Go Team!

Last Sunday our Young Naturalists participated in the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and Hampshire Ornithological SocietyBird Trail” here at Blashford Lakes.

The bird watching and wildlife event for teams of children and young people was hugely fun to participate in, and I’m sure another blog from Jim will follow shortly!

We had a while to wait until our allocated start time, so swiftly headed over to the bird ringing demonstration led by British Trust for Ornithology bird ringers Graham Giddens and Marcus Ward. The group have always enjoyed watching bird ringing demonstrations as it is such a good way to see the birds up close – we were lucky enough to see blue tit, great titnuthatch and goldfinch. Thomas spotted a chiff-chaff being caught but the bird made a speedy getaway so we were unable to get a closer view. A couple of the group, including Thomas below, had a go at holding then releasing the birds, a real privilege!

We then visited Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre‘s static display of birds, again enjoying such close up views.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Kestrel

Kestrel

Still having time to wait we headed over to the Education Centre to have a look at the moths caught in the light trap the night before and the Natural History Museum stand, which contained lots of interesting identification guides and survey projects.

Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum

Finally it was time for us to start the trail, so we headed over towards Ivy North Hide, spotting robin, chaffinch, woodpigeon on our way with Thomas taking charge of our list. Before reaching the hide we were treated to distant views of a Peregrine falcon which we watched for some time. At Ivy North Hide we focused on the water birds, spotting cormorant, mute swan, Canada goose, grey heron, coot, gadwall, great crested grebe, shoveler and tufted duck. We also saw jay, swallow and herring gull.

Bird spotting

Bird spotting from Ivy North hide

On our way to the woodland hide we added a few more woodland birds to our list, including blackbird, siskin, long-tailed tit, dunnock, coal tit and greenfinch. Sadly though, despite our best efforts we couldn’t spot a wren

Pausing by the silt pond in the hope of a flash of blue, we heard Cetti’s warbler and rook whilst from Ivy South hide we watched mallard, black-headed gull and little grebe. From Ivy South hide we headed over the boardwalk and followed the path back along the Dockens Water. Backtracking for Thomas’ rucksack we spied a kingfisher (thanks Thomas!) then on making it to Ibsley Water we saw little egret, grey wagtail, greylag goose, Egyptian goose, lapwing, starling, lesser black-backed gull, jackdaw and buzzard from Goosander and Tern hides.

In total we had spotted a very respectable 47 species – thank you to HIWWT volunteer Nigel Owen and HOS volunteer John Shillitoe for expertly helping us with our bird identifying and for verifying our finds. Thanks too to Corinne Bespolka who was able to join us for the day.

On heading back to the Centre and handing in our sightings sheet, we were delighted to discover our bird spotting efforts had paid off and we had come second! I know those who joined us will thoroughly enjoy their prize, a family ticket to Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre – thank you Liberty’s for supporting the event!

 

Young Nats by Corinne Bespolka

Our team, minus those who had to leave early, with Chris Packham and Karima from Bird Aware Solent, by Corinne Bespolka

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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The martins have landed…

Sand martins that is, yesterday in fact, although they didn’t hang around long, not being there at the start or the end of the day, or indeed, this morning! Good to know that Spring is definitely here though and further demonstrated today by the little ringed plover on the bank east of Tern Hide.

Not sure if it has been around today, but earlier in the week the water pipit was still being reported – thanks to Steve Farmer for sending in this picture to blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk :

water-pipit by Steve Farmer

Water pipit by Steve Farmer

An adult drake scaup was also seen again on Ibsley Water yesterday where up to two red kites have also been seen, possibly attracted to the road kill roe deer that has also drawn in raven – indeed yesterday there was a raven there throughout the day that hardly moved at all!

At the Woodland Hide visitors are still seeing brambling and lesser redpoll, and chiffchaff arrived earlier in the week – not sure when exactly but certainly on Tuesday morning there were chiffings and chaffings from all across the site! The winter wildfowl on the other hand have all but left us, as apparently, has the tawny owl that delighted all that saw him by perching out in the open south of Ivy Lake. He, I’m sure, is still there, but probably in a more discrete, and typical location. David Cuddon rose to the challenge set in one of my previous blogs and e-mailed this picture in last week (thanks David!):

Tawny owl by David Cuddon

Tawny owl by David Cuddon

Tomorrow see’s the penultimate “Pop-up café” of the winter so don’t miss out on Christine’s home-baked treats in the centre classroom from 10.30am-3.30pm.

And finally, if you have children or grandchildren aged 5-12 years don’t let them miss out on a “Wild Days Out!” this Easter – bookings are being taken now via the Trusts online shop for this holidays pond and river themed children’s activity days:

For 7-12 year olds on Tuesday 11th April: https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product/wild-days-out-wet-n-wild-7-12s/

For 5-8 year olds on Wednesday 12th April: https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product/wild-days-out-wet-n-wild-5-8s/

And a final finally, if you don’t have children/grandchildren or even if you do and you are wondering why they should have all the fun then wonder no more… Instead call 01425 472760 or email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk and book onto our “Pond and River Dipping for Grown Ups – Adults Only!” session on the morning of 1st April, 10.30am-12pm!

 

 

 

 

 

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:

imgp5327

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!):

soprano-pipistrelle-by-lauren-bissell-2soprano-pipistrelle-by-lauren-bissell-1

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!

 

Pull the otter one!

Firstly, my apologies… this blog is a bit of a personal indulgence:

For regular readers of this blog and the Blashford volunteer team the following announcement will be completely unbelievable but it is absolutely true and I have witnesses in Assistant Education Officer Tracy and long-term volunteer placement Emily to prove it:

I took a short break after lunch to stretch my legs, ostensibly to see if the Ivy Lake tawny owl was still in residence (it was, but as good as that is, it is not the purpose of this blog), but partly also on the off-chance that I might catch a glimpse of the otter that a visitor casually mentioned having seen in Ivy Silt Pond this morning.

I didn’t see an otter.

I saw THREE!

Watched over by a kingfisher perched over the water we watched three otters playing in and out of the reeds for about 5 minutes as they worked their way from the bottom of the pond to about midway along at which point they disappeared into the reeds and did not re-materialize.

Magic!

Haven’t stopped grinning since!

February round up

We’ve had a busy half term, with Winter Craft themed Wild Days Out, an evening under the stars (of which there really were many!) with the Fordingbridge Astronomers and our usual Young Naturalists monthly meeting.

Our Wild Days Out saw the children getting very messy in the clay pit, den building, fire lighting, creating dream catchers and baskets from willow and ice art sculptures. Lots of arty and hands on activities that involved natural materials! We even attempted to make burn out bowls in the fire, using hollowed out pieces of elder as straws. It was a slow process…

Our Young Naturalists did a great job making bird boxes, using a plan to mark up their planks of wood, cutting up the individual pieces and nailing them all together. The bird boxes along with a number made by the volunteers will replace some of the older ones on the reserve which are a little past their best, and will be a welcome addition. Thank you guys for all your hard work!

We also spent quite a while watching the kingfisher catching newts from the Education Centre pond – a very good distraction! The pond has become a favourite hunting spot for at least two birds, which are best viewed from inside the Centre as they don’t hang around for long when disturbed – hopefully they will leave a few newts for us to catch over the summer!

kingfisher

Kingfisher by the Education Centre pond

The wild daffodils by the Woodland Hide are probably now at their best and definitely worth a visit, adding a welcome splash of yellow to the woodland floor.

daffodils

Wild daffodils near the Woodland Hide

The feeders at the Woodland Hide are still being visited by three brambling and at least one lesser redpoll, whilst a number of reed bunting have been foraging around on the ground.

Goldeneye, black necked grebe and goosander are still present on Ibsley Water whilst lapwing numbers are increasing, with some beginning to display over the lake with their distinctive flip-floppy flight. The water pipit has also been viewed from Tern Hide.

We’re expecting the bittern and great white egret to leave us any day now – if indeed they are still here! The bittern was seen on Sunday whilst Jim’s most recent view of the great white was last Wednesday.

A tawny owl has also decided to roost at the southern end of Ivy Lake, best viewed from the last window in Ivy South Hide. Noticed on Sunday, it has been there most mornings and still there some evenings so it’s definitely worth a scan of the trees on the lake edge.

Finally, thank you very much to Dave Levy for sharing with us this sequence of photos of a pair of great crested grebe displaying on Ivy Lake. Spring must definitely be here!

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“What’s On?” at Blashford…

…well quite a lot actually!

“Walking Picnics” are back with the Pop-up Cafe tomorrow (Sunday 18th December), although Christine will probably be manning the cakes and refreshments by herself as Nigel is more likely to be involved with the Young Naturalists group who are meeting tomorrow a week earlier than their usual meeting date of the last Sunday of the month. Rightly or wrongly we weren’t convinced that there would be a big turn out on 25th December!

That will be the last activity until Wildlife Tots on January 2nd, although the reserve and centre will be open as usual everyday except Christmas Day itself.

Thanks to a combination of birders restarting their year lists and families out for the traditional New Years Day walk, the 1st January is typically the reserves busiest day of the year – if the weather is fair. This year there will be an added incentive to visit the reserve, even if the weather is less than perfect, because it is the first Sunday of the month and therefore the Pop-up Cafe will be open again! A combination of a lovely walk on a lovely nature reserve combined with a generous slice of one of Christine’s cakes all washed down with a mug of hot coffee or tea could be the perfect hangover cure!

In the New Year there is a busy program of walks, courses and activities planned. The next “What’s On?” covering January-March was emailed to the printers yesterday but for a sneak preview you can download or print your own copy here: 161207-blashford-whats-on-jan-mar-ts

Currently the reserve is relatively quiet, as it tends to be in the run up immediately before Christmas, although there is still a steady flow of visitors dropping in for a brief visit throughout the day as they escape the hustle and bustle of shopping and other preparations.

There’s certainly always something to see; yesterday opening up I saw water rail and bittern from Ivy North Hide and heard a very otter like splash from Ivy Silt Pond. In keeping with tradition I didn’t actually see an otter of course, but I’m 90% sure that is what it would have been!

This morning Ibsley Water was largely obscured by mist, but 5 handsome drake goldeneye were all close to the shore in front of Tern Hide and easy to see and enjoy. Didn’t see a bittern this morning (although one was reported again later on, so still there!), but had a lovely view of a roe buck silhouetted against a misty skyline among the tree’s on top of the bank from Woodland Hide.

The unexpected highlight today however was that of a tawny owl flying in the alder carr at the back of the centre when I went round the back to open up the shutters. Although not an uncommon bird at Blashford the linear nature of the woodland on the reserve is such that even at night you don’t always hear them if you are at the “wrong end” of their territory and I certainly haven’t seen one by day on site before.

Batty evenings and dewy mornings

Last night a number of our Young Naturalists were joined by HIWWT’s Senior Ecologist Sarah Jackson, for an evening in search of Blashford’s bats. After a short introduction inside, we headed out armed with bat detectors to see what, if anything was flying about above our heads.

Sarah has been at Blashford the past couple of Thursday evenings, running a popular beginners course on Bat Ecology and Survey Techniques, so we had high expectations after being treated to aerial activity from Soprano and Common pipistrelles, Daubenton’s bat, Noctules and excitingly, a surprising flyby by a Greater horseshoe. Definitely my highlight of Thursday evening!

Sadly our total number of species last night didn’t quite match the five mentioned above, but we were lucky enough to quickly pick up lots of the characteristic ‘wet slaps’ or ‘smacks’ of both Common and Soprano pipistrelles. On our way down to Ivy South hide we paused to listen to the Tawny Owls calling in the distance and with Ivy Silt Pond pretty quiet on the bat front, we went in to the hide in the hope of more bat activity. Here the pipistrelles were immersed in a feeding frenzy over the lake, not surprising given the amount of flies on and above the surface of the water!

We stayed long enough watching them by torchlight and listening to them on the bat detectors that we also picked up Daubenton’s bat, with their distinctive call sounding like a rapid series of regular ‘clicks’, before leaving the hide to the spiders.

spider

A spider interrupted in Ivy South hide

As the sky was clear in places, we were able to spot a couple of the Autumn constellations, The Plough and Cassiopeia. If you look hard enough at the two photos below you might be able to make them out!

the-plough-3

The Plough – seven stars in the shape of a saucepan, part of the constellation Ursa Major

casseopeia

Cassiopeia constellation, you can just make out the ‘W’ shape formed by five bright stars

Here’s a dot to dot to give you a better idea!

Thank you Sarah for joining us! Sarah’s second Beginners Bat Ecology course is also fully booked, but details of other courses offered by the Trust can be found on our website:

http://www.hiwwt.org.uk/courses

With courses on astronomy, nature photography, wildlife identification, forest school and wildlife art, there’s lots to choose from.

On opening up this morning the spider’s webs along the edge of the lichen heath were laden with dew, a sure sign of a cooler morning and lowering temperatures. I was lucky enough to see three kingfishers on Ivy Silt Pond, but there was no sign of a grass snake first thing.

spiders-web

Dew covered spiders web

The light trap was emptier than it has been, with 17 moths present, seven species in total. In amongst the Large yellow underwings, there was a Snout, two Sallows and this Canary shouldered thorn:

canary-shouldered-thorn

Canary shouldered thorn

The trap also contained a rather smart Ichneumon fly, Enicospilus ramidulus, which unusually hung around long enough to be photographed:

ichneumon-fly-2

Ichneumon fly ‘Enicospilus ramidulus’

The highlight, or surprise, of the light trap though was this rather sluggish hornet, which was happy to be removed from the trap and relocated for a photograph or two:

 

Lots and Lots of Birds

I was filling in at Blashford today, but it was a good day to be there with mostly good weather and lots of birds to see. It started misty, but was clearing as I opened up the hides. Outside the Ivy South hide there was  a very obliging female tufted duck diving around the fallen tree trunks just below the hide.

female tufted duck

female tufted duck

When I got back to the office there was a message to say that there was a long-tailed duck on Ibsley Water. I was planning to go up to the Lapwing hide in the morning anyway so this was an added incentive. The sun was breaking through and the day looked very promising, perhaps there would be late dragonflies as well as birds to see. After a little while attending to a few things I set out for the Lapwing hide, heading along the Dockens Water path the sun seemed a little less bright and as I headed north along the path from Ellingham Drove it was plain that the fog was rolling in, by the time I got to the Lapwing hide I could make out just a few hazy shapes on the nearest part of the lake, there was no chance of seeing a long-tailed duck somewhere in mid-lake. So I headed back towards the Centre, the reedbed area east of the Lapwing hide is looking very good and is already flooded again and is clearly home to several very noisy water rail. Looking across Mockbeggar Lake I saw the great white egret preening in a tree, I had seen it earlier in the tv screen in the Centre when it must have been on Ivy Lake, so I knew it was about today.

Eventually the fog cleared and the day became very pleasant, although not as sunny as it had briefly been, I never did see any dragonflies, but I did see a red admiral and at least one other was also seen. Later in the afternoon I went over to the Main Car Park where a moderate crowd was gathering in the hope of seeing the Franklin’s gull. The hide was soon packed and I decided to stand on the bank to the south of the car park from where there is a very good panoramic view of the lake and valley. I finally spotted the long-tailed duck, a rather drab looking juvenile bird, off to the west of the Tern hide, then I saw the black-necked grebe and 2 ruddy duck drakes. The gull roost was starting to build and news came through that the Franklin’s gull was near the Goosander hide and most of the gathering in the Tern hide decamped. I stayed on the bank and watched the gathering mass of starlings. At times they came right over our heads.

starlings

starlings

More usually they were over the trees near the A338, more distant but the swirling effect was more impressive, as the numbers increased the light dimmed and this was the best shot I could get of the main flock.

starling flock

starling flock

I estimated about 25000 birds were present, although the flock often split making more than a very rough estimate very difficult.

The Franklin’s gull eventually swam out of the bay and was also seen well from the bank and the Tern hide, so I think everyone was happy with the views they got. The day was rounded off with a tawny owl calling as I locked up the car park. By the end of the day I had recorded 73 species of birds, not at all bad for Blashford.