Monday, 31 October 2011

Autumn Antics!

Autumn has definitely arrived. Although the temperature is still eerily warm it is starting to feel more autumnal on the reserve and the trees are starting to turn. Not much to report except a very exciting sighting of a mammal, its head popped up out of the water and it then swam across the far side of Ivy Lake. This was viewed from Ivy South Hide by one of our volunteers visiting the reserve with his family. Suspect = otter!

I took our new camera out for a play today and took this shoot from Ivy South hide:

And this badger eye view of Woodland Hide!

I leave you with some yellow spiky fungus I found growing on a log. It looked a little bit like a bright yellow hedgehog!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Drizzle, Disputation and a Murmuration

Bird News: Ibsley Water - goldeneye 1 (redhead), rock pipit 1, water pipit 1 (reported), yellow-legged gull 6.
Ivy Lake - starling c5000 to roost.
I waited for much of the day for it to get light today, it was murky, grey and drizzling for much of it, when the drizzle stopped it rained, although we did get a little sunshine in the end. This made for a poor day to see much and even worse for getting pictures of very much. I did take the chance to visit all the hides today and in the process finally saw the goldeneye which has been reported for a few days now.
At the Goosander hide there was quite a bit of grebe activity. Close to the hide 2 little grebe were feeding and the clear water allowed me to see them swimming underwater.
There was also quiet a dramatic scrap between two great crested grebe, one chased the other so much that it eventually took refuge on the shore, a very unusual thing for it to do as they are very poor at getting about on dry land. I got a really poor picture, my excuse is distance, low light etc., etc. If you look closely you can see one on the shore to the right-hand side and one in the water, as a bonus there are also 2 green sandpiper in the shot as well, although I would forgive anyone who cannot make them out!
I was also quite pleased to see another species using the perching rails, this time a cormorant, sadly without any rings.
Despite the gloom I did see a migrant hawker dragonfly int he Centre car park, hunting in the drizzle, although it was wet it was also very mild. At lunchtime a rock pipit at the Tern hide was a bonus, I heard later that a water pipit had been reported early in the morning as well, although that would have been on the eastern shore somewhere.
Right at the end of the day when I was locking the Ivy South hide the starling flock was good value over the lake wheeling and twisting, I estimated about 5000. I hope there will be some good opportunities to get pictures of them, with the grey cloud tonight was not ideal but, but you can see that there are a lot of birds out there. They were chattering and squealing, just as a good murmuration of starlings should.
Lastly, we are intending to move this blog over to WordPress very soon, information will be posted here about how to find it in the next few days

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Normal service will resume shortly...

i.e. Bob returns from holiday tomorrow and the high quality images and thoughtful prose that you have all come to expect from this blog will resume!

It has been an exceptionally busy week for Michelle and I this half-term holiday, with groups, holiday activity days and public events every day, occasionally with a couple running consecutively, and we are both hoping for a quieter November to recuperate and catch up with everything else - including Bob!

As such I have little new in the way of wildlife to report as for the most part the only wildlife I have really encountered over the last week has been of the two-legged young human variety! Having said that, all went well and it was nice to venture a bit further afield than we are often able to manage with groups:

Even if that meant getting a "bit" wet on Thursday afternoon!

The great white egret has been reported most days - either on Mockbeggar Lake or Ibsley Water and there are some lovely flocks of siskin reeling around. The Ibsley Water fallow deer are regularly seen on the eastern shore of the lake in the evenings (and mornings on the days when it has been not so misty that you can't see beyond the shingle spit!), including a very handsome stag. In previous years the reserve has played host to the young males who are keen but not up to taking on the older stags on the Forest, but this year we seem to be hosting one of the main players himself.

It has (at last) definitely been autumnal weather this week and one of the obvious autumn signs this morning was the number of grey squirrels scampering about on the woodland floor where they are presumably caching their nut stores in preparation for winter. There is no shortage of acorns this year - the pigs were put out to pannage early on the Forest this year and I guess they will probably not be bought back in until a bit later then normal too (pannage being one of the ancient commoners rights that permits commoners to let their pigs out on the Forest in the autumn, normally for 60 days, in order that they "hoover up" the acorns that are poisonous to the ponies and cattle if consumed in any quantity).

The last of the cBBC "Deadly Scene Investigation" events ran today, with yet more families visiting the reserve, many for the first time, to solve the clues and find out "who done-it". Lovely weather they had to - there was even a southern hawker dragonfly hawking around the car park as I set a family off on their activity shortly after lunch.

Jay Fuller proudly showing off his certificate having successfully completed the DSI activity!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Sand Martin News

I may just have blogged about autumn, but now for a reminder of summer, to be precise sand martins. All gone now, but they will be back in just over four months.
The reason for posting on sand martins now is news of one of the birds caught at Blashford earlier this year. We knew it was an interesting one as it carried a Spanish ring, but it proved even more surprising now that the details have come back. An edited version of the details are copied below.

Ringing date: 10-Dec-2010
Reg code: --- Place code: --- Site name: Sant Louis, Djoudj Park
Biological Station, Senegal
County code: NU00 Grid ref: Co-ords: 16deg 25min N 16deg
18min W
Hab1: -- Hab2:

Biometrics: Wing: 104 mm. Weight: 10.6 g. Time: 0000hrs

Finding date: 09-Jun-2011
Reg code: --- Place code: BLASH Site name: Blashford, Ringwood,
County code: GBHAM Grid ref: SU1508 Co-ords: 50deg 52min
N 1deg 47min W
Hab1: A3 Hab2: G5

Biometrics: Wing: 110 mm. Weight: 13.2 g. Time: 0400hrs

Duration: 181 days Distance: 4044 km Direction: 19deg
Finder: Mr K Sayer, 4821
It was nesting at Blashford, in our sand martin bank, having been ringed on the wintering grounds almost six months to the day earlier.

Autumn Leaves and a Few Snaps

Bird News: Ibsley Water - goldeneye 1 redhead (reported).
Not really any news as I was not actually at work today, but I did drop in with some bird food. I then took the chance to have a try out with my newly acquired digital camera, the old one having got a bit clunky recently. Even after just a few days off it was very clear that autumn had moved on as witnessed by the splendid colour of the field maple by the entrance.
The play with the camera seemed to go reasonably well, I don't think it is quite as instantly easy as my old one but the results look as though they will be OK for the blog and hopefully pictures for talks. But you can perhaps judge for yourself, a male chaffinch sat up nicely in the sun.
He was looking quite smart in fresh plumage and was having a good look around.
Possibly on the look out for females and there was one which also sat up well for a brief time.
I had a look from the Tern hide before I returned to my days off, I could not find the reported goldeneye, or much else of real note, unless you count 5 Egyptian geese. The visit did allow me to try the camera again, this time on a pair of gadwall which were close to the hide.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

DSI: Calling all nature detectives!

Apologies for the Blashford Blog silence! Bob is on holiday and myself and Jim have been busy solving a wildlife crime scene....with a little bit of help! So far over 40 families have visited the reserve to participate in CBBC's Deadly Scene Investigation which has involved following a trail of clues to find out who stole the eggs from a nest. The trail has been given a big thumbs up and was thoroughly enjoyed by all and introduced new families to the reserve who had not visited before. If you would like to take part we are running our final trail day this coming Saturday 10am-3pm. The trail should take approx. 1 hour. Please phone to book your place: 01425 472760.

On the wildlife side of things the Great White Egret has been regularly seen on Mockbeggar and Ibsley Water. Jim reported the beginnings of a big starling roost gathering over Ibsley water which then went in to roost over Mockbeggar. There is also a starling roost taking place on Ivy Lake.

We have also been hosting wildlife cameraman Graham Hatherley who has been setting a trail camera on the Docken's Water over the last month in the hope of capturing footage of tawny owls fishing for bullheads. Unfortunately so far he has not had much luck, however he has filmed some fantastic footage of a fallow stag drinking which we have uploaded onto Youtube, you can find it by copying and pasting this link (sorry I couldn't manage a hyperlink!):

He has very kindly given us all the other snippets of film he has captured which you should be able to find on Youtube with the title of "Wildlife at Blashford Lakes by Graham Hatherley" - these mostly include fallow and roe deer passing across the river and also a pigeon taking a bath! The pigeon was a particularly good result as it shows that the camera would be triggered by a similar sized tawny owl. Enjoy!

Friday, 21 October 2011

A Couple of Days

Bird News: Ibsley Water - great white egret 1 (the usual bird on both Wed and Thurs.), yellow-legged gull up to 6 (mostly adults or near adults), "white-winged" gull 1 (apparently adult reported on Thurs afternoon, but identity uncertain) , dunlin 1, goosander 5+, crossbill 1+ (reported Wed), brambling 1 (reported Wed).
Ivy Lake - water rail 2+, Cetti's warbler 1 (singing).
The last couple of nights have been much colder, resulting in our first grass frosts of the season and the moth catch reduced to zero. The misty mornings have made for some atmospheric views over the lakes though, the shot below is of Ivy Lake on Thursday as I opened up the Ivy South hide.
The same morning I kept running into roe deer. A doe with two youngsters was in the alder carr near the Woodland hide, along with a young buck. The doe and youngsters were running in circles and passed me twice without obviously seeing me. One, or possibly both of the youngsters were making a very odd squeaking sound, unlike anything I have ever heard from roe before. In the poor light I failed to get a picture of these deer, but at the Ivy North hide I came across the young buck again, this time with another doe and her two youngsters. Although the light was poor I managed a "digi-bin" shot of three of the group. Although the buck seems to have seen me they did not move off and I left them there. At the same time a very bushy-tailed fox trotted through the group, moving towards Rockford Lake.
Although the days started misty and cold, this quickly gave way to clear blue skies and a good bit of sunshine, especially on Wednesday.
These conditions favoured a movement of birds overhead, with crossbill, brambling, skylark, meadow pipit and siskin all on the move in small numbers. Siskin look like arriving in large numbers this winter, there are already flocks of fifty plus about the reserve as the alder cones open to reveal their seeds.A close up view of the alder branches shows that the sausage-shaped male catkins are already there and ready to open in the early spring as soon as the conditions are favourable. The cones in this shot are just starting to open.
Thursday was volunteer day and we set about some of the large laurel bushes planted years ago to screen the gravel works. Unfortunately most of the plantings along the western side of Ellingham Lake were of miscellaneous alien species, with just a few natives. Plants such as the laurel swamp and shade out native species and we hope to encourage the growth of some of the hawthorns and others that are hanging on in their shadow. Below is a picture of one such large bush just as we started.
Then what was left at the end of the task. We may have to come back when the branches have dried out and burn some up as there is a lot of material left. This shot also shows that laurel are far from the only alien species planted, a variety of conifer trees and other garden shrubs also got included and it will take many years to remove these and get them replaced with more desirable native species.
On both days the great white egret made quite lengthy appearances on Ibsley Water stood with the grey herons on the small island near the northern shore.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Clear(ed) View

Bird News: Iblsey Water - great white egret 1.
The bird news was a bit thin as I was working with the volunteers all day. Actually only two were ion but this was an ideal number for the tasks we had to do. Firstly we repaired the gate which had been damaged by whomsoever it was that used the reserve to get into the old block plant on Sunday night. The sooner this site is cleared the better it attracts break-ins with monotonous regularity and attendant damage to the access with broken padlocks, gates etc.
We then got down to clearing the view form the screen overlooking Mockbeggar Lake form the path to the Lapwing hide. Below is the "view" before we started.
Actually it is not really right to call it a view as you cannot see anything, However after we worked on it for a bit it became possible to see the lake again.
There is still scope for more clearance but we will be working on this lake during the winter so things will change quiet a bit in any case.
In the afternoon we relocated one of the web cams, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, it turns up.
At the end of the day I briefly saw the great white egret on Ibsley Water, where there were also rather more lesser black-backed gulls than I would have expected at such an early time. I may have another look at the roost tomorrow evening.
The occasional sunshine did tempt out a southern hawker dragonfly by the Centre pond at lunchtime and there were a few red admiral around again. Otherwise insects were few and the moth trap unremarkable after a rather cool night.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Ducks and Deer and Spots

Bird News: Ibsley Water - redwing 13 over west with 4 blackbirds, yellow-legged gull 1 adult, green sandpiper 1.
Mockbeggar Lake - great white egret 1, little egret 7.
The main task today was to do the wildfowl count for the month. The day started misty, which delayed me a bit, then the sun came out and conditions were excellent, until it started to rain and the wind picked up. Ibsley Water held the greatest number of birds, including 1027 coot, 104 gadwall and 202 wigeon. As well as the greatest numbers Ibsley water also usually has the greatest diversity of species. In the picture there are five, coot, mute swan, wigeon, teal and mallard.
It was not all birds though, on my way to count Mockbeggar Lake I came across a small group of fallow deer, including a very pale fawn young buck and an almost white adult buck, unfortunately I only got a picture of a typically coloured doe, just as it spotted me and dashed off.
I am sure I have noted before that Blashford is of special importance for the large population of gadwall that winter here, approximately 2% of the Western European population last winter. I did not see all that many today but a few of them were showing well in the early sunshine like the pair below doing their daily toilet outside the Tern hide.
The drake above and the duck below both displayed their white speculum, in the duck especially, this readily separates them from the many other similar ducks.
A particular feature of the sycamore trees this autumn has been many blackish spots on the turning leaves. It is something called tar spot fungus and attacks sycamores and maples, specifically it is Rhytisma acerinum.
If the predictions of rapidly deteriorating weather are correct we may not see too many insects this year, so a few red admiral, migrant hawker and common darter dragonflies were good to see. Usually I expect to see all of them into mid-November, but such things are never guaranteed.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Christmas is coming.

Bird News: Ibsley Water - dunlin 1, goosander 3+, great white egret (reported a couple of times), yellow-legged gull 3+ adults, pintail 1, common gull 4.
Ivy Lake - Cetti's warbler 1 singing, water rail 2 calling.
Centre - redwing 1 over with 5 mistle thrush.
Autumn rushes on, I failed to find any swallows or martins today and it was only after lunch that I came across the only chiffchaff of the day. I did see the my first redwing of the season though, a harbinger of winter birds to come. Walking along the Dockens Water path I found the holly trees loaded with berries, I wonder how many will survive until Christmas once the thrushes get here in numbers.
The overnight temperature dipped to 6 degrees so I was pleasantly surprised to find at least a few moths in the trap, they included 2 red-line Quaker and the green-brindled crescent below.
Admittedly other moths were restricted to a couple of large wainscot and this yellow-lined Quaker.
The sunshine was pretty warm at times and brought out a few migrant hawker and common darter dragonflies. There were a few sun bathing hoverflies including this Eristalis tenax, or at least I'm pretty sure it is, although the front feet are in shadow so I cannot see what colour they are. This is one of the species that hibernates as an adult fly.
I have not worked on a Sunday for a while except when I have been working with the volunteers. So once I had got the classroom set up for the course that was running and polished off a bit of paperwork I decided to take the chance to look round the reserve and reached some of the part s I have not been to for several weeks. This included the Lapwing hide where I saw the 2 goosander below. A visitor there at the time was surprised when I said I have not been in the hide since late September, like many I suppose, he had assumed I visited all the hides every day. In truth a site warden does not get much time to look around the site, other than incidentally when doing some task or other. This can be quite a problem at times as it is the time taken to look at how the site works and what wildlife is doing that leads to the biggest improvements in management.
At the Goosander hide it was good to see a heron preening on the perching rails we put up last week. They look a bit odd, but do provide something to focus interest near er to the hide when the sand martins are away.
At Ellingham Pound I came across a fine reedmace stem, with the seed head exploded but still attached.
Further wandering brought me to the path between Rockford and Ivy lakes where I found the only 2 Egyptian geese I saw all day, after being around for mush of the latter part of the summer most of them seem to have absented themselves recently.
One or two other notes from the day included a mole beside the pond at the Education Centre, at times it was coming out on top of the gravel and even allowed some to get pictures of it. On Ibsley Water for the last week or so there has been a very pale adult cormorant, clearly it has a pigment abnormality. There has only been one breeding record of cormorant on the lake and the single juvenile was an abnormally pale one, this could very well be that bird returned.
Lastly I stayed a little longer to look at the gulls this evening, although I did not see the almost 10,000 counted the other morning, there were over 3000 by the time I had to leave. These included at least 3 yellow-legged gull, a few lesser black-backed gull of the Scandinavian intermedius type and one very dark, thin one with long wings. It was yet another that approximates to Baltic gull. They only seem to turn up at this time of year and are small, with rather steep foreheads, small, white heads and very long wings. Instead of being mid-grey their "backs" are almost black and the wings as well as being long, show no white tips to the feathers, this is because they have not yet moulted their primaries, which all the others have by now. Unfortunately, although these birds are quiet distinctive, the "experts" cannot agree on their identity, so they remain anonymous.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

A Brambling and the Problem of Trees

Bird News: Ibsley Water - lapwing 111, yellow-legged gull 3, goosander 1.
Ivy Lake - water rail 2.
Centre - brambling 1, lesser redpoll 4+ over.
What with one thing and another I never really got any pictures today. The volunteer team were working on the morning, clearing small trees and brambles from the lichen heath. Although the heath is not part of the designated wildlife site it is the rarest habitat we have and home to many rare and very rare species. The slow encroachment of trees shades out the lichens and in the end would give us fairly ordinary secondary woodland, not really a "good deal". In addition the bare patches that result from digging out the tree roots provide valuable habitat for many insects that use the heath like solitary bees and wasps.
I also felled a few planted Scots pines to open up the canopy for some of the other trees. A particular problem we have at Blashford is the large amount of tree planting that went on as the gravel extraction finished. In places the species mix includes many aliens and everywhere the aftercare has been poor with tree guards being left on and no thinning resulting in severe overcrowding.
The whole issue of tree planting is a very tricky one for conservationists. An ancient woodland of native trees is a wonderful place, with a range of species found nowhere else. Secondary woodlands that have grown up following an earlier clearance can have quite a few specialist species, if it is old enough and close to ancient woodland. Planted woodlands, sadly tend to have few specialist species and are a very pale imitation of their ancient counterparts. High nutrient levels are had to overcome and the incredibly slow colonisation rate of most ancient woodland specialist species make it hard to see that many planted woods will ever reach the hoped for condition.
Curiously, following the last Ice Age Britain was quite quickly covered with woodland including many woodland plants that today seem unable to colonise at a rate of more than a metre or so a year.
Perhaps the lichen heath offers some sort of a model for what things might have been like after the ice retreated. There would have been almost no soil as we would recognise it, nutrients for growth would have been almost totally absent. Over time lichens and mosses would develop and collect nutrients. The first trees would have been species with wind blown seeds and low nutrient needs, like birch, coincidentally the main tree spreading onto the heath at Blashford. Obviously the climate is somewhat different now, but just possibly if we really wanted to try and develop something like an ancient woodland from scratch we should use sites like the lichen heath, next to woods with ancient character and just leave them to develop. The drawback is that we would loose the lichen heath in the process.
As I arrived in the morning a brambling was calling from the top of a birch tree near the Centre, my first of the autumn. It was a bit of a day for finches with several lesser redpoll flying over as well. At the end of the day I had a rare opportunity to look at the start of the arrival of the gulls to the roost on Ibsley Water. These included one especially thickset lesser black-backed gull with a very heavy pale bill. Although this is a very variable species this particular one was not quite like any I remember seeing before. With a record of slaty-backed gull in the UK last winter another potential species to look for has been added to the ever growing list for gull watchers to consider, so who knows maybe this winter Blashford will come up trumps. Lastly, "Pondcam" really performed today, at various times I saw a common toad, two water stick insects sparring and lastly one of them catch a water beetle.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Pale, Watery and Brooding

Bird News : Ibsley Water - dunlin 1, little stint 1, kestrel 2, greylag c300.
Not many moths in the trap this morning, but there was one of my very favourite species a merveille du jour, a moth perfectly designed to be camouflaged on a lichen covered branch.
Amongst the moths there were lots of caddisflies and several mayflies, including one small one with yellow eyes and bold markings. I had not seen one like to before but it seems to be Beatis fuscatus, the pale watery. The picture I got was only of it on the egg boxes in the moth trap beside a large wainscot.
The Lower Test volunteer team were working at Blashford today, cutting on the shore of Ibsley Water. The low cloud made for a rather brooding scene.
The main task was to cut and clear the island in the north-west corner of the lake, this island is used by the nesting gulls, tufted and other ducks and oystercatcher, important because ground predators like fox cannot get out there. If the vegetation gets too tall or woody most of these specie swill not nest, hence the need to cut it. You can just make out the workers on the island in the picture.
Over the last few years we have been cutting the banks of nettles and creeping thistles that grow on the bunds of topsoil stripped away to expose the gravel to be excavated. We are winning and it is increasingly becoming grass and low herb dominated. This allows grazing by wildfowl and makes it suitable for nesting lapwing. One consequence is that sometimes when we cut in July we set back flowering, which then happens later in the year. Today we came across a group of flowering dark mullein plants, normally they would have flowered a couple of months ago.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Work for Later

Bird News: Ibsley Water - lapwing 100+, goosander 1 redhead, pintail 1 duck,
Ivy Lake - Cetti's warbler 1 calling.
A remarkably unremarkable day, very quiet for birds, as the list above shows and too cloudy for insects, apart from mosquitoes.
Despite what I have said above, it was a very busy and productive day. Four volunteers came in and we worked near the Goosander hide beside, on and in, Ibsley Water. We cleared the banks to improve views and the flight lines for the martins in front of the nesting bank. I also put out some perching rails on a shallow bank out in the lake.
Incidentally I came across a few plants of viper's bugloss, a plant I had not previously found at Blashford. It is a bit late in the season and the plants were a bit tatty, but I got a picture anyway.
Tomorrow we will be clearing the island at the north end of Ibsley Water. Although this does cause some disturbance, there are not that many wildfowl about yet and it does improve the conditions for the birds nesting next spring. Fortunately we don't have to do that many days management work around the lake so the disturbance is limited. Also as the water is so large the birds can always move to other parts of the lake.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Flying in and Flowing Through

Bird News: Ibsley Water - dunlin 3, little stint 1, swallow 50, house martin 5.
Centre Area - lesser redpoll 1+,
The moth trap contained a couple of migrant species this morning, a rusty dotted pearl, which is basically small and in shades of brown and the much more attractive vestal.
In fact it was quite warm today and this made it pretty good for insects, a few red admiral and speckled wood butterflies were about and several southern hawker dragonflies were near the Centre.
I was briefly beside the Dockens Water, the New Forest stream that passes through the reserve on its way to meet the River Avon. It winds through the trees with alternating shallow riffles and deep pools. On the way it passes an old World War II blast shelter, a refuge for maintenance crews in the event of an air raid.
The Dockens Water has not always looked as it does today, the section in the picture is actually a man made course cut in 2005. Initially it was all the same depth and width, but time has allowed it to establish a very natural look, with all the characteristics of a natural stream.
The previous course was straightened and in many places had the banks made up with concrete block walls. This was keep the water on the "straight and narrow" and get it through the site as quickly as possible and keep it well away from the gravel pits being dug at the time. The last thing you would want if you were working five or six metres down in a gravel quarry is a New Forest stream in spate rushing in on you.
Today was the quiet day of the week, the rest of the week there will be volunteers working on the reserve everyday and we also have schools visiting and a guided walk. I also have a couple of meetings to look forward to. Still the weather seems set fair so we should get a good bit done and even the meetings might be productive, with a bit of luck.