Fishing in the Rain

The last two days have not been the best, I think it rained, even if only lightly, for the whole time I was at Blashford on Sunday. It did not put of the monthly volunteers, or at least not completely, four stalwarts came in and spent nearly two hours pulling nettles from along the paths and around the wild daffodil bank. The rain did stop everyone from coming to my planned “Late Summer Wildlife” walk though and so they all missed the two black tern that spent the afternoon over Ibsley Water and the thousand or two of house martin and swallow too.

Iblsey Water has had a lot of fish eating birds on it lately and Sunday was not exception with both grey heron and great crested grebe hunting close to Tern hide.

grey heron juv

Juvenile grey heron

There have been well over 70 grey heron on a number of days recently and my maximum count was late last week when I saw 153!

GCG in rain

Great crested grebe in the rain

I have also made some of my highest counts of grebes for  along time recently, today I saw at least 57 from Tern hide alone. There have also been at least 6 little egret, Walter the great white egret and as many as 193 cormorant, so life for smaller fish has been difficult, but equally there must be  a lot of them to have attracted the attention of so many predators.

Advertisements

Sights and Sounds of Spring

St David’s Day today and although there was a rather wintery feel to things, at Blashford it did look commendably spring-like with the wild daffodil appropriately now in full bloom.

p1070239

Wild daffodils on a rainy St David’s Day

Although we have yet to see any summer migrants at Blashford, they will not be far away now, the first sand martin should be with us in about a week and the first has already been seen in the UK. We have had a number of clear signs of birds moving though, lots of the duck have left and for the last several days there have been curlew either on the shore of Ibsley Water or flying over calling. I am not sure if these are migrants heading north to breeding areas, perhaps in the Pennines or Scotland or birds that breed on the New Forest bogs. Either way they are an increasingly rare sight as curlew are a fast declining species in the UK, despite being one of our longest-lived bird species. They seem to be suffering from a double or even triple whammy of lowered breeding success in summer and pressure on their wintering grounds due to loss of habitat and increased disturbance.

In fact it seems that worldwide the curlew and godwit species are all suffering declines and recent research suggests that half of all species are at real risk of extinction. A summary of this research can be found at  http://www.birdguides.com/webzine/article.asp?a=6233 .

We are lucky in the New Forest to have one of the last areas in Southern England with a breeding population, albeit one that is under threat. They nest on a number of the Forest bogs, but are especially vulnerable to disturbance and predation. These go together as often it is when the adults are scared away from their nest that the predators take the chance to take the eggs. Taking note of the signs about keeping to paths and preventing dogs from wandering off over open heath and bog would probably be a real help to them and many other ground nesting species.

Waders are especially vulnerable in several ways, most species will only attempt to raise one brood of no more than four young per year. They lay large eggs for their size as their chicks are well developed when they hatch, so incubation time is long, coupled with nesting on the ground, this makes them at high risk of being found by a predator before they hatch. They have overcome this relatively low productivity by being long-lived, a curlew may live well over 30 years! However this means that small changes in adult survival can tip them over the edge and send populations into free fall. It seems that curlew species globally are facing this twin challenge of lower breeding success and poorer adult survival, setting real challenges for conservationists and anyone who loves the evocative sight and sound of these fabulous birds.

What a difference a few hours can make!

It was a slow drive to work across the Forest this morning and the view over Ibsley Water was fairly non-existent:

a-misty-start

The view from Tern Hide at 8.45am…

 

4 hours later it was a very different scene indeed!

a-sunny-finish

The same view from Tern Hide at 2pm!

Everything was fairly distant, but lovely to see all the lapwing that have started gathering on the shore line – mostly on the spit and grassy eastern bank this afternoon but last night they were much closer to Tern Hide around the little island in particular.

Bittern was present again at Ivy North Hide, where this morning when I opened up a goldeneye was an unusual record for Ivy Lake – a handsome drake.

Lesser redpoll and brambling were both seen on and off from the Woodland Hide during the day and they and the sunshine have been delighting everyone!

 

Apparently Blashford snowdrops were the photo leading the BBC weather last night – I missed it so here is my offering that you are unlikely to see on the BBC! The wild daffodils which are now flowering outside Woodland Hide are my spring favourite though:

Last nights “Night Senses” event went well, although there was a disappointing lack of stars. The cloud cover bought the evening temperature back up however so we did see a few moths around the light trap – they were much easier to photograph this morning in daylight however!

 

Should be nice again tomorrow so expecting another busy day – if you are joining us remember your purse/wallet so you can take advantage of the treats available from the Pop up café in the classroom from 10am-3.30pm!

First Flowering

I was acting as substitute Jim today as he is on leave, it made a change to be on the reserve on a Saturday and a very pleasant one, in the fine spring sunshine. After a morning spent tying up various loose ends from the year end, I took the chance to get out tin the sun after lunch. I wanted to check out a few of the projects we have done over the years and see how they have worked. First I went to an area we cleared of rhododendron some five years ago, it had been one of the few areas not dug for gravel and still had a few large, old hazel stools growing up through it. We cleared the rhododendron and planted  a few hazel in their place. The ground flora had all been killed off by decades of deep shade from the rhododendron, so we decided to try collecting some wild daffodil seed from near the Woodland hide and spreading it on the bare ground, to see if we could establish some new plants. The seedlings came up and today I found the first flower!first daffodil

Wild daffodil are a feature of the reserve, or at least the areas that were not destroyed by gravel extraction, so re-establishing them to places they would once have been and removing planted garden daffodils is a thing we have been to do for some time.

I then went to the western side of Ellingham Lake to look at the hedge we laid last winter. It has suffered somewhat from being nibbled by rabbits, but is not looking too bad on the whole.hedge

The sunshine had brought out lots of butterflies, I saw good numbers of brimstone, a few peacock and a single small tortoiseshell.small tortoiseshell

Most of the butterflies were nectaring, as this small tortoiseshell was, on ground ivy, one of the best sources of food for butterflies and bees at this time of year.ground ivy

I also found a fine grass snake enjoying the sunshine, it was on very open ground so rather than slip off to cover it reared up in threat and then froze, allowing me to get some shots.grass snake

With a little effort I managed to creep really close and get some headshots, when I did it became apparent that it had some sort of damage around the upper jaw, it looks quite nasty, but the snake seemed to be in otherwise good shape.snake head

There had evidently been some arrival of migrants overnight, with a couple of willow warbler singing near the main gate as I opened up and there were noticeably more chiffchaff and blackcap. The highlight though, was a male wheatear on the lichen heath near Ivy North hide.

As I ate my lunch I watched a pair of long-tailed tit collecting spider’s web for their nest from under the eaves of the Education Centre and the resident pair of robin were courtship feeding on the picnic tables.

Closing up the Tern hide a sudden commotion flushed all the shoveler from the south-east part of Ibsley Water out into the centre of the lake, allowing me to get a good count, the total was 283, pretty good for April. There was little else to report, although the Slavonian grebe was still there somewhere apparently, although I failed to see it myself.

 

Some Moths and No Bins!

I ran the moth trap last night for the first time in a while and caught a dozen moths of five species, all typical early spring ones, but good to see for all that. The most frequent was common Quaker.common quaker

Next commonest was Hebrew character.hebrew character

Then small Quaker.small quaker

One thing that has not changed was the need to keep a close eye on the catch and keep it away from our resident robin.robin

There were also single clouded drab and early grey, but neither posed well for pictures.

Out on the reserve today the Woodland hide was busy with the usual good numbers of siskin, lesser redpoll, chaffinch and commoner woodland birds. When I was there I also saw 4 brambling and 7 reed bunting. It is always good to see the buntings as these are probably our nesting birds and feeding up well at this time of year has been shown to increase nesting success, important for a species that has been declining in recent years.

Out on the reserve reports received suggest that both of the black-necked grebe are still on Ibsley Water as was the Slavonian grebe. I saw a single adult Mediterranean gull, but I do not know if the ring-billed gull was seen today.

Near the Woodland hide there are quite  a lot of scarlet elf cup now, perhaps a little later than usual, but as bright as ever.scarlet elf cup

Although not as prominent as the many wild daffodil in the same area.wild daffodil

I spent the afternoon dealing with various odd jobs around the reserve. Although it was dry and quite pleasant the reserve was relatively quiet so I took the opportunity of the low traffic to fill in a few more of the pot holes in the entrance track, there are still quite a few but it is getting better.

Unfortunately towards the end of the day I realised that, at some point in the afternoon, I had put down my binoculars and as hard as I looked I could not find them anywhere. Although now rather battered I will be very sad if they do not turn up, they have been my constant companions for pretty much every day of the last twenty plus years, lots of birds seen through good times and bad. If you happen to see a lost looking pair of binoculars, please let me know!

Blashford Rarities

When it comes to what constitutes a notable wildlife record it I soften the context that matters. As proof of this I will offer a couple of sightings I made at Blashford Lakes today. I was at the reserve early so I opened up the hides, I had a good look across Ibsley Water from the Tern hide, hoping for an early sand martin as I have never seen one in February, and I still haven’t! Scanning the lake I did see at least 11 goldeneye, including 5 adult drakes, but it turned out the most notable bird was standing just to the east of the hide on the shore, a single brent goose. It was an adult dark-bellied brent, a common bird just a few miles away on the coast but they very rarely go far inland, at least in winter.

brent goose and redshank

brent goose and redshank

When I told Ed about the goose I found out that the redshank was also of interest being the first one reported this year. As I mentioned brent are coastal birds in the winter, perhaps venturing a mile or so inland to feed on grass or winter cereal fields at most. At about this time of year, especially in a mild winter they will start to move off eastwards, heading to Holland and N. Germany, where they will feed up until mid May, when they head into the eastern end of the Baltic Sea. They breed about half-way along the northern shore of Siberia and get there by flying overland across Finland from the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic to the White Sea in the Arctic Ocean. On occasion over half the total population have been watched heading off overland in a single day, this is perhaps 200,000 birds or more in a single day. My guess is that today’s bird was at the start of the first leg eastwards, perhaps to Essex and got parted from the rest of the flock in the night and in wandering about lost found its way to Blashford.

This year’s mild winter is in strong contrast to last year, when winter stayed with us into April as did most of the winter birds, this year many have already gone and the first summer visitors will be with us by the end of next week.

Amazingly the brent goose was not my only notable sighting of the morning, outside the Lapwing hide there was a male stonechat, again hardly a rare bird and a species that you can see with ease all winter no more than a mile away, but actually on the reserve they are very rare visitors. This was only the third that I have ever seen at Blashford, I have no good explanation for their rarity, much of the grassland with brambles along the eastern shore of Ibsley Water looks fine for them, but evidently I do not see things as a stonechat does.

I will end with some wild daffodil, taken near the Woodland hide, they are looking very good, just in time for St David’s Day.

wild daffodils

wild daffodils

 

Bitterns here, there and everywhere!

Definitely the bird of the moment, either there are more bitterns around at the moment, or they are becoming increasingly mobile – or both.

Either way today bittern were seen from Ivy North Hide, Ivy South Hide (flying into the reeds in the bay to the north), both of the Ivy/Rockford Lakes path screens, both in the reeds fringing the northern shore and, new this year, flying into and from the reeds fringing the south-east of Ivy Lake and finally bittern was seen again in Ivy Silt Pond (where I had fantastic views of one perched high in the reeds at the top of the pond when I locked up last night). So far I have not heard of any bittern being seen around Ibsley water or the pond at the top just north-east of the Lapwing Hide but I would be surprised if there wasn’t at least one bittern at least visiting that area. So how many bittern are there at the moment? Hard to say, but based on actual observations, definitely two, almost certainly three and entirely probably four or more!

Other bird highlights of the last couple of days are regular sightings of kingfisher – including reports of at least two birds patrolling the western shore of Rockford Lake, green-winged teal – most often seen from the northern most of the screens over-looking Ivy Lake amongst the teal (look for its vertical rather than horizontal white stripe along the body) and the black-necked grebe – one on Ibsley Water and two on Rockford Lake.

For those of you who are interested in moths but have given up asking, I’ll be running the light trap over-night, so do have a look if you are about tomorrow. I may, or may not, have something to report on the moth front tomorrow, depending on how successful it is (and how successful my identification is!).

Finally, the first of the wild daffodils, in the more sheltered area outside the Woodland Hide, are very, very almost out:

130208Blashford by J Day

Yellow and Gold

Bird News: Ibsley Waterblack-necked grebe 2, goosander 22+, little ringed plover 1, common gull c30. Ivy Lakesand martin 7. Woodlandbrambling 3.

I travelled to Blashford in bright sunshine but arrived to find the lakes swathed in fog. I could hardly see the shore of the lake from the Tern hide, although I was more preoccupied with trying to sort out the gates following yet another break in to the old Hanson block plant. unfortunately the favoured access route is through our gates which are damaged to varying degrees each time.

Luckily by the time I went to open the Ivy Lake hides the mist was clearing to reveal at least 7 sand martin. A singing chiffchaff added to the springlike feel.

I headed back to continue sorting out the gates and was quickly working in bright sunshine. I had a quick look out from the Tern hide and saw that there are now 2 lapwing taking up territory in front of the hide.

lapwing outside the Tern hide

I spent much of the day around the Centre and so saw at least 2 brambling on the screen in the lobby, in fact there must have been three today as there were two males and a female. As far as I know there were no reports of the mealy redpoll today.

Going to lock up the hides at the end of the day the wild daffodils by the Woodland hide were looking very good in the low sunshine.

wild daffodils by the Woodland hide

In fact it was a very yellow afternoon as beside the Ivy South hide a small gorse bush was flowering brilliantly, this one did not smell as strongly of coconut as many do, but it looked good.

gorse in bloom by the Ivy South hide

The best was saved until last today, when I finally went to lock the Tern hide I saw 2 black-necked grebe, somewhat distant but in magnificent plumage now and with their golden ear-tufts catching the low sun. Even better perhaps was the arrival, at last, of the first little ringed plover of the spring.