Two for one

I am behind with our Young Naturalists updates, I think mainly because New Year and time off got in the way after our December session, so here’s a quick update from the last couple of months.

We met in between Christmas and New Year for a festive campfire cookout, something the group had enjoyed doing at the end of 2017 and requested again. We had a slightly random feast, depending on what food items each of the group had brought along, including crumpets, sausages, bacon, a very festive and warming fruit punch and of course marshmallows.

After tidying everything away we headed off for a wander and decided to go down to the Dockens Water to see if we could spot any tracks in the soft ground. We found plenty of signs of deer and some much smaller tracks which we decided could have been squirrel, I should have taken something for scale!

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Walking along the Dockens Water

Corinne from the Cameron Bespolka Trust, who very kindly sponsors our Young Naturalists group, enabling us to run the sessions, venture further afield and enlist the help of specialists, had called in to leave Trust t-shirts and Great grey shrike pin badges for the group. The group were delighted with both, and we handed them out again in January to those who couldn’t make it in December. Despite the cold, I managed to convince a number to put them on straight away for a photo:

At the end of January we once again took part in the Big Garden Bird Watch, a survey we have now taken part in for three years. We spent an hour in the woodland hide, recording the greatest number of each species seen at any one time, no mean feat where the chaffinch were concerned!

In total, after comparing results from each pair, we had counted 91 birds and 18 different species, along with three grey squirrels. They were: 38 chaffinch, 9 reed bunting, 6 goldfinch, 5 siskin and blackbird, 4 great tit, blue tit and dunnock, 3 long-tailed tit, 2 greenfinch, robin, jackdaw and woodpigeon, and 1 coal tit, nuthatch, brambling, great spotted woodpecker and jay.  Both the chaffinch and reed bunting were hard to count where they were mostly feeding on the ground, and I’m sure we missed a few. In addition, and not included in our results as they were flying over, Will spotted a cormorant and herring gull, so it was a good bird watching hour!

Compared to the past two years, our number of species has gradually increased, with 15 different species recorded in January 2017 and 16 recorded in 2018. Interestingly chaffinch numbers have risen from 16 to 23 to 38 whilst no reed bunting were recorded in 2018 and only 1 in 2017. Greenfinch numbers have decreased with 2 recorded this year compared to 4 in both 2018 and 2017, whilst 2017 saw 10 blackbird out in front of the hide, compared to 4 in 2018 and 5 this year. Finally, last year we picked a good hour and saw 1 lesser redpoll, something I had been hoping for this year, but it really does just depend on what is about on the day. It will be interesting to see what results we get next year.

After lunch we headed back out to lay a short stretch of hedge along the reserve boundary, past Ellingham Pound and by the A338. Stretches of this hedge have been laid at different times over the past few years and it has been laid with wildlife in mind rather than traditionally. A nice, thick, denser hedge is the perfect sanctuary for smaller mammals and birds, giving them a safer place to nest and hide from predators. As it continues to grow it will thicken out and grow up, with the new growth providing the perfect cover.

The two photos below show Geoff explaining to the group how to cut at an angle into the tree so it will bend and lay over those previously cut without breaking, and the stretch of hedge before we began working.

As well as laying the trees, we did a bit of ‘tidying up’, so to speak, clearing the many brambles growing in between and entwining around them to make them easier to lay and also more comfortable for us to get to them, and also as this hedge is hawthorn and blackthorn, cutting back any of the branches likely to again impede our task.

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Cutting back

We managed to lay a good stretch whilst we were out, leaving the odd tree still standing and working in from both ends. There is not much left now to lay, so perhaps we will get a chance to head back to it again another time or the volunteers will be able to lay the final bit. The weather had changed for my ‘after’ photo, but hopefully you can see the difference. The gravel mound across the road is certainly more obvious!

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The hedge after

Thanks to Geoff, Nigel and Roma for your help on Sunday.

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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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!

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Spring is Sprung?

Well a bit maybe, at least today saw the first arrival of undoubted migrants with at least 15 sand martin over Ibsley Water this afternoon. Earlier in the week there had been a scatter of chiffchaff, more than have over-wintered, so some must have come in from somewhere.

Other signs of a slow change in the season have been a few peacock, red admiral and brimstone butterflies, although today’s cold kept them tucked up somewhere. Sunshine in mid week resulted in a good number of sightings of adder and grass snake.

Moth numbers are also picking up and this week we have seen oak beauty, yellow-horned, common Quaker, small Quaker, twin-spot Quaker, Hebrew character and clouded drab in increasing numbers.

Although many of the wildfowl have left there were still at least 431 shoveler on Ibsley Water today and the bittern continues to be seen from Ivy North hide, surely it will be leaving soon. Also on Iblsey Water the Slavonian grebe is still present as are the 2 black-necked grebe, now looking very smart in their full breeding colours.

The gull roost remains very large, although the big gulls have almost all departed they have been replaced by thousands of smaller gulls, mostly black-headed gull, but including 20 or more Mediterranean gull, tonight there were at least five second winter birds, 1 first winter and 15 or so adults. Unusually for Blashford, this winter has seen good numbers of common gull in the roost, typically we struggle to get double figures, unless it is very cold, but tonight I counted at least 412 and along the way saw an adult ring-billed gull. This last American visitor was not the one that spent the winter with us, but one that has arrived in the last few days, in fact it seems we may have had three different birds recently (some claim perhaps four!). During the afternoon there were also 3 adult little gull, these would be migrants, the smallest of the gulls we get and probably the most elegant.

At the Woodland hide numbers of finches are declining, but there are still good numbers of siskin, a few lesser redpoll and 10 or so brambling, including  a number of very smart males. There are also several reed bunting feeding there regularly and today, and this was a first for me, a drake mallard, not a species that immediately springs to mind as feeding outside the Woodland hide.

Spring may not exactly have sprung but it is slowly unfurling, at last.

Challenge

Today we had a “50 Bird Challenge” event at Blashford, essentially a short walk around part of the reserve with the objective of seeing 50 species of birds. We met up at the Tern hide at 10 o’clock and got off to a storming start with views of the ring-billed gull, perched on the osprey pole. We quickly added coot, wigeon, tufted duck, cormorant, shoveler, pintail, little grebe, great crested grebe, Slavonian grebe, Egyptian goose, lesser black-backed gull, mallard, goldeneye, greylag, herring gull, jackdaw and magpie. We then headed out of the hide and as we walked across to the southern part of the reserve we saw robin and dunnock in the brambles around the car park and along the path through the woods song thrush, blackbird, a group of goldfinch, we had a good view of a feeding female bullfinch and several goldcrest, a wren and a treecreeper. Before we had got to the Centre we had added woodpigeon, black-headed gull and chaffinch. By the side of the Centre car park there were blue tit and great tit. On the lichen heath we saw 2 crow and a mistle thrush. We looke din at the Ivy North hide and saw mute swan, but the bittern was not showing so we decided to return later. Heading on to the Woodland hide we saw, or rather “spotted” a great spotted woodpecker and several long-tailed tit, from the hide had excellent views of nuthatch, greenfinch, siskin, collared dove, brambling, lesser redpoll and coal tit. From Ivy South hide there were lots of waterfowl including good numbers of gadwall, pochard, teal and we saw a single green sandpiper distantly on the far bank.

Now on 49 species, we headed back to Ivy North in the hope of getting to fifty with a bittern, it had been seen but all we added was moorhen and a nice kingfisher en route at the silt pond. Returning to the main car park we finished off with the black-necked grebe on Ibsley Water and several lapwing on one of the islands. If I can add up correctly we ended with 53 species in just over our allotted two hours, a rather good variety of species and most of them seen rather well in good conditions.

The observant of you will notice a lot of “missing” species, we saw no birds of prey, nor starling, green woodpecker, wagtails or meadow pipit, to name but a few. One of the great pleasures of Blashford Lakes is the range of species and the often very good views to be had. We do sometimes get rarer birds, but it is still often the Woodland hide that provides the highlight of many visits, where it is the sheer number of common birds so close that binoculars are unnecessary that really impresses.