Walter Returns!

After reports of a great white egret since the end of the week before last we have been wondering if it was “Walter”  come back for his fourteenth winter, but sightings have been too poor to confirm if it had rings in the right combination. So I was delighted to see from Ivy North hide as I locked up, there he was, rings and all. I got a very poor picture, but I only had a 60mm macro lens on my camera, so I have some excuse.

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“Walter”

At fourteen and three months he is by far the oldest great white egret know to have been seen in the UK and is quite a great age for the species. When he arrived he was a real pioneer, one of only three or so in the country, but over the last few years they have increased and now breed in the UK and look as though they are here to stay.

 

The Birds Just Keep Coming Back

As any regular readers of this blog will know Blashford Lakes has a lot of regular visitors, including “Walter” the great white egret which has been coming to the reserve since August 2003. In December 2014 a ring-billed gull was found on Ibsley Water, it returned again last winter and today it was back again for a third winter. You might say does not one gull look much like another? Well yes, but this one is on the small side for a ring-billed gull and has a distinct tertial crescent, which many do not show so well, so I think it is a fair bet that it is the same one returning.

It might seem a bit strange that these two birds, both a good way from home when they first arrived, should keep coming back. In fact many birds return to the same places year after year; if a place has served you well once it is likely to do so again, so coming back makes good sense.

Once again we have received a number of pictures of notable birds taken around the reserve. On several days recently a marsh harrier has been seen around Ibsley Water and yesterday it had a go at the Egyptian goose that has been on the long shingle spit for some time; it has a damaged wing and cannot fly.  Despite this it would seem a very large prey item for a marsh harrier and in fact the attack was unsuccessful.

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Marsh Harrier trying to catch an Egyptian goose. (by Phil West)

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diving underwater to escape (by Phil West)

Eventually the commotion attracted a peregrine and the harrier gave up the chase.

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Marsh Harrier and peregrine (by Phil West)

Although it was not seen today I am pretty sure the bittern will still be somewhere in the reeds beside Ivy Lake, as snapped the other day.

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Bittern (by Lynda Miller)

Another bird that has been around for a few days, but does not always get seen in the water pipit which frequents the area in front of and to the east of Tern hide. Lorne, who sent the egret pictures featured in the last post sent in this great picture; water pipit are always difficult birds to photograph.

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water pipit (by Lorne Bissell)

Lorne is having a bit of a purple patch at Blashford just now also being the first one to spot the returning ring-billed gull today, despite it being at rather long range.

Elsewhere on the reserve today the firecrest was still doing circuits of the car park near the Centre and I heard at least 3 chiffchaff around Ivy lake. I normally think of this time of the year as one of the only times that I do not see chiffchaff on the reserve, typically passage goes on into late October and the wintering birds turn up in late November or early December, perhaps prolonged north-east winds brought them here early this year. Lastly Walter was once again roosting with the cormorants on Ivy Lake as I locked up the hides, after a night elsewhere.

Remember this Sunday sees the return of the Pop-up Café, a treat not to be missed if you are visiting.

 

A Few Birds and the Promise of More Cake

Over the last few days there have been regular sightings of “Walter” the great white egret as well as a few further ones of the second, un-ringed, bird. Other observers have also confirmed my impression that the new bird is quiet a bit smaller, this probably confirms that Walter is indeed a “He”, since males are larger than females in this species. We were sent these pictures of both egrets by Lorne Bissell a couple of days ago.

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The two great white egret, Walter is on the right with the rings.

Bittern sightings have been intermittent from Ivy North hide, usually to the east (left) of the hide and water rail are being seen regularly. the wildfowl on Ivy Lake remain very unsettled, I suspect this is due to otter activity, but I have no sightings to confirm this as yet.

In the alder and birch trees around the Centre a large flock of siskin can be seen and heard, I estimate there are at least 150 birds in this flock. Also in this area a firecrest is regularly being seen associating with the mixed tit flock that frequents the willows.

A black-necked grebe was on Ibsley Water yesterday, but I do not think anyone saw it today. The marsh harrier that has made a number of visits recently was again around Ibsley Water today, spending about half an hour perched at various points. There was also a peregrine seen. At dusk the gull roost was as large as ever and something like 3000 starling gave a brief flying display to the north, before going to roost. Hopefully they will stay around and grow in number for my “In to Roost” event next Wednesday afternoon, there should still be places if you would like to come along, but please call us to book (01425 472760) or email BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk.

Another up-coming event is the return of the, soon to be legendary, Pop-up Café. It had a premiere on the first Sunday of this month and proved a great hit with visitors and it will be back at the Centre this coming Sunday serving hot drinks, very fine home made cakes and probably a few other things besides. We will also have the very fine Trust calendar for 2017, wildlife Christmas cards, books and various other things available for sale.

The café will return throughout the winter on the first and third Sunday of each month.

 

 

So Close and Yet so Far

A rather better day today, sunshine in place of steady rain. My first sight upon looking across Ibsley Water was of a merlin sitting on the osprey perch out in the lake, not a bird I see at Blashford very often. I was also at the reserve to lock up yesterday when the bird of prey of the day was a marsh harrier feeding on something on the western shore of Ibsley Water. Also on Ibsley Water today were a black-tailed godwit, a curlew and 4 pintail. yesterday evening at dusk I counted 45 pochard and 22 goosander, so the waterfowl roosts are slowly increasing in numbers. In the same vein, tonight there were a few thousand starling gathering to the north of the reserve and the first indication of a greenfinch roost near the main car park, with perhaps thirty birds gathering.

With the day set fair I took the chance to clear some of the paths of leaves and do so cutting back. Despite the recent frosts there are still quite a few fungi about.

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candlesnuff fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon)

Candlesnuff is one fungus that can be seen all year round, but I rather liked this group with water droplets on them, they were beside the path between Ivy North and the Woodland hide.

Along the Dockens Water path I saw a firecrest in the holly and for a change it was not hidden in the shadows but out in the sun, looking very jewel-like. This path is looking really good at the moment with the trees in full colour.

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Dockens Water path

Clearing leaves from the path towards Rockford Lake I found a raptor plucking post with the remains of a jay, it could have been taken by a female sparrowhawk although, these days, a goshawk might be just as likely.

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remains of a jay at a plucking post

I had seen “Walter” the great white egret at Ivy North hide when I opened up and heard water rail and Cetti’s warbler there too, but the bird of the day from there was the ferruginous duck, which spent the afternoon in front of the hide. Unfortunately I missed it as by the time I heard about it it was more or less dark. This is no doubt the drake that has been returning to Blashford for some years, although it usually frequents one of the private lakes to the south of the reserve.

In the late afternoon I was at the Goosander hide hoping to see some colour-ringed gulls on the perching rails there. There were gulls, but none with rings.

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Lesser black-backed gull, yellow -legged gull, herring gull and black-headed gulls.

Yellow-legged gull are slightly large and darker than herring gull and typically have whiter heads in winter, lacking the grey streaking of herring gull. The picture above shows a fairly dark lesser black-backed gull, with the yellow-legged gull in the centre and a typical herring gull on the right.

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yellow-legged gull, adult.

As I went to lock up the Moon was just rising, close to the horizon it always look large and this evening it looked especially so. It has good reason though as apparently it is closer to us at present than it has been for 68 years, so I really never have seen the Moon look so big.

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A big Moon

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Ivy Lake as I locked up after sunset.

 

Popping up

There was a proper wintery feel to things at Blashford today, a cool north-westerly breeze and bright sunshine. Working with the volunteers near the main car park we had to keep moving to stay warm. The sunshine brought out good numbers of visitors and most of them seemed to make use of the “Pop-up Café” which was set up in the Centre for the first time today (I had a slice of apple cake which was delicious). The café will be back throughout the winter on the first and third Sunday of each month, so look out for it if you visit the reserve.

After working with the morning I was told that Walter, our regular great white egret, had a companion pop in to join him. The second bird does not carry rings but they seemed to be associating all day and went to roost together at dusk. A good few years ago there were also two present but then they were almost never seen together.

During the afternoon I got out on the reserve for a bit and there are still lots of fungi around.

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Sulphur tuft, on logs near the Woodland hide.

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Honey fungus n a dead birch near the Ivy South hide.

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A small, unidentified fungus near the Woodland hide.

The weather went downhill a little in the afternoon and by the time it got dark it was raining, but before that there were occasional patches of very contrasting light and dark, which made for quite attractive scenes.

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Ivy lake, with cormorant roost tree.

Other sightings today included 2 drake pintail on Ibsley Water, where there were also 2 duck goldeneye and at least 18 pochard. On Ivy Lake there were several water rail near Ivy North hide and a singing Cetti’s warbler. On arriving at the reserve I was greeted by the sound of cronking as a raven flew over and I also received reports of both water pipit and rock pipit being seen from Tern hide and there were 2 or 3 chiffchaff around the main car park for most of the day.