Almost there…

…by Lucy Wiltshire (Volunteer Placement)

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From earlier posts you may already know that over the past few months we have undergone many changes here at Blashford. Thanks to generous donations from local people, together with funding from the Veolia Environmental Trust (with money from the Landfill Communities Fund) and LEADER (part-funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development) we have been able to update reserve signage, create a new pond, replace the old Tern Hide and add in additional new features for visitor engagement, including the ‘Wild Walk’ sculpture trail and Welcome Hut. Today’s blog will highlight some of these new developments just as they are coming to completion, so please do venture down to the reserve to discover them for yourself along with friends and family.

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The Welcome Hut

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Inside the Welcome Hut

Around the Education Centre much thought has been given to making the space accessible and beneficial for all, with a safer area for visiting groups and families to congregate and enter or exit the building and more picnic benches.  The wildlife has not been forgotten, with three large planters filled with many pollinator friendly plant species. Particular favourites are the Salvia and Marjoram, both of which are regularly visited by many types of familiar insects including the bumblebee (both shown in the photograph below). When visiting next make sure you stop by to look or take a few photographs of your own.  In addition, wildflower turf had been laid next to the Welcome Hut and this is currently being frequented by a dazzling array of damselflies.

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Bumblebee on Salvia

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Azure blue damselfly

As some eagle eyed readers may have already spotted from the photo at the start of this blog, we have also increased our offer to our youngest visitors to the reserve. Re-surfacing the car park to improve the drainage has removed the almost permanent puddle that was so popular with our Wildlife Tots groups and other visiting toddlers, so hopefully to compensate for the loss of this water feature we have built a sandpit, with leaf stepping stones leading from this to a tunnel (which used to be uncovered and behind the Education Shelter) and then on to the boat.

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Sandpit, tunnel and boat

The sandpit is now the first part of this mini adventure trail leading up the bank to the boat, and children can follow the oak leaf stepping stones through the wildflower tunnel.

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Stepping stones leading to the boat

The centre lobby has also been refurbished to include a new wildlife camera screen which currently lets visitors switch between live images of the new bird feeder station in front of the Woodland Hide as well as the popular pond camera. 

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Centre lobby

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New feeder station & Camera by Woodland Hide

New interpretation inside the Centre encourages visitors to think about how they can work towards making a wilder future and inspire not only themselves but also friends and family to take action, no matter how big or how small. Do share your pledge for wildlife with us by filling in a feather and adding it to our egret.

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One of the biggest changes has been to the Tern Hide, which was replaced in Spring with a whole new structure. The Tern Hide now offers a panoramic view of the lake, new seating and most excitingly a living roof which is looking brilliant as it becomes more established.

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Tern hide

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Viewing platform

From the viewing platform and the hide you can also see our newest tern raft which was just moved into place last week. Hopefully next year we will see some nesting pairs using the raft, with the aim to increase the colony numbers and to further chances of successful breeding, with the birds occupying more locations around the reserve.

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Tern raft on Ibsley Water

The new pond which again was dug earlier in the year is the only project yet to reach completion. The pond, located behind the Education Centre and next to the existing pond is awaiting a new fence which hopefully will be constructed over the next few months. This however has not stopped the wildlife from taking advantage and we are looking forward to being able to dip it once it has become a little more established.

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New Pond

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Female Emperor dragonfly egg laying in the new pond

This Female Emperor dragonfly was spotted laying eggs upon the fringed water lily beneath the surface of the water. Moreover this stunningly vivid Common Darter also paused to land on the boardwalk by the old pond – just long enough for a beautiful photo!

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Common Darter on the Boardwalk

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We also have a new donations box for visitors in the main lobby located between the office and kitchen. If you visit and enjoy all the developments to the reserve please do help us to continue improving the site by donating to the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. Without public donations the daily running and upkeep of the reserve would not be possible.

 

 

 

 

We would like to thank everyone who has helped us so far: our visitors for their support and patience during the interruptions which took place whilst the new infrastructure was being built and fitted; our lovely volunteers who have worked so hard to help us make these changes a reality; as well as to our funding partners and everyone who donated towards the Blashford Project who ultimately made these developments possible.

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Bonaparte’s Again

A couple of years ago Blashford Lakes was visited by a first year Bonaparte’s gull, a small species between little gull and black-headed gull in size and looking very like the latter. They breed in North America and very occasionally get blown across the Atlantic. Most turn up in this country in spring and are first year birds. It seems probable that they are blown across in autumn storms and are following a natural instinct to migrate north after wintering well to the south of us. Yesterday the second of this species to be found on the reserve was seen from the splendid new Tern Hide and attracted a fair few birders as the news got out.

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Bonaparte’s gull (right) with black-headed gull of the same age and common terns.

Although similar to a black-headed gull the differences are not too hard to see up close, although this bird is somewhat larger than our last and so less obvious. At long range and especially if feeding on the water, it is much less easy to spot. However there are some clues that might help. The most obvious is the difference in feeding action, the Bonaparte’s has a habit of up-ending and overall swims with neck very stretched looking reminiscent of a phalarope, with their faster feeding action as well.

The Tern Hide is also proving a great place, appropriately enough, to see terns, specifically common tern.

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displaying common tern from Tern Hide

The last few days have seen a few migrant birds passing through or arriving, we have recorded our first swift and migrant waders like dunlin and whimbrel. I have not managed to get pictures of any of these but I did snap a red kite that flew over on Monday.

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red kite

The spring is not all about birds though, as the season moves on we are seeing lots more insects such as small copper, holly blue and many spring hoverflies.

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Epistrophe eligans – a typical spring hoverfly

We are also seeing more reptiles and I found the grass snake below basking beside the main car park!

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grass snake

Our developments are still ongoing, but are drawing to a close, however the latest job will be to resurface the car park nearest the Education Centre, meaning it will be unavailable for parking for a few days, most likely next week. We are nearly at the end of the works, so things should settle down soon! Thank you to New Forest LEADER for funding our improvements to the area in front of the Education Centre.

New Forest LEADER

 

Open Again

The Tern Hide will be open again today, although there are still some access restrictions elsewhere on the reserve, where works continue, please take note of any signs as works are changing day by day as they are completed. That said all the hides are open, as is the Centre.

The last few days have been as hectic as have many over the last few weeks, although thankfully we are firmly on the home stretch now. Despite a degree of chaos spring is definitely moving along apace.

Chiffchaff and blackcap are now present in good numbers and we have also have the first reed warbler and willow warbler on the reserve. Over Ibsley Water large numbers of sand martin, house martin and swallow have been gathering and some sand martin are now visiting the nesting wall. There have also been migrants passing through, the week has been characterised by a significant movement of little gull, with up to 12 over Ibsley Water at times, on their way to breeding areas around the Baltic Sea.

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one of the adult little gull over Ibsley Water

A proportion of the swallows and martins will be moving on as will be the splendid male yellow wagtail that was seen on Thursday.

Insect numbers are increasing also with many more butterflies around.

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comma, one of the species that over-winters as an adult

As well as the species that hibernate as adults there are also lots of spring hatching species too, particularly speckled wood and orange-tip.

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male orange-tip

The nights, although rather cool have more moths now, on Friday morning the highlight in the moth trap was the first great prominent of the year.

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great prominent

Earlier in the week a red sword-grass was a notable capture, possibly a migrant but also perhaps from the nearby New Forest which is one of the few areas in southern England with a significant population.

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red sword-grass

I have also seem my first tree bumble-bee of the year, a queen searching for a nest site, this species only colonised the UK in the last 20 years, but is now common across large areas.

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tree bumble-bee queen searching for a nest site

Of course all the while resident species are starting to nest, blue tit and great tit are starting to lay eggs and I have seen my first song thrush fledgling of the year. Out on Ibsley Water lapwing and little ringed plover are displaying, truly spring has arrived at Blashford Lakes.

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male lapwing

Odd jobs and enjoying the view

On Sunday it was time again for our monthly Young Naturalists session, and we began the day by choosing a few items for our new Welcome Hut. These would hopefully be a talking point for both our new welcome volunteers and visitors, both young and old, and make the hut look more inviting. As we are still waiting for the interpretation we didn’t get too carried away and the group chose one item each. As a result, the hut does still look pretty empty, but we’re looking forward to filling it properly once the signage is all in place.

They selected a nice mix of items, including a pike jaw bone, roe deer skull, barn owl, fallow deer teeth, long tailed tit nest, badger skull, sea urchin fossil and three ducks, a widgeon, mallard and teal. I think they managed to convince Bryn and Jan that all the items were worthy of a place in the hut! We also gave the volunteers a peacock butterfly which was perfect for looking at in more detail under the microscope and popular with visitors throughout the day.

With the weather warming up we are running the light trap more regularly. Looking at and having a go at identifying moths has always been a popular activity with our Young Naturalists so it was great to have a rummage through the trap and see that they were still as enthusiastic as ever.

We had a number of different species including Hebrew character, Clouded drab, Common quaker, Small quaker, Twin-spotted quaker, Frosted green and Brindled beauty.

The group then treated the willow dragonflies they had made last month with artist Kim Creswell. The wasps made with the Home Education group and the dragonflies have now had two coats of a natural preservative so are ready to be positioned around the reserve on our ‘Wild Walk’. Watch this space to find out when and where you can see them.

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Treating the willow dragonflies

We then headed over the road to see the new Tern Hide, and check out the view over Ibsley Water from the new viewing platform.

After lunch we spent a bit of time pollarding willow and bundling it up to store and use at a later date. It was getting a bit late in the year to harvest the crop but as last summer had been so dry it had not grown as well as previous years, so we just concentrated on the larger, longer whips and left the smaller ones. We will see how it grows this year, but I think there will be plenty for us to pollard next Winter.

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly funded by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. The Trust is sponsoring another Wildlife Camp in the New Forest from 31st May to 2nd June and spaces are available. The camp is aimed at young wildlife enthusiasts between 12 and 17 years and details can be found on their website here.

Our new Tern Hide, viewing platform and Welcome Hut have been funded by public donations and Veolia Environmental Trust (with money from the Landfill Communities Fund).

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Nearly Re-Terned and Last Pop-up

We are nearly there, the Tern Hide reconstruction is getting close to completion. The structure is up, although the roof still has to be finished, then there are the banks and screens to put up and various other finishing elements to do, but we are nearing the end now. The project has not just been about the Tern Hide though.

There is a great new viewing platform on the bank to the rear of the main car park, which gives a fantastic view, not just of Ibsley water but a panorama of the whole valley, it could become a great place to watch migration.

Over at the Education Centre we have a new information hut and a second education pond, this is will allow us to reline the existing one which leaks badly, without having any time without a pond. There are also various other improvements to the lay-out that should make it much easier and safer for education groups and visitors as a whole.

Further out on the reserve there will be new signage and one or too surprises too. If you have not visited for a while you may also notice that we have done some further tree felling, this has been targeted at invasive Turkey oak and grey alder, in both cases removing these will allow space for more native trees to grow. Although the landscape value of such non-native trees can be positive, they harbour markedly less wildlife.

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roe deer

Although we are approaching the end there are still some restrictions in places, most notably the car parking at the Centre, which is being re-levelled and surfaced, please take notice of signage and temporary fences whilst this work is going on.

This work has been made possible thanks to a grant from the Veolia Environmental Trust.

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Despite all this work we have remained open for business as close to normal as possible. The bittern has been parading about, although it seems likely it has now departed. The ring-billed gull has been roosting on Ibsley Water, where there has also been a very fine drake garganey. At Woodland Hide there have been small numbers of redpoll and brambling among the chaffinch, goldfinch and reed bunting. On top of all this there are migrants arriving in moderate numbers with at least 27 sand martin yesterday and also blackcap, chiffchaff and little ringed plover.

This weekend sees the last appearance for the season of the Pop-up cafe, so if you do not make it to the reserve you will have to wait until next autumn for some of the best cake around.

Spring is all around with insect numbers increasing, numbers of moths have been rising and last night we saw our first brindled beauty of the year, following on from our first streamer and engrailed earlier in the week.

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brindled beauty

Numbers of solitary bees have been increasing too, including lot of what I think are male grey-backed mining bee, this is a very rare bee and the males are very similar to the much common ashy mining bee.

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male mining bee, I think grey backed (Andrena vaga)

 

A New Tern Hide Rising

The new Tern Hide is going up, work started on Monday with the footings, Tuesday saw the framework go up.

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Framework going in

Hide construction base steel

Going up

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Taking shape

As you can see this is a somewhat different structure to the old hide. It has a steel frame and is raised off the ground, the old hide suffered when the floor started rotting out, not helped by the odd flood when water was flowing under the hide base.

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By the end of the day the panels are starting to go up

It will take time to get all the sides up and roof on, and then there are the windows and internal fixings to do, but work is progressing well despite the windy conditions.

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Starting to look like a hide now

The hide will have some higher level windows to make it easier to stand up and use a telescope on a tripod, hopefully a boon when doing a winter gull watch. Although it may not look it, it is larger in every dimension so it should also not get quiet so much of a crush when we do get a crowd in.

We have also made a more defined and level view point on the bank at the rear of the car park, which will give a great overall view of the lake and valley as a whole. Hopefully much better viewing all round.

I still do not expect work to be completed before the end of the month, but as you can see progress is now good.

This project has been made possible thanks to funds from the Veolia Environmental Trust.

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Tern(ed) Down

Well the deed is done, today we took down the Tern Hide, after a bit of a slow start we got into our stride and it came down more or less in sections as planned. It was in pretty good condition for the most part, until we took up the floor, the supports were in a poor state. It will be about two months until the new hide is up and ready, this might seem a long time, but I had only a couple of days each week when there are enough of our brilliant volunteers to tackle this scale of job and it could not have been done if the day had been windy, so I decided to allow a two week window to get it done. Before the new hide can go up we have to remove a large slab of concrete, which will take a while, so extra days might prove useful later on.

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Just making a start

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about half way there

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Just the last two panels to go

Meanwhile, back at the Education Centre, progress on the pond has been slower, but hopefully will pick up tomorrow. The car park there is now usable again, the surface is not the finished article yet, the final layer will have to wait until all the other works are complete, but it is fine to park on. There is still fencing up in places with some restrictions on access but the paths are open as is the Centre and hides. I am still hopeful that the path from the main car park to Goosander hide will be opened up soon, now that all the works have been finished.

I did not hear many reports of wildlife today, although the yellow-browed warbler was apparently seen in the brambles right in front of Ivy South hide. Locking up I had good views of water rail at Ivy North hide, I also heard a Cetti’s warbler singing and saw a great white egret roosting in the trees. The two first winter Caspian gull were again in the roost on Ibsley Water along with at least one Mediterranean gull.

At lunchtime I saw a common toad swim past the camera on Pondcam, my first of the year, although I am not sure if I can count “seen on Pondcam”.

Last of Summer

Recently there have been a few late swallow around Ibsley Water, late migrants from further north. There has also been a pair of adults with one juvenile, often they have been sitting on the roof of Tern hide allowing very close approach. I suspect these were a local pair with their late fledged youngster, as they were very obviously together. As a rule adult swallow migrate earlier than the last raised brood of juveniles, which stay around to feed up before departure. This means that most late swallow that you see are juveniles, although I do remember once seeing an adult in December in North Wales against a backdrop of snow on the mountains!

Today the two adults were sitting just to the right of the door of the hide on the roof with wings dropped to maximise their surface area of dark feathering that was catching the sun. I am not sure where the juvenile has gone or how much longer these adults will stay around.

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late staying adult swallow

It is easy to see that this is an adult bird by the very long thin tail streamers, those of the males are longest, although they have often abraded by this time of year.

If they come back next year, all being well they will find a new Tern hide, as we are hoping to  replace it before next spring. The existing hide has seen good service and the very exposed position means it is showing its age, there a few spit boards and the door is perennially sticking as the whole building expands and contracts. This is just a part of the constant effort to maintain and improve the reserve and its facilities. I will post more about this and other proposals over the next few weeks.

Resisting the Chill

Despite the cold blast, so far the nesting waders on Ibsley Water seem to be continuing to do well. The stretch of shore in front of Tern hide has a lone parent lapwing with two chicks now two weeks old and to the west of the hide there are two more broods of smaller chicks. One of these broods walked across from the restored concrete plant where they had nested. Unfortunately they did it during the middle of the day when the car park was busy and they got split up and wandering about under the brambles. I had to rescue them and carry the brood over the bank, luckily their parents were watching and quickly joined them.

As well as lapwing the shore outside Tern hide looks as though it will be hosting a pair of little ringed plover again, after a couple of years when the have been rather further away. There were a pair displaying vigorously just a few metres from the hide yesterday.

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Male little ringed plover

Although it was woolly hat and gloves weather yesterday the sun is now pretty strong, so out of the wind it was not too bad and at lunchtime I even saw a male orange-tip near the Centre.

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male orange-tip

The cold wind had kept the swallows, martins and swifts low over Ibsley Water in their hundreds all day, although I find it hard to imagine there were many insects even there.

The Bonaparte’s gull continues to attract visiting birders, with a supporting caste of black tern and three little gull. Remarkably another Bonaparte’s gull turned up yesterday on Bournemouth Water’s Longham Lakes site, just a few miles away. I still have not managed to better my remarkable “Record shot” of the gull, so I will sign off with one of the moth-stealing robin.

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The Moth Thief

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!

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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.

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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!