Boardwalk replacement work begins!

It is with many thanks to everyone who gave to our appeal for donations to replace the deteriorated boardwalk connecting Ivy South Hide with the Ellingham Lake walk, an integral part of the ever-popular short circular route called the “Wild Walk”, that we are pleased to report that the work to replace it has begun!

Unfortunately this does necessitate the closure of this part of the route while the existing boardwalk is removed and the new one is constructed and we apologise for the inconvenience that this will cause for the duration of the work. Please check the website and blog for updates on progress and, in the meantime, please observe and abide by the warning signs and path closures. It will be worth the wait! Thank you.

In other news if you are saddened to know that the boardwalk is closed it may be of some small conciliation to know that Bob has now cut the first “bittern channel” through the reed bed to the east of Ivy North Hide. As long as other jobs including the boardwalk construction task, time & weather allow, the intention is to cut the usual additional channels and possibly lengthen this one as well:

The first channel has been cut through the reedbed to facilitate views of elusive wildlife including water rail and bittern

Although there were a few sporadic sightings of bittern towards the end of the summer and the beginning of autumn we believe these to be “local” UK breeding birds who are moving on south from breeding territories and just stopping off here temporarily on route. If we are to see any obliging over-wintering bittern historically we don’t tend to see them until a week or so before Christmas, so fingers-crossed for this year.

The relatively mild and sunny autumn has really bought out the autumn colours across the country in recent weeks, and Blashford has been no exception:

On the wildlife front the light trap has been consistently catching albeit in low numbers, including the rather lovely December moth:

December moth

There is a small, but reliable, starling murmurartion in the Valley again this winter, with wonderful views of it now possible from the Ibsley Water viewing platform which Bob and the volunteers have now really opened up the views from by carefully removing some of the silver birch and willows which had been obscuring the views. At least 5 goldeneye and 30+ goosander duck have now joined the other wildfowl on the lake. Firecrests have very much been in evidence across the reserve in recent weeks and Bob also reported seeing two cattle egret coming in to roost with the little egrets among the tree’s on the eastern shore of Ivy Lake.

Meanwhile Tracy and Chloe have made good use of some of the willow arisings from the viewing platform work to make a fantastic start weaving the wreath hoops for the self-guided wreath decorating activity walk which opens this weekend – for more information see the website here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-11-28-decorate-willow-wreath

Wreath frames ready – just add natural greenery!

Willow is one commodity we are not short of at Blashjford Lakes and it does not look as if we are likely to run out of the withy’s required to form the hoops anytime soon!

Should keep Tracy and Chloe out of mischief over the next few weeks…might even have to help out myself Mine will be the wonky ones if you happen to pick one of those out ūüėČ !

Feeling festive!

On Sunday I began cutting some of the willow we have growing on the reserve to weave into wreaths. Usually at this time of year we would be offering willow wreath making sessions for individuals and families, harvesting the willow, weaving the wreath and decorating it with items gathered on the reserve. This year, we are offering it as a self-led activity, where visitors can make a donation for a pre-made wreath then follow the mile long ‘Wild Walk’ circular loop in search of natural items to decorate the wreath with. I may be wreath making on and off for the next week or so!¬†

Our pre-made wreaths can be found on the plant sales table by the Welcome Hut, for a suggested donation of £3 to £5. Payment can be made by card using the contactless donations point by the door to the Welcome Hut, or by cash in the green box on the fence.

Bundles of wool for tying items on to the wreath and for hanging it up afterwards can be found hanging on the tree to the left of the table. If you want to tie items on all the way round, instead of leaving some of the willow showing, you will need more than one bundle – we are happy to take back anything you don’t use for another time. You could also try tucking items in between the pieces of willow to secure them.

There are also a couple of buckets on the ground containing additional items which can be added in if you wish. 

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Wreath making station and plant sales

I walked the ‘Wild Walk’ loop to make an example wreath, and found a nice mix of natural items including bracken (I snapped top of a couple of individual leaves off), a mixture of leaves from the ground, some moss, some dried seed heads, grasses and a small twig that still had closed catkins on it. When you do go gathering, please remember to collect responsibly and not take too much of one particular item.¬†

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Finished wreath

Some items will last longer than others, but those that begin to wilt could be replaced with something else you find next time you go for a walk, or items from the garden… and on that note you are of course than more welcome to make a donation for a wreath and take it away with you to decorate at home. Either way, have fun wreath making!¬†

Once you have finished with your wreath, the items you have added will break down if put back outside and the wool could be reused again another time for something else. Your wreath will dry and change colour, but it will last and if stored somewhere dry it could be used again next year and the year after…

Finally, we do still have some plants on the plant sales table available for a donation, along with other items made by volunteer Geoff that would either make a great addition to a wildlife friendly garden or make a great gift: the bug homes are £5 each and the bird and bat boxes are £10 each. Again donations can be made by cash or card.

Willow, wildflowers… and bittern!!

Yesterday we ran another willow weaving event, this time making living willow structures which were created straight into a pot filled with compost. If kept wet so they are able to root, the willow will continue to grow and once established they could be potted up or planted out into the garden.

We used common osier from our main willow bed alongside the colourful willows Megan and I harvested up near Lapwing Hide last week. Ten sets of two willow rods were pushed into the compost, with five sets angled to the right and five angled to the left, so when they were woven around each other they created a diamond pattern. The rods were then bound at the top to keep them in place. The finished structures looked great!

Willow sculptures

Fingers crossed they all grow well!

Now that the reserve is coming back to life after what feels like a very long, if mild, winter, we have been using our temporary signs to label some of the different plants and flowers that are adding welcome colour to the woodland floor, so do keep an eye out for them when you visit:

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Moschatel, or Town-Hall-Clock as it is also known, is flowering in a number of places along the edges of the footpath in the woodland. It is easy to miss, as it is low growing and the delicate flowers themselves are very small, growing up on a tall stalk, but they do look lovely. It is the unusual arrangement of the flower head that gives it the common name of Town-Hall-Clock, as each flower head comprises of five flowers, four of which face outwards at ninety degrees to each other to resemble a clock face. The fifth sits on top facing upwards.

Moschatel has a number of other common names, including five-faced bishop, hollowroot, tuberous crowfoot and muskroot. The latter apparently refers to the faint musk-like smell given off by the flowers as evening approaches. It is a delightful flower to find and worth keeping an eye out for, there is a label by an oak tree along the connecting path between Ivy North Hide and the path that runs down to the Woodland Hide and Ivy South, where it is carpeting the ground.

Moschatel

Moschatel flower

Yesterday, and again just now, we have had sightings of a bittern at Ivy North Hide, so if you visit this week it is well worth spending a bit of time in there and scanning the reed bed just in case it stays with us for a few days before moving on elsewhere. A group in the hide yesterday saw it fly out of the reeds to the right of the hide before going back down into the reeds to the left, whilst it was showing nicely a short while ago for those lucky enough to be in the hide at the right time.

A couple of redpoll are still visiting the feeders at the Woodland Hide and marsh harrier, common sandpiper and Mediterranean gull were all recorded yesterday on Ibsley Water. The long-tailed duck is also still present on Ibsley Water, it was there yesterday and was showing well this morning, being closer to the hide than I have seen it previously, albeit still a fair way off! There are also still high numbers of pintail, seen out on the water but also on the bank by Goosander Hide.

Pintail

Pintail

Today’s sunshine has also bought out the butterflies, on swapping the seasonal sign in Tern Hide over this morning Megan and I saw a peacock and brimstone, and we were joined by another brimstone whilst having lunch outside the Centre by the pond. A little more of today’s weather (along with a view of a bittern) would be lovely!

Spring showers

Yesterday morning after opening up the hides, welcome volunteer Hilary and I were treated to views of a Common or Lesser redpoll close to the Welcome Hut. It was hopping around on the ground looking for food before flying up onto the feeder base where it investigated the hole the feeder usually sits in, unfortunately not currently there in an attempt to deter the rats from getting too at home, pausing long enough for me to get an ok-ish photo then flew off.

redpoll

Redpoll disappointed by the lack of a bird feeder!

Redpoll have been noticeably absent this winter and early spring, my only view prior to this being two feeding on the bird feeder station outside the Woodland Hide from the TV in the Education Centre lobby – admittedly a very good view but not quite the same! Two have been coming to the feeders by the Woodland Hide regularly now for a few days, today there was a record of three in the hide diary, so it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re at the reserve and haven’t managed to spy one yet this year.

After this rather exciting sighting, I got ready for a willow weaving event and spent the morning helping participants have a go at making fish and snails using willow from the reserve and adding in a bit of soft rush to the fish to make them nice and stripey. The finished results looked brilliant, especially the fish as they were so colourful. A fun time was I think had by all!

Yesterday was a very mixed day weather wise, when the sun was out it was lovely, but we also had a hail shower and another couple of showers which did pass through quickly but were very heavy. I had gone out to re-write a couple of temporary signs when I got caught out by one of these, and seeing blue sky in the distance decided to shelter under a holly tree and wait it out, where I was joined by the Saunders family who decided to do the same thing.

We were talking and they rather excitedly said they had just seen a duck sat high up in a tree, something they had heard of but never actually seen before. I have never seen a duck up in a tree either, and when it stopped raining they very kindly walked back along the path to show me. I had walked straight past her, so it was a brilliant spot!

Mallard

Female mallard

She is quite high up, so I assume she is nesting, and fingers crossed she’s successful. She was certainly looking content!

As well as being lucky enough to see the mallard yesterday, I also watched two treecreepers having what I assume was a territorial dispute. They were both making their way up to the tops of two separate but very close to each other trees, then on reaching the top flew at each other before tumbling down to the ground together. They then went back to the trees, climbed to the tops, did it all over again before flying further apart. If it wasn’t a territorial dispute, perhaps it was some kind of courtship behaviour, but either way it was fascinating to see. Treecreepers seem to be particularly visible and easy to spot at the minute, partly because the trees are yet to be covered in leaves, and they are a lovely bird to watch. I was too busy watching their fluttery tumbling to get a photo but did manage this one afterwards:

treecreeper

Treecreeper

A heavy shower is enough to form a rather large puddle in the main nature reserve car park at present where the ground water levels are so high, and although yesterday you could skirt the edge after a heavy downpour without wellies it is worth bearing this in mind if you visit after a heavy shower. After checking the water levels in the car park I spent a short while in the hide watching a pair of Pied wagtails moving on the shore of Ibsley Water.

wagtail

Pied wagtail

The Long-tailed duck was still present yesterday, along with a Common sandpiper on the shoreline and two Marsh harrier. Pintail are still present on Ibsley Water in large numbers and the male Goldeneye have been displaying, tossing their heads back before stretching their necks up and pointing their bills to the sky.

Today work experience student Megan and I ventured up to Lapwing Hide to cut some of the more colourful willows that are growing in the reedbed and spotted a Common snipe hiding amongst the soft rush. Its stripes and barring provide excellent camouflage:

snipe

Spot the snipe!

We were also ever so slightly distracted by the Kingfisher which returned to the Education Centre pond today, it seems to prefer this spot it when its wet! It did perch briefly on one of the antlers of the willow deer:

Kingfisher

Kingfisher perched on the willow deer

Kingfisher 2

Kingfisher by the Education Centre pond

Finally, jumping back to yesterday and just to prove it was a very showery kind of day, there was a lovely double rainbow over Ivy Lake when I locked Ivy South Hide. If I’d had my camera on me I might have got it in one photo, but had to make do with two instead:

 

Winter craft

Last week we carried on regardless with our craft themed Wild Days Out despite the weather, making the most of our outdoor shelter so we could still have a fire and spending a little more time indoors than we would do normally, in particular on the Thursday. We did though manage a wander in search of firewood – which we saved for another day as everything really was rather soggy – and some outdoor play at lunch time to let off some steam.

Being craft themed, our main aim over the two days was to use the fire to melt some pewter before carefully pouring it into a mould to produce a cast of a natural object. We made some play-dough (one cup of flour, half a cup of salt, two tablespoons of cream of tartar, one table spoon of oil and some water) to use for our moulds which worked really well and could even be re-used once partially baked by the pewter. Acorns, alder cones, pine cones and shells were carefully pressed into the dough then removed, leaving an imprint behind that could be filled with the pewter.

Once the moulds were ready, we carefully heated up some lead-free pewter shot (a mixture of 95% tin, 4% antimony and 1% copper) over the fire in a spoon attached to a long handle, and once melted poured this into the mould.

Once the items had cooled down, they could be removed from the play-dough:

The children really enjoyed having a go at pewter casting and their items all looked fabulous! The shells in particular came out really well, and the pine cones did look like little hedgehogs.

Whilst we were doing this in small groups, they also had a go at modelling with the play-dough, willow weaving, painting and making rush boats.

Despite the weather, a fun time was had by all! Easter’s activities have a somewhat appropriate watery theme as we explore the pond and river. Bookings can be made from Monday, for more details please visit one of the following:

Wet n’ Wild for 7 to 12 year olds on Tuesday 7th April

Splash! for 5 to 8 year olds on Wednesday 8th April

Feeling Festive!

It’s the time of year for festive wreath making and we have been busy with a number of different groups, weaving a willow hoop then decorating it with greenery found on the reserve.

First up was our Dine and Discover event at the end of November,  where we enjoyed a short walk gathering holly, ivy, pine, larch, ferns, seed heads and anything else that caught our eye before harvesting some willow from our main osier bed and having a go at making a wreath. After a very scrummy lunch cooked over the campfire of broccoli and stilton soup, brie and cranberry wraps and a festive spiced apple juice (thanks to Jim and volunteer David for keeping the fire going and doing most, if not all, of the cooking!), we decorated the wreaths with the greenery collected and they all looked amazing:

Our Dine and Discover events are monthly sessions (usually on the last Friday) for adults excited by wildlife, nature and the outdoors. They are themed with the changing seasons and include preparing and cooking a simple meal together around the campfire alongside the main activity. We are having a break in December and January so our next Dine and Discover will be on Friday 28th February where we will be going on a walk to discover the wonderful wetland wildlife Blashford has to offer. Further details can be found on the website.

Next up was Wildlife Tots where we made leaf wreaths by threading different leaves onto some wire, collected all the pom pom baubles to decorate our tiny Chrismas tree and had a go at making a simple willow wreath, tying different natural treasures on with wool to decorate:

January’s Wildlife Tots session on Monday 6th has a ‘Stickman’ theme and we will be enjoying a short walk around the reserve with some fun activities along the way. The morning session books up fast but there are usually spaces available in the afternoon from 1pm until 2.30pm and again details can be found on the website.

Finally last week we were joined by the local Home Educated group who visit us a number of times a year to take part in wildlife themes activities. As it was December we were again wreath making and after a walk gathering materials they had a go at weaving and then decorating their willow wreaths:

I think we’ve made about 50 wreaths in total, so hopefully they’re all hanging pride of place on a door somewhere!

Willowing wasps

Last Wednesday a number of home educating families joined willow artist Kim Creswell to create three more sculptures for our ‘Wild Walk’, this time the subject was wasps!

Just like the dragonflies, the wasps were made in pieces and then put together at the end, so each young person had a body part to work on. We used a pairing weave to make sure our weaving was nice and secure and used a yellow and reddish willow for contrasting stripes (the red willow will go darker and blacker as it dries). Those making the abdomen had the most weaving to do:

The head was woven in a similar way, using shorter willow rods which were then bent over to create the face and allow eyes to be added:

After weaving the three body parts it was time to make the wings. These were made in the same way as the dragonfly wings, using twine to create a dream catcher effect within the willow wing framework. They did get good at blanket stitch!

With all the wings and body parts finished, it was time to put the wasps together. Firstly the thorax was attached to the abdomen, using a long willow rod to stitch the two together.

The head was attached in the same way and finally the wings were inserted and woven into place with willow.

The group worked really well to create the sculptures and were delighted with them. They are looking forward to seeing them up on the reserve as part of our ‘Wild Walk’. As mentioned in my last blog, the walk is the loop closest to the Education Centre that takes you past the Woodland Hide, Ivy South Hide, over the boardwalk and the bridge across the Dockens Water, then follows the path to the right, along the river and round to the larger bridge where we river dip with school groups and on family events.

Thanks again to the Veolia Environmental Trust for providing funding for the sculptures along the trail and the two workshops Kim has led for us.

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Weaving dragonflies

At the end of February our Young Naturalists worked with willow artist Kim Creswell to create three dragonfly sculptures that will form part of our new ‘Wild Walk‘. To those familiar with the reserve, the walk is the loop closest to the Education Centre that takes you past the Woodland Hide, Ivy South Hide, over the boardwalk and the bridge across the river then follows the path to the right, along the river and round to the larger bridge where we river dip with school groups and on family events.

The sculptures along the trail have been funded by the Veolia Environmental Trust and include the four chainsaw carved sculptures by Simon Groves as well as a number of willow sculptures by Kim. Kim is back with us tomorrow to work with a small group of children and young people from our local Home Educators group who will be having a go at weaving wasps for the walk, and will also be bringing some willow deer with her which we are very much looking forward to seeing!

Kim began by sharing her plan of the dragonflies with the Young Naturalists, before dividing them up into three groups and giving each individual a body part to work on, either the head, thorax, abdomen or wings.

Dragonfly plan

Dragonfly plan

She then got them started with the willow, demonstrating how to create the basic shape of each body part before getting them started with the weaving.

It was then time to add a bit more detail by giving the dragonflies some eyes, Megan did a great job with hers, adding the willow until they became quite bulbous.

After creating between them three heads, three thorax’s, three abdomens and 12 wings, it was time to lie the parts out on a picnic bench and put them together.

The group were really pleased with their finished dragonflies and they did a great job weaving them. They looked great against a lovely blue sky!

Finished dragonfly

 

Whilst we were finishing off we also had time for a bit of wildlife watching, finding a number of Alder leaf beetles on one of the posts behind the new pond, along with a frog.

Alder beetle

Alder leaf beetle

Frog

Frog

Thanks to Kim for teaching the group how to weave a dragonfly from willow, we’re really looking forward to seeing them up along the trail. Hopefully some photos of willow wasps and deer will follow!

Thanks too to Veolia Environmental Trust for providing funding for the sculptures along our ‘Wild Walk‘, including the two workshops with Kim. I know they are already proving very popular with our younger visitors!vet-logo

Improvement update and birds, birds, birds!

Just a quick reminder to anyone who hasn’t visited us in a while or missed any previous blogs or onsite signage, improvements on the reserve are now well on the way so if you do decide to visit us soon, please bear with us!

The main nature reserve car park is open as usual, however Tern Hide is no longer there (it was dismantled at the start of the month so there was plenty of time to do the all important ground works) and the installation of the new hide will not take place until next month – if all goes to plan it should be open by the end of March.

The new pond by the Education Centre should be finished soon and the Welcome Hut which arrived on Monday should be completed by the end of the week – with both these works taking place so close to the Centre, along with deliveries arriving over the next few days for other aspects of our improvement works, car parking at the Centre is limited. If you are able to park in the main car park and walk across to this side of the nature reserve please do!

The Education Centre itself, Lapwing, Goosander, Ivy North, Ivy South and the Woodland hides are all open as usual.

Last week saw the delivery and installation of some brilliant chainsaw carved sculptures by Simon Groves, a chainsaw artist from West Sussex (to see some photos of these being enjoyed by some of our younger visitors, please read on!) and on Sunday our Young Naturalists worked with willow artist Kim Creswell on three dragonfly sculptures which will also be added to our newly named ‘Wild Walk‘ along with more of Kim’s wonderful work. A separate blog about Young Naturalists will follow!

On the bird front, two Bittern were seen from Ivy North hide on Sunday and at least one has been seen from there this week, including excellent views today, and a pair of Redpoll continue to visit the feeders at the Woodland hide.

And birds are the real reason for this blog, as last week was half term and it was a busy bird filled one, with a family event weaving willow bird feeders and two bird themed Wild Days Out where we were lucky enough to get a little closer to some of our native owls and raptors, courtesy of Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre, made a lot of bird feeders and visited the Woodland and Ivy South hides in whatever time we had left in a girls vs boys who could spot the most species challenge.

We were joined by John from Liberty’s on Wednesday and Jayson on Thursday, with both giving brilliant talks to the children about the different birds they had bought with them, encouraging them to ask questions and letting them stroke the owls, a definite highlight! On Wednesday we were treated to a Kestrel, Peregrine falcon, Golden eagle (which really was huge and delighted the children by going to the toilet in the classroom) and Barn owl and on Thursday saw a Tawny owl, Little owl (definitely my favourite), Kestrel, Peregrine falcon and Goshawk.

On both days the children loved seeing the birds up close and being able to stroke some of them, and they asked some very sensible questions. It was definitely a highlight and we would like to thank John and Jayson from Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre for taking the time to join us and supporting our Wild Days Out in this way.¬†They once again very kindly demonstrated their birds free of charge to support Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, something they were only too pleased to be able to do as long standing ‚ÄúWildlife Investors‚ÄĚ of the Trust.

To find out how your business can support the work of the Trust at Blashford Lakes, or anywhere across the two counties, follow the link or contact Steph Watson on 01489 774400 or email Steph.Watson@hiwwt.org.uk.

Liberty’s owls and raptors were once again a hard act to follow, but whilst we had been waiting for them to arrive the children had been busy making popcorn bird feeders by threading popcorn onto a piece of wire, and fat balls using a suet, bird seed and sultana mix, so we headed outside to make our feeders for the fat balls to go into.

On the Thursday we had a few children who were bird feeder pro’s, having already made one either the day before or earlier in the month at Wildlife Watch, so they had a go at a different design, weaving one solely from willow instead of using the wooden disc base.

All three feeder designs looked great and everyone went away with two fabulous feeders. We then had just enough time to visit both the Woodland hide and Ivy South hide in two teams, boys vs girls, to see who could spot the most species of bird. On Thursday we even had time to walk a slightly longer loop so we could admire the new chainsaw sculptures that had been installed earlier in the week. The children loved them, with the badger in particular proving popular.

Despite having photographic evidence of the boys using their binoculars to bird watch, I have to say the girls did spot more species both days, we were obviously being too competitive for photography! They also, rather sneakily, lulled Jim’s boys team into a false sense of security on the Thursday by making a right noise when the two teams crossed paths with each other, but up until this point had been super quiet and determined to see the most…

I know the boys did see a few bird species we didn’t see, but the girls’ lists over the two days included Coal tit, Great tit, Blue tit, Robin, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Long tailed tit, Goldfinch, Siskin, Blackbird, Greenfinch, Reed bunting, Jay, Jackdaw, Moorhen, Cormorant, Coot, Tufted duck, Great crested grebe, Black-headed gull, Mallard, Gadwall, Pochard, Collared dove, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Pheasant, Carrion crow, Grey heron, Little grebe and Wood pigeon. I was particularly impressed with Megan for spotting the treecreeper! It was pretty good for a quick bird watch and I know they all really enjoyed their day.

Our Wild Days Out will be back for the Easter holidays, where we will be heading out onto the reserve in search of our reptiles and amphibians. Bookings may be made on-line only and are taken 4-6 weeks in advance of the activities via: https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product-category/events/

The Holly and the Ivy…

This morning a number of families joined us for a forage around the reserve in search of natural materials worthy of decorating a willow wreath. There was plenty to choose from! After gathering seed heads, ivy, bracken, rush and sedge amongst other delights to go with the pine, holly and larch  Emily and I had cut during the week from slightly further away, we headed back to the Education Centre to weave simple wreaths from willow.

It was then time for the fun bit, poking in, wiring on and tying on the greenery and other finds we had collected to create our very different and very individual masterpieces!

Here are some of our amazing creations:

A fun time and creative time was had by all!