Sunday, 28 February 2010

Yesterday I spent the morning working with a group of volunteers form A Rochra clearing a Rhododendron clump near the entrance to the reserve. This is one invasive alien species that is actually not common on the reserve, there is only the only large patch and I decided the time had come to remove it, or at least to make a start. At the start of the day the weather was awful, with rain followed by a vicious hailstorm and I thought we would have real problems even starting the task. As it turned the rain stopped and it was dry, if overcast and we got a good area cleared.

The TV in the lobby of the Centre featured 15 or more Brambling at times, but as well as "Woodlandcam" we can also now show "Pondcam", the images are also streamed on the web, although the slow connection means that the latter is the best, the birds move too fast to make good picture a lot of the time, the address is mms:// .

I saw little of particular note, but I did get reports of the Smew on Rockford, a Mediterranean Gull on Ibsley Water and a Common Sandpiper heard flying over. I am not so sure about the reported Firecrest, there seemed some uncertainty in some quarters that it was not a Goldcrest, however I would be delighted to be wrong.

Just a few days to go until the first Sand Martins now, perhaps by next weekend they will be in, skimming over Ibsley Water and Little Ringed Plovers should be along at about the same time.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Alien Lords and Scarlet Elves

We did our monthly wildfowl count today, I have not added up all the totals yet but it is clear that there are fewer ducks around than last month. A count of over 550 Wigeon on Ivy Lake was notable though. I also saw the Smew on Rockford Lake, as usual it was tucked in near the shore. I am now certain there are two birds as the Rockford one is much "cleaner" looking than the bird I saw with Goldeneye on Ibsley Water yesterday. Even more intriguingly there was a record of two seen on Ibsley Water on Wednesday written in the Lapwing hide logbook, so I wonder if there might even be three birds.

On the way back to the Centre I walked up the Ellingham path alongside the Dockens Water, the lower end where it has freedom to roam about in the wet woodland is looking quite different as the stream seems to be carving a new route through the trees, it now has three channels in places, it will be interesting to see which, if any, becomes the main one.
There are lots of bright green leaves of Lords and Ladies coming up now, also known as Cuckoo Pint it is one of the first plants to come up each spring despite the soft green leaves looking so tender.
Along the Ellingham path under the Lime trees there are also several plants of the garden relative of the Lords and Ladies, the Arum italicum known as Large Cuckoo Pint. This is one of a large number of introduced species that occur at Blashford, some like this are relatively harmless garden plants, possibly throw-outs, some were deliberately planted like the Rhododendron and others have gone wild, like the Himalayan Balsam. It is reckoned that aliens species are the biggest threats to biodiversity after climate change.
Near the Woodland hide the Scarlet Elf Cups are now showing, although this is about a month later than usual, this is one of the winter fungi and one of the brightest coloured of all our species.
To finish the day I went to the Goosander hide to count Goosander and saw at least 48 arriving to roost, I had to leave before they would all have arrive dbut there are clearly fewer than there were at the start of the month. I had hoped there might be a Smew with the goldeneye as they gathered to roost, but if there was I did not see it.
As I approached the hide I saw a movement away to the right, at first I thought it was a large dog or a deer, but it was only a Fox, albeit a very fine and bushy-tailed one. For a moment it looked much bigger than it actually was, something to do with the lack of anything to compare it with I suppose, but perhaps this is one way that "big cats" get seen, a brief view and circumstances when the true size of the animal cannot be properly gauged.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

The return of the redhead

When I opened up the Tern hide this morning I had a quick scan over Ibsley Water, there were not many birds, but out in the middle were two ducks, a redhead Goldeneye and with it a redhead Smew. I suppose it is the bird from Rockford Lake, although I did not have a chance to check and it flew off after a couple of minutes, although I did not seen where. I did get yet another in a long line of poor picture of it though, see below.
Opened up the other hides, outside the Ivy South hide were several Wigeon including this pair perched on one of the stick rafts preening. They were eventually driven off by a Coot, no doubt with an eye on the raft as a nest site.
It was Thursday so it was volunteer day. Thirteen people turned out to work on the shingle shore of Ibsley Water to improve conditions for nesting Little Ringed Plover and Lapwing. A large collection of varied rubbish was also collected, the left-overs of a history of industrial use. After getting soaked to the skin last week we got lucky this time, the rain started just as we finished work and quickly got heavy, a much needed incentive to do some office work.
The Woodland hide was again swarming with finches, the nyger feeders were occupied more by Lesser Redpoll than Siskin with large numbers of Chaffinches and Bramblings, probably over 80.
Some of the Redpolls fed on the ground under the feeders, including the bird below which carried a ring, probably one of the birds ringed on the reserve over recent weeks. The "red poll" is well shown in the picture, although this feature provides the name it is usually hard to see in the field as they are usually to be found feeding high in the tree tops.
The Redpoll pictures were taken at the Woodland hide, outside the hide I found this female Chaffinch perched in a willow, it seemed to be taking as much interest in me as I was in it. Although obviously a Chaffinch it is perched in such a way as to hide the white wing bars, usually the most obvious feature of this species.
Other birds today included about 500 or so Black-tailed Godwits on the island in Ibsley Water, these birds had been feeding on the flood meadows north of Ibsley bridge earlier where there are still 13 Bewick's Swans.
I also saw my first Smooth Newt of the year, although this was a somewhat indirect record as it was on the screen in teh Centre, the picture being fed in from the pond.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Spring really is coming

It might be snowing in the Midlands but at Blashford signs of spring continue to appear. Yesterday I found Common Frog spawn in the small pond outside the Ivy north hide, although when I mentioned it to Jim he told me he had first seen it the previous evening. There are more and more birds singing now, with Chaffinches now getting very noticeable.

This morning when I opened up the Tern hide there were noisily displaying Goldeneye, an Oystercatcher checking out potential nest sites, although this first turned up at the weekend, a couple of Lapwings also occupying potential nesting sites and several Black-headed Gulls on the island. The gulls visit the island and display often for six or eight weeks before they settle, although the ones that nest at Blashford usually settle to nest well before those nesting in Langstone Harbour, I have no idea why.

The numbers of Brambling continue to be impressive at the Woodland hide and there are also good numbers of other finches as well. The Mute Swans on Ivy Lake have finally driven off both of their youngsters from last year. There seem to be at least three pairs of Little Grebe on Ivy lake at present, with lots of calling.

The Blashford volunteers work all over the reserve and the results of their work is there for visitors to see, however sometimes they work in areas that are not so obvious. One such is a corner of Ivy Lake that has real potential to become shallow fen and reedbed. It was this once but the area was invaded by willows about thirty years ago. Work started last year to remove these and now the area is covered in shallow water giving some hint of the potential there. In time it should develop into a valuable area of habitat and who knows perhaps even a location for another hide.
Tomorrow I think the volunteers will be working out on the shore of Ibsley Water trying to maximise the nesting habitat for Lapwing and Little Ringed Plover. As noted the Lapwing are already looking about for nest sites and the plovers could be back within a fortnight.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

A picture, as promised (sort of)

And now a rather scary picture of me with one of the awards won yesterday. I know I promised a picture in the next few days but this was not what I, or expect anyone else, had in mind!
Once again today lots of Bramblings about, I think even more than a couple of days ago with good numbers around the Centre and at the Woodland hide, I could see at least 18 on the TV screen in the foyer at lunchtime.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Bags of bird food, a stinky weasel and two awards

Wet and cold continues, I know it is winter, but it shouldn't have to be like this all the time. Started off collecting ten sack of bird food from Hinton, thanks to Peter Mays for arranging this source, it is the key to attracting in our Brambling and Chaffinch flock. The Bramblings seem to be all over the place, well over 50 today and I hear three were caught by the ringers when they were in on Saturday.

As I mentioned Hinton I will report that as I drove through there on Saturday evening I saw a Polecat on the road verge, the first live one I have seen there after two corpses. I also realised today that the Latin for Polecat Mustela putorius would translate roughly as "Stinky Weasel". Still yet to see one of these at Blashford though, although I have found a corpse just south of Ringwood.

We were also out of black sunflower and nyger seeds, but I had to go and buy those, at present I seem to be using about 25kg of sunflower every ten days and nyger seed is now disappearing fast with so many Lesser Redpoll about.

The web cam has gone wonky, I think maybe a Badger has rubbed against it, the camera has gone loose on the fitting and is either showing a rotated image or is out of focus and I thought this camera stuff was going to be straight forward.

Following the break-in to the donations box on Friday we had to supply our finger prints for elimination so it was out with the ink pads, the police had checked the box for the prints of the miscreants on Saturday. I had seen it done on the television, but this was a first for me.

I grabbed a chance to get the last of the willows coppiced today, just a few that still needed doing and Jim seemed to want to escape the office for some reason.

Ended a varied day with a trip to the New Forest District Council offices to collect an award or two. In the Access for All Awards, Blashford Lakes won the outdoor recreation category and was also the overall winner within the New Forest area. I confess I did not even know we had been entered into this until we were told we had won. It seems we were nominated more than once as well.

If the rain stops I might even try and include a picture again before the end of the week!

Friday, 19 February 2010

A bright day soured

A fine day brought lots of people out, although it would have been better if some had stayed at home. I arrived to find the main gates cut open, although the target was the Hanson plant, so we were relatively lucky. At least I did manage to find the padlock, it had been thrown under the trees by the roadside, so I would be able to lock up at the end of the day.

The sun was out and the reserve looked great. There were probably well over 50 Brambling giving a wonderful show at the Woodland hide, I doubt there is anywhere that would offer better value on these birds. The usual Siskin and Redpoll were also there as well as a single male Reed Bunting, possibly the bird singing in the nearby silt pond yesterday.

Despite the weather I had to spend the morning in the office, but I did get out, planting brambles on the bank near the Tern hide in the afternoon. There was a good flock of Greylags on Iblsey Water, but no sign of the White-fronted Geese so I expect they have moved on. Several Goosander were scattered about the lake and a small flock of Black-tailed Godwit flew over going north.

It was great to be able to lend out one of the Tramper buggies in the afternoon and to someone who had not used one before. They are a great resource and could be used more than they are.

At the end of the day I went to fill the feeders and clean the lens of the camera, as they say "now showing in the foyer", I had no idea just how dirty it had become. Sadly on returning to the Centre I found the donations box had been broken into, frustratingly I met the probable culprits a few minutes earlier. I do know it was intact ten minutes earlier and I saw nobody else about. After a quick look around, I finished the day as I started it, reporting a crime.

I had no reports from around the reserve today so I cannot say if the various long stayers were still present, but equally I had no indications that they were not.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

A rainy day at Blashford

First day back after a few days off and not one for taking a look round or even going outside much, rain was frequent and often heavy. In the days I was off I missed another Common Scoter, I have never seen one on the reserve and this is at least the third time there has been one on a day when I was off site. Apart from this "dip" there have been few changes, but there have been some, the number if Brambling has clearly gone up, there were 50 or more around the Woodland hide today. Lesser Redpolls are perhaps in larger numbers as well, but Siskin seem to be fewer.

Today, being Thursday, was volunteer day, impressively eleven people came out to work on fencing, finishing off some willow coppice and digging up brambles. Everyone got very wet, but good progress was made. All the straining posts were put in for the new fencing, the brambles were dug up and most of the last bit of coppice was cut and cleared. The brambles will be planted on the banks by the Tern hide and should give extra height to the bank as well as providing some useful habitat.

Most of the rest of my day was taken up with paperwork, by which I mean computer work, trying to put the annual report to the partners to bed for another year, mind it did keep me in the dry.

There were a few birds reported, the Smew is still on Rockford Lake and at Harbridge a dozen or so Bewick's Swans and the unringed Great White Egret. I also saw a Cetti's Warbler hopping about in the reedmace below the Ivy North hide, giving very good views.

Let's hope for better weather tomorrow, although perhaps today was not as bad as it seemed, at the end of the day I was very surprised to find that the rain gauge had recorded only 7mm, it felt like a lot, lot more.

Friday, 12 February 2010

The birds less ringed

Not so cold today and thankfully a lot less windy, it felt almost warm by comparison with yesterday. The overcast almost calm conditions should have been ideal for mist netting and everything was set up for a ringing session this morning, however the birds had other ideas and almost four hours ringing resulted in barely ten birds being caught. Admittedly the target species are Siskin, Redpoll and other finches, it would always be possible to catch lots of Blue and Great Tits. The finches are mostly visitors from further north, perhaps just from Scotland or possibly Scandinavia and there are also the birds that can be caught already ringed somewhere else.

Other things today went better, the pole for our Osprey nest site arrived, all we have to do now is get it upright and put a nest on top, should be easy, shouldn't it? The installation of the video equipment also proceeded and we now have live pictures from the Woodland hide on view in the foyer of the Education Centre.

I understand that the Smew was once again on Rockford Lake although it was flying about a good bit, so perhaps it is thinking of going somewhere. The duck Red-crested Pochard was still on Ellingham pound, seeming quite settled there with a few Coot and a handful of Tufted Duck. On Ivy Lake at dusk (see picture above) one of the Mute Swan cygnets appears to have left following the aggressive chasing from the parents yesterday. Also reported today was a Raven over Ibsley Water, as it was calling it is probable there were two as single birds rarely seem to call much.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

A chill wind

Colder than ever today thanks to the stiff wind. Despite this there was a good turn out of volunteers with sixteen people turning out to do coppicing and dead-hedging, the hides also got a good sweep out. With spring coming we have perhaps two weeks left to finish the winter work, it is the same every year, in October the winter seems to stretch ahead giving lots of time to get a range of seasonal tasks completed, then from nowhere, it is mid February and the time is all but gone.

Another sign of the end of winter is the increase in the numbers of Chaffinches and Brambling visiting the feeding station at the Woodland hide. This is because the natural seed sources are now running out and birds wander in search of something to eat. Today I saw at least 15 Brambling and heard reports of more. I got a quick picture of a female and missed getting one of a very smart male that already has an almost completely black head. Although there were perhaps 200 birds feeding there a Sparrowhawk which dashed through completely failed to catch anything, probably confused by the mass of potential targets.
Other wildlife today included the duck Red-crested Pochard still on Ellingham Pound and a Peregrine over Ibsley Water at the end of the day. As I locked up the Ivy South hide there were two pairs of Wigeon and Gadwall feeding just below the hide. Seeing them so close and together I realised how different they are in body shape, the Wigeon are remarkably round when viewed from above compared to the much longer bodied Gadwall.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

A Big Bank Bonus comes to Blashford

Today's job was to install the pipes in which the Sand Martins will nest into the new length of bank to the west of the Goosander hide. As each layer of pipes was installed the back of the bank is filled with rejects, large stones that will ensure good drainage. Each pipe is one metre long and filled with sand and we put in just over one hundred. All that remains is to finish off the top of the bank, render the face of the wall and tidy up the entrance holes. Even though it was bitter winter out there today the fist Sand Martins will be back with us within about three weeks, so we have to get a move on to complete the job.
Wildlife today included the 11 White-fronted Geese again on Ibsley Water for a few minutes in late morning, the Smew reported again from Rockford Lake (near east bank) and 16 Brambling reported at the Woodland hide.

I noticed the adult Mute Swans on Ivy Lake are getting quite aggressive towards their two cygnets from last year, they have not driven them away yet, but I don't think it will be long before they do.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Potholes no more

The big news at Blashford today was not of birds or beast and may not seem that big, if you don't go there often, but I assure you it is. The entrance track dried out enough for us to fill the potholes. Ok so this may not seem that big a deal, but I have been waiting to do this job since the autumn, thwarted constantly by rain or sometimes frost. Three of Blashford's finest (some of the Thursday volunteers forming a break-away Tuesday group) spent two hours breaking down the hard edges of the potholes so that the fill would bind better when the dumper loads of fill arrived not one of our usual conservation tasks but an invaluable job none the less. The picture below shows a sight I was beginning to think I was never going to see.
Despite all the excitement of gravel there were some birds. Ellingham Pound scored again, this time with a duck Red-crested Pochard, probably the last of the group influx from earlier in January. The Smew was seen again on Rockford Lake, although I did not see it on a brief look in the afternoon. Also reported were the 11 White-fronted Geese first seen on Sunday and again yesterday, today they apparently they flew in for a short time in mid morning with a party of Greylag. First thing this morning there were 2 Black-tailed Godwits on Ibsley Water, there have been thousands in the Avon Valley recently.

Around the Woodland hide and Centre good numbers Siskins, Lesser Redpolls and at least 6 Brambling were at the feeders.

At dusk I counted 2900 Black-headed Gulls at the Ibsley roost along with 50+ Common Gulls and perhaps 800 Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Fencing and flurries

Spent pretty much the whole day fencing the soon to be seasonal path near Mockbeggar Lane, as result I did not see much wildlife and encountered few people to hear of things reported. Despite this I do know the Smew was still to be seen on Rockford Lake and there were Bewick's Swans at Harbridge.

At the start of the day there were good numbers of Lesser Redpoll on feeders near the Centre and at least one Brambling was with the Chaffinches. On the lichen heath near the Ivy North hide there was a party of 8 Fallow Deer does and 2 Roe Deer. In the little flood by the hide a Water Rail was running about.

As I locked up at the end of the day the Greenfinch roost in the laurels by the main car park entrance was gathering, with at least 200 birds in the bare twigged sycamore tree. On a cold and breezy Ibsley Water about the only ducks braving the exposed southern area of the lake were Goldeneye and Goosander, somehow they look at home in cold weather when other species look decidedly uncomfortable.

The day ended with snow flurries and brisk easterly, promising perhaps more grey geese, we could do with a few of the Bean Geese that seem to be arriving at various sites, we will see what the weather brings.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Geese and Gardeners

Another busy Sunday at Blashford, two visiting groups, one a coach party and it was volunteer day as well. The volunteers spent the morning working in the area around the Education Centre, particularly the garden area near the new shelter. The aim is to establish a new area for wildlife gardening next to the shelter, hopefully one that will not need to be fenced against the rabbits, so we are going to have to pick the plants with care.

Birds today included the Smew still on Rockford Lake, a Red-crested Pochard of Snails Lake and all the usual Brambling, Lesser Redpoll etc around the Woodland areas. After lunch I went over to the Tern hide, as I approached I realised I could hear geese calling and that they were not the usual Greylags but the laughing calls of White-fronted Geese. Eventually I found three birds dropping down onto the lake. On getting into the hide I could see there were eleven with a group of Greylags. The picture shows the whole group, with a Greylag, they did not stay long and flew off west at 14:40, they were not all adults, the initial group of three I saw were two adults and a juvenile and I think there were two or three more juveniles in the flock, although all had at least some "white-fronts". Below is another in a long line of iffy pics of Blashford birds, but at least they can be identified as White-fronts!
There was also another goose on the lake, a Bar-headed Goose, presumably the return of the regular, although the first time I have seen it this year.

Towards dusk I joined John Clark and Tim Doran who were doing a WeBS count today to carry out a co-ordinated count of the Goosander and Goldeneye on Ibsley Water. We ended up with 98 Goosander and 34 Goldeneye, the latter especially high as they usually peak in March.

Also reported today was a male Hen Harrier west over Ibsley Water. With more cold weather on the way and several reports of Bean Geese about the country today we will wait to see what the coming week brings.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Change for a Pound

A most surprising morning, when I opened up the Ivy North hide Cetti's Warbler was showing well and at the South hide there were 2 Green Sandpipers and all in very pleasant sunshine. I decided to walk back to the Centre the long way round via the Ellingham path and I'm pleased I did. When I got to Ellingham Pound there were the usual tiny number of birds, there is almost never anything of note on this pond, but they included a redhead Smew, possibly the one from Rockford Lake, or possibly not. I went to get a camera and got a few poor shots, although marginally better than my earlier efforts. However this was not the end of it, as I was taking the pictures a Great White Egret flew in, it was an unringed bird and did not stay long before a Grey Heron chased it off. Perhaps the Pound is turning over a new leaf, or perhaps this was it's purple patch and I just got lucky.
Over recent weeks there has been some bad feeling between photographers and general visitors in the Woodland hide. I decided to try an ease this by adding another feeder at the bend on the approach the hide, in a good sunny spot. Today I tried to get a few shots of Siskin and a couple are below, a male and a ringed female, possibly one of the birds ringed on the reserve recently.
The lichen covered branch is a decorative perch I added as being more interesting than either the feeder or the bare twigs of the neighbouring trees.
I spent most of the day moving willow brash to use on the banks around the main car park so did not see many birds for much of the day. However reports received, as they say, revealed that the, or a, Smew was on Rockford Lake and a Great White Egret was at Harbridge along with up to 18 Bewick's Swans. There was also a report of a male Marsh Harrier flying over, which I missed yet again, I seem destined never to see one at Blashford. Despite seeing no birds around the main car park I did make one observation of note, a Red Admiral, my first butterfly of the year.
At the end of the day I tried to get a Goosander count, however they had other ideas and I had to visit all three Ibsley Water hides, so would have missed some as they flew in. All the same the minimum number of birds present was 92, including 35 adult drakes. There were also at least 23 Goldeneye including 10 adult drakes.
I suspect the Red-crested Pochards have gone now as nobody reported them today, but there was a Bittern seen in the small patch of reeds north of the Goosander hide yesterday so the bird that has been around the eastern shore of Ibsley Water would seem still to be there.