Tuesday, 30 November 2010
Despite this there is a bit to report. First thing there were 2 dunlin on Ibsley Water, although not a lot else. The greenfinch roost in the laurel bushes at the car park entrance was still dispersing, there must be 200 or so coming in there now. At the Ivy North hide a water rail was calling and a group of 20 or so shoveler were feeding along the reed edge, I looked for bittern in the ice free areas in the reeds, but with no luck.
Then off to Fareham to talk waders, disturbance and how to fit lots of people into the same space as lots of birds without either losing out. These issues actually go to the heart of how successful we might be with the Living Landscapes approach which aims to maximise the opportunities for wildlife everywhere, not just on special sites. Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust does a lot of work on planning, responding to proposals and seeking a better outcome for wildlife. Although it may not seem obviously the case, influencing planning and development proposals may well achieve more for nature conservation than running nature reserves.
Then onto the birdseed cake, or at least what is left of it, a lot has already been handed out. The cake was made last Friday and pending the agreement the appropriate adjudicators should be accepted as the largest ever made at over 1.3 tonnes. Some will be featuring at the Woodland hide from tomorrow morning, so we will see it the birds are impressed.
I got back too late to see much but there were a couple of reports from the day, 2 Bewick's swan on Ibsley Water were presumably newly arrived and a green sandpiper on Rockford Lake was probably the one on Ivy Lake yesterday.
Lastly there was yet another wood mouse in the trap in the loft this morning, making five so far, I liberated it on the reserve, hopefully far enough away that it will not return.
Monday, 29 November 2010
Other signs of cold weather movement were 255 teal on Ivy Lake today and this evening at least 300 common gull coming into roost on Iblsey Water. At the same time the reduction in numbers of lesser black-backed gull coming to roost probably indicates that some have moved on.
Activity at the feeders has picked up with siskin and goldfinch regular on the nyger feeders and good numbers of chaffinch and a few brambling at the ground food.
Other birds today included a dunlin on Ibsley Water and a green sandpiper on Ivy Lake. The greylag were grazing the western shore of Ibsley Water and were joined by about 200 wigeon. This was especially pleasing to see as we spent a couple of days cutting this area to make it more suitable for grazing wildfowl back in the autumn.
Friday, 26 November 2010
There was a bit of late news from yesterday, a report of a great grey shrike on the path between Rockford and Ivy Lakes, it sounds as though it might have been on the reserve proper, but I cannot be sure. If it had been on the reserve it would have been another species for the BTO Challenge. Still towards the end of the day I popped into the Tern hide and there was a water pipit on the shore right in front of the hide, I should have got a reasonable picture of it, but just as I was about to take it a pied wagtail chased it off. Water pipit is an extra species for the challenge. Most water pipits winter along the coast where it is a bit milder, this one obviously likes things a bit cooler. As things continue to get colder over the next few days perhaps we will pick up one or two more extra species.
Thursday, 25 November 2010
This was not the only task we did though, one of the signs at the entrance that had been bent by over exuberant driving on someone's part was replaced and two trailer loads of willow were added to the dead hedge around the main car park.
The cold wind following the overnight frost made looking out from the Tern hide less than pleasant first thing, in the quick look that I had I saw a green sandpiper and 3 black-tailed godwit. At the Ivy North hide the sheltered shallow water at the edge of the lake was frozen for the first time this winter, a calling Cetti's warbler was the only bird of note. Around the Centre feeders a brambling and a few lesser redpoll in the trees were about it.
Rather impressively, considering the overnight temperature, there were two moths in the trap, a December moth and a sprawler, unfortunately it was late in the day when I checked the trap so the picture of the sprawler below was taken in rather low light.
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Rockford Lake is the main wildfowl venue at present, it just seems to grow in importance as it matures, it is a much younger lake than the other large ones in the valley. The Rockford count highlights were 826 wigeon, 667 coot and 215 gadwall, there was no sign of the long-tailed duck though. A total of 170 pochard, although not huge was quite good for Blashford Lakes these days and we may get a few more if the weather gets colder.
Away from the water three brambling were feeding beside the Centre car park, including one quite fine male.
At dusk I went over to the Goosander hide to count the goosander coming into roost. Before the main arrival I also checked through the gulls, I saw about 15 yellow-legged gull but no sign of either Iceland gull or Caspian gull. I actually started at the Lapwing hide, but the goosander were flying into the bay by the Goosander hide so I relocated there. The arrival was steady and it became obvious that I was going to get a good few more than the 41 reported the other day. As numbers built some drifted round towards the Lapwing hide, as usual it was not possible to keep track of just how many. Eventually I counted eighty birds, plus the unknown few, a good count by any standards for November. A group of fallow deer does came out onto the shore, nine in all including a black one, a white one, a blonde one and six typical coloured. I checked the goosander again, now 86, including 18 adult drakes. Then a fox appeared on the shore walking from the north and that did the trick, the birds that had gone round the corner were doing the "Follow the fox" thing and there were ten of them. So the total was 96 goosander, including 20 adult drakes, an amazing count for November.
In other news a single adult Bewick's swan was by Ibsley bridge on the water meadows and I heard a chiffchaff near the Lapwing hide.
Monday, 22 November 2010
Now for today; from the Tern hide as I opened up there was a green sandpiper, a black-tailed godwit, 13 goosander (including 7 adult drakes) and 10 Egyptian goose. At the Ivy North hide a fine male bullfinch was in the willows beside the hide and a Cetti's warbler was singing loudly. Perhaps surprisingly there were also dunnock and song thrush singing as well as the usual robin and wren.
At the Centre 2 fallow deer does were a relatively unusual sight just behind the dipping pond, they do not often come south of Ellingham Drove. In the moth trap the catch was small but varied with brick, chestnut, scarce umber and red-line quaker.
Briefly by Rockford Lake, I could not see the long-tailed duck which seems to have left as it was not apparently seen over the weekend either. There were good numbers of wigeon, probably 300 or so and clearly more than a few days ago, I will be counting tomorrow so should have some figures to report then.
I spent a time this morning looking at the potential for making new ponds as part of the Million Pond Project. Our ponds will be of the ephemeral or semi-permanent kind, but then many of the rare species in the Avon Valley and New Forest live in just such places. One of the joys of working on a site that is mostly recently abandoned industrial land are the opportunities it offers for creating habitat features and experimenting a bit. Luckily much of the area that has become the reserve was not "over restored", we did not get deep layers of rich topsoil that promote the growth of rank grassland. A poor soil produces a much more diverse flora and so offers opportunities for more other wildlife, it will have some areas that are richer and some very poor, just what you need, variety. On the negative side we did inherit a lot of planted trees, often of dubious origin, but these can be thinned or converted to standing dead wood, more opportunities for wildlife.
Saturday, 20 November 2010
We have been using Longworth traps to catch our mice, they are humane traps which cause minimal discomfort to the animal. The trap consists of 2 parts; a nesting chamber filled with bedding and food (on the right of the photos) and a hinged door operated by a trip wire (on the left). These types of traps are used to survey for small mammals.
If you are interested in monitoring mammals then why not join the Trust's Mammal Group. There are also Species groups for amphibians, reptiles and plants. Find out more here. Membership is free to Wildlife Trust members. Join today!
Friday, 19 November 2010
The moth trap contained 14 December moth and single red-line quaker, yellow-line quaker and feathered thorn.
Between showers I blew the leaves off the paths and boardwalks, it is a bit of a never ending task but it pays to get them of before they are turned to mush by getting walked on. The tree that fell last week also got some attention, although it took a chainsaw rather than a blower to make an impact. We hope to keep the main body of the trunk as a feature beside the path, it really is a monster. The trimmed branches will make good mini-beasting logs and I also cut a couple of big sections as seats.
At the end of the day I locked up and put food out for the badgers. This has not always been necessary recently as on the frosty nights they have not been coming to take the food, I suspect they have not been venturing out at all.
The starlings were going to roost in the reeds beside Ivy Lake and in the laurel bushes at the main car park entrance the greenfinch roost now numbers well over a hundred birds.
Reports today included the long-tailed duck again on Rockford Lake and the adult Caspian gull on Ibsley Water, with the usual ten or so yellow-legged gull.
Thursday, 18 November 2010
The cloudy night did yield a few moths including a December moth, not actually the first of the year but the first that I have been able to get a picture of. They really are fabulously woolly looking for moths, but if you are a nocturnal insect that is going to fly in mid-winter it pays to try and keep warm.
The volunteers were working near the Goosander hide today, we finally managed to get the screen by the hide repaired, this is a task that needed a minimum of three people and so had to wait until today. The open area near the hide was also cleared of invading birch seedlings and we cut and pushed over a number of sallows on the approach path. The stems are cut about two-thirds of the way through so they will continue to grow. The objective here is to retain the bulk of the tree but get them to thicken up, in effect we were mimicking a line of wind-thrown trees. This should produce habitat for breeding birds while retaining the mix of branch sizes, so it should be better for a wider range of wildlife than coppicing. In the sunshine as we worked, we had a red admiral butterfly sunning itself beside the path, the first I have seen for some while.
In between times today I had my first group of redpoll, admittedly only four, but they were feeding in the birch trees and might get onto the feeders before too long. I have heard mistle thrush singing a few times this week, but today I also heard a song thrush, not for long, just a couple of minutes, but in full voice none the less.
The first chiffchaff of the winter was reported today, although it is often said that some of our birds stay for the winter there always seems to be a period of at least three to four weeks when we have none around. The autumn migrants are with us until mid to late October, then there are usually none until late November or even the start of December. The long-tailed duck was still on Rockford Lake today along with at least 64 mute swan.
I ate lunch in the Tern hide, birds were few but the first winter female peregrine flew over the lake and the bar-headed goose was with the greylag flock. I got a rather poor picture of it when I returned later in the day, the bird was closer but the light was almost gone.
Towards dusk the gull roost included at least 8 yellow-legged gull and the adult Caspian gull was seen near the Goosander hide, there were also 2 common gull, which are not at all common at Blashford.
Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Still I had to have a look and as I opened the Tern hide 3 shelduck were unexpected, although they promptly flew of high to the south. There were also 8 pintail, all ducks and very jumpy in the middle of the lake, behaving quite differently from the two drakes and a duck near the western shore, so I guess newly arrived. Otherwise 3 dunlin were the only things of note.
After this the rain really set in and I hardly got out all day, on the plus(?) side I did catch up with some of my paperwork. The visitors were few, six all day, but I could not blame people for staying at home.
The moth trap did have a few moths as it was at least not cold overnight. It contained "November" moth 1, mottled umber 1, scarce umber 1, yellow-lined quaker 3, red-lined quaker 2 and chestnut 1. The mouse trap in the loft caught another mouse which was released, hopefully far enough away from the building that it will not come straight back.
As I locked up there were about 3000 starling gyrating over Ivy lake, although they flew off to the south so I am not sure if they roosted in the reeds there or not.
Let's hope for better tomorrow, surely it cannot be worse?
Tuesday, 16 November 2010
At Blashford all the padlocks were frozen and I had to warm them up before they would open. The fog meant that I could see only 2 mallard from the Tern hide. Not much more from the others either, although I had good views of a water rail at the Ivy North and there was a calling Cetti's warbler there as well. Another Cetti's this time singing was at the Ivy silt pond, later I had yet another calling on the northern shore of Mockbeggar Lake.
The day brightened up and I blew the leaves from the paths, including the Rockford path, which gave me the chance to see if the long-tailed duck was still there, it was and in almost the same place as yesterday.
We have had mice in the loft recently and this morning there was one in the trap, a live trap I should add, when released, I realised it was a yellow-necked mouse. It had been very noisy up there and I have noticed that yellow-necks tend to be noisier than wood mice.
After lunch a visitor came into the Centre to report a fallen tree, I went to look and saw it was the massive fissured oak along the Ellingham path. I had been along there at the weekend but not since so I am not sure when it fell. It is often assumed that we walk all the paths everyday, sadly not the case, in fact I often don't get to the Lapwing hide every week. Jim and I went and cleared what we could, at least enough to allow people to walk past safely. Although the wood was not at all rotten the roots on one side of the tree had rotted right through. The top had several dead branches, but that it far from unusual in an old oak, they often just wear away as they get old, so it was quite a surprise that it had fallen.
At the end of the day the adult Caspian gull was with the roost on Ibsley Water, but all the gulls were outside up near the Lapwing hide so I could not see it from the Tern hide.
Monday, 15 November 2010
Whilst I was immersed in counting I heard what was probably a calling lesser spotted woodpecker, but I was not able to follow it up and I did not hear it again.
I did not get many other reports today, 28 goosander first thing as they were leaving the roost and about 10 yellow-legged gull at dusk being about the pick.
Sunday, 14 November 2010
It was a bit of a day for mammals, a party of fallow deer beside Ibsley Water included one quite fine buck. The north shore of the lake had a fox, as it often does. The least seen, if not rarest, sighting was of a stoat crossing Ellingham Drove.
Towards dusk the gulls gathered as usual and included at least 9 yellow-legged gull, 2 common gull and a 2nd winter gull that probably must have been a Caspian gull. It was the right shape, with the right plumage features, bill etc, but looked a little dark on the mantle. I think this was just because the light was fading, as all the other features looked right for Caspian and wrong for other species. It was not the bird of the same age seen by me the other day, as the bill pattern was certainly a little different. Oh, the joys of trying to identify gulls at the end of a dull day.
As it was getting really dark I was locking up the Ivy Lake hides, a Cetti's warbler was singing by the north hide and a water rail was calling. The reeds in the north-west part of the lake held a mass of chattering starling gone to roost.
A bit of late news from Friday was of a great northern diver on Ibsley Water in the morning.
Thursday, 11 November 2010
Not a lot of wildlife to report today. A drake goldeneye on Ibsley Water was a new bird, I think, I am now certain that the group on Monday were migrants as there has been no sign of them since. At dusk the gulls were good an close to the Tern hide, but despite good views the most unusual birds were 3 common gull and 5 or 6 yellow-legged gull.
Tonight Blashford was on Autumnwatch, note I now have the name of the show right, it is all one "word", I'm afraid my posting of the time was also wrong as it actually started at 20:30, but you probably knew that if you watch the show. It concentrated on garden birds on the feeders, in fact there was one other sighting of note today, the first siskin on a feeder that I have seen this autumn.
Wednesday, 10 November 2010
I set off for home and as I drove towards the bridge over the Dockens Water near Moyles Court there was an animal by the road, I am pretty sure it was an otter, but it disappeared into the bramble before I could really get a look. Even that was not quite the end of the day's wildlife, despite it being dark. Just south of Ringwood a barn owl flew low over the road, now that is a bird I could do with for Blashford.
Tuesday, 9 November 2010
There are also all kinds of event planned for the fiftieth year, more on these can be found here. Some will be happening at Blashford and others may well be coming to a venue, perhaps quite and unexpected one, near you.
When I went to lock up the Tern hide a kittiwake had just been seen over the lake, another new bird for the BTO Challenge. Sadly there was no sign of the ring-billed gull reported the other day, although the gulls were mostly in the north-east corner of the lake and so hard to see well. There was a flock of dunlin, numbering at least nine, but I think more.
The heavy rain today caused the Dockens Water to flood for the first time this season, it overflowed into the alder carr and thence into the main body of Ivy Lake. This input of acid New Forest water into the more neutral to alkaline water of the lake both raises the lake level and changes the pH, at least a little. This last point may have something to do with the increase in Crassula helmsii in the last two years. This plant likes more acid conditions and in the last two years no river water has been added to the lake from the Avon, but the Dockens Water has flowed in several times. The other effect of this rush of water might be to pull the sea trout into the Avon and even into the Dockens, where they will eventually spawn.
Monday, 8 November 2010
It turned out yesterday that there was a report of an adult ring-billed gull, along with an adult Caspian gull on Iblsey Water during the mid-afternoon. Despite a tentative claim today it did not seem to have returned and the only Caspian gull was the second winter bird that has been seen a few times recently. There were also at least 8 yellow-legged gull, I saw 7 adults and a first winter bird, along with 2 common gull. The lesser black-backed gull roost included a variety of shades from dark mid grey to nearly black. Some of the last must be intermedius type birds, who knows perhaps some might even be the elusive Baltic gull, although the best candidate birds for this that I have seen have all been much earlier in the autumn.
Finally and only long after I got home I read of a large white bird with long neck and legs seen flying towards Blashford at the end of the day, perhaps a spoonbill? If it was and it is still there tomorrow we might have another bird for the BTO Challenge. I could also do with confirming the ring-billed gull and firecrest records made recently as both of those would be new for the year as well.
Sunday, 7 November 2010
Today saw the team from BBC Autumn Watch on site to film a piece about common garden birds filmed on the feeders around the car park at the Centre and at the Woodland hide. I understand things went well so you can see Blashford on TV on Thursday next at 20:00 on BBC 2. The team can be seen below during a break in filming.
Friday, 5 November 2010
The Lower Test volunteer team were working on the reserve again today and they have completed putting up the wire to exclude rabbits from the millennium meadow so the grass will grow better and give better habitat for mini-beast hunting.
Looking ahead we have a visit from BBC Autumn Watch coming up, I will post the broadcast time when I know. They are coming to look at birds on the feeders, I just hope there are some to see as this is about the quietest time for our feeders, most of the birds are out in the woods eating natural seeds. Actually I think this is going to be a bumper season for the woodland hide feeders, but not yet. The numbers of finches about are high with good numbers of siskin, redpoll and brambling in the country and they will be looking for food come the New Year so a visit in February could be very productive. There are also lots of waxwing "up north"and who knows perhaps we will get a few if we are very lucky.
At the end of the day a loud band near Ivy Lake gave a brief worry about illegal shooting, but it was probably an early firework set off near Rockford Lake, the wildfowl were througly spooked though and I expect they will be jumpy for a day or two after tonight.
Thursday, 4 November 2010
My week, or at least the three days of it that have passed so far, has been dominated by aliens. These have not been little green men, although some have been green, some small but others very definitely not.
Wednesday came around and in the evening we hosted a meeting about wels catfish, a species from eastern and southern Europe. They can get really big, perhaps 2.5m long, although so far usually more like a metre or so and twenty or thirty kilos in this country. They eat all sorts of things including fish, crustaceans and even birds. They can and do breed in this country and climate change is only likely to make things better for them. This species was legally imported into the country to certain lakes, but people have moved them from the original sites to other lakes without permission. The impact of this remains to be seen, although it seems one of the favourite prey species is the American signal crayfish, another alien introduced into fish farms which has got out over the fence. The signal crayfish has indirectly more or less exterminated the native white-clawed crayfish, not by direct competition but by carrying a disease to which the native species has no immunity.
Surely enough aliens for anyone, but no, today I was at a conference in Brockenhurst organised by the New Forest Non-Native Plants Project, it was all about alien species, in this case mostly plants. It ranged across Crassula, giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam, water primrose and several others. There was much discussion about control methods, although most species are here for good and it is just a matter of how we live with them. Most of these plants were deliberately introduced for our gardens and were often hailed as marvellous garden plants for many years before the problems started. Some plants do not seem to have caused a problem in themselves but the diseases they brought with them have, fungal diseases seem particularly to be a problem, sometimes skipping here to new species with deadly results.
So what have I gleaned from my encounter with the aliens? Well it seems we have been very slow to learn from past mistakes and increasing world traffic and trade will probably mean things will only get worse. Even though the spread of aliens species is regarded as second only to climate change as a threat to wildlife globally and costs something over 13 billion Euros a year in Europe, as a society we still don't really take it seriously. We are living in an experiment, we can do almost nothing to control it and we do not know what the outcome will be. What is certain is that with finite resources adding species is going to change things and some species will disappear or at least get much rarer, a lot of them natives. There will also be lots of unintended consequences, the introduction of grey squirrel was not intended to eliminate the red squirrel, it was supposed to give us an extra species. It is likely we will have a more uniform world, I will not need to travel to see some of the world's wildlife, it will come to me, but some of the wildlife unique to this area of the world might be eliminated or at least get so rare that I may never see it. For me encountering a species in the place it has evolved to be is part of the experience, the story of the place is encapsulated in the species.
Obviously for others this is not the case and every alien seems to have a champion or several. Many people willingly admit to spreading Himalayan balsam because they love it and think it improves the attractiveness of riverbanks. There are wels catfish enthusiasts that will go beyond the law to spread their favourite fish to new waters and lovers of the ruddy duck, Canada goose and grey squirrel who would never concede that their introduction was a bad idea. Then again I have a garden and am as much a sucker for the latest flash new plant as the next person, I wonder if any of the plants lurking in my borders are just biding their time before heading out across the countryside, I hope not but I really don't know and neither does anyone else.
Monday, 1 November 2010
Locally the Hampshire Ornithological Society is intending to survey every tetrad (2x2 km square) in the whole county. Nationally the aim is at least eight in every 10km square, so this is more than three times as much work. It will give far and away the most detailed view we have ever had of the birds of the county. By surveying the birds in this way it is possible to get some idea of the habitat hotspots in the county and birds are one of the few groups that can be surveyed in this way, most wildlife groups simply do not have enough people interested in them to make such a survey feasible.
Blashford Lakes straddles two tetrads SU10 N and SU10 P, Ivy Lake southwards is in N and Ibsley Water is in P. The number of species recorded in these two tetrads is testament to the diversity of habitat and intensity of observation. The Ibsley Water tetrad (SU10P) has recorded 121 species in winter and 117 in the breeding season. SU10 N is somewhat behind with 98 species in winter and 81 in the breeding season. These data have to be viewed with a little care, there are a few records that I think are in error, such as Bewick's swan seen in SU10 N, I suspect this should have been in tetrad P, similarly a record of white-fronted goose, there are also a few duplicates around "pied" wagtails and various redpolls. I would urge everyone to take part, but please check that the records are entered for the right location, to make it easier there are maps on the website. To view data, maps etc. for any area you can visit www.bto.org.uk and follow the links through to the atlas.
I admit to being a bit of an atlassing enthusiast, the methodology makes me visit places that I would never otherwise go to and sometimes this can result in surprising finds. Locally I have come across an area with good numbers of yellowhammer breeding, a once abundant species that I hardly ever seen nowadays. What is more the locality is within a mile of my home and I never knew they were there. What this illustrates is that although we all like to visit well known good sites for wildlife and Balshford is certainly one of these, we should not forget that wildlife needs much more than a few "hotspots" to survive. We need healthy habitat across the whole of the country for wildlife to survive and every bit of habitat counts, good though nature reserves can be they will not conserve our wildlife. In fact what we will need is a Living Landscape, the Wildlife Trust's vision of a country fit for both people and wildlife, but see the Trust's website for more on this www.hwt.org.uk and seek out "Living Landscape".