Sunday, 31 January 2010

Icy blue with a hint of Spring

Another really very cold day with frost staying on the ground all day despite the almost unbroken sunshine. Still there are more and more signs of approaching spring, in a sheltered spot along the Dockens Water the Hazel catkins are elongating and there is more birdsong as each day passes.
Beside the Education Centre a Mistle Thrush sang from the top of an oak tree more a good time in the morning, a well as the bird, picture shows the remarkably blue sky that was a feature of the day.
On Ivy Lake the number of wildfowl remains very high with hundreds of Gadwall and Wigeon. The resident pair of Mute Swans are sticking close together and the male, an especially aggressive one that we have nicknamed "Asbo" has been chasing the Canada Geese and seems less willing to put up with the two cygnets from last year, although he has not yet forced them to leave the lake.
The wildfowl on Ivy Lake periodically gather in tight groups to feed, each group with a few Coot dragging up weed and accompanied by Tufted Ducks, Gadwall and Wigeon and often also a gang of Black-headed Gulls and in the case of the picture below a Common Gull. The Coots do the work and provide weed scraps for the Gadwall and Wigeon, the gulls are no doubt cashing in on the aquatic invertebrate the weed pulling disturbs and brings to the surface.
Some of the Coot prefer to feed alone or in pairs, the one below is one of a pair that are already taking up territory in front of the Ivy South hide.
The Woodland hide feeders continue to attract increasing numbers of Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and Brambling. Meanwhile on Rockford Lake the redhead Smew continues to bring in the birders, although it remains distant and typically very close into the shore, today favouring the eastern shore.
My most unusual sight of the day was not a rare bird but a nice passage of behaviour. A group of Blackbirds, Jays and other smaller birds had discovered a Tawny Owl in bushes on the western side of Ellingham Lake. Eventually the owl broke cover and for a while was sitting in the open in a poplar tree surrounded by scolding birds.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Speeding toward the end of winter

The last week or so has been pretty hectic, with all manner of last minute happenings interrupting the best laid plans, although this is not that unusual it does seem to have been especially bad just lately. I desperately need things to settle down if I am going to get close to completing the winter work program, because one thing is certain, winter is on the way out. In only about five weeks Sand Martins will arrive, so the nesting bank needs to be completed. There are various areas of coppice and pollard to finish as well as the final bits of work on the new Ivy South hide, education shelter and webcams. And I still need to get the potholes in the track filled, as I am frequently reminded, I just need some dry weather to do it in.

Although we have had an increase in temperatures and the ice is all gone some of the birds remain. Three of the Red-crested Pochards are still on Ivy Lake, all females and including one pale leucistic bird.
The Smew first seen about two weeks ago, or at least I assume it is the same, turned up on Rockford Lake yesterday and finally allowed a few people, including me to catch up with it. The picture must vie for the title of my worst posted here so far, but it is a picture of the bird and the best I have got. It is a "redhead" which is to say either a female or immature bird, it is very hard to sex them in their first winter. Although the white areas do look very clean compared with some I have seen I cannot say for sure that this proves anything.
On the shore next to the Smew was the ringed Great White Egret and I understand the second birds was at Harbridge as well. Other birds seen yesterday included Cetti's Warbler at the Ivy North hide with another calling in the silt pond beside the path to the Ivy South hide and two Water Rails at Ivy North. Perhaps most surprising was Crossbill calling in the trees at the Centre as I arrived, although it, or more likely they, flew off without being seen.
The turn-out of volunteers for the Thursday morning session was impressive and we caught up on several tasks. The pollards and coppicing advanced considerably, a section of redundant fence was removed and the fire pit for use by the Education team was completed apart from the top sand layer.
The reserve is entered into the BTO/EDF Birds and Business challenge this year so I am keen to get all the records I can for the area each month. So far in January we have recorded 93 species, not bad but we are in the same category as the likes of Rutland Water so we could do with a few of last winters grey geese to drop in if we are going to keep in touch.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

It don't make my Goldeneye Smew

I really should have had a better look at Ibsley Water first thing this morning, instead of the quick scan with binoculars that I actually did. Had I done so I would have seen a redhead Smew, I was sent a message about the bird, but by the time I looked it was long gone, flying off north. There were several Goldeneye, including this displaying group of 4 drakes and a single duck.
Whilst I was in the Tern hide a number of birds flew into the lake form the valley, the main birds involved were Wigeon and a flock of about 300 Black-tailed Godwit which landed on the spit to the east of the hide.
The day was marvellous with bright sunshine and feeling warm compared to recent days. The sun brought out the visitors, the car parks were effectively full for a short period in the late morning with almost 80 cars and probably twice that many people.

Despite the relative warmth many of the lakes still have extensive ice cover, although some like Ibsley Water and Ellingham Lake are almost ice free now. Ivy Lake has large numbers of wildfowl, many of which seem to delight in standing out on the ice rather than sitting on the water. These Mute Swans, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall and the duck Wigeon hiding behind the duck Mallard were on Ivy Lake.
Six species in one picture
A drake a two duck Gadwall taken from the SE screen on Ivy lake
A drake Tufted Duck, also from the same screen

Other wildfowl reported today included the 6 Red-crested Pochard still on Blashford Lake, although I did find a seventh today, a single duck on Ellingham Lake. At dusk there were over 100 Goosander in to roost on Ibsley Water, sadly with no sign of the Smew that had apparently roosted there last night. There was one last surprise though, a Curlew standing on the shore calling.
Meanwhile around the Woodland area there were a few Brambling and good numbers of Lesser Redpoll and lots of people looking at them. The feeders by the car park attracted two pairs of Collared Dove, not the rarest birds I know but I have never had much luck getting pictures of them, this one is not great but it is the best I have got.
There was also a deal of Egret action today, although none of it on the reserve. There were 2 Great White Egrets beside the River Avon at Harbridge, the usual ringed bird and a second unringed one. Things did get a bit confused though and at times there were claims that both of the birds at Harbridge were unringed and that a third bird was seen flying over Ibsley Water. For now I will go with the "Two bird theory". The usual 10 Bewick's Swans were there also and they had roosted on Ibsley Water overnight.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Waterfowl Counts

The main task today was the monthly waterfowl count. The headlines were:
Gadwall 985
Coot 1770
Mallard 343
Goosander 93
Greylag 297
R-c Pochard 6

The Goosander were all leaving the roost on Ibsley Water early and this was not the full number present, just the best I could get. The Greylags were also leaving the roost, sadly they were all Greylags. The Gadwall count is above the threshold for international importance and the Coot count tops the national importance level. The Red-crested Pochard are still on Blashford Lake (2 drakes and 4 ducks). The Mallard count was unusually high for Blashford.

Other birds of note were a single Green Sandpiper on Ivy Lake and a Dunlin flying north over Ibsley Water.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Volunteer task and bumper Common Gull count

Today was Thursday so it was volunteer day. Although the walk to the site uses up some of the time we had several jobs that needed doing around the Goosander hide area over beside Ibsley Water. We split the team up with some filling the new Sand Martin nesting pipes that will shortly go into the new section of wall, then cutting birch regrowth in the "Dozings" area just south fo the hide. Meanwhile the bulk of the team worked on laying over some tall willows beside the path to the Lapwing hide. These are a problem because they are prone to falling onto the path and they have grown so tall that their structure is no longer of great value to wildlife. The task involved cutting part the way through the stem and bending over the tree, when it works they stay growing and the fact that they are lain over one another keeps grazing deer away from the regrowth.
Above the work has just started, as well as laying over the smaller stems and thinning the standards to allow in more light. Below at the end of the session a low dense tangle that should go green with new growth in the spring diversifying the habitat in this area by introducing some low dense cover. It is also interesting to see just how much the remaining snow melted in the hour and a half between the pictures.
A quick look at some of the lakes today showed that ice cover is still considerable. On Ibsley Water about 50%, on Ivy Lake about 80% and similar on Rockford, slightly less on Blashford Lake at about 70%. The 6 Red-crested Pochard are still on Blashford Lake, bickering with the Coot over beakfuls of weed, there was also a single drake Ruddy Duck there.
At dusk on Ibsley Water the Tufted Duck count was a fair bit lower than last night at 204, however the Common Gull count was by far the highest I have ever recorded at 443.
Tomorrow we are doing a full count of all the lakes, so we will see what we find.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Tracks in the snow

A further thin layer of snow overnight resulted in a good display of tracks this morning. As usual there were lots of Rabbit, Fox and Grey Squirrel tracks, but this time also a good few of Badger as well. They usually tend to stay in the warm in cold weather, but perhaps the slight rise in temperatures yesterday tempted them out. The set below shows the rather round Badger tracks, the two paw prints overlapping with a row of four toe prints in a line and the large claw marks. The smaller tracks are of Rabbit with a slight cover of snow and the larger print at the bottom is of a Fox.
Despite some further thaw the foxes are still going well out onto the ice on Ibsley Water, obviously confident that it will hold them.

The grim weather today made seeing much wildlife difficult, although there were at least 3 Brambling near the Centre again.

Finishing off the last bit of clearing up of some cut trees beside the Ivy silt pond it was pleasing to hear Cetti's Warbler still calling there and also Water Rail. A sorrier sight was an injured Buzzard, clearly in difficulty, but still too active to catch, alongside the path to the Ivy South hide. I doubt it will survive for long, but then conditions such as these are what separate the weak from the strong and so an integral part of evolution.

On Ibsley water as I locked the Tern hide at least 290 Tufted Duck had come into roost and good numbers of Goosander were scattered about the lake.

The Red-crested Pochard were again reported from Blashford Lake today.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Tuesday - Quick update

The thaw continues, if slowly. Birds today included the Caspian Gull again on the ice of Iblsey Water from which 150+ Greylags flew out at dawn, sadly they were all Greylags, but we live in hope.

At the Woodland hide at least 5 Brambling were reported as well as increasing numbers of Lesser Redpoll and Siskin, I also counted 24 Blackbirds there as I opened up the hide.

Although the Bittern was not seen today, the Ivy North hide still had a cryptic highlight, with three Woodcock watched creeping around under the trees to the west of the hide. It is rare to get views of them on the ground like this. Also there were a couple of Water Rails.

Elsewhere the 6 Red-crested Pochard were still being reported from Blashford Lake and a Cetti's Warbler was heard calling in the silt pond beside the path to the Ivy South hide, proving it has survived the cold.

On a different note, work has started on the new education shelter beside the Centre, hopefully it will be finished before the end of the week.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

A Bittern at last!

Today saw the start of a slight thaw and also the arrival of a few new birds including 6 Red-crested Pochard on Blashford Lake. These are not likely to be wild birds but part of one of the feral populations forced off their favourite lakes by the freeze. The picture and yes I know it is a really lousy one, is of one of the two drakes. They were diving for waterweed which they were dragging up in great beakfuls.
Although there is a thaw going on there are still only good ice free areas on Blashford Lake, Ivy Lake, Rockford Lake, Ellingham Lake and Ibsley Water. All the wildfowl are concentrated onto these waters, apart from Ellingham Lake, which holds almost no birds. Between them the remaining lakes held 874 Gadwall and 1401 Coot, the Gadwall count is the largest I have made this winter and is above the threshold for international importance.

The first Bittern of the winter has also turned up at the Ivy North hide, unfortunately the water is frozen so if it is going to remain it will have to find somewhere to feed quickly. Interestingly it is in the patch of reeds just east of the hide and is a very warm brown bird, just like the one that was in that area at the same time last year.

In the woodland area 2 Brambling, both males were with the Chaffinch flock and several Lesser Redpolls were on the niger feeders. During the day I saw 3 Woodcock in different places, one of the most obvious species to have been displaced by the snowfall.

The adult Caspian Gull was standing on the ice of Ibsley Water from around the middle of the day until dusk, by which time the lake held the usual roost including 80+ Common Gull and at least 5 Yellow-legged Gull. There was also a leucistic female Red-crested Pochard, I suspect the one from Blashford Lake which I had seen earlier. There was also a pair of Bewick's Swan on the lake briefly at lunchtime before they flew off north. For the first time in some weeks large numbers of geese arrived on Ibsley Water with 221 Canada Geese and 60 Greylags.

Three times during the day I saw Foxes walking out on the ice, at times well out and with great confidence. The first, as I opened up was almost in the middle of Ibsley Water, it was not hunting, apparently just taking a short cut.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Woodcock with ice

Opened up again today, getting there was not too bad apart from the last few hundred metres along Ellingham Drove. The main car park is too icy for cars so it is closed, but there are not huge numbers of visitors so the remaining car parking should be enough.

We actually did not get that much snow, but it is very cold, -8C last night. Surprisingly the lakes actually have less ice than they did on Tuesday, I think this is because the temperature did go up for a time during the snow and the wind also got up. Still it all looked very fine in the brilliant sunshine today, the Dockens Water (below) is still providing some open water for Little Egrets and Kingfishers, although it is iced over in places despite the flow.
Still very little sign of any birds having been displaced to Blashford, a Woodcock beside the boardwalk near Ivy South hide being one of the few. Around the feeders a couple of Brambling were good to see and the feeders are generally very busy, as might be expected. There was also a little overhead movement, mainly of Fieldfare and Skylark and mostly heading north, I think they were just confused.

Impressively three of the Thursday volunteers got to the reserve today, so we put in a couple of hours coppicing willows, it was actually very pleasant working in the sunshine this morning.

I'm not sure what the next few days will bring, it looks ok until Sunday, but the forecast then is for snow again, with more on Monday.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

A few more shots of the ice and wildfowl from the different lakes yesterday. It is interesting how the various lakes seem to have ice free patches each dominated by different species.
Above birds on Ivy Lake, the main species here is Gadwall with smaller numbers of Wigeon, a few diving duck and Coot, the bulk of the Teal are also here, although they seem to prefer standing on the ice edge.
Meanwhile in the ice free patch around the main island in Blashford Lake contains most of the Pochard with a scatter of other species
Rockford Lake has a small area ice free by the south shore and this is almost filled with Coot and also has most of the Mute Swans.
You can tell just how cold it has been when the Dockens Water freezes over, the lakes, being still water freeze fairly easily, but the relatively fast flowing Dockens Water rarely does so. The picture above is of the Dockens just where it flows into the willows to the south-west of the Ivy South hide.
And now a few general views of some of the frozen lakes, above is Blashford Lake, I don't think they will be sailing for a while.

Rockford Lake, looking quite attractive in the morning sunlight.

Ivy Lake from the Ivy South hide, although there are Bitterns moving about in southern England you can see why they are not likely to stop here at the moment, all the reed fringed areas are frozen solid.
Ivy Lake from the screen on the rockford path, ice as far as the eye can see. Although the screen is quite pretty it does stress the birds forcing the wildfowl into small patches, increasing competition for food. The freezing of the Dockens Water could be especially bad for Kingfishers and herons, flowing water is usually what they rely on to survive in freezing weather. A lot will now depend upon how long this cold spell lasts.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Reserve closed today 6th January

Due to difficult access by road to the site and ice on the paths and car parks the reserve is going to be closed today Wednesday 6th January. The forecast is for further snow today so discretion would seem the better policy.

I will review what we are doing tomorrow as events unfold.

More ice less water

The last couple of days have seen increasing ice cover on the lakes, resulting there now being just small ice free patches on those lakes that still have any open water. The remaining patches are packed with wildfowl. The picture below shows the patch of water on Ivy Lake which seems to have almost all of the Gadwall from the whole reserve.
The ice free areas of other lakes each seem to be dominated by just one or two species, so Rockford has lots of Coot and Mute Swans, Blashford Lake has most of the Pochard and Ellingham Lake most of the Mallard.

There are two ice free areas on Ibsley Water, one around the islands running out from the western shore and one near the long gravel spit to the east of the Tern hide. At first light this morning the ten Bewick's Swans were still on the lake, as they were yesterday morning, they are three pairs, one with three juveniles and one with a single.

There have been few birds obviously brought in by the weather, although a rather lost looking Bittern flying around Ibsley Water yesterday was new. It is more or less impossible to count the ducks when they are so densely packed in, but it seems to me that we have the birds that have been here recently, just more closely packed.

Otherwise it was rather a "doggy day", we had a visitation by rabbit poachers on the north shore of Ibsley water in the afternoon, thankfully the birds are all well away from there so they were not disturbed. They and their mob of dogs left to the north before I caught up with them. The two stray dogs wandering around Ivy Lake were easier to catch and it turned out they had come from Snails Lane south of the reserve. I don't see a dog on the reserve for several weeks then eight or so turn up in one day!

We are promised snow overnight, if it comes to pass we may not be able to open up tomorrow, in fact I may not be able to get to the reserve, we will see what comes to pass.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

A Brilliant New Year

2010 dawned brilliant, sunny and with a clear blue sky, the year had turned and with it the weather. The day saw lots of visitors on the reserve, perhaps 230 or more during the day and lots of birds to see, although still no sign of a Bittern, but there was a Black-necked Grebe on Ibsley Water, the first of the winter. Although there were probably more birds on Ibsley Water the best views were to be had on Ivy lake, especially from the new Ivy South hide.
Another year, another Cormorant, there were several on Ivy Lake but no more than two seemed able to stand amicably on the perch at a time.

Several groups of wildfowl were feeding in tight bunches on the lake, each included both diving species such as Coot, Tufted Duck or Pochard and dabbling species, mainly Gadwall, but also Wigeon. The Coot were diving to drag up weed, the Gadwall and Wigeon were feeding on the excess weed and the diving duck and the gulls were seeking the aquatic invertebrates disturbed at the same time. This group includes Coot, Gadwall, Wigeon, Tufted Duck and a Black-headed Gull.
The Ivy South hide offers a good few opportunities for taking pictures, the picture above is of a drake Wigeon and below a drake Gadwall.
The Gadwall are typically in pairs at this time of the year, or at least there are few if any single females, the drakes are less fortunate as they seem to outnumber the ducks. Each pair seeks out a feeding Coot, these dive for weed to eat, dragging up long strands, this allows the Gadwall to get at food that is too deep for them to access. As the Coot usually brings up far more than it can eat there is plenty to around and presumably the Coot gains by having sets of eyes on the surface whilst it is below and so unable to see any approaching danger.
As well as all the usual wildfowl on Ivy Lake there was also a single drake Goldeneye, these usually stay on Ibsley Water, but apart from that there was nothing out of the ordinary.
Around the feeders at the Woodland hide the numbers of Siskin and Lesser Redpoll continue to increase joining the usual tits, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Chaffinches.
As well as the Black-necked Grebe, Ibsley Water also held about 200 Shoveler, about 130 Pintail and a fair number of Goosander throughout the day. At dusk on 31st December the roost of Goosander numbered 101, the highest count ever. At dusk they fly in from feeding areas up and down the Avon and from pond all across the New Forest and even into Dorset.
The gull roost on Ibsley Water is still attracting several thousand birds, although many fewer than earlier in the winter. Most of the larger gulls are Lesser Black-backed Gulls but include a few Greater Black-backed, Herring and Yellow-legged Gulls. The smaller ones are mostly Black-headed but with the colder weather the number of Common Gulls are increasing, there were probably over 100 at dusk in New Year's Day.
Just off the reserve near Harbridge there were Bewick's Swans, the Great White Egret and a Caspian Gull for most of the day, which pleased some of the many "yearlisters" out and about in the sunshine.