Now I’ve already confessed my love for wildlife hides in one of my previous blogs, and although the ones in this blog aren’t set on expansive lochs or surrounded by mountains it doesn’t take away how awesome these ones are.
Blashford Lakes is up there in my all-time favourite wildlife watching spots. Run by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust it is an absolute haven for all sorts of wildlife on the edge of the New Forest. It’s situated 2 miles north of Ringwood and it’s another site where nature is nestled right next to the busy hustle and bustle of everyday life. Just another reason why it’s one of my favourites; further proof that you don’t have to travel far to encounter the awesomeness of nature.
Every time I sit in one of their 6 hides (yes 6!!) I always find it hard to believe that what is now Blashford Lakes used to be a series of gravel pits. You really wouldn’t think that any of this was man made, the lakes, ponds, woodland and grassland fit together so intricately that it’s as if it’s always been there. And the wildlife, well, that obviously approves because it’s here in abundance.
One of the highlights of the reserve is the thousands of birds that choose to flock here in the winter months. I’ve been sat in the Goosander hide on a chilly, grey morning and watched the sky turn black with masses of cormorants careering onto Ibsley Water. It was a true force of nature.
I recently headed to Blashford to see what I had been missing since being on our travels and I wasn’t disappointed.
Now a lot of people hedge their bets on one hide and pitch up there for the day, you’re guaranteed to see something, but you might be missing out on something great in the hide next door. I’m a bit of a self-confessed hide jumper, so on my latest trip I spaced my time out evenly between the hides and I was rewarded with some spectacular spots.
First up was the Woodland Hide; this is my all-time. It’s busy with bird traffic, you are nestled right in the woodland area, and once I saw a fox there right in front of the hide. He was so well hidden, I had no idea he was there until up he jumped and scuttled off. I look for him every time I go but I haven’t seen him since. He certainly wasn’t there on my latest visit, but I was consoled with one beautiful brambling hanging out with a massive flock of chaffinches. It’s always a joy to watch the feeders bustling with birds, and it made my scotch egg even more enjoyable.
From here I headed to Ivy South, which in the summer gives you great views of the common terns that nest on purpose-built rafts. There were no rafts on my visit (they are taken away over the winter), but there were plenty of ducks; tufted, pochard, teal and mallards. I was pleased to be able to add great crested grebes to my list, they were there amidst a carry on of coots – who I’m pretty certain argue for a past time.
I was a bit unconventional in my next choice of hide and I headed back on myself to Ivy North. Now this hide was super busy for very good reason. There were rumours afoot – the bittern was about. Typically, the bittern did show, but not during any of my visits to that hide (I went back and sat in there for an hour and half at the end of the day….nothing) but I was not to be disheartened, for it was here I saw my first chiffchaffs of the year. And (drum roll please) a water rail. Well, technically I didn’t see the water rail in the hide, I saw it on my way out of the hide in one of the small marshy pools along the footpath.
For a bird that has a reputation of being shy and retiring, skulking in the reeds and speeding out of sight, this one was incredibly brazen. I stood and watched it for a good 10 minutes and it didn’t so much as flinch – even when it gathered quite the crowd of admirers. It just carried on feeding, oblivious to everyone, I left before it disappeared so who knows how long it put a show on for.
The next hides I headed to were the furthest away on the other side of the reserve by the main car park. I wasn’t expecting to see much in these hides, although it was sunny there was quite a wind kicking up and Ibsley water can be quite exposed, so I figured everything would be elsewhere. And I was right.
There were also no deer on the walk to the Lapwing Hide, but it was a busy Sunday afternoon and I usually go there earlier on a weekday morning. It was nice to be out in the fresh air, the sun on my face and the wind picking its way through the reeds and rushes, but I did feel a little sorry for the little grebe braving the choppy waves on the water.
Another highlight of the day came from the last hide I visited: Tern Hide. This is the hide that’s closest to the car park and probably one of the most popular on the site; it’s always busy and it’s great because there’s usually lots of people in there sharing knowledge.
On this day there were good clear views out across the water to the huge flocks of gulls (a good mixture, but gulls are my ID kryptonite, so we won’t go there) and cormorants resting up on the shingle banks on the far side. I was keenly watching the goldeneye diving just in front of them when there was an explosion of white. All the gulls lifted in one go like a confetti canon.
When the debris had cleared, I could just about pick out that defining peregrine blue against the glowing shingle. Incredible. One of the guys in the hide with a rather fancy scope told me that it the peregrine had landed on a coot, and he was happily plucking away and getting a crop full.
This place honestly never disappoints me, whether it’s birds or mammals, knowledge locals or just a bit of peace and quiet it has everything. And if you don’t like sitting in hides then you can spend your visit wandering its footpaths and admiring all it has to offer; I guarantee you’ll find something you like.
Blashford even has its own blog; why not head over and find out all about what’s going on at the site.