Rediscovering Blashford Lakes

Earlier in the year little did I know that when I locked up and left Blashford, somewhat appropriately as it happens, on Friday 13th March, that I would not be back until the 2nd July, thanks to a cocktail of a poorly child with a high temperature having to stay off school, subsequent quarantining of myself and family, lockdown and, later, furloughed leave.

A lot has changed in that time, at home, in the UK and across the World, for the Trust and, specifically, for Blashford Lakes.

Any regular readers of the Blashford Blog will know how Bob continued to manage and warden the site throughout lockdown, monitoring and dealing with the affects of ash dieback on the woodland despite, or in-spite, of the restrictions that lone-working imposed and his having to deal with the impacts that “cov-idiots” including poachers, dog walkers and cyclists were having upon the reserve and the wildlife.

As lockdown restrictions were eased he was joined by Tracy and they worked hard together to make and adjust to new socially distanced working procedures and hygiene arrangements whilst planning how the nature reserve might most safely be reopened to the public.

I for one am very grateful for all that they did and I am sure that our visitors are too, albeit that many won’t know that they are, or should be!

I returned to work from furloughed leave on 1st July, worked from home on that first day and returned to Blashford itself on the 2nd to reacquaint myself with the site and acquaint myself with new ways of working.

The site itself is much as it always was, although now displaying an awful lot more directional signage to aid visitors around the new one-way circular walking routes and with more of Tracy’s educational and insightful mini-interpretation notices which highlight particular aspects of wildlife as you explore the nature reserve.

The insects have been fabulous, none more so that the clouds of common blue damselflies which were particularly in evidence when I first got back at the beginning of the month.

The wilder areas around the dipping ponds as well as the relatively recently (last Summer) created ornamental raised flower beds and wildflower turf around the Welcome Hut at the front of the Centre have been, and are, full of insect life. Indeed our butterfly survey volunteers are finding that although the northern transect is doing well the southern transect is generally quite poor this year – with the exception of that area around the Education Centre.

Small copper feeding on yarrow next to the Welcome Hut

One of the highlights of returning to work has been being able to view the moths attracted to the light trap over night, although always tinged a little with sadness that this summer we have not been sharing the same with our school group visitors:

Also on the moth front, a six spot burnet moth (this one photographed in the mini meadow grassland habitat along the footpath on the approach to Tern Hide and the main car park (both still closed at present). Some years absent at Blashford Lakes, but sporadically fairly frequent, this year is one of those where they seem to be doing well

The bird hides remain closed and are not set to open as normal anytime soon so glimpses of the lakes are infrequent and few but the view from the Ibsley Water viewing platform at the back of the main car park remains open and does still give a fantastic, if distant, view of that lake – and indeed it was from there that a number of visitors enjoyed views of an osprey perched on the perch placed out in that lake with just that purpose in mind. The sweet honey like scent of the creeping thistle which is growing in profusion there, alongside other fantastic nectar sources like ragwort and teasel is pretty special too:

So all in all, although the hides remain closed, there is still plenty of wildlife to see and you never know, you might get lucky and see something more unusual like an osprey, or, as other visitors have reported seeing on different days over the last couple of weeks, Blashford treats like kingfisher or treecreeper, or slightly more unusually, an otter or a family of stoats.

And visitors we are getting; plenty of regulars just like the “old days” before lockdown, but also lots of new visitors. Since restrictions eased further and holidays were allowed we’ve seen a lot of families and visitors new to the nature reserve on their holidays but we are also continuing to welcome local visitors who have and are staying close to home and who having done so are looking for new places close to home to explore and enjoy.

As a result the nature reserve is actually probably attracting more visitors this month than it would normally do so at this time of year and I suspect that this will continue over the next couple of months.

Tracy and I are continuing to develop the means by which we can engage with both visitors to the nature reserve and visitors, including schools, who might normally visit the nature reserve but are unable to do so at the present time.

A big step forward has been the installation of WiFi boosters outside the Centre which has not only allowed us to lead live virtual pond dipping activities (Tracy with her Young Naturalists meeting and myself with the Year 1 and Year 2 classes at Ringwood Infant School), but which will also enable us to offer other live virtual meetings, including “mini-beasting” or emptying the light trap for example.

Another benefit of the much improved WiFi has been our being able to re-open the Welcome Hut on an occasional basis, at least for now.

As mentioned earlier in this post, we are seeing lots of new visitors, but with the Centre and Welcome Hut closed and our Welcome Volunteers still stood down at present, there often is not someone available to provide assistance or guidance when required.

The improved WiFi coverage means that we can log on to the Wildlife Trusts remote desktop and continue to work on office and admin work from the Welcome Hut while being on hand to greet and provide assistance to visitors as needs be.

There are a number of benefits to this new working environment, not least of which is that it is a very pleasant place to work – with the doors fully opened and side windows ajar there is a lovely natural “air-conditioning”, the sound of bird song with an accompaniment of Roesel’s bush-cricket and grasshopper from the adjacent wildflower “meadow” fills the air and there is a lovely view of the tree’s around the Centre car park. Of course if anyone needs assistance we are there to help – and, as an added bonus should any further incentive to work out there be required, although it’s a bit early to be sure that it is a pattern and not just a coincidence, visitor donations seem to have gone up since I moved “office”.

This latter point is actually really important – the Wildlife Trust relies on its income from membership contributions as well as donations and at Blashford we especially rely on donations to help fund all elements of our work, from administration, to conservation, to education to access repair and improvements. Our income has been hit hard with none of the donations from group visits that we would normally receive throughout the summer, nor the usual donations from our “every day” visitors, despite there being more of them in recent weeks. This is, in part at least, because fewer and fewer people are carrying or using cash in our post-lockdown world. Bob recently made up some new “donation ask” signs with a QR code that visitors can use to make a donation to the Trust electronically and this too may have prompted more visitors who can to make a cash donation during their visit.

Time will tell whether it is my welcoming face, the new QR code or something else which will help our coffers over coming weeks!


A Fine Day

More or less anyway and certainly a good one for visitors and birds. In fact the reserve was as busy as I have seen it in a long time, with over fifty cars in the car parks for most of the day, which probably means there were over 150 visitors.

The birds did not disappoint either with the Slavonian and black-necked grebe showing on Ibsley Water and two of the later reported. The ring-billed gull also put on a good show, sitting on the rails outside Goosander hide, posing for photographs and later in the roost from Tern hide. Elsewhere the great white egret was on Rockford and Ivy lakes, although the bittern remained out of sight.

At the Woodland hide numbers of siskin are rising fast along with smaller numbers of lesser redpoll and brambling.

I was in the office for a good part of the day, but got out later in the afternoon when the low light over Ivy lake was quiet attractive.Ivy Lake from Ivy North hide

I think I can make out quite a few species in this shot, coot, shoveler, tufted duck, great crested grebe, cormorant, Canada goose, pochard and gadwall at least. I did get a couple of counts, 98 shoveler on Ibsley Water and at least 170 cormorant in the roost on Ivy Lake, a new record.


A Day to Enjoy

Bird News: Ibsley WaterBewick’s swan 6, goosander 95, black-tailed godwit 2, peregrine 1, green sandpiper 1. Ivy Lakeferruginous duck 1, bittern 2, water rail 1, yellow-legged gull 1, green samdpiper 1. Rockford Lakegoldeneye 4, Egyptian goose 10, pintail 1, green sandpiper 1.

After yesterday’s wash-out today’s sunshine was very welcome. Visitor numbers were high all day, in fact the car parks were more or less full from mid morning to mid afternoon. Luckily people were well spread around the reserve so none of the hides were too jammed. The ferruginous duck was to the south of the Ivy South hide for most of the day, unfortunately looking into the sun did not give the best views though. A few lucky people saw bittern from Ivy North hide, the circumstances suggest that there were two birds involved.

As I opened the Tern hide this morning I was just in time to see the 6 Bewick’s swan before they flew out to the valley, curiously, although they flew in the direction of their usual feeding fields, they were not seen there today. Green sandpipers were seen on three different lakes and 2 black-tailed godwits added to the waders, although they left to the south in the late afternoon. At dusk a good roost count of the goosander was reported, still shy of the magic one hundred, but 95 was still impressive.

Following yesterday’s report of a Caspian gull on Blashford Lake I went to see if it was there this morning, I did find a large gull, which promptly flew to Ivy Lake, where I got a few pictures of it, but I reckon this bird is a yellow-legged gull, so my search for a Caspian this winter goes on.

yellow-legged gull

Walking back passed Rockford Lake the masses of whistling wigeon were rather drowned out by the cries of 10 Egyptian geese.

Egyptian goose

Going through the woodland I noticed several large flies basking int he sunshine on the lichen covered trunks of two trees. Looking closer I was taken by the fabulous gardens of lichens and moss that these trunks had developed. There also seemed to be some differences between the two trees flora, possibily because one was an oak and the other an ash.

lichens on oak trunk


lichens on ash trunk

One of the great things about Blashford Lakes is that it appeals to a wide range of visitors, not just out and out birders, although the ferruginous duck was attracting a steady stream of admirers, others did not give it a second, or even first, glance. There were people seeking their first glimps of a bittern or trying to unravel the finer points of gull identification, but at least as many were gathered at the Woodland hide enjoying  the great spotted woodpeckers, lesser redpolls and blue tits.

blue tit

Locking up at the end of a busy day, there were still people hoping a water rail would come out to feed as the sun set. Locking up the Ivy South hide it wa sgood to see the ferruginous duck doing something other than sleeping. It was bathing and preening and swimming about, it looked much better when it was active. Unlike many other ducks pochard, and I suspect the ferruginous duck also, feed at night and I think these birds were just setting out for the start of their day as I was finishing mine.