A winter wander

I’m a little out of sync with Jim and Chloe’s last few blogs, but on Boxing Day I was back at Blashford and after catching up with my emails in the morning (only getting slightly distracted by the view from the office window of the Chiffchaff below, I’m still waiting for the Kingfisher…) I decide to head out for a wander.

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Chiffchaff by the Education Centre pond

The day had begun quite grey but after a brief stop in Tern Hide to see if anything was close enough to the shore to photograph the sun did start to break through the clouds.

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Pochard from Tern Hide

I cut across the closed path from Tern Hide to Goosander Hide (will 2022 be the year we can finally open the path to visitors?! We can but hope!) and paused to look through the screen at the ephemeral ponds.

view from screen on old concrete site

Ephemeral ponds with Ibsley Water in the distance

A large flock of Redwing were feeding around the edges of the ponds and in amongst the grass along with a Mistle thrush and Pied wagtail.

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Mistle thrush

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Mistle thrush

I watched the Mistle thrush for some time as it hopped about between the pools of water, at one point it extracted a rather large earthworm from the ground and proceeded to gulp it down.

The Redwings were more easily spooked by my presence at the screen and kept their distance, but on continuing along the path they would fly up to the larger trees at the sound of my footsteps and eventually I got lucky with one perching in a smaller silver birch.

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Redwing

I also watched a small flock of Goldfinch and Siskin feeding on the seeds in amongst the alder cones – there is still plenty of food for them in amongst the tree tops:

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Goldfinch pausing in a silver birch to finish feeding

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Siskin feeding on alder seeds

From Goosander Hide I watched a pair of Goosander in the bay, along with Coot, Grey heron and Tufted duck.

view from Goosander Hide

View from Goosander Hide

On my way up to Lapwing Hide I followed a flock of Long-tailed tits and scanned a flock of Chaffinch feeding on the ground for a Brambling, but sadly I was not in luck. We have though had a pair of females and one male seen from the Woodland Hide over the last couple of days, so there’s still time!

Near Lapwing Hide I had another good view of a Chiffchaff as it flitted about in the tree tops:

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Chiffchaff near Lapwing Hide

The water immediately in front of Lapwing Hide was quite quiet, apart from the gulls which took it in turns to sit and call loudly from the posts in the water:

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Lesser black-backed gull – I think!

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Black-headed gull in its winter plummage, without its dark chocolate-coloured head

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Ibsley Water from Lapwing Hide

From Lapwing Hide I headed back to the road crossing and followed the path along the Dockens Water.

woodland along Dockens Water

Woodland along the Dockens Water

Volunteer Geoff had mentioned a fungi near the bridge that crosses over the Dockens, he had spotted it on the walk back at the end of our Young Naturalists session before Christmas (a blog will follow at some point!) so I stopped to have a look:

wood cauliflower

Wood cauliflower, Sparassis crispa

Unsure of what it was, I asked one of our welcome volunteers, Bryn, today and after heading off in search of it he reported back to say it was Wood cauliflower, although it sadly no longer looks quite as nice as it does in the above photo. 

Back at the Education Centre I looked for the first signs of snowdrops in amongst the leaf litter, and sure enough they are starting to come up:

snowdrops pushing through

Snowdrops starting to push through the soil and leaf litter by the Education Centre

Given the afternoon had turned out quite nice, I decided to have a quick look at the feeder on the edge of the path by the Woodland Hide, watching Chaffinch, Blue tit, Marsh tit, Goldfinch, Dunnock and Siskin either on the feeder, on the ground or in amongst the surrounding trees. I also saw a bank vole scurrying around on the ground.

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Dunnock by the Woodland Hide

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Siskin by the Woodland Hide

Turkey tail fungus can be seen growing on the logs to the edge of the path whilst Candlesnuff fungus can be found on old tree stumps. Soon it will be the turn of the Scarlet elf cup which likes to grow on decaying sticks and branches in amongst the leaf litter, but I haven’t spotted any yet…

A look over the dead hedge to Ivy Silt Pond added Kingfisher to my list of birds for the day, and on that note I decided it was time I headed back to the office to get a couple more jobs done before it was time to start locking the reserve.

By the end of the day the temperature had dropped and a mist had descended over the lichen heath. As I peered through the screen by Ivy North Hide a flock of Redwing flew in to roost in the neighbouring trees.

view from Ivy North Hide

Evening view from Ivy North Hide

lichen heath in mist

Misty lichen heath

Today has been another very grey affair, so here’s a photograph of the Spindle which is brightening up the edge of the Centre car park:

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Bright pink fruit of the Spindle, Euonymus europaeus

This evening I’m hoping my locking up will be accompanied by the chattering and twittering of starlings from the reed beds near Ivy North and South Hides and the Silt Pond – Happy New Year!

Autumn is in the air!

On returning to Blashford after some time off there is a definite feel autumn is in the air. There is still warmth when the sun is shining, encouraging butterflies (primarily speckled woods) dragonflies and other insects to venture out on the wing, with regular visitor David  being lucky enough to photograph a pair of migrant hawkers in the mating wheel position by the Education Centre pond:

D Fly3 David Cuddon

Mating migrant hawkers by David Cuddon

Numbers in the moth trap have however dwindled, yesterday it revealed only a handful of moths whilst this morning there was just one, not surprising given there was frost in places last night. Working out of the Welcome Hut is also a colder affair, and a shock to the system, but I have now found some warmer layers and turned the heater on!

Yesterday afternoon I managed a quick wander on the northern side of the reserve, and the reedbed up towards Lapwing Hide was looking glorious in the sunshine:

Reedbed

Reedbed

My real reason for heading out was to see what fungi I could spot and then label for visitors with our temporary signs, but although I could find some, mainly closer to the Centre, the ground is I think still too dry. Wetter weather is on the cards, so I will look again next week.

Beefsteak

Beefsteak fungus

Turkey tail

Turkey tail near the boardwalk past Ivy South Hide

Sulphur tuft

Sulphur tuft along the footpath to Ivy South Hide

The spindle is also beginning to come into its own, displaying its pretty pink fruits. Soon the leaves will turn more of a russet colour and the pink fruits will ripen to reveal the orange seeds inside. It is just behind the badger sculpture along the path to Ivy South Hide.

Sprindle

Pink fruits of the Spindle

I didn’t get a chance to look at Ibsley Water yesterday as my wander was a little late in the day, so headed over to Tern Hide this morning where I was greeting by hundreds of hirundines (swallows and martins) flying over the car park, hide and water. You definitely didn’t need to be in the hide to watch and appreciate them swooping overhead. After watching them from the car park I realised they were flocking over a silver birch tree on the other side of the overflow car park, with some birds (mainly the house martins) pausing briefly on the branches before flying up again:

 

 

Gathering hirundines

Gathering hirundines

 

 

Gathering hirundines (2)

Gathering hirundines

They were fantastic to watch. The photos above definitely don’t give an idea of the numbers present! Preparing to migrate, most hirundines will leave during September but some may stay into October before heading off to a warmer African winter. 

Finally, I will finish with a few more photographs David kindly sent in. The goldfinch, blue tit and grey wagtail were from a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t get round to sharing them before having some time off, and the greenfinch photo was taken yesterday:

Goldfinch David Cuddon

Goldfinch by David Cuddon

Blue-tit David Cuddon

Blue tit by David Cuddon

Greenfinch 2 David Cuddon

Green finch by David Cuddon

Grey Wag 2 David Cuddon

Grey Wagtail by David Cuddon

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Grey Wagtail by David Cuddon

Greywag3 David Cuddon

Grey wagtail by David Cuddon

 

 

Thank you very much David, the grey wagtail reflection photos are lovely!

What a difference a day makes!

After a gorgeously sunny Christmas Day yesterday, today saw the return of the rain and I got soaked opening up the hides – needless to say the reserve has been very quiet today! Even the wildlife decided to stay in the warm and dry – we have been keeping an eye on the Tawny Owl box as something has definitely moved in and made itself a very dry and cosy home out of oak leaves and soft rush. Although not the owl we had been hoping for, it is still very nice to see a grey squirrel up close on camera, although you can’t see much when it hunkers down inside its nest:

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Squirrel making itself at home in the owl box

Last week we realised one had stashed food in the box as we noticed it rummaging through the wood chip that had been put in the bottom – clearly it decided with all the rain we’ve been having this was a good spot, came back and made some home improvements. This morning I watched it look out the hole a few times before it decided it was better off back in bed:

Wet grey days are definitely for catching up with the blog, and this one may turn out to be quite long as I am two Young Naturalists sessions behind, one of which was our November residential at the Countryside Education Trust’s Home Farm in Beaulieu…

Unfortunately the weather was not quite on our side then either, although we were able to dodge most of the showers. We began on the Friday night with an excellent talk by Steve Tonkin about the night sky – sadly it was too cloudy to head outside for any observing so we will have to invite Steve again another evening, but the group enjoyed the talk and asked some excellent questions that definitely kept Steve on his toes.

Astronomy 2

Astronomy talk

On Saturday morning we headed to Rans Wood, just outside Beaulieu, to meet Sally Mitchell from Wild Heritage for a fungi walk. We didn’t have to stray too far from the car park and were rewarded with over thirty species which was great for late Autumn. Before heading off Sally tested the group’s current fungi knowledge with an identification activity – they knew a few edible and inedible species and were also very good at erring on the side of caution with those they weren’t sure about.

Fungi foray

Testing our knowledge

Fungi is not my strong point so it was brilliant to go looking with someone able to identify what we saw and also be so enthusiastic about it. Sally also has permission from Forestry England to pick the fungi for identification purposes (not to eat as there is a no picking ban for this in the Forest), so we were able to study some close up and take a closer look at the gills or pores. We also used mirrors to look under some, including the Amethyst deceiver, so we could see underneath without picking.

We did quite a lot of sniffing! Here are some of the different species we found – I think my favourites were the Amethyst deceivers, the bright Yellow club and looking at the tubular pores inside the Beefsteak fungus:

We also paused to have a go at ‘creating’ a Fly agaric – sadly we were unable to find any – using a balloon and a tissue. The tissue was held over the balloon and sprayed with water to make it damp. When air was blown into the balloon, the balloon became larger and the tissue broke up into smaller pieces as this happened, to create the speckled effect of white spots seen on the Fly agaric fungus.

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Making a fly agaric 2

Making a Fly agaric

We also found a huge oak tree so decided to see how many Young Naturalists could fit around it:

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Hugging a very large oak tree!

After thanking Sally we headed to Hatchet Pond and had lunch with the Mute swans, Black-headed gulls and donkeys.

We then spent the afternoon at Roydon Woods, another Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust nature reserve, and tested the fungi identification skills learnt that morning, keeping our fingers crossed for a glimpse of a Goshawk whilst we wandered. We last visited the reserve in the Spring, when the woodland floor had been carpeted in bluebells and other Spring flowers, so it was nice to return in the Autumn.

Some of the group were also lucky enough to spot a Goshawk fly past, but only because we had stopped to wait for others to catch up and it flew past behind them. A lucky encounter!

On the Sunday the group enjoyed a farm feed session first thing with Education Officer Steve whilst Michelle and I tidied and cleaned Home Farm ready for our departure. They love doing this as they can get up close to many of the animals and help out with the feeding:

We then visited the New Forest Wildlife Park and were joined by another couple of the group who had been unable to stay for the weekend. We had arranged a guided tour with one of the park’s education team and Laila was brilliant – I think she enjoyed a slightly older audience to usual and the group were great at engaging in conversation about the wildlife and different conservation projects. I was impressed by how much they knew. We got caught in a couple of heavy showers whilst we were there which made taking photos a bit difficult, but here are a few, the harvest mice were popular…

We had a brilliant weekend so although it was a while ago now, would like to thank Steve for the astronomy session, Sally for her fungi knowledge, Steve for the farm feed session and Laila for the brilliant tour around the wildlife park. We also couldn’t run residentials without volunteer support so would like to say a huge thank you to Geoff, Nigel and Michelle for giving up their weekends to join us and help with all the cooking, cleaning, minibus driving and evening entertainment (we had a quiz Saturday night which was hilarious)…

Sticking with the Young Naturalists theme, on Saturday we ventured over to Poole for a boat trip with Birds of Poole Harbour. The group had been fortunate to win the boat trip as their prize for coming first in the bird trail here at Blashford back in May, and we were able to open it up to other group members who hadn’t been able to join us on the day and turn it into our December session.

It was rather cold and wet at times, and we saw a lot of rainbows whilst out in the harbour, but also managed at least 26 species of bird including Red-breasted merganser, Shag, Great black-backed gull, Great crested grebe, Great northern diver, Brent goose, Gadwall, Avocet, Shelduck, Teal, Shoveler, Cormorant, Black-tailed godwit, Grey heron, Oystercatcher, Grey plover, Dunlin, Knot, Little egret, Wood pigeon, Sandwich tern, Goldeneye, Starling, Carrion crow, Spoonbill (very distant!) and Curlew.

We had some nice views of Brownsea Island and the lagoon…

Brownsea

Brownsea Island

Brownsea lagoon

Lagoon at Brownsea

…and a very distant view of a rather grey Corfe Castle:

Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle

The rainbow photographing opportunities were numerous:

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

Thanks for reading! Here’s a sunnier photo taken just up the road at Ibsley when I was passing yesterday morning as a reward for getting to the end, hopefully it will stop raining again soon!

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View from Ibsley Bridge – the River Avon is just out of shot to the right

Fungi spotting

Autumn is a great time to go looking for fungi, so on Sunday after spying a few whilst unlocking the reserve in the morning, we decided to head off in search of more during our Young Naturalists session.

We began however with a rather nice job of weeding the path which leads to our campfire – although possibly not the most exciting of jobs, it was one that needed to be done and it was very satisfying to be able to see just how much they had managed to clear in the hour or so we were out there. We did however decide to do the rest another day when the showers became heavier!

After lunch and a disappointing rummage through the light trap which contained a number of crane fly but not much else, we headed off with a couple of guide books and cameras to see what we could spot. Fungi is definitely not my strong point, so it was a learning curve for all but we enjoyed looking out for different types and photographing them to hopefully identify later.

Now is a great time of year to look for them as many of the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting bodies are emerging above ground, either on the soil or on decaying wood.

We found a number of very smart looking Beefsteak fungus, also known as ox-tongue, oozing red droplets that did look a lot like blood:

We also spotted some Sulphur tuft and Common puffballs nearby:

Near to Ivy South Hide we saw Honey fungus along with a couple of different colour variations of Turkey tail:

On a branch near the boardwalk we spied the tiniest mushrooms growing, I don’t know what they are but they were so delicate we had to stop to photograph them:

We took the long route back to the Education Centre, choosing the path that runs parallel to the main road so we came out by Ellingham Pound, as I was hopeful here we would find a number of Fly agaric. So far we had only seen a couple that had been nibbled or fallen over. We were not disappointed:

We also spotted what might be a Bay Bolete, but Jim’s told me off for not checking the ‘gills’:

Bolete

Here’s a selection of some of the others we found, the first I think could be a young puffball, but the others I’m afraid I’m not sure about.

We had a fun wander with lots of the group taking photos, so perhaps next time we could invite someone who knows a bit more about fungi to come with us!

Finally, Daisy and I spotted a number of relatively young Parasol mushrooms near Ivy North Hide when locking up last night – when I unlocked this morning, the one we had been admiring had opened up more and had a Common darter resting on it, making the most of today’s sunshine.

Common darter on parasol mushroom

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