On mammals and murmurations…

Further to the last couple of short blog posts with information about the storm damage and the impact upon access at Blashford Lakes, I can confirm that all is now well with the exception of just two short sections of path (one between Ivy North & Woodland Hide, one along the Dockens Water) which remain closed due to the ongoing danger posed by large branches which have been torn from the tree’s and caught up in lower branches at height over the footpath.

Visitors have been asking about starlings for several weeks now and last night I saw my first more significant murmuration of the season. Consisting of several thousand starlings, they gathered to the west of the A338 before going to roost shortly after 4.30pm in the old gravel pits north of Ellingham. It’s still early days and bodes well, I think, for another good sized roost and wildlife spectacle later this winter. As always we recommend viewing the starlings from the viewing platform at the back of the main car park – where you will never be particularly close, but from where it is almost always possible to view the birds regardless of where they actually choose to roost in the valley.

Last week was half-term, as anyone with children or grandchildren will know (they’ve only been back at school a week and it already seems an age ago!). As such we once again held our popular “Wild Day Out” activity days and, once again, everyone had fun and, once again, it was questionable who had most fun – the staff and volunteers or the children!

This time round the theme was one of mammals and the day began with a “what am I quiz?” as they arrived – a collection of various animal remains and leavings to be identified (not all mammal it has to be said). The children did very well, albeit with the odd clue or hint dropped here or there ūüėČ

We then bought in our Longworth small mammal traps which were put out around the Education Centre at the end of the preceding day and left out overnight with the hope that if we were lucky we might catch mouse or vole or two. And lucky we were! On the first day 15 traps resulted in one common shrew, 4 bank voles and 3 wood mice and 14 traps on day two resulted in 3 bank voles and 4 wood mice which is a pretty good return by anyone’s reckoning! Interestingly we did not capture a single yellow-neck mouse – despite these currently being the most commonly trapped mouse in the Centre loft, where they are trapped and removed to be released in suitable habitat at the far end of the nature reserve (far enough away, we hope, not to come back to the Centre and cause damage) on an almost daily basis at this time of year.

The mild, misty, weather at the start of last week clearly suited our small mammal quarry but the conditions also very much suited molluscs and as a result, in addition to the mammals described above, we also released at least as many Arion ater, common slugs, and which are easily large and heavy enough to “trip” the traps.

Sadly for the molluscs I think it is fair to say that most children were more interested in the mammals we released!

With such a good haul in the traps we took our time and were all ready for lunch after the last animal had been released back into the place it had been trapped. Post lunch we took ourselves off for a walk to think about how we might hone our senses to become more aware of the wildlife around us and practice our tracking skills with a couple of games and activities, including one in which we split into two teams, one of whom laid trails of sticks, stones, bird seed and other marks for the seeking team to follow to the end and try and spot the hiding, trail laying, first team and then swap. I think it is fair to say that this activity was for most participants (and volunteers!) the best bit of the day and many (but not all!) particularly enjoyed the opportunity to “camouflage” their faces (and in some cases arms, hands and legs) with charcoal and clay…

Some of the children really were exceptional at hiding themselves away at the end of the trail – thanks to a combination of their camo-“facepaint”, camo clothing and the very un-childlike ability to be still AND quiet for a surprisingly long length of time while the “seekers” tried to find them. These two boys were exceptional ūüôā

Can you see them? We couldn’t for ages, even when stood right next to them! They are a bit easier to spot with a close up:

…others of course, despite their best efforts, were not quiet so well hidden ūüôā

Sorry Nigel ūüėČ

I’ll round off this blog with a lovely observation from one of the children at the end of the day that really struck a chord with me:

“What I really liked was doing new things and meeting other people. I don’t get to do that much anymore”.

That’s why we do what we do and why we will keep on doing so.

No Wild Days Out over the Christmas holidays but you can email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org,uk to be put on the mailing list for Wild Days Out updates if you want to find out when and what Wild Days Out we are holding over February half-term.

Hope you enjoyed reading this post almost as much as we enjoyed our Wild Days Out!

A different view

On Tuesday I accompanied Bob to the north eastern shore of Ibsley Water so he could fell some of the willows into the lake, creating perches over the water for birds like heron and egret to fish from. I did fell a few smaller trees, but admit I was mainly there as first aid cover and did make the most of the opportunity of being in a different spot, enjoying a wander along the edge of the bay where I’ve only been once before.

Bob tree felling

Bob felling trees into the bay north of Lapwing Hide

Across Mockbeggar towards Ibsley Common

The view across Mockbeggar Lake towards Ibsley Common

Whilst we were up there, a goosander flew overhead and a couple of pied wagtails made themselves comfortable on the osprey perch:

pied wagtail 2

Pied wagtail

On the walk back I noticed some blackening waxcaps on the edge of the lake near Lapwing Hide, which were beginning to change colour. A grassland fungi, blackening waxcaps turn black with age, hence the name, but prior to blackening they can be red, orange or yellow in colour.

Blackening waxcap

Blackening waxcap, beginning to blacken

Looking back towards Tern Hide

The view towards Tern Hide from in front of Lapwing Hide

There is plenty of fungi in accessible locations on the reserve, with candlesnuff fungus seemingly everywhere if you look closely enough at the woodland floor along the footpath edges:

Candlesnuff fungus

Candlesnuff fungus on a moss covered log

I also found a couple of earthfans on the edge of the lichen heath. They can be found on dry sandy soil and have a rosette like fruiting body which is usually reddish brown to dark chocolate brown in colour.

Earthfan

Earthfan

There were also a number of russula growing in amongst the lichen. There are approximately 200 russula species in the UK and the generic name means red or reddish. Although many have red caps, many more are not red and those that are usually red can also occur in different colours. This species could be Russula rosea, the rosy brittlegill, but I’m not completely sure so will stick with the genus russula on this occasion!

Russula

Russula species in amongst the lichen

There was also a branch covered in jelly ear fungus along the ‘Wild Walk’ loop, close to the acorn sculpture:

Jelly ear

Jelly ear fungus

Also known as wood ears or tree ears, the fruiting body is ear shaped and is usually found on dead or living elder.

With the colder, wetter weather we have begun to get a number of more unwelcome visitors in the centre, usually wood mice or yellow-necked mice. Although we enjoy catching small mammals as an education activity, they are less welcome additions to the centre loft where they have in the past chewed through the cables. So we trap them in the loft too, using the Longworth small mammal traps, and safely relocate any we do catch to the further reaches of the reserve. On Sunday morning there were two mice in the loft, so I took them up to Lapwing Hide and released them into the undergrowth. 

mouse Kate Syratt

Mouse released from one of the mammal traps by Kate Syratt, who joined me for a socially distant wander to release them

There have been a good variety of moths in the light trap recently, with the highlights including mottled umber, streak, red-green carpet, green-brindled crescent, feathered thorn and December moth:

mottled umbar

Mottled umber

streak

Streak

Red green carpet

Red-green carpet

green brindled crescent Kate Syratt

Green brindled crescent by Kate Syratt

Feathered thorn

Feathered thorn

December moth

December moth

Although I haven’t seen any sign of the brambling recently, the feeder by the Welcome Hut is being regularly visited by at least one marsh tit. We had a pair around the centre regularly over the summer so it has been really nice to get great views of at least one feeding frequently.

marsh tit (3)

Marsh tit

Starling numbers have been increasing and on Tuesday evening there were several thousand north of Ibsley Water. They are best viewed on a clearer evening from the viewing platform which is accessible on foot through the closed main car park and gives panoramic views of Ibsley Water.

Ibsley Water from Viewpoint

Ibsley Water from the viewpoint

This is the perfect spot to watch the starlings put on a show as they twist, turn, swoop and swirl across the sky in mesmerising shape-shifting clouds. These fantastic murmurations occur just before dusk as numerous small groups from the same area flock together above a communal roosting site. The valley boasts a sizeable starling murmuration most years, with the reedbeds to the north of Ibsley Water often used, along with those on the other side of the a338 to the west and the smaller reedbed by Lapwing Hide in the east, so from this higher vantage point all possible roost sites can be seen. 

Although I don’t have any photos to share of the murmuration, taking a video instead the last time I watched them, it’s also a really nice spot to watch the sun set.

sunset

Sun setting to the west of Ibsley Water from the viewing platform

Birds, Birds, Birds

Blashford Lakes are a great place to see lots of birds. Both Ibsley Water and Ivy Lake have large numbers of duck at present with each often having over one thousand wigeon on most days recently.

wigeon

drake wigeon

There are also hundreds of pintail on Ibsley Water, they have been attracted up the Avon Valley along with a lot of the wigeon due to the flooding of the fields. These ducks tend to spend the day resting on the open water, only going out to feed in the valley after dark. By contrast most of the gadwall will be found feeding on the lakes during the day, with fewer flying out at dusk.

gadwall

drake gadwall

Ivy Lake is home to a large cormorant roost, these fly in at dusk to perch high in the trees around the lake shore, so far this winter I have managed to count only about 150 birds, but this roost can get to over 200.

cormorant roost

cormorant roost

For really large numbers of birds the time to visit is just before dusk, if you stand on the viewpoint at the back of the Main Car Park, from where you can see several thousand gulls fly in to roost on the water and tens of thousands of starling. Last evening the starling roosted in two locations, most to the north of the lake, but several thousand also to the west.

roosts-001

Starling murmuration

The birds were making impressive shapes in the air as they were being chased by at least one peregrine and we also saw a marsh harrier fly past. We could also see goosander flying in to roost on the lake and as it got dark a load of cackling greylag flew in to spend the night on the water.

The reserve is not all about birds though and as I locked up in the morning there were three roe deer feeding in the reeds just beside Ivy North Hide.

roe deer

Roe deer in the reeds

If you are visiting, I can now report that the Main Car park is open as usual as the flooding has now receded.

 

Wet and Wild

I think that about sums up the conditions at present, the rain seems to have been fairly continuous since September! The lakes have gone from almost the lowest I can remember to as high as I have ever seen.

flooded boardwalk

Flooding under the boardwalk south of Ivy South Hide

The flooding has been widespread and the Avon Valley is awash, this encourages wildfowl to come up from the coast to feed on the flooded fields. They mainly feed there at night spending the day on the lakes, but as they, which is why there are over 340 pintail regularly on Ibsley Water just now and today I counted 1470 wigeon on Ivy Lake alone!

The floods mean the gull roost has declined as many are now roosting in the valley rather than on Ibsley Water. But this does not mean there is no roost spectacle to be seen as there is a large starling roost just to the north which is best seen from the viewpoint at the rear of the Main Car Park. Although this at some distance from the roost it does give a full view of the whole gyrating flock once a real murmuration gets going as it frequently has with two or more peregrine trying to catch a late meal most evenings.

starlings 2

Starlings

starlings 1

More starlings

It is very difficult to guess at numbers, but I would say there are at least 25000.

The high water levels have meant we have seen very few snipe this winter, I think they have all gone off into the valley, although I did spot one the other morning from tern Hide.

snipe

common snipe, more or less hiding

The most regular wader this winter has been the unseasonal common sandpiper, these usually migrate well to the south for the winter and the few that do stay in the UK are almost all on the coast. It was around daily until around the New Year when it disappeared, I thought the chancy strategy of wintering so far north had caught up with it, but on Sunday it reappeared on the shore outside Tern Hide again.

common sandpiper

common sandpiper

A less welcome sight outside the same hide, and all along the southern shore were two dogs, it seems they stray from a garden nearly a mile away, bad for wildlife and a real risk to the dogs as they cross or run down the road on their way here.

dogs!

Dogs!

We also had an incident of people on the reserve with dogs in circumstances suggestive of attempted poaching, luckily they were seen by an eagle-eyed visitor and reported to us. If you are visiting and see anything that seems untoward, please let us know, if possible at the time, our numbers are posted in the hides. Whilst the reserve is well respected by almost everyone and this is key to its success there is always the chance that the actions of a few can spoil things for the many.

As you may know the reserve is dog-free apart from the public footpaths, so on most of the reserve the wildlife does not associate people with dogs. One consequence of this is that the roe deer are relatively approachable, often just spotting to look at you before wandering off rather than racing away in panic.

roe deer

Three roe on the path to Ivy North Hide on a gloomy morning

As we passed into 2020 I had to admit that we seem to have no bittern for the year-listers this winter as last autumn’s bird has not been seen for some time. We do still have Europe’s oldest great white egret though, “Walter” has made it into 2020 and now has just about four and a half months to his 17th birthday.

Walter

Walter, and gull – again in the gloom, the light has mostly been terrible for taking pictures!

Even though it has felt like it has rarely stopped raining and right now it is blowing a gale outside there has been some respite and even a bit of sunshine, as when this rainbow appeared over Ibsley Water on Sunday, when we were also visited by the ferruginous duck on a brief foray away from its hiding place on Kingfisher Lake.

rainbow over Ibsley Water

rainbow over Ibsley Water

 

This weeks bird of the week…

…is the long-tailed duck.

Present on Ibsley Water since Monday this immature drake doesn’t have a long tail!

Normally a sea duck, and a winter visitor and passage migrant to the UK, it has been seen daily, including today, since Bobs first sighting on Monday morning.

They feed by diving for molluscs, crustaceans and some small fish and although they usually feed close to the surface, they are apparently capable of regularly diving to depths of 60¬†m¬†and possibly even as deep as nearly 150 meters. They are the only ducks that use their wings to dive, which gives them the ability to dive much deeper than other ducks. Of course it won’t be diving quite as deep as that in Ibsley Water but its superb underwater swimming ability does make it one of the more challenging birds to keep tabs on as once its dived there is no telling when, or where, it is going to surface again!

Many thanks to Paul Swann for sharing this picture with us:

Longtailed duck by Paul Swann

Although we have not had any near the amount of rain that other parts of the UK have had, it has been pretty wet this week, albeit with moments of clear skies and sunshine. Paul captured one of these moments on the same day he snapped the long-tailed duck (Monday 4th November):

Ibsley rainbows by Paul Swann

Other wildlife news this week includes a general increase in both the number and diversity of wildfowl¬† across the nature reserve,¬†sightings of water pipit and the first arrivals of goldeneye (both on Ibsley Water), increasing numbers of goosander (including at least two birds on Ivy Lake yesterday), the on-going presence of at least two great white egret (including Walter), in the Avon Valley¬†and lakes in various locations by day¬†but roosting on Ivy Lake at night, the arrival of our first sizeable flocks of siskin (one of those magical, Blashford¬†Autumn special wildlife sightings for me), the beginning of at least a small evening murmuration (a few thousand birds) of starlings in the Valley, viewable from Tern Hide and the viewing platform at the back of the car park if you manage to get the timing and conditions right… I haven’t done so yet!

There is no Pop-Up Caf√© tomorrow, but “Walking Picnics” will be back serving delicious cakes and savoury bakes with warm drinks next Sunday, 17th November, and if they do as well as they did last weekend you would do well to come early before they sell out!

 

 

 

 

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.

IMAG0005

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.

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.

IMG_9789 (2)[3497]

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.

P1090322

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.

P1090319

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.