Friday, 28 January 2011

Reports and the Promise of Hot Drinks

I spent most of the day on tasks incompatible with seeing birds, so what follows is based almost entirely on reports received. After no bittern yesterday, it seems two were seen on and off for a good part of the day today, what is more the great white egret also put in an appearance on Ivy Lake again. I did count at least 81 shoveler on Ivy Lake late in the day, a very high count for this lake. I was also told the red-breasted merganser was again on Ibsley Water at the end of the afternoon.

Away from the water, brambling and lesser redpoll were in good numbers at the feeders, although I don't think anyone saw a mealy redpoll today. I heard a singing treecreeper this morning, I think the first I have heard this year. Their high, thin song is quiet obvious early in the spring, but it gets lost in the mass of song in the average woodland later in the season. I have noticed before that to survey them effectively it is important to do at least two visits in March, when they are quite easy to pick out.

Lastly and this may please a number who have requested one, we are shortly to get a hot drinks machine in the Centre, as a trial initially, but if it goes well it should be for the long term.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Home Improvements

Another Thursday and despite the cold wind seventeen volunteers turned out to work on the reserve. The recent rain has resulted in a rise in water levels, so getting the sand martin bank holes replenished while we can still get to them easily has become a priority. Of course the first martins will be back with us in about six weeks, perhaps even a little less so we should be getting on with it in any case.
Working on the sand martin bank was not a task to occupy everyone so the rest of us were clearing willows from the former silt pond where I hope to be digging some small ponds as part of the Million Ponds Project. The area we are clearing has a lot of small, but tall willows, many of them dead. The ground is very fine silt and clay so I hope it will hold water quite well. The ponds will only be temporary as I'm sure they will dry out in summer, at the very least. However such ponds have a wide range of specialist species adapted to using them, some of them rare and localised. Luckily one of the richest areas for such species is the New Forest, so we have a good chance of natural colonisation.
After being besieged by bitterns yesterday, today none were seen, the first blank day in for few weeks. The 2 smew were on Rockford Lake, but the great white egret could not be found, despite several people searching after it having been seen at least three times yesterday.
The Woodland hide is getting very busy with perhaps a 100 brambling, there was also another report of a mealy redpoll today. I was received a picture of one from yesterday, the first confirmed one since 2009, we failed to record one at all during the BTO Challenge.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The Rise of the Bittern

The bittern count rose to four today, all seen from the Ivy North hide, at one stage simultaneously. It seems they were likely to be two males and two females, based on the size, males being appreciably larger than females. It might be that these are the only bitterns present on the reserve, but most of the other likely areas are not easily viewable. There are also many other areas along the Avon Valley that are probably suitable for them, at the very least the river gives valuable access to open water in freezing conditions. Of course bitterns are rare birds in Britain, although many of the birds here in winter will be visiting from the continent. These birds are forced to move to avoid freezing conditions and many will come westward where conditions are milder.

There has been a lot of work done to improve habitat for bitterns in Britain, mainly this has involved creating the large reedbeds that they prefer to nest in, but in cold years winter survival can be critical to the fortunes of the population. In winter the seek out shallow lakes with abundant fish, in the past these would have been rare across most of England, but we have made many such sites in the last hundred years or so by gravel digging and other activities. Such places are now a valuable resource for these birds and probably a significant additional factor in the growth of the population in recent years.

Gravel pits are obviously artificial habitats and like other man made habitats, their creation has presented opportunities for a number of species to increase their range or numbers. A site like Blashford also offers opportunities for people to get an experience of wildlife that is hard to achieve on more ancient and sensitive sites. We can provide paths and hides without damaging valuable areas of habitat. This allows people to get better views of species or see ones that otherwise they may never see. Although Blashford may provide important habitat to help bitterns survive the winter, the experience of seeing a bittern might well be every bit as important, helping to build support for the kind of habitat creation work that is leading to their recovery as a breeding species in Britain.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Thousands of ducks

The season moves slowly on, the numbers of brambling are rising steadily, as they always tend to as we go into the later stages of the winter, I was briefly in the Woodland hide today and there were at least sixty, mostly feeding on spilt nyger seed. Great crested grebe pairs are starting to display, even if a little half-heartedly. The snowdrops near the Centre are up, although the flowers are not quite open yet.
I had a good walk round the reserve today and indeed a little beyond, it may surprise many that I rarely get to some of the more distant parts of the site, a consequence of most work being around the access areas and hides. Leaflessness allows the framework of the trees to be seen, I was especially struck by the old ash trees alongside the path on the eastern side of Ivy Lake, they are clearly old trees but their growth speaks of a life spent in a hedgerow. They show signs of repeated cutting and laying from a time when they were part of a field boundary.
The object of a count is to see just how many birds there are on the lakes. It is interesting to see the differences between lakes, as for pretty much the whole of this winter Rockford Lake was again the busiest, a reflection of the heavy weed growth last summer. By contrast Ibsley Water is quiet, it is notable that weed growth there was especially poor last summer.
The totals were really very good, gadwall especially remain in large numbers, the total was 1109 once again getting close to 2% of the NW European population. Other notable counts were 1210 wigeon, 406 tufted duck and 249 pochard and 1509 coot. The numbers grebes are still very low, hopefully they are still on the coast, rather than dead in the freeze. I saw a bittern from the Ivy North hide, but three were reported, I also saw 10 little egret on a small former silt pond south of Snails Lane, the only ones I saw all day. Star birds were the 2 smew again on Rockford Lake, I managed a rather poor picture at distance, but it does show the differences between the birds, one much larger and paler than the other. The larger bird is a young drake and the other a duck, probably also a young bird.
Slightly further afield, there were reports of 15 Bewick's swan at Harbridge today and the great white egret was seen a little further up the valley. The egret is about due to leave, it usually departs before the end of January and even did so last winter despite it being pretty cold at this time. I confess I have yet to see it this year, each time it is one the reserve I am somewhere else.

Saturday, 22 January 2011


By the time I had got the centre classroom opened up and ready for the digital photography course being run today I was running a bit late and there were already a couple of people waiting at Ivy North Hide for their opportunity to stake out for a bittern - not sure how successful they were as the outside of the glass was frosted with ice when we got in so viewing was not immediately easy. There was a roe deer moving through the woodland at the back of the reedbed to the right of the hide though. Hopefully they did get some good views in the end as at least two bittern have been showing well throughout the day.

Another visitor walked down to the Woodland Hide with me and he is certain to have had the views of siskin, lesser redpoll and brambling he was looking for - though at the time all of the siskin and brambling seemed to be up in the willow and alder canopy along the track down to Ivy South Hide instead of around or on the feeders!

Before I got to the South Hide I enjoyed listening to a great spotted woodpecker drumming nearby and watching a fox tracking his way down ahead of me and once in the hide was pleased to see the range of wildfowl that can be seen on Ivy Lake - shoveler, teal, wigeon, tufted duck, pochard and mallard and also a green sandpiper on the far eastern shore. There was also a pair of great crested grebes gently courting each other - not the full blown weed dancing and leaping about that will take place a little later, but they were facing each other and mirroring each others head shakes and nods.

On the way back up to the centre I looked out for other signs of spring and realised that the wild daffodils outside the Woodland Hide are a good few inches up in the more sheltered spots and also saw a couple of small scarlet elf cap (or cup depending on who you talk to!) fungi just starting to grow out of the decaying logs along the path by the alder carr - it's great to see and hear all these promises of spring on an otherwise cold and rather grey day.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Longer Days, more Grebes

A couple of days to cover, both have been cold, mostly bright and dominated by clearing rhododendron scrub. As the days are slowly getting longer I now find myself arriving just as the sun is coming up, the picture was taken from beside the Tern hide as I opened up this morning.
It was not as frosty today as yesterday, although the rather stronger breeze made it feel much colder. The white frost of yesterday did produce an interesting sight near the building. On the grass beside the shelter were two patches of green where the frost had either not formed or been melted. Each was about 60 cm long and roughly kidney shaped apart from small extensions here at top right and two on the left. I interpreted them as where two roe deer had been lying, the extensions being the folded legs, in the picture I think the front would have been to the right.
Yesterday I saw a bittern as I opened up the Ivy North hide, later two were seen by a good few visitors. Today I was not so lucky, but two were seen during the morning. Other sightings from yesterday included the great white egret on Rockford Lake and a woodcock near the Centre. The egret was not seen today, but the 2 smew were on Rockford.
The feeders are attracting lots of birds, the nyger feeders are especially busy, mainly with siskin, I grabbed a quick shot of this group outside the Centre after lunch.
Over the last few days one change in the birds on Ibsley Water and Ivy Lake has been the return of grebes, in the cold weather they all left. There are now at least 2 great crested grebe on Ivy Lake and three on Ibsley Water where there are also at least 2 little grebe. I assume they had moved to the coast when the lakes froze over, although they would have also had the option of moving to the River Avon.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Small Steps in the Wreckage

A proper winter day, frost, a clear sky and no wind, the kind of day that cannot fail to make you glad to be out and about. The lack of wind made it a good day for bird ringing, which was fortunate as they ringers were in this morning. The main target birds to catch are finches, we know these travel a good distance and as they are quiet often caught there is scope for getting what are called controls, that is repeat catching of the same bird at a different location. Several finch species have also been suffering increased mortality for a variety of reasons in recent years and ringing offers a way to study this. The main birds caught today were siskin, with a few brambling, chaffinch and lesser redpoll. Every bird is ringed, but also aged, sexed measured and weighed. Even if the bird is never seen again this information tells something of the age structure of the population and the condition of the birds. The two picture below show two siskin in the hand, the first a male.
and then a female.
The most interesting bird was a lesser redpoll that had already been ringed, what is more not at Blashford so it was a control, it will be interesting to see where it has come from and how long ago it was ringed.
When I opened up the Ivy North hide I once again saw the bittern, I had thought it might stand out against the heavy white frost on the vegetation, it did but not as much as I had expected as it's back was quite heavily frosted. This is testament to the amazing insulating properties of the feathers, a bird maintains a higher body temperature than we do and yet a frost could form on the back feathers, quite remarkable.
I spent much of the day burning up rhododendron, I do not often have fires, in fact I almost never have them, most cut trees etc are just too useful to waste in this way and burning sterilises the ground and results in nutrient rich patches that tend to grow nettles and little else.
One of the ringers mentioned the Avon Diary website this morning, it is based around Somerley Estate and although with fishing as it's main focus, interesting in itself as it gives a different perspective, it also has a lot about wildlife and bird sightings. A recent post has a good bit to say about alien species, something I had covered here on occasion. They are a huge problem in the valley as almost the world over and man made habitats often encourage them, a lot are very good colonists so disturbed habitats are often full of aliens. Of course some arrive by accident, but most were originally brought here deliberately even if they "escaped" thereafter. The rhododendron I was clearing today was planted, probably as ornamental game cover, during the early years of the last century as it was on estates all over the country.
The various plants were all imported and sold by the horticultural trade and later thrown out when they outgrew their space. Canada and greylag geese were released for shooting but managed to avoid the guns, Egyptian geese escaped ornamental collections, American mink were set free in protest. American signal crayfish were released for profit, but not retrievable when the business proved uneconomic and lots of fish species were introduced officially and less so, for sport and profit. One thing that is sure is that those responsible for introductions or who profited by the importations tend to absent themselves when the problems arise.
We are now dealing with an environment that has been treated with reckless carelessness for generations and the costs are now becoming increasingly clear. We cannot turn back the clock, but we can surely learn some lessons and where possible push against the tide, that is why I was burning up rhododendron today and will probably be doing so tomorrow, a small step, but in the right direction.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Sawbills in the Moonlight

Luckily the rain overnight did not last long, so the Dockens Water was quite a bit lower today and Ivy Lake was actually flowing out over the spillway where it had become over full yesterday.

When I opened up the Ivy North hide the bittern, or at least the one to the left of the hide was there again, fishing. At the Woodland hide and later at the Centre good numbers of brambling, including several fine males, were feeding on the ground.

I spent the latter part of the morning planting some hedging and sorting out redundant tree guards off old plantings along Mockbeggar Lane. The soil is pretty poor and there are a lot of rabbits so life for a young tree is hard. After picking up some bird food I dropped briefly into the Tern hide and saw at least 4 white-fronted geese with the greylags.

I have been drawing up a list of the tasks that need doing before we get to spring, there are far too many of them and too few days. As well as the usual round of coppicing and pollarding, I am hoping to thin some of the older plantings and clear the small willows from the area where we are planning to put in some ponds. Then there is the sand martin bank, all the holes need to be cleaned out and filled with new sand. The tern rafts need to be made ready with new shells, tracking these down is a task in itself and the stick nesting rafts need to be refurbished. There is still rhododendron to clear and potholes to fill and so much more, still we will never run out of tasks.

At the end of the day I went over to the Goosander hide, I had a bit more time this evening so was able to stay until it got dark, not leaving until five thirty. It was an excellent evening and I was rewarded with at least 125 goosander in the bay by the hide, also a dozen or so goldeneye, including a displaying group of five drakes. With the goosander was the single female red-breasted merganser and the set of sawbills was completed when the 2 smew flew in to join the goldeneye. The smew are very evidently a duck and a young drake, he is strikingly larger, especially in flight.

As I headed back to my car a fox was calling loudly and a bright, almost full, moon was casting shadows along the path, bright enough to allow the use of binoculars, although I never did see the fox.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Flooded with Bitterns

It was raining hard as I arrived this morning, peering out from the Tern hide I could just make out 6 Bewick's swan, including a juvenile, slightly odd this as there have been three or four pairs and one juvenile, but this group must have contained a single adult.

The Dockens Water level was rising, although still quite low, as I first drove up to the Centre, however by lunchtime it was flooding right through the woods.
It was flowing through the alder carr and through the silt pond into Ivy Lake. By the end of the day the level had dropped by a few centimetres, however as I write now it is raining hard again so the flooding could be on a really dramatic scale tomorrow.

The feeders at the Centre are attracting loads of birds now, there were perhaps 30 brambling was with the chaffinch flock and there were also several lesser redpoll feeding with the siskin. The brambling seem to particularly like nyger seed, often feeding under the feeding siskin on the many seeds they discard.

The other day there was a suggestion that there might have been 3 bittern at the Ivy North hide, today this was confirmed with three birds seen at the one time. I only saw one, although the one I did see was performing very well.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

DIY:Funky Forest Fatball Feeder

"Saw, drill and cut Blashford Lakes willow to build your own fatball feeder" was the invitation, so that is what we did - and quite successfully I might add!

Using willow from the pollard and coppice area and a little creativity on my part, both I and the visitors attending the event enjoyed both the camerarderie and team work and using the knives, secateurs, hand drills and bow saws required to great effect - we were all very pleased with the result!

As I explained in my disclaimer at the start of the event, they're "rustic looking", not the least bit squirrel proof and would be lucky to last the season - BUT if/when they do fall apart they are 100% biodegradeable and the participants would all be equiped with the skills and know-how to knock up a replacement!

My prototypes are here - everyone elses looked much better than mine of course! The basic model looks like this; fat with a seed blend of my choice mixed in and compressed around a square-lashed cross of willow withy:

The deluxe version is far more sophisticated however! Two willow discs have been drilled to accept withies forced through forming the "cage" for the fat balls:

Not bad even if I do say so myself!
While we were busy creating bird feeder marvels other visitors to the reserve again enjoyed good views of two bittern from Ivy North Hide.
The finches were all performing nicely at the Woodland Hide with siskin, lots of redpoll and even more brambling - some of the males are starting to show signs of sprucing up for spring and are beginning to look quite smart. Interestingly at least one brambling was observed to be ringed - possibly one of the birds caught and ringed last winter, although it may have come from elsewhere. Either way the recent first ringing session of this winter did not catch any brambling pre-caught or otherwise.
Otherwise the only other thing of note was a definite feeling of spring being in the air - despite it being a very gloomy, grey day it was dry and when sheltered from the strong south-westerly wind it was actually quite warm. It certainly seems like there are more birds singing than there has been and I also noticed that the male "lambs tail" catkins of the hazel are opening up whilst the diminutive but beautiful bright scarlet female flowers of the hazel are also showing well now.
Unfortunatley there were late reports of another mute swan in difficulties by Cemex Anglings Rockford Lake. Luckily I was able to get hold of Judy of the local Swan Rescue who agreed to meet me to see if we could find and help the swan before it got too dark.
Even more fortunately we did find the bird exactly where I was told to look for it and after she had it secured I hesitantly sat on it as directed while she checked it for injuries - happily, it was fine and it appears that it had just landed badly on the path bewteen the two boundary fences where it did not have the "run up" to get airborne and back out onto the lake with its pals and was just distressed and fatigued. After checking out fine Judy was able to release it back lake side of the fence and it ran off to join the other birds.
It is unlikely to have survived the attention of foxes over-night so it had a lucky escape. Hopefully having survived this near-miss it will avoid the tangles of discarded fishing line that has had more dire consequences for so many birds on Rockford Lake recently.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Recurvirostra Returns

No sign of the Bewick's swan this morning, even though I was there at 07:45 when it was still very gloomy, they may have left early, or perhaps moved on now things have warmed up.

At the Ivy North hide the bittern was showing well and a Cetti's warbler calling loudly, there was also a group of over a hundred teal, many displaying.

At the Woodland hide I found out why the small feeder near the hide was emptying so quickly, the cause was grey and furry.
I waited until the afternoon to go out to do a count of lakes nearest to the water treatment works, in theory the rain was to have ceased, but somehow that did not stop me having to shelter. The biggest surprise was the return of the avocet (Recurvirostra avocetta), I had thought that it had realised that it should be on the coast when it disappeared at the start of the week. Inland records are few and I suspect that this is the same bird as seen at the start of December as well as earlier this week. I did get one very poor record shot of the bird, unusually surrounded by goosander, not a species they would encounter much normally, although it was with almost 75 of them today.Rockford Lake remains much the most densely occupied, I counted 310 gadwall, 838 wigeon, 558 coot and 97 mute swan. There was also a good range of species with a few goldeneye, a goosander and the same 2 smew as yesterday, again they were in the north-east part of the lake just north of the pub on the eastern shore of the lake.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Getting Ready for Spring

There were 7 Bewick's swan on Ibsley Water when I opened up the Tern hide this morning, at 07:55 they took off, a pair of adults went south towards Ringwood, the others headed north and then turned and dropped down to the meadows by Ibsley Bridge. The only other birds of note were a steady stream of departing goosander, mostly heading toward the Avon.

As it was Thursday it was volunteer day, twelve volunteers did two tasks today. One group started work on clearing out the sand martin holes prior to refilling with sand for the new season, the first returning sand martin will probably be here in eight weeks. The other cleared willows from the old silt pond beside the path to the Goosander hide, we are hoping to make a number of ponds here as part of the Million Ponds Project. Although the day started with light rain we had a dry time whilst working, only for the rain to start just as we stopped at 12:30, once again the luck of the Thursday volunteers held.

In the afternoon rain I was briefly over near Rockford Lake and there saw 2 smew, the immature drake and a duck. These two were later seen to fly onto Ibsley Water just before dusk. I understand that a bittern was seen today from Ivy North hide, but I did not hear any reports of the great white egret. I have to do a partial count of the lakes tomorrow so I might get a better idea of what is around, hopefully the rain will hold off.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The End of the Challenge

I spent a time today finishing off the paperwork for the BTO Business Challenge, although I have concentrated on the bird list element of this it also covers education, conservation and community involvement, hopefully all the things we do at Blashford. To stick to the bird list for now, I think we have finished on 164 species for 2010, there were eighteen new ones in the last quarter. I am not sure if this will be enough to win out category, at the start I thought 170 would definitely win and 165 had a good chance, although I was not sure that we could get all that close to such a total. We will now have to wait and see how we have done, in any event it has been interesting and I will put together the full list, with one or two possible extra species that only flew over.

Today's birds included the same party of 9 Bewick's swan a yesterday morning on Ibsley Water. Once again they were still on the lake after 08:00, this time feeding around the largest island in the north-west corner of the lake. At the Ivy North hide I once again had good views of the bittern and also saw a Cetti's warbler. Although all this was before 9 o'clock, a good start to the day, it was also just about all I saw during the day.

Unfortunately I got news that the concrete plant next top the main car park had been broken into again, this time it seems they went in during the day either yesterday or the day before. The risk of being caught breaking in was overcome by having first removed the padlock and replacing it with one of their own, presumably to make it look as though they were there officially if seen going in!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Swan Tales and Lots of Water

The rain which started just after dusk last night and lasted until dawn had a dramatic effect upon the Dockens Water, it had flooded right through the woodland and via the silt pond into Ivy Lake. The Dockens is prone to spate floods, which rise fast and fall almost equally quickly and so it was today, by mid afternoon levels had dropped by about 75cm. The picture show the Dockens near the bridge beyond the Ivy South hide.
And the area that floods through the woodland near the Ivy South hide and is the reason we have to use a boardwalk to get the path across this area.
In fact the day was fine and often sunny, it was also a good day for wildlife. When I opened the Tern hide there were still 9 Bewick's swan on Ibsley Water, four pairs of adults and one juvenile. They usually fly out of the roost just after dawn, but these stayed on the lake calling and bathing until 08:15, remarkably late. When they did fly off they headed north, not as I thought to drop into the wet meadows at Ibsley Bridge, but much further, in fact they carried on north until out of sight and they were still gainign height.
When I went to the Ivy North hide I immediately saw a bittern fishing just to the left of the hide, a good start to anyone's day. Later two were reported from there, so they are still there despite none being seen on Sunday.
The feeders are really attracting good numbers of finches now, with lesser redpoll, siskin and brambling. The first ringing session of the winter resulted in several siskin but only one redpoll and no brambling being caught.
At lunchtime the 10 white-fronted goose flew into Ibsley Water, I think the group is six adults and four juveniles. The avocet was again reported, although it was hiding when I looked, but there were 2 dunlin, the first of the year. The redhead smew was seen again on Rockford Lake, I think the same young drake as I saw last week.
At the end of the day the two mute swan cygnets were just outside the Ivy South hide. These are two of the three cygnets raised by the resident pair. When the lake froze the adults remained with one of their off-spring, the other two went to Ellingham Lake. Eventually even the adults and cygnet had to move, but all three came back as soon as the thaw set in. A second cygnet returned after a few days, at first the parents drove if away, although not right off the lake as they do with complete outsiders. After a couple of days the two cygnets got together and finally it seemed completely reintegrated into the family, what became of the last cygnet remains a mystery.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Washday Blues

Undoubtedly the best day of the year so far, sunny and brilliantly blue and busy with visitors pretty much all day. Looking from the Tern hide I initially saw rather little but returning a bit later I was pleased to see the avocet, first seen yesterday was still present. It remained all day either roosting or just standing about, they used to do much the same at Farlington, apparently very rarely spending time feeding.

I then went up to the Lapwing hide where there were just over a hundred goosander in the bay to the south of the hide with some on the shore below the hide, hauled out and preening.

It must have been a day for a good wash and brush up, as several other ducks were also concentrated on personal hygiene, the series of pictures below are of a drake wigeon. At first it was just preening but then on the surface, but then it started turning vigorous somersaults, followed by violent wing thrashing of the water. This drake was very determined to get clean and spent at least fifteen minutes and a lot of energy trying to get a spruce as possible.

First the rub-down.
Then the rolling plunge.
And then the power shower, followed by another rub-down and it all starts again.
Yesterday was the day for birds, two bittern were seen from the Ivy North hide, as far as I know none were seen there today, although one was seen to fly over heading north and drop in somewhere near Mockbeggar Lake. The great grey shrike was also about yesterday, but not today. However the great white egret, yesterday seen on Rockford Lake was today on Mockbeggar Lake and the 10 white-fronted geese were again on Ibsley Water, even if only briefly. On the plus side a possible mealy redpoll was seen, although as last week, not conclusively identified, although it seems there is at least an interesting pale redpoll on the reserve, something to look out for at least.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

A fishy privilege

I spent the morning trawling (not literally!) the Dockens Water for sea trout unsuccessfully today. Although these fish do travel up through the reserve to spawn further up-stream they do so only when the river is in flood following heavy rain, usually in November. Because the water is so deep and murky when it is in flood, these days they are a challenge to spot within the reserve itself though from regular reports from one of our volunteers who lives further up-stream we know that they do pass through. Before the Trust carried out restoration work on the river they were not an uncommon sight within the nature reserve in late autumn/early winter, but the work has been so successful the fish pass straight on through now - great news for wildlife, not such great news for fish-watching Wildlife Trust staff!

January is very late for sea trout, but we have had such low rainfall I suspect they have been sitting in the Avon, "crossing their fins" waiting for a decent bit of rain to fill the tributaries that they spawn in. Following a tip from another of our volunteers who was visiting the reserve yesterday Michelle and I were privileged to watch several sea trout traversing a weir on the Linbrook at the southern end of the Blashford Lakes complex. Unusually they were quite brown in colour (sea trout are normally silvery) and I would guess that this is due to their enforced prolonged stay in the river and a corresponding change in diet.

Back to today and another uncommon sighting on the reserve has been a solitary avocet - seen flying south-north over Ivy Lake this morning it ended up settling down on one of the islands on Ibsley Water along with a few black-tailed godwit and a good number of lapwing.

Ivy North Hide is still the spot to watch for bittern from - although there have been no sightings as yet today (3pm), two were seen yesterday and for those visitors that do not time their visit for bittern showing there is always a fair chance of water rail. Dipping out on the bittern today two of our visitors were pleased to be able to report a great grey shrike being chased off north by song birds from the willow coppiced woodland on the edge of the lichen heath.

*Bittern update 4.oo-4.30pm - one bittern now showing*

Despite a somewhat gloomy start weather-wise it has been another busy day with a steady flow of visitors throughout.

We don't like to nag, but do where we need to, so could I please remind everyone to only park their cars in the designated car parking areas - it does pose us problems when several cars park on the road side along Ellingham Drove and today there were also cars parked in the marked coach parking bay on the approach to the Wessex Water treatment works. Not a problem today fortunately, but we do have quite a few weekend groups booked into the diary this winter who will be arriving by coach and that space will be required.

The main visitors car park for visitors not booked into the centre for activities is still the large car park adjacent to Tern Hide - even today when cars were parked outside of designated car parking areas elsewhere there was more than ample space available over there.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A Brief Update from Murky Blashford

It is still really quite dark in the mornings, despite this I did manage to see a small flock of about 15 black-tailed godwit on Ibsley Water, but not much else. Although I did not see one today, bittern was seen by several people from the Ivy North hide, at least once two together. There was also Cetti's warbler and water rail, but still no sign of the bearded tit pair.

Otherwise the numbers of brambling still continue to rise with some very fine males amongst them. A possible common or "Mealy" redpoll was once again reported from the woodland hide along with the lesser redpoll and siskin feeding on the nyger seed.

The drizzle really got going in the afternoon making it almost too dark to see anything by half past three. I had a quick look for yesterday's iffy gull, without success, but there was an adult Mediterranean gull. On the subject of the odd gull, I am pretty sure it must have been a small first-winter lesser black-backed gull, although I still cannot explain the pale, black-tipped bill.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

A Bittern Eclipsed

Very dull at the start of the day, I saw almost nothing from the Tern hide first thing as it was too dark. However at the Ivy North hide I quickly found the (a) bittern fishing in the area just left of the hide. It was a very bright brown necked bird with a very dark hind-neck, quite distinctive. It caught a fish and wandered off. Later in the day two were seen at once and it was even suggested that there might have been three present. I could have got a picture had the light been better, it was dull but perhaps the partial eclipse was not helping.

The southern end of Ivy lake was still pretty well frozen over. Near the South hide I spotted a clump of yellow brain fungus on an oak branch, a patch of bright colour in an otherwise grey day.
I did a partial count of the lakes today and incidentally saw 4 white-fronted goose, three adults and a juvenile. These are presumably same as the two pairs and a juvenile seen before Christmas, minus one adult. Since the lost bird was part of a pair it is unlikely to have left, so I assume it has been "Lost in action". The three adults all have really well marked bars on the underparts.
Rockford Lake remains the most densely occupied with hundreds of coot, gadwall and wigeon. There was also a single smew, I would say an immature drake based on size and the very white breast and fore neck. Also there was a ruddy duck, a goosander and a green sandpiper.
At the end of the day I was briefly in the Tern hide and had a quick look at the gulls, to the left of the hide amongst the small gulls was one very odd looking bird, pictured very badly below. It was obviously a little larger than a common gull, but similar in character, but much darker overall than a normal first winter bird. It had a two tone bill like a common gull but somewhat longer and a strong eye mask. The tail seemed all dark and the tertials all dark with very thin pale tips. I confess I do not know what it was, it does not seem to match any species at all well and I can only hope to get a better view over the next few days, it would also be good to see it doing something other than just floating about.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Busy, Busy, Busy

A slightly brighter day than yesterday brought forth rather more visitors today, luckily the birds from were almost all still around so few were disappointed.

The biggest change overnight was the reduction in ice cover, Ibsley Water is mostly clear of ice, apart from the south-western and south-eastern corners. Ivy Lake is still mostly ice, but there is now water all down the eastern shore. This pattern is repeated elsewhere as well, although some of the smaller lakes remain very icy.

So to the wildlife:
Opening the Ivy North hide I had good views of Cetti's warbler and heard water rail, later one was showing well just to the right of the hide. Later in the morning I briefly saw the bittern as it crossed one of the cut channels, it was seen on and off during the day. The bearded tit seem to have moved on as they were not seen today.

On Ibsley Water the red-crested pochard were absent, but the smew was seen all day, mostly from the Goosander hide, there were also reports of one from Rockford Lake but I was not able to check this out. I briefly saw the water pipit near the Tern hide, but it flew off towards the Goosander hide. Towards the end of the afternoon the Iceland gull flew into the roost near the Lapwing hide at about 15:00. I missed this as I was in the Goosander hide watching the smew, I could also see something over 100 goosander and a single redhead red-breasted merganser, meaning that I could see all three European sawbills at once, not a common occurrence.

The Woodland hide feeders were busy all day with several lesser redpoll, 20+ brambling and all the usual tits and commoner finches. As usual, despite the more unusual species on offer, the Woodland hide was probably at least as popular as any other, the number, variety and close-up spectacle really is hard to beat.

Lastly a couple of reports received, a possible "mealy" redpoll was on the feeder at the Woodland hide and a woodcock was seen at dusk between the Lapwing and Goosander hides.

Sorry for the lack of pictures, it was very busy and somehow I never found the time to take any.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

A New Year, Lots of Birds

A dull day for weather but in most other respects full of interest. I had not been at Blashford since Boxing Day so the changes in ice cover were noticeable, although Ivy Lake remains stubbornly icy. The increase in open water has probably saved a good few birds that were getting close to starvation, the thaw came just in time, let's hope we get a good bit of milder weather for them to recover.

Opening the Tern hide 3 red-crested pochard were unexpected, two fine drakes and a duck, otherwise just a few black-tailed godwit and good numbers of wigeon. I also saw a large white lump, at first I thought a dead swan, but then realised it was a paper lantern, the sort that floats off with a candle inside. This turned out to be the first of at least ten I found during the day. I was only able to retrieve three as the rest were out on the ice, in the water or stuck up trees. No doubt they looked charming as they drifted off into the night sky, sadly last night's delight is today's unsightly rubbish.

Around the Centre car park and Woodland hide the number of brambling seems to have increased considerably, often outnumbering chaffinch. At the Ivy North hide I heard water rail and cetti's warbler as I opened up, although I could not find the bittern that was seen a few times later in the day.

Overall the reserve was busy all day, with a combination of year listing birders and people trying to work off festive excess. The Woodland hide as always offered spectacle, the Ivy North the promise of a bittern for those with patience, whilst the Tern and Lapwing hides gave the chance of smew, goosander and were crowded with gull watchers, especially late in the day. Only the icy Ivy South hide and the Goosander hide, also mostly looking out on ice, disappointed.

However there will always be some who choose a different path, one such was a person who walked down the western shore of Ibsley Water at lunchtime, scattering the birds as he went, sitting behind a clump of rushes with his camera did not even fool the one remaining moorhen, which kept 50m or more away, who says fieldcraft is dead?
I ate my lunch in the Lapwing hide and got a picture of these wigeon at the same time, feeding just below the hide. The bird nearest the camera is a first winter drake, the new grey feathers are very obvious amongst the brown juvenile ones. The number of goosander on the bank south of the hide were impressive, at least seventy, no doubt a reflection of the record count of 231 made at dawn yesterday, as they left the roost.
A look at Rockford Lake showed that it is still very busy with wildfowl, especially wigeon, coot and gadwall. There were also 2 black-tailed godwit roosting on the ice out in the middle of the lake and a green sandpiper feeding on the southern shore.
As the day drew to a close the Tern hide filled, well actually more than filled, with hopeful gull watchers. I decided to move to the Lapwing hide,a s it turned out a good move as it was slightly less busy and there was an Iceland gull there. This was clearly not the bird seen one evening earlier in the winter, which was a second winter bird, this was browner and I would say a first winter, in age at least and strictly juvenile in plumage. Unlike most gulls they do not moult out of juvenile plumage in the autumn but keep it throughout their first winter of life.
In addition to the Iceland gull there was a redhead smew, the 3 red-crested pochard, some half dozen yellow-legged gull and, even by 16:10 already over 140 goosander. Walking back to the Centre I saw my first little egret of the day in the Dockens Water and also encountered the only goldcrest I saw all day, several were going to roost in an ivy covered oak tree beside the Dockens.