Baby Birds

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the first young birds of 2017 and this week I finally saw some. Get ready for the cuteness!

My first young birds of the year were two of these gorgeous lapwing chicks.

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There are currently a mother and two chicks right outside one of the hides at Blashford Lakes. This one chick came right up to the edge of the hide allowing for unprecedented views and photos! As well as agricultural land lapwings nest in areas of wetland with short vegetation. The team at Blashford have been working to create this sort of habitat and it certainly appears to be working.

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Lapwings are on the RSPB’s red list, meaning there has been a severe decline of numbers in the UK, so work like this is vital to support the species.

This morning I spotted this mallard parading with her ducklings.

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If I’ve counted correctly there are 15 ducklings there. Mallards usually have clutches of 8-12 eggs so this was a particularly large one. Of course ducklings are extremely vulnerable to predators so it’s unlikely that more than a handful of these will make it to adulthood.

In other bird news, blackcaps have now arrived in the country in time for the breeding season.

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These birds migrate from Southern Europe and Northern Africa to breed in the UK in the summer. However, increasing numbers are actually staying in the UK over the winter and the RSPB suspects this is due to the good source of food put out in gardens.

Today I saw a grey wagtail on the river Avon.

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This individual is a female as it has more white on it’s head then a male would. Whilst these birds don’t migrate a such they do move from lowland streams in the winter to fast flowing rivers in the summer.

Whilst at Blashford Lakes yesterday I saw thousands of these sizeable St Mark’s Flies (Bibio marci).

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Their name comes from the fact that they usually emerge around the 25th April which is St. Mark’s Day.  Their long legs dangle underneath them as they hover and look around for females. They will only be in flight for about a week but they are important pollinators as they feed on nectar.

Another insect sighting this week was this harlequin ladybird.

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Harlequins are an invasive species and frankly they appear to be have completed their invasion around here. It’s been a good few years since I last saw a native British ladybird around my patch but I see a lot of harlequins now. They eat other ladybirds and pass diseases to them. They have now colonised most of England and are quickly spreading into Wales and Scotland.

That’s all for today but I’ll see you next week when hopefully some peregrine eggs may have hatched!

Blashford Beauties

On Friday I had a day off so I headed over to Blashford Lakes for my first visit of the year, knowing it would be fairly quiet there. I could tell it was going to be a successful visit when I got out of the car and immediately saw a redwing.

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Because it was so quiet I had plenty of opportunities to get some decent shots of some of Blashford’s waterfowl. Here’s a shoveler, a wigeon and a gadwall.

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The Woodland Hide is really busy at the moment with birds in every nook and cranny. The most common bird at the feeders on this visit were siskins but there were also lots of goldfinches around too.

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Amongst all the chaos there are a few birds you don’t see at feeders quite so often, like some long-tailed tits and a nuthatch.

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I was really pleased to see not one but two species of bird which are new to me. The first was the reed bunting.

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As the name suggests, reed buntings are normally found in wet vegetation but in Winter they do stray further afield to find food. It’s not really very far from the reedy banks of Ivy Lake to the woodland hide anyway. These buntings seemed to avoid going anywhere near the feeders themselves, instead grabbing pieces of dropped food off the floor.

The other new bird to me was the brambling. Unfortunately both individuals stayed exactly where the reflection in the window was so I ended up with an obscured photo.

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Bramblings are members of the finch family and there was a male and a female bird in the area. This male was frankly one of the most vicious small birds I have ever seen. Whilst it did pop onto the feeders as above, it was mostly found on the ground. Every time any other bird came vaguely near it this individual would chase them off which seemed like a waste of energy given just how much food was available.

Just outside the woodland hide I found these stunning scarlet elf cap fungi.

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Whilst many fungi go appear in the autumn, different species grow at different times of year- the scarlet elf cap grows in late winter and early spring. There’s debate about how edible this species is which suggests that it won’t kill you but probably isn’t very tasty. Unless you are a rodent of course as this is a handy source of food for them in winter.

Just outside the reserve I saw a welcome sign that Spring is on it’s way, a group of snowdrops.

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We may think of snowdrops as a native British flower but they aren’t! It was brought over from Europe in the early 16th century and wasn’t first recorded as naturalised until 1770. It’s a hardy little flower which can emerge through snow and it can spread in a variety of ways- from offsets of the bulbs, animals disturbing the bulbs, through floodwater and through dispersal of seeds.

The Feral Pigeon’s Friend

Today there was something of a surprise in the garden. A while back I discussed the feral pigeon that is a regular visitor to our garden. (See here). It was also a mystery how this feral pigeon had ended up in our suburban estate and it usually visited the garden along with woodpigeons and collared doves. I’d never seen it with another similar pigeon. Until now!

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On the left is our pigeon and next to it is a darker companion. Pigeons breed throughout the year so it seems likely that this may be it’s partner. The mystery only deepens- after nearly three years why has a second pigeon now appeared? Was it around before and not travelling to the garden? And where are these pigeons coming from? As you can see, they are both well-groomed and good-looking birds, somewhat different from their counterparts in the town centre. The plot thickens…

There was no sign of the green sandpiper on the Avon today but a grey wagtail was there in it’s spot.

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The river is very different from the woodland streams that they usually breed in but they are well known for finding all sorts of water sources in the winter.

I have noticed that this stretch of the river still has very little water in it. The stony area where this wagtail is standing is in the middle of the river and is rarely visible, especially not to the extent it is now. It shows how little rainfall we’ve had recently. I also wonder if recent work nearby to reduce flooding may have affected this stretch of the river- could this potentially be an effect which won’t go away?

I’ve been pleased to see that there is still the occasional goosander on the fishing lake. Whilst there’s not been another day with 30+ birds present there are one or two most times I walk past.

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On a recent to Blashford Lakes over Christmas I was lucky enough to see a couple of more unusual birds. Thanks to an eagle-eyed birder in the hide, I managed to see this snipe on the edge of one of the lakes.

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Somewhere in the region of 300,000 snipe join our 800,000 residents over the winter from Northern Europe. Here we are actually towards the edge of their region with few breeding pairs in the South West of England.

Another exciting spot was this water rail.

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Water rails are not hard to see due to their scarcity but due to their timidness. Not that this individual seemed to know that as it was happy to parade around in front of a growing group of birders and has been doing this regularly over the last couple of weeks. It’s found a pool in amongst some Alder trees and seems happy there.

Another highlight from that visit was watching goldfinches feeding off the dead seedheads at the edge of the lake complex. There are few public places (I imagine there’s some private gardens) where you can see this locally.

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To end, here’s a few other birds from that visit.

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Shoveler
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Grey Heron
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Cormorant

Woodland Wonders

After a short cold snap the temperature has shot up again and we are having temperatures of more than 10°C during the day, the sort of temperature we’d be expecting to find in Spring.Today I visited Blashford Lakes for my first visit in a few weeks. It’s the woodland where all the action is at the moment as the birds make use of an easy source of food.

The most common species by the feeders were goldfinches. The niger feeder was nearly empty but they didn’t seem too bothered by this and were happy with the other seeds.

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It was lovely to see lots of greenfinches too. They used to be one our most common garden birds but they seemed to have declined significantly and these days we rarely see them at all.

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As you’d expect there were a fair few blue tits and the occasional great tit around the feeders too.

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I noticed this female chaffinch on the base of the feeder which appears to have a significant eye injury- it looks like it may have lost it’s eye completely. It didn’t seem to hinder this individual though as it was feeding and flying around like all the other birds around it.

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The robin seemed to have a different feeding tactic to most of the other birds, flying onto the feeder when it was quiet, quickly grabbing a seed and then flying away. I’m not sure why they do this considering that robins are one of the braver birds around- perhaps it’s just because they don’t like to be near other birds.

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Elsewhere in the woods there were lots of blackbirds and some song thrushes rummaging through the leaf litter looking for food.

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The lakes themselves were relatively quiet. As usual they were dominated by coot and tufted ducks but I got a clear shot of a pochard too.

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On an island on one of the lakes I spotted a pair of the local Egyptian geese population- these are non-native birds but can often be seen at Blashford.

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Another non-native bird is the Great White Egret but Walter is a regular Winter visitor. He was looking as splendid as ever today. You can see the red ring on his leg which identifies him.

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An unexpected bird from today was this blurry dunlinWhilst not rare or unusual they are not a bird I’ve seen at Blashford before- they are usually found closer to the coast.

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Cormorant numbers seem to have risen somewhat since my last visit with the trees full of them and constant fly-overs.

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A Week in Wildlife

It’s perhaps the worst time of year for wildlife watching. Sure, there’s always plenty of wildlife to see but the weather is poor and the daylight is short. Nonetheless I’ve been endeavouring to get out and about where I can and this is my week in wildlife.

Last Sunday I made a quick visit to Blashford Lakes, although I was frustrated by how busy the reserve was. As someone younger than most of the visitors I felt shunned by most of them and no-one showed the slightest inclination to make room in the hides for me. Still, whilst they were all looking out for the Great White Egret amongst other things I managed to bump into it on my way back to the car. It was my best view yet of this stunning bird.

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I also managed to get good views of some shoveler and a wigeon. It was the first time I’ve seen a wigeon so near me so I had an excellent opportunity to admire it’s stunning gold crest.

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We had our first bit of bad weather of the season on Sunday and Monday as Storm Angus hit the South of England. We didn’t get it as bad as some but still had an inch of rain in 24 hours. By Wednesday the local rivers, the Stour and the Avon, had swelled significantly.

However, we’ve had little rain in the last few months so though the ground is now wet by yesterday there was little sign at the Avon that we’d had so much rain. You could see where the river had swelled and both mallards and mute swans were taking advantage of this.

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There was also the usual little egret on the river also searching for food.

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It still amazes me just how successful little egrets have become. A few years ago I’d never seen one and now you’re hard pressed to go to a stretch of water locally and not spot one.

The rising water levels may have moved on the deer I’ve been seeing near the river recently. For the first time in over a month they were no-where to be seen yesterday. There’s a fair chance they are somewhere near the area but the ground is only going to get boggier over the next few months.

There were plenty of small birds in the trees near the Avon yesterday, especially goldcrests and long-tailed tits. The trouble is that both are small and agile and getting photos of them is really tricky, especially on a murky day. This is the best I managed!

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On the farmland near home I saw a field which was full of mistle thrushes. They are a bird in decline so it was lovely to see so many in the area.

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Whilst I was admiring the thrushes I saw this huge flock of crows appear in the sky. All the main corvids are around in big numbers at the moment.

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Today I headed a little further afield and went for a walk near the village of Studland and Dorset’s famous Old Harry Rocks. On a windy November day it was clear it wasn’t the best place for wildlife watching.

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You look at that photo and imagine that there can’t really be much life there. But life always finds away. On top of one of the stacks I saw this great black backed gull sat happily.

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And even on those steep cliffs there were birds! I could see lots of small birds hopping around on one cliff- I think they were probably rock pipits.

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Despite the winds there were plenty of pied wagtails on Knoll Beach too.

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So that was my week in wildlife. I suspect my posts will be a little less regular over the Winter but I will strive to bring you what I can!

 

Further Fungi Finds

I find fungi fascinating and so I thought I’d do another post on the fungi I’ve seen. The majority of these were found on just one visit to Blashford Lakes last week.

Fungi come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There are plenty which look like your typical mushroom. These are,  I think, Mild Milkcaps. It’s a hard species to identify for certain as some fungi are as they are visually very similar to other species.

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This was a tricky one to identify given the lack of distinguishing features but I suspect it’s a Stubby Rosegill. If so then it’s one which hasn’t yet developed the pink colour that gives it its name.

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This is another one that’s tricky to identify. You can certainly tell it’s of the Mycena genus from it’s shape but it’s very hard to identify individual species. I suspect it’s Mycena stipata. 

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This one is a much easier one to identify, honey fungus. I’ve seen this in a few places lately and it’s seems to take over wherever it grows. When you look closer at these photos you can see just how far extensive it is here.

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I’ve shared an example of this species before as it looks fantastic. This is a fairly young Shaggy Inkcap. There’s only a hint of the inkiness that gives it its name.

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Another favorite of mine is the common puffball. It’s simple but beautiful in it’s own way. I have found a spot where there seems to always be a few of these.

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The second example is mature with the hole in the middle having opened up to release spores in a burst.

Bracket fungi grow on trees and look quite different from what you might imagine a fungus looks like. This one is a blushing bracket at a relatively early stage of development- it hasn’t yet ‘blushed’ into a pinky colour.

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Of course fungi come in all shapes like this Lemon Disco. You probably walk past fungi like this all the time and don’t even notice it. They are tiny yellow cups (up to 3mm across) that grow on wood that has lost its bark.

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And here’s another ridiculous fungus example with a fantastic name which reflects it’s appearance: Dead Man’s Fingers.

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Fungi are everywhere and so important to our world yet hardly anyone even notices them, let alone know anything about them. I encourage you to look out for fungi and take a closer look next time you see one.

 

 

The White Hart

Yesterday I was extremely lucky to see something very unusual, a white red deer stag, or ‘white hart’ as they are sometimes known. Sadly I didn’t manage to capture a clear photo of it but you can get some idea of the magnificence of the animal.

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This was over at Blashford Lakes, on part of the reserve closest to the New Forest. It looked like this stag had developed quite a harem as I saw a white hind on the path and plenty of does hiding amongst the tree- I saw at least ten and there may well have been more nearby.

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The colour comes from a rare genetic pattern called leucism which causes a reduction in the pigment in the deer’s skin and fur. There is a long history of white stags in the Ringwood area. There’s a pub in the marketplace called The Original White Hart, supposedly the first pub to take that name and named after King Henry VII caught a white hart nearby. It’s unclear how true the story is but it certainly gives credence to the idea that there white harts near Ringwood around the turn of the 16th century.

In other deer news, I’ve seen the trio of roe deer near the Avon a few times over the last few weeks. The stag and two does have stayed in pretty much the same area although they have crossed the river since last week, something which might well have been quite a challenge for these smaller deer.

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This photo gives some idea of the obstacle these deer had to cross. 

Last week I shared another fantastic white creature at Blashford Lakes, Walter the great white egret. He can still be seen around the reserve and yesterday I saw him perched on a tree.

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As ever, Blashford proved to be a wealth of interesting birds. This individual was quite a way from the hide but I was pleased to spot it as my first widgeon of the year.

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Much closer to a hide was this rock pippit, looking in fantastic condition.

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I have seen lots of kingfishers at Blashford this year and all over the reserve. This one was on the small silt pond.

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Thanks to a rare day off and the clocks going back I was able to be in the reserve towards the end of the day which meant to I could see the beginning of the enormous roosts that come at this time of year. Here’s are the gulls on Ibsley Water:

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More were arriving by the second as I sat and watched. Over on the trees around Ivy Lake there’s a fairly sizeable cormorant roost.

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There was also plenty of opportunity to get close to some more common birds.

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I had one more unusual sighting this week. On Tuesday, the 8th November, I saw a red admiral fly past. It was a large one and had to be to be able to survive the colder temperatures- it was -3° C the night before. I can only guess that it had sheltered on or even inside a nearby building. I think December will be the only month of 2016 when I haven’t seen a butterfly!

Walter White

I just have to open today with what my well be my bird of the year, a Great White Egret!

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Now usually I can’t tell you too much about an individual bird but this one has a full history. He’s affectionately known as Walter White, after the character from Breaking Bad. I saw him over at Blashford Lakes where he has been a Winter visitor every year since 2003. He was ringed as a chick in a nest in Lac de Grand-Lieu near Nantes in France that year. This makes him 13 which is a ripe old age for a great white egret but he is still looking magnificent.

I’ve found myself at Blashford Lakes more and more often recently. It’s a fantastic nature reserve and at this time of year there is always something to see. Here’s a grey heron which was perched only a little way in front of one of the hides.

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Although the Woodland Hide is perhaps less exciting at this time of year you sometimes get lucky and see some more unusual visitors. This nuthatch was feeding on and off for the whole time I was in the hide on my last visit.

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I was also lucky to see a jay on one of the feeders. Jays are one of the birds which I have personally noticed the decline of. They were a relatively common bird a few years ago but now you hardly ever see them which is a shame as they are the most beautiful corvid we have.

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It’s a big time of year for deer as the males are rutting, fighting off competitors in order to breed with the females. My experience of this is limited but I did see a few roe deer by the Avon recently. I suspect this is a young stag with a small harem, separate from the main harem which is likely to be held by a larger, older stag. There’s also the possibility that the stag and the two hinds are very young and therefore not concerned about breeding yet. You can see the relatively large antler for a roe deer and the real strength in the stag’s muscles.

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A couple of birds I somehow haven’t yet mentioned here now. On my visit to Stanpit in Christchurch last week I saw plenty of oystercatchers feeding on the shoreline.

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Not too far away from here, on a small stream passing through woodland, was this Grey Wagtail.

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I actually see a grey wagtail quite regularly at a stream on the entrance to Blashford Lakes. I’ve never been able to capture that one clearly though because it flutters away as soon as I spot it and because they like covered streams it’s so dark it’s hard to get a photo from any distance.

I’ve seen some fantastic spider webs covered in the morning dew recently- it really makes you appreciate their intricacy when you can see them this clearly.

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Here’s what I suspect might well be my last butterfly sighting of the year, a red admiral. This was on the 30th October but I haven’t seen any this week and we had our first frost on Wednesday night so it now seems unlikely, though not impossible, that I’ll see any in November.

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Finally, here’s a red slug.

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You can clearly see a large hole in the side of this individual. At first I thought it was damage caused by a predator but after some research I discovered it is actually it’s pneumostome. It’s a breathing pore which air goes through and into the slug’s single lung, a mantle cavity. I like to think of it as the slug equivalent of blow hole in a whale. It’s an interesting piece of biology which I had no idea about until I saw this slug!

Arne in Autumn

Last weekend I visited RSPB’s Arne Reserve, located on the West side of Poole Harbour. It was a gloriously sunny day and really busy on the reserve- I suspect due to the fact that it has been announced the reserve will be the location of the BBC’s Autumnwatch later this month.

I saw plenty of Sika Deer on the reserve. You may remember I saw the same species on my recent visit to Brownsea Island and these deer actually originate from that population, having swam/walked across the shallow harbour.

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You can see that the latter has an ear tag and what I think is a radio collar, presumably to keep track of the population and how far it has spread.

I saw plenty of butterflies on the reserve, mostly speckled woods and red admirals but also a peacock.

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I also saw both the first two today, the 15th October! It seems that butterflies are flying very late this year and with little sign that the temperature will drop significantly over the next week or so I suspect we may even get the odd butterfly still flying in November but we will have to see!

On the bird front Arne was a little disappointing I have to say. I saw this Little Egret near one of the beaches amongst a bunch of gulls.

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Arne has a two-level hide which I was most excited by. On entering the higher level I quickly concluded that the reason it was so high is that the birds are a long way from the hide. I spotted a few spoonbills around and a shelduck.

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Today I visited Blashford Lakes and had a great time. Two weeks I was over the moon that I had finally managed to photograph a kingfisher. I was lucky to manage that feat again today as a kingfisher obligingly sat on the edge of the lake cleaning for a good half an hour.

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It kept diving into the water and then kept cleaning itself which was really enjoyable to watch.

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A few other spots on the lakes: a pochard, a little grebe and some lapwings.

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In terms of fungus I saw some stunning Shaggy Ink Caps.

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I managed to see a demonstration of just some of the natural variation of Harlequin Ladybirds.

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I have seen lots of hornets lately, mostly on ivy flowers. Frustratingly they always seem to visit the flowers at the top of the bush, away from most of the wasps, bees and flies, and are therefore very tricky to photograph. I saw one today on some leaf litter so got a clear view. They are remarkable creatures so watch.

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Autumn Days

We’re now a week into October and it really feels like Autumn now. The temperature is dropping, especially at night, and the leaves are a rainbow of colour. This plant that grows on a wall at the end of our street always looks magnificent at this time of year.

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The local horse chestnut trees are producing lots of conkers too, most of which are collected by local children.

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I’ve seen the River Avon cygnets a few times lately and they are looking more and more grown-up each day. They look like grey adults now but there’s something magnificent about them.

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The swans weren’t the only juvenile birds in this area as I saw this young Grey Heron fishing on the Avont too.

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I was surprised to spot some stonechats on the farmland not far from my house. I’ve seen plenty up in the New Forest but never so close to the town. I can’t really explain why they came down from the forest though- perhaps to take advantage of an untapped food source.

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It may be well into October but there are still a handful of butterflies around. I’ve seen three different species today (8th October)- a Red Admiral, some form of White and this Speckled Wood.

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Last weekend I visited Blashford Lakes again and as usual there was plenty to see. My first spot was a load of Harlequin Ladybirds crawling around some wooden fence posts.

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I saw lots of fungi but the only one I hadn’t seen before was this Cep (Boletus edulis).

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Apparently this is one of the most tasty mushrooms according to foragers. Mushroom foraging is banned in the New Forest and I know that Blashford Lakes support this view. It’s much better to be able to enjoy the fungi if they are not picked by others and is of course better for the local environment.

There was lots of activity at the Woodland Hide with the usual tits and finches:

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Chaffinch/Goldfinch

I also captured this Nuthatch living up to it’s name:

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The thing I love most about Blashford is that you never quite know what you are going to see. Often it’s something fairly ordinary but still nice to see, like a rabbit or a coot.

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Sometimes you might see something more exciting, like a shoveler:

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But it you’re really lucky you might see something really special, like a kingfisher.

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I am so pleased with this picture. I know it’s not a great photo, but it’s the content I love. It felt like a real achievement to finally capture a kingfisher on camera. It was so lovely to get a proper look at one too. Usually if you see a kingfisher you see little more than a blue blur as it flies away. This one sat on that stick for a good few minutes so I was able to sit and watch it for a while. It was a real moment of delight.

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