Wednesday, 31 March 2010

A Chill Wind

Winter returned, or at least the chill wind and driving rain made it feel wintry, although the hundreds of Swallows and Martins indicated otherwise. By the end of the day there were something like 200 Swallow, 350 Sand Martin and at least 10 House Martin, mostly over Ibsley Water. There were 2 Little Gulls, but one was certainly different from yesterday as it was an adult. There was no sign of the Common Tern or the Black-necked Grebes today.

Despite the conditions the Little Ringed Plovers continue to plan for nesting, the male calling and making scrapes for the female to inspect. At lunchtime they were doing this very close to the hide and I got a couple of pictures.
Above the male calling, the throat expanded and below making a scrape.
Other birds today included a Wheatear, the first if the year, a Peregrine and about 50 Black-tailed Godwit.
Blashford is entered into the BTO - EDF Energy Birds Business Challenge. One element is to record as many species as possible on the site during the year. By the end of the first quarter we
have recorded 117 species, 97 in January, 94 in February and 106 in March. It is not a challenge we will win as one or two of the other sites will always attract more birds than Blashford, Rutland Water is usually a shoe-in for top spot, but we should give one or two of the next level of sites a run for their money.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Arrivals, arrivals

A real day of arrivals, cold and wet but conditions that favoured birds coming in from the south. New in today was a Common Sandpiper and 2 Little Gulls, both of them first year birds one pictured (badly) below. It has moulted some of the tail feathers so there are only black ends showing on the outers.
Also new and really early for Blashford was a Common Tern, I got a bad picture of this too and I share it below.
At the start of the day there were perhaps 50 Sand Martins and 3 Swallows, by the end there were 300 or more Sand Martins and at least 100 Swallows. There was also a single House Martin and I often don't see one of those in March. There 3 Black-necked Grebe again, although the fourth might have actually gone as nobody saw more than three all day.
Around the Woodland and Centre some 20 Brambling, including some brilliant males,although I could only get a picture of a female.
There are also still lots of Greenfinches coming to the feeders, the side view of the head shows just how massive the bill is.
There were also at least 7 Blackcap today and a Willow Warbler, so the arrivals included nocturnal migrants as well.
The Little Ringed Plovers are getting settled, despite looking as though they will be close to the hide, the nest site may once again have a strategically placed twig, just for the photographers! We actually did do a lot of clearing and weeding and most of the area is clear, they obviously like to be close to a stick.

Monday, 29 March 2010

The Differently Spotted Newt

I was working in the lobby at Blashford for a time today, these days with the screen and "pondcam" this in no way prohibits seeing wildlife. The on-screen highlights were a Water Stick Insect, actually a type of aquatic bug and lots of newts, including at least one male Palmate Newt. These differ from the Smooth Newts in having only a very slight crest and more discrete spotting, the tail often with two neat rows of spots and naturally they have palmations. Actually it is only the hind feet that are palmate, or webbed, unlike the paddle-like toes of the Smooth Newt. I will try to capture an image or a video clip, when I have understood how to work the technology.

Today also saw the first Blackcap of the year, a male singing beside the entrance track to the Centre but I could not find the Willow Warbler reported yesterday. On Ibsley Water the Little Ringed and Ringed Plover were still there as were two Black-necked Grebe. A Lapwing is now sitting tight on the shingle to the east of the Tern hide and up to three more pairs are looking like they are settling in nearby. Other birds included at least one Swallow, several Sand Martins digging nest holes and a good number of singing Chiffchaffs.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Plovers, Large and Small

I spent a fair bit of the day moving willow brash and making dead hedges today, but at lunchtime I went to the Tern hide. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers are getting really settled just in front of the hide. The male is ringed and is probably the one that nested there last year, although I will have to check the ring details to be sure. They do get remarkably close to the hide and I managed to get this shot of the female, looking a little unhappy just after a shower.

As well as the pair of Little Ringed Plovers there was also a very smart male Ringed Plover and he seemed equally willing to come close to the hide. I suspect it may also be looking at the area as a potential nest site, although less commonly than the smaller species, they do nest on the reserve from time to time.
The Plovers were not the only waders on Ibsley water today, there was a Common Snipe in front of the hide as well. It was feeding in a slightly unusual way, squatting on its haunches it was probing with bill at a very shallow angle under the stones of the shore periodically bobbing almost like a Jack Snipe.
There was also a Green Sandpiper, a flock of 200 Black-tailed Godwit as well as the usual Oystercatcher, Redshank and Lapwing. More excitingly, at least for me as it was my reserve "first", was a Marsh Harrier which flew south to the east of the hide.
Around the Centre and Woodland there are still some Brambling, Lesser Redpoll and several singing Chiffchaff, the birds at the feeders were being frequently harassed by a Sparrowhawk. At the end of the day a pair of Mallard were feeding outside the Woodland hide, not somewhere I have seen any before.
The most interesting other report was of Bittern seen from the Goosander hide, although the Ivy North bird was not reported today I still think these are two different birds.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Top floor dwellings going fast

Following yesterday's report of Sand Martins already visiting nest holes in the artificial bank by the Goosander hide, I decided to make a quick visit there first thing this morning. As soon as I arrived I saw about 20 Sand Martin visiting the bank just to the left of the hide where they were favouring the top row of holes.
Perhaps surprisingly, considering the weather that was to follow later, there was actually a spell of sunshine, better still it coincided with a group of Goosander coming close to the hide allowing a few pictures.
It was always difficult to get them in focus as they never stopped swimming about and this makes digi-scoping a touch tricky. The group below are not all in focus, but they were never going to be, although I got lucky with the drake.
Also from this hide I saw the 4 Black-necked Grebe and about 40 Black-tailed Godwit.
At the Tern hide a Lapwing seems to have settled on a nest site to the east of the hide and a pair of Little Ringed Plover are nest scraping very close to the hide, so perhaps they will nest by the there again. Other waders prospecting include at least two pairs of Redshank and two pairs of Oystercatcher. Although there have been good numbers of Black-headed Gull about they show no great sign of settling, I could do with them doing so soon as I don't want to put the tern rafts out until the gulls are committed to their nest sites.
At the Centre at least 15 Brambling, some of the males looking very fine indeed are certainly worth a second, or third, look. The Bittern at the Ivy North hide was seen again this afternoon after not showing at all yesterday.
As it was Thursday it was volunteer day. Today's tasks included putting in three new bench seats, making some new tern chick shelters and removing more of the garden daffodils that grow in the woodland near the patches of wild ones. We got the timing of the task just right, within five minutes of the end it was like an open-air power shower, in the end we had 22mm of rain today.
The screen in the Centre lobby recorded another "tick" today with an excellent Water Stick Insect which stalked across the top left of the view. Meanwhile the newts continue to cruise about in numbers looking strangely prehistoric. The images can be viewed on the web at
mms:// (yes I know it should be a link, but I could not get it to work so you will have to key it in yourself - sorry).
After my early success at the Goosander hide I thought I would have another look there at the end of the day as I had more time than usual this evening. Once again there were Goosanders, this time 27 birds including eight adult drakes.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Chiffs, Diggers and Newts

Spent most of the day in a meeting off site today so almost no time at Blashford, but enough to know that there had been a considerable arrival of Chiffchaff overnight, there were several singing at various places. I was at the Goosander repairing a section of fence, there were a few Sand Martin about and people in the hide told me that some had been excavating the nest tunnels in the newly constructed section of bank. I seems extraordinarily early in the season for them to already be digging nest tunnels.

As I locked up a quick look from the Tern hide allowed confirmation that the 4 Black-necked Grebe are still present and that there were about 60 Black-tailed Godwit on the island at the north end of the lake.

The screen in the lobby at the Centre has been very good value in the last few days, with displaying Smooth Newts, water beetles, water boatmen, caddis larvae, dragonfly larvae and all kinds of other underwater life. It really is remarkable how much is going on and the water temperature must still be quite low, goodness knows what it will be like when it warms up.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Another Swallow, but it still didn't

Today I managed to catch up with my first Swallow of the year and the second on the reserve, however if the first Swallow did not quite make a summer, the second did not even come close. It was low over Ibsley Water with about 40 Sand Martins in a heavy drizzle that made seeing far over the water impossible. However, I am getting ahead of myself because this was at the end of the day.

At the start the weather was not so bad, even quite bright for a short while. The 4 Black-necked Grebes are still on Ibsley Water and 2 Mediterranean Gulls were circling and calling, one an adult and the other a second summer.

Across at the Centre the ringers were in and had a good day catching Brambling, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Blue and Great Tits and a Nuthatch. The finches seem to be on the move again with a good few Redpolls about again.
By late morning a visitor came into the Centre to say he had seen the Bittern at Ivy North hide, so I went over for a quick look, what I had was a rather poor view and took an even poorer picture, however I will post it anyway.
The rain lasted pretty much all day, on and off, so pictures were a bit of a waste of time, so the last is of a wet bunch of Wild Daffodils by the Woodland hide, now fully out and looking very fine.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Bittern again

First thing was fine and spring-like but later the rain set in. From the Tern hide the 4 Black-necked Grebe were still in evidence, two are now looking very fine, one is nearly in breeding plumage and the last is about half moulted. About 40 Sand Martins were over the lake and a Little Ringed Plover was calling.

By the Woodland hide the Wild Daffodils are now well out and the Moschatel will not be not far behind. At the feeders good numbers of Brambling are still coming in as well as a few Lesser Redpoll.
At Ivy North hide there was a Chiffchaff but no sign of the Bittern seen yesterday afternoon, although it was seen well and photographed later, so I will have to look harder tomorrow. In place of a picture of a Bittern I have posted a Grey Heron that I took on Sunday.
When I locked up at the end of the day I heard there were 2 Dunlin and a Green Sandpiper on Ibsley Water as well as a group of Black-tailed Godwit.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

One Swallow

A day of almost constant drizzle only relieved by occasional bursts of rain. However the weather kept the 110-120 Sand Martins low over Ibsley Water for most of the day although the Swallow that joined them for a time in the late afternoon was one bird that did not stay around to be seen by me, although it was seen by a good few others.

There was also another first for the year in the form of an adult Little Gull which flew south down the same lake at lunchtime, although this was another bird that I missed, I took lunch in the hide just to late. The number of Little Ringed Plovers has also increased with at least four in the area just to the east of the Tern hide.

There are still birds hanging on from the winter as well though and a count of 33 Goldeneye, mostly in displaying groups, at the end of the day was equal to the highest I have had this winter. There were 11 adult drakes and one sub-adult drake amongst them, the rest being redheads and mostly, if not all, ducks. There were also at least 3 Black-necked Grebe, two of which are now very close to being in breeding plumage. There are also still a good few wagtails including the 2 Grey Wagtails around the shores of the lake, although I could still not pick out any White ones. The valley's Bar-headed Goose payed a brief visit with 2 Greylag Geese in the early afternoon and other birds arriving from the valley floods included a couple of parties of Wigeon and about 50 Black-tailed Godwit.

Meanwhile around the feeders at the Centre and Woodland hide good numbers of Brambling, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin continue to please the visitors. It was also in this area that I saw my first Common Toad of the year as I was locking up, I usually see my first in February so this is very late by recent standards.

Friday, 19 March 2010

A Ton of Martins

Not a day for pictures, but still a day with a good few birds to report. First thing I was surprised not to see any Sand Martins over Ibsley Water, in fact a single Black-necked Grebe was the only thing of note, I wish I had realised that his was by far the best part of the day.

Around the Centre and Woodland areas it was clear there had been an arrival of Lesser Redpoll and probably Siskin, Brambling were also more in evidence. The Redpoll were especially noticeable as there have been almost none since the start of the month, I would estimate at least forty today.

The mild night had produced a good haul of moths with Yellow-horned the most numerous others were Oak Beauty, Chestnut, Twin-spot Quaker, Small Quaker, Common Quaker, Small Brindled Beauty and Hebrew Character, by far the best night of the year so far. No pictures as the drizzle was increasing.

The drizzle turned to rain, so office-bound for the rest of the morning sorting count data. Decided to lunch in the Tern hide, good move, there were at least 100 Sand Martins over the lake, my first real flock of the spring. I had hoped for a Swallow but no luck, there was a calling Little Ringed Plover somewhere east of the hide but I could not find it. Two Grey Wagtails were with the Pieds but I could not find the Water Pipit from the other day, so perhaps it has moved on.

In the afternoon I got very wet cleaning bird feeders, they need a good wash-out and I try to keep one in for cleaning all the time so that they can be rotated and kept hygienic, I had got a bit behind so I had two nyger and two seed feeders to do. One of the nyger feeders had been damaged by Grey Squirrel so I modified it by cutting off the bottom section. A heavy perch had been placed too close to the feeder, within jumping range, no doubt by an over enthusiastic photographer (the jumping done by the squirrel, not the photographer!).

By the end of the day there had been 12mm of rain and it was still falling, miserable, I hope tomorrow is better.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

A Bird in the Hand

A few more Sand Martins today both at the start and the end of the day, all over Ibsley Water. However these were not the main signs of the new season. The islands and various parts of the shore had pairs of displaying Black-headed Gulls, Lapwings swooped and strutted their stuff and several Redshank were trilling and fluttering for all they were worth.
The ringers were in this morning catching a mix of Blue and Great Tits a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a few finches including this rather fine male Siskin. There were also one or two Lesser Redpoll about again today, indicating a small passage as our wintering birds all disappeared a couple of weeks ago.
It was volunteer Thursday and the morning was spent clearing the Millennium Meadow, clearing the last of the coppice willow brash and putting up a range of nest-boxes. The boxes were our own make refurbished and some new ones made for us by inmates at HMP Kingston, Portsmouth.
I ate lunch in the Tern hide with some of the volunteers, looking about a Little Ringed Plover was found on the near shore, then there were two, in fact a pair already looking like they were an item. Out on the lake at least two Black-necked Grebe still, including one almost completely in breeding plumage. Sign of passage were provided by about 50 Pied Wagtails and a dozen or so Meadow Pipits, a few Linnets flying over were also possibly on the move.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Martin news and a homeward detour

No pictures today, but I was right about getting the martin bank done just in time, there were at least 6 Sand Martins over Ibsley Water today. At least two of the Black-necked Grebes were seen as was a Bittern from the Goosander hide and 2 Mediterranean Gulls as I locked up on the spit to the east of the Tern hide.

I went to Holmsley Gravel Pit, one of the other sites I also have watch over, on the way home and en route passed the Great Grey Shrike on the wires south of Burley. At Holmsley GP there were 29 Canada Geese, a Greylag Goose, about 10 Teal, 6 Tufted Ducks, 2 Snipe and 2 Fieldfare in the trees.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Signs of spring sprung

Yet another fine day, I arrived to open up the Tern hide to a fine sunny scene, the water calm and birds scattered about. Right in front of the hide ten pairs of Gadwall were feeding along the shore, the female below shows the white speculum and the yellow bill with dark centre which immediately separate it from a duck Mallard.
As has been the case for a few days now there were numbers of Pied Wagtails around the shore, still mostly males and with them a few Grey Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and a single Water Pipit. The Grey Wagtail has the most intensely acid yellow undertail coverts, I suspect these are also migrants, although we do have a pair that nest along the Dockens Water in some years.
At the Woodland hide the Wild Daffodils had opened since the weekend, it is great what a couple of days of sunshine can do. In fact it felt really spring-like today and this feeling was enhanced at the end of the day when I saw a male Little Ringed Plover as I closed Tern hide, at last a summer migrant!
Perhaps just in time the Sand Martin bank was completed today, it took three volunteers and myself a couple of hours and there are now just over three hundred holes for them to choose from.
Other birds on the reserve today included the 4 Black-necked Grebe still on Ibsley Water, also there 2 Oystercatchers, a Redshank and still a good few Goosander and Goldeneye. At the Woodland hide there are still twenty or so Brambling, a few Siskin, but no Redpoll.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

A Sap, Sap, Sappy Day

A fine sunny day and the reserve was quite busy with visitors, including two groups. I went round with one of them and so had a rare chance to visit all the hides in succession. On Ibsley Water we saw at least 3 of the Black-necked Grebes, although four were seen by others and there were also good numbers of Goosander and Goldeneye to keep everyone happy.
At the Woodland hide there are still about 20 Brambling and a few Siskin but still no Redpoll. As usual there were Great Spotted Woodpeckers at the feeders digging out the peanuts.
A Sycamore tree near the path between the Woodland and Ivy North hides was showing clear signs of woodpecker activity. It was not the usual excavation though, but a line of holes, each weeping sap. This evidence of sap-sucking, a behaviour more associated with woodpeckers in N. America where some species are even called Sapsuckers. I have seen this before, although never so close to the ground as here, although the same tree had signs of similar activity higher up as well.
In the afternoon I visited the Tern hide where there was a Green Sandpiper on the near shore as well as at least three displaying male Lapwings. I got a moderate picture of the sandpiper, although the light was not ideal.
Unfortunately another sighting from the same hide was less welcome, people on the north shore of the lake with dogs and ferrets hunting rabbits. I went round to ask them to leave, this they did after the usual pointless "conversation", a rather imperfect end to an otherwise pleasant day. For some reason there has been a increase in the number of ferreting incident recently, this is at least the third in the last fortnight or so.
Still no summer migrants, surely there will be some by the time I am next at the reserve on Tuesday.

Friday, 12 March 2010

What a load of rubbish

A few days since I have had a chance to update, I was going to try last night but got in too late from doing a talk about Blashford in Poole. Although there has been a good bit going on there is little chance to report really, still no sign of any summer migrants, or at least almost no sign, there were a couple of Chiffchaffs calling today in places that they do not usually winter so I expect they were new in.

The volunteers were in yesterday and as I always try to save the glamorous jobs for them they did a rubbish clearance along Ellingham Drove and Ivy Lane. The picture shows the haul of dumped tyres, an old television and an assorted mix of general detritus. The clearance was done as part of the New Forest "Spring Clean". Hopefully the area is a bit more spruced now, the Ringwood Natural History Society did the next section to the east around Moyles Court at the weekend.
I did the monthly waterbird count today, which took all morning as I was on my own this month. The decline in bird numbers by this time of year meant that it was not too difficult a task. the most notable count was of 251 Shoveler. When I was counting from the Tern hide a male Lapwing was displaying and nest scraping a few metres to the west of the hide, although the light was poor I did get a shot of him, he has especially spectacular head plumes, although hie still has a few feather to moult yet before he is in full breeding plumage.
The 4 Black-necked Grebes are still on Ibsley Water and I did get a very poor shot of one of them from the Lapwing hide. One is moulting into breeding plumage quite rapidly now, two are a bit behind and the last is still pretty much in winter garb. The bird pictured is one of the middle two.
There are quite a few Pied Wagtails around Ibsley at present, they are mostly males and I think they are migrants, probably from northern Britain. I have noticed the same spring increase in previous years and it is also typical that they are mostly males at this time and later there are more females.
When I was parking by Ibsley bridge to go and count the Mockbeggar/Ibsley North lakes I noticed that there is still one adult Bewick's Swan near the bridge, it is getting quite late for it to still be there. One of the other winter birds, the Smew that has been on Rockford Lake,
seems to have gone, or at least I could not find it today.
At the end of the day I checked through the gulls on Ibsley Water. Last night I got a fair estimate of the numbers coming to roost, the main species by far is Black-headed Gull now, with something like 6500. This evening I was checking for other species, along with about 100 Common Gulls there were at least 10 Mediterranean Gulls, 8 adults and 2 second summers, the first double figure count for the reserve. The Common Gulls and probably a good few of the Black-headed will be on passage now and it is a good time to look for rarer species mixed in with them. I got one picture with three of the Mediterranean Gulls (they are the one with white wing-tips).
Surely there has got to be a Sand Martin or a Little Ringed Plover this weekend?

Monday, 8 March 2010

Sunny Monday

Another fine, sunny, if cold day, with a brisk ENE wind, but very pleasant if you could find sunny shelter. When I opened up the Tern hide I saw two of the Black-necked Grebes, I suspect the other two were there somewhere, when I looked later I could not find any however. As well as the Black-necked there are several pairs of Great Crested Grebes and still lots, perhaps thirty or so, of Little Grebes on Ibsley Water. A couple of the Great Crested pairs have been displaying recently, collecting weed and "dancing" to one another. I have tried to get a picture of this but they are usually distant and the dance usually lasts only a short time. So you will have to settle for a picture of a Little Grebe as the best I could get.
There were still no sign of any Redpoll or Siskin about today, apart from one of the latter flying over. There are still some Brambling, but nothing like the numbers there were. The only other notable bird record I heard of today was of the Smew, which is still on Rockford Lake.

Hopefully we will complete work on the Sand Martin bank tomorrow, we will have something like three hundred nesting holes, so it will be interesting to see how many are used.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

A Shaggy Tree Story

Another dry day and sunny with it, although rather cold in the brisk north-east breeze. The morning was spent working with the volunteers (it was the first Sunday of the month) working in the garden area behind the Centre. It is starting to look sorted again after the disruption that went with the building of the new shelter. An incidental discovery was a single mass of Common Frog spawn, the first for a few years in this pond. The reason for scarcity is most likely the large number of Smooth Newts which eat the spawn before it gets to hatch.

After lunch I went for a walk down to the Ivy South hide and then along the Dockens Water path. A few of the Lords and Ladies plants at the eastern end were of the form with dark spotted leaves, in many places these are about the only green things to be seen in the brown leaf litter.
I looked at the edge of the Lichen Heath and realised that it is already going crisp, just a few days without rain helped by a dry east wind and already it is desiccating. On the subject of lichens, the trees towards the eastern end of the Dockens path are often well covered with them and mosses as well. The picture below is of a section of Oak bark, covered with grey lichen and at least two mosses, a landscape in miniature.
The next picture is of a section of Sycamore bark, the two trees were close together, of similar ages and the sections are at the same height and aspect. Although there are some similar grey lichens there seems to be less variety and there is also less moss. Of course the bark is smooth rather than deeply fissured and probably there are other differences as well, but the difference is clear and oak seems to win out as habitat for lichens and mosses. A number of the moths that occur on the reserve have larvae which feed on lichens, most particularly those of the Footman moths. Actually a surprising number of moth caterpillars do not feed as you might think on fresh green leaves of one sort or another. As well as lichens many eat withered leaves, some burrow for roots and a few are carnivorous on other caterpillars
Close to the trees there were also some low willows and the twigs of these were also lichen covered, although seemingly all one type, it was similar to some on the oak but apparently different from any of those on the sycamore.
As I was looking at the tree bark I noticed a Holly with the bark low down on one side scored and scraped. By the look of it I would say the work of a deer taking the bark off to eat, the pattern suggests one bout of feeding with the head tilted first one way then the other resulting in a sort of herring-bone pattern of marks.
Birds today were a tale of what is still here and what has silently disappeared. The Smew on Rockford Lake is still present as are the 4 Black-necked Grebe. The Siskin and Redpoll and a good number of the Brambling seem to have melted away, it seems early for them to have moved off north to their breeding areas so I wonder why they have abandoned us?
As the gulls gathered on Ibsley Water in the afternoon it was possible to pick out at least 4 Mediterranean Gulls, all adults and over 40 Common Gulls. The Common Gulls were mostly likely passage birds as were the 10 Great Crested Grebes in a flock on Rockford Lake, but we still have no summer visitors to report, unless the Chiffchaff heard calling near the lapwing hide was a new arrival.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Snowdrops and Swans

I did not have time to update for yesterday so I will do it now. It was yet another fine day, that is almost a week of dry weather and what a difference it makes. Although signs of spring are really starting to stack up, hang overs from winter remain. The woods at Blashford have a scatter of clumps of Snowdrops, these are in full flower now, perhaps a month later than in some recent years. These are not native, but completely naturalised, they may have come from the "gardens" tended by off-duty airmen around the WWII airbase.
As I opened up the Ivy South hide the Ivy Lake Mute Swans were definitely feeling that spring was here. Later in the day the pen was nest building outside the Ivy North hide.
The amount of bird song is really increasing as well, by the Centre several Robins were singing away and there were also Treecreepers, Chaffinches, Great Tits and others getting in on the act with a time beaten by at least three drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers.
The old Oaks along the Dockens Water have many cavities and provide nest sites for Tawny Owls, which should be well into their breeding season now. The remaining holes are now being investigated by Jackdaws and soon Stock Doves will also be prospecting. The Jackdaw in the picture was in the old Oak beside the centre.
The 4 Black-necked Grebes were still on Ibsley Water, but there was still no sign of any southern migrants. The gulls coming to roost include very few large ones now, but the number of Black-headed Gulls is increasing, there were about 4500 last evening. March is the main passage time for this species and so a good time to look for rarer small gulls caught up with them, unfortunately the species that might occur are all very rare, so the chance of success is slim.
During the day I had to fell some more dead and dying alders on the path to the Ivy South hide, they are currently dying off at quite an alarming rate. I try to only fell those that are in dangerous locations so that the standing deadwood can be retained, but this still leaves a lot that need to be removed.
Three lads ferreting for rabbits on Ibsley Water shore were removed, this seems to be getting to
be a real problem and could prove a significant problem for bird like Lapwing that try to nest around the shore. Unfortunately the lure of fish and rabbits will seem always to be too great for some people and certainly more than any concern for nesting birds.
Today was also the first day of the year that we have had lunch outside and whilst we were we saw both a queen Buff-tailed Bumble-bee and a Marmalade Hoverfly. The last used to be regarded as a migrant to Britain but now seem to over-winter, although the winter just, more or less, passed must have been more difficult than most in recent years.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Rhododendron in retreat

A good day to be working outside, sunny, dry and not too warm, in fact a bit cool in the breeze if you stopped for too long. As it was Thursday it was volunteers day, thirteen people turned out to clear Rhododendron scrub from near the entrance. We carried on with the area started on Saturday and another session or two should see it cleared. Like so much Rhododendron it was evidently planted about one hundred years ago, at that time a lot was planted on estates around Britain as ornamental pheasant cover. Unfortunately it casts a deep shade and next to nothing can grow under it. In this case it was planted in part of the old woodland and there was probably originally a ground flora of Bluebell, Wild Daffodil etc, as can still be seen just to the east. If we are very lucky some of this might remain and show itself once the deep shade has been lifted. The picture shows part of the area we cleared, although without the workers, in the picture the other trees are all quite young and mainly birch.
On clearing the Rhododendron, as well as discovering various dumped bottles and old wire we also came across a few very fine old Hazels, obviously much older than the gravel workings and indicating that this area must be one of rather few with the original ground level intact. Once the area is cleared it might be worthwhile layering some of the Hazel stems to increase the number of plants. There are old records of Hazel Dormouse form the woodland nearby and although I have never managed to find any signs they may well still be around and they would benefit from more Hazel in the understorey. The largest stems on the Hazel in the picture are about 45cms or so in circumference which is a good size for this species.
Elsewhere the 4 Black-necked Grebe are still on Ibsley Water as were something over 250 Black-tailed Godwit and 3 Oystercatcher. A party of 5 Great Crested Grebe roosting out in the centre of the lake were probably migrants as the three pairs were in all their usual places. At lunchtime I ate in the Tern hide and saw an adult White-fronted Goose with the Canadas and Greylags and a group of at least 11 Common Gulls (10 of them adults), these last were probably also migrants. I had a good look for more summery migrants to no effect.
Reports received indicate that the Smew is still on Rockford Lake and a single Bewick's Swan is still up at Harbridge. There appeared to be fewer finches about today, much to the chagrin of the ringers who were in this morning, very different from their last visit which saw over fifty birds caught.
In the afternoon I strimmed off some of the dead vegetation on the shore of Ibsley Water to the west of the Tern hide try and increase the available nesting area for Lapwing and Little Ringed Plover as well as generally improving the attractiveness of the shore to waders.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Frosted lakes

Another fine day a good layer of frost over everything soon melted away in the sun, but once the sun was up it really did feel springlike.
I walked the long way round after opening the hides, going along the Ellingham path beside the Dockens Water, the ground in the shade was still well covered with frost. Despite the cold there were lots of birds singing, especially Treecreepers, they do tend to sing more early in the season, or at least you can hear them more at this time of year, as their song is so thin it often gets drowned out later in the spring. The large oak trees along the path ate a particular favourite with these birds. About half way along the path is an especially striking tree with very thick fissured bark, much of the top has died but it remains very much a feature of this section of the path.
As I had to go out onto the long peninsula to the east of the Tern hide today to clear up some willow trimmings, I took the chance to take a picture of the tern hide from a less usual angle. The ground is now quite clear and should be suitable for nesting Lapwing and other waders.
The 4 Black-necked Grebes first seen yesterday were still on Ibsley Water today and there were also 3 Oystercatchers and also a report of 2 Redshank, the first of the year. As I was stacking the willow brash a pair of Mediterranean Gulls flew overhead calling loudly, it was even more like being in Langstone Harbour than yesterday. There were also about 800 Black-tailed Godwits around for most of the day. I had hoped there might just have been a Little Ringed Plover or a Sand Martin, but no luck.
The screen in the lobby was mostly showing the "pondcam" today and at one point a large dragonfly larva came into view, probably an Emperor. There were also a few Smooth Newts and various water beetles and water boatmen.

Monday, 1 March 2010

A trip to the coast (Are the grebes stalking me?)

A quick trip to my old haunts around Langstone Harbour this morning and what a morning to go there. Although I the journey has not got better, in fact I think it was worse, how did I do that everyday?

Once I got there it was magically calm, completely glass smooth water showed every ripple allowing even the smallest bird on the water to be easy to pick out. From the top of the mound at Budds Farm I counted at least 39 Goldeneye, 85 Red-breasted Merganser and 15 Black-necked Grebes, there was also a Velvet Scoter and what I took to be a Long-tailed Duck, although the views of the last were distant and into the light. I thought I would get a look at it when I went over to the Hayling Oyster Beds, but when I got there it was nowhere to be seen.
The Oyster Beds are a great roosting site for waders, the old bunds now forming islands at high tide, these attracted a good flock of Dunlin with some Grey Plover today, the picture shows them coming in to land at the roost after being disturbed by a helicopter.
Langstone Harbour is well known as a breeding site for gulls and terns. The Oyster Beds have held a good colony of Little Terns at times and are wardened by the Wildlife Trust each summer and we were there to look at doing some works to improve the habitat before the coming nesting season. The island in the lagoon is also a gathering site for the Mediterranean Gulls that nest with the Black-headed Gulls out on the harbour islands. There were at least 50 there this morning in the sunshine, with lots of calling and displaying. Although the nest rather later than the Black-headeds they get their black heads earlier.
After an hour or so planning some work on the ditches at Farlington Marshes to see if we can attract more Lapwing and Redshank to nest it was return to Blashford time.
I had a quick look at Ibsley Water and would you believe it, there were 4 Black-necked Grebes, I just couldn't escape them today!