Potatoes and Pies

The Thursday volunteers were coppicing today and we took the opportunity of the fire we were using to burn up the top to bake some potatoes for our Christmas Bash. A tub of grated cheese, some butter and excellent chutney went well with what turned out to be perfectly cooked potatoes, we finished off with homemade mince pies.

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Lunch for the volunteers and Jim (who just came for lunch!)

The willow in this area grows poorly and often dies back, I think because of the poor soil which is derived from pumped silt. Reeds grow well though, especially where it lies wet in winter and I think this is what will happen once this area is cleared. This was our second day cutting and I expect it will take a couple more sessions to clear the whole patch.

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Still work to do, but we are getting there.

A day spent cutting willows meant that we saw almost no wildlife, a couple of egrets flew over, one was certainly a little, the other, spotted just as is went behind the trees looked like a great white. When I went up to turn in the fire as it got dark I also had a quick look from the Lapwing hide and there was certainly a great white egret there then, along with 90 goosander. We did find a winter moth in the willows and what looked like a butterfly flew off unidentified just before lunch. Otherwise a couple of calling chiffchaff were the other highlights.

Elsewhere on the reserve a brambling was reported by  a few visitors today, hopefully to be followed by many more.

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Frosty Sniping

It is a remarkable thing, but often true, that the sun always shines on the Blashford volunteers and so it was today. Admittedly it was a little chilly, but as we were coppicing willow we soon warmed up and it was a glorious day to be outside. As to my claim about the sun shining on the volunteers, it is more or less true, or at least it almost never rains. They meet every Thursday morning and it has happened a number of times that it has been raining ant 09:50, but dry by 10:00 (when we start), or been dry but started to rain just as we finish. Oddly the Sunday volunteers, who meet just once a month, not infrequently get rained on despite meeting at the same time and working for the same duration.

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frosted grass

The cold still seems to have had little effect upon the birds, although there were more snipe than usual feeding along the shore of Ibsley Water today, no doubt because they are finding harder to find worms now that the top layer of the ground is frozen. I had gone to Goosander hide on a tip-off that there was a jack snipe there, a bird I have very rarely seen at Blashford and never other than when I have flushed them. When I got there I could see several common snipe and an unringed great white egret.

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great white egret and snipe

I scanned along the shore and eventually found 13 common snipe and the single jack snipe probing the ground beside the water to the north of the hide. More frequent readers of this blog will have seen the many excellent pictures we get sent in as well as my own, somewhat variable efforts. So in the tradition of the “Record shot” I offer my jack snipe, with a few common snipe thrown-in.

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Jack snipe (honest) with 4 common snipe

Jack snipe, unlike their common relative, do not breed in Britain, coming to us for the winter from points north and east. They are probably one of our most secretive birds, relying on camouflage and usually staying in dense vegetation and flying only when nearly stepped upon. We know very little about how many visit Britain each winter, but it will be hundreds of times as many as ever get seen. They are smaller than common snipe, with shorter bills and a peculiar habit of slowly bobbing up and down, in fact this is often what gives them away. Which begs the question, “Why be so well camouflaged and then give yourself away by bobbing up and down?” Answers on a postcard, well in a comment might be better, please.

During the afternoon a ring-billed gull and several yellow-legged gull were seen from Tern hide. I say “a” ring-billed gull as there was a suggestion that it was not the regular bird, something for the keen gull watchers to ponder. It was the case that there were at least two at the end of last winter and it is entirely possible that they will both/all return again, as gull are long-lived and often go back to places they know.

As I locked up my brief glance from Ivy North hide coincided with the bittern flying across into the long reeds to the west of the hide, a place they have roosted in previous years.