Christmas is coming…

…like it or not, it actually is, and, at Blashford at least, it’s looking like it could be a white Christmas too. A great white egret Christmas that is!

Up to 5 great white egret, with up to 13 little egret “in attendance” are being seen on the reserve at present,¬† mostly on or around Ibsley Water where they are particularly enjoying spending time hanging out over the water at the south western corner of the lake on the willows that we have been felling along that shore and over the lake to vary the habitat, improve nesting capacity for birds like little and great crested grebes and coot, and, at the same time, impede access to those users (abusers) of the nature reserve who insist on being where they shouldn’t be…

Sadly it would appear that the famous, one and only “original” Blashford great white egret, affectionately known to all as Walter White, is not one of those five ūüė¶

As regular readers of this Blog and visitors to the nature reserve will know Walter was a distinctive bird with leg rings which he received as a chick in France in 2003 so could always be readily identified upon his return, usually at some point in August, although at times both earlier and later than that month. Tipped to become Europes  oldest great white egret (record currently stands at 17 years) it would appear that Walter sadly may well have matched it, but has not exceeded it, as we have neither seen or had reports of a ringed great white this winter.

There is still hope however,¬† albeit slim. It was only last year (maybe the year before) that Bob, having given up hope of Walter’s return, effectively wrote an obituary for this¬† much loved bird on these pages – only for Walter to be sighted the very next day. So fingers crossed everyone!

Elsewhere in the general environs around Ibsley Water I can’t not mention the starling murmuration. Although still very much not on the scale of some winters there are, at present, still a good number of several thousand birds gathering and roosting in Valley and although perhaps not big on numbers some evenings at least they have been performing some great displays and throwing some stunning shapes! Good to see the goosander coming into roost too – so far Bob has recorded a little over 50 and there are now 10+ goldeneye too.

Around the woodland habitats on the reserve, this winter looks like being a good one for redpoll with a number feeding in the tree tops amidst the siskin – although not yet coming down to feed on the bird feeders. We also still have a pair of marsh tits established in an area roughly from the Centre down to Ivy South Hide – both have now been ringed by BTO volunteer bird ringers Kevin & Brenda so if you see a marsh tit without a ring let us know because it will mean we actually have more than just the two birds!

Further to¬† Tracy’s last post, in which she described the DIY wreath activity you can enjoy on your next visit, should you choose, I just thought I’d give a plug for the various items which can be bought from the Welcome Hut while you are here, the proceeds from which will all go towards supporting the education and conservation work here at Blashford Lakes. Just bear us in mind for some of those stocking fillers for your nature loving loved ones – just like the high street, we need your support (and if like many you are doing a lot of your shopping online at present remember you can still support the Trust either by purchasing direct from our online shop ( http://www.hiwwt.org.uk/shop-support-wildlife ) or by shopping via Amazon Smile or Easyfundraising and nominating Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust as your chosen charity.

But now for more in terms of what we can sell you from here when you visit!

The Welcome Hut remains closed to visitors (not very welcoming I know – sorry!), but it is making a very handy additional office space so we can better manage our socially distant safe working practices, and it does mean one of us is usually around to take your money if there is anything in particular you are interested in buying ūüėČ

If you arrive and there isn’t anyone working from the hut do knock on the Centre door or call the mobile phone number which will have been left out on a sign outside the Hut.

At present we have Christmas cards (either handmade ones for sale at 2 for ¬£3, or packs of 10 Wildlife Trust cards for ¬£3), lovely handturned wooden ballpoint pens (¬£3), a wide variety of FSC wildlife identification guides (4 of which are shown below – ¬£3.30 or ¬£4 each), a small selection of children’s picture books, bird nest boxes and bat boxes (¬£10) and bug homes (¬£5).

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!

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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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.

Treating the dragonflies

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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