinery, things that do not go well with mild damp weather. Despite this we have been busy with the volunteers clearing sites and generally preparing for the planned updates to the reserve. Alongside this there is still the usual maintenance to be done and today I was out with the team repairing the boardwalk and trimming back the path sides.

The Pop-up Cafe was in the Centre again today, sadly things were rather quiet, probably a result of the poor weather, the cakes were as good as ever, if you missed them, they will be back on the 16th of December and New Year’s Day with more.

Out on the reserve things seem fairly quiet, I say this but there was quiet a lot to see. On Ibsley Water there was a black-necked grebe, 2 dunlin, green sandpiper, a variety of duck including pintail, wigeon, pochard, goosander, goldeneye and at dusk the gull roost and starling murmuration. I just missed seeing a peregrine take a drake pochard, I would have thought rather a bulky prey item for this falcon. Other birds today included red kite, chiffchaff, Cetti’s warbler and at dusk on Ivy Lake three roosting great white egret, all in all not bad for a “quiet day”!

 

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.

A Cold and Frosty Morning

Ivy Lake from Ivy South hide

Ivy Lake on a chill morning

Despite the chill, seven volunteers turned out today to do a dead hedging task at Blashford Lakes. I am a great fan of the dead hedge, when we are scrub cutting, or coppicing or just dealing lop and top it provides a great way to clear the branches without the damage caused by burning. Conservationists are great at leaving log piles for invertebrates, often forgetting that the smaller branches and twigs are home to even more species. In addition the dense tangle of a dead hedge provides cover for nesting birds, hibernating insects and also makes a good barrier. We use them as shelter to promote bramble, both as barrier features and habitat in its own right.

Out on the reserve on Ibsley Water the black-necked grebe was still present as were both pink-footed geese, although the juvenile looks very unwell. I counted 118 pochard, my largest count for some years, although I missed the goosander roost, a disappointment as I expect there are well over 100 now.  Near the Centre and at the Woodland hide there were a few brambling and one or two lesser redpoll. 

pink-footed goose

a very poor record shot of the juvenile pink-footed goose

Dusk saw a somewhat reduced number of starling coming to roost, although they gave a good show thanks to being attacked by a peregrine. The gull roost included the regular ring-billed gull, although it seems there has been another bird seen recently, although I don’t think both have been seen on the same evening. “Walter” our great white egret was back on his dead alder roost on Ivy Lake near the cormorant roost, but there still seems to be no sign of a bittern yet.

I got an almost equally poor record shot of the black-necked grebe the other day as well, poor but still the best I have managed!

black-necked grebe

It will close with a last shot of the Ivy Silt Pond with almost perfect reflections in the calm chill of the morning as I opened up the hides.

silt pond reflections

Ivy Silt Pond reflections

Don’t forget the Pop-up cafe will be in again on New Years Day, see you there!

A Fishlake Wander, Recent sightings and Festive Opening

Work at the new Trust reserve at Fishlake Meadows is picking up, with the fencelines being cut out and plans being made for the start of willow coppicing, both to maintain some of the low scrub and to open up some new views across the reserve. As part of this planning process we were out on site at the start of the week, luckily we picked a good day.

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View across part of Fishlake Meadows

On our wandering in some of the damp fields we encountered a large number of Cetti’s warbler, the reserve has large areas of almost perfect habitat for them. We also flushed a fair few snipe including one jack snipe. Perhaps our most surprising sighting was of 2 hawfinch perched in a small tree near a flock of fieldfare. There has been a once in a lifetime invasion of hawfinches this winter with many thousands arriving from the continent. These two were probably some of these immigrants rather than local birds, but with the New Forest being the UK hotspot for the species they could have been more local.

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a view across the lower lake

 

mistletoe at Fishlake

Mistletoe on poplar at Fishlake

Around the drier margins and especially along the canal path there are still many live poplars and quiet a few of them have a festive bunch or two of mistletoe high in their branches.

Meanwhile at Blashford Lakes latest reports are that the ring-billed gull is now being seen regularly in the gull roost on Ibsley Water as is the first winter Caspian gull, with a 2nd winter bird also reported recently, the roost also includes 2 Mediterranean gull. The starlings have been putting on quite show, with some estimates of up to 50000 birds coming into roost, usually just to the west of Ibsley water so seen from the hill at the back of the main car park. On Ibsley Water itself there have been up to 104 goosander roosting, 14 goldeneye and a single black-necked grebe. At least one of the pink-footed geese can be seen on and off with the greylag. There continue to be something like 90 pochard and 25-30 pintail as well.

On Ivy Lake “Walter” the great white egret is being seen fairly regularly and was joined by a second bird the other day. From Ivy North hide water rail and Cetti’s warbler are regular, although we have yet to get a report of a bittern this winter. The Woodland hide has one or two brambling and lesser redpoll as well as the occasional and less desirable report of brown rat.

robin

Robin

CHRISTMAS OPENING: We will be open as usual over Christmas apart from Christmas Day itself when we will be closed. In addition on New Years Day we will have the Pop-up Café again in the Centre, so you can start your birdlist for the year and get a hot cup of something and some excellent homemade cakes.

 

Sundown

Recent evenings have seen the return of the starlings to Blashford, with a murmuration of perhaps 30000 birds. They are mostly arriving from the north and west, perhaps because this is where there are pastures and urban centres for them to feed in during the day. The best place to view them is from the bank at the south side of the main car park, although it can be very cold up there if the evening is breezy. How much they fly about depends upon conditions and predators, so the spectacle can vary widely from one day to the next. At present they are roosting just to the west of Ibsley Water, but they may well move if the reeds start to get beaten down by the weight of birds.

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Starlings murmuration by Cathryn Baldock

The gull roost remains as an additional spectacle with perhaps 8-10,000 birds.

This evening I was helping out with the Solent wader and brent survey work, I was rather late to the field as I had a meeting in the middle of the day, but I ended up at Lepe in good time for a really spectacular sunset.

Lepe sunset

Lepe sunset

I also saw a few brent geese flying north across the Solent, they appear to be roosting in the Beaulieu River and feeding on the north side of the Isle of Wight in the day. This is the first winter I have observed regular cross-Solent movement by brent geese. These observations are being collected to help understanding of how the birds are using the resources around the Solent. If we are to conserve them we need to know how they are using the habitat and how different sites are linked.

The brent geese come to winter with us from Arctic Siberia, staging in Holland and Germany en route to and from. Perhaps surprisingly the starlings are also long distance travellers and some of them may also have come all the way from Russia to winter with us.

A Returning Visitor

Not a great day to be out and about, the temperature topped out at 4 degrees and it rained throughout the daylight hours. As a result the reserve was quiet, at least for visitors, there was a good range of birds about though. All the usual wildfowl were seen, apart from either of the pink-footed goose, although it might have been there as some of the geese were lurking behind the islands.

The woodland was busy with redpoll and several bullfinch much in evidence. The nyger feeders are starting to attract siskin and goldfinch already, so I think we might be needing considerable extra supplies before the winter is out, they don’t usually start feeding on these feeders in numbers until well after Christmas.

The peak time to be out was at dusk, the starling roost was again well over 25000 birds, mostly arriving from the north, although they did not perform for long before going to roost, perhaps conserving their energy with a cold night ahead. The gull roost included a ring-billed gull for the first time this winter. I think it was the returning adult that has joined the roost over the last few winters. I managed to get a few rather poor shots of it, typically it was not playing ball, mostly facing away from me.

ring-billed gull 2

ring-billed gull, preening.

This picture does show the pale grey mantle and narrow white tips to the tertials and scapulars. On a common gull these are much more obvious, being both broader and contrasting more strongly with the darker grey mantle of that species.

ring-billed gull 1

ring-billed gull

This picture shows the heavier ringed-bill than common gull and the pale iris, most common gull have a dark iris (although a few do not, so this is a character not to be used in isolation).

Last of all and when it was almost completely dark, I saw “Walter” the great white egret roosting in the dead alder beside Ivy Lake.

Another otter missed and a starling murmuration video plea!

I received the following request from a colleague over the weekend and wondered if any of our wonderful visitors might be able help?

“I just wondered if we had a video of the Blashford Starling Murmuration (or actually a video of any murmuration)? I show a picture of one in our introductory talks presentation, but a video would be fab!”

If any one does have a short video that they would be happy for HIWWT to use in a Trust talk (and be credited by name of course) could you please contact Mel Howarth direct on Membership Recruitment Assistant, 01489-774434, Melissa.Howarth@hiwwt.org.uk. Thank you!

On another note while writing this I was interrupted to be informed that I had missed yet another otter… this time swimming across the water in front of Tern Hide. Picture to follow!

Icy start to a busy day

I arrived a few minutes late this morning due to treacherous road conditions on the way in, so was delighted to see that the main “Tern Hide” car park was clear and, to my surprise, reasonably safe to drive and walk over so was able to open up. It is a week since I was last at Blashford so a build up in wildfowl numbers, particularly wigeon and teal, was especially noticeable on both Ibsley Water and Ivy Lake, the latter of which had a lovely early morning mist dissipating when I opened up. Also unmissable was the massive erosion scar in front of Tern Hide and just how much higher the lake was. Made me quite glad that I’d missed it – in more than 10 years working at Blashford the car park has been flooded by the Dockens Water on a regular basis on many an occasion, but never has it been so flooded that it has gone under the hide. A big thanks to Ed, Steve and Jacki who cleared up the devastation:

Ibsley Water - more than a little fuller after the river emptied into it via the car park earlier in the week, leaving a quite obvious flood channel where the river water exited the car park beneath the hide!

Ibsley Water – more than a little fuller after the river emptied into it via the car park earlier in the week, leaving a quite obvious flood channel where the river water exited the car park beneath the hide!

Coot and early morning mist looking south over Ivy Lake

Coot and early morning mist looking south over Ivy Lake

Wigeon, teal, gadwall, coot and tufted duck to the north of Ivy South Hide.

Wigeon, teal, gadwall, coot and tufted duck to the north of Ivy South Hide.

The lakes are all very high now and the river, though dropped, is higher than normal. Still, the board walk through the willow carr beyond Ivy South hide is accessible again!

Board walk accessible again!

Board walk accessible again.

Further along the path that runs between Ellingham Lake and the river was more evidence of the recent flood event however; this time another of our mature oaks gone. However, uprooted as it is on the river bank it has, and will, create brilliant little micro-habitats in the root plate and in the river itself, the dead and rotting wood will support hundreds of species of invertebrate, fungi, lichens, small mammals and birds and it is entirely possible that, depending upon what roots remain intact in the ground, it will continue to grow. And thankfully, because it is in an area of reserve with no access, it can just be left without worry that someone will come a cropper:

Another lovely old oak gone...

Another lovely old oak gone…

It didn’t take too long for the thickest of the frost to melt this morning, but it really was quite stunning in places while it lasted and allowed me the opportunity to get a little creative:

Frosted lichens...

Frosted lichens…

131229 Blashford today by J Day (6)_resize

The beautiful day and strong winter sun saw a steady stream of visitors coming through the reserve – busiest I have seen since last winter/early spring and what was particularly nice was the fact that it was a real mix of serious birders and photographers, less serious photographers (i.e. they hadn’t re-mortgaged the house or sold the car to purchase their equipment!) and lots of families just out for a walk and the opportunity to see some wildlife – with black necked grebe and merlin on Ibsley Water, and, at times, really good views of at least two bittern and the great white egret on Ivy Lake, Ivy North Hide. Also reported today was the first Bewick’s swan of this winter, on Ibsley Water and no doubt over in the water meadows of Harbridge too.

A reasonable number of visitors either arrived late or stayed on later in hope of a decent starling murmuration, which sadly did not entirely live up to expectations in terms of numbers of birds nor weather which clouded over right towards the end of the day and even started raining while I locked up. However it was still a wonder to behold and with at least one peregrine diving into the midst of the birds they did perform. The main roost certainly does seem to have dispersed into at least two smaller roosts now with some still going down west of the A338 north of Ellingham Church and some into Mockbeggar North north of Mockbeggar Lane. Didn’t see any going into the reeds behind Lapwing Hide tonight, but they did yesterday and surely will do so again. Kind of forgotten about with the excitement of the starlings, the gull roost was also quite spectacular today. Neither picture below do either spectacle justice, but were the best I could manage in poor light with a poor camera!

Some of the starlings this evening

Some of the starlings this evening

Gulls over Ibsley Water

Gulls over Ibsley Water