Friday, 31 December 2010

A Look Back and a Glance Ahead

With the New Year just hours away thoughts are inclined to turn to the year just gone and that to come.

2010 saw some further developments, the education shelter was put up in January and the pond dipping boardwalk was replaced, two valuable enhancements to the education infrastructure. The Ivy South hide was replaced at the very end of 2009, but as part of the same project and the webcams were installed. All useful additions to the reserve, although I would be the first to admit that we are still not perhaps making the best of the cameras, something to work on for 2011. These works were majority funded by the Aggregates Sustainability Fund.

This blog has attracted more visitors during the year with numbers continuing to rise steadily throughout.

It has been a good year for birds and these have made for a good total for the BTO Challenge, although we have yet to see if it is a winning total. Highlights have been glossy ibis, long-tailed skua, bearded tit, waxwing, great grey shrike and just the other day a long-eared owl. The returning great white egret and recently, bittern have also been good to see again.

In February the reserve won two "New Forest Access for All" awards, one for best outdoor facility and the other as overall winner of all categories.

So what is to come in 2011? It will be a slightly uncertain time, our funding is likely to be impacted by the overall cuts in public funds, both directly in that one of the project partners is New Forest District Council and because the availability of and competition for project funding may get more difficult. The reserve is, of course, free to visit and this is not likely to change, but we will probably be trying to find ways to increase our donations income and recruit more members.

Despite uncertainty we do have plans in the pipeline for a bid to make a short self-guided trail directed at families, with a theme around getting people to experience the reserve in different ways, to look or listen in a more focused way. I have just put in a bid for to the Million Ponds Project to create up to ten small pools at various locations. We also hope to complete a Higher Level Stewardship application to help with funding of works in general and particularly for the restoration of Mockbeggar Lake.

We are also actively looking at reducing the carbon footprint of the Education Centre, hopefully replacing the old oil fired boiler with a wood fired one and perhaps using the roof area for solar heating and energy production.

Of course we will also be continuing with the wide range of education work and hopefully welcoming good numbers of visitors to enjoy the birds and other wildlife on offer.

I have now worked at Blashford Lakes for over four years and it has been a very satisfying project to work on, lots of opportunities to improve the area for wildlife and people, just what a nature reserve should be all about. Although it is a recently abandoned industrial site it does offer a wide range of habitats and the chance to manage them to make the most of their potential. This is really the task of the reserve, if wildlife is to survive in our overcrowded world we must make the most of any chances that offer themselves, not just at Blashford but everywhere.

Thank you for your support in 2010 and especially to those that have helped out as volunteers on the reserve during the year.

End of year update

It has been fairly busy with a regular flow of visitors to and from the reserve today - but not as busy as I suspect tomorrow will be!

At last the fog has lifted and although the ice is slowly thawing (Ellingham Lake is completely ice free again) the majority of open water on the reserve and surrounding lakes remains frozen so with less to see most people are stopping off for an hour or two and moving on rather than staying all day or half a day as is frequently the case. Ivy, Ibsley and Rockford Lakes have all got significantly more water and a corresponding increase in birds. There is even open water off the "spit" to the right of Tern Hide now giving good views of goldeneye this afternoon. At least the footpaths and car parks are no longer the skating rinks that they have been, although with another drop in temperature forecast for tomorrow that of course could all change again.!

Writing this at 4pm, as far as I am aware there has been nothing of note observed today, but there were reports of two red head smew on Ibsley Water from Lapwing Hide yesterday and also of a long eared owl from the same hide on Boxing Day by one of our neighbours and regular visitors - a sighting which Bob will be very pleased to add to the reserve list and the BTO Challenge list as well.

The bittern has not been reported since Wednesday, the female bearded tit yesterday. Water rail are showing relatively frequently from Ivy North Hide and the Woodland Hide has still got good numbers of finches, particularly brambling and siskin, but some redpoll as well.

It will be busy tomorrow so if you are planning on coming to the reserve if you can walk or use the bus please do and if you are coming by car please be patient and park in designated car parking places only.

Bob will be in tomorrow so you can probably expect a far more comprehensive Blog entry imminently, but in the mean time a "Happy New Year" from me...!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Is there anyone out there?!

After a quick walk around this morning to see what was about the answer is not much. Looking out over the lakes I could hear the wildfowl but couldn't see a thing, the lakes remain frozen despite the warmer temperatures which have thawed the snow and the thawing snow has created a thick fog! I managed to make out the silhouettes of mallard and teal close to the western shore of Rockford Lake. The last remaining patch of water in front of the screen on Ivy lake has finally frozen over and there are now just a handful of mallard and teal standing there on the ice. The reserve has a steady flow of visitors who seem to be heading to Ivy North hide in search of the bittern which was seen there yesterday (no news yet) and to the woodland hide which is busy as always with feeding birds. I will give a further update later today, if you are visiting the reserve please take extra care as the car parks and paths are still very icy....

12:30pm - I have just been informed by a visitor that the bittern is once again outside Ivy north hide, they watched it eat a roach! The bearded tits are also about by the same hide.

1:30pm - I went to Ivy North hide, and just my luck couldn't see the bittern but I did get a fantastic view of my first cetti's warbler!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Bittern Takes to the Woods

It just goes on getting colder, the thermometer on the side of the Centre was showing -5 degrees when I opened up this morning. I went round the reserve to open up the hides through frost covered trees and over crunching frozen snow.
Ivy Lake was completely frozen over, although I still opened the Ivy South hide and then walked back along the Ellingham path. Crossing the bridge there was the rare sight of the Dockens Water frozen from side to side although there are still ice free patches where the flow is fastest.
Ellingham Lake still has good areas of open water, but no more birds than a couple of days ago, the depth of water makes it less likely to freeze but means there is not much food.
Heading back towards the Centre I was stopped in the car park by Martin Devine with news of a bittern standing beside the Dockens Water and sure enough there it was standing out in the open. A bittern in the open is never a good sign, it means the bird is very stressed and at real risk of starvation.
It was looking around and very slowly moved off up the bank. When it raised a foot the enormously long toes and long claws showed well.It also did the looking straight towards me but under the beak trick, which I always find somewhat disconcerting.
I had a fairly good look around the reserve during the day, so I can give around up of where the birds are at present. Ivy Lake was not actually completely frozen but the tiny patch of water right int he north-east corner held just a few mallard and teal. Ellingham Lake has a good area of water but few birds.
Ibsley Water has just a small area of open water well up on the western side, which is best seen from the Lapwing hide, the Tern hide remains difficult to get to and the birds are a very long way off from there. The open water had a range of commoner ducks including a few pintail and goldeneye and at dusk 140 goosander were reported coming into roost along with a redhead red-breasted merganser. The gulls at dusk were few and most if not all seemed to stop to bathe and then carry on south, presumably to the coast.
Rockford Lake still has two areas of open water with all the usual species including about 750 coot, 87 mute swan and 100 gadwall. A distressing sight was a swan and two coot tied together by fishing line, there is no way to get to them so I suspect they are doomed.
Blashford (aka Spinnaker) Lake has a large area of open water at the southern end and this held at least 380 gadwall along with a variety of other wildfowl, although without anything out of the ordinary that I could see.
Lastly Snails lake also still has a reasonable area of water, enough for about 300 coot and a scatter of other wildfowl.
Returning to the Centre in the afternoon I was passing the Ivy Silt pond when I heard bearded tit calls, a pair were hopping about on the ice at the base of the reeds close to the path, presumably the birds that had been near the Ivy North hide recently. These birds are almost completely dependent upon the seeds of common reed, but these must be getting hard to find although they are probably well preserved in the frozen seed heads.
Today was my last day at the reserve this year and so my last chance to add to the BTO Challenge total. If you are planning to visit int he next few days I am still hoping for a common (mealy) redpoll or perhaps a glaucous gull to round off the year.
Rather belatedly I did hear of one extra record from last Wednesday, although it was only a "fly over", 2 great bustard were reported flying north, seen from the path between Blashford and Snails lakes. They would have made a truly "mega" garden tick for a certain local birder and may have more or less flown right over his house!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Frosty Robins and Fat Cake

Merry Christmas from a frosty Blashford Lakes.
Not at all a bad day, although with little of real note to report. The bearded tit pair were in front of the Ivy North hide again in the morning, but there was no sign of the bittern. Around the Centre and Woodland hide there were perhaps 20 or so brambling and several lesser redpoll at the feeders. The new fat feeders we made yesterday with lumps of the "World's Biggest Fat Seed Cake" were going down well with the local blue tits beside the car park. I also saw a woodcock which flew over my head at the car park and dropped in somewhere down by the Dockens Water.
In the afternoon I went up to the Lapwing hide, the light was too bright to see the birds well but it did make for a picturesque scene. A small area of open water just south of the hide was receiving the arriving goosander, many of which were standing or sitting on the edged of the ice.Lastly a couple of scenes, the first from the path just south of the Lapwing hide.
And then from the hide itself, looking out over Ibsley Water.
The reserve is closed tomorrow, but I will be in on Boxing Day to try and work off the festive excesses.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

A Bittern for Christmas

Very cold and fearfully icy, in fact I could not open the main car park as it was so treatcherous, the previously slushy snow has frozen into sharp ridges. I did open the Tern hide, although Ibsley Water is frozen over the whole of the southern end so there is little to see, except at great range.

Ivy Lake too is almost completely frozen and Rockford mostly so. Ivy has few birds other than mallard, but Rockford is well supplied with coot, gadwall, and mute swan, but not a great deal else. Ellingham Lake, as usual has large areas free of ice, but also largely free of birds, I always look in hope that some wandering wildfowl will have dropped in but they rarely do.

Most of the paths around the reserve are passable with care, they are icy and if you are visiting and have boot spikes they are well worth using. The car parks on the Center side of the reserve are usable, but icy and as I said above, the main car park is very icy and closed to cars and probably not worth walking across either.

It might be just before Christmas and it might be icy, but that did not put off the Blashford volunteers, six people turned out to make some more fat feeders to put out more of the "Biggest Fat Seed Cake in the World". We also cleared some of the ice from the ground at the Woodland hide to provide more feeding areas. After we had done this we stayed in the hide for a few minutes and in no time there were several brambling and lesser redpoll in on the feeders along with the commoner blue tit, great tit, coal tit, chaffinch, siskin, dunnock, robin, blackbird, great spotted woodpecker and nuthatch.

The bird news of the day came from the Ivy North hide where a bittern was seen in the late morning, once again the first bird of the winter has turned up in the week before Christmas. I did go to try and see it, failed but did see the female bearded tit, the male had also been seen, it is good to know they are still around.

Late in the day 2 Caspian gull were seen on Ibsley Water, both adults, although when I had looked earlier all I saw were about 5 or 6 yellow-legged gull and a peregrine, still maybe tomorrow...

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Blashford's Melting

Reserve update- The majority of the lakes are still frozen, but the snowball test has revealed they are starting to thaw with the ice becoming more slushy!

Ellingham Lake is storming ahead with the big thaw and is now only half frozen. The bird population was predominately coot and mallard with some gadwall and little grebe in front of the club house.

Snails Lake has mostly coot with some pochard, gadwall and tufted duck. Blashford Lake has pochard, coot, gadwall and tufted ducks.

Ivy Lake is still frozen over, the small pocket of water in front of the screen still remains but with now just a handful of mallard, coot and swans. Rockford Lake has three pockets of water with mostly coot, pochard, tufted duck and a few wigeon but noticeably a lot less than Saturday. The swan carcass has been quite impressively stripped bare.

Woodland hide is much the same, a busy feeding frenzy of all the usual woodland birds with good numbers of brambling. The badgers had ventured out yesterday night leaving lovely footprints in the snow around the entrance to the hide, most footprints are starting to melt now though.

Over on the other side of the reserve we saw a fallow deer disappearing over the bank on the approach to Goosander hide, however there was nothing to see from the hide itself.

Lapwing hide provided the best variety of waterfowl, although it is right over on the far side of Ibsley water. There were some shoveler, pochard, tufted ducks, gadwall, one goldeneye and a large number of coot. Walking back to the road there were flocks of siskin flying over our heads feeding at the tops of the alder trees.

So the best spots to visit at the moment are Woodland hide, the path between Rockford and Ivy Lake, Blashford Lake and if you are feeling adventurous then Lapwing hide, although the birds are on the far side of the lake, so ideally you need a telescope.

And here is a Christmassy scene of recycled decorations from our craft event yesterday featuring wobble the reindeer, who got so hungry he ate his own leg off!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Lists, Records and Dips

I have not been at Blashford for a few days and I have spent some of this time going over the wildlife records and especially the bird records for the BTO Challenge. At the end of the third quarter we were lying second in our category. The categories are according to site size, thankfully we are not in the same section as the unbeatable Rutland Water. We have advantages though, the habitats on the reserve are varied and we lie close to the Avon valley and New Forest.

At the start I guessed that about 160 species would be a winning total, quite a tall order but probably achievable. I don't know where we are just now, but we might have made up some species on our rivals as the last quarter has been pretty good. Species added for the year have been: goshawk, waxwing, great grey shrike, jack snipe, hawfinch, avocet, Iceland gull, brent goose, water pipit, black redstart, red-breasted merganser, scaup, garganey, ruff, red-legged partridge, curlew sandpiper, stonechat and mandarin a good mix of species. I am still trying to track down reports of a few species that either have or have been suggested as being recorded earlier in the year, these are ring-billed gull, firecrest and common (or mealy) redpoll.

I have also been unable to find any record of a few species that I would usually have expected to have been recorded at some point, these include knot and golden plover. Slightly longer shots, but still species that are recorded from time to time include wood warbler, grasshopper warbler, rock pipit and sandwich tern.

Overall it has been a good year and I think it will prove to be the best year yet for the total number of bird species recorded. If anyone can add any species or shed any light on any of those so far uncertain I would be delighted to hear.

On a related note, I am hoping to add some species lists for the reserve as links. These will include birds, butterflies and dragon and damselflies. Each list will include notes on status and where they might be seen. In time I will add others, with moths perhaps the next most likely in the short(ish) term.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Reserve Closed - Christmas Event moved to tomorrow!

As snow has been falling heavily for the last hour I am making my retreat from Blashford Lakes. I'm afraid the reserve car parks will be closed from 12pm today, however the hides will be left open for any adventurous explorers that make it this far! Ellingham Drove is very icy though, so drive carefully.

The Christmas craft event "Cheep Cheap Christmas Tree Treats" that was scheduled for today will now take place tomorrow, Tuesday 21st, turn up any time to the Centre and create some natural and recycled decorations for your Christmas tree and make a treat for your garden birds!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Winter Wonderland - Open!

Looking at the weather forecast yesterday afternoon I wasn't sure if I'd be making it in this morning - we even topped up all the bird feeders just in case! But the day dawned with only a light snow come sleet and a quick check of the forecast determined that I probably should come in... despite an (almost) overwhelming temptation to stay at home with our not quite one-year old son for his first proper snow (discounting last year when he was a few weeks old and oblivious and a fortnight ago when we were away for the best part of it!).

However, here I am and the reserve is, as you can imagine (you'll have to as my camera is at home with wife and son!) stunning! There has been a couple of inches, but the snow has now stopped and the sun is shining.

The lakes, which had been thawing nicely yesterday, are now more frozen than ever. I wanted to get this post in relatively quickly this morning so you all knew what the state of play was so I have yet to venture as far as Goosander Hide or Rockford Lake.

I was keen to see what the badgers had been up to as they are usually out and about after a snow fall, but last night they clearly were not. They had been out and about at some point as the "badger bowls" that we put food out in at the end of the day had been emptied, but there were no badger tracks around them at all. This is quite interesting to know as we would love to be able to offer more (and more successful!) badger watches from the hide, but they seem to venture away from the sett relatively late on when it is too dark to view them. Last night they were obviously out before it snowed and did not come out again afterwards.

There are plenty of other tracks though; lots of birds, including pheasant, squirrels, foxes, roe deer and an occasional rabbit. I've written in the snow next to some of these to "label" them for you!

Will head out now to explore the rest of the reserve and will add to this post if I find anything exciting!

>> 2pm:

Nothing new, but as suspected there is now more ice on the lakes than previously. The small patch of open water on Ivy Lake remains in the same place, just below the northernmost screen and is now inhabited exclusively by mallard and four of the resident mute swan.

Ellingham Lake unusually is also fairly well covered with ice - there is some open water along about 1/4 of the western shore that had a few mallard, tufted duck, little grebe and great crested grebe on it and another patch of open water below the clubhouse at the northern end of the lake that had tufted duck, mallard, coot, great crested grebe, a drake ruddy duck and a (presumably the) redhead smew on it.

Snails Lake is open along the southern shore for about half of it's length and dominated almost exclusively by coot as far as I could tell looking into the sun (which was very bright coupled with the glare off the snow and ice!).

Blashford Lake (where strangely enough, no sailing was taking place) had one redhead goosander and a relatively large number of coot, pochard, great crested grebe and gadwall.

The ice free areas of Rockford Lake have now moved to a small area on the southeastern corner, a larger area towards the middle of the lake and another small area in the northwestern corner. This is where the wigeon are, along with a number of mute swan, coot and tufted duck. Yesterday a mute swan was reported struggling in the ice on the western shore of the lake and sadly it had not made it - in nature however, good things can result from every tragedy and a buzzard was feeding on it as I walked up the path. It is unusual for a swan to get caught in the ice in this way and was probably suffering the effects of some other condition... possibly it had landed badly on the ice and damaged itself, or, and this is probably more likely in this instance, it had been entangled by fishing line, which, sadly, is a common occurence on this particular lake.

Ibsley has areas of open water around the islands to the north, but is completely frozen in the "Goosander Hide Bay" now. There is a small patch of open water to the right of Lapwing Hide where presumably the goosander will come into roost this evening. Many of the gulls that normally roost on the lake and then head off to feed up the valley were still there loafing around on the ice alongside a drake goosander, coot, little grebe, great crested grebe, gadwall and a few wigeon and shoveller.

As you might expect the feeders are very busy with finches and other woodland birds, but only the odd brambling. The couple of green woodpecker I saw were looking very green in the snow!The record breaking fat cake is going down a treat!

The reserve has been very quiet visitor wise - apart from a car of idiots wheel spinning up and down the Drove and doughnutting in the car park that I just saw off there have only been 6 people on foot around the reserve and a family that dropped into Tern Hide! With that in mind I will get around and lock up the hides and leave a bit earlier and try to get home before the melting snow re-freezes on the roads if I can.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

A Change in the Weather

I was delighted to see that large areas of the ice covering the lakes had broken up overnight. This is important as it means even if we are going into a new freeze at least there is s good area of open water at the start. It also allows the birds access to feeding areas denied for some time, when they are restricted they will deplete the food supply in the small open areas quite quickly. With luck if we get new freezing it will be to different areas, it also seems that the next period will be cold and windy, making it feel very cold, but the wind should help to keep the water open. As well as lots of water I also saw the party of 5 white-fronted goose on Iblsey Water before they flew out to the valley. At the end of the day just the juvenile was present, once again separated from the adults giving credence to the idea that it is not actually the off -spring of either of the adult pairs.

The forecast was not good for today, rain was predicted from quite early, however it was Thursday and so volunteer day and true to form we managed to work cutting rhododendron until just after midday before it started to rain. The ticket is almost all cut now, there is still a lot of tidying up to do but we are well on the way to getting rid of it.

With the Christmas break on the way I was trying to get some paperwork out of the way, to clear the way for our osprey platform and to create some new shallow pools. You might wonder what paperwork this would involve, but it seems that at least the first will need planning permission, so there is lots to do.

There was one report of note during the afternoon as the great grey shrike was seen in the main car park, it had prey of some sort and flew off with it towards the Goosander hide. Obviously a bird to look out for and if it is finding prey on the reserve perhaps it will be around regularly.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Record Count

The main task today was to do the monthly wildfowl count, I started with Ibsley Water just after it got light. Most of the lake was frozen apart from a broad stretch across the middle running east-west. The most notable birds here were 2 Egyptian geese making aggressive noises at a peregrine on one of the islands.

Ivy Lake was almost completely frozen, whilst Ellingham was totally ice-free, but nearly bird free as well. Still I knew there would be a lot of birds on Rockford Lake and there were, counts included 799 coot, 220 gadwall and 66 mute swan. However the best bird I saw there was not on the lake at all, as I was starting the count I was aware of a bird flying over my head, after a moment I realised it was a great grey shrike, it flew into a tree on the Ivy Lake shore then off towards the water treatment works. This was presumably the one seen nearby a few days ago, but this time it was definitely in the reserve and so another one for the BTO Challenge total. I would guess it is also the bird that has been seen on and off on Ibsley Common.

I then visited Blashford Lake, I had not been there for a little while and I was pleasantly surprised at the number of birds on the lake, no doubt the reduced amount of sailing recently due to ice cover has allowed the birds the freedom to feed in peace. The number of gadwall was especially impressive and was a major contributor to the overall record count of 1149 that we got in total today. Snails Lake was also quite busy and like Blashford Lake around half frozen. However these were the last lakes to count for me as those to the south were all frozen over. The gadwall count is close to 2% of the NW European population and the first we have had over the thousand, although we have got within twenty or so twice before.

At the end of the day I went to Ibsley water again to count the geese and goosander, the greylag included the 5 white-fronted goose, although there had been only the four adults. Just before I arrived they had flown off to the valley and shortly after returned with the juvenile in tow, it seems very prone to getting lost. The goosander reached at least 111 before I had to leave, still a respectable number. One last bird of note was a Canada goose, there were lots but one stood out, in fact it seemed to prefer the greylag, it was a little smaller, darker, shorter-necked and smaller-billed than the usual birds. Evidently it was of one of the other races, with an appearance somewhere between a lesser and a dusky. Like dusky Canada goose it had a reduced white face patch and seemed to have a dark chin-stripe as well.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Fog on the Pine

It was a good thing I got a few pictures yesterday as today was definitely not one for photography. The reserve was misty, at best, for the whole day and despite the thaw, evidenced by the dripping trees, it felt cold.

Setting off to open up the hides I flushed a woodcock from beside the store. A Cetti's warbler was calling at the Ivy North hide, I listened out for the bearded tit but without success. I decided to take the Ellingham Lake path back to the Centre and as I went along the boardwalk beyond the Ivy South hide a water rail shot out from below my feet. Checking Ellingham Lake and Pound it was evident that the smew had moved on and that the Pound had iced up quite noticeably.

Later in the morning I was at the store when I heard crossbill calls, there were two or three birds but try as I might I could not find them, they were circling about somewhere by the pines near the water treatment works. They did eventually fly overhead but still I could not pick them out in the murk.

I was working in the main car park in the afternoon building up the dead hedges. A look from the Tern hide revealed little apart from at least 2 white-fronted goose with the greylag flock. As the mist became fog the greenfinch gathered to roost, at one stage all collected in a tall poplar with a male kestrel. I estimated at least 250 finches, my largest count so far this winter.

We hope to do a wildfowl count tomorrow, although we will need to be able to at least see the water if we are to succeed.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Redheads and White-fronts

All in all a quite excellent day, quite cold but with brilliant sunshine more or less throughout. There has been little further thaw and when I looked out of the Ivy north hide I was greeted by the sight of a single grey heron standing on the ice, probably cold, but enjoying the sun.
I have taken to walking back along the Ellingham path if I have time after opening the Ivy South hide, both Ellingham Lake and the Pound do not tend to ice up so have the potential to pick up birds seeking open water. There were a few more ducks than a couple of days ago, but most significantly there was a redhead smew on the Pound, it remained there all day. I got one reasonable picture, but I was concerned not to disturb it so I did not get too close. Redhead is a term for female or juvenile of sawbill ducks and goldeneye. It means a bird that is definitely not an adult drake, first winter birds and females look very similar and quite unlike the adult drakes.
Later in the morning I went out around the reserve, at Ivy Lake the bearded tit pair were showing well as was a Cetti's warbler. The main body of the lake was almost bird free thought, as it is almost all iced over. The ice free patch in the north-east corner had a few teal and a couple of shoveler resting on the ice. Over on Ibsley Water, the ducks were mostly pochard and wigeon with small numbers of other species including 8 pintail, which have been thin on the ground this winter. I did have a slightly odd sighting when counting the pochard, a small bird in the scraps of willow growing well out into the lake was a chiffchaff, very peculiar as it had to fly out over fifty or so metres of bare ground and water to get there. This was perhaps the one we saw at the Ivy North hide on Friday, although they occur in summer and spend the winter with us they always seem to be absent from about late October to early December. I scanned the large flock of greylag for the 5 white-fronted goose, without success, but then I saw them flying in from the west.
They landed and later took to grazing the grass on the eastern shore, gratifying as we spent a couple of days cutting the area for just such wildfowl in the autumn.
The young female peregrine tested the ducks but found none prepared to take flight and so expose themselves to attack. At the Centre feeders at least 3 brambling were feeding with the chaffinch and at the Woodland hide a single lesser redpoll was on the nyger seed with the siskin.
At dusk from the Goosander hide I saw at least 145 goosander coming to roost, the gulls included an adult Mediterranean gull and 6 or so yellow-legged gull. Just as it got too dark to see, six shadowy shapes flew over, heading toward Rockford Lake, a group of Egyptian geese.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Christmas Party Thaw

A couple of days to cover, at least in part. Friday dawned still cold and with the lakes even more frozen than at the end of Thursday, the picture of the Ivy Silt Pond below shows a body of water locked up in ice.
Despite the icy start, Friday was a day of change. I became aware of the trees dripping, the frost was melting from the twigs and pretty soon elsewhere too, although the cold ground kept icy patches chilled. The birds will benefit form a thaw, but for now they are still hungry. I took the picture of a group of long-tailed tit at the fat feeder outside my office window from my desk, I know it is poor, but the chance of getting the right exposure was more or less zero and this is one bird with an instantly identifiable silhouette.
During Friday morning I ran into a few notable birds. The pair of bearded tit were just below Ivy North hide first thing. I cleaned out the hides and updated the blackboards and as I was going to the Goosander hide I heard a hawfinch calling from an ash tree on Ellingham Drove, I saw it flew along the roadside and I am pretty sure there was also a second. They were probably there to eat the ash keys, these trees have a very large crop at present so it might be worth checking there again in the next few days. Whilst I was at the Goosander hide five white-fronted geese flew in, four adults and a juvenile. This was just as they were originally reported, but yesterday, when they had been grazing the western shore of Ibsley Water there had been no sign of the juvenile. My guess is it had got lost in the greylag flock.
Friday was also the day of the Blashford Volunteers Christmas "Do". This starts with a walk and morphs into a buffet and quiz. About twenty came on the walk and forty attended the buffet and quiz, our largest turn-out yet.
Strictly speaking I was not at Blashford today, but I dropped in after doing some survey work in the New Forest. The white-fronted geese had been seen again and it was good to see that the ice free area of Ibsley Water had grown considerably. From the Goosander hide in mid-afternoon I saw 145 teal, about 400 wigeon grazing the western bank of Ibsley Water and at least 80 goosander. There were already some gulls arriving and these included at least 4 yellow-legged gull.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Dormouse Mania and a Fatal Mistake

Yet another cold one, in fact I think the coldest so far, ice cover has increased everywhere. The reserve looked splendid in the sunshine with ice and frost covering reeds, trees and lichen heath. At the Ivy North hide I could hear a Cetti's warbler calling vigorously, although looking at the frost coated vegetation it is hard to imagine how and insect eating warbler survives. Needless to say there is only a small, coot covered patch of water left on Ivy Lake, right in the north-east corner.
The scene at Ivy South hide was brighter, just smooth ice and a clear sky.
I was interested to see how much water remained, so I looked at Ellingham Lake, which was ice free yesterday, it still had quite large areas of open water, but still not many birds, no more than fifty in all and mainly tufted duck and mallard. Then over to Rockford Lake, the sheer number of birds must have kept water open there. It had but the birds were now almost all either coot or mute swan, the thousand wigeon there at the start of the week had moved on.
The main event today was dormouse training, or more accurately training about dormice their habits and habitats. There is an old record of dormouse from Blashford Lakes and we are keen to see if they are still present. To do this we will put up nest-boxes and tubes and see if they are occupied next summer. Dormice are legally protected so there are rules to be followed if we find any, hence the training session. After an indoor introduction to the world of the dormouse we all and there were a lot of us, twenty-three volunteers and a number of Wildlife Trust staff, went out to put up some boxes. If enthusiasm is any predictor of success this could be our biggest hit project yet.
At the end of the day there were 4 white-fronted goose, all adults with the greylag on Ibsley Water, these were seen briefly yesterday when there was also a brent goose, a really good inland record and yet another species for the BTO Challenge total. The pair of bearded tit were also seen again yesterday and today from the Ivy North hide.
While we were in the Tern Hide a little grebe flew in and landed on the ice in front of the hide, obviously mistaking it for open water. A serious mistake as it has real difficulty walking on the ice and even more taking off. It pretty soon attracted a carrion crow and I thought it was as good as dead. It tried to run off, skittering over the ice, but the crow just flew after it and grabbed if, this happened a few times and they disappeared off to the left of the hide with a second crow joining in, surely this was the end. Then, amazingly it reappeared having pecked at the crows and escaped, possibly helped by coming close to the hide where the crows did not want to follow. It was hard not to feel that this plucky grebe deserved to survive. It now set off over the ice towards the nearest open water, at first heading towards a group of herring and lesser black-backed gull, perhaps a mistake, then it swerved away, but still towards the water, a good move. now well over half way to the water and a buzzard flew low over, took a look and landed on a post on the bank, perhaps it is not really interested after all. The grebe still progressing in short bursts, interspersed with brief rests on the ice, was now just twenty or so metres from the water and safety. It was then that the buzzard swooped in low, plucked the grebe from the ice and took it up onto the bank. Landing on the ice was a fatal error, the uncertainty turned out to be just what would deal the final blow.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Cool Count

A brief look at a largely frozen Ibsley Water first thing, I was just in time to see the six Bewick's swan flying off, they headed off south-west, rather than north towards Ibsley bridge, so perhaps they have had enough of the Hampshire cold and decided to head on.

As I opened up I topped up the bird feeders, the number of birds visiting has really picked up in the last week and they are getting through the food at quite a rate. The biggest increase has been in the birds coming to the nyger feeders, suddenly every perch is occupied, mainly by siskin, with a few goldfinch and at least one lesser redpoll today.

The main task this morning was to count the lakes nearest the Centre, for Wessex Water. Most of Ibsley Water, Ivy Lake and over half of Rockford Lake are now frozen, however Ellingham Lake has no ice at all, neither has the Pound, not even a little at the edges. It seems extraordinary that there should be so much difference in the ice cover in neighbouring lakes. The count of Ellingham was easy though as there were few birds, the lake is too deep to grow weed so there is little food for most species, there was a drake mandarin duck making their strange little squeaking call.

The birds on Ibsley Water, Ivy Lake and Rockford were very concentrated into the open patches, with Rockford really packed out, making counting difficult. The picture gives some idea of the task of counting the birds, you can click on it for a larger version.
I did have some help as we have a work experience student working with us this week, although I am not sure if standing out in a light, if cutting, north-easterly for nearly an hour in a temperature only just above freezing was the best start to the week she could have had.

I had hoped there might have been one or two extra species brought in by the cold, but if there were I could not find them , mind you I counted 2383 wildfowl on Rockford and I know there were a few more hidden by the island.

At the end of the day as I locked up the Tern hide the gulls were mostly roosting on the ice directly north of the hide, ideal for checking through them, but sadly I had little time so just from noted six or seven yellow-legged gull and at least 200 common gull. The goosander all seemed to be going to the ice free patch in front of the Lapwing hide, ideal for counting them if I had time to stay until dusk. One positive result of the increased wind today was that some of the ice around the open water had broken up, making each a little larger, so hopefully we will keep at least some ice free water.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

The Icing on the Lake

A cold, foggy start, I could not see a thing from the Tern hide when I opened up. There was a little ice here and there in the car park and the padlocks were all solid, meaning I had to thaw them in my hand to get them open. After opening the Centre and other hides I popped back to see if there was any sign of the avocet reported from Ibsley Water yesterday, there was not, although the fog was still preventing a real look. It had actually got much colder and the puddles that had been open an hour earlier were now frozen over, the temperature had obviously dropped a good bit after sunrise.

As it was the first Sunday of the month there was a volunteer task and we decided to have a go at clearing up some more of the cut rhododendron, there was a bit of a problem getting the wet frozen twigs to burn, but once started we got a good bit cleared away.

When we had finished we returned to the Centre and there we were told that there were a pair of bearded tit in the reed mace below the Ivy North hide. Going over there I saw the male almost immediately, although I never got a view of the female. These are always very fine birds and to see one at Blashford was especially gratifying, the views were really rather good too. When I opened up the hide I had a momentary thought that I heard a bearded tit call, but then definitely heard Cetti's warbler calling and decided that this was perhaps the source, perhaps I was wrong. I went to the Tern hide to eat lunch and there saw a water pipit and 4 dunlin, but still no sign of any avocet.

In the afternoon I had a look around the reserve, along the Rockford path the number of wildfowl on Rockford Lake was immediately impressive. I estimated at least 1500 wigeon and good number of coot, gadwall and other species including a pair of goldeneye, which are not often on there. There were well over two and a half thousand birds on the lake. A group of wigeon and gadwall were feeding on the shore of the lake, this was of particular interest as they were eating Crassula helmsii a problem alien plant, I had not seen them eating it before.
I then went up to the Goosander hide where there were already about 60 goosander and looking at them I realised there was a single red-breasted merganser, it was a redhead and is the smaller bird just right of the centre of the picture between the drake goosander, coot and lesser black-backed gull.
I went on up to the Lapwing hide and on the way flushed a jack snipe from beside the path, another new bird for the BTO challenge total. By the time I left the hide at about 3:30pm there were already at least one hundred goosander arrived to roost. There were also 8 yellow-legged gull, but no sign of Caspian gull that I could see.
As it got dark I went to the Tern hide, there were moderate numbers of gulls arriving to roost, although numbers are well down as many have left for warmer climes. The ice on the water was around the shore a few metres out from the bank but in about twenty minutes it spread out across the water joining up until the whole of the southern end of the lake was frozen over, it was extraordinary to be able to just watch the lake freezing over in such a small period of time. A group of swans caught my eye as they flew north up the valley, they were a pair of adult Bewick's swan with three juveniles, it seems they had been on the water meadows near Ibsley bridge but were flushed off by a quad-bike. As it got darker we could hear Bewick's swan calling and then saw six on the lake, this time a pair with two juveniles and a pair of adults, making eleven in all.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Back in Business

The reserve has opened up again today, although the main car park is still closed due to ice, there is parking at the Centre. The paths are OK but a bit icy and slushy in places, so care is needed. No news of any notable birds yet but perhaps there is a smew out there somewhere.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Blashford Lakes Still Closed

Blashford Lakes remains closed. If the snow clears overnight with the forcasted rain it will hopfully be open tomorrow, unless ofcourse it freezes over!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Snowed Out

I woke up this morning, looked out the window into a world of white. The picture is from my kitchen window, not a common site in this part of the world.
The upshot is that I have not ventured out from home, the roads from here to Blashford seem in a poor state so the reserve will not be opened up today. We were supposed to have been doing a volunteer task today, but it would have been impossible anyway.

I will post further news, if there is any later. On a not very related note, I got an email from a former Trust staff member who has moved to Nova Scotia, where he reports no snow and that he was still wearing shorts in late November.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Goosanders, Goosanders and some Bewick's Swans

Another cold day, the more so for the increasing NNE wind. Looking from the Tern hide first thing was difficult and the birds were few. Almost all the duck were cowering under the northern shore, the most obvious exception were goldeneye, in fact a drake was displaying just north of the hide. Drake goldeneye are splendid to look. At the risk of projecting human frailties onto a duck, I would have to say that he looked as though he knew he was looking good, although at the same time he also somehow seemed quite bonkers.

Elsewhere a calling Cetti's warbler at the Ivy North hide was the most interesting. Later in the day the feeders were busy but apart from a few brambling there was nothing out of the ordinary.

I got over to the Goosander hide later in the day and watched the goosander arriving, by the time I had to leave at 16:05 there were at least 138 birds, although there were more around by the Lapwing hide and as they usually arrive right up to dark there should have been a good few still to come. If it were possible to organise a count there could be as many as 180 or even 200. fine though the goosander were the highlight was a group of 4 Bewick's swan which flew in calling. There were three adults in the valley, but these seemed to be new birds as they were 3 adults and a juvenile, as far as I know the first juvenile seen in the valley this winter.

The gull roost continues to decline, or at least the lesser black-backed gull do, common gull numbers are still on the rise with a few hundred.

We have no snow as yet, but that may change tonight, hopefully I will still be able to get into the reserve tomorrow. To judge by the observations on the coast today there are starting to be significant movements of birds so some may fetch up at Blashford.