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:

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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:

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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. 

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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.

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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!

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Blackcap by Steve Farmer

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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.

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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… 

Signs of Spring…

Yesterday was grey, murky and pretty miserable – this morning the sun is out and everywhere is looking beautiful, and yes, despite an apparent lack of winter so far this year, Spring does seem to be drawing near, if not upon us already.

Although we have yet to encounter any on the nature reserve earlier in the week I found some frogspawn in a shallow pool near home in the New Forest and the last couple of evenings I have encountered “toad patrols” out helping  migrating toads cross roads safely outside Poulner and Sway – these volunteers do an amazing job under difficult, and, at times, dangerous conditions in the dark, saving many thousands of toads from an untimely and unnatural demise under the wheels of our cars. Readers of this blog are likely to be considerate, respectful and appreciative of their efforts, but of course many motorist’s are not and quickly succumb to “road rage” if required to slow down on their commute home so do watch out, take care and vouch for the toad volunteers where ever and whenever you can!

On the reserve itself the great spotted woodpeckers are drumming on their favourite drumming posts, including the usual dead “stag head” branches of the large oak between the river and the centre car park, tits are being seen investigating nest boxes and although the snowdrops have been flowering for some weeks, and scarlet elf cups fruiting for some weeks, this week they have been doing so in force and, down by the Woodland Hide, the first of our wild daffodils is now flowering too:

A more unusual, or at least early, first sighting of the year was that of a large female grass snake outside Ivy North Hide this morning and reported to me by visitors Mark & Alison as I wrote this blog post! Mark very kindly emailed me his picture:

First grass snake of 2020 by Mark Dartnall

First grass snake of 2020 by Mark Dartnall

Elsewhere it is really business as usual with not much changing – still no bittern, still a kingfisher at Ivy South Hide, still loads of wildfowl on Ivy Lake and still a starling murmurartion in the valley, although this does now seem to have moved from Mockbeggar to a roost site west of the A338 just north of Ellingham Village and best viewed (hopefully against a stunning sunset!) from the viewing platform at the back of the main car park.

With the lighter evenings the starlings are now starting to gather shortly after 4.30pm and going to roost by about 5pm. It’s not often the car park is closed bang on 4.30pm, but it does happen on occasion and although we are as flexible as possible sometimes the staff or volunteers locking up do need to leave when they need to leave. As the evenings continue to draw out do consider parking the car outside the car park gates, safely off the roadside, so you can watch  the starlings perform without interruption should the site need securing in a more timely fashion!

Preparations for Spring

It was a properly frosty morning, but walking round to open up the hides this morning signs of approaching spring were everywhere.

Frosty thistle

Frosty thistle

The snowdrops near the store are well out now and primroses are flowering around the car park edge, near the Woodland hide the leaves of the wild daffodils have been up for  a while, but now the flower buds can be seen. Along the path sides shiny, bright green wild arum leaves are showing everywhere and near the alder carr there are the brilliant red spots of colour provided by scarlet elf cup fungi.

As it was Tuesday we had a volunteer task today and we were also looking forward to the warmer days. Our task was clearing back the path sides on the way to the Ivy South hide to open up sheltered scallops to give something of the feeling of a woodland ride. This path runs almost exactly north-south and so has many sun-traps beloved of insects and reptiles. Out plan was to create more such spots in the hope of making more encounters with these creatures later in the year.

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Cleared path sides to create sunny “scallops”.

The end of the day saw rather fewer birders at the Tern hide hoping for a sight of the Thayer’s gull, they were disappointed again. There was the usual ring-billed gull, several yellow-legged gull, a first winter Caspian gull and an adult Mediterranean gull in the roost. My own sightings were rather few, “Walter” our great white egret was fishing in Ivy Lake and on Ibsley Water 2 shelduck and 3 oystercatcher were the most interesting records.

Tomorrow we are working at Fishlake Meadows again, clearing cut willow into dead hedges to create new views across the reedbeds and pools.

 

February round up

We’ve had a busy half term, with Winter Craft themed Wild Days Out, an evening under the stars (of which there really were many!) with the Fordingbridge Astronomers and our usual Young Naturalists monthly meeting.

Our Wild Days Out saw the children getting very messy in the clay pit, den building, fire lighting, creating dream catchers and baskets from willow and ice art sculptures. Lots of arty and hands on activities that involved natural materials! We even attempted to make burn out bowls in the fire, using hollowed out pieces of elder as straws. It was a slow process…

Our Young Naturalists did a great job making bird boxes, using a plan to mark up their planks of wood, cutting up the individual pieces and nailing them all together. The bird boxes along with a number made by the volunteers will replace some of the older ones on the reserve which are a little past their best, and will be a welcome addition. Thank you guys for all your hard work!

We also spent quite a while watching the kingfisher catching newts from the Education Centre pond – a very good distraction! The pond has become a favourite hunting spot for at least two birds, which are best viewed from inside the Centre as they don’t hang around for long when disturbed – hopefully they will leave a few newts for us to catch over the summer!

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Kingfisher by the Education Centre pond

The wild daffodils by the Woodland Hide are probably now at their best and definitely worth a visit, adding a welcome splash of yellow to the woodland floor.

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Wild daffodils near the Woodland Hide

The feeders at the Woodland Hide are still being visited by three brambling and at least one lesser redpoll, whilst a number of reed bunting have been foraging around on the ground.

Goldeneye, black necked grebe and goosander are still present on Ibsley Water whilst lapwing numbers are increasing, with some beginning to display over the lake with their distinctive flip-floppy flight. The water pipit has also been viewed from Tern Hide.

We’re expecting the bittern and great white egret to leave us any day now – if indeed they are still here! The bittern was seen on Sunday whilst Jim’s most recent view of the great white was last Wednesday.

A tawny owl has also decided to roost at the southern end of Ivy Lake, best viewed from the last window in Ivy South Hide. Noticed on Sunday, it has been there most mornings and still there some evenings so it’s definitely worth a scan of the trees on the lake edge.

Finally, thank you very much to Dave Levy for sharing with us this sequence of photos of a pair of great crested grebe displaying on Ivy Lake. Spring must definitely be here!

 

The last few days in pictures…

Wild daffodils are here again...

Wild daffodils are here again…

It has actually brightened up over the course of this morning, but despite the first of the wild daffodils flowering outside the Woodland Hide and the fact that the smooth newts are arriving back at the centre pond  (I only know this because from my office window I watched a kingfisher sitting on a perch bashing 7 bells out of one an hour ago!), it really didn’t feel very spring like at all while opening up and filling the bird feeders.

Currently the main car park and all of the hides are open with the exception of Goosander Hide which remains closed until a replacement lock has been received from the manufacturer and fitted. Two of the footpaths around the reserve are blocked or partially blocked by fallen tree’s (see below). More rain means the ground is going to be even more water logged and we risk even more tree’s being uprooted. Pictured below are photo’s of the some of the recent casualties:

Another oak bites the dust - this time along the dipping area. It was the branches of this oak that had come down across the entrancve track to the centre that volunteer Jacki and I spent the best part of Saturday morning removing.

Another oak bites the dust – this time along the dipping area. It was the branches of this oak that had come down across the entrance track to the centre that volunteer Jacki and I spent the best part of Saturday morning removing.

The other end of the same tree.

The other end of the same tree.

A slightly smaller oak, but still down and blocking access along the path north of the dipping area that heads towards the Waterskiing entrance track and on around Ellingham Pound and Lake.

A slightly smaller oak, but still down and blocking access along the path north of the dipping area that heads towards the Waterskiing entrance track and on around Ellingham Pound and Lake.

The large Scots pine impeding progress along the Dockens Water path that runs parallel with Ellingham Drove

The large Scots pine impeding progress along the Dockens Water path that runs parallel with Ellingham Drove.

Unfortunately, because of the danger posed by the downed power line near the entrance on Tuesday morning, we had to cancel our “Wild Days Out” activity day for 8-12 year olds. Disappointing for them of course, but also for us as the beginning of the recession a couple of years ago saw the number of children booking on to what had been incredibly popular days plummet, but numbers over the last 6 months have been steadily creeping back up and this February half-term had seen bookings back up to their pre-crash levels. Hopefully no one has been put off and we will see everyone back again at Easter.

On the other hand yesterdays Wild Days Out for 5-7 year olds, fully booked (with a reserve list!) was able to go ahead – and it didn’t even rain! The theme for the day was birds and bird watching and it does seem that we may have taught them something by the end of the day, judging by the discussions that some of the children were having with their parents as they left! Visits to Tern Hide and the Woodland Hide, duck identification games and bird feeder making (a very sticky activity that we were very glad to be doing outside in the sunshine rather than in the centre classroom!) were supplemented and complimented beautifully by the presence of Kevin Sayer and his bird ringing team, allowing the children a privileged close encounter with a siskin and a couple of treecreepers.

A "Wild Days Out" wild encounter with Kevin - and a siskin

A “Wild Days Out” wild encounter with Kevin – and a siskin

The highlights for the children? Lunch(!), wading through the remnants of the flood in the car park and climbing on, over and around the fallen pine, just going to show that when a tree falls over in a woodland it very quickly provides habitat for new life!

There are some advantages to fallen tree's...

There are some advantages to fallen tree’s…

...hours of fun!

…hours of fun!

As for the ringers, they had a good morning too, including another mealy redpoll (pictured with a lesser for comparison below), a re-trapped lesser redpoll, first caught on the reserve 4 years ago, and a re-trapped siskin from 2 years ago. The complete list of 40 birds was:

Lesser Redpoll 8

Siskin 12

Common Redpoll 1

Song Thrush 2

Nuthatch 1

Treecreeper 2

Blue Tit 3

Great Tit 2

Chaffinch 3

Dunnock 2

Goldfinch 3

Robin 1

Lesser and mealy redpolls (photo by B. Cook)

Lesser and mealy redpolls (photo by B. Cook)