Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A Bit of the Big One comes to Blashford

Very little time spent at Blashford today, I opened up and then left for a meeting in Fareham, then back via The Biggest Birdseed Cake in the World and back just in time for it to get dark.

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

The Freeze Starts to Bite

It does not get any warmer and there are signs that the cold is beginning to result in some significant movement of birds. I noted last week that there were remarkable numbers of goosander coming into roost on Ibsley Water and this was before it had really got cold. Things have moved on apace, with 114 being seen on Saturday evening and an extraordinary 160 on Sunday evening. I will try to get a count this week if I can, who knows how many there might be by the time this cold spell comes to and end.

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

Hard Water

Another cold one, although thankfully without any wind. Not much of note as I opened up this morning, a calling Cetti's warbler at Ivy North and brambling by the Centre and 4 fieldfare flying over were all I wrote down. The silt pond on the way to Ivy South hide was frozen over, or almost so, one of the cygnets was sitting in a small ice free patch on the western side.
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

The Fire Starters

Another fine, if cold, Volunteer Thursday, today's tasks included clearing rhododendron. There is only one thicket of this plant on the reserve and we started to clear it last year and left it stacked. This was not laziness, the idea was to see if any of the original ground flora had survived before we burnt up the cuttings. Sadly it turns out the answer was no, which is a shame as this is one of the few areas of the reserve where the original ground surface remains. The massive size of the hazel stools testifies to a long standing woodland, but now without any ground cover plants, or it would seem surviving seed. We will still keep the fire sites small, just in case. I try to avoid having fires on reserves, the cut branches are habitat and a fire both sterilises the ground and produces a nutrient "hotspot". In this case the rhododendron is in huge quantity and is home to very little so the best way to restore the old woodland character is to get rid of it and after the fires to remove the ash. This was actually the first fire I have had on the reserve in four and a half years, the picture shows the fire in the early stage.
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

(Saw)bills Mount Up

No pictures today I'm afraid, I did try but they were all rubbish, so I will stick to words. The main event today was the monthly wildfowl count, I started with Ibsley Water (and finished there, but more of that later), the numbers of ducks there remains small. Highlights were 5 drake goldeneye, indicating an influx despite the fact that I could only find 6 redheads, but they are very hard to count when feeding.The only other large count was 487 greylag, as there were also thirty-three on Rockford Lake it confirms there are over five hundred around. In other goose news 3 Egyptian goose and the bar-headed goose were also about.

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

Reports, Ponds and Opportunities

First the late news, last Thursday a male hen harrier was seen from the Tern hide, possibly the first record from the reserve this autumn/winter. Then on Sunday an Iceland gull came into the gull roost, it was probably a second winter bird or very pale first winter. The number of goosander has also increased, to forty-one at least. I missed all of the above through either being elsewhere or just not at Balshford at all.

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

Three Blind Mice

A third mouse was caught in our loft today. I think it was yet another yellow necked mouse. The main distinguishing feature between a wood mouse and a yellow necked mouse is whether they have a yellowish streak between their front legs. Both species do, but the yellow necked mouse marking is an uninterrupted streak. This very poor photo almost shows it.

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

Blowing Through Blashford

A minor surprise as I opened up the Tern hide, there were 5 Egyptian geese on Ibsley Water, I rarely see them at this time of the year. Otherwise 2 black-tailed godwit were about the most interesting. Opening up there were a few parties of redwing flying over and several siskin on the feeders, a single male brambling was also under the feeders by the Centre.

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

Blashford Volunteer Magic

The magic of "Volunteer Thursday" worked again, when I arrived it was raining, by the time the volunteers were gathered it was dry and when we started working we were in sunshine. Of course, as we worked only in the morning, it rained again in the afternoon.

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

Rain, Wonderful Rain

Today was one of those when you long for the weather to get to the miserable stage, no other word for it, it was grim. Rain from dawn to dusk, although it was very light at dawn and nearly stopped right on sunset.

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

A Fallen Giant

Cold and frosty with added ingredient of fog this morning. As I drove across the New Forest there were flocks of woodpigeon flying west, the first was over a thousand strong , others in the hundreds. It was interesting that they were all more or less following high ground, some birds follow valleys, but perhaps pigeons prefer the heights. I know there were very large movements at the coast today, although mostly only very early.

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

Winter Arrives and a Lost Duck

Today was the first that I have felt really cold, I regretted not having any gloves with me and if this was not enough to signify that winter is upon us, Jim arrived at work in trousers, the shorts finally abandoned for the year. Fortunately the bitter feel abated as the sun came out and it became pleasant, if cool in the slight northerly breeze.

Opening the hides was uneventful, although the roe deer doe and her two well grown youngsters were good value just outside the Ivy North hide. Back at the Centre we saw the first two brambling of the winter with the many chaffinch under the feeders. There was a report of one the other day at the Woodland hide and I have heard a couple in the trees, but this pair were the first I have seen. I expect they will be the first of many in what I think will be a bumper winter for finches. There were also about 100 siskin in the alders just south of the Centre with a good number feeding on the path.

I am doing some extra bird counts on some of the lakes this winter and today I counted Ivy and Rockford Lakes. Rockford has the greatest numbers of birds at present, especially mute swan, wigeon and coot. There was also a surprise in the shape of a long-tailed duck, it was a particularly dull looking young bird, quite unlike the only other one I have seen at Balshford which was an adult drake. Sadly this will not count for our BTO Challenge total as it was not within the boundary of the reserve, but still a good inland record of a seaduck.

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

Geese, Goldeneye and Gulls

Not the best day, it rained a lot and got steadily colder as it went on. There was some evidence of arrivals of winter birds, redwing were scattered in the trees and the siskin flock, now numbering over 200 birds included at least a few redpoll. On Ibsley Water the goosander included three drakes and there were at least 11 goldeneye, including two adult and one immature drake. Ibsley Water briefly hosted 85 black-tailed godwit and there were also 2 dunlin and 2 green sandpiper. I suspect the godwits had been flushed from the valley by shooting, which went on for much of the day, this was probably also the reason for there being 472 greylag and a single bar-headed goose.

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

Wind, Rain and Volunteers

A vigorous start to the day with wind and rain, I suspected that it might have put off the Thursday volunteers, but they are made of stern stuff and nine turned up to work. We were helped by the rain conveniently stopping about ten minutes before we started. We did not venture too far, as heavy showers were forecast, however we need not have worried and we got a good bit done. As though to prove the charmed existence of the Blashford volunteers, it started to rain about fifteen minutes after we stopped work.

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.

Blashford on the TV Tonight

A quick reminder that the Autumn Watch filming done over the weekend at Blashford will be shown tonight on BBC2, the show starts at 20:00. I don't think it will be much more than three minutes, but that still leaves us with twelve minutes of fame for later.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Something Black Out of the Blue

A great day to be out, cool, bright and blue. Woodpigeon moving over from first thing, I only saw a few hundred but this usually means thousands on the coast. Such movements also usually indicate that there will have been other species on the move overnight and sure enough there were a few redwing about and I heard both brambling and redpoll calling from the trees near the Centre. I am getting ahead of myself though. I started at the Tern hide as usual, nothing of great note but there were 3 dunlin, 3 black-tailed godwit and 2 green sandpiper and then the one that got away as I was more or less certain I heard a rock pipit call, but I could not find it anywhere and I don't think I can claim it at Blashford on call only.
On the way to the Ivy North hide I looked across, as I always do on such mornings, toward the Wessex Water treatment works. Why I look is because the south side is in the sun and looks ideal for a black redstart, today it paid off, there really was a black redstart. It was a female spending most fo the time on the railings of a walkway at first floor level, too far away for a picture. Not a Blashford "tick" but a Blashford first fro me and the first for some years, also another bird for the BTO Challenge total.
The other hides were opened without incident, but looking into the water below the Ivy South hide I saw a small pike, then another and then two more. They were lying just below the surface next to the fallen trees. Two of them had leeches attached, one at least a dozen. I just about got a picture of one, not easy into the water without a polarising filter.
I did a bit more work on the sight lines at the Ivy North hide around the middle of the day, if there were bitterns they kept a very low profile, but a Cetti's warbler sang loudly at me and there were 2 water rail calling. The water is getting pretty deep now so this will probably be the last tweak of the season so I hope it works.
At the end of the day 4 common gull and at least 6 yellow-legged gull were the best I could do from the Tern hide. It was rapidly getting cold as I went to close the Ivy South hide and got this shot of the crescent moon over the silt pond, it is odd how it looks quite large in the sky but barely shows in the picture, something to do with the brain getting confused trying to compare the size of near and very distant objects I understand.

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

The Wildlife Trust is 50 (nearly)

A quick extra post tonight, the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust is now coming up to fifty years old. Fifty years that have seen huge changes in habitats, conservationists and attitudes to the environment. Shortly after the Wildlife Trust was formed it took on the management of Farlington Marshes, very much as a move to try and secure the future of a fabulous wildlife site that had been under real threat. Saving the best from loss was very much the story in the early days, now we are taking a more landscape scale look at habitat and species survival. This history is traced in a new book produced to celebrate the anniversary, more about this book can be found here.

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.

Water, Water

I was busy with various things that kept me largely in the Centre today, considering the weather not the toughest choice. In very heavy rain first thing all I saw of note from the Tern hide were 2 dunlin flying about. I could only see 2 goldeneye, it could be that the others were lurking out of sight, but it could be that yesterday's arrivals were actually just en route somewhere else when they were forced down by the wind and rain in the early hours.

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

Goldeneye Blow In

A remarkable change in the weather this morning, I set off from home in a gale, arrived in rain and within an hour it was almost flat calm and sunny. Looking out from the Tern hide first thing there was a group of 12 goldeneye, including three adult drakes. Yesterday there were just three redheads, so they had obviously arrived overnight. Given the dreadful weather in the latter part of the night they must have set off early. There was also a steady movement of woodpigeon heading east, I saw some 700 in about fifteen minutes, they usually tend to move west at this time of year. I also saw 3 dunlin flying about, later there was one on Ibsley Water, possibly one of these three. There were also 2 black-tailed godwit which flew over heading south.

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

TV and Another "Tick"

All sorts of goings on today, despite a pretty cold night there were a few moths in the trap this morning including beaded chestnut, "November" moths, feathered thorn, red-green carpet, grey-shoulder knot, large yellow underwing, turnip, red-line quaker, yellow-line quaker, shuttled-shaped dart, large wainscot and mottled umber, the last a very well marked one and pictured below.
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.
I also snapped a couple of shots of birds at the feeders myself, including this great tit, an adult and one of the birds that was ringed last winter.
I also got a coal tit at the same feeder and by coincidence this bird was also one of our ringed birds.
For some a visit from the BBC would be quite enough excitement for one day, but not for me, the highlight was actually nothing to do with the TV. It came in the form of yet another bird "tick" for Blashford, at least for me, I have not looked up the records yet. This came in the shape of a group of 3 red-breasted merganser, all red-heads, actually I think young birds. Below is a poor shot of the party, but at least you can just about tell what they are.
Other birds today included a green sandpiper on Rockford Lake with perhaps 700 coot and a good number of wigeon. From the Ivy North hide a singing Cetti's warbler and a couple of blue tit behaving like poor man's penduline tit, in that they were pulling apart the seedheads of reedmace, perhaps the real thing will turn up, perhaps, maybe, one day.
Towards dusk on Ibsley Water the young female peregrine was testing out the gulls for weakness, although did not find any easy enough to catch. The gull roost was as large as ever and I saw at least 2 yellow-legged gull along with the thousands of lesser black-backed gull like the ones in the picture taken from the Goosander hide.

Friday, 5 November 2010

The Day Ends with a Bang

A lot going on but not much to report, at least as far as the wildlife goes. A few redwing flying over early on and a single redpoll going west were the most interesting. Even the moth trap did not contain much, a late and very tatty setaceous hebrew character and a few each of yellow-line Quaker, "November" moths, feathered thorn, large wainscot and a single beaded chestnut.

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

Alien Encounters

On Tuesday I returned to Blashford after just over a week off, suddenly autumn has arrived, the leaves have turned and lots fallen.
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.

I came straight back to the government agency fera on site from dawn culling ruddy duck, these ducks came from North America and escaped, ironically, from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge. The government decided to try and eradicate them from the country, a brave decision, both because eradicating any species is very difficult indeed and because it is a less than universally popular thing to be doing. For the reserve it means trying to minimise the impact on other species and visitors and hoping that they do a "good job" so they do not need to come back.
The same morning we had one of our twice yearly meeting of the partners who run the Blashford Lakes reserve, at which one of the issues was the "favourable condition" of the reserve. This is a status assessed by Natural England and is designed to ensure that designated wildlife sites remain good for wildlife. Unfortunately having aliens species can be one thing that means the assessment will go against us. In this case the offending species are Crassula helmsii and common carp. The first is a plant from Australia introduced for garden ponds, but thrown out when it became too abundant and now widespread in ponds and lakes in the countryside. With changes in the chemical control that is allowed there is now very little that can be done to control it and so we are no longer so seriously "marked down" for having it on site. The carp are a different matter, they are alien, although they have been in Britain for hundreds of years. We have one lake where they have bred in such numbers that we have now been told they have to be reduced in number to restore the bird population of the lake. This will be a difficult process, not just because of the practically problems but also because of the number of interests involved.
The picture shows Crassula growing amongst native plants in an area where we are trying to reestablish a fen and reedbed habitat. The Crassula is the green background plant with tiny leaves. If we did spray the unwanted Crassula here we would kill off all the native plants as well. What we don't know is if the Crassula will prevent the native fen flora from establishing.
On Tuesday afternoon I went out netting the edges of Ivy Lake and Blashford Lake in search of the "Killer shrimp". This is a species is similar to our native freshwater shrimp, but about three times the size, so far it has only been found in Grafham Water, Cambridgeshire. It has come in from Eastern Europe and is a small but aggressive predator. The worry is that by changing the balance of species at the lower levels of the food chain this will have knock on effects on everything else, it will have an effect, just how much and on what scale only time will tell. In this case eradication seems out of the question, so trying to prevent spread is the main response. It seems certain this species arrived by accident, possibly in the bottom of a boat.

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

Blashford is a Bird Atlas Hotspot

The BTO Atlas project is drawing to a close, this coming winter will be the last of the four that will supply the data for the final atlas and at the end of next July the whole project will have come to and end. This is the third breeding atlas and the second winter atlas and they have covered the whole of Britain and Ireland and give an unparalleled overview of changes in distribution and now also population density. These are huge undertakings involving thousands of observers making millions of records. The arrival of the Internet since the last atlas, twenty years ago, has allowed much easier recording and the opportunity to see the pattern of records unfolding.

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".