Little & (very!) large

Hope everyone is out and about enjoying some glorious Spring sunshine this Easter weekend ūüôā . The warmer more settled weather is resulting in some “firsts for the year”, including my first Orange-tip butterfly and first Garden Warbler (singing to me as I opened up the main car park gate). Yesterday it was the turn of the return of Reed Warblers, singing from the reeds outside Ivy North Hide & also Ivy Silt Pond on my morning “rounds”.

As previously reported, Sand Martins are back & volunteer Phil West photographed the first few tentatively investigating the artificial sand face at Goosander Hide earlier in the week:

Sand Martins by Phil West

Hopefully they will have a good year again as there is nothing quite like the spectacle of viewing the swirls of 100’s of martins from, and on teh approach to, the hide during the summer.

He also clocked this White-tailed Eagle passing over!

White-tailed Eagle by Phil West

Although the wonderful Wild Daffodils are now well & truly over the the very first of the Bluebells are just starting to show, the Primroses are still looking fabulous and being very much beloved by Bumblebees and one of my favourite spring flowers, Moschatel (Five-faced Bishop or Townhall Clock!), is also having a really good year this year:

Chloe & I have been busy this week with Wild Days Out school holiday activity days – we missed the best of the weather unfortunately, but it could have been a lot worse! A good time was had by all in the pond & river (including we staff & volunteers!) and a separate blog post specifically about that will follow.

No Wild Day Out next week but we are inviting families to “Go Wild!” and join us for pond dipping on Wednesday – the initial morning session is now fully booked so we have now started taking bookings for a second session in the afternoon – for more information and to book your places please see: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/321316184357

Families are welcome, but so too are individual adults without children who wish to find out more about some of our fascinating wetland wildlife.

Discovering pondlife on Tuesdays Wild Day Out – more pictures & information to follow in a subsequent blog!

Sadly too much of my time these days is spent in the office dealing with increasingly complicated administrative and managerial tasks when I’m not out and about teaching and one of these necessary jobs is the production of the Annual Report to our partners (South West Water & Wessex Water). Although very time consuming it is also always a good opportunity to reflect on the challenges & achievements of the previous year so not as arduous an undertaking as it might seem. Still, I am sure that having signed off on his last Blashford Lakes Project Annual Report it is one part of the job that our recently retired Bob will not miss!

Having put the work in we are keen to share it more widely than with just the Project partners so do download it and have a read for a “behind the scenes” glimpse into work at Blashford Lakes!

Wildlife sightings of the eagle kind!

Yesterday I was in earlier than usual for a bird ringing demonstration with our Young Naturalists group (I know I keep saying this, but a Young Nats blog will follow soon). We spent the morning bird watching in general when we weren’t with the bird ringers, visiting the Woodland Hide, Ivy Lake hides and Tern Hide with some of the group. We had our fingers crossed for both bittern and a white-tailed eagle fly by, but alas were not successful.

After an early start, the group left at midday, and about 20 minutes or so later I was still outside the front of the Centre when I saw a few visitors looking up to the sky. I looked in the same direction as they were, to see one of the white-tailed eagles soaring effortlessly overhead, with a sparrowhawk keeping it company.

It was a fantastic sight to see, but I genuinely couldn’t believe its timing – perhaps next time the group will get lucky.

P1180355

White tailed eagle above the Education Centre

The eagle managed to shake off the accompanying sparrowhawk and drifted off over the trees towards Ivy Silt Pond.

The bittern has been showing rather nicely at times in front of Ivy North Hide, but yesterday it too eluded myself and the group. I did head over there briefly in the afternoon, after hearing it had been spotted, but with no success as it had disappeared off deeper into the reedbed. I looked for it again whilst locking, but instead after hearing a commotion in the undergrowth towards the left of the hide I was treated to a very nice view of a fox, who decided to give up on whatever it was doing and trotted in front of the hide and off to the right.

Although the bittern has been present in front of the hide for a number of days now, it has often been in amongst the reeds, using its excellent camouflage to blend in. 

This afternoon I did get lucky, heading over to the hide with Chloe and Ben. Although it was in amongst the reeds, we could quite easily pick it out, especially when it was moving around. I did manage more of a record shot photo, but David Cuddon who was also in the hide at the same time fared much better and sent these images across:

Bittern by David Cuddon

Bittern by David Cuddon

Bittern by David Cuddon 2

Bittern by David Cuddon

Much better than my spot the Bittern photo! Thank you David for sharing them.

The kingfishers have been showing well, visible from both Ivy South Hide and on Ivy Silt Pond, and there have been good views of great white egret flying over Ivy Lake. Ring-billed gull, yellow-legged gull and green sandpiper were seen on or around the shore of Ibsley Water over the weekend.

In the woodland, firecrest have been seen in amongst the holly on the Dockens path while reed bunting, marsh tit, siskin and lesser redpoll have been coming in to the feeders at the Woodland Hide.  

P1180361

Teal by Ivy North Hide

White-tailed surprise

Spring is definitely here. On Ibsley Water the wildfowl have made way for the noisy black-headed and Mediterranean gulls which can be heard calling noisily overhead. Although a few ducks remain, including goldeneye, shoveler, goosander and gadwall, the majority have now departed. 

This afternoon a pair of redshank were feeding along the shoreline in front of Tern Hide whilst a pair of oystercatcher were on the island.

Black-tailed godwit numbers have decreased and a black swan seems to be favouring the north-western corner of the lake. Although I’m still waiting for my first swallow, sand martin numbers have increased hugely and watching them does not disappoint. I popped into Goosander Hide yesterday to see if any were investigating the sand martin bank and they most certainly are:

Although the hides remain closed and we have no plans to open them at present, it’s nice to know the martins are back and hopefully, if the next few months go to plan, it may be possible for visitors to catch the end of this year’s nesting season later on in the summer. We will be keeping our fingers crossed!

Reed buntings have been singing high from the willows on the edge of the main car park recently, and yesterday after leaving Goosander Hide I spotted this one sitting pretty in the top of a silver birch:

P1170487

Reed bunting

The highlight of yesterday’s walk (and something that definitely made working Easter Sunday worth it) was this sighting of one of the white-tailed eagles, high in the sky over Ibsley Water. They can cover such a huge area, you definitely need to be in the right place at the right time and have luck on your side, this was my first sighting of one of the (I’m assuming) Isle of Wight birds. Not the best photos, but they’re definitely good enough to tell what it is:

After getting mobbed by some gulls, which pushed it closer to where I was standing, it flew in the direction of Ibsley Common and the forest beyond.

Staying on the northern side of the reserve, the warmer weather has bought out the reptiles, with both adder and grass snake enjoying the sunshine. I’m still waiting for a grass snake photo opportunity, the adders have been more obliging:

GAZA0801[1]

Adder

Although there is some just outside the Education Centre, the edges of the footpaths past Lapwing Hide and the boardwalk are good places to keep an eye out for colt’s-foot. Local names of this flower include foal’s foot and ass’ foot, clatterclogs, horse hoof and son afore the father, with the latter name referring to the fact that the flowers appear before the leaves.¬†

P1220236[1]

Colt’s-foot

Wherever you walk at the moment it’s impossible not to hear the unmistakeable call of the chiffchaff, and with their numbers swelling on the reserve their call is turning into the back-drop of spring, along with Cetti’s warbler and blackcap.

CYPB0462

Chiffchaff

I have managed a half-decent photo of a blackcap but will keep trying, as Steve Farmer very kindly shared his beautiful images – thank you Steve!

blackcap6-2021 copy

Blackcap by Steve Farmer

blackcap5-2021 copy

Blackcap by Steve Farmer

As well as the spring birds, it’s been lovey to see so many insects, with brimstone, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, speckled wood and peacock all on the wing. The brimstones have even posed for photographs:

The bees are also buzzing, with honeybees, bumblebees including the common carder bee and a number of different solitary bees active.

DDFZ4443[1]

Honeybee on a gorse flower

I’ve seen both tawny and ashy mining bees as well as this little one:

Smaller and less striking or noticable than the vibrant female, I think it could be a male tawny mining bee, but am not completely sure.

There are also lots of dark-edged bee-flies about. This bee mimic has a long straight proboscis that it uses to feed on spring flowers like primroses and violets. Their larvae are nest parasites of ground-nesting and solitary bees, feeding on the bee grubs. The female bee-fly flicks her eggs towards the entrance holes of solitary bee nests to allow the larvae to hatch in the right place. Once a bee-fly egg hatches, the larva crawls into the underground nest cell of a host bee where, once large enough, it attaches itself and starts to suck out the body fluids of the host species…

Elsewhere in the woodland the wild daffodils are fading and making way for carpets of lesser celandine, with ground ivy and dog violets adding purple to the bright yellow. As Jim mentioned, the tiny and easily overlooked moschatel, or town-hall clock, is also flowering, although you have to look closely to see it!

 

Although the past couple of nights have been cold, resulting in a slightly less exciting catch in the moth trap, moth species have been picking up and there has at times been a very nice variety to look at and photograph. I think the oak beauty may be my favourite, so far…

So there is plenty to see and hear on the reserve at present, and as well as making the most of what spring has to offer it has been really nice to see some of our regular visitors and volunteers who live a little further afield venturing back to enjoy the insect and bird life and a walk in a slightly different location. With pond dipping events planned and hopefully an onsite Young Naturalists meeting at the end of the month, it feels as though things may be going in the right direction…¬†

Back From the Brink(s) or Beyond and now at Blashford!

On the shortest day of the year it is perhaps appropriate to consider things turning, from here on the days will lengthen for the next six months and today at Blashford it was possible to see several species that have experience a turnaround in fortune.

We had another visit from the white-tailed eagle today, it circled over Ibsley Water causing mayhem for about five minutes before heading off toward the New Forest. These amazing birds used to breed widely in Scotland and around our rocky coastlines where there were cliffs of sufficient height, local the western end of the Isle of Wight was the nearest location but they died out there centuries ago due to persecution. They hung on in more out of the way places in Scotland until the early 20th century before finally being exterminated. Now they are back, admittedly with a good bit of help from a fairly large scale reintroduction program, but they have also recovered well in mainland Europe too and our bird is probably form there rather than Scotland. When I started birdwatching there were none in the UK and few enough in nearby Europe, so I would never have expected to see one. A combination of reduced persecution, active conservation efforts and strategic reintroduction have reestablished viable populations over large areas of their former range.

At Ivy North hide the bittern was showing well on and off all day. As I locked up it showed wonderfully well, walking out into the open on a cut pile of vegetation, then adopting a threat posture with feathers raised and wings stretched, before flying off to roost. Bittern got close to extinction in the UK, in the early 1990s there were fewer than 20 territorial males in the whole country and the numbers were falling year on year. Targeted habitat management and some large scale habitat creation projects have turned things around dramatically. It helped that the habitat they require, wet reedbed,  is easy to create, so long as there is the will to do it. The greatest example is the Avalon Marshes project near Glastonbury, now home to tens of bittern territories and much else besides.

Looking across the lake from Ivy North hide after the bittern had gone to roost I could see three great white egret roosting in the dead alder opposite. I suspect “Walter” was one of them, he first came to us in 2003, when they were still a rare bird in Britain. In the 1980s they looked likely to go completely extinct in western Europe and numbered only hundreds of pairs in eastern Europe and rapidly declining. They and the two small egrets have undergone remarkable changes in fortune. All the egrets had been shot for their plumes for many years and this along with habitat degradation had reduced all of them to low numbers. Increased efforts at conserving wetlands and reduced persecution has turned things around and now all are doing well.

Other birds today were 52 pintail on Ibsley Water, along with about 210 wigeon, the black-necked grebe and a water pipit, all as I opened up the Tern hide. The weather seems set reasonably fair over the Christmas week and the reserve will be open every day apart from Christmas Day itself. I think we can say there will certainly be a nice range of species on offer and on New Years Day we also have the pop-up cafe to look forward to.

There are great pictures of the eagle and bittern taken to day at Blashford on the HOS sightings site Hampshire Goingbirding photos .

 

Twice Bittern

There was no repeat of yesterday’s eagle excitement at Blashford, although news that it was seen up at Picket Post, just outside Ringwood and left flying south-west offers hope for Dorset birders. Hampshire misses out on rarities compared to both Sussex and Dorset, but white-tailed eagle is one of the rare exceptions as the county has had three in recent times.

However the better weather did bring out a lot more people and the reserve was quiet busy. The star of the day was the bittern at Ivy North hide which gave good views from time to time and was photographed catching a good sized rudd. I narrowly missed seeing it though but all was not lost, as you will see later.

The rain has resulted in some flooding in the Avon Valley and this has resulted in an increase in wildfowl numbers as they come inland to exploit new feeding areas. This is especially true of wigeon and pintail, the latter had increase to 36 this morning and I suspect there will be a good few more if it keeps raining. It is also likely that black-tailed godwit will start to appear, in major flood events there can be over 3000, I assume coming up from Poole Harbour and the Solent coast. My personal highlight of the morning was a count of at least 92 linnet beside Tern hide, a very respectable flock and a record count for the reserve.

My afternoon was mainly spent at Fishlake Meadows putting in a new sign at the car park, which should be open very soon, but watch this space for details…… Jo had been leading a work party there with the intention of doing some more willow cutting, but there is now so much water that it would be necessary to wade out to the trees!

I had time to take a quick walk round just before it got dark, it is an amazing place to have right on the edge of town, or indeed anywhere, a truly impressive habitat. Ashley Meadow was looking good and living up to its billing as “wet meadow”.

Ashley Meadow flooded

Ashley Meadow, looking a little damp!

The north/south path is still passable, but I would suggest wellies if you are planning to visit.

Fishlake north south path flooding

north/south path with some flooding

I walked down to the screens, where there was not a lot to see but it was very noisy, with several squealing water rail and explosive Cetti’s warbler.

Looking out form the screen Fishlake

Looking south from the screen

As I set off on my return an adult peregrine flew low overhead and then a brown shape flew up from the reeds to my right and flew passed me, a bittern! I was far to slow to get a picture, but it was a great view.

As I walked back to the car a rush of wings signalled a flight of starling overhead the first of several groups, probably totalling a few thousand, but they mostly dropped straight down into the roost and there was only one brief communal wheel about.

An Eagle at Lunchtime

Tuesday is one of our volunteer task days, but the forecast was not promising, however as it turned out the morning was not as bad as predicted. We were felling sycamore from the edge of the car park near the Centre to give the oak a bit more space, luckily the poor forecast kept visitors away so we did not have to hold up too many people as we cleared the trees from the entrance track. Towards the end of the morning the rain set in and we decided to call it a day, just as we did a visitor arrived to tell us that the white tailed eagle, that has been up the road in the New Forest, had paid us a visit and was perched on an island in Ibsley Water.

white-tailed eagle with crows

White-tailed eagle with crows

It really was a huge bird! with a massive hooked beak and feet to match, magnificent and if the possible introduction project on the Isle of Wight comes to fruition perhaps a regular sight in the future. The very definition of “Charismatic megafauna”.

white-tailed eagle with crow

White-tailed eagle with crow

The crows did not seem obviously intimidated, and strolled around within a few feet, the gulls were a lot more circumspect, even the great black-backed gull only made a few, quite distant, mobbing swoops.

white-tailed eagle with crow 2

Showing off a seriously big pair of wings!

It was a good way off but we could clearly see that it had a metal ring on its right leg and no colour-rings. It is a juvenile so will have been ringed as a nestling somewhere last summer. A lot, perhaps even most, ringed eagle chicks receive a coloured ring or wing tag at the same time as being ringed with a standard metal ring, as this enables their movements to be tracked more easily. This bird seems to have been an exception so we have no idea where it might have come from, it could be from Scotland, but is probably more likely to be from Scandinavia somewhere. The juveniles move much further than the older birds and the adults will usually try to stay on their nesting territory all year if the food supply allows.

Unsurprisingly this was a first record for the reserve and although relatively few people were about to see it due to the poor weather, I know it was a new bird for quite a few. Some lucky people went on to the Ivy North hide and had very good views of bittern as well, not a bad bit of birdwatching for a bad weather day!

Other birds today included a water pipit at Tern hide whilst looking at the eagle, the black-necked grebe was also seen in the distance and there were 112 pochard there also, with 57 more on Ivy Lake. Locking up at dusk in the tipping rain, there were two great white egret roosting in the dead alder trees beside Ivy Lake.

All in all not a bad day for birds on the reserve, or any site in the UK. As most will know access to the reserve is free, but we do still need to raise money to keep things going and hopefully improve them so donations are always more than welcome, in fact they are essential! So if you visit and have a good time please consider making a donation. We have a had a lot of generous donations to our appeal for various improvements, including a new Tern hide and dipping pond, but it is the year round donations that keep us running day to day.

Dec 17th – Mist & Missed (again)

The wet ground combined with a cold dawn to give a misty morning with frost in the hollows and ice on the puddles. Opening Tern hide it was good to see the linnet flock still present, although I could only count 57 today. Out on the water 14 pintail were the most I have seen so far this winter.

frosty morning

The misty, cold approach to Ivy North hide

At Ivy North I saw two great white egret stalking the shallows for an early morning snack and heard a Cetti’s warbler.

Leaving the hide I found some funnel fungi covered in frost. I think they might be Clitocybe sinopica but I am very far from certain.

Funnel

funnel fungus

It was a morning of odd jobs and on my way back from blowing the debris off the boardwalk I was told of a cattle egret at the Ivy North hide. I still have not seen one of these on the reserve despite multiple sightings of up to three this year, so I went to take a look. Unsurprisingly it had gone, just one little egret was on show with a fly past by the great white egret, two out of three but I had missed again! At least I did spot the bittern in the reedmace.

My afternoon was spent in a meeting in the main office, on the way I passed the crowd of people in a lay-by by the A31 armed with telescopes and binoculars, I suspect looking at the white- tailed eagle, but no time to stop so, missed again!

By the time I returned it was dark and my only birds on locking up were grey heron and mandarin heard calling at Ivy Silt Pond.

15th Dec – Rain

A wet day from start to finish making getting around the reserve unpleasant and seeing wildlife difficult. It was no surprise that there were few visitors, but those that did venture out could still see something.

Ibsley Water: Water pipit at least 2 and probably 3, but as usual scattered around the lake shore. The single black-necked grebe was along the north-western shore of the lake, but lost to view in the heavier rain. Otherwise the continue to be more pochard than usual, over 60 sheltering in the south-west corner of the lake, three drake pintail did circuits of the lake all day and there were a few wigeon, shoveler and teal about. Close to Tern hide three snipe were feeding on the shore and at least 70 linnet were picking seeds from amongst the gravel.

Ivy Lake: A single great white egret was present in the morning and at dusk two were roosting, unsurprisingly the bittern was not seen and other birds of interest were confined to hearing Cetti’s warbler and water rail.

News has dribbled out of a white-tailed eagle not far from the reserve in the New Forest, these eagles often frequent wetlands so it is certainly worth keeping an eye out, no doubt it will cause a stir should it drift our way!