Advance Notice

On Sunday we are running a training course on the identification of gulls at Blashford, this will mean that the Tern, Goosander and Lapwing hides will be in use by groups on the course from mid afternoon, so if you are visiting on Sunday and not on the course you might want to visit these hides in the morning or early afternoon instead.

I am sometimes asked for an advised route around the reserve and although the “best” route is always a matter of circumstances on the day there are some general rules that hold true. So Ivy North hide faces south-east, this makes it difficult on a sunny morning, Ivy South faces east and likewise difficult early on in sunshine, so both of these are probably best in the afternoon. The Woodland hide is less of an issue, although the light is best here in the afternoon also. The Tern hide faces north so is pretty good all day. Goosander hide faces north west, so is at its best in the morning and the same is true of Lapwing hide, which faces almost due west, so is very hard work on a sunny afternoon.

The above obviously is only a choice dictated by the direction of the light, there are other factors too of course. Wind direction can be important, most birds will seek shelter and this needs to be considered. In a strong northerly, Tern hide will be both a long way from the birds sheltering under the northern shore of Ibsley Water, nearly a kilometre away and if you open the window you will be looking into the teeth of the wind! By contrast the northern end of Ivy Lake near Ivy North hide will be sheltered and with luck full of birds.

Then there is what you want to see, not a problem if you just want to see a range of birds, being guided by the weather and lighting will probably be the best option. There are some obvious rules, the birds that gather to roost will only be doing so at the end of the day and you will need to be in the right place to see them. The gulls roost on Ibsley Water is well known and is the attraction for the identification course. Ibsley also hosts a roost gathering of goosander, which mainly roost in the bay at Goosander hide, although they are usually only there in the minutes just before darkness. They fly in from all directions but can often be best seen doing so from the bank at the back of the main car park, which is also the best place to view the starling murmuration and get an overview of the gull roost. If it is great white egret you want to see then Ivy North at the end of the day is the place, recently there have been three there each evening, there is also a cormorant roost in the trees here.

By contrast if you are looking for finches, don’t leave it too late, they tend to get up late and go to bed early, the Woodland hide feeders will be busy with tits from dawn ’til dusk but the finches tend to turn up in the middle part of the morning and are often heading off to roost not long after 3:00 pm in the winter.

Some species are more obvious at certain times of the day, birds of prey will soar around mainly during the middle part of the day when the ground has warmed to aid this kind of flight by causing upward air currents. Water rail and Cetti’s warbler are usually far more vocal around dusk. Pochard tend to feed at night and roost during the day, whereas tufted duck are typically the reverse, feeding in the day and roosting at night.

So if planning a birding trip consider the conditions on the day and what you are most keen to see and you should get the most out of your visit. The above is just about Blashford Lakes, but every destination will have a range of factors that will be at play. Wherever you go it always pays to be lucky of course, but to some degree you can make your own luck by making good decisions about how you go about your visit.

 

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Dots of Green

The prolonged dry conditions have caused the grass to go brown almost everywhere you look at the moment. Grasses are a group of plants that are drought adapted and when it rains you can be confident that it will green up again quite rapidly. Other plants respond differently, most annuals are as crisp as the grass, often growing less than usual and seeding earlier before the lack of water kills them. What is obvious though is that even in the brownest grass there still dots of green, these are the deep rooted perennial plants. In my mini-meadow the field scabious in particular still has green leaves and is covered in flowers.

The plants that can keep growing in these conditions provide valuable nectar sources for insects. At Blashford Lakes one plant that just carries on is burdock and the plants near the Education Centre are a magnet for insects.

sil;ver-washed fritillarysilver-washed fritillary

Most butterflies have had a good season, numbers overall have been higher than in recent years, although many are not flying for very long. The species that over-winter by hibernation such as peacock and small tortoiseshell have disappeared, they will be hiding away in sheds and cellars, before they fly again in the early autumn.

One group of butterflies that don’t seem to mind the conditions are the whites, perhaps being white their colour reflects the heat better than the dark browns, which hide away in the shade during the hottest part of the day.

small white

small white

As well as butterflies the same flowers are attracting bees as well, at Blashford Lake, a swell as the bumble-bees, I have seen lots of green-eyed flower bee on the burdock flowers. These smallish, compact bees are very fast flyers and have a distinctive, high pitched buzz.

green-eyed flower bee

green-eyed flower bee

In general the reserve remains quite for birds. On Ivy Lake over a hundred gadwall is a good count for the time of year and on Ibsley Water there are good numbers of coot and tufted duck, although counting them is proving tricky. A few migrant waders are turning up, a common sandpiper or two and the occasional black-tailed godwit are witness to approaching autumn. The ringers have reported catching willow warbler, whitethroat and grasshopper warbler recently, almost certainly all migrants rather than local birds.

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017…

Another misty start to the day this morning, although by no means as misty as yesterday when from Tern Hide all that could be seen were the silhouettes of coot and a couple of pairs of goldeneye which were feeding close to the shoreline immediately in front of the hide.

This morning all of Ibsley Water could be seen, albeit through a misty haze, but most of the wildfowl was further offshore towards the north of the lake among the feathered leavings of the overnight gull roost which is now very extensive and covering a huge proportion of the lake by dusk. Evenings are also still seeing a “mini-murmuration” of a couple of thousand or so starlings, currently often settling in for the night in the reedbed in Ibsley Pond north of Lapwing Hide. What was immediately in front of the hide today, furtling around in the gravel for invertebrates, was a very obliging green woodpecker who would have posed beautifully for anyone armed with a camera had they been there (I just had a ‘phone)… Unfortunately by mid-morning what had started as a relatively clear day had soon disintegrated back into dense mist again… from Lapwing Hide you could just see past the end of the “spit” by about 11am!

A misty start. It didn't last!

A misty start. It didn’t last!

Look closely for the green woodpecker!

Look closely for the green woodpecker!

Ivy Lake was equally misty. No bittern or water rail when I opened up Ivy North Hide, although both species were obliging yesterday and later on in the day today. The water rail in the alder carr  opposite the Woodland Hide that Bob reported in the previous blog entry has also continued :

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At the Woodland Hide itself reedbunting and brambling (at least two) are still present along with the usual multitude of other species which makes a visit to this hide consistently enjoyable. Not that many decided to visit the feeder when I tried taking a picture during my “rounds”:

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There were mallard and shoveler in Ivy Silt Pond on the way down to Ivy South Hide where from the hide itself all the regular wildfowl could be seen, with some gadwall, wigeon and tufted duck all feeding (and in the case of the gadwall and mallard, very noisily and “splashily” displaying and setting up/defending pairings):

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The relatively mild weather and now lengthening daylight hours are also bringing with it other signs of spring and the New Year – as well as ducks pairing up, the great crested grebes are apparently setting up territories on Ivy Lake and a great tit has been stridently calling out “teacher” on and off all day around the centre. A lovely early introduction of the bird song that is still to come and with that I’ll leave you with the welcome sight of the recently emerged snowdrop shoots ushering in 2017, a New Year and new beginnings….

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I shall post this now and update at the end of the day as necessary with anything particularly noteworthy for anyone heading out this way tomorrow to kick start their year-lists. I’ve been office bound this morning and for the early part of the afternoon but will be heading out a little earlier than usual to stretch my legs, beat the bounds and swap the 2016 sightings record books for 2017’s. Hopefully the mist will lift again so I can see something! Who knows, I could even finish the year with an otter! But probably not!

Unfortunately the weather is not looking too favourable for tomorrow so what is traditionally the reserves busiest day of the year visitor wise may not be…

However for anyone who does make it out tomorrow don’t forget that Nigel and Christine will be in the centre classroom with their Pop-up cafe from 10.30am-3.30pm tomorrow with hot drinks and home baked cakes, a proportion of the takings from which goes into supporting our conservation and access work on the nature reserve.

Happy New Year everyone!

 

Weaving willow for birds

Today our Young Naturalists were back at Blashford for their December session and we began the day with a quick look in the light trap. It really was a quick look, with only two moths present, a December moth and a Red-line Quaker:

We then headed over to our willow wood for a morning of pollarding the willows and turning our cut stems into a number of simple platforms for nesting birds. In particular, Bob has Little egrets in mind, so fingers crossed they may be tempted by our creations! Little egrets tend to nest in colonies, with coastal birds preferring small colonies or even nesting alone. Their nests are usually small platforms made of sticks, 30-35cm wide and 10-15cm high. Hopefully our platforms will be a good starting point for nest building once they have been carefully positioned out on the reserve.

We began pollarding one section while volunteer Geoff carefully strimmed another part of the area, so we would be able to see all the hidden holes and dips in the uneven ground.

edie-and-poppy-pollarding-willow

Edie and Poppy pollarding

will-and-jackson-pollarding-willow

Will and Jackson pollarding

geoff-strimming

Geoff strimming

We then used some of our cuttings to weave the nesting platforms, trying out both a round and circular design. I’m not sure which, if any, the birds will prefer!

round-platform

Weaving a round platform from the pollarded willow

nesting-platforms

Three of our finished platforms

We will have to see what the birds, and Bob, make of them, but they’re a good start!

After lunch we visited Goosander, Lapwing and Ivy North hides and were rewarded with a good mix of birds including a kingfisher, a number of goosander and flocks of siskins jingling around the tree tops in search of seeds. Sadly there was no bittern to be seen, but one was seen yesterday.

great-crested-grebe-tf

Great crested grebe by Talia Felstead

 

tufted-duck-tf

Snoozing Tufted duck by Talia Felstead

Thanks everyone for your hard work today and to volunteers Geoff and Nigel for helping out.

Our Young Naturalists group is generously supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. Do visit their newly re-launched website to find out more.

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Counting Day

Once a month we count the wildfowl on the reserve and also on the other lakes in the area to get an idea of how many there are and so how populations are fairing. Wildfowl are counted right across NW Europe once a month during the autumn and winter and this provides estimates of total populations and changes. In Britain the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS counts) started in 1969 and now covers all our estuaries and inland wetlands. The counts we do of the lakes are actually in addition to the WeBS counts as we cover only the lakes, the full counts are co-ordinated along the whole valley from Christchurch Harbour northwards.

I started by counting Ibsley Water and from the Lapwing hide was greeted by the sight of a flock of wigeon grazing just in front of the hide.

wigeon

wigeon from the Lapwing hide

Despite this overall numbers of birds on the lake were not very large, probably due to a combination of relatively poor weed growth and the rather strong wind. One a factor that will depress numbers throughout this winter the other just weather, which can make a great difference to where the birds will be from day to day. Although not a bird for the count, I was pleased to see the water pipit on the cut grass heaps on the lakeshore, digging in the grass for insects.

The total number of waterfowl counted on all the lakes combined was just under 3900, not bad for November as the peak usually comes around mid-winter, so there is time for it to rise yet. The most numerous species were coot 976, wigeon 936, gadwall 521, tufted duck 291 and shoveler 261. Different lakes provide conditions for different species and we also find that factors like weed growth vary greatly from year to year and in different lakes. This year weed growth in Ibsley Water is quite poor, but it has been good in Rockford Lake and Blashford Lake and it is these lakes are attracting the large numbers of coot, gadwall and wigeon as a result. Ibsley Water seems especially attractive to pochard just now with 72 there today, whereas Mockbeggar Lake is shoveler central, with over 200 feeding on there and probably more, as it is a difficult to see through the trees from the path to Lapwing hide.

Although I missed them it seems probable that both great white egret were seen today, I may have seen both actually as I saw white birds though trees where they should have been! The bittern was also seen briefly from Ivy North hide and on one of the lakes north of the reserve I saw the ferruginous duck. This bird has been returning for some years and favours Kingfisher Lake on the outskirts of Ringwood, but this lake cannot be viewed as it once could. So far this winter though it has made one trip to Ivy Lake and today it was visible from the public footpath north of Mockbeggar Lane on the larger of the two lakes there. Hopefully it will oblige and spend more time in places where it can be seen, it is certainly worth checking the diving ducks on any of the lakes, just in case. I understand that the ring-billed gull put in an appearance on Ibsley Water in the afternoon, I suspect we will see it until the spring now.

I heard earlier this week that a car was broken into in one of the car parks last week, thankfully a rare thing at Blashford, this is only the second time it has happened, but it would be wise to take care not to leave valuables on show, or ideally in your car at all.

 

Sunny Day

As is usual on a sunny day in August the reserve was very quiet yesterday, the birds having finished nesting and most of the migrants have yet to get moving. The human visitor too mostly go elsewhere when the summer sun comes out. However the sun does bring out the insects and there was a fair showing of dragonflies and butterflies, although tempered by the fact that numbers seem to be well down this summer across the board.

The moth trap catch was quite good, but much lower than I would have hoped, but with a warm week ahead we could be in for bumper catches by next Sunday morning when I have a moth event. To whet the appetite here are a couple of pictures of regulars from the trap.

black arches

black arches, male

brown china-mark

brown china-mark

Out on the reserve there were insects about but numbers are still rather disappointing, I did see a painted lady though, a species that has not been common this year. On the edge of the lichen heath I was looking for bee wolves when I spotted what, at first I thought was a large ant, but in fact was a true-bug nymph that was trying to look like an ant.

bug nymph

Alydus calcaratus nymph.

If anything they look even more convincing from the side.

bug nymph 2

Alydus calcaratus nymph

You can see the rostrum, that is the piercing feeding tube under the head that gives it away as a true bug, rather than the jaws that an ant would have.

One group of insects that do seem to be abundant are the grasshoppers. One species that still seems to be increasing is the lesser marsh grasshopper, a previously coastal species that has spread inland.

lesser marsh grasshopper

lesser marsh grasshopper

Although there were few birds of note around, there were significant numbers of some species. On Ibsley Water I counted 271 tufted duck and 355 greylag geese, the goose flock included what looked like an emperor goose accompanied by a barnacle goose and  a single hybrid off-spring.

30 Days Wild – Day 25

Day 25 and I was in Portsmouth at the Lakeside North Harbour site doing a public event for National Insect Week. Looking at the pictures I have posted during 30 Days Wild it would seem I have been more or less doing 30 Days of Insects, but as they form so much of our wildlife I will make no apologies for doing so. The other reason is that I only have one decent lens for my camera and that is a macro lens! You can find out more about National Insect week at http://www.nationalinsectweek.co.uk. It is run every two years by the Royal Entomological Society with the assistance of lots of other organisations including the Wildlife Trusts.

The Lakeside site lies just beside the A27 and is a large area of offices in several blocks, perhaps it does not sound that promising for wildlife? But think again, it is constructed on chalk which was dumped onto marshes left isolated north of the road, so far so disastrous for wildlife, but the habitat that has developed is chalk grassland with lots of flowers including thousands of orchids. There is also some wetland and scrub, in short a varied and generally nutrient poor landscape, with a wide range of species, something of a biodiversity hotspot! The management has been enlightened enough not to “garden” too much of it, although the corporate love of grass like a carpet, lollipop trees and gob-stopper bushes is evident in parts. Anyone who visits a corporate HQ or similar office cannot help but be struck by how much they really baulk at the intrusion of the natural world, few tolerate any native flora and fauna and obviously spend lots of money keeping the areas around their buildings that way. An odd approach when most would say they are efficient and environmentally aware.

As I said lakeside is actually a very good wildlife site and shows what can be done, in addition the more natural areas are very popular with the staff, many of whom will walk around the grounds in their lunch break. A “Green break” is something that I am sure is good for their wellbeing and probably afternoon productivity.

The weather was not the best, my plan to run a moth trap overnight had failed as the trap had not turned on and half the people booked onto the walk did not show up, so not the best of starts. However the insects did not let us down and we were joined by as many people who had not booked as were on the original list, so we actually had more participants than  expected. Highlights were six-spot burnet, both as larvae and adult, with this one posing on a pyramidal orchid for photos.

six-spot burnet on pyramidal orchid

six-pot burnet on pyramidal orchid

We also saw several species of hoverflies, two soldierflies, robberflies, damselflies, lots and lots of true bugs, beetles and even a few butterflies. The weather was against us though and just as we were coming to the end of the event we all had to run for shelter  as the heavens opened and the thunder and lightening swept in.

the end of the insect walk

rain and lost of it!

In the afternoon I was back at Blashford, where the weather was much better, although I passed through some of the heaviest rain I have encountered in many years on the way. When you see the full force of a really torrential downpour like that it is interesting to imagine what the impact must be on creatures as small as insects, it must be significant.

Storms are local events so even if they could be devastating they should not impact whole populations. Spiders however are everywhere and the recent mass emergence of damselflies has given them more food that they can cope with, one web by the Centre pond contained three such victims. Shear numbers are what keep insects going, even if thousands die, enough can go on and each survivor can produce many offspring.

trapped damselfly

captured damselfly

As I locked up it was pleasing to see that there were still lapwing chicks on view near the Tern hide and that at least two of the little ringed plover chicks have fledged. I also spotted that the female common scoter I found with the tufted duck flock on Thursday was still there diving for food out in the middle of the lake.

3o Days Wild – Day 23

Another Thursday and we decided to tackle what is without doubt the volunteers least favourite task of the year, ragwort control around Ibsley Water. When I first started at the reserve ragwort was the dominant plant around large areas of the shore, often to the exclusion of all other plants. Over the years we have cut and pulled it to try and establish a more mixed and predominantly grassy sward. It has been back breaking work, but it finally seems to be paying off. Walking the eastern shore it is now no more that occasional and forms part of an increasingly varied sward including sedges, bee orchid and much more.

Ragwort is actually a valuable nectar source and present in small amounts in grassland that is not used for hay does not present any real risk to livestock. Although poisonous few animals will eat it when growing. Fortunately at Blashford the grassland has many other nectar sources so loss of some ragwort  probably has minimal impact upon nectaring insects. As we worked we saw a good range of butterflies, despite the overcast conditions including lots of meadow brown.

meadow brown pair

Meadow brown pair mating

I also saw my first small skipper of the year, although a few have been seen on the reserve by others.

small skipper

small skipper

The day was not entirely positive though. Arriving at the reserve and looking out onto Ibsley Water it was clear that the black-headed gull pairs with chicks and single common tern pair that had just started sitting on the small island neat Tern hide had been lost overnight, probably to a predatory mammal. Fox is probably likely, but they often get the blame when others are actually the culprit and I cannot rule out badger, mink or otter.

black-headed gulls

black-headed gull pair

I got a real surprise at the end of the day when I closed up the Tern hide I realised there was a female common scoter floating around with the tufted duck flock. There was also a black-necked grebe reported in the hide diary, although I could not find it.

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 9

I arrived at the reserve and opened the Tern hide and then had a bit of brief excitement, as there was what, at first sight, appeared to be a lesser scaup with the drake tufted duck. Lesser scaup is a North American species, rare in the UK but regular nowadays, although never yet seen in Hampshire, so was this going to “Break the duck?”. Lesser scaup look somewhere between a tufted duck and a scaup, but was this one or not?

duck 1

But is it a lesser scaup???

Sadly the answer was NO, although it looks pretty good the flanks are clean white, without any fine bars and the “tuft” is a little too prominent. the body shape is also very greater scaup in overall look and the conclusion was that I tis a drake hybrid between a tufted duck and a greater scaup. This picture was my attempt in rather poor light through the telescope, if you look at Jim’s post from the other day you will see much better shots.

As it was Thursday it was volunteer day and we spent some time distributing seeds in an area that was covered with rhododendron, in an attempt to restore the original woodland flora. Along the way we came across an especially fine example of a stinkhorn fungus, usually they are already in a state collapse by the time I find them, but this one was perfect.

stinkhorn

stinkhorn

Ringing in the New

Despite the weather being somewhat poorer than originally expected the reserve was busy with a mixture of general visitors and listers out to get a good start to 2016. I knew it would be, as there are several species that you are more perhaps likely to see at Blashford than anywhere else in Hampshire. Species like brambling, and two obliged for much of the day at the Woodland hide, Slavonian and black-necked grebe, which both showed all day on Ibsley Water and of course goosander and goldeneye. Then there are the gulls, with regular yellow-legged gulls and, albeit rather late in the day, the ring-billed gull. The only species that really let the side down was bittern, which failed to show at all, as far as I know.

I managed to see 66 species of birds on the reserve today, not a bad start to the year. Along the way I found a hibernating peacock butterfly and a very well developed group of orchid rosettes, hopefully they will cope with any frosts we do eventually get.orchid

I had the rather pleasant task of putting the new hide logbooks in each hide today, so I got to visit them all. From the Goosander hide it was pleasing to see a group of wigeon grazing the eastern shore of Ibsley Water, just reward for all the volunteers’ hard work.grazing wigeon

I also saw a colour-ringed first winter black-headed gull standing on the rails, I think it was a red ring coded 230A, but it was hard to be sure, can you make it out?ringed black-headed gull

The recent rain has also been beneficial to the ephemeral ponds, these only hold water for part of the year, but have a whole range of specialist species that depend upon them. The volunteers have been involved with these too, treading the mud in the bases so they hold water for longer, a process known as puddling. temporary ponds

As well as a good range of species there were a few notable counts during the day, mostly at dusk. I could not get into the Tern hide, there was such a crush of gull watchers, so I looked from the mound at the back of the car park. From there I saw the ring-billed gull and, after a long absence, a flock of starling. Not quite a fully fledged murmuration , but at least 3000 birds. Later on Ivy Lake there were at least 161 roosting cormorant, a new record. I also counted 239 tufted duck, a large number, but there must have been many more as I could mostly only make out the drakes with their white flanks as it was so dark.